Peggy Robertson, one of the leading figures in the Opt Out movement, has compiled a list of teachers who refuse to give the mandated tests, as a matter of conscience.


She plans to add to the list as more teachers step up and refuse to obey what they believe is an unjust law.

Jennifer Rickert is an elementary school teacher in upstate Néw York. She loves teaching. She has taught for 22 years. She tried her best to implement the Common Core. She was enthusiastic about doing it right. But when she read the guidelines for the Spring 2015 tests, she concluded her students were being set up for failure. She can’t do it.

She explains why in this post.

She details each of her objections to the test, including the fact that some passages may be written at a level suitable for eleventh-graders (her students are age 11 and 12). And students will be asked to choose the “right answer” when some answers are “plausible” but not the right answer.

She summarizes why she will not give the test:

“In summary, we are going to ask 11-year-olds to read and comprehend passages that are taken from higher grades, some at 5 years above their level, with controversial and provocative language, based on abstract literature and historical documents that the students have not learned about yet, and choose an answer from several plausible choices? We are going to have our students spend nine hours of seat time, allowing extra time for our Special Education students, on these inappropriate tests? (Add another nine hours for math.)

“And after all is said and done, we will reduce each child to a number: 4, 3, 2, or 1, based on their performance, providing the teachers and parents with little to no information about what they can and cannot do?

“No. No, I cannot.”

United Opt Out sent a letter to Senator Lamar Alexander, who chairs the HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee in the Senate. Senator Alexander intends to rewrite No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was originally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act when it was first passed in 1965. At that time, the law was passed to send federal aid to poor districts. It said nothing about testing and accountability. But NCLB turned the federal law into a high-stakes testing mandate. Senator Alexander conducted his first hearing on January 21 and plans another hearing on January 27. Senator Alexander proposed two options in  his draft legislation: option 1 was to replace annual testing with grade span testing; option 2 was to keep annual high-stakes testing (the status quo). UOO is opposed to high-stakes testing in the federal law, period. (So am I.)


Here is UOO’s letter:



United Opt Out Public Letter to Senator Alexander



January 22, 2015


Dear Senator Alexander,


There is a great deal of discussion about where education leaders and organizations “stand” when it comes to the latest revision for ESEA titled Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015. In response, the organizers of United Opt Out (UOO) find that we stand between Scylla and Charybdis, between the proverbial rock and a hard place.


In your bill you pose the question of support for Option 1, a reduction in testing to grade span, or Option 2, which continues the current testing nightmare; we support neither. We find many items in the 400 page document too egregious and insupportable even though we do accept the notion of “grade span testing,” preferably via random sampling, as an alternative to what is in place now.


While we understand why many of our respected colleagues have shown support for Option 1 in your bill, we cannot endorse either. This is because both options are tucked neatly inside a larger bill that promotes the expansion of charters and other policies destructive overall to the well-being of students, public schools, and communities. Another reason we are reluctant, no matter what enticing promises are included therein, is due to those who lobbied for this bill in 2013: The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Alliance for Excellent Education and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has immense ties to ALEC.


While we are inclined to support H.R. 4172 – Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act sponsored by Rep. Chris Gibson and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, which also calls for grade span testing, we would like to see additional safeguards included against possible punitive (i.e. high stakes) state policies. Also, as stated above, we prefer random sampling. In our assessment, H.R.4172 does not go far enough to protect children, educators, and communities against state policies that are damaging in nature in spite of good intent. To elaborate, this bill requires those tests be administered at least once during: (1) grades 3 through 5, (2) grades 6 through 9, and (3) grades 10 through 12. However, “under H.R. 4172, the states would retain the ability to exceed federal testing requirements if they seek to do so.” In other words, students could be tested just as much as they are now if states choose to do so. The bill is not a guaranteed protection against over-testing and its punitive consequences; it’s just a hope. We believe that hope alone is not sufficient.


Make no mistake, Senator Alexander, we understand fully that you are a supporter of the privatization of public schools. Despite that fact, your bill and Gibson’s may be preferable to some who are against the privatization of public schools because they contain the possibility of being better than the existing federal and state policies. However, they are not appealing to many, in particular states that have suffered the negative impact of high stakes testing. Furthermore, we can’t see how either of the current bills proposed are the “solution” to problems such as equity in funding, re-segregation, compromised pedagogy, data mining, or the intrusion of corporate interests – to cite from a list of many – that continue to fester in public education.


We agree that education decisions should be decided in state legislative and local district bodies, but safeguards should be in place to ensure horrific policies such as over testing and attaching results to student, teacher, school, and community worthiness are not pushed through state and district legislative bodies. Your bill and Gibson’s include no such safeguards for polices that have been detrimental to the non-white, special needs, immigrant, and impoverished communities.


UOO and most other human rights organizations will vigorously oppose ANY state level measures that sanction the following:


Increase standardized testing even if it’s under “state control”


Support using high stakes to make decisions about students, educators, school buildings, or communities


Use of sanctions such as “shuts downs” or “turn overs” based on test data of any kind


Display favoritism toward increased charters and state voucher programs


Facilitate data mining and collection of private student information


Engage in sweet insider deals between state policy makers and corporations or testing companies using tax-payer dollars and at the expense of safety, quality and equity in public education


Therefore, we demand greater safety, equity and quality for ALL schools and that includes the elimination of ALL standardized -paper based or computer adaptive testing – that redirects tax-based funding for public education to corporations and is punitive or damaging to children, teachers, schools, and communities.


We will not accept ANY bill until the following criteria are included:


Increased resources for the inclusion of local, quality curricular adoptions devoid of “teaching to the test”


Quality, creative, authentic, and appropriate assessment measures for general students, special needs, and English language learners that are sustainable and classroom teacher-created


Smaller teacher/student ratios


Wrap-around social programs, arts, physical education programs, and creative play recess


Career-focused magnet programs


Additionally, we demand legislation that supports a broad and deep system-wide examination of the power structures that perpetuate poverty-level existence for millions of Americans.


To conclude, we find ourselves having to choose between being shot in the head and being shot in the foot. For now, we choose neither. Instead we call for continued revisions of current legislation to include the items and protections outlined in this letter. We thank you for this opportunity to share our sentiments and our voice.




United Opt Out Administrators:



Rosemarie Jensen
Denisha Jones
Morna McDermott
Peggy Robertson
Ruth Rodriquez
Tim Slekar
Ceresta Smith



Richard Kahlenberg reviews a new book by Harvard law professor Lani Guinier, who argues that the SAT and other standardized tests for college admission are antithetical to democracy. Jeffrey Snyder of Carleton College says that Guinier’s arguments are misleading.


Guinier argues that the tests are reflections of affluence, not merit or character. They serve to reward those who are already privileged.


Kahlenberg writes:


“‘Democratic merit,’ Guinier explains, goes far beyond examining test scores to look at the skills and commitment among student applicants that our democracy requires. Invoking Harvard economist Amartya Sen, Guinier writes that merit is ‘an incentive system that rewards the actions a society values.’ Today, she says, our society should value people who combine two sets of attributes: (1) knowing how to solve problems, which requires not just cognitive skills but also the ability to collaborate with others, and to think creatively; and (2) a “commitment to building a better society for more people” rather than just pursuing one’s own selfish ends.


“Guinier argues that the heavy reliance on standardized test scores in college admissions is deeply problematic on many levels. The tests are designed not to tell whether an individual will contribute to the strength of our democracy but only how he or she will perform academically in the freshman year. “If all we cared about is how well you do in your first year of college, we would have college programs that last only one year, right?” she quips. And SATs don’t even explain first-year grades very well, she says, citing economist Jesse Rothstein’s finding that SAT scores explain 2.7 percent of the variance in freshman grades….”


“Finally, Guinier writes, the testocracy “values perfect scores but ignores character.” Indeed, because doing well on the SAT is seen as a product of talent and hard work, the winners often lack the sense that they owe anyone else anything. The old inherited elite sometimes recognized that the accident of birth triggered a need to give back. “The new elite, on the other hand, feels that it has earned its privileges based on intrinsic, individual merit,” Guinier writes, and therefore feel no “obligation or shame.”


Now that the SAT will be aligned with the Common Core, both directed by the same person, David Coleman, we can expect it to become “harder” and thus even more reflective of family wealth.


Jeffrey Snyder says that Guinier is wrong. Snyder says that critics of testing miss the point. All standardized tests favor those who have had greater opportunities because they are better educated and better prepared.


He writes:


The SAT, Guinier maintains, reflects the “values and culture” of “white, upper middle-class” students. Many scholars in the field of education readily endorse this claim. I know because I used to be one of them. Two years ago, though, after reading through the empirical research carried out by psychologists and psychometricians for a course I created on standardized testing and American education, I concluded that the charges of bias do not stand up to closer scrutiny. The overwhelming majority of leading measurement experts contest the notion that the SAT systematically underestimates the academic skills and knowledge of poor students and students of color. Indeed, Guinier is unable to provide a single specific example of racial or class bias on the test. Consider the fact that Asian Americans significantly outperform whites on the SAT. Is there nothing distinctive about the cultural heritage of Americans of Asian descent? Following Guinier’s logic, the tens of thousands of high-scoring first- and second-generation immigrants from India and China somehow share the “values and culture” of upper middle-class whites, even if they are working-class or their parents do not speak English as a native language.


The SAT is not the only measure where money matters. As University of California, Santa Barbara Professor Emerita Rebecca Zwick has shown, every measure of academic achievement is at least in part a “wealth test,” with higher-income students enjoying consistent performance advantages over their less well-off peers. On average, more affluent students have higher scores on annual tests mandated by the No Child Left Behind legislation; on tests with no coaching available such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress; as well as on high-school exit exams such as New York’s Regents Examination. The same goes for grade-point-averages and the ACT. So no matter the achievement metric, as a group, more affluent students always do better.


Just to be clear, for Guinier and many of the other most vociferous critics of standardized testing, the SAT is a meaningless metric. The only skills it measures are those necessary to succeed on the SAT itself. Access to test prep allows students to learn how to “game” the test and a white, upper-middle class cultural background somehow provides a key to unlock the test’s otherwise mystifying content. In her mind, nothing separates the high from the low-scoring students, apart from bank account balances and the color of their skin. But while the SAT has many noteworthy flaws (the essay section, for instance, is farcical and an insult to the craft of writing), it does a decent job fulfilling its central purpose, which is to measure “college-readiness.” Those students who do well on the SAT really are more likely to succeed in college than those who do poorly.


The school of thought that deems the SAT meaningless is deeply misguided. If you care about expanding educational opportunity for poor students and students of color, charges of class and racial bias turn out to be red herrings. And test prep is the biggest red herring of all. College admissions tests, by and large, register rather than create socio-economic and racial disparities. Weeks or even months of test prep are dwarfed by the lifetime of accrued advantages associated with wealth. Think high-quality nutrition and healthcare, as well as access to museums, travel, and extended social and professional networks. Consider too a dozen plus years of attending the best public schools or private schools with well-qualified teachers and a rigorous high school curriculum that includes a rich array of foreign language offerings, Advanced Placement courses and extracurricular activities. By the time they are seventeen, more affluent students are more likely to succeed on the SAT—and in college—because they have received better educations than their less well-off peers.


To deny the real differences in the linguistic, mathematical and analytical skills between the typical low-income student and the typical high-income student is inexcusable. The test prep industry and “biased tests” make for easy targets—but they distract us from the much more important inequalities that are embedded in our racially and economically stratified K–12 educational system. Across the country, for example, poor students and students of color are disproportionately overrepresented in the lowest academic tracks, and disproportionately underrepresented in “gifted and talented programs” and honors and Advanced Placement classes. We should concentrate on students’ broader educational trajectories, rather than obsessively honing in on the drama of college admissions. We need to stop thinking of college admissions as a point of departure and start looking at it as the culmination of a long journey.


In this excerpt from her recent book, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy, Lani Guinier describes the tight linkage between standardized testing and family income. To the extent, then, that colleges rely on the SAT (or ACT) as a filter for college admission, they disproportionately screen out students who have not had the multiple advantages of living in affluence.


She cites data demonstrating that the SAT is of little value in predicting college performance, yet it effectively excludes students of color and students who are from low-income families.


She writes:


Close to eight hundred colleges have decreased or eliminated reliance on high-stakes tests as the way to rank and sort students. In the current environment, however, moving away from merit by the numbers takes guts. The testing and ranking diehards, intent on maintaining their gate-keeping role, hold back and even penalize administrators who take such measures. The presidents of both Reed College and Sarah Lawrence College report experiencing forms of retribution for refusing to cooperate with the “ranking roulette.”


At the center of this conflict is the wildly popular US News & World Report’s annual college-rankings issue—the bible of university prestige. In the book Crazy U, Andrew Ferguson describes meeting Bob Morse, the director of data research for US News and the lead figure behind the publication’s college rankings. Morse, a small man who works in an unassuming office, is described by Ferguson as “the most powerful man in America.” And for good reason: students and parents often rely upon the rankings—reportedly produced only by Morse and a handful of other writers and editors—as a proxy for university quality. These rankings rely heavily on SAT scores for their calculations. Without such data available from, for example, Sarah Lawrence, which stopped using SAT scores in its admissions process in 2005, Morse calculated Sarah Lawrence’s ranking by assuming an average SAT score roughly 200 points below the average score of its peer group. How does US News justify simply making up a number? Michele Tolela Myers, the president of Sarah Lawrence at the time the school stopped using the SAT, reported that the reasoning behind the lowered ranking was explained to her this way: “[Director Morse] made it clear to me that he believes that schools that do not use SAT scores in their admission process are admitting less capable students and therefore should lose points on their selectivity index.”


This is the testocracy in action, an aristocracy determined by testing that wants to maintain its position even if it has to resort to fabrication. What is it they are so desperate to protect? The answer initially seems to be that the SAT can predict how well students will do in college and thus how well-prepared they are to enter a particular school. There is a relationship between a student’s SAT score and his first-year college grades. The problem is it’s a very modest relationship. It is a positive relationship, meaning it is more than zero. But it is not what most people would assume when they hear the term correlation.


In 2004, economist Jesse Rothstein published an independent study that found only a meager 2.7 percent of grade variance in the first year of college can be effectively predicted by the SAT. The LSAT has a similarly weak correlation to actual achievement in law school. Jane Balin, Michelle Fine, and I did a study at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where we looked at the first-year law school grades of 981 students over several years and then looked at their LSAT scores. It turned out that there was a modest relationship between their test scores and their grades. The LSAT predicted 14 percent of the variance between the first-year grades. And it did a little better the second year: 15 percent. Which means that 85 percent of the time it was wrong. I remember being at a meeting with a person who at the time worked for the Law School Admission Council, which constructs the LSAT. When I brought these numbers up to her she actually seemed surprised they were that high. “Well,” she said, “nationwide the test is nine percent better than random.” Nine percent better than random. That’s what we’re talking about….


Meaningful participation in a democratic society depends upon citizens who are willing to develop and utilize these three skills: collaborative problem solving, independent thinking, and creative leadership. But these skills bear no relationship to success in the testocracy. Aptitude tests do not predict leadership, emotional intelligence, or the capacity to work with others to contribute to society. All that a test like the SAT promises is a (very, very slight) correlation with first-year college grades.


But once you’re past the first year or two of higher education, success isn’t about being the best test taker in the room any longer. It’s about being able to work with other people who have different strengths than you and who are also prepared to back you up when you make a mistake or when you feel vulnerable. Our colleges and universities have to take pride not in compiling an individualistic group of very-high-scoring students but in nurturing a diverse group of thinkers and facilitating how they solve complex problems creatively—because complex problems seem to be all the world has in store for us these days.

We live in a time that reeks with what the late child psychiatrist Elisabeth Young-Bruehl called “Childism: Prejudice Against Young Children.” In a book with that title, she identified NCLB high stakes testing as an example of “Childism.”

Thomas Scarice, Superintendent of Schools in Madison, Connecticut, makes a plea to restore innocence to children.

Scarice writes:

“Over the past decade, schools have deteriorated into data factories, reducing children to mere numbers, with a perverted ranking and sorting of winners and losers in high stakes testing schemes. And now, a new test promising to revolutionize education will produce yet more meaningless data for adults starving to exploit children for self-gain, selfish career aspirations, blind ideological ploys, or for the purposes of establishing high property values on the backs of children, all the while sorting out which 8 year olds are on track to be “college and career ready”.

“Even at the classroom level, children suffer from the unintended consequences of well-meaning adults unaware of the ways that children naturally develop and grow. Frivolous homework policies invade private family time and rob children of necessary unstructured time to develop executive functioning.

“Play, the natural way children learn, is reduced to filler, barely acknowledged for the critical role it fulfills in child development. No one questions why the caged bird flies as soon as the cage door opens, nor should they question why children naturally play at a moment’s notice.

“Even perhaps the most fundamental function of schools, the teaching of reading, has succumbed to the ignorance of this era. New standards and tests with a myopic focus on text without regard for the reader (i.e. the child actually doing the reading), without regard for their interests, knowledge, and passions, will serve to further disengage children from the splendor of reading and give students more reasons to see school, and reading, as irrelevant.

“With unprecedented childhood poverty rates, an explosion in the identification of attention deficit disorder, recent reports of soaring teenage suicide rates, one thing is clear: the violation of childhood knows no boundaries.”

We are the adults, Scarice says. It is our responsibility to protect children, not to use them to satisfy our will or ideology.

The Néw Yorker has a long article about Jeb Bush’s passionate interest in reforming public education by high-stakes testing, report cards, and privatization. Since his own children attend private schools, they are not affected by his grand redesign of public education.

To boil down his approach, regular public schools get loaded down with mandates and regulations. Charter schools are free of mandates and regulations, and many are run for profit. As public schools are squeezed by the competition with charters, they get larger classes and fewer programs. Meanwhile, Bush’s friends and allies get very rich.

It is a thorough story about Jeb Bush’s mission to turn public education into an industry.. One conclusion: If he were elected President, it would be the end of public education as we have known it for more than 150 years.

Thanks to reader GST for bringing this important story to our attention: a court in Pennsylvania ruled that the School Reform Commission may not cancel the contract of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. This is a battle that has gone on for two years, as the unelected School Reform Commission looks for ways to cut the budget. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia schools are suffering from former Governor Tom Corbett’s deep budget cuts, and the Legislature has refused to fulfill its responsibility to the children of Philadelphia.


Commonwealth Court judges have handed a win to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, ruling that the School Reform Commission cannot throw out the teachers’ union’s contract and impose new terms.


The decision was confirmed by Jerry Jordan, PFT president, on Thursday morning.


“This is a very big victory,” Jordan said.


After nearly two years of negotiations, the district had moved on Oct. 6 to cancel the teachers’ contract and impose health-benefits changes that would save the cash-strapped system $54 million annually, officials said.
In the decision, judges said that neither the state Public School Code nor the Legislature have expressly given the SRC the power to cancel its teachers’ contract.


“This Court is cognizant of the dire financial situation which the Districtcurrently faces and the SRC’s extensive efforts to achieve the overall goal of properlyand adequately meeting the educational needs of the students,” Judge Patricia A. McCullough wrote for the court. “There have been numerous difficult decisions that the SRC has been forced to make in an effort to overcome these economic hurdles, including a one-third reduction in staff and theclosing of 31 schools in recent years.”


But the law does not give the SRC the power to cancel a collective bargaining agreement.

Jeff Bryant watched President Obama’s State of the Union address and the Senate’s NCLB hearings, and he concluded that the Democrats had lost their voice, with one exception: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

He describes the hearings in this post.

Two Néw York City public school teachers spoke eloquently about the deficiencies and flaws of high-stakes testing.

The only Senator who spoke sensibly about the realities of schooling was Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Bryant writes:

“Finally, at the hearing’s very end, Rhode Island’s Senator Whitehouse said something that made educators everywhere smile: (watch here at the 2:24:30 mark).

“My experience in the education world is that there are really two worlds in it. One is the world of contract and consultants and academics and experts and plenty of officials at the federal state and local level. And the other is a world of principals and classroom teachers who are actually providing education to students. What I’m hearing from my principals’ and teachers’ world is that the footprint of that first world has become way too big in their lives to the point where it’s inhibiting their ability to do the jobs they’re entrusted to do.”

“Indeed, the footprint made by education policy leaders in classrooms has left behind a form of mandated testing that is “designed to test the school and not the student,”
Whitehouse stated, and he described a dysfunctional system in which teachers don’t get test results in a timely fashion that makes it possible for them to use the results to change instruction. Instead, educators spend more time preparing for the tests and encouraging students to be motivated to take them, even though the tests have no bearing on the students’ grades, just how the school and the individual teachers themselves are evaluated.

“Whitehouse compared the federal funding that has poured into policies mandating testing, such as Race to the Top, to “rain falling over the desert. The rain comes pouring out of the clouds. But by the time you’re actually at the desert floor, not a raindrop falls. It’s all been absorbed in between. I’ve never had a teacher who said to me, ‘Boy, Race to the Top gave me just what I need in terms of books or a whiteboard, or something I can use to teach the kids.’”

“Whitehouse urged his colleagues to consider more closely the purpose of testing – not just how many tests and how often but how assessments are used. He concluded, “We have to be very careful about distinguishing the importance of the purpose of this oversight and not allow the purpose of the oversight to be conducted in such an inefficient, wasteful, clumsy way that the people who we really trust to know to do this education – the people who are in the classroom – are not looking back at us and saying, ‘Stop. Help. I can’t deal with this. You are inhibiting my ability to teach.’”

Unfortunately other Democratic senators, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Al Frankenstein, support test-based accountability. Apparently no one told them that the original purpose of the historic Elementary and Secondary Education Act if 1965 was resource equity for poor kids, not testing and accountability.

Apparently no one told them that the traditional Democratic education agenda was equity for the neediest, while the traditional GOP agenda was testing, accountability, and choice.

The Democrats have lost not only their voice but their agenda. Even the civil rights groups want to protect testing and accountability, allowing only 1% of students with the most severe disabilities to be exempted and allowing English language learners only one year of exemption. Why this draconian approach to the children they represent?

The GOP has won the ideological debate because Democrats have signed on to GOP ideas. American children and public education will continue to be in deep trouble until at least one of the two parties abandons its reckless devotion to high-stakes testing and privatization.

On January 22, NYC Chancellor Carmen Farina announced her plan to eliminate the “Children’s First Networks” and to restore district superintendents. The Bloomberg-Klein administration reorganized the sprawling 1.1 million student school system three or four times, and their last reorganization created non-geographical “networks.” (When I visited Philadelphia two years ago, outside consultants were recommending the NYC networks as a model for Philadelphia.) Farina here explains to ABNY (the Association for a Better New York) why the networks functioned poorly and how the new structure will work.

Farina expresses pride in the rapid implementation of Mayor de Blasio’s campaign pledge to open pre-K for four
-year-olds and after school programs for middle-schoolers.

She also talks about the de Blasio administration’s determination to help 94 struggling schools instead of closing them

Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s Remarks on Strong Schools, Strong Communities


Chancellor Fariña’s remarks as prepared

Good morning! It’s a pleasure to be here. I want to thank ABNY for the invitation, and Bill Rudin for his warm welcome.

I also want to thank everyone who came out today. Whether you’re a business leader, an educator, a parent, a policymaker, or some other type of civic leader, you’re here because you care about our children.

I am personally grateful for all that you’ve done for them – and I am counting on your help to create the best urban school district in the country, bar none.

Because let’s be honest – it’s going to take an all-out, five-borough, unified effort to change the status quo and fix our schools for good.

The status quo is simply unacceptable. We are failing far too many of our kids, with dire consequences that ripple out far beyond individual families. This is a make-or-break issue not just for our city, but for our children’s city – our grandchildren’s city.

Today I am announcing a change that is commensurate to the challenge we face. But before we start talking about the future, I’m going to indulge my love of history and talk a little about the past.

Specifically, I’m going to tell you about my journey as an educator – which begins with my first experiences as a student.

I was born in 1943 to a family that moved to Brooklyn to escape the Spanish Civil War. I didn’t speak English when I started school, and my teacher marked me absent every day because I never raised my hand during roll call.

I wasn’t being disobedient – I just never heard my name being called. It turns out my teacher was mispronouncing my last name, and my dad had to come down to the school to make sure I was marked present and teach her how to say it.

In high school, without my knowledge, I was placed on a non-academic track. I took typing and stenography, all in preparation for a much different life than the one I imagined for myself.

So how did I get off that track and end up here today? Naturally, an outstanding teacher deserves a lot of credit. Her name was Sister Leonard, and she saw that even back then, I wasn’t willing to settle for the status quo. I knew that I was capable of more – and so did Sister Leonard.

With Sister Leonard’s help, I caught up on the math classes I missed and eventually made it to college – the first in my family to do so.

I decided to become a teacher because I couldn’t think of anything more fulfilling than helping children reach their true potential. And even back then, I hoped that I could somehow play a role in fixing the underlying problems that had stifled the ambitions of so many of my peers.

In 1965, I began my career as a teacher at P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. My work was guided by the lesson Sister Leonard taught me:

Every child has potential. And every educator has the responsibility to do whatever it takes to help that child realize her dreams.

I certainly wasn’t a perfect teacher, but I’ll tell you this: I gave it my all, day-in and day-out.

I held parent-teacher conferences at my house in Brooklyn. I brought an old refrigerator box to class and turned it into a reading nook, complete with a skylight and pillows. On the Bicentennial, I took my students down to Philadelphia to celebrate.

Of course, my most important work was done in the classroom. I sometimes had up to 40 students, but I made it a point to forge a personal connection with each child. And I tailored my curriculum to reflect what I had learned about their strengths and needs.

For example, I had two students who loved to debate – Josh and Alex. In those days, most teachers considered the term “healthy debate” an oxymoron, but I decided to take a different approach.

I made Josh and Alex our classroom lawyers, and I assigned them to write opposing briefs on whatever topic we were discussing that day.

Thanks to their hard work, our day was always full of boisterous discussion – we had some really great debates in that class. The type where everyone – myself included – walks away having learned something.

Strategies like that didn’t just make teaching more fun – they got results.

My classes always scored above average and I was recognized as citywide Teacher of the year in 1981.

After more than two decades in the classroom, in 1991 I accepted an offer to become the Principal of P.S. 6 on the Upper East Side.

My M.O. was simple: My staff and I were going to turn a good school into a great school. And we were going to do that by getting to know each and every student.

Some teachers bought in immediately and already had the tools they needed to thrive.

Some teachers bought in, but needed new tools. So I used every means at my disposal to provide them with training and connect them to colleagues whose skills matched their needs.

Finally, some teachers were either unwilling or unable to get with the program – and those teachers had to go.

That process was often more congenial than you’d expect. I remember one teacher in particular, a lovely woman who walked into my office one day looking very serious.

She understood what we were trying to do, and she understood why it was important. Her abilities simply didn’t match up with the school’s new direction, and she chose to leave the next year. I still think back on her with great fondness.

Again, I’m not too modest to let you know that this approach got results. Under my leadership, P.S. 6 saw real progress and was a leader in the City in reading and math scores.

I was eventually appointed District Regional Superintendent and then Deputy Chancellor. Although my responsibilities changed, my approach remained the same.

Whether supervising students, teachers or principals, I worked to forge a personal connection, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and connect them to the support they needed.

My expectations were clear and I held people accountable for meeting them.

Over my first three months as a superintendent, I had a one-on-one conversation with each of the more than 150 principals in my region.

I asked all of them three questions:

1) What changes do you think I need to make as a superintendent?
2) What do you do well that you’re willing to share?
3) What would you like to do better?

I then matched each principal with a colleague whose strengths matched his or her needs. I’m happy to report that some of them are still friends.

For the most part, this approach was remarkably successful. But when it didn’t work, I was hands-on in making the necessary changes.

As a parent myself, I understood that the needs of our students were my first, second and third priorities.

I share these stories to give you a sense of who I am as a person – and as a leader.

Collaboration and accountability are of paramount importance. Every teacher and every principal should know where we’re headed. And their supervisors should have an accurate picture of their school’s strengths and weaknesses and know how to use their resources wisely.

Mayor de Blasio shares my vision of a school system built on collaboration and accountability. He and I have worked together for nearly 20 years, so we’ve been able to hit the ground running.

To say that I’m proud of all that we accomplished in our first year would be an understatement.

We delivered on a promise many thought was nothing more than a dream: providing 53,000 four-year-olds with high-quality full-day pre-kindergarten. Our four-year-olds are learning new vocabulary words, exploring the natural world through interactive science experiments, and picking up critical interpersonal skills.

Next year, we will expand the system to reach every eligible child.

We launched the largest expansion of after-school programs for sixth to eighth graders in the City’s history. This means more of our parents and guardians are sleeping a little more soundly, secure in the knowledge that their children can explore their talents in the arts, a physical activity, or debate club and have somewhere safe and engaging to go after the final bell rings.

We launched the Community Schools initiative, which will engage parents and local non-profits as true partners in providing services that address the real-life needs of students and their families.

I know that sounds a little jargon-y, but it means schools are home to the resources families need – like dental clinics, medical clinics, or literacy classes for parents.

We agreed on contracts with the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.

And these contracts are about a lot more than money – they will spur innovation throughout our schools. We negotiated to create the PROSE program, which allows school leaders and teachers to color outside the line regarding work rules and innovative programs and policies.

Finally, we have engaged in a citywide effort to engage parents as our partners. I have done Town Halls across the city and hosted all day parent conferences at Tweed where I listen to parents and I answer their questions.

All of these initiatives were accomplished on a tight timeline, and they required us to push the system hard.

I will draw on these early successes – along with my five decades in education – as I pursue my next, and most critical goal: Fixing the system that supports and holds accountable each and every one of our schools.

Put simply, we need to do a much better job of making sure all of our students graduate prepared for college and careers that haven’t even been invented yet.

And that means doing a much better job evaluating our schools, identifying problems, and holding ourselves accountable for fixing those problems.

Today, I’m going to tell you about three major changes we are undertaking. Two of them I announced last year, and the other I am announcing today.

As any teacher can tell you, when presenting a lot of information, it’s important to have an outline.

So I’m going to briefly introduce each change, and then I’ll go on to explain them in greater detail. Each is common sense.

Number One: We are providing schools with a new roadmap for improvement. We call it the “Framework for Great Schools,” and it is based on the latest research into what makes good schools good.

We have also revised the school report card, creating parent-friendly school snapshots. The new report includes more and better data, and will help parents make informed decisions about their child’s education.

Number Two: We are investing $150 million and our very best thinking into 94 struggling schools.

We call it the Renewal Schools Initiative, and it will provide targeted schools with an extra hour of learning time, mental health services, after-school programs, teacher training, and much more.

We fully expect this investment to pay off in the terms of improved student outcomes, and if it doesn’t we will hold the schools accountable.

All options are on the table when it comes to turning around struggling schools.

Number Three: This is the new stuff – I am announcing that we will streamline and align the school support structure.

That means eliminating the structure referred to as Children First Networks and replacing them with stronger superintendents and Borough Field Support Centers.

Now lets circle back to the first change I mentioned: our new Framework for Great Schools.

I know that term is still new to a lot of you, but it’s actually common sense: the Framework for Great Schools is a tool to diagnose a school’s strengths and the areas that need improvement.

Speaking of common sense, many of the ideas embedded in the framework will resonate deeply with longtime educators like me – and that’s because it is based on ideas that originated in schools that have beat the odds and improved year after year.

Let me elaborate: When I walk through a school, I look for very specific clues that will reveal whether it’s on the right track or the wrong track.

Is there student work on the walls? Is there conversation in the classrooms? Is the principal clearly in command? Is the staff receptive to suggestions? Is there evidence of family engagement?

It doesn’t take me very long to get a good sense of where the school is headed.

But we can’t just dispatch a bunch of gray-haired educators to roam the halls of our schools.

We need a systematic way of assessing every school. That’s where the Framework for Great Schools comes in.

The Framework’s foundation was developed at the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research. The researchers looked at schools that beat the odds and asked: “Why did they succeed where others failed? What do these schools have in common?”

They then identified the six attributes you find at almost all of the best schools:

Rigorous Instruction: The classes are academically demanding. They engage students by challenging them to apply their newfound knowledge.

Collaborative Teachers: The staff is wholeheartedly committed to the school. They receive strong training, and they work together to address areas of improvement.

Supportive Environment: The school is safe and orderly. Teachers have high expectations for students, whose individual needs are supported by their teachers and peers.

Strong Ties to Family and Community: The entire staff understands the importance of building strong relationships with families and the community.

Effective Leaders: The principal and other school leaders work with fellow teachers, school staff, families, and students to implement a clear and strategic vision for school success. An effective leader must be a clear communicator.

Trust: The entire school community works to establish and maintain trusting relationships. These relationships enable families, teachers, and principals to take the risks they need to overcome odds that are often enormous.

Using surveys and up-to-date data, we can measure how schools stack up on each measure.

The researchers found that schools that were strong on all six measures were 10 times more likely to improve reading scores, math scores and attendance. They were also 30 times less likely to stagnate.

We found the same here in New York City.

In looking at 2013 evaluations, schools that were strong on these measures were six times more likely to score over the city average on English. They were also more likely to score above the average in math.

We will be evaluating every school in terms of the six measures. We will target support to areas where a school is weak, and we will hold the school accountable for demonstrating improvement.

It’s about meeting schools where they are. Schools that are struggling on all six measures will get a lot of targeted help where needed.

Schools that only need help with one or two measures will receive less help – and will share more of their success – because they’re already on the right track.

But improving how we evaluate schools is only part of the solution.

We also need to create a better way of sharing what we find with principals, teachers, and parents.

This fall, we announced a new report card for schools. We will produce two versions for each school.

The School Quality Snapshot provides a concise, user-friendly picture of the quality of each school, designed with parents in mind.

The School Quality Guide provides a more robust set of information about each school.

Both guides will contain much of the baseline information that you’ve seen in previous report cards:

– State test scores
– Graduation rates
– Regents pass rates
– A school’s track record in closing the achievement gap
– Other predictors of success in college, career, and beyond

All of this information will be shown in comparison to the average scores of other schools in the district, and across the city. And we are setting ambitious and clear annual targets for all schools, for everyone to see.

We are providing the public with more data. We are providing them with better data. We are making that data easier to understand.

The information we’re gathering will be a crucial tool for our superintendents when it comes to directing resources where they need to go and making tough decisions about the future of a given school, especially those that are struggling.

That brings me to the second big change I mentioned earlier: our $150 million-dollar Renewal School Initiative.

In announcing the program back in November, Mayor de Blasio promised that we would move “heaven and earth” to help these 94 schools – and we are.

Right now, Renewal Schools are in the middle of a dramatic transformation process. Our investments in each school will focus on four key priorities.

First, we will transform every Renewal School into a Community School. Because we know that engaging community-based organizations as partners is a great way to engage families and improve student outcomes.

Second, every Renewal School will feature expanded learning time, which is an extra hour of instruction every day. The schools will also get additional after-school program seats.

Both of these measures come down to common sense – more classroom time and targeted support helps kids learn.

Third, we will provide Renewal School teachers with more training. That means intensive coaching from experts inside and outside the school system. Our struggling schools must have an excellent teacher at the front of every classroom, period.

Fourth and finally, we will offer high-quality summer programs for students enrolled in Renewal Schools.

In the end, it all comes back to my favorite word: accountability. Our superintendents are having tough conversations with principals at these schools about what must change.

If we don’t see improvement, we will take action. It could be a school staffing overhaul – including a new principal. It could be merging two schools in order to maximize the best leadership and maximize resources to move the building in a new direction. The stakes are simply too high to stand pat.

Now we have reached the last change I’d like to discuss with you: streamlining and aligning our school support structure.

There’s a lot of institutional memory in this room. And you may remember the many conflicting configurations of the Board of Education.

Just trying to explain the contradictory structure of the BOE gives me a headache – there were Board Members, Executive Board Members, local school boards, separate systems for high schools and middle schools. It was not common sense.

In addition, that bureaucratic system was ripe for patronage and inefficiency.

And the lack of clear accountability lead to fewer than half of our students graduating in four years.

Superintendents and school boards micromanaged every principal, dictating who they hired and what books they should buy. No one, especially me, wants to go back to those days.

This brings me to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein. They both deserve a lot of credit for finally bringing the school system under mayoral control and increasing accountability.

I served as Deputy Chancellor during the Bloomberg Administration. So I saw firsthand how mayoral control allowed principals and administrators to get a lot more done, with strong instructional leaders at the helm.

And thanks to them, we have the freedom to appoint superintendents directly, and hold them accountable for results. They are not beholden to elected School Boards – they answer to me, and I answer to the Mayor.

Up until now, the process of supervising schools and the process for supporting schools ran on parallel tracks. The person who supervised did not support. And the person who supported did not supervise.

Superintendents had the authority to rate and fire principals, but they didn’t have the tools they needed to help principals improve.

Instead, that responsibility fell to 55 Children First Networks, which had access to resources designed to help schools improve.

There are a number of problems with the Network system – I’ll tick them off quickly:

First, the networks are not organized geographically. That means they might include schools in multiple boroughs across the city.

This is confusing to schools and families – the network they belong to could be headquartered far away.

Second, every network had the same amount of resources, regardless of how many schools they served.

For instance, one network might serve 25 schools with 7,000 students, while another might serve 25 schools with 40,000 students.

Struggling schools got no more support than high-performing schools – it was a one-size-fits-all approach that left schools and students behind.

Finally, the leaders of these networks had the inverse of the problem facing the superintendents – despite working closely with principals, they had no authority to rate or fire them.

It all boils down to this – under the existing system, those with authority don’t have the resources they need, and those with resources don’t have the authority.

I know that many of you are excellent managers, so I’m sure you can appreciate how frustrating that must be. And not just for administrators, but also for principals – they’ve been receiving mixed messages, getting sent in different directions and never knowing exactly to whom they’re accountable to.

Today, I am announcing a new approach. It is structured around two foundational principles: One, we need a system with clear lines of authority and accountability.

And two, we need to safeguard the independence of strong school leaders – because they know their schools the best.

The central element of our new approach is creating clear accountability and giving superintendents the authority and resources they need to improve what happens in our schools and in our classrooms. Beginning in the fall of 2015, superintendents will support and supervise schools, period.

I am comfortable giving them this authority because I am confident in their ability. I personally oversaw the selection of these superintendents.

All district and high school superintendents had to reapply for their jobs.

And we changed the criteria to ensure that all new superintendents had at least 10 years of pedagogic experience, including at least three as a principal.

They must also have a proven record of student improvement and facilitating community involvement – and input – in the schools.

We now have 45 superintendents, including 15 brand-new superintendents.

All are experienced educators and supervisors who have overseen schools that have seen improvements.

They will be my eyes and ears. And again, unlike the system before Mayoral Control, the superintendents answer to me. I have already had hour-long one-on-one appointments with every superintendent.

Going forward, there will be consistency across and within the system

Let me briefly describe how the new system will work.

First, each superintendent will have a small team to help support students, families and schools.

Second, we will create seven Borough Field Support Centers, or “FSC’s” – two in Brooklyn, two in Queens, and one in each of the other boroughs.

Each of these Centers will house the full range of school support personnel, including experts on:

– Instruction
– Operations
– Student services, including health resources and counseling
– Working with English Language Learners, and
– Working with students with special needs

The personnel in those offices will report to a Field Service Center Director, who will be experienced and highly qualified.

Superintendents will work with principals to access services at their Center. But unlike the Networks, which provided the same supports to all of the schools they served, these Centers will be large enough to offer choices to principals.

For instance, if you need help providing special assistance to early elementary school English Language Learners, you will have the City’s experts on that topic at your fingertips. And if you need help providing algebra instruction, you can choose that support instead.

The new system will also foster more collaboration among elementary, middle, and high schools within close proximity. This was an obstacle in Networks that were spread across the city.

With 7 Centers instead of 55 Networks, each Center can build the scale and expertise necessary to provide customized support for schools. They will be more flexible, more efficient, and more equitable while still utilizing much of the expertise already in the system.

Finally, we will make more strategic use of the existing Partnership Support Organizations, or “PSOs,” now to be called Affinity Groups.

These non-profit organizations and university partners provide support, coaching, and guidance on school program management and planning.

I’m talking about organizations you know, like New Visions, Urban Assembly and CUNY. And they will remain our valued partners. I know many schools would not be where they are today without the critical support they provide.

Under the new structure, they will continue to provide targeted support to schools.

But they will be brought under a superintendent, and they will be held accountable for results – just like everyone else. They will also serve as models in areas of their specific strengths for schools across the City.

And school leaders will have more freedom to choose the services they would like from that group, or any other group.

And on the topic of budgets, I want to be clear about what is NOT changing: principals will retain control over their budgets and who they hire.

These are the crucial levers of management. As a former principal, I am personally committed to ensuring that successful principals retain the independence they have earned through years of hard work. And we can’t hold our school leaders accountable if we don’t give them decision-making power.

And speaking of independence, let me make another thing clear: schools that are already doing well will have a lot more of it – we don’t want to mess with success.

But let me reiterate the crucial point: Superintendents will be responsible for getting their schools the tools they need to succeed. And it is superintendents who will hold school leaders accountable for results. And I will hold superintendents accountable.

And that is the structure – simple and clear. It is common sense.

We are drawing clear lines of authority and holding everyone in the system accountable for student performance.

Schools get supervision and support from one place: the superintendent.

Families have one place to call if they cannot solve problems at the school: the superintendent.

My senior team at Tweed will know where to go when issues arise: the superintendent.

It will be easier for schools to share best practices. We will be able to make swift interventions in struggling schools, and do a better job of holding them accountable.

And all of our offices—from Central to the field—will be aligned under one vision.

Of course, the buck ultimately stops with me.

Thanks to the new structure, I will soon have a much clearer picture of what we’re doing well and where we’re lagging, and superintendents will understand what is expected of them.

Thanks to the new structure, we can be nimble and address issues as they arise, not years after thousands of students have failed.

Thanks to the new structure, it will be much easier to share resources fairly and maximize them among all of our schools and districts.

And thanks to the new structure, we will finally have the leverage we need to enact the change that has proved elusive for far too long.

The great thing about an ABNY speech is that you get to dive into the weeds.

But I know that many of you aren’t just here as policy influencers – you’re also here as parents. And as citizens and employers, you have a vested interest in the future workforce and how well they are prepared.

So as I wrap up, I’d like to reframe my remarks in terms of what parents can expect from their Department of Education in the months and years to come.

We are committed to building on the reforms of the past and making our school system more equal and more efficient. Because that’s how you build Strong Schools and Strong Communities.

We are going to do a better job of evaluating schools using measures that have been proven to help students do better.

We are going to release new school quality guides that contain not just more data, but better data. And we will present it in a way that’s easy to understand.

If your child attends a struggling school, rest assured that we are doing everything possible to improve that school. You can expect to see longer schools days, more afterschool programs, and more opportunities to get involved.

And if you don’t see that, you will know exactly who to call: your school superintendent.

We are providing your superintendent with the resources she needs to provide customized help to your school – and the authority she needs to hold your principal accountable.

It comes back to what I said at the start. Everything is predicated on a simple fact: the status quo isn’t working, and as good and decent people we have an obligation to fix it.

This new system represents a big step in our long journey toward a more perfect school system.

Our work won’t be done until every one of our children graduates high school – and graduates fully prepared to pursue the future they imagine for themselves.

The challenges before us are daunting, no question – but we have already come so far.

Thank you.


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