Tag Archives: Teacher Evaluation

Guest Blog: An Alternative to Tests for Measuring Student Growth That Can Also Facilitate Teacher Growth

(Marc Korashan is a frequent commenter on this blog. Marc instructs first and second year NYC Teaching Fellows at a local college,  taught seriously at-risk youth in public schools and worked as a teacher union organizer.)

An Alternative to Tests for Measuring Student Growth That Can Also Facilitate Teacher Growth

Ed asks a number of important questions in his column, “VAM, the Lederman Decision and the Misuse of Statistical Tools.” that have been neglected in the teacher evaluation debate. “If a particular teacher over a number of years consistently receives high scores … what is that particular teacher doing? What instructional practices is the teacher utilizing? Can these practices be isolated and taught to prospective teachers in college teacher preparation programs [or] in school and district-based professional development? Or, are these practices unique to the individual teacher?”

In almost every school there is a teacher whom every parent wants their child to have.  S/he is recognized as getting the best out of their students from year to year; creating a classroom where students thrive and making school a positive experience for her/his students.  Administrators have to fend off parent requests for their child to be assigned or transferred to that class, and that teacher is often given the opportunity to select students for next year’s class (making her/his success a self-fulfilling prophecy as s/he rarely selects the known “problem students” and those students with the least parental support at home have no one to lobby for their placement in her/his class).

The Lederman decision makes it clear that the VAM algorithms don’t work when evaluating these teachers.  The results are “arbitrary and capricious” precisely because of the instability and unreliability of individual scores and the grade level ceilings on the tests that mitigate against growth measures for students who continually excel, If, however we use these teachers as a starting point, we can begin to look for the classroom management and teaching practices that are working in that school in that community.

It is possible to talk about teaching techniques, “what that teacher is doing,” (I do this regularly in my work with first and second year NYC Teaching Fellows), but this conversation must be grounded in both research and tailored to the individual style of each teacher.  I have been privileged to work with teachers who are naturally gifted at doing the two things that any “great” teacher must be able to do; convincing each student that you care about her or him and have their best interests at heart.  If students believe that (even, and maybe especially, the seriously emotionally disturbed students that I worked with), then one can talk about how to use the techniques the research has validated.

Techniques like Functional Behavioral Analysis to understand what needs a student’s inappropriate behaviors are serving can be taught.  Developing Positive Behavioral Interventions for that student so s/he can meet those needs without being disruptive requires a teacher who really likes and wants to understand that student and can get beyond a list in a textbook of things that worked for other students to create something unique.

This is the dilemma at the heart of any discussion of “good” teaching and “measuring teacher performance.”  We teach in a system that creates groups, classes, grades, schools, but we teach individuals.  The original intent for annual student evaluations was to look at how districts and schools were using Title One funds; data was analyzed on a school and district level.  The tests were never designed, and I can argue can never be adequately designed, to reliably and validly measure individual student performance.  Nor do rubrics (that are too often turned into checklists) like Danielson’s really look at the decisions that teachers made to meet the needs of the students in front of them, in that community, in that class, on that day.

If we want to develop a system that measures student performance and growth over time or a system that looks at what teachers are contributing to student progress, then we have to do two things.  We need to invest time and effort into building “growth portfolio” practices linked to standards.  The standards define what students are expected to know and be able to do and we can set up portfolios where students submit work that demonstrates their accomplishments including a brief description of why the student thinks a given piece of work meets the standards and what the student is working on to improve her/his performance.

This kind of portfolio can be started for students in first grade and continue through their graduation from high school.  It could even be used in lieu of Regents to deem students to have achieved meaningful mastery in subjects like English, or Math.  To be both valid and reliable teachers need to have time to meet and discuss what kind of content the portfolio needs to have and to develop analytic rubrics for evaluating the quality of the content.  Rubrics have to be shared with students, preferably in lessons where they apply them to grading exemplars across a range of quality levels.  The system also has to allow for students to add to or redefine the descriptions within the rubric so that they, the students, have some real ownership in the process and their education.

The second thing that needs to happen is to support these practices with meaningful in-service professional development on the standards, at how the standards are written and whether they can be made more meaningful and transparent for students, and on how to write and rewrite rubrics that will effectively measure student growth.  Teachers will need time in their work days to meet and have these discussions and, to the extent that these practices are new, teachers will need time to learn and practice with them and schools will need to have staff developers who can facilitate this work and teach the basic skills.

This kind of process will provide better outcomes than the current reliance on standardized and norm referenced tests.  As it will take place in individual schools, the portfolios, rubrics and the entire process will reflect the needs of the communities that schools are located in.  Different communities may emphasize different skills in earlier grades, but all schools and communities will ultimately be holding students accountable for meeting the agreed upon standards, be they Common Core or Pittsburgh or some new iteration yet to be designed.  Employers will be certain that students with earned degrees will have the skills embodied in those standards.

This kind of model will make it easier to talk about the expected outcomes for students; make it possible to see how teachers are trying to get to those outcomes and allow for more discussion among teachers within a school about what is and isn’t working.

In the end teaching is a craft, a mixture of art and science that cannot be completely captured in a rubric or reduced to set of principles or a recipe.  Teaching comes, first and foremost, from the desire to reach out and connect with students, a desire to share one’s enthusiasm for a subject or love of learning, and only secondarily is it about the more mundane topics of how to manage classrooms and how to plan lessons.  Those are important skills for teachers to learn, but they must be learned by each individual teacher in ways that reflect her/his personality.  The practices are not unique, but they are effective only when students see them as a genuine reflection of the teacher’s personality and her/his concern for the students.

VAM, the Lederman Decision and the Misuse of Statistical Tools. “Gut versus Actual Evidence.”

What if the educators making important decisions about schools and colleges are acting too much on their guts and not enough based on actual evidence? (Review of Howard Wainer, “Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies,” 2011)

Back in my union rep days I occasionally represented members in interest arbitrations, claims of violations of the agreement. The Board fired a paraprofessional claiming he had assisted students; cheating thorough the erasure of incorrect answers and using expert testimony explaining how software was used to analyze the erasures. I scrambled to find my own expert. I worried that the technical evidence would be too dense; however, the arbitrator had a background in math and economics and not only understood the testimony he asked numerous questions of the expert witnesses.

A few months later: I won the case; I was ecstatic, the inappropriate use of the erasure analysis software would be barred.

While the arbitrator found the use of the software was not “persuasive;” he sustained our case writing the Board failed to reach their burden of proof. It was a victory, a narrow victory that did not resolve the question of the misuse of the software.

A couple of years ago Sheri Lederman, a teacher on Long Island received an “ineffective” rating on the Value-Added Measurement (VAM) side of the teacher evaluation metric. The appellants introduced evidence from numerous experts all challenging the use of VAM to assess individual teachers.

In a narrowly worded decision a New York State Supreme Court judge overturned the “ineffective” rating of the teacher ruling that use of Value Added Measurement for the appellant in the instant case was “arbitrary and capricious,” No precedent was set.,

Read the Lederman filing here: http://www.capitalnewyork.com/sites/default/files/Sheri%20Aff%20Final.pdf

Read an excellent analysis here: https://www.the74million.org/article/ny-teacher-wins-court-case-against-states-evaluation-system-but-she-may-appeal-to-set-wider-precedent

In 2010 the New Teacher Project (TNTP), an advocacy organization firmly embedded in the (de)form side of the aisle issued a report – a survey of school districts across a number of states, the findings,

  • All teachers are rated good or great. Less than 1 percent of teachers receive unsatisfactory ratings, making it impossible to identify truly exceptional teachers.
  • Professional development is inadequate. Almost 3 in 4 teachers did not receive any specific feedback on improving their performance in their last evaluation.
  • Novice teachers are neglected. Low expectations for beginning teachers translate into benign neglect in the classroom and a toothless tenure process.
  • Poor performance goes unaddressed. Half of the districts studied have not dismissed a single tenured teacher for poor performance in the past five years.

Six years later New York State is working on Teacher Evaluation 4.0, and, we are in the first year of a four year moratorium on the use of grade 3-8 standardized test scores to assess teachers.

Value-Added Models also referred to as Growth Scores; attempts to compare teachers from around state teaching similar students. A dense mathematical algorithm incorporates a variety of variables and generates a numerical score for each teacher. For example, a fourth grade teacher is compared to other fourth grade teachers across the state taking into account percentages of students she teaches who are Title 1 eligible, students with IEPs, English Language Learners, by gender and perhaps other variables. The criticism is the use of the formula to assess individual teachers: the experts aver the scores are “unreliable,” large errors of measurement,  i. e., plus or minus five or ten or fifteen percent, and the scores are “unstable,” teacher scores vary widely from year to year.

The use of value-added measurements to assess individual teachers has been pilloried by experts.

The New York State Learning Summit  brought together experts from across the country – they were sharply critical of the use of VAM to assess individual teachers.

Howard Wainer, a statistician with decades of experiences and published articles has been a harsh critic of the misuse of statistical tools,

Ideas whose worth diminishes with data and thought are too frequently offered as the only way to do things. Promulgators of these ideas either did not look for data to test their ideas, or worse, actively avoided considering evidence that might discredit them.

The issue is not the mathematical model; the issue is how the model is used. If a particular teacher over a number of years consistently receives high scores it is worthwhile to ask: what is that particular teacher doing? What instructional practices is the teacher utilizing? Can these practices be isolated and taught to prospective teachers in college teacher preparation programs? In school and district-based professional development? Or, are these practices unique to the individual teacher?  Is there a “teaching gene,” an innate quality that resonates with students?

Sadly, VAM has been misused in spite of the evidence that discredits the use of the tool to assess individual teachers

Six years after the Widget Report, a report that bemoaned that only 1 percent of teachers were rated unsatisfactory, six years into the use of student achievement data using dense mathematical prestidigitation we find that 1 percent of teachers are found “ineffective.”

Millions of dollars and endless conflicts and the percentage of teachers found unsatisfactory remain at 1 percent!

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result

In New York State we are in year one of a four-year moratorium on the use of grade 3-8 student test scores to evaluate teachers.

How should management evaluate teacher competence?

“One size fits all” fits no one.

The state should explore a menu of choices to fit the many differences among the 700 school districts in the state.

A Conundrum: How Do You Create a Teacher Evaluation Process That Satisfies Teachers, Principals, Parents, the Legislature and the Governor? (Hint: With Difficulty)

No one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the New York State Legislature is in session.” Anonymous, 19th century.

Diane Ravitch convened her third annual Network for Public Education conference in Raleigh with hundreds of teachers, parents and public school advocates.  The attendees do not represent organizations; they dug into their own pockets to meet with like-minded public education devotees from across the nation. I met a band director from Fort Worth, a second-career math teacher from Jacksonville, a literacy coach from North Carolina; we chatted and shared experiences, we all face incredible challenges and legislatures and privateers intent on eroding the public in public education.

We stood and cheered as Reverend Barber, the leader of the North Carolina NAACP, called a modern day Martin Luther King, preached and taught us – both a history lesson and a sermon.  Bob Herbert challenged us to vote, and emphasized that while coming to the polls in 2008 and 2012 elected Barack Obama, staying away from the polls allowed the Tea Party to seize control of the House, the Senate and state legislatures in 2010 and 2014. A subtle message to the Bernie voters – staying away from the polls in November could lead to a Trump presidency.

Fifty workshops allowed us to meet together in smaller groups. One theme was teacher evaluation: in school districts across the nation student test scores play a significant role in the evaluation of teachers; a Report  by the Network for Public Education is summarized,

72% of respondents also reported that the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluation had a negative impact on sharing instructional strategies.

Over 41% of black and 30% of Latino/a educators reported racial bias in evaluations.

About 84% of respondents report a significant increase in the amount of teacher time spent on evaluations.

84% of respondents said that the new evaluation system in their state had negatively changed the conversations about instruction between their supervisors and themselves.

75% of respondents stated that these new evaluation systems incorrectly label many good teachers as being ineffective.

Nearly 85% of respondents stated that these evaluation systems do not lead to high-quality professional growth for teachers.

Nearly 82% of teachers reported that test scores are a significant component of their evaluation.

Opposition to the use of student test data to rate/measure/assess teachers has united teachers from across the nation.

At the conference one of the sessions pitted Jennifer Berkshire, aka EduShyster against Peter Cunningham, the Executive Director of Education Post. Jennifer and Peter are on opposite ends of the teacher evaluation spectrum – forty-five minutes of thrust, parry and riposte – spellbinding!!

Critics pointed to research that avers teachers only account for 14% of a student’s test score, family and income account for the largest percentage, therefore, rating teachers by test scores is invalid, Cunningham responded that teachers are the crucial factor in student achievement, we cannot change a family or income, we can change teachers and highly effective teachers have significant impacts on children, as other research shows. Meeting with teachers from across the nation was invigorating; listening to the anti-teacher stories from state after state was discouraging.

A week earlier the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) annual convention took place in Rochester, Teachers from hundreds of school districts across the state met to debate and set policy for NYSUT. The state is incredibly diverse, New York City and the Big Four (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers), the high tax, high wealth suburban districts, the hundreds of rural low tax, low wealth districts, facing sharply different problems. The delegates representing the teachers within the state university system, (SUNY) and the teachers in the city university system (CUNY); CUNY teachers have not had a raise in six years.

Speeches from Karen Magee, the leader of NYSUT as well as Randi Weingarten, the AFT president and a rousing in-person speech by candidate Hillary Clinton (Watch and listen to Clinton’s speech here). The most vigorous debate: teacher evaluation. Although the state is in the first year of a four year moratorium on the use of student test scores to assess teacher performance the debate was hot and heavy.

Watch videos of convention speeches: http://www.nysut.org/resources/special-resources-sites/representative-assembly

From the NYSUT website,

“Sending a strong message to Albany that more needs to be done to stop the harmful over-testing of students, some 2,000 delegates approved resolutions calling for a complete overhaul of the state’s grades 3–8 testing program; swift implementation of the Common Core Task Force’s recommendations; and new assessments that are created with true educator input to provide timely and accurate appraisals of student learning.”.

A few days after the NYSUT convention the UFT Delegate Assembly held its monthly meeting; a thousand or so delegates, elected in each school by staffs, meeting to listen to a report by UFT President Mulgrew and debate and set policy.  Mulgrew gives updates on the national scene: retired teachers were ringing doorbells in Pennsylvania supporting Hillary; the California Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision in the Vergara case, supporting tenure and reminded delegates that while the US Supreme Court deadlocked on the anti-union Fredericks decision attacks from the right will not end. Mulgrew criticized the use of test scores to rate teachers; however, he reminded teachers that under the Bloomberg administration principals had the sole voice in teacher assessment. In the last year of Bloomberg 2.7% of teachers received “unsatisfactory” ratings, under the current multiple measures system only 1% of teachers received “ineffective” ratings. Almost all schools in New York City use Measures of Student Learnings (MOSL), dense  algorithms that assess student growth attributed to each teacher – there are hundreds of algorithms  to account for the many different school situations. The system, that includes an appeal process, melds principal observations and MOSLs appears to work well.

At the first meeting of the Board of Regents under the leadership of new Chancellor Betty Rosa a lengthy discussion over teacher evaluation took place. Chancellor Rosa appointed Regent Johnson to chair a Work Group to link research to policy decisions.

The 700 school districts in New York State are currently negotiating teacher evaluation plans under the four year moratorium, the use of grade 3-8 test scores are prohibited.  A few members of the Board suggested asking the legislature to clarify exactly what they wanted the Regents to do in reference to teacher evaluation, others argued that the decision was given to the Regents members and it would be wrong to punt back to the legislature. Clearly, the newly constituted Board has a ways to go to reach consensus.

Even Charlotte Danielson, the doyen of teacher assessment has her doubts about the current policies across the nation,

The idea of tracking teacher accountability started with the best of intentions and a well-accepted understanding about the critical role teachers play in promoting student learning. The focus on teacher accountability has been rooted in the belief that every child deserves no less than good teaching to realize his or her potential.

But as clear, compelling, and noncontroversial as these fundamental ideas were, the assurance of great teaching for every student has proved exceedingly difficult to capture in either policy or practice…

There is also little consensus on how the profession should define “good teaching.” Many state systems require districts to evaluate teachers on the learning gains of their students. These policies have been implemented despite the objections from many in the measurement community regarding the limitations of available tests and the challenge of accurately attributing student learning to individual teachers.

I strongly urge you to read the entire Danielson essay: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/04/20/charlotte-danielson-on-rethinking-teacher-evaluation.html

There are a few schools that have created teacher assessment processes that are valuable because they both assess teaching and encourage teachers to grow in their profession. There is insightful research; unfortunately we do not know how to “scale up.”  There is no inter-rater reliability, in some districts every teacher received a “highly effective” score, which also means so did the rater. Teachers in high wealth, high achieving districts receive higher scores than teachers in low wealth lower achieving districts. (Check out research studies  from the Chicago Consortium on School Research here  and here).

Getting teacher evaluation/assessment right is exceedingly complex in a highly emotional climate.

The Regents have a challenging task.

Opts Outs and the Tenth Amendment: Will the States and Localities Make Better Education Decisions Than the Federal Government?

“Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.” (Articles of Confederation)

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” (Tenth Amendment to the Constitution).

In April of 1787 fifty-four Americans, plantation owners and small farmers, slave-holders and abolitionists, large states and small states began their slog to Philadelphia and the Constitutional Convention. The fledgling nation was struggling, the form of government, a loose, a very loose confederation of the thirteen former colonies had no common currency, no banking system, no army and couldn’t even pay the troops that fought and won the war for independence.  For most the trip with not with enthusiasm, previous efforts to amend the Articles of Confederation had stumbled badly; however, Hamilton, Madison and Washington had a plan, not to amend the Articles, to create a new document, a Constitution.

After a contentious summer, the factions carved out a founding document that divided powers and responsibilities among the executive and legislative branches and the states. The new constitution was silent on slavery. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison called the constitution “a covenant with death” and an “agreement with Hell.” (See Paul Finkelstein, Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson, 2001).

For the next seventy years the nation grappled with the issue of slavery seen through the lens of states’ rights versus federalism, concluding in the civil war.

The pendulum swung to the concept of federalism as the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments ended slavery, made slaves citizens and granted them the right to vote.

14th Amendment, Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

With the end of Reconstruction the former confederate state replaced slavery with peonage, the passage of the Jim Crow laws, statutes supported time and time again by the Supreme Court.

The pendulum had swung to the states.

It wasn’t until 1967, almost a hundred years after the Civil War that the Supreme Court overturned a Virginia law that had made interracial marriage a crime.  The judge in the lower court ruled, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents…. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

In a unanimous decision Justice Warren overturned the decision and ruled the Virginia law unconstitutional,

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law … There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.

In the arena of education states have vigorously defended their 10th Amendment rights including their right to racially segregate schools.  Brown v Board of Education (1954) may have ended outright, legal segregation; however, the laws in the fifty states and 16,000 school districts have embedded sharp disparities: in courses of study, graduation requirements, in funding of schools, in requirements for teachers, the assessment of student and teachers, all left to the discretion of the states; that is, until the Obama administration decided to challenge the independence of the states in making education decisions.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are actually national standards created by the National Governors Association (NGA) and adopted by 46 states. The feds dangled $4.4 billion in competitive grants if states adopted the CCSS, a student test-score based teacher evaluation system, charter schools, aka choice and joined one of the two national testing consortia – Smarter Balance or PARCC.

The Executive Branch had managed to abrogate the Tenth Amendment and set the national education agenda.

Six years later the Obama education agenda is in tatters.

States are increasingly reclaiming the authority to make educational decisions.

The impact of CCSS is waning, the testing consortia have fewer and fewer customers, and parents around the nation are rejecting the core of the Obama plan – annual testing.

Even Tom Kane of Harvard, an avid supporter of the Obama policies, agrees the “proxy war” has curtailed the power of the feds “(For state leadership the common core is a boon“).

Over the past few years, the Common Core State Standards have been embroiled in a proxy war over the role of the federal government in education. To those most protective of state and local prerogatives, “common” became a synonym for “federal.” Perhaps now that the Every Student Succeeds Act has settled that fight by curtailing the federal role, and the Common Core State Standards are now just the state standards, policymakers can recognize that the common standards and assessments are not antithetical to states’ rights after all.

Kane’s argument, we lost the “war,” now let’s get on with it, is foolish, testing is being rejected by parents, teachers and state legislatures in increasing numbers.

An Education Week article (“Common Core: Is Its Achievement Impact Starting to Dissipate?) reports,

According to this year’s Brown Center Report on American Education, 4th and 8th grade students in states that adopted the Common Core State Standards outperformed their peers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress between 2009 and 2013. But between 2013 and 2015, students in non-adoption states made larger gains than those in common-core states.

Not only is the impact of the Common Core waning, the very heart and core of the initiative, testing, is under vigorous assault.

Jim Popham, the past president of the American Education Research Association, by implication, chides Kane and the testing crowd (“The Fatal Flaw of Education Assessment

America’s students are not being educated as well these days as they should be. A key reason for this calamity is that we currently use the wrong tests to make our most important educational decisions. The effectiveness of both teachers and schools is now evaluated largely using students’ scores on annually administered standardized tests, but most of these tests are simply unsuitable for this intended purpose.

What’s most dismaying about this widespread misuse of educational tests is that many educators, most policymakers, and almost all parents of school-age children do not realize how these tests contribute to diminished educational quality.

The opt out parents are an example of the Wisdom of Crowds (“The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations,” 2004) “… the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that … are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.”

The Obama administration felt that states were shortchanging children, and, imposed a range of policy decisions, Common Core, accelerated testing, teacher evaluation, etc.,  that have been rejected many parents and teachers.

The President chose the wrong battle.

The disparities in funding may be just as horrendous as the criminalization of interracial marriages. In New York State (” … 100 wealthiest districts [in NYS] spent on average more than $28,000 in state and local funding per kid in 2012, the 100 poorest districts in the state spent closer to $20,000 per student”) as well as too many other states and school districts; the poorest children receive the least funding and the richest children the highest amount of dollars – school taxes based on property values.  The schools in inner city Detroit are falling apart while suburban schools area well-funded. The disparity in funding between the wealthiest and the poorest districts is $250,000 per class.

The newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act returns wide discretion to the states; the opt out movement is part of the swing of the pendulum away from Washington. Will the states and localities, the opt out parents, influence/create better decisions?  Will students of color, English language learners and students with disabilities be at the center of creating more targeted policies or will state simply satisfy the anger of white, suburban parents? Will the new President be a federalist or a states’ rights/smaller government aficionado?

Which way will the pendulum swing?

Carl Heastie’s Board: The Speaker Will “Own” the Successes, or Lack thereof, of His Board of Regents

Presidents, governors and mayors all see themselves as taking on major public issues and solving the problems. For President Obama the issue was health care, the vehicle was the Affordable Care Act (ACA), seven years later the ACA has been branded as “Obamacare” and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives have voted to repeal the law over fifty times.

In 2001 the new-elected mayor, Michael Bloomberg made the reorganization of the education bureaucracy in New York City his top priority. A school board appointed by the borough presidents and the mayor was converted into a mayoral agency – the mayor chose a majority of the central board (Panel for Education Priorities) and replaced elected local school boards with substantial power with virtually powerless Community Education Councils (CEC). For his first two terms Bloomberg made sweeping changes and two large bumps in pay under teacher contracts (2005 and 2007). By his third term Bloomberg was under assault, by the teachers union, parent advocates, and community organizations; his popularity ratings tanked. Sol Stern in City Journal wrote,

Sixty-four percent of respondents rated school performance as either fair or poor, with only 27 percent proclaiming it excellent or good; 69 percent said that students in the city’s schools weren’t ready for the twenty-first-century economy. New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

The decision to brand himself as an education mayor was a disaster.

Bloomberg’s successor has dismantled many of his signature programs.

In 2014 Governor Cuomo seized the education governor crown. In the arcane budget process (items having nothing to do with the budget are appended to the budget) Cuomo, who favored teacher evaluation by student test scores associated with high stakes testing  also added pro-charter school laws, forcing New York City to either provide space for charter schools in public school buildings or pay the rent for private space.

200,000 kids opted out of State tests, the opt out movement grew across the state, the state teachers union (NYSUT) bombarded the governor with critical TV and radio ads .  The governor’s popularity ratings headed south, especially over education.

The survey also found that 64 percent of New Yorkers feel that Common Core standards have either worsened education in the state or done nothing to improve it.

In September of this year the governor appointed a task force, in December the task force report including twenty recommendations that backed away from the most controversial of the governor’s initiatives – teacher evaluation: a four year moratorium.

As the governor backs away from education the new “power behind the education throne” is Carl Heastie, the Speaker of the Assembly.

Last year Heastie chose not to appoint the two most senior members of the Board and this year made it clear he’d was looking for new leadership.

Heastie has appointed nine of the 17-member Board of Regents – the Heastie appointees supported Betty Rosa and Andrew Brown as the new Chancellor and Vice Chancellor.

Rosa’s election was mauled by the New York Post and the New York Daily News as well as the Buffalo News,

It doesn’t augur well for excellence when the new chancellor of the state Board of Regents all but encourages parents to opt out of state assessments. It doesn’t even augur well for orderliness.

Next week the State testing begins and whether we like it or not, unless the Board can change the conversation, the metrics by which the Board of Regents, will be “judged” are opt outs, test scores and graduations rates.

The Heastie Board has several hundred years of experience working in the education trenches, working with the unions, with parents, with school boards, with local elected officials; they have the skills to bring together the stakeholders across the state.

Chancellor Rosa and Vice Chancellor Brown, along with both the new and the current Board have the experience to move away from the Cuomo agenda and create a new path. Move the dialogue away from test results and numbers of opt out to reducing the opportunity gap (a better term than achievement gap) for the “left behind:” ELLs, students with disabilities, the poorest and students of color.

Their success will be Heastie’s success, or, Heastie will own their lack of success.

Adieu Chancellor Tisch: Some Thoughts

 

Resolution 1078

NOLAN

LEG. RESO. – Honoring Dr. Merryl M. Tisch for her many years of distinguished service to the New York State Board of Regents

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The magisterial New York State Assembly Chamber “designed in a Moorish Gothic” is a truly impressive room; a high vaulted ceiling with stained glass windows allowing the light to be cast across the room. From September through June the 150 members gather to debate and pass bills and resolutions. On Thursday a resolution flashed across the screen honoring Dr. Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor of the Board of Regents and Monday, March 21st will be her last meeting; her term expires at the end of March.

Member after member rose to extol the tenure of the Chancellor, a tenure that has been characterized by both sweeping changes in the role of the board and controversy.

Tisch has served on the board for twenty years and was elected by her colleagues as chancellor in 2009.

Commissioner Mills left under a cloud and the Tisch board selected David Steiner as commissioner. Traditionally commissioners had been selected from among the senior superintendents in the state. Steiner was Dean of the School of Education at Hunter College. Almost unnoticed the board selected as deputy commissioner a young scholar with no experience in public schools, John King.  The leaders of education in the State of New York with no experience running a school district.

Tisch and Steiner jumped headfirst into the swirling pool of education reform trumpeted by the White House. An application for the Race to the Top dollars and the crafting of a teacher evaluation plan were launched.

At an ABNY breakfast attended by the educational glitterati keynote speaker Randi Weingarten urged John King, who replaced Steiner after his precipitous resignation, to delay the implementation of the teacher evaluation plan – a moratorium.

Tisch and King rejected the suggestion – the move to the full implementation of the Common Core, testing and test result-based teacher evaluation moved forward.

The Common Core and the teacher evaluation plans were increasingly resisted by active parents and the teacher union.

A  NY Times appraisal of Tisch’s tenure begins, “She tried to do too much, too fast.”

The article goes on,

If she could take one thing back, Dr. Tisch said, it would be having rolled out the standards and the teacher evaluation system at the same time, “because I think the debate over how to evaluate a teacher contaminated the more important work.”

Dr. Tisch said she believed that the anger about the standards was stoked by the state teachers’ union, which fought the evaluation system, and noted that most of those who opted out came from wealthier suburban districts.

Last year the legislature dumped longtime allies of the chancellor and selected four new members who were clearly critical of the teacher evaluation system. The troubles of Assembly Speaker Shelton Silver, a friend of Tisch since childhood changed the chemistry in the legislature as the new speaker wanted to ameliorate the conflicts with parents and teachers.

In retrospect there is no evidence that the Common Core is an “answer” to struggling schools populated by students of color. The academic community has increasingly chided testing associated with the standards.

The Washington Post writes,

More than 100 education researchers in California have joined in a call for an end to high-stakes testing, saying that there is no “compelling” evidence to support the idea that the Common Core State Standards will improve the quality of education for children or close the achievement gap, and that Common Core assessments lack “validity, reliability and fairness.”

The dense teacher evaluation algorithms have been sharply criticized by most experts in the world of statistics.

Yes, rolling out both the Common Core, Common Core testing and teacher evaluation at the same time doomed the initiatives from the start, a larger question is whether jumping on board the White House driven reforms would ever achieve the anticipated goals. At the time it might have made sense to be the “first in the nation” to adopt the Obama education plan, in retrospect, a mistake.

In my view Tisch fell victim to the same wave that has vaulted Donald Trump to the top of the presidential primaries. The anger, the disgust with all politics, the “snarkiness,” has rolled over the reforms coming from the Board of Regents. The anger of the opt-outs, the anger of the mass of voters is intertwined.

Other actions of the chancellor have gone underreported.

Tisch made every attempt to thwart the plundering of schools by an Orthodox School Board in East Ramapo. She forced reluctant school boards to register undocumented minors and provide an appropriate education, in spite of substantial local opposition.  The chancellor has visited scores of schools, frequently accompanied by a Regents member who was a former superintendent.  She has acknowledged the glowing jewels in the system, i. e. the Internationals Network of schools that serve new immigrants with wonderful results. After years of delays the regulations impacting English language learners were promulgated.

Regents meetings are usually one speaker after another, one power point after another with comments only from the members of the board. Merryl frequently interrupts a speaker with an incisive question. Whether the commissioner, a state ed staffer or a guest Tisch “cuts to the core;” she asked the crucial question, a question that commonly resulted in the speaker stumbling.  (I loved it!!)

Critics of Tisch are legion, and clearly she made decisions that in retrospect required more thought and more buy-in. Chancellors are selected by their colleagues; however, the governor and the legislature have enormous power; for the last two years major education policy was set by the governor.  The major current policy initiatives are the twenty “recommendations” of the Cuomo Task Force. The board may be the constitutional body to devise education policy – in the “real world” the governor is the major player.

As March draws to a close the legislature and the governor will agree upon a budget. Over the last decade budgets have eroded funding to the State Education Department, a subtle way of expressing disagreement with the policies of the board.  The legislature doesn’t need angry voters and the governor wants to both take credit for successes and avoid negative electoral consequences.

Merry Tisch fell victim to a generalized dissatisfaction that is sweeping the nation.

I read an Internet cry, “We want a president who will make America great again,” which received a response, “Do you mean when basketball stars were white?”  Race, gender, class and generational conflict have spilled over – Merryl Tisch fell victim to the anger.

The next leader of the Regents faces a daunting task.

Why Did the Republican-Controlled Senate Confirm John King As Secretary of Education?

John King, the former Education Commissioner in New York State, was dumped by Governor Cuomo who also enabled him to move on to the Senior Advisor to Secretary of Education Duncan, and, when Secretary Duncan resigned after seven years President Obama appointed King as Acting Secretary, and, with the support of the Republican majority nominated him as Secretary of Education.

The Senate confirmed King: 49 – 40. (See roll call here)

The “No” votes were 39 Republicans and one Democrat – Kristen Gillibrand from New York State. The “Yes” votes were all Democrats and seven senior Republicans.

Eleven Senators failed to vote: the three presidential candidates (Sanders, Cruz and Rubio), the two Ohio Senators, campaigning for the Tuesday primary.

In this toxic partisan political climate how were the two parties able to work together to confirm King?

In the House the Tea Party rules; if the forty plus Tea Party Republicans oppose a bill it will not come to the floor. A Speaker who requires Democratic votes to pass a bill simply would not survive. While the Republicans hold an overwhelming majority the emergence of the Tea Party voting bloc divides the House into three factions, the “traditional” Republicans, the Tea Party faction and the Democrats. The Tea Party Republicans may only represent forty of the 435 members; they control the flow of legislation.

The Senate has a far different culture.  The rules of the Senate require sixty votes for a bill to move to the floor, the opposition party, today the Democrats, can prevent a vote on any bill. While the Republicans are a majority, and control the flow of legislation and control the ultimate vote on the floor the rules allow the Democrats to prevent bills from coming to the floor. The cloture rule requires sixty votes and the Senate currently is composed of 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and two Independents (Sanders and King of Maine) who caucus with the Democrats.

The Senate is a highly collegial body – the Republicans and the Democrats need each other for the institution to function – relationships matter. The leadership – McConnell on the Republican side and Reid on the Democratic side may jab at each other, members work together to pass legislation.

Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, a Republican and a Democrat decided that they were going to lead the way to re-authorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, aka No Child Left Behind, they were able to use both powers of persuasion and the collegial nature of the Senate to craft a bill that satisfied the needs of members from both sides of the aisle.

The confirmation of King was a continuation of the Alexander-Murray collaboration. How often do you see the two Republican leaders of the Senate, McConnell and Cornyn joining Democrats to approve a bill, or, in this case, a confirmation? The answer is never, or, let’s says never except in the case of the confirmation of John King. Lamar Alexander convinced the Republican leadership, and, a few other colleagues that he “needed” their votes. The McConnell message to the Republican troops – yes, you can vote “No” on the confirmation – we have enough votes to satisfy Lamar.

On the Democratic side only Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior Senator from New York voted “No;” a tribute to the power of the opt out parents. Over 200,000 parents opted their children out of the federally required state tests, these parents were Republicans and Democrats, and the action was a political action not affiliated with a political party. The opt outs in New York have become a political movement and Gillebrand responded to the cries of the opt outs. Grass roots politics works!!

Gillibrand responded to a bubbling anger, anger, so far, not directed at a particular candidate in any particular election. Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, withdrew his harsh teacher evaluation plan and supported a list off “recommendations” adopted by the Board of Regents in an attempt to mollify the opt outs. Gillibrand, a smart politician, listening to the crowd, voted “No” on the King confirmation.

Why was Gillibrand the only dissenting Democrat?

Simply put – national politics.

Afro-American voters are the key for a Democratic victory in November, and, a key to a Clinton nomination. A “No” on King could discourage Afro-American Democratic voters from voting in the Democratic column.

Over the next few months a negotiated rule-making process (Read the very interesting process here) will result in the promulgation of the regulations implementing the new ESSA statute. The new Secretary of Education, John King will decide on the final rules.

Lamar Alexander and presidential politics allowed the Senate to confirm King.

Alexander secured his place in history and his Republican colleagues, after voting to approve the original ESSA bill were able to continue to express displeasure with the president by voting against his appointee.

Hamilton (Federalist # 9) and Madison (Federalist # 10) both grappled with the issue of factions. Madison wrote,

AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction

Today our three branches of government appear to be faltering as “violence of faction” impedes the ability to govern, in this single instance the factions were satisfied and the system worked.

The Regents/Commissioner Agenda: Grappling with the Future of Education in New York State

The Board of Regents meets monthly beginning on a Monday morning with a webcast full board meeting in the historic Regents Room, lined with portraits of former chancellors dating into the 19th century.  The February 24th meeting began with detailed description of the new federal law, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  (Read the federal description here and the State Ed Power Point explanation here  and watch the archived webcast here which included many questions and many unresolved issues).

The Board moves to a series of committee meetings with presentations by the commissioner and her staff, education leaders from around the state and other invited guests. (The committee meetings are not webcast)The presentations sometimes relate to a topic for discussion that will evolve into policy and at other times an informational topic. Policy issues move to votes, a period for public comment, back to the committee and, if approved by the committee on to the full board for a vote.

On Monday the P-12 Committee spent the morning listening to a lengthy presentation, “Revision and Implementation of the New ELA and Mathematics Standards,” (Watch Power Point here) by the commissioner. The survey posted by State Ed garnered thousands of comments about the Common Core and pointed to a number of specific areas that practitioners thought required revisions. The state will convene stakeholder meetings, just about every constituency imaginable (including Content Advisory Panels and Standards Review Committees), and move towards a revision of the Common Core. At the end of the process, about three years, the next generation of state tests will reflect the revisions; a caveat, someone must provide the dollars to fund the process: BTW, the Common Core will be renamed Aim High NY.

Make sure you click on and watch the Power Point above; the areas for suggested revision are specific.

The P-12 Committee moved into a discussion of Academic Intervention Services/AIS. School districts are required to identify and provide targeted services to a cohort of students; the state determines the targeted students.  Should the targeted group be defined as all students who score below proficient on state tests (below 3.0)?  Or, all students who score below 2.5?  Should school districts be permitted to use multiple measures to identify AIS students?  Two educators, one from upstate and one from New York City described the local processes – a lively discussion ensued, especially among the Regents who were former superintendents, (Watch Power Point here). The commissioner will return to the board with a specific recommendation that will move through the comment period to adoption of recommendations binding on school districts. The sharp decline in scores under the Common Core tests doubled the pool of AIS eligible students potentially sharply increasing the cost to the district and/or reducing the student per capita spending.

In the next session the Regents received an update on creating formal policy regarding increasing the numbers of students in “least restrictive environments” that will be forthcoming in the fall.  Some school district prefer to place students with disabilities in self-contained classrooms, others prefer to place students in integrative, co-teaching classes. The discussions, as they emerge later in the year, should be lively.

The approval of a number of charter schools, usually pro-forma resulted in animated discussion around the New York Times video of a “model teacher” berating a third grade child who could not answer a question. Success Academy charter schools are authorized by SUNY, not the Board of Regents; do the Regents have any authority to investigate the pedagogy in schools that they do not authorize?  Clearly, the Regents were quite upset and four Regents refused to vote on the approval of the charter schools on the agenda.

The NYS Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children presented a policy paper (Read here) and a Power Point, “Promoting School Justice Partnerships to Keep Youth in School and Out of Court” which began with the statements:

Myth: There is really no evidence that the “school to prison pipeline” really exist.

Bottom Line: Suspension often is the first step in a chain of events leading to short and long term consequences, i. e., incarceration.

Are the Regents and the Commissioner moving in the right direction? 

Correlation does not equal causation.

The discussion around AIS service and suspension are typical of “parachute” answers – solutions dropped in from the heavens.

Schools typically purchase an AIS program, we’re talking remediation, for example Read 180.  Schools monitor the implementation of the program, not the basic level of the instruction and the emotional needs of the student. Are the dollars and time spent on the AIS program more effective than the classroom instruction? Would the use of the funding and time be better spent in counseling and attending to the basic physical/emotional needs of the child?  And, the overall question: do AIS services improve student outcomes?

Are suspensions the first step leading to incarceration or are the basic behaviors of the child preceding the act that led to the suspension event the first step to criminal acts?

The core of education is the teacher and the curriculum.

There are no magic bullets; we aren’t hiding large numbers of wonderful teachers in some cave or some secret sauce that improves math skills.

We don’t do a good job of recruiting prospective teachers, we could prepare teachers a lot better and we can certainly support new teacher much better. Teaching is the only profession with such high attrition rates.

We know that trauma has adverse impacts on children, the research is overwhelming (Read some of the research findings here), yet the powers above pour dollars into remediation rather than the health and social services that address the underlying reasons for difficulties in school.

Yes, the teacher is the core, the building block of our entire education system. The fatally flawed teacher evaluation system (APPR) neither measured teacher effectiveness nor discriminated among teachers.

Getting better as a teacher is a career-long trek.

For example, a recent research is troubling, and hopefully will result in teacher introspection.

New research shows that black and white teachers give very different evaluations of behavior of black students. When a black student has a black teacher that teacher is much, much less likely to see behavioral problems than when the same black student has a white teacher.

New research by Adam Wright, “Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Disruptive Behavior: The Effect of Racial Congruence and Consequences for School Suspension,” documents that black teachers have much less negative views of black student behavior than do white teachers.

Are white teachers less able to “relate” to students of color?  Can teaching be described by the Danielson Frameworks or is culturally responsive pedagogy essential to be an effective teacher?

Looking for that magical fairy dust that can be sprinkled over the students who are not progressing in literacy and numeracy is a chimera. The better question is why that school a few blocks away with the same kids is doing so much better?  There are high and low suspension schools; once again, why?  I don’t object to restorative justice practices, they are time consuming and can be expensive. Collaborative and demanding school leaders, a team approach, schools in which teachers, together, strategize about kids, are more likely to achieve better academic outcomes and fewer suspensions.

The answers are blowing in the wind, we have to catch them.

High School Graduation Requirements: The Regents Should Review Course and Testing Requirements in a Transparent Environment

With the changing of the guard, a new chancellor and vice chancellor and two new members, the Board of Regents have an opportunity to take the initiative instead of reacting. The agenda of the regents has been driven from Washington (the Race to the Top, Common Core, Teacher Evaluation), the governor (student test score based teacher evaluation, receivership, the recommendations of the Cuomo Task Force) and the opt outs (reduce the length of tests, limit the number of tests and find alternative to testing).

The regents and the current commissioner and former commissioners have been scrambling to increase scores on the required grades 3-8 tests as well as high school graduation rates.

The “solution” to high graduation rates has been backing away the single regents diploma. The two-day, three hour each day English Regent exam was reduced to a one-day three hour exam, the Global History Regents will move from an exam covering 9th and 10th grade to covering only 10th grade, the common core regents exams are being phased in over eight years (currently in year three), the scores are scaled. The “Four plus One Option allows a student to use an approved assessment (Read description here  and here) in lieu of a Social Studies Regents. The commissioner recommended a number of other ideas to ease the impact of the exams.

 In an effort to provide more pathways to graduation for New York’s diverse student population, the Department proposed to the Board new options that would provide students with additional opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in order to earn a diploma. These proposals include widening the score range for any students who wish to appeal their Regents Exam result; establishing a graduation pathway in Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS); and the creation of a project-based assessment for students who pass coursework required for a diploma but who have not passed required Regents Exams.

Perhaps the Board can use the leadership transition to explore the entire issue of course requirements, exams and types of high school diplomas. 

Should the state create a  new type of diploma for categories of students with disabilities who cannot pass five Regents?  Should the state create a type of diploma for general education students who pass courses, have excellent attendance and cannot pass a specific regents exam?

Half of students with disabilities graduate in four years, there are categories of SWD whose disability impairs their ability to pass a specific regents exam, in spite of the safety net. Can the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) allow for an alternative to a specific regents exam?

There are a category of general education students with excellent attendance, who pass courses and have failed a regents multiple times: can the state create a “valid and reliable” alternative?  How do you assure that the alternative is standard across the state? Will the alternative be scored at the same level of difficulty in Scarsdale and inner city Buffalo?

Should we revise the course requirements for a high school diploma?

The course requirement for high school students are specifically proscribed by state regulations (See Part 100.5 – the course requirements here). Should computer coding be considered a mathematics course in order to meet the required three units of mathematics? Should the “Four Plus One” option be expanded to other areas?  (BTW, how many schools offer the 4 + 1 option?)

Are the Common Core Regents too complex? 

The SED is in the process of phasing in common core regents exams and a recent report questions the impact of the Common Core Algebra 1 exam: “Rough Calculations: Will the Common Core Algebra Regents Exam Threaten Graduation Rates?”  (August, 2015), the scale scores are not progressing adequately

BTW, How would you do on the Global History Regents exam?  Give it a try: click here.

Should the current forty schools with Regents portfolio waivers be expanded?

Since the early nineties the SED have granted a limited number of small high schools in New York City that are part of the Performance-Based Assessment Consortium,  waivers that have been reauthorized many times. SED is now proposing a different iteration of a performance-based assessment for students who pass courses and fail regents exams (see proposal here) Is the proposal another type of credit recovery? A diminution of standards?  Will the proposal actually discourage students from taking a regents exam?  Is an online project a reasonable replacement for a Regents exam?  A beginning of a move to competency-based education? Does a system in which students answer questions at computers actually assess competency? The SED defines Performance-Based Assessment (PBA) as “administration of PBA in a computerized and supervised testing situation,”  Is SED moving down a path to substitute PBA for Regents?

Graduation rates jumped one percent this year, however, disturbing percentages of high school graduates require remediation in college and really, really disturbing percentages of high school grads never graduate community college. Does “easing” the required exams  result in less prepared college students?

It’s time for the regents to become proactive: a transparent discussion across the state – let’s not sacrifice students to higher graduation rates.  Let’s explore all paths that prepare students for the world of college and work,  the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Decision (CFE), should be a guide,

In his decision, the trial court judge, Justice DeGrasse, followed the Court of Appeals’ directive to fill in the contours of the definition of a “sound basic education.” Justice DeGrasse took the Court of Appeals’ statement that students should be able to “function productively” as requiring that schools offer students the chance to obtain employment that would provide a living wage. He found therefore that schools should be required to offer students the opportunity to learn the kind of math, science, and computer skills that are often required in today’s society for competitive employment. He interpreted the Court of Appeals’ directive regarding civic participation as requiring that students have skills that would permit them to understand the kind of complex issues that they might be asked to evaluate as voters or jurors, such as tax policy, global warming, or DNA evidence.

 

Electing a Regent: How the Legislature Selects the Education Policy Makers in New York State

New York State has an unusual school governance configuration. In most states school governance boards are appointed by the governor and/or the state legislature, education policy flows from the executive and the legislature, a wholly political process. California elects the State Superintendent of Public Instruction in a statewide election. The New York State constitution created the Board of Regents in the late 18th century and the Board is “elected” by a joint meeting of the state legislature. The executive, the governor, has no role in the selection of the board. Currently the board has seventeen members, one for each of the thirteen judicial districts in the state and four at-large positions. The regents are a policy board, the members are unpaid, unstaffed, and serve a five year term.

For decades the actions of the regents was barely covered by the press. The only news article reported the score on annual grades four and eight tests, a list of schools ranked by score, an article about the lowest scoring school, usually in the poorest section of the Bronx and an article about the highest scoring school in a lovely neighborhood in Queens.

Over the last decade education has moved from the back pages to the front pages. The virtually unknown members of the regents are now in the forefront, tasked with resolving the monumental educational issues of the day.

Although the governor has no statutory authority he has dominated the creation of education policy. Through the budget process (attaching non-budget issues to the budget) the governor has changed the face of education; from laws favorable to charter schools, to increasing the probationary period of teachers, to a dense teacher evaluation rubric, a system to move struggling schools to supervision by not-for-profits, and, in September the governor appointed a task force that issued a report in December with twenty highly specific recommendations (See report here).

The selection process in the legislature is currently underway for two upcoming vacancies on the Board of Regents. Chancellor Tisch and Vice Chancellor Bottar are not seeking another term.

There are no qualifications, anyone can apply, and every applicant is interviewed. One of the two vacancies is for the at-large position and another for the position in the Syracuse judicial district.

For decades the members of the board can best be described as “pillars of the community;” businessmen, attorneys, college professors; actual teachers and/or superintendents were rarely members of the board.

The number of applicants demonstrates the increased interest in education. There are about thirty-five applicants for the at-large position. For the first time the interviews are webcast, the chairs and ranking members of the Education and the Higher Education Committees and a changing number of legislators spent all day Tuesday and Wednesday this week interviewing the aspirants.

Over the past five years the board has undergone a dramatic change.

There are now six board members who served as superintendents, (Cashin, Chin, Rosa and Young from NYC, Johnson from Westchester and Ouderkirk from upstate).

The current applicants constitute mostly current or former teachers, principals and college teachers with one former superintendent  plus a few parent advocates, a pharmacist, a dentist, an attorney, a member of a charter school board, local school district board members, and a few others.

Applicants begin with an opening statement, some recount/restate their resume, some make lengthy philosophical statements, and a few address the current major issues before the board. The legislators are polite, sometimes asking two or three questions and moving to the next candidate, with a few candidates, an intense discussion. The legislators occasionally engaged the candidate in specific issues that are on the board agenda with many of the legislators asking questions.

The legislator interviewers are a shifting group, they come and go, there are concurrent committee meetings, meetings with constituents and the general session going on during the time of the interviews.

After the interviews: how are regents actually selected?

(A quote attributed to 19th century German chancellor Otto von Bismarck: Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made)

At the judicial district level the local electeds play a major role. Last year, the Westchester members held open interviews for all the candidates for their judicial district apart from the formal interviews. The meetings were well attended. After long discussions the members coalesced behind one candidate.

For the first time in memory the legislature did not reappoint long time members of the board.

Two years ago a candidate appeared who wasn’t on the list, a brief interview, and an appointment a few days later.

The process is open and transparent; however, it is a political process.

Over the term of a legislative session about 15,000 bills will be introduced, only a few hundred will become law. The leadership of the houses of the legislature, the Speaker of the Assembly, a Democrat, and the Majority Leader of the Senate, a Republican, are the gatekeepers. The Assembly is dominated by the Democrats; over 100 of the 150 members of the Assembly are Democrats. The Speaker appoints committee chairs, and, the committees determine which bills move forward. Many bills are introduced by a legislator without co-sponsors, other have scores of co-sponsors. Ultimately the leadership determines whether a bill moves to a vote.  In the real world of politics outside interests, lobbyists, advocates, unions, business leaders, all influence the flow of legislation.

The same external pressures and internal politics that influence legislation will influence the selection process.

Among the forty plus candidates many are educators who want to serve on the board, some have lengthy resumes, others are currently involved in the policy-making/implementation process at the local level.

The gatekeeper, the Speaker of the Assembly will make the final decision.

At the judicial district level, the local electeds play the major role. For the at-large position, the Speaker will make the decision probably after discussion with the senior leadership.

General questions for the “selectors”

How do you select from among the many candidates, some with extensive educational experience?

Should the legislature seek a diverse board, and, how do you define diverse?  Ethnicity, age, outside experience, special expertise, etc.

How important is deep experience in leadership of schools and school districts?

Each candidate was asked:

What are your views on privacy of student data? (All wanted strict rules on security for student data)

Questions that were frequently asked of candidates:

What percent of a teacher evaluation should be based on student performance? (Usually the answer was none)

Does testing have any place in teacher evaluation? (From “sort of,” to “no” to “of course”)

How can we make special education “better”?  (No one had a clear answer)

What is authentic learning and how do you measure it? (All agreed: complex but worth exploring)

Have you taught in a public school? (Either a proud “yes” or a reason why other experience was relevant)

In my view many of the interviewees do not understand the role of a regent. Candidates were passionate, clearly highly dedicated and caring; however, “too much testing,” is not a policy. The newly passed ESSA law requires testing in grades 3 – 8, the use of portfolios or authentic assessment is interesting, currently not an option under the law. The new law requires that state programs utilizing federal funds are “evidence based,”

ESSA is the first federal education law to define the term “evidence-based” and to distinguish between activities with “strong,” “moderate,” and “promising” support based on the strength of existing research. Crucially, for many purposes the law also treats as evidence-based a fourth category comprising activities that have a research-based rationale but lack direct empirical support—provided, that is, that they are accompanied by “ongoing efforts to examine the effects” of the activity on important student outcomes.

Only one or two of the applicants had any understanding of the term “evidence-based” as well as actually designing evidence-based programs for scrutiny by the feds or other organizations.

Special education is heavily regulated by both federal and state law and regulations, “ideas” are not policy and regents members (or commissioners) cannot snap their fingers and change the rules or regulations.

It may very well be unfair to test English language learners after only one year in the country, it is also the law.

Another common question was how to improve the preparation of prospective teachers; only one of the applicants knew that CAEP – the Council on the Accreditation of Educator Preparation had rigorous standards that will drive teacher preparation programs across the nation. Only one candidate referenced that “ideas” for programs have a dollar cost – and asked who will provide the additional dollars.

Only a few of the candidates directly addressed the lowest achieving cohort of schools. The candidates who were teachers, with a few exceptions, came from high achieving districts.

The selectors must decide: should the next regent have extensive experience in school district leadership and have grappled with the complexities of implementation within the political constraints.

Do teacher candidates who are union members have an inherent conflict of interest?

For endless decades “wonderful” program after “wonderful” program has not resulted in measureable progress – the reality: zip codes determine academic progress. New York State is one of the national leaders in inequality of funding.  Not a single candidate addressed the funding disparity across the state.

In a few months the board will have new leadership and six of the board members will have been selected within the last year. The commissioner has served only six months.

The interviews ended with the announcement that the selection process will take about two to three weeks.