Archives for the year of: 2013

Is Dilbert a staff developer? A consultant? What is he selling?

An article by Karen Matthews in Huffington Post says that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio plans to charge rent to well-resourced charter schools, a pledge he made during his campaign. Most charters in New York City are co-located in public schools, where they pay nothing for their use of public space and they take away much-needed classroom space from regular public schools.

Charter schools in New York City take up a majority of media space, yet serve only 6% of the city’s students.

Some charter executives receive large salaries. More than a dozen are paid more than the Chancellor of the public school system, who oversees 1.1 million students.

Critics note that more than a dozen New York City charter school executives are paid more than current New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s $212,614. Harlem Village Academies chief Deborah Kenny earns $499,146. Eva Moskowitz, a former City Council member and founder of Success Academies, earns $475,244.

Moskowitz, with 6,700 students, has the city’s largest charter chain. She hopes to add more schools next year.

G.F. Brandenburg keeps a close watch on D.C. Schools. In this series of posts, he compares academic gains in D.C. before and after the chancellorship of Michelle Rhee. What he finds is a district that was showing steady improvement before Rhee arrived, and where the gains post-Rhee were continuous with earlier trends. He also compares the performance of public and charter schools in the district on NAEP, as well as the scores of different groups of students.

Aficionados of test scores in D.C. will find these posts of great interest:

See here, here, here, and here.

Paul Thomas wrote this post about a video in which the authors of the Common Core joked about their lack of experience and qualifications for writing the nation’s standards. It is not funny. It is sad.

If we truly want better education for all, then we must be concerned about the high levels of poverty and income inequality in our society. Social scientists have long known that family income and education are highly correlated with academic performance and educational attainment. If we reduce poverty, we increase students’ chances of having good health, a secure home, and the conditions that support learning.

In this context, Robert Reich’s recent article about poverty in America is relevant. Although he says that only Romania has more child poverty than the U.S. among developed nations, Romania was stuck in a repressive dictatorship for decades until 1989, and should not be in the same comparison group with the world’s most powerful economy. We are truly–in this humiliating statistic–#1.

This is the issue that “reformers” don’t want to talk about. They say that if you talk about what matters most, you are making excuses. Hardly. Something has gone terribly wrong in the past three decades or so, says Reich.

He writes:

“Although it’s still possible to win the lottery (your chance of winning $636 million in the recent Mega Millions sweepstakes was one in 259 million), the biggest lottery of all is what family we’re born into. Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents.

“That’s not always been the case. The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches – with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone – was once at the core of the American Dream.

“And equal opportunity was the heart of the American creed. Although imperfectly achieved, that ideal eventually propelled us to overcome legalized segregation by race, and to guarantee civil rights. It fueled efforts to improve all our schools and widen access to higher education. It pushed the nation to help the unemployed, raise the minimum wage, and provide pathways to good jobs. Much of this was financed by taxes on the most fortunate.

“But for more than three decades we’ve been going backwards. It’s far more difficult today for a child from a poor family to become a middle-class or wealthy adult. Or even for a middle-class child to become wealthy.

“The major reason is widening inequality. The longer the ladder, the harder the climb. America is now more unequal that it’s been for eighty or more years, with the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of all developed nations. Equal opportunity has become a pipe dream.

“Rather than respond with policies to reverse the trend and get us back on the road to equal opportunity and widely-shared prosperity, we’ve spent much of the last three decades doing the opposite.”

He asks:

“How can the economy be back on track when 95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the richest 1 percent?

“The underlying issue is a moral one: What do we owe one another as members of the same society?”

These are important questions to think about on Christmas Day, as some enjoy the bounty of our beautiful land, while far too many go hungry.

The Wall Street Journal responded to Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s choice of Carmen Farina as chancellor with bitterness. The editorial calls her “a competent steward of the failing status quo.” How could they overlook the fact that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been the status quo for twelve years? How could they neglect that federal education policy–George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top–is the status quo? They are right that the status quo is failing. But how can they imagine that a man who has not yet taken office, a man who comes to the mayoralty after 20 years of Guiliani and Bloomberg is the status quo? A rational thinker might conclude that de Blasio represents a serious challenge to the status quo, which is very upsetting to the Wall Street Journal, defender of the status quo.


Review & Outlook

The Inequality Contradiction

Mayor de Blasio’s schools chief is a competent steward of the failing status quo.

Dec. 30, 2013 6:59 p.m. ET
The Bill de Blasio era begins in New York City on New Year’s Day, and the new mayor is saying his main preoccupation will be reducing inequality. No doubt he means it, but his appointment Monday of Carmen Fariña as schools chancellor won’t do much for that cause.

Ms. Fariña is by all accounts a competent steward of the education status quo. Known as a fine teacher herself, the 70-year-old served for a time as a deputy chancellor during the Bloomberg era but wasn’t a reform leader. Mr. de Blasio made a point in his Monday remarks announcing her selection that she had retired because she was unhappy with the direction of the Bloomberg reforms.

Those radical reform ideas included more competition (charter schools) and more accountability (measuring school and teacher performance in part by how well students do on tests). Ms. Fariña is said to favor collaboration, rather than competition, among schools. Collaboration is a nice word, but it will achieve nothing if all it means is accommodating the demands of unions for less school choice and less accountability while demanding more money.

The contradiction of the liberal inequality agenda is that it ignores the single biggest obstacle to upward economic mobility—the failure of inner-city public schools. Mr. de Blasio built his “tale of two cities” mayoral campaign, much as President Obama has built his economic agenda, around income redistribution. Raise taxes and spread the wealth.

But no amount of wealth shifting will raise the lifetime prospects of kids who can’t read or can only do 8th-grade math before they drop out of school. The education reform agenda is about reducing income inequality the old-fashioned American way—upward mobility and economic opportunity. By accommodating the education status quo, Mr. de Blasio will make the income gap even larger.

In a story in Huffington Post today, former NYC Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern complained that New York City’s new Chancellor Carmen Farina has not spelled out exactly how she plans to raise the graduation rate or solve every other problem that the Bloomberg administration, in which Nadelstern served, left unsolved.

Farina’s appointment was also met with a mixture of concern, skepticism, and guarded hope by Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Rees worried about de Blasio’s lack of enthusiasm for charter schools, but she took hope from the fact that Farina had worked for Joel Klein.

Rees said:

“It’s interesting that she was the pick given that supposedly she was aligned with [Bloomberg schools chief] Joel Klein for so long,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “She has a different approach to testing and accountability, but the fact that she was with the previous administration and had overseen a number of layoffs and substantial changes is a positive sign in terms of not completely abandoning some of the reforms the previous administration had in place.”

It is not clear why Rees thought that Farina had laid anyone off, since she was in charge of curriculum ad instruction, not human resources or budgets.

Rees worked in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney during the George W. Bush administration, and subsequently for Michael Milken before taking charge of the charter school operation.

For the past dozen years, New York City has had a procession of school chancellors who were not educators: a banker, a prosecutor, a publisher, a former deputy mayor.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio made a daring–and wise– decision to select a professional educator to run the nation’s largest school system, which enrolls 1.2 million students. His search narrowed to three excellent candidates, all of whom are career professional educators: Joshua Starr, superintendent of the Montgomery County public schools, known for his strong stand against standardized testing; Kathleen Cashin, a member of the New York Board of Regents, who has valiantly opposed its unwise emphasis on high-stakes testing; and Carmen Farina, a seasoned educator and former deputy chancellor in the city school system.

De Blasio selected Farina, who promises to bring a new era of collaboration with parents, teachers, and principals. She brings humor, passion, and intelligence to the job. She spoke at the announcement about the joy of learning, a term unheard in the past dozen years. She spoke of celebrating the good work of dedicated professionals.

It is a new day in New York City. The era of punishing, blaming, and shaming professional educators is over. De Blasio announced that he will immediately scrap the A-F grading system that Mayor Bloomberg picked up from Governor Jeb Bush. He will initiate a moratorium on school closings and charter co-locations. Watch for more changes in store.

This is a great turn of events, not only for New York City, but for the nation.

Thank you, Mayor de Blasio.

Congratulations to our new Chancellor, Carmen Farina.

Marc Epstein taught at Jamaica High School in Queens, New York City, for many years. The school is under a death sentence, which means the end of many programs that served children with different needs. Here he makes a plea to Mayor de Blasio to save some of the doomed schools.

A De Blasio Clemency?



This is the time of year that governors and the president issue pardons and clemencies.  They are issued to prisoners who have either been exemplary citizens during their incarceration or set free because extenuating circumstances indicate that their punishment didn’t fit the crime.


Mayors aren’t granted this kind of executive power, but this year Bill De Blasio does have the executive power to call a halt to the systematic elimination of several of New York’s comprehensive high schools that have had their fate sealed by Michael Bloomberg’s school closing policy.


Ostensibly, these school closings were to result in improved student performance in small schools that were placed within buildings occupied by the traditional high schools. It was an idea hatched by Bill Gates, an idea that he abandoned long ago.


In the waning days of his mayoralty, Bloomberg has embarked on a citywide tour, touting his legacy.  The papers have dutifully transmitted City Hall’s talking points, with hardly a demurral finding its way onto the printed page.


The Wall Street Journal’s 3,000 word “Bloomberg Reshaped The City” article credited the record high 60% high school graduation to Bloomberg’s stewardship of the schools and politely left out the inconvenient statistic that shows a record high number of New York’s high school graduates are unprepared for college and require remedial courses in math and English.


In an interview with Joel Klein, Bloomberg’s schools chancellor for over 10 years, that appeared in the Scholastic Administrator, Klein expressed his hope that the next schools chancellor will continue Bloomberg’s education legacy.


If only Mayor De Blasio will pick “someone who is committed to building on the progress of the last 11- plus years,” Klein’s tenure won’t have been in vain, at least according to Klein.


If that should be the case, we should prepare for record numbers of meaningless diplomas, more school closings, an unstable teacher work force, and a school system where academic apartheid defines education opportunity.


Record numbers of students now use mass transportation to get to the “school of their choice.” Why have 250,000 students using mass transit when many of them could walk to school instead, is a question that has gone unasked and unanswered by reporters and politicians for over a decade.


The community has been de-coupled from the neighborhood high school, because hardly a neighborhood high school exists anymore. The result is that parental participation suffers, after-school activities suffer, and the community suffers.


A record number of students attend boutique schools that screen their applicants.  I estimate that close to 10% of the seats available to high school students are now reserved for these students.  Most of these students used to help make up the population of the traditional high schools.


When Jamaica High School was handed its death warrant, the Department of Education, fearing a backlash from parents who simply didn’t buy the line that Jamaica was a failed school, cleverly carved a Gateway School out of the Gateway program that had existed in Jamaica for about 20 years.

And then, miracle of miracles, the new Gateway High School received an “A” on its report card!


Is there a serious argument that can be made for a public policy that is perpetually closing and reopening school houses because they are “failed”?

We’ve all heard of the Amityville Horror, but does that mean we should treat the schoolhouse as we would a haunted house?  But if closing and opening hundreds of schools is the new normal, we’d do better to hire Shinto priests to exorcise the evil spirits in these buildings rather than renaming and re-staffing them.


Our lowest performing students usually carry baggage that includes unstable home life, poor to no healthcare, limited language skills, and physical impoverishment. 


If instead of further destabilizing their school environment, Mayor Bloomberg had thrown his energy and resources into creating schools along the “Comer Model,” he might actually have had something to show to the public. 


The Comer school model developed by Dr. James P. Comer at the Yale Child Study Center has been around for close to fifty years and has a proven track record in addressing the problems of low achieving students in the inner city. But the lure of the well-meaning philanthropist with no expertise proved irresistible.


Instead, we are left with the tired litany of the teachers and union as villains, and the mayor and his minions as heroic for taking them on. But beneath the surface Bloomberg has created a highly segregated school system that keeps the disadvantaged far away from the middle classes and the upwardly mobile.


If Mayor De Blasio wants to reverse this death spiral, he’d do well to grant clemency to schools like Jamaica High School and Beach Channel High School and give them the resources they need to make them work for the children and their communities.


In their heyday comprehensive high schools included students who were on multiple career paths. There were differentiated diplomas and a multiplicity of choices. The students might not have attended all the same classes together, but they played on the same teams, shared the same teachers, and developed mutual respect for one another.


Inexplicably that has been destroyed, and instead of these students existing side by side with each other in the same community, they live and learn as peoples apart.


When this consideration is no longer a part of our education system we all become impoverished.  Clemency is one way to begin turning this around.




















Anthony Cody reviews his own sharp criticism of teachers’ unions during the past year for their support of the Common Core standards in 2013.

Cody questions why teachers have no one to support them when they question the validity of the Common Core.

He doubts that a one-year moratorium on high-stakes testing of the Common Core will matter much.

In a column that he cites, he wrote:

In effect, the Common Core tests will refresh NCLB’s indictment of public schools and teachers, with supposedly scientific precision.

Teachers – and union leaders — may feel as if they should get on board, to try to steer this process. However, I think this is a ship of doom for our schools. I think its effect will be twofold. It will create a smoother, wider, more easily standardized market for curriculum and technology. This will, in turn, promote the standardization of curriculum and instruction, and further de-professionalize teaching. The assessments will reinforce this, by tying teachers closer to more frequent timelines and benchmark assessments, which will be, in many places, tied to teacher evaluations. And the widespread failures of public schools will be used to further “disrupt the public school monopoly,” spurring further expansion of vouchers and charters and private schools.

We must move beyond not only the bubble tests, but beyond the era of punitive high stakes tests. Only then will we be able to use standards in the way they ought to be used – as focal points for our creative work as educators. I would be glad to have a year’s delay for the consequences of these tests, but I think we need to actively oppose the entire high stakes testing paradigm. The Common Core standards should not be supported as long as they are embedded in this system.

He calls upon the unions to exert leadership–not just in helping to impose CCSS–but in thinking critically about the corporate agenda and CCSS’s role in that agenda.

He holds out hope for change in 2014, a hope that I share.