Archives for category: New York

This post was written by Fred Smith, who worked for many years as a testing expert in the New York City Board of Education. In recent years, he has advised anti-testing groups like Change the Stakes.


I’ve passed the point of exasperation. But, after 40 years in New York’s testing trenches, giving up now is a luxury I can’t afford. Call it over-investment.


And here today is this email I get from a friend sending me the following link from Education Dive (a new one to me), which does a very short summary of a July report from the National Center for Educational Statistics. It compares common core standards and core-aligned test results across the states. Headline: New York Tops List of States with Most Difficult Tests.


The study examines proficiency cutoff scores and equates statewide performance on reading and math exams with corresponding results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It shows the relative standing of each state in terms of the NAEP scale.



Given the high regard in which NCES and NAEP are held, their methodology and findings must be respected. Here is the link to the report


Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales: Results From the 2013 NAEP Reading and Mathematics


I have two immediate reactions to this. First, making a test difficult in a statistical sense–does not make it valid, nor does it make it rigorous, a measure of critical thinking or more challenging—as proclaimed by proponents of core-aligned exams. More than 200,000 children, whose parents opted them out of the exams this year, loudly reject this proclamation.


Confusing, badly constructed items, inadequate time limits, developmentally inappropriate content–make a test “more difficult.” So does taking exams in an unlighted classroom, or when you’re hungry, homeless, sleep-deprived, just learning English or have special needs.


The study itself issued this caution about interpreting the results. The analyses in this report do not address questions about the content, format, exclusion criteria, or conduct of state assessments in comparison with NAEP.


Second, the fact that 2013 is the centerpiece of this report is important. According to the New York State Education Department (SED), 2013 was supposed to be the foundational year—the baseline, if you will, that would usher in the common core and assessments against which progress toward meeting the standards would be measured. NCES’s report merely shows that New York produced the most difficult tests. And…??


Finally, we come back to exasperation. Two recent events let us know that despite our protests and the importance of gaining necessary reform, we the public, remain where the politicians want us, on the outside looking in. The New York State legislature in the shoddiest, last-minute way possible just passed the weakest test-related bill imaginable. It does nothing to require truth in testing, which had been the focus of proposed legislation that was evidently abandoned. (A real T-in-T measure could have passed in this session. It was an extraneous item insignificantly glommed onto a much larger omnibus bill that satisfied the diverse interests of the legislators and was crafted to pass.)
And SED managed to award the next 5-year testing contract to an outfit called Questar Assessments. It has worked closely on testing projects with Pearson, Inc. in the past. And, before the contract was awarded, Pearson was quietly granted a one-year extension of its expiring 5-year contract. It will work to assure a smooth hand-off to Questar, especially in the matter of field testing, which may project Pearson’s involvement beyond 2016. We all know how sound Pearson’s test development expertise proved to be. Why not reward it for more of the same.


Will Pearsona non grata silently become the subcontractor, running the testing program from the shadows. Again, SED has gone about its decision-making with no transparency—leaving us to find out the details too late.

The New York Times has a fascinating article today about how a handful of very wealthy people invested in Andrew Cuomo and the Republican majority in the State Senate to gain control of public schools in Néw York City and state. The article says they want to continue former Mayor Bloomberg’s policies of closing public schools and replacing them with charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to test scores.

The leader of this effort, the story says, is former chancellor Joel Klein, who now works for rightwing media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Unmentioned is the undemocratic nature of this purchase of public policy. There was a mayoral election. Bill de Blasio won handily, after making clear his opposition to Bloomberg’s education policies. So, the reformers lost at the polls but used their money to nullify the voters’ choice.

New York State Commissioner of Education MayEllen Elia has been on the job since July 6, and she has won over many–but not all–critics.

Whereas Her predecessor John King was young, inexperienced, and had worked for a brief time in a charter school, Elia has many years as a teacher and administrator. She gets points for that.

But her agenda is the same as Cuomo, King, and Tisch: high-stakes testing, school closings, teacher evaluation by scores.

The one group not yet charmed by Elia are the opt out parents and educators at Néw York State Allies for Public Education. It is the agenda they oppose, not the messenger.

Peter Goodman is a close observer of city and state education policy in Néw York. In this post, he describes how Governor Andrew Cuomo bypassed the state Constitution to impose his own ideas on nearly 200 struggling schools across the state.

Since the state Constitution gives the governor no role in education policy, Cuomo used the budget process for his coup.

“True to his word the Governor attached a number of proposals to the budget: extending tenure for new teachers from three to four years, another principal-teacher evaluation plan (the third in four years) and receivership, a system to deal with low performing schools.

“From April through June the Board of Regents grappled with the dense, new, teacher evaluation law: an Education Learning Summit, two lengthy and contentious public Regents meetings, thousands upon thousands of emails, faxes, letters and phone calls to the Governor and Regents members all protesting elements of the new law. Eventually the Regents approved a set of regulations that will require the 700 school districts in New York State to negotiate the implementation of the new law.

“What received virtually no discussion was receivership – a system by which “struggling” schools are given two years to improve before they are removed from their school district and placed under the supervision of a receiver, who has sweeping powers including the ability to change sections of collective bargaining agreements. The Lawrence Massachusetts receivership district is frequently referenced as a successful example of the receivership model (See discussion here and the Mt Holyoke School District is in the process of entering receivership, with strong opposition from the community and teachers (Read discussion here).

“The New York State model is directed at schools rather than school districts.

[The new law says:] “In a district with a “Persistently Struggling School,” the superintendent is given an initial one-year period to use the enhanced authority of a Receiver to make demonstrable improvement in student performance or the Commissioner will direct that the school board appoint an Independent Receiver and submit the appointment for approval by the Commissioner. Additionally, the school will be eligible for a portion of $75 million in state aid to support and implement its turnaround efforts over a two-year period.”

“In the first year the superintendent, with “enhanced authority” has to show that the school has made “demonstrable improvement in student performance” or the school board, with the approval of the Commissioner will appoint an Independent Receiver.”

New York City recently started a 3-year turnaround program, but most of them are now targeted for receivership.

What is receivership? It means the school is handed over to an outsider with sweeping powers, “including requiring that all teachers reapply for their positions.”

Cuomo has no experience or knowledge about schools, other than having gone to schools. But he is threatening scores of schools either to improve or get taken over. This is a continuation of his vendetta against public schools and their teachers. In his way of thinking, the best way to bring about change is by threatening to beat up the other. Improve or die.

Bianca Tanis and Marla Kilfoyle are parents and educators in Néw York. They have fought against inappropriate testing of children with special needs. They are leaders of the state’s large Opt Out movement.

They became outraged when they learned that the Chancellor of the State Board of Regents said that, if she had a child with certsin disabilities, she would “think twice” before letting the child take the state tests.

This is the message that parents of children with disabilities have repeated again and again, only to be rebuffed.

Tanis and Kilfoyle write:

“For some time now, the parents of New York have been in full revolt over the testing requirements set down by both federal and state leadership. Parents of children with special needs have been extremely vocal about the fact that Common Core state tests in grades 3-8 are abusive and inappropriate for their children. You can read examples of parents informing Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch that these tests have harmed their children with special needs here, here, here, and here. Despite anecdotal stories of children engaging in self-injury and soiling themselves during state testing, Merryl Tisch blatantly ignored parent concerns and allowed testing abuses to continue. As a result, New York is experiencing the largest parent test revolt in education history…

“In fact, just a few months ago, Chancellor Tisch penned an editorial in which she criticized parents who planned to opt out of state assessments by asserting that opt out hurts the neediest children, characterizing opt out as “putting blinders on….”

They then link to an opinion article by Tisch in which she disparaged parents who opt out and insisted that the tests provide valuable information. Tisch wrote: “It’s time to stop making noise to protect the adults and start speaking up for the students.”

They note:

“As Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch is keenly aware of the fact that a current 5th grade student with a disability who receives a testing accommodation of extended time may sit for as long as 9 hours over the course of 3 days for a single exam. Despite being aware of this and other egregious examples of abuse, the Chancellor has done nothing to lessen the duration of testing or to mediate the harm to students. Rather, she has overseen changes to the New York State testing program that have doubled and in some instances, tripled the length of testing and allowed the inclusion of reading passages years above grade level.”

They conclude:

“The Chancellor’s actions are tantamount to sitting by and not only watching, but commissioning the abuse of the most vulnerable children. Her failure to inform special needs parents of the potential for harm while simultaneously encouraging them to subject their children to inappropriate tests is inexcusable.

“Merryl Tisch should immediately relinquish her Chancellorship and step down from the Board of Regents. Failing her resignation, parents and educators must urge their legislators NOT to reappoint to Merryl Tisch to the Board of Regents when her term expires next year. New York needs education leadership that will protect our children, not lead them to harm.”

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is a former venture capital entrepreneur. As state treasurer, she redirected the state’s pension funds. Her husband Andy Moffitt is a co-founder of the Global Education Practice at McKinsey. He is active with the anti-union, anti-teacher Stand for Children. He was a member of Teach for America. Moffitt co-wrote (with Paul Kihn and Michael Barber) “Deliverology 101: A Field Guide for Educational Leaders.”

The blog site “RIFuture” wrote of McKinsey:

“In terms of corporate education reform, one prominent McKinsey-watcher and follow-the-money researcher puts the firm in a class by itself:

“They have been the leaders in crafting the dominant narrative of an education crisis for decades, and now deeply entrenched in education reform policies, they are reaping the financial and political benefits of marketing solutions to the problems they manufactured in the first place.”

Governor Raimondo recently selected Deputy Commissioner of Education Ken Wagner as the new State Superintendent in Rhode Island. In Néw York, he was known as a strong supporter of high-stakes testing, VAM, and corporate reforms.

Sheila Resseger, a teacher in Rhode Island for many years, was unhappy with Raimondo’s choice. She wrote, in response to a post about Néw York’s Common Core curriculum called EngageNY:

“Here was my comment to the post that Diane referenced. I am going to make it my mission to inform Rhode Islanders about the total disdain that Ken Wagner has for authentic teaching and learning. According to the RI Dept of Ed and Gov. Raimondo, he “developed” EngageNY. By his own admission he is opposed to Opt Out and for data collection. These are the trifecta of evil in my book: Common Core/Pear$on testing/data mining.

“I find this so profoundly disturbing that I can hardly see straight to type this comment. I live in RI. As you may know, our Governor, Gina Raimondo, recently nominated NY State Deputy Commissioner of Ed Dr. Ken Wagner to be our new Commissioner of Education (replacing Broad-trained Deborah Gist). This past Monday night the RI Board of Education and Council on Elementary and Secondary Education met to decide whether or not to confirm Dr. Wagner. I was the only one to speak against his confirmation. Dr. Wagner was credited with developing EngageNY, and seemed to be delighted that it has been downloaded for free 20 million times. He also declared that the Common Core does not script lessons, but actually frees up teachers to teach creatively. Another egregious comment of his was that we don’t have to be concerned with Piaget’s developmental stages–that theory is passé. Now we know that children can do so much more than we had expected of them before. Yes, every first grader is delighted to learn about the Code of Hammurabi.

“Here is my post in, published before the meeting.”

A reader reports on first-hand experience with Néw York’s EngageNY curriculum for Common Core:

“As a 2nd grade teacher with nearly 20 years teaching experience, I cannot express how disturbing it is to be forced to use the EngageNY materials every day. It goes against everything we know works effectively to engage and educate our students. As professionals originally hired for our creativity, enthusiasm, and dedication – these materials do everything possible to kill those qualities in each of us.

“We were told from day one that we were to use the program “with fidelity.” It was obvious that no one had actually reviewed the materials (probably due to the fact that many of the modules hadn’t even been completed yet when districts adopted them) or had asked teachers to take a look at what we were being given ahead of time. We also were not given any training – the boxes were just delivered just a few days before the school year began. As the year progressed and it became increasingly evident that there were multiple errors and/or no way to implement all of the many components scheduled in a day with the time allotted, we were then told to “use common sense.” We were not exactly sure what that meant as we were still expected to follow the program and would be evaluated on our use of it as well.

“Last year we entered our second year with EngageNY. Having been through it once, we are still identifying more and more errors and, most importantly, developmentally inappropriate material that we are expected to present to our students. Mid-year we were told that we would finally have a day to meet with a representative to do some training. All we had ever requested was that someone come in to our school and demonstrate exactly HOW all of the materials were to be used in a given lesson. Please just SHOW US! – we asked over and over. That would never happen. However, during our “training” (which was essentially just a sales presentation showing us each component), again we asked how it would be possible to fit all of these things that were dictated in a lesson into our limited time each day. The representative did finally admit that there really couldn’t be any at to fit 2 1/2 hours worth of lessons in an hour or 1 1/2 hour period.

“We, teachers and students, are being set up to fail. It is so sad to think that I hear teachers talk about “the good old days” when we used to be able to create fun and engaging activities that students enjoyed and we loved teaching! I am sorry that this has been a bit long-winded (and I could go on and on with more about this), but I haven’t had an opportunity to share this with any teachers outside of my own district. It is both comforting (and discouraging) to know that there are others experiencing the same things around the country. I hope that we can come together and fight for what we know is right for our students!”

New York state’s new Conmissioner of Education warned Buffalo to “fix” their schools or she would place the district in receivership.

It’s worth recalling the state’s previous attempt to “fix” a failing district. In 2002, the legislature passed a law permitting a state takeover of the segregated Roosevelt school district on Long Island.

John Hildebrand of Newsday summed up the gains and losses in 2013, when the state relinquished control.

“New York State’s historic takeover of Roosevelt schools has fallen short of its purpose in boosting student academic performance, raising questions over how Albany might better deal with struggling districts in the future, policymakers say. The state is highly unlikely ever to attempt another direct takeover of a local district, those officials add. Albany’s intervention ends Monday, after 11 years and more than $300 million in extra state spending.

The period — marked by limited scholastic progress and memorable mistakes by state officials and their appointees — was the first and only time the state ever managed a local school system. “I can tell you right off the bat that the state Education Department has no capabilities to run a school district,” said Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who is Long Island’s representative to the state Board of Regents. “We need other alternatives, if we’re ever going to turn around other districts that are really not succeeding.” Regents set policy for the Education Department, which has run Roosevelt since state lawmakers approved the takeover in 2002. Tilles joined the board three years later.

By some measures, academic achievement has risen. In the 2011-12 school year, for example, 87 percent of Roosevelt High School’s graduates — 159 students in all — earned Regents diplomas. Only 12 percent, or 10 students, obtained such credentials in 2001-02. Regents diplomas signify completion of at least some college-prep coursework. The end of state control was hailed as “Roosevelt Independence Day” and “a historic moment” by school board leaders speaking Saturday before a high school graduation crowd of more than 1,000. Parents and other residents, both there and at Friday’s eighth-grade moving-up ceremony, voiced cautious optimism over the district’s prospects under local management. “This gives Roosevelt a chance to show its self-worth,” said the Rev. Al Henry, pastor of the local End Time Ministries church, whose daughter, Alyshia, 14, will enter ninth grade in September. “I think we have a 75 percent chance to overcome our past failures.”

How Roosevelt stacks up

In relative terms, Roosevelt remains far behind most other districts in student performance. Only 3.8 percent of 2011-12 graduates earned a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation, showing they were well-prepared for college. Nassau County’s average was 52.4 percent. The district’s high school has languished on Albany’s list of lowest-achieving schools throughout the takeover. The middle school and Centennial Avenue Elementary School also are listed as low performers. “I don’t think the state’s intervention was a plus,” said Dorothy Boxley, a 50-year Roosevelt resident and former education chairwoman for the local branch of the NAACP.

Roosevelt is a relatively small district, with about 2,800 students in a community of less than two square miles in the heart of Hempstead Town. The district’s enrollment is 53 percent black and 39 percent Hispanic, and 56 percent of all students received subsidized lunches in the 2011-12 school year.

The district is essentially tied with the Hempstead system as Nassau County’s poorest in terms of personal income, and historically has struggled to keep pace with wealthier systems nearby. The state’s deep involvement in Roosevelt dates to 1976, when it approved the first in a series of financial bailouts.

Some analysts say that comparing Roosevelt against wealthier districts overlooks the intertwined effects of poverty and housing discrimination on student performance. More than half of its students live below or near the poverty line; 21 percent speak limited English. “Nobody at the national, state or local levels wants to address the fact that there’s no magic bullet for improving the school performance of children who live in poverty,” said Alan Singer, a professor of secondary education at Hofstra University in Hempstead. “You cannot improve fundamentally their school performance without addressing the condition of their lives,” Singer said.

The 2002 takeover law gave state education commissioners unprecedented powers over Roosevelt and authorized state control for a minimum of nine years, with an optional two-year extension. Over time, commissioners ousted elected school board members, named replacements, exercised vetoes over local spending and appointed three separate superintendents. One provision of the law allowed for gradual resumption of local school board elections, which resulted in frequent clashes between the state’s appointees and elected trustees.

Albany pumped in extra money over the 11 years of intervention. Roosevelt received more than $210 million in state commitments for school reconstruction, and a total of $90 million in operating aid on top of what districts normally receive.

Any state takeover failure in Roosevelt has not been for lack of trying. In recent years, for instance, high school teachers such as Teri McGrath, Yolette Wright and Christina Squillante have taught a growing number of Advanced Placement courses set at a college level. Many enrolled teens are the sons and daughters of immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Haiti — in some cases, the first in their families to speak fluent English….

Albany’s intervention had two broad goals from the outset. One objective — the easier to accomplish, as it turned out — revolved around Roosevelt’s management and infrastructure. The idea was to curb local political infighting, erase budget deficits and rebuild aging schools — two of which were deemed safety hazards. Those efforts have been largely successful, though school construction projects have been marked by delays and cost overruns, and some residents worry about the cost of upkeep on newly expanded schools. Exhibit A is Roosevelt’s once-shabby high school. The sprawling, two-story structure is due to reopen in September following a $66.9-million renovation and expansion that includes newly air-conditioned classrooms, 16 science and computer labs, a dance studio and job-training centers for prospective chefs and nurses. Completion of the high school project caps a districtwide, $245.5-million reconstruction effort launched in 2004 — the most ambitious face-lift of its sort ever undertaken on the Island. Since May, student groups have toured the rebuilt high school, admiring its features. Brianna Doe, 16, a sophomore, said she was especially impressed by new fume-suppressant safety equipment in laboratories that will allow her and classmates to do science experiments they’ve never tried before. “I was wowed, the building was so beautiful,” said Doe, who served as a volunteer tour guide. The other objective was to boost students’ academic achievement to levels acceptable under state and federal standards….

Roosevelt High School remains on the state’s list of so-called Schools Under Registration Review, or SURR. The list includes schools in the state’s bottom 5 percent, academically speaking. Roosevelt High has been stuck there more than 20 years running — a state record. Technically, SURR schools failing to improve can be stripped of state registrations — shut down, in other words. The state, however, has never spelled out exactly how that might work in a district, such as Roosevelt, with only one high school…

Mismanagement by some state-appointed school administrators left a bad taste. In September 2006, the Education Department discovered that the superintendent at the time, Ronald O. Ross, had run up a budget deficit eventually pegged at $8 million. Ross insisted the extra spending was essential to expand student services, but expenses included $6,000 for his own planned educational travel to Argentina and Antarctica. After public outcry, the trip was canceled. State administrators encountered embarrassments of their own. In January 2007, Education Department officials revealed that construction of a new Roosevelt Middle School was costing significantly more than originally estimated. Overruns ultimately totaled $16 million; $5 million was reimbursed by insurance. The extra costs were for cleanup of higher-than-expected levels of DDT on the 11-acre school site. The land previously was occupied by a county mosquito-control unit, and excavated dirt was so polluted that it had to be hauled to a Canadian landfill. Roosevelt residents voiced outrage over ballooning costs. In April 2007, the state education commissioner at the time, Richard Mills, appeared at a public meeting in the district and admitted he had been too slow in stemming the flow of red ink. Ross stepped down two months later and Mills resigned the following year, both under fire. Disillusionment over Roosevelt’s experience has raised questions over how the state might better deal with other districts facing similar problems, such as Hempstead and Wyandanch. “In the bigger picture, there continue to be districts around the state that are struggling,” said Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), a longtime state legislator whose constituent area includes Wyandanch. “But I don’t think we’ll ever see the state Education Department proposing taking over a district like Roosevelt again, simply because it wasn’t a very good experience for them.”

States such as Ohio and Michigan are re-examining their takeover policies. One national education leader, Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said that takeovers generally have not made much academic headway. Domenech knows the issue from the inside. In 1995, as a regional BOCES superintendent on Long Island, he headed a state-appointed panel that monitored Roosevelt’s day-to-day operations — a preliminary step toward direct takeover. “Certainly, from my perspective, at the

Domenech knows the issue from the inside. In 1995, as a regional BOCES superintendent on Long Island, he headed a state-appointed panel that monitored Roosevelt’s day-to-day operations — a preliminary step toward direct takeover. “Certainly, from my perspective at the national level, state takeovers are hardly the model to follow,” said Domenech, whose association, based in a Washington, D.C., suburb, represents more than 13,000 educators in the United States.

The state is getting ready to turn Buffalo’s lowest performing schools over to a receiver. It sounds like Michigan’s emergency manager plan, created by Republican Governor Rivk Snyder. The emergency managers handed the schools over to for-profit charter chains. It hasn’t helped or even turned a profit.

On the ground in Buffalo, there are realities, like this story about a homeless boy who loved music. The music program in Buffalo public schools saved him.

But Buffalo can’t afford to have a music teacher in every school.

“Of all the elective programs in the city’s schools, instrumental music has been hit the hardest. During the 2012 school year, the program had 20 full-time teachers spread among the district’s 56 schools. According to the district’s budget posted on its website (page 41 of 70), this year the number is at 13.74 full-time positions and slated drop to 9.86 next year, when the supplemental and temporary funding the program has received from Mayor Byron Brown for the past two years expires. A Contract for Excellence grant boosts that number to 24.16 for the current year.

“Of those 24.16 positions, 14.1 of them are in high schools, leaving ten teachers scattered throughout the district floating between buildings, in some cases to teach one class per six-day cycle.

“Amy Steiner works in three different buildings to provide instrumental music instruction for 40 minutes once a cycle. “I can’t get anything going, and I’m a good teacher,” says Steiner, who was honored by Business First in 2010. “They are literally wasting money.”

“It’s not just teacher positions that have been defunded. The instruments have been neglected, too. The total budget for the program’s supplies is just over $4,000. The current budget for instrument repairs is zero. By way of comparison, the budget for extracurricular athletic programming is just over $3 million—six times greater than the total budget for the academic instrumental music program.”

A study by professor Andrea B. Nikischer of Buffalo State concluded that the education coverage of the city’s only daily newspaper is biased in favor of charter schools and against public schools.

“The study demonstrates that two distinct stories are being told: The first gives readers an uncritical look at charter schools, promoting them as the answer to the perceived failure of the city’s so-called failing public schools, while the second gives an overwhelmingly negative portrayal of Buffalo Public Schools, along with their teachers and union.

“As Buffalo has only one traditional newspaper, and virtually no other mainstream media sources in the county provide detailed coverage of the Buffalo Public Schools or school reform, the power of articles published on these issues is immense,” notes Dr. Nikischer, an assistant professor at Buff State’s Adult Education Department.

“Public school supporters have been critical of the News’s coverage, which has, they believe, unfairly and loudly echoed the agenda of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Buffalo Board of Education majority, and the nationwide school privatization and high-stake testing movements. Now, for the first time, they can point to a qualitative study to back these claims.”


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