Archives for the month of: January, 2014

The school committee of Tobrtton, Rhode Island, voted 4-1 to delay Common Core testing.

The state education department insisted that Rhode Island educators were deeply involved in the creation of the standards.

“In its resolution, the committee states that that local school committees, teachers and parents were not involved in the development of the Common Core, a set of education standards developed the National Governors Association and the most of the nation’s state school commissioners.
The state Department of Education, however, says that several Rhode Island educators served on the national committees that reviewed the standards. RIDE also said that public meetings were held in 2009 and 2010, before the standards were adopted.”

Does RIDE mean it is too late to step back as citizens learn more?

Whatever happened to critical thinking?

Dennis Van Roekel is a supporter of the Common Core standards. He recently said in an article in Education Week that no one has really set out their specific objections to the standards or offered a better alternative.

Two teacher-bloggers here offer help to Dennis. I know that Dennis is a dedicated advocate for teachers and for public education, so I hope he will read and take heed of advice from these two thoughtful and experienced teachers.

Here is Mercedes Schneider, a high school teacher in Louisiana, who patiently explains what the problems are.

And here is Peter Greene, a high school teacher in Pennsylvania, who offers help to Van Roekel.

Schneider writes in answer to the question, what is missing from the standards:

The entire democratic process is “missing” from the standards. CCSS is as “top-down” as it gets, and with a dash of “facilitated democracy” to offer pseudo-legitimacy: Teachers were brought in late in the process to offer “suggestions” that were even implemented word-for-word. However, no teacher was asked whether CCSS should happen in the first place, and no teacher in a “state” (only a governor and state super needed to sign the CCSS contract with USDOE for RTTT funds) that has adopted CCSS has the freedom to opt out.

Democracy is missing from CCSS, Mr. Van Roekel, and I assure you that I am not the only teacher that has a problem with that.

Greene writes in response to Van Roekel’s question about “what’s the alternative”:

When I teach logical fallacies, we call this a “complex question.” In the sales world it’s called “assuming the sale.” Either way, it is (and has been) the most odious part of DVR’s rhetorical strategy. Because “what’s the alternative” assumes that we need one.

It tacitly accepts the reformatorium assumption that US public ed is a hodge-podged mess of incompetent educators who don’t know what they are doing and who desperately need guidance and direction. What I would expect from my union president is something along the lines of, “Hey! My members are doing great work!” and NOT “Yeah, I need something to help these poor dopes that I’m president of.”

This question, and the assumptions imbedded in it, skip over one hugely massively crucial point. The people who insist we must have CCSS have not offered one shred of evidence that national standards– not just CCSS but ANY national standards– work. Nothing. I get that from up on Mount DC, things would look neater and it would be a lot easier to run a national school district if everybody were on the same page. But that is about providing the best possible education for every student in America; it’s about providing a better management experience for government bureaucrats.

This is like having a doctor say, “Well, since your headaches are so bad, I guess we could take out your spleen.” And when you protest that you don’t want your spleen removed, the doctor says, “Well, what do you want me to take out instead. It’s just a hodgepodge of organs in there. Which one do you want removed.” And then he can tell you that this is his best guess, and in a decade or so we’ll see if it pays off.

The new Di Blasio team is off to a good start in education. The Bloomberg team is quietly exiting stage right. One of the key players, Marc Sternberg, has moved to the Walton Family Foundation to promote vouchers. Another, Shael Suransky, will be president of Bank Street College, which does not share his enthusiasm for test-based accountability.

The new chancellor, Carmen Farina, is assembling her own team, and unlike Bloomberg and Joel Klein, she is selecting veteran educators.

When she met with principals as a group for the first time, she was greeted with a standing ovation. She made clear that the days of derision were over and a new era of respect and collaboration. She also made the startling announcement that the city would require a minimum of seven years’ experience, in contrast to the Bloomberg policy of fast-tracking inexperienced newcomers to lead schools.

Her second in command, Dorita Gibson, has more than 30 years’ experience in the schol system.

The Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, Philip Weinberg, a high school principal in Brooklyn, has nearly thirty years in the system, and the Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development has 27 years in education.

This is quite a change from the early years of the Klein regime, when the inner circle consisted of fresh-faced MBA graduates, and 20-something’s with no classroom experience. As one insider told me later, “I would look around and realize that no one making decisions had ever worked in a school.”

Philip Weinberg, who takes charge of teaching and learning, was a signer of the New York principals’ letter opposing the New York State Annual Professional Performance Review, the evaluation system designed by John King that created enormous pushback.

In this article, he explains why more than 1,000 principals signed the letter and why it is wrong to remove the job of evaluating teachers from principals.

This is part of what Weinberg wrote:

“My concern about the agreement is that a large portion of a teacher’s evaluation is to be taken out of the hands of principals. I am disturbed by this, not just because I think this will lead to inaccurate ratings and will pressure teachers in unproductive ways (it will), but also because I believe it speaks to a growing distrust of or disrespect for principals. I am surprised that the teachers’ union would trade a principal’s rating for that of a student’s test score, especially given the recent teacher data report debacle. Are most principals less fair or trustworthy than reductive data? I think not. I think most principals feel exactly as Mr. Mulgrew does when they work with an ineffective teacher, and they communicate those concerns with the same intelligence, honesty and kindness Mr. Mulgrew expressed above.

“The desire to use multiple measures to rate teachers seems like a smart idea. However, New York City’s two experiments with value-added ratings in education, the teacher data reports and the school progress reports, have not produced reliable information. So far we have not discovered any measures which clearly correlate teacher performance to student learning. This new agreement will generate a teacher’s rating by using data which we know does not answer the question we are asking. Why? Are principals incapable of understanding data, incapable of interpreting it based upon what they see in their schools? I think not.

“I think we can review our schools’ data in a much more nuanced and accurate way than any measure designed to encapsulate and compare the work of thousands of teachers working with hundreds of thousands of students. No less a prominent voice in this discussion, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, was recently quoted as saying: “The principals’ job is to decide who’s good, who’s bad. It’s their judgment; that’s their job.” Who could disagree?”

“But we principals, too, are part of the problem. Not because we have promoted the use of bad data to rate teachers, but because we may have allowed our attention to stray from our chief job of promoting professional growth, training staff, documenting teacher performance, creating community and defining what quality teaching and learning look like in our schools. Newly necessary distractions like marketing and fund-raising and data analysis may have seemed more important than getting into classrooms and working with teachers on how to plan lessons and ask questions. But if we let our attention waiver from those things which we know should be our primary focus, if we asked “How can we help students earn more credits?” instead of “How can we help students learn more?” then some of the distrust we see driving this new agreement is our fault, even if we believe that is what the school system and the general public wanted us to do. We may have felt less incentive to concentrate on the quality of classroom instruction in our schools because we are rated on other things, but we know our jobs. If we chose to focus on tasks outside of instruction, it makes sense that the void such a choice created was filled by psychometricians.”

Imagine that: a deputy chancellor who believes that professional judgment is wiser than data!

This will be interesting.

Twenty years ago, when I supported the interesting idea of charter schools, there was a clear and oft-stated purpose for them: Freedom from regulation in exchange for results and accountability.

That deal has been repudiated by the charter industry. They want freedom from regulation, freedom from supervision, and freedom from public audits with no accountability.

They want public money with no checks on what they do with that money. The most egregious examples–though not uncommon–are in Ohio and Arizona. In the latter state, charters engage in nepotism and self-dealing in plain sight. In Ohio, charter founders collect millions in profits while delivering worse education than public schools. They achieve this freedom by making campaign contributions to politicians.

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Equity and Adequacy Coalition feels sure that Ohio voters will wise up and demand accountability from charters.

He writes:

Is it possible to achieve transparency and accountability in charter schools without public governance?

The academic failure rate of a very high percentage of charter schools and the financial missteps and outright fraud in a plethora of charter schools will eventually force the education choice-minded state officials to increase the transparency and accountability of the charter school industry in Ohio. Concerned citizens, as well as the public education community, must closely monitor all legislative attempts to regulate this deregulated enterprise. There will, no doubt, be some cosmetic changes in charter school law which will be advertised by state officials as measures which make charter schools transparent and accountable.

The bottom line of the whole matter is that tinkering with transparency and accountability without making a fundamental change in governance is unacceptable. Any school entity that use public funds must be governed by publicly elected boards of education or be directly responsible to public officials.

Pure non-accountable madness reigns in the Ohio charter school arena. A private group can initiate a charter school and seek a sponsor. Typically the sponsor is a private organization. The private charter school operator, after securing a sponsor, sets up a private charter school board. The private board then may contract with a private for-profit or non-profit management company. The interaction among the charter school personnel, the board, the sponsor and the management company is a mystery to the school districts being charged for the students which they lose to this menagerie of self-serving private operations.

Since public money is being used, public governance should be required. Those who govern the sponsors, those who govern the charter schools and those who govern the management companies should be elected by the public. The roster of all these governance persons should be maintained by the Secretary of State in the same manner as members of school district boards of education.

The only way to ensure accountability and transparency is through the electoral process. If charter schools are here to stay, they must be publicly governed.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

This email was sent by |
Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

This statement was written by Katie Zahedi and Bianca Tanis.

Katie Zahedi is principal at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, NY, and serves on the administrative panel for NYSAPE.
Bianca Tanis is a public school parent in the Hudson Valley as well as an elementary special education teacher and a co-founder of NYS Allies for Public Education.

“We ask that the New York State Education Department (NYSED) Board of Regents act to reform hiring and appointment procedures for employees and new regent members. The lack of professional and scholarly input has produced many of the problems with the failed Regents Reform Agenda. Constituencies in education have historically guarded against governmental involvement in education, yet there are unprecedented requests of the legislature for protection from the corporatized dismantling of public education by NYSED leadership.

Our comments embody attempts to advocate for a secure future for public schools and do not represent their respective school districts.

Bianca Tanis and Katie Zahedi, a teacher and a principal are asking that the New York State Education Department (NYSED) Board of Regents reform hiring and appointment procedures for employees and new regent members. A lack of professional and scholarly input has produced many mistakes and a failed Regents Reform Agenda. Constituencies in education have historically guarded against governmental involvement in education, yet there are unprecedented requests of the legislature for protection from the corporatized dismantling of public education by NYSED. Their comments constitute advocacy for a secure future for public schools and do not represent their respective school districts.


NYSED has been enforcing standards based evaluations for teachers and principals, despite the absence of consistently used standards and protocols for hiring or evaluating NYSED. The current commissioner’s performance program is not public, though it was under Commissioner Mills. As such, schools are held accountable to increased standards under a department that is violating the state labor contract. The commissioner was hired without a formal search or established criteria. There are unqualified “fellows” hired as “consultants” who are doing work not appropriately linked to approvable expenditures for consultants or accountable to any public entity because they are privately funded. There are postings for temporary employees to evaluate APPR plans, with a pre-requisite “one year of relevant professional experience”.  The Regents’ appointment process is in need of review, while the NYSED has allowed corporate know-nothings to design curriculum that is being forced on our schools.


Are these inappropriate hiring practices at NYSED upholding flawed policies that waste time, public money and hurt students?  Are we comfortable leaving implementation of education reform to unproven methodologies managed by private consultants who are unaccountable to the public? The two images depicted here include: 1) an advertisement for temporary employment seeking applicants with minimal qualifications (one year of relevant experience) to evaluate the compliance plans of New York School districts to the SED’s directives, and 2) a FOIL submitted by the Professional Employees Association (PEF) at the NYSED for what they believe may be the illegal relocation of their work, which is currently being done by others in private offices under the direction of the questionably hired fellows.

Some professionals are rendered speechless at the chagrin of what is happening in full public view. Those who are able to respond to the overbearing conditions have written to leadership, requested meetings, spoken at forums all over the state, and pleaded with elected officials to intervene in the troubling course.  Has the time yet come to turn the APPR (teacher and principal evaluation system) around?  If so, we encourage policy makers on the Board of Regents and SED executive staff to reflect and consider their performance on a state HEDI band. In case you don’t know what we mean, are they “Highly Qualified”; “Effective”; “Developing”; or “Ineffective” as leaders of the NYSED?


The Regents oversee education but the board is presently populated with few individuals possessing experience or expertise relevant to educational governance at the state level. With four seats open on the board, we encourage hiring and selection criteria for all appointments based on professional expertise and related criteria.  The best candidates will have backgrounds in education, with increased representation from stakeholder groups such as experienced K-12 practitioners, parents and advocates of students enrolled in public schools and scholars of education history, policy and practice.


The NYSED has only grudgingly listened to educators. They have resisted input from scholars who have sought to assist with analysis of reform efforts and systems of implementation now under review. NYSED leadership’s almost fetishistic obsession with data in the absence of substantive analysis of the efficacy of high-stakes tests and test scores vis-à-vis their meaning or relevance to school improvement and student learning has effectively obscured any focus on reforms that might actually work. Innovation, at the heart of American success, doesn’t appear to be tightly coupled with an ability to answer fact-based questions correctly. What if social emotional learning, creativity and relationships are more relevant to success than test rankings? Who will be accountable for RTTT if it cripples student progress?


While NYSED is preoccupied with unreflective implementation, even scant effort would yield local assistance.  For example, at the Department of Education Administration and Policy Studies at SUNY Albany, within a half an hour of the commissioner’s office, are experts who can assist them with a better understanding of the macro-factors contributing to comparatively lower scores of US students on the Program for International Students Assessment (PISA) league tables.  Lower international rankings are driving RTTT, so understanding causality is critical to the design of appropriate solutions. Perhaps the Board Secretary might order a few copies of Pisa, Power, and Policy and the Globalization of Educational Governance, written by experts at SUNY, Albany.  Editors, Meyer and Benavot, scholars at the State University of New York (Albany), may be willing to drive across town to help them understand faulty assumptions driving RTTT that has shaped the policies that are creating havoc in New York schools.


APPR and CCLS, as formulated, are crumbling.  We suggest that APPR with number grades for teachers that are tied to student test scores, be scrapped and the CCLS be left to the states and districts for review. Meanwhile, SED mandates should cease until our leadership is properly reviewed and a higher standard is applied to their hiring and evaluation.  The public will soon be asking who is going to be accountable for the billions of dollars wasted on systems that were imposed on schools against the earnest advisement of professionals in the field.


We want to acknowledge that the Regents are public-minded in their service as volunteers and thank them all for their efforts. Commitment and devotion are respected, but we call for standards guiding the Regents selection process.  While it may be difficult, we are asking for decision makers to vote for what is best for schools and children even if it means that the calls for “change” that have been enacted on schools are now applied to themselves. They will know what is best by speaking with actual school leaders, not policy entrepreneurs!


Heinz-Dieter Meyer & Aaron Benavot. Introduction. PISA and the Globalization of Education Governance: some puzzles and problems. OXFORD STUDIES IN COMPARATIVE EDUCATION

PISA, Power, and Policy. The Emergence of Global Educational Governance
Edited by HEINZ-DIETER MEYER & AARON BENAVOT (Benavot, 2013)

This powerful speech was written and delivered by Frank Sutliff to a crowd of concerned citizens and educators at the Oneonta (New York) Forum on January 18, 2014. Sutliff is a Principal and is also the President of SAANYS (School Administrators Association of New York State).

He said:

​I appreciate the opportunity I have been given to speak here today. Although I am the President of the School Administrators Association of New York State, better known as SAANYS, I am not here today representing this organization of over 7000 administrators. Instead, I am here as a veteran Principal with 26 years of experience running a junior-senior high school, as well as having been in education over 30 years.

​”here is one main issue for me with the APPR, the common core, and what I call the corporate takeover of American public education. That issue is the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on something that is of questionable benefit to children in any way, shape, or form. This hysteria over college and career readiness is a manufactured crisis based on data that compares apples to oranges, a crisis designed to enrich the coffers of publishing companies. The illusion that children in the United States are ill prepared and that they will never be competitive in a world market has manifested itself in many ways. I will concentrate on three of these issues today- the corporate takeover of education, high stakes testing, and the questionable data gathering in New York State via InBloom.

“Recent announcements out of the Governor’s office state how students are being “put first” in improving and reforming education and that education funding has been increased by $1.8 billion over the last two years.

​Let me talk about how students are being “put first” in my district the last two years. I am sure that many of you here in the audience have seen the same thing.

• Is cutting 14 courses so that some students sit in so called “study halls” or the senior lounge for five periods a day “putting students first”? We no longer offer Computer Graphic Design, Construction Systems, World War II, or History and Digital Media just to name a few courses lost to cuts to teaching positions.

• Is the end of all professional development, including curriculum mapping and data analysis “putting students first?”

• Is cutting a guidance counselor as students’ academic and emotional needs increase “putting students first”?

• Is the cutting of numerous sports, clubs, and activities “putting students first”?

In this state and across the country, where we have been sold a bag of goods with Race to the Top, we are supposedly “putting students first”. In my district, we could “put students first” by providing them with needed and desired courses, providing their teachers with professional development, and providing these students with services and activities. Instead, on the Friday before Christmas, I received yet another huge shipment of common core modules where kindergarten students can learn about Mesopotamia, fifth graders can do close reading of passages from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and high school students can close read documents from the Federal Reserve Bank. As I sorted and distributed these boxes of material, I could see my senior lounge where students sit period after period due to the lack of course offerings. However, the millions and millions of dollars for Expeditionary Learning and Common Core Inc. continue to flow unabated.

“I am encouraged by the efforts of groups such as yours and I feel that grassroots efforts such as those done by the “Oneonta Area for Public Education” are well worth the effort in trying to effect change.

“I would like to share an email that I wrote about these issues and then sent to my teachers a few months ago. I believe my email sums up where we now are in this fight to restore sanity to our schools and how groups such as yours came to be.

“As the wasteful APPR system came into being with hundreds of millions foolishly allocated through Obama’s Race to the Top, there was little public outcry against it. Any objections were mainly from educators and the public could have cared less due to the disdain spewed against teachers and administrators by our governor and others. When the common core came in with it, there was little outcry against it, as no one understood the implications- a few “shifts” here and there and a few billions for testing and publishing companies. Again, no one outside of education really cared as criticisms were viewed as just those of whiny teachers and self serving administrators.

During this time, various educational groups formed to fight back against these initiatives, particularly on Long Island and in Western New York. However, these were isolated pockets and the public took little or no interest, nor did the legislators.

However, when students returned to school and began to have hours and hours of homework with the expectation that parents would help with things they did not know and when young elementary students started saying that they hated school, things began to change quickly. The final straw was when the test results were sent home; parents who had previously been told that their children were above average and doing well found out that their children were instead, barely achieving and in need of AIS. This is when the heat got turned up, resulting in common core forums where parents (“special interest” groups according to Commissioner King) got involved and heatedly voiced their opinions. As we know, this resulted in the cancellation of these forums by King and a public outcry.

What Commissioner King does not understand and has not dealt with in his limited experience as a school administrator is the vehemence of parents when it comes to defending their children. Any administrator with experience understands this and this is when the top down and forced compliance of the APPR/common core debacle thankfully went off the track. When parents got involved because their children were treated as lab experiments and started to voice their opinions as well as contact their legislators, the “revolt” against this nonsense found its voice.”

​This is the voice with which you are all now speaking- speaking out against all of the testing, all of the squandered resources, and the decisions being made by corporate leaders with no experience in public schools. I look at my own district and try to find one positive thing about the APPR and the common core and I find none. However, when I look at the negative impact it has brought us, I see morale at an all time low, teachers reluctant to share their practices with colleagues due to concerns about their “score” and money spent on purchasing tests that could be spent on students. This is my own experience; to be fair, I know colleagues in other districts and within my own professional organization who appear to be quite pleased with the so called reform agenda, particularly the common core. My question to them would be the same- could these hundreds of millions have been better spent by providing services and opportunities to students instead of being spent in a top down experiment?

​I would like to take a few minutes to talk about the testing. I have been giving 3-8 assessments (in my case 7-8), as well as Regents exams for years and years. I never had a problem with these tests before, other than a few blips along the way (a 2004 fiasco with Algebra being a prime example). Overall, it was an excellent system with tests of relatively high quality administered from district to district. What we did at my school with the 3-8 assessments in particular was to invite K-12 teachers as a group to scrutinize and study them in the following year. We looked for strengths and weaknesses, not to get better test scores, but to inform instruction. In fact, leading these data groups was one of the highlights of my professional career- to have 3rd grade teachers discussing math standards with the trig teacher is a wonderful use of educators’ time. However, with no money for professional development and the secretive nature of the tests now, this activity no longer occurs.

​Now as part of “putting students first” and the mantra of college and career readiness, we give 3-8 tests that are longer than the law boards and include concepts and topics never taught. This is part of the now famous State Ed analogy of “building the plane in the air.” However, as we “build the plane in the air”, we not only fail children, we fail their teachers in the quest to make teaching an activity that can be assigned a number.

​Another thing associated with testing that I find truly disingenuous is the notion put out from Albany that all of the additional SLO testing is the fault of districts and the APPR plans they adopted. The fact that we spend money purchasing these tests for the so called non-core courses and then waste students’ time giving them came directly from State Ed as they instituted the APPR. This testing, given for no other reason than to give teachers who do not get a NYS growth score a number, comes right out of Albany’s directives and their inability to answer simple APPR questions with one consistent and correct answer. To suggest otherwise and to blame districts for this is disingenuous.

​I am not going to go into specifics about the common core due to time limitations today; I will leave that better said by others. However, as a former librarian, it is hard to see the little regard with which fiction is held as we are given mandated acceptable levels of nonfiction. As a child growing up in Gloversville, my books came from the Gloversville Free Library and so did much of my education. I know that I loved reading due to the worlds that it opened; I also know that our so called close readings of prescribed documents and passages will not open up that same love of literature in today’s students.

​Everywhere I turn the common core rears its head. One of the most disappointing recently was on the Kindle Free Time product that offers. My soon to be four year old granddaughter enjoys this feature of the Kindle with all of its games, activities, books, and videos; it really is a wonderful product. Recently Amazon tweeted out “Kindle Free Time launches Learn First and Bedtime Educational Features.” I saw the tweet and thought great, a good product getting even better. I clicked on the link and saw the following- “Now with thousands of educational titles- hundreds of common core aligned level readers and supplemental readers.” Enough is enough- preschool?- can’t kids just have fun?

​Finally, I want to discuss one other area of Race to the Top that is very concerning to me and should concern you as parents and educators- InBloom. This is the data system New York State has bought into where students’ confidential information is stored by private companies in the cloud. In fact, this data system is so concerning that some districts are returning Race to the Top funds in an attempt to not have their children’s private data stored in this way. One example is the Pearl River School system; on October 31 they voted to opt out of Race to the Top, due to concerns about privacy. Their Superintendent, Dr. John Morgano, was quoted as saying “However, we learned from the State Education Department that they will be collecting individual student discipline data and sending it to InBloom. There is no need for a private company to possess a child’s disciplinary history so that it is potentially available to prospective colleges and employers. I will not be a party to this infringement of privacy rights.” Kudos to Superintendent Morgano and I second this, as should each of you. I have handled all the student discipline in my school for the past 26 years. I send a form or letter or a certified letter home, depending on the incident, and then put a copy in my desk for future discarding, never in the student’s permanent file.

​Although I know my way around data, computers, and student systems, I do not put discipline in digital form in our student system for just that reason. I have no problem reporting out to State Ed that I suspended 20 students out of school last year; however, I can think of no reason why they or a private company needs the name of these students. This assault on privacy, which is all too commonplace in our country today, should concern each of you.

​In closing, I received a memo dated October 24, 2013 from our Education Commissioner, as did most of you working in schools. This memo detailed changes in testing, continued the illusion of our failures as educators, and ended with the statement “Teaching is the core.”

​Of course, “teaching is the core” but making a difference in the life of a child should be more of the core. Learning and motivating children to develop their full potential is the core art of teaching. I could stand here the rest of the afternoon as could each of you and mention a teacher or adult who has impacted our lives. For me it was Zane Peterson from Gloversville High School, Dr. Wayne Mahood at SUNY Geneseo, and Esther Tasner, Children’s Librarian at the Gloversville Free Library. For you, the names are different but the idea is the same.

​An anonymous public school teacher in Delaware wrote the following which appeared in a blog site on; it was then quoted in an article by Valarie Strauss and I would like to share it with you. “They assume the best teaching and best learning can be quantified with tests and data. Yet I’ve never once had a student compliment me on my academic knowledge or my data collection skills. I’ve never had a student thank me for writing insightful test questions or staying up late to write a stunning lesson plan. But students HAVE thanked me for being there, for listening to them, for encouraging them, for believing in them even before they could believe in themselves.”

​In our field of education, these stories happen every day. Just a few weeks ago, my ninth grade English teacher spent hours of each day helping a young lady who had previously met with very little academic success in her life. This teacher worked with her as she prepared her speech for a local oratorical contest, and this same student placed and went on to the next levels. To see the hugs and the high fives for this girl’s success and to see her beaming with pride is really what it is all about. This young student, years from now, won’t recall her close reads or the scripted lessons that have resulted from the state’s fabricated illusion of our failing students and failing educators. However, she will recall the kindness of this teacher helping her to be successful; this kindness is not quantifiable, data driven, or able to be reported to the state. Really, at the end of the day and at the end of a career, isn’t it all about helping a child to be successful?

​Thank you for allowing me to share some thoughts with you this afternoon and I thank you for your efforts on behalf of all of our children.

A few days ago, the Néw York Times published a bizarre and illogical editorial. It went like this: black and Hispanic students are very ill-prepared for college. The numbers are appalling. However, the Bloomberg administration accountability program was a great success, and–except for the simplistic and failed A-F system. So, if so few students were succeeding, why is the accountability program indispensable? I posed this question to an expert on the DOE staff. Here is his answer:

In its editorial, “Getting an Accurate Fix on Schools,” the New York Times argued for keeping, with modifications, the school grading system started under Mayor Bloomberg. Two forms of argument were presented to support this proposal; illogical arguments and arguments based on made-up facts and data.

Let’s start with the illogical arguments. The editorialists begin by noting the “striking racial disparities” in the college readiness of New York City’s graduates.

They could have added that this is true about non-graduates as well, about 20% of White and Asian students don’t graduate while over 40% of Black and Hispanic students don’t graduate. The illogic here is obvious. If Bloomberg’s policies have failed to address this very issue why would any rational person want to keep those same policies? For further details see the comprehensive review essay at this link.

The editorial then notes we “must now find a way to solve it [the achievement gap] by ramping up the quality of education for poor and minority children.” So far so good.

But the very next sentence begins “for starters, the city must preserve, at least in part, the controversial school evaluation system.”

Huh!? In order to increase the quality of education… we need to keep the school evaluation system? It is hard to come up with an analogy that is equally absurd.

Perhaps think of a football coach readying his team for the Super Bowl. Should he focus on developing the skills and tactics of his players? Or should he spend his time tinkering with the quarterback rating formula? Which strategy would you bet on?

Logically you would think that in order to increase the quality of education we should focus on increasing the quality of education. Well proven initiatives should be promoted such as universal pre-K programs focused on building the academic and social/emotional skills of pre-schoolers, after-school enrichment programs, extended summer school for all students, intervention programs for students struggling academically, the development and implementation of a comprehensive and rich curriculum for all grade levels, and smaller class sizes in the early grades.

Next the editorialists write that “de Blasio has rightly decided to junk the simplistic…A-through-F grading system. Their proposed solution is “continue to report a separate rating for each relevant metric.” Why would a whole bunch of simplistic letter grades per school be any better than a single simplistic letter grade per school?

But enough with the illogical arguments. Let’s take a look at the made-up facts and data. The editorialists claimed that “the Bloomberg administration devised a way to control for demographically driven differences.”

Not true. In fact, according to the Independent Budget Office “the method of calculating the continuous metrics on which final progress report scores are based may not fully control for confounding variables. All other things being equal, a school with a higher percentage of black and Hispanic students or special education students is likely to have lower performance and progress scores than other schools.”

A report by the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education found that “schools with higher percentages of Black and Latino students received lower Progress Report grades” and “school demographics play an important role in predicting grades.”

Yet another report, by New Visions for Public Schools, found that “schools’ overall PR scores remain associated with many preexisting risk factors, suggesting that a school’s score can be influenced by factors outside of its control.”

The editorial asserted that “the data show that over the last two years, nearly 80 percent of the lowest-performing schools improved their ratings after receiving help in the areas where they were weak.”

Not true. A check of the actual data posted on the New York City Department of Education’s webpage as a “multi-year summary” of “Progress Report citywide results” reveals that this is inaccurate. Of the 23 schools that received grades of F for the 2011-12 school year one got an A the next year, 5 got B’s, 10 got C’s, 3 got D’s, and 4 got F’s. Another 10 schools with F’s were closed. For the 2012-13 school year 45 schools got F’s. At almost double the number of F’s than the previous year there is no evidence that 80% of schools improved. Of these 45 schools 4 were brand-new schools for which the F-grade was their first grade ever.

It is worth noting that this is a higher failure rate than that of pre-Bloomberg era schools. Another 4 schools got F’s the previous year, 12 had D’s, 17 had C’s and 8 had B’s. The data show that over the last two years school grades appear to randomly swing in all directions. From one year to the next over half of the schools with failing grades one year can be expected to get average or good grades the next. And over half the schools with failing grades had received an average or good grade the year prior—calling into question the school grading method.

The New York Times declared that without these grades we “will never know how well students are doing.” In fact the data show that the grades give a contradictory picture. The other high-stakes but qualitative school metric, the School Quality Review, shows zero predictive correlation (as opposed to backwards looking correlation, which Mayor Bloomberg’s Department of Education artificially produced by forcing reviewers to align their score to the prior year’s report card grade) with Progress Report grades. Of the schools that swung from a B-grade in 2011-12 to an F-grade in 2012-13 the median Quality Review score was between “well-developed” and ”developing.” Of the schools that swung from F/D grades in 2011-12 to an A-grade in 2012-13 the median Quality Review score was “developing.” The schools that ended up scoring higher on the quantitative measure scored lower on the qualitative measure. Schools that ended up scoring lower on the quantitative measure scored higher on the qualitative measure. Instead of clarifying things the grades leave total confusion in their wake.

When the Grey Lady reads like Pravda, with complete disregard for facts and a seemingly bottomless willingness to make up data, education in the United States is in serious trouble. Instead of trying to defend poorly designed metrics using false data we need to figure out how to provide schools with better oversight and support. The non-geographic network support structure should be abandoned.

Replacing networks with local community superintendents, who have proven capacity as instructional leaders, would be a good first step. These superintendents would oversee 15 or so schools and develop a deep understanding of each school’s successes, needs, and challenges.

They would develop strong relationships with the community, build close ties with families, and form connections to groups that could provide families with out-of-school assistance. They would work with a re-organized Tweed to make sure that families, students and schools get the support and programs they need. Only then will we make progress in closing the achievement gap.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel strongly supported the legal action of the Colorado Education Association against SB 191, one of the worst bills of its kind in the nation. It was written in 2010 by State Senator Michael Johnston, ex-TFA. Fully 50% of teachers’ evaluations are tied to test scores.

I was in Denver the day the law passed in the Senate. Johnston and I were supposed to have a lunch debate before about 60 or so local leaders. He was late. We waited and waited. Finally, I gave my talk. As soon as I finished, young Master Michael Johnston walked in, safe from hearing anything I might say, and proceeded to give a speech praising his bill and saying it would produce great schools, great principals, and great teachers. He was very pleased with what he had done.

Here is Van Roekel’s statement:


WASHINGTON—The following is a statement from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on SB 191 lawsuit in Colorado:

“The National Education Association supports the efforts of Colorado educators in their fight to keep quality teachers in the classroom and preserve the stability of our students’ learning environment. Legislation should be used to ensure that every public school student has a quality teacher in the classroom. It should not drive out great educators without the benefit of a rigorous evaluation system. The way SB 191 has been implemented by the Denver School District has resulted in the removal of more than a hundred teachers without a hearing or cause. The lawsuit brought by Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the Colorado Education Association challenges firing those teachers without cause. The notion that a veteran quality teacher can be removed from the classroom without due process not only subverts the essence of the law but hurts our students.”

Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy testified in the trial of the lawsuit claiming that teacher tenure violates the civil rights of students.

The plaintiffs in the Vergara lawsuit want to eliminate due process so it is easier to fire teachers if their students have low test scores.

Most researchers acknowledge that family income and education play a larger role in student test scores than teachers. When the California Teachers Association lawyer Jim Finberg asked Deasy about the role of poverty, this was Deasy’s response:

“When Finberg asked Deasy if he agreed that other factors, such as family wealth and poverty, influence the success or failure of a student, Deasy said, “I believe the statistics correlate, but I don’t believe in causality (of poverty).”

Odd that the gap between haves and have-nots appears on every standardized test. Deasy doesn’t see that poverty might be a causal factor. Like hunger, poor health, homelessness, frequent moves, frequent absemces, economic insecurity, etc., just happen, but don’t cause lower test scores.

From a reader:

I guess the thing about tenure is this: Most critics say it protects bad teachers. In essence it is just the opposite. It protects good, excellent teachers from “helicopter parents” and personality conflicts with administrators. Say you are a clerk in a store, and a customer accuses you of being dishonest In your dealings with them. The accusation is not at all true. Do you think you should be fired? This happens quite often to teachers. Tenure is to make sure proper procedures are followed to make sure accusations are true/false. I am not saying what is said is always false, but there are 2 sides to every story. I was once accused of something I did not do, and there were 5 adult school employees present who were witnesses for me. There were even students who volunteered to come forward with the truth. I was lucky that I had school administrators who were willing to get to the bottom of the situation by a fair investigation, but all teachers are not that lucky. You might also have to deal with school board members who have a personal vendetta (this is especially true for those who are teacher/coaches) or want someone let go because they gave a daughter, son, wife,etc. that they would like to give that position to. Tenure is also needed in these situations.