Tag Archives: SUNY

The University of California System Abandons the SAT/ACT: Will SUNY Follow? How Will Prospective Students Be Selected?

In a historic move likely to have national repercussions, the University of California Board of Regents voted … to stop requiring students to submit college-entrance tests the SAT or ACT for admissions purposes. The vote was a unanimous 23-0.

The system has given itself until the fall of 2025 to develop a bespoke standardized test for California residents. If the UC cannot create a new test that better aligns with what students learned in school, it’ll drop the testing requirement completely for Californians. 

The debate over college admissions has been ongoing for years, many years: Are the current tests discriminatory? Can you create a non-discriminatory test? Are other methods, for example, class standing discriminatory to another class of students?

The Scholastic Aptitude Test, the SAT, has been around, in many forms, since the 1920s.  The SAT (and the more recent ACT) have been the gatekeepers determining admission to colleges. Elite colleges have required higher scores and have made allowances for legacy students, students of alumni, commonly contributors to the school.

The research is overwhelming re the discriminatory impact of current “standardized” tests.

The evidence for a stubborn race gap on this test does… provide a snapshot into the extraordinary magnitude of racial inequality in contemporary American society.

 Standardized tests are often seen as mechanisms for meritocracy, ensuring fairness in terms of access. But test scores reflect accumulated advantages and disadvantages in each day of life up the one on which the test is taken. Race gaps on the SAT hold up a mirror to racial inequities in society as a whole.

 Equalizing educational opportunities and human capital acquisition earlier is the only way to ensure fairer outcomes.

The evidence that the SAT has a “disparate impact” is clear.

A 2015 analysis from Inside Higher Ed found that in each of the three parts of the SAT (reading, writing and language and math), the lowest average scores were among students from families who make less than $20,000 in family income, while the highest averages were among students from families who make more than $200,000.

  SAT scores showed continued patterns in which white and Asian students, on average, receive higher scores than do black and Latino students. And, as has been the case for years, students from wealthier families score better than do those from disadvantaged families.

 In December, 2019, a long awaited law suit was filed challenging the use of the SAT and the ACT in California,

“Rather than fulfilling its vision as ‘[a]n engine of opportunity for all Californians’ and creating a level playing field in which all students are evaluated based on individual merit, the [University of California] requires all applicants to subject themselves to SAT and ACT tests that are demonstrably discriminatory against the State’s least privileged students, the very students who would most benefit from higher education,” the lawsuit states.

“These discriminatory tests irreparably taint UC’s ostensibly ‘holistic’ admissions process, …The mere presence of the discriminatory metric of SAT and ACT scores in the UC admissions process precludes admissions officers from according proper weight to meaningful criteria, such as academic achievement and personal qualities, and requires them instead to consider criteria that act as a proxy for wealth and race and thus concentrate privilege on UC campuses.”

Rather than defending the lawsuit, the California Board of Regents is planning to abandon the tests.

A growing list of colleges has made their application process “test optional,” see list of colleges here.

If you abandon the use of the SAT and the ACT, how do you select students?

The California Board of Regents laid out a plan, that includes attempting to create non-discriminatory tests.

In the meantime the system will become “test optional,” although prospective students can seek admission under current rules,

California [residents] can still submit test scores to become eligible through the “statewide guarantee admissions,” which combines high school grades and test scores to give students a spot in any campus that has space if the student is in the top nine percent of applicants.

 If the new process results in fewer Asian and White students and more Afro-American and Latinx students will the plan be challenged in the courts? 

 The Supreme Court, in a 4-3 vote supported the University of Texas “Top Ten Percent Plan,” the Court wrote,

 Top Ten Percent Plan was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. … Previous precedent had established that educational diversity is a compelling interest as long as it is expressed as a concrete and precise goal that is neither a quota of minority students nor an amorphous idea of diversity. In this case, the Court determined that the University of Texas sufficiently expressed a series of concrete goals along with a reasoned explanation for its decision to pursue these goals along with a thoughtful consideration of why previous attempts to achieve the goals had not been successful. The University of Texas’ plan is also narrowly tailored to serve this compelling interest because there are no other available and workable alternatives for doing so.

With the retirement of Justice Kennedy (a “yes” vote) and the addition of Justices Gorsuch and Gallagher (probable “no” votes) the California plan will have to be carefully crafted.

The federal court challenge to the New York City; the use of the Discovery Program to admit greater numbers of Afro-American and Latinx students to the Specialized High Schools is still alive in the courts, although stumbling,

Plaintiffs argue that the Discovery program changes, though facially neutral, discriminate against Asian-Americans because the changes disproportionately hurt Asian-Americans and, critical here, Defendants intended the changes to do so. The Court finds that Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed in showing discriminatory intent and the program changes are thus likely subject to rational basis review. As a consequence, Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on their equal protection claim.

I anticipate a long and winding road.

Will the New York State SUNY Board consider following the same pathway?

To the best of my knowledge the SUNY board has shown no interest in the issue; although as the COVID catastrophe begins to wind down and we begin to return to the “new normal” the issue may begin to surface.

For every applicant admitted another applicant is rejected, the number of seats is a constant: Can you devise a plan that is acceptable to all applicants and the courts?

In New York City the answer is “no” for the Specialized High Schools: a complicated and contentious issue involving race, class and ethnicity; will it be different in California? Or SUNY?

“Instant Teachers,” The SUNY Charter Institute Skips the Teacher Preparation Route: Politics, Muscle Flexing or Zombie Ideas That Will Not Die?

New York State has two charter authorizers, the SUNY Charter Institute  and the Board of Regents; each operates separately and maintains different standards for charter approval and charter renewals. Most charter schools have been authorized by SUNY, whose reputation is “charter friendly,” as evidenced by their recent move to extend the Success Academy charters years before their expiration date. The Regents reputation is close scrutiny and close monitoring and working closely with schools; SUNY plays less of a role in on-going support of the schools. (See list of SUNY charter schools here)

Charter schools fall into two categories, the charter school networks, charter management organizations (CMOs) that operate multiple schools, the prime example is the Success Academy Network, the Eva Moskowitz schools, 38 schools located in New York City.  The other category, referred to as community schools, or “mom and pop” schools, are single operator schools. There are currently 227 charter schools in New York City, about 1800 public schools

(Check out an earlier blog post that reviewed the charter school law and the current debate over teacher recruitment and certification).

Briefly, in July the SUNY Charter Institute proposed changes to their own regulations that would allow SUNY charter networks to “certify” teachers, the “certification” process would be wholly within the network and the State Department of Education would have no role in approving the process.

The Charter Institute argued it was more and more difficult to find certified teachers, although under the law charter schools staffs may include up to 15% uncertified teachers; public schools may only employ certified teachers

In spite of hundreds, maybe thousands of negative comments, including oppositional comments from the commissioner, the chancellor and the unions the SUNY board approved the new regulation. (Read the regulation here )

Upon approval  Commissioner Elia and Chancellor Rosa posted scathing criticism of the action (Read Rosa-Elia response here)

The teacher unions immediately announced that they intended to challenge the actions in the courts.

The SUNY Board of Trustees is appointed by the governor, and, the head of the board, Carl McCall is a close political ally of the governor.

The governor, up until now, has been a vigorous supporter of high standards for teachers. In the fall of 2014 the governor and the Board of Regents engaged in an almost vitriolic exchange of letters over the path of education in New York State. In a 20-page letter dated, 12.31.14 Jim Malatras, the New York State Director of Operations, laid out a path for education in the state. In the section dealing with teacher education Malatras wrote,

The Board of Regents also used Race To The Top funds to pilot clinically rich teacher preparation programs that are deeply embedded in classroom practice with extended teaching residencies/internships in schools rather than brief student teaching commitments. These preparation programs partnered with high-need schools to provide clinically rich experiences in return for the candidate’s commitment to serve in a high-need school where there is a shortage of well-prepared teachers. 

 In addition, the Board of Regents established new, more rigorous teacher and school building leader certification exams. Beginning May 1, 2014, new teachers must take and pass the Academic Literacy Skills test, which assesses a teacher’s literacy skills; a content specialty test, to ensure that teachers have the content knowledge they need to teach a certain subject; the edTPA, a teacher performance assessment that measures a teacher’s pedagogical skills; and the Educating All Students exam, which tests a teaching candidate’s ability to understand diversity in order to address the needs of all students, including English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and knowledge of working with families and communities. These new certification examinations ensure that teaching candidates have the knowledge, skills and abilities to be effective teachers. 

In 2009 Merryl Tisch, at that time the head of the Board of Regents, and now a member of the SUNY Board of Trustees and the SUNY Charter Institute board, excoriated SUNY and called for legislation to move all charter schools to the Board of Regents. (Read NY Daily News article here)

Why has the governor moved from supporting rigorous standards for prospective teachers to virtually no standards?

One theory is politics.

Politics in education?   Remember the Captain Reynaud line in the movie Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked, to find out that gambling is going on here.”

(Watch video clip here)

Governor Cuomo, his election for a third term a year away, is trying to assure that the charter school political action dollars will not be used to support a Republican candidate. While his actions may alienate the teacher unions, where can teachers go? They certainly wouldn’t go to a Republican, especially in the era of Trump, and, since Cuomo appears to be a shoo-in, they can’t afford to alienate the governor. There are far more important items: the property tax cap, levels of school funding, and, the decision over the moratorium on using student data to evaluate teachers.

Another theory: part of a multi-pronged attack on the so-called “public education monopoly” and teacher unions.

  • Law suits challenging teacher tenure law, the failed Vergara case in California and current law suits in New York State and Minnesota.
  • Supporting the use of student assessment data to measure individual teachers usually referred to as Value-Added Measures (VAM).
  • The case currently before the Supreme Court that would impact union membership dues collection.
  • And now, the beginning of an attack on teacher preparation programs, arguing that the programs do not produce better teachers, only create jobs in colleges, and, in this case charter schools, can do the job just as well and remove colleges as the teaching profession gatekeeper.

These attacks are all built on the belief that the marketplace should drive school success or failure. What is generally referred to as Portfolio Management or choice: public, charter, religious and private schools competing for students within the marketplace, the decision of parents, determining which schools survive and which don’t. The marketplace theory is based on the work of University of Chicago Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman.

Last week the Nobel folk announced the winner of the 2017 for economics – Howard Thaler, whose work directly challenges the centuries old views of the marketplace theory.

  … people, in their economic lives, are everywhere and always rational decision makers; those who aren’t either learn quickly or are punished by markets and go broke. Among the implications of this view are that market prices are always right and that people choose the right stocks, the right career, the right level of savings — indeed, that they coolly adjust their rates of spending with each fluctuation in their portfolios, as though every consumer were a mathematician, too …. this orthodoxy has totally dominated the top universities, not to mention the Nobel Prize committee.

Thaler spearheaded a simple but devastating dissent. Rejecting the narrow, [view] that serves as a basis for neoclassical theory, Thaler proposed that most people actually behave like . . . people! They are prone to error, irrationality and emotion, and they act in ways not always consistent with maximizing their own financial well being.

In his 2008 book Nudge Thaler argues that all decisions are influenced by external forces, aka biases,

… many of the familiar arguments for why people should simply be left to make choices on their own, and especially for why government should stay strictly out of the way, have little practical force. In many important areas of choice that matter both to the individual and to the rest of us (for example, when overuse of medical care drives up our insurance premiums and our taxes), the operative question is not whether to bias people’s decisions, but in which direction.

Sadly, as Paul Krugman, another Nobel laureate economist bemoans, zombie ideas keep arising from their tombs.

Whether the decision to create “instant” teachers is strictly a Cuomo political gambit or yet another deeply embedded zombie idea we’ll never know, and, the final decision will either come out of the courts or the court of public opinion.

A simple solution would have been to create a SUNY charter school Teaching Fellows program. For more than twenty years New York City, utilizing existing state alternative teacher licensing regulations recruited candidates in “hard to staff” certification areas, partnered with local colleges: an intensive summer in school and college classrooms and assigned to a school in September with a retired teacher or supervisor as mentor. The Fellows took evening courses and earned a Masters and full certification in two years. Thousands upon thousands of New York City teachers are graduates of the Teaching Fellows program. The SUNY Board of Trustees instead chose to skip colleges altogether.

Whether the reason for the decision is politics or Milton Friedman acolytes the losers are the children.

Creating Pathways to Teaching (Not Building Walls): Eliminating the Academic Literacy Skills Test Will Produce More and More Effective Teachers

Every year the Alumni Association of the City College of New York hosts a “How to Get a Job” session. A panel: principals and teachers who serve on hiring committees interact with prospective teachers in the teacher preparation program. The overriding question this year: is it true that we no longer have to take the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST)? Followed by sighs of relief when the answer was “yes.”

Unfortunately the path to the classroom in New York State has become an obstacle course.

There is a dramatic difference between making teaching candidates jump through meaningless hoops and preparing teachers for the classroom.

A major study, What Matters Most:  Teaching for America’s Future (1996), an influential report of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, made teaching the core of its “three simple premises” in its blueprint for reforming the nation’s schools. They are:

  • What teachers know and can do is the most important influence on what students learn.
  • Recruiting, preparing, and retaining good teachers is the central strategy for improving our schools.
  • School reform cannot succeed unless it focuses on creating the conditions under which teachers can teach and teach well.

For well over 100 years New York City has required prospective teachers to demonstrate competence on a pre-service exam. The Board of Examiners was created in 1898 along with the consolidation of the boroughs into New York City. The first wave of reform began with the passage of the Pendleton Act (1883), the law that created the federal civil service; hiring should be based on merit rather than political connections and hiring practices in the states began to reflect the  national reform movement.

The first wave of education reform in New York City was intended to move from patronage hiring to hiring based upon competence The creation of the Board of Examiners, a quasi-independent board created examinations for teachers and supervisors and promulgated rank-ordered lists. Teachers who received passing grades were appointed to positions in schools pursuant to their grade.  For over seventy years the hiring of teachers was a meritocracy; I remember sitting in the gymnasium at Brooklyn Tech High School for hours poring over questions and writing a series of essays. Months later I was grilled by a panel of examiners, it seems like it took hours, and, eventually a list was posted in the newspaper listing the candidates who passed the exam, with their grade. Yes, a form of public shaming, we survived.

In the 60’s the Board of Examiners became the subject of increasing criticism, with a rising civil rights movement, racial disparities in pass/fail rates challenging the validity of the tests: were the tests actually job-related?

In the 1972 the federal courts ruled the Board of Examiners tests unconstitutional. (Read the Court of Appeals decision here ), the Chancellor at the time supported the decision of the trial court,

In a memorandum to the Board of Education, quoted by Judge Mansfield in his opinion, Chancellor Scribner stated that to defend against plaintiffs’ case,

“… would require that I both violate my own professional beliefs and defend a system of personnel selection and promotion which I no longer believe to be workable.”

From the mid-seventies into the 90’s New York City required a 20-minute interview; eventually New York State instituted a two-exam system: the LAST and the ACT-W, passing rates were above the 90th percentile.

recent study conducted by Hemp Langford of SUNY/Albany and other scholars reviewed teacher quality,

We analyze 25 years of data on the academic ability of teachers in New York State and document that since 1999 the academic ability of both individuals certified and those entering teaching has steadily increased. These gains are widespread and have resulted in a substantial narrowing of the differences in teacher academic ability between high- and low-poverty schools and between White and minority teachers. We interpret these gains as evidence that the status of teaching is improving.

In spite of the findings Commissioner King imposed a series of four examinations (lawyers have one: the Bar Exam)

Unfortunately New York State jumped on the “raise the bar” bandwagon without reviewing teacher quality within the state. At the March 17, 2015 Regents Meeting the acting commissioner, defending the new hyper-testing requirements said,

“I think we all want … to send a very clear message that it should be difficult to enter the profession.”

No. I think the “very clear message” we want to send:  New York State is preparing highly qualified students to enter the profession; “difficult” tests do not assure quality.

The State Ed Department had certainly made it difficult to become a teacher, with no assurances that the hurtles would improve the quality of the workforce.

Prospective teachers in New York State were required to pass four separate examinations: edTPA, the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST), the Educating All Students (EAS) test and a Content Specialty Test (CST) in order to receive their initial teaching certificate.

The edTPA, created by Stanford University and administered and scored by Pearson,

Evidence of a candidate’s ability to teach is drawn from a subject-specific learning segment of 3-5 lessons from a unit of instruction taught to one class of students. Materials assessed as part of the edTPA process include video clips of instruction, lesson plans, student work samples, analysis of student learning, and reflective commentaries. Based on the submitted evidence, which is reviewed by trained scorers, faculty and candidates can discuss the impact of candidates’ teaching performance on student learning and determine ways to improve teaching. Faculty can analyze evidence of candidate performance to guide decision-making about program revision. State education agencies may use edTPA scores for licensure and accreditation

The Academic Literacy and Skills Test (ALAST) is a 210-minute, computer-based exam.

[The teacher candidate] reads a complex informational and narrative text and demonstrates command of key ideas and details in the text … makes logical inferences based on textual evidence … delineates and evaluates the argument and specific claims in a text.

The ALST consists of a selected response section and constructed responses, two focused responses and one extended response.

The Educating All Students (EAS) test is a 135-minute, computer-based exam “consisting of selected response items based on scenario-based responses … the competencies include Diverse Student Populations, English Language Learners, Students with Disabilities, Teacher Responsibilities and School-Home Relationships.”

The Content Specialty Test (CST) is a series of tests in about fifty different areas, the Multi-Subject Grades 1-6 (Common Branches) is a computer-based test:

Part One: Literacy and English Language Arts, Part Two: 40 selected-response items and a constructed response item in Mathematics: Part Three: 40 selected-response items and one constructed response item in Arts and Sciences, tests can be taken in three separate sections or at one time: 5 hours and 15 minutes.

About ten hours of actual testing time and days and days preparing for and constructing the video segment of the edTPA.

The tests and the test preparation materials cost the student about a thousand dollars.

Is there any evidence that the battery of testing will produce more qualified teachers and better student outcomes? The answer is no.

There is general agreement that the edTPA is valuable and should be integrated into college programs; “clinically-rich” programs incorporate a great deal of actual in-class practice teaching, and, a few colleges, very few, use videos as reflective teaching-learning tools for teacher candidates.

I asked the Director of Field Services in a teacher education program if he saw any relationship between the ALST and EAS exams and teacher quality. His answer, “I’m baffled, top students failed and marginal students passed, it makes no sense to me.”

In New York City just under 40% of new teachers leave within five years and I’m sure the same number accrues in inner city high poverty school districts across the state; teachers leave high poverty schools at much more accelerated rates than teachers in high achieving schools.

A core issue is teacher retention in schools with the lowest academic achievement. No matter the rigor of the preparation, if we don’t retain teachers the process is flawed.

Sadly the rush to “test to teacher excellence” appears to be driving away prospective teachers, enrollment in teacher preparation programs across the state is sharply down. SUNY deans report decreases approaching 40% in teacher preparation programs and more than 20% declines in CUNY schools. (New York City financially supports Teaching Fellows and Men Teach programs)

The folks in charge constantly beat the diversity drums, we should attract a more diverse teaching workforce; however, the failure rates on the ALAST and the EAS are significantly higher among black and Hispanic test takers. Are they “less literate,” or, is the test flawed?  And, how does the test correlate with teacher effectiveness? We have no idea.

Yes, I understand Finland only selects teachers from the top ten percent of applicants, Finland is also a nation with almost no childhood poverty and income equality, within their workforce teachers are well-paid. If we dragged Finnish teachers across the pond and dumped them in Rochester or East New York we would not see magic.

Rather than address the problem, attracting the right candidates, providing high quality teacher preparation programs based on evidence, supporting new teachers over their first few years, we are discouraging new applicants, using “tests” that are unproven, not valid or reliable and ignoring the discouraging exit of new teachers, from both the profession and from high needs schools.

There is hope on the horizon: the Council for the Accreditation Teacher Preparation (CAEP), the national organization that assesses teacher preparation programs requires a 3.0 GPA for admission to programs.

A year ago Regents Cashin and Collins, the co-chairs of the New York State Regents Higher Education Committee began to explore the validity of the exams. Instead of jumping to conclusions, the members held ten forums around the state. Many hundreds of college teachers and students attended the open forums, as well as the commissioner and other state staff. The message was clear, the exams were not culling the “best and the brightest,” the exams were creating barriers as well as chasing away potential teacher educators. The regents formed a task force co-chaired by deputy provost of SUNY and an officer of the state college teacher union (UUP) and made a series of recommendations.

The task force report (See Power Point here) made a series of recommendations, one of which is to eliminate one of the exams, the Academic Literary Skills Test (ALST). The print media, the NY Daily News, the NY Post jumped on the Board and screamed, “you’re ‘dumbing down’ teacher standards.”

Not true.

Teacher preparation programs must meet CAEP standards, including a 3.0 GPA for admission to programs, passing three exams, the edTPA, a process that takes weeks or months, the Educating All Children (EAS) and the Content Specialty test (CST). New York City has a “Teacher Finder” site, all prospective teacher posts resumes available to all principals, schools routinely interview applicants and commonly require a demonstration lesson, and, once appointed teachers serve four years as a probationary teacher.

In spite of all these efforts four of ten new teachers leave within five years.

Instead of bashing the Regents the media should be lauding the Regents.

Former Commissioner King, with the acquiescence of Chancellor Tisch, didn’t raise the bar, they built a wall.

The teacher candidates we met with are spending days in classrooms as student teachers, reading and writing in their graduate courses, studying for the required exams and grappling with creating and commenting on the video required in the edTPA process.

Policy should not simply appear out of the reform-y clouds, edicts announced from the mountaintops rarely impact the folks in the trenches. Regents Cashin and Collins listened to hundreds and hundreds of college teachers and teacher candidates, created a task force to convert the findings of the forums into actual policy. “Participation reduces resistance,” policy should grow from classrooms, from teachers, from students, from parents.

I applaud the actions of the regents, under the collaborative leadership of Chancellor Rosa the Board has created a process to include all of us, yes, there will be conflicts, the process can be slow, and, at times frustrating (Opt Out advocates), building consensus is at the core of our democratic system.

James Madison in Federalist # 10 warned us,

The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice [factions]. He will not fail, therefore, to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it. The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished.

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

Madison goes on the praise the republican form of government created in our constitution, “a happy combination … of  the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.”

Decisions, made in a transparent environment,  reflecting the will of the majorities, not the interests of a handful of self-proclaimed elites,, are the best decisions.

NYSUT Leadership at Stake: The Members Will Decide Who Leads the 600,000 NYS Teachers.

In the early seventies the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers, (AFT) locals in New York State merged into a single state federation – the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). There was considerable doubt that the merger would succeed, the organizations came from starkly different cultures – a union affiliated with the AFL-CIO and a “professional” organization.

NYSUT is incredibly diverse – New York City, locals with 100 or fewer members deep in the Adirondacks, high wealth suburbs, college teachers in the CUNY system and across the state in the SUNY system. Per capita funding is one of the most disparate in the nation; upstate urban communities have seen industry flee and the inner cities face increasingly deep poverty and less and less revenue.

NYSUT is not a union – it is a federation of 1300 local chapters. NYSUT uses dues dollars to establish and staff regional support centers around the state – the centers provide labor relations specialists and attorneys who negotiate contracts and support the locals as well as lobbying in Albany.

New York City, teachers, teachers outside of New York City and college teachers belong to different pension funds, CUNY and SUNY have chancellors selected by appointed Boards, the Board of Regents appoints a state commissioner while New York City is a mayoral control city.

For decades Tom Hobart led the NYSUT federation with élan. Tom skillfully guided the extremely diverse elements within the federation. Tom and Toni Cortese, his first vice president balanced the complexities of the needs of 600,000 members and, from the UFT, Alan Lubin, guided the political/lobbying side across the state.

NYSUT collected millions of dollars in voluntary political contributions (Committee on Political Education – COPE) and for many years has been the major contributor to political campaigns – both Republicans and Democrats.

Some months ago the unity of this extremely diverse organization began to fray. The incumbents are being challenged by a new slate – all the candidates within the same caucus (See Revive NYSUT here and a blog supporting the insurgents here)

The annual NYSUT Representative Assembly will begin on Friday evening April 4th and the election will take place on the evening of April 5th.

Rumors abound about the reasons that the split is irreconcilable:

* have the incumbents mismanaged the fiscal side of NYSUT?
* have the incumbents been tone deaf to the needs of members?
* has the split been engineered by the larger locals?

Interestingly this a not a philosophical split between different caucuses – all the candidates are within the Unity Caucus – the caucus that has dominated the federation for decades.

For the anti-Unity folk it’s a Randi Weingarten plot, the press points to a dispute between Vice President Andy Palotta and President Dick Iannuzzi. Others just think that NYSUT has been slow to respond to the attacks on public education by the governor, the commissioner and most members of the board of regents.

Jessica Bakeman at Capital NY reports,

Iannuzzi is losing ground among local unions whose delegates will vote at a convention in early April.

Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Federation of Teachers, said his members are frustrated that the current leadership wasn’t as aggressive as they’d hoped in responding to the state’s rollout of the controversial Common Core standards.

“Many of the Buffalo teachers have not been satisfied with the positions that NYSUT has taken,” Rumore told Capital on Wednesday. “Let’s put it this way: If anything, we are leaning toward a change in direction, but we haven’t made a formal decision yet.”

Yonkers Federation of Teachers president Patricia Puleo said her union’s delegates are free to decide for themselves who they’ll vote for in April, and she questioned whether new leadership would make a difference in how the state Education Department goes forward with implementation of the Common Core standards. But she recognized that the city’s teachers have grown frustrated.

“People are so upset that they are willing to make whatever changes they can,” Puleo said.

Kevin Ahern, president of the Syracuse Teachers Association, said his delegates aren’t sure how they’ll vote.
“We have to do what is best for our local, and we are waiting until we have thoroughly discussed where both slates are at in terms of what will work best for us in the long term,” Ahern said.

Rochester Teachers Association president Adam Urbanski said teachers have been dissatisfied with Iannuzzi’s handling of some issues in the past, they “have also noted a marked change in his position with the call for a moratorium and with spearheading the vote of no confidence against Commissioner King,” he said.

“I think there is considerable dissatisfaction with the way things have turned out,” Urbanski continued, “and I think they want a stronger position to be taken by NYSUT than NYSUT has managed to take until now. There is absolutely no question about that. But they don’t want change for the sake of change; they want change in position and the issues to be the focus point, not personalities.”

United University Professions, a union of about 33,000 SUNY professors and other employees, will back the challengers.
Higher education institutions in the state are facing different issues than elementary and secondary schools, and UUP president Frederick Kowal said a primary focus has been the financial troubles of Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, which might close. He’s unhappy with NYSUT’s involvement in professors’ fight to keep it open.

Universities have also faced state aid cuts. NYSUT launched an advertising campaign earlier this month advocating boosts in funding for SUNY and CUNY. But Kowal said his union has had to rely on its own lobbying.

“There needs to be a consistent and long-running commitment to the needs of members and locals,” Kowal said. “It’s just not enough to see a flurry of activity as a contested election approaches.”

Sometime late Saturday night the votes will be counted and the incumbents or the insurgents will prevail. What is crucially important is that the transition, if it occurs, is an orderly transition. The worst thing that could happen is if the losers attempt to undercut the winners.

Politics is complicated, it’s easy to attack the governor or the commissioner or the legislature, and it’s difficult to impact policy decisions. You influence lawmakers one vote, one meeting at a time, by developing relationships. As Tip O’Neill, the one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives so famously noted, “All politics is local.”

A contingent of CUNY students was meeting with an Albany legislator; they were vigorously demanding more money for the city colleges to prevent a tuition increase. The legislator asked whether the students would campaign for higher taxes, or, what programs should they reduce to add funds to colleges, the students got frustrated, angry, and threatened, “We won’t vote for you – we’ll campaign against you.” The legislator asked, “Will you work with me to find a solution?” The students angrily stalked out of the office. The legislator took the sign-in list and ran it into the computer – none of the students were registered Democrats – they were not eligible to vote in the primary in which candidates were selected.

An hour later we met with a lobbyist and some clients – they advocated for legislation and left a detailed folder with a suggested bill.

In my former school district the school board, the superintendent, the parent associations and school union leaders met with all the local legislators and provided them with a legislative agenda for the district and followed up with Albany visits and visits to the legislator’s community office.

One would hope that teacher union local presidents have excellent relationships with local electeds, that they communicate regularly, that with the assistance of the NYSUT lobbying team they are a presence in their district. Impacting policy is not an e-blast or a one-time trip to Albany – it is a day-to-day process.

For the UFT the major issue is negotiating a contract and relief from the onerous requirements of the teacher evaluation plan, for CUNY the fight is over Pathways, for SUNY the proposed closing of Downstate Medical Center, outside of New York City the property tax cap, all locals are fighting for increased state aid, locals and groups of locals have diverse interests and needs.

The voters are the elected delegates representing the membership of the 1300 local unions. The “voters” vote in proportion to the members they represent – local unions decide on the number of delegates to send to the Representative Assembly. Each voter bubbles in the candidates of their choice on a ballot with a barcode – the ballots are scanned and the totals available a few hours after the closing of the polls – Saturday night.

While it is commonplace to speculate about backroom deals and grand strategies frequently disagreements are what they seem. Members of organizations become dissatisfied and an alternate leader emerges – this is what democracy is all about.

Will the representatives of the 600,000 member NYSUT decide to stick with the current leadership or opt for a new team – I suspect they will opt for the new team.

Leaders require a “third ear,” Joyce Brown, a psychologist and President of FIT describes her process,

I have a third ear. I listen, and I really pay attention and try very hard to understand the nuances. I tell people that I will listen to what they say, and will try to incorporate what I can from their suggestions if I think they fit the objective we’re trying to achieve. If we’re not going to do what they’re suggesting, I’ll tell them why. I think people deserve that. I will tell you why, and then we will proceed. I think it works, because people feel that they were listened to, and were given the respect of an answer about why I might disagree. You gain a lot by being respectful of people’s ideas.

The current NYSUT leadership appears to have lost contact with their membership – too many members feel the leadership is neither listening nor leading. Leadership requires a deft touch – the membership goals may be unrealistic – do you follow the membership even though you know the path is futile or guide the membership to another path, even though they are reluctant?

In New York City Michael Mulgrew is a popular leader – he won the last union election with almost 90% of the vote, there is an active opposition, a former very oppositional mayor – with currently a much friendlier mayor Mulgrew will have to negotiate a contract and satisfy his members – some may have unrealistic expectations. Senior teachers want as much money as possible to augment their pensions; younger members want job security and “respect,” aka, better working conditions. Mulgrew will have to check the pulse of his membership and craft an agreement that satisfies members across the board.

Apparently NYSUT leadership was unable to find a middle ground, hence the leadership struggle.

The members will decide.

On a personal note: I have worked with candidates on both sides of the struggle and have always found them dedicated and hard-working – I hope that once the membership decides the factions can come together for the benefit of the membership.

Do Charter Schools Dump Kids Prior to the State Tests? Are We Moving Toward “Public Schools for All” and “Schools for the Select?”

About a year ago Jim Tallon, a member of the Board of Regents from Newburgh, asked Commissioner King to investigate charter schools dumping kids into public schools before the state tests. Other Regent members nodded in agreement and asked for a report – were charter schools discharging kids, especially lower achieving kids, prior to the state tests? Ken Wagner, the State Ed data guy waffled, it’s possible, maybe by next fall. Fall has come and gone – and no report.

Every student has a unique ID number as does every school in the state, schools file monthly admit/discharge reports, and this is not an overly complex task.

Why is State Ed so reticent to answer the question?

Do charter schools discharge lower achieving students prior to the state tests, and, if so, how does it impact school test score data?

If the test scores of kids discharged after January 1 were attributed to the sending schools how would it impact test scores?

Charters must go through a renewal process every five years – the State Education Department has the responsibility to review the overall operation of the school, from leadership to financial operations to achievement. A detailed report is presented to the Regents with a recommendation. The Brooklyn Scholars Charter School came before the Regents with a recommendation for a two-year renewal.

Read full renewal report here: http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/F89B7410-805B-45BD-A209-199BB5531649/0/BrooklynScholarsRenewalReportFinal.pdf

While the Progress Report grade moved from a “B” to a “C” to a “D,” compared to other schools in District 19 the school outperformed the District 19 schools, except the school only has half the number of students with disabilities as other district schools and no English language learners.

The law requires that charter schools must “…meet or exceed enrollment and retention targets for students with disabilities and English language learners … Repeated failure to comply is a cause for termination or revocation of the charter.”

In each of its years of operation the school failed to increase numbers of students with disabilities or English language learners. The school has laid out a detailed plan to address the issue going forward.

The report failed to address “retention,” do schools excessively discharge students and who are they?

What is disturbing is that in October, 2012 the State University (SUNY) issued a dense report establishing a process for establishing enrollment and retention targets. (See report here http://www.suny.edu/board_of_trustees/webcastdocs/eandrtargetspacket.pdf).

The public school sector looks upon charter schools with suspicion. A few days ago a principal complained that over the last few weeks she had received eight students from charter schools – all the students well below grade level in ELA and Math skills; of course, this might be an anomaly.

The barrage of TV commercials that have blanketed the area rave about the achievement of charter schools in comparison to public schools. If charter schools are achieving at a higher rate the question is: why?

What are they doing differently? Or, are the increased scores due to discharging lower achieving students?

Let’s not forget how the state legislature came to create charter schools. In December, 1998 Governor Pataki called the legislature into session – a lame duck session – with two items on the agenda: a salary increase for legislators coupled with creation of charter schools. Charter schools were the spawn of a crass political deal.

If you ask charter school parents, “Why do you like charter schools” you receive a discomforting answer, “They kick out the ‘bad’ kids and teachers don’t have to deal with students with disabilities or kids who can’t speak English.”

The “tale of two cities” is moving toward two school systems – private, parochial and charter schools on one side and public schools on the other, one system for the privileged and the parents with social capital and another for the remainder.

The governor, the mayor, the Regents and the legislature can either accept the divide or not, ultimately it will be up to the electorate.

Tossing a few electeds out of office over the Common Core, or high stakes testing or charter schools will catch the attention of the officeholders, or, perhaps we are on the way towards two categories of schools.