Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/864 Fri, 15 Dec 2017 08:20:06 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) DOE School Survey Shows High Marks, Contrasts with Public Polling http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6473:doe-school-survey-shows-high-marks-contrasts-with-public-polling http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6473:doe-school-survey-shows-high-marks-contrasts-with-public-polling de Blasio Farina student test scores

Mayor, Chancellor & Student (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


In 2007, New York City administered its first comprehensive survey on school satisfaction levels among students, parents, and teachers in the city’s vast public school system. That year, the Department of Education received just under 600,000 responses. In 2016, with the survey in its tenth year, the number of responses totaled over 1 million for the first time. It was also the first year that parents and teachers involved in the de Blasio administration’s new “Pre-K for All” program were included among the survey’s respondents.

The results of the survey are usually quite positive and this year was no exception, leading the DOE to celebrate the responses as validation of programming gone right. In the DOE’s press release announcing the 2016 survey results, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said, “As we work towards equity and excellence in every public school across the City, parents are our partners, and it’s great to see over one million New Yorkers – including a record number of parents – sharing their input. Together, we’ll continue the progress we’ve made and make New York City the best urban school district in the nation.”

While the DOE survey suggests students, parents, and teachers are highly satisfied with New York City public schools, a recent Quinnipiac poll conducted suggests that not all New Yorkers agree. According to the poll, 60 percent of New Yorkers are dissatisfied with New York City public schools while 25 percent are satisfied. (The remaining 15% answered that they don’t know.) A higher percentage of respondents said they prefer privately-run public charter schools to traditional public schools.

According the Department of Education website, the purpose of the survey is to aid schools in identifying aspects of its learning environment that need improvement and ensure that schools continue to foster elements of their learning environments that are satisfactory to students, parents, and teachers alike. While the survey provides the DOE with at least some helpful data, there are questions about its usefulness, format, and cost.

There are three different versions of the NYC School Survey -- one each for students, parents, and teachers. This year, 81 percent of teachers, 83 percent of students, and 51 percent of parents in community schools across the city responded to the survey. The response rates increased by one percentage point from the 2015 survey for both students and parents and remained the same for teachers.

Parents’ overall satisfaction with their children’s schools continued to be extremely high. When asked “How satisfied” they were with “The education my child has received this year,” 95 percent of those who took the survey responding that they are “very satisfied” or “satisfied.” That figure has remained constant at 95 percent since 2013. Students recorded high levels of satisfaction with their schools as well, with 80 percent of student respondents recording that they either “strongly agree” or “agree” with the statement, “My school offers a wide enough variety of programs, classes and activities to keep me interested in school.” Additionally, 80 percent of students felt supported by teachers in their preparations for their post-graduation plans.

Other specific questions relate to school environment (e.g. school cleanliness, personal safety while at school, bullying among classmates); the quality of academic instruction; level of support among teachers and school leadership; and ease of communication among all parties. While some questions appear on all three surveys with slight variations, some questions are particular to each group. For example, only parents are asked the question of what improvements they would like to see at their school (as in their child’s school).

Many survey questions ask respondents to note how much they agree with a series of statements. Other questions use a similar format but measure the frequency of a certain behavior or condition - for example, “How often do students in your class(es) work in small groups?” Some are formatted as multiple choice questions with specific responses to questions like, “Which improvements would you most like your schools to make?”

The cost of conducting the 2016 survey was approximately $1.85 million.

Elements of school quality are evaluated through the DOE’s Framework for Great Schools, a tool of analysis that looks at six aspects of a school’s learning environment -- rigorous instruction, supportive environment, collaborative teachers, effective school leadership, strong family and community ties, and trust -- to determine its ability to foster student achievement. The Framework for Great Schools was adopted in 2015, the 2016 schools survey reflects only the second year of results based on the new evaluation framework adopted by the DOE under Chancellor Farina.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on reducing class size in New York City schools, said that the Framework for Great Schools is a well-intentioned model, but she believes it is an ineffective tool in practice.

“The original concept, this Framework of Great Schools that came out of Chicago, was very useful…[it] came out of this study by Tony Bryk that looked at schools in Chicago, and he looked at which ones had strong Local School Councils and which ones did not, and the ones that had Local School Councils -- which really devolved a lot of decision-making to the school level and it included parents as the majority members -- had better results,” Haimson told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview.

“Now this administration has a lot of PR about parent involvement, but I can tell you that they have not empowered a School Leadership Team to the degree that they need to. School Leadership Teams -- unlike in Chicago -- do not have the power in New York City, don’t have any authority over principal selection or even really principal evaluation, and a lot of other things. They’re really disempowered.”

According to the DOE, research from the Chicago Consortium on School Research was one source used to formulate the Framework for Great Schools, but it was not the only source. And while the DOE’s Framework was created using research from outside sources, the DOE says that the final product is an analysis tool tailored specifically for the New York City school system.

Prior to the creation of the Framework for Great Schools the city school survey evaluated schools based on four elements of a school’s learning environment: academic expectations, communication, engagement, and safety and respect.

While the majority of the survey’s questions are designed to assess schools based on the six elements of the Framework for Great Schools, some questions are considered “informational.”

One informational question consistently posed to parents has garnered a largely consistent response since the survey’s creation. When parents are asked the question of what they would most like to see improved in their child’s school, “smaller class size” and “more enrichment programs” have been in or near the top two most wanted improvements almost every year that the survey has been given. Also featured at or near the top for many years are “more preparation for state tests” and “more hands-on learning.”

Despite consistently high satisfaction levels among parents with city schools overall, the fact that these improvements continue to be parents’ top requests year after year may be indicative of a lack of meaningful action taken on these requests by school leadership.

There are also questions about the consistency of the survey itself. In 2015, the question of potential improvements wasn’t offered to parents for the first time since the survey was created in 2007, but it was reintroduced in the 2016 survey, and, for the first time, the term “enrichment programs” was explained in the question using examples.

David Bloomfield, professor of education at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, questions the usefulness of survey questions posed to parents about improvements, such as smaller class sizes, given the constraints with which the Department of Education operates.

“The DOE is clearly not flexible about class size arrangements, which it makes because of the size of schools, the size of classrooms, the size of the budget. It’s a persistent problem that doesn’t change just because parents put it high on their list of priorities in a survey, so what use is that?” Bloomfield said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette.

While the survey serves to evaluate satisfaction by key stakeholders with individual schools and identify a school’s problem areas, the larger system that directly influences individual schools is left out of the equation. The questions posed to students, parents, and teachers on the surveys are related almost exclusively to the individual school and the members and leadership of that individual school. Only two questions asked of parents and seven questions asked of teachers were directly related to the wider New York City school system, run out of the Department of Education, under the Mayor, and there were no questions pertaining to statewide policies such as Common Core Learning Standards or teacher performance evaluations.

Haimson believes that while general questions about parent and teacher satisfaction with broader government and education policy aren’t necessary, asking specific questions on education issues that directly affect students, parents, and teachers would be useful.

“I think is an important question when so much of what’s happening during the school day are driven by these federal or state mandates,” said Haimson.

From 2012 to 2014, the survey given to teachers included questions on the implementation of the Common Core and state assessments, but starting in 2015, Common Core and assessment questions were no longer included. Additionally, on the 2013 and 2014 surveys, parents were asked to record how much they agreed with the statement, “My child’s school...helps me understand what the Common Core learning standards mean for my child…” The 2015 and 2016 parent surveys did not include this question.

According to the DOE, the questions about the Common Core that appeared on previous surveys were included to evaluate the implementation of the then new instruction method. On more recent surveys, there have been questions pertaining to Common Core instruction, though the specific term “Common Core” has not been included.

While certain questions have been changed or taken out of the survey in recent years, a new series of questions was added in 2016. Parents and teachers involved with Mayor de Blasio’s “Pre-K for All” program were given surveys this year for the first time in the survey’s history (the students are four years old and not given surveys, which only go to students in grades 6 through 12). While the rates of parent satisfaction on every aspect of the pre-K program exceeded 90 percent, the response rate for both parents and teachers was low, at 47 percent and 69 percent, respectively.

“The NYC School Survey is a critical, research-based tool for getting the feedback of over one million parents, teachers, and students, and using that feedback to improve our schools. This year’s results recognize the hard work and dedication of school leaders and teachers, and will guide schools as they continue to make progress and work towards equity and excellence,” said the DOE in a statement made available to Gotham Gazette via email.

High marks from parents on pre-K and the high marks recorded across all public schools in New York City may reflect general satisfaction, but Professor Bloomfield doesn’t believe they confirm with any certainty that the survey is a valuable tool for New Yorkers.

“I think there’s a bigger question as to whether it’s worth all the money, time, and effort that it takes to put out the survey as relative to its worth,” Bloomfield said. “It becomes a very hard thing and a PR problem for any mayor or chancellor who would cut back on the survey, but is it really worth it?”

***
by Libby Wetzler, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
DOE School Survey Shows High Marks, Contrasts with Public Polling Tue, 09 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Common Core Mistakes Worth Not Repeating http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6118:common-core-mistakes-worth-not-repeating http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6118:common-core-mistakes-worth-not-repeating maryellen elia school visit

State Education Commissioner Elia visits a school (photo: @NYSEDNews)


Political expediency is terrible policy.

This idiom is crystal clear when it comes to the criticisms of the Common Core. To hear the cynics tell it, repealing the Common Core learning standards is as easy as 1, 2, 3; repeal them, increase scores, then everything is fine.

But it is not nearly that simple.

As policymakers consider the next steps in strengthening New York's education system, and legislators enter yet another session fraught with politically motivated self-interests in Albany, it is important they learn from the mistakes other states have made.

There are real costs associated with replacing Common Core, and perhaps even more importantly, the process of doing so results in chaos in our classrooms. The warnings are clearly spelled out in a new report from High Achievement New York – and our state's leaders would be foolish to ignore them.

Despite the heated debate and rhetoric about Common Core around the country, including among presidential candidates, only two states, Indiana and Oklahoma, have actually repealed the standards and tried to replace them with something new and different.

What perhaps sounded like a quick fix designed to appease political agitators turned into a costly waste of taxpayer dollars and left confused teachers in both states.

Indiana spent $170 million to repeal the Common Core. The change came at a time when educators in that state were indicating they were just getting comfortable with the standards. Learning and preparing to teach new education standards is a difficult process; and one that teachers are usually given a year or more to adapt to. In Indiana, they only had three months. The haphazard change resulted in frustrated and flustered educators which hurt the education of every child in that state.

It was complaints about overtesting that, in part, drove Indiana to make this rushed change. The state's plan truly backfired and parents and students bore the brunt of the change. Indiana rolled out a new exam in 2015, which included 12 hours of testing time, double that of the previous year. That number is now at nine hours of testing time, again more than when the Common Core standards were in place.

In Oklahoma, the cost of repealing Common Core totaled $125 million. The state reverted back to old standards – which had failed to adequately prepare students for college and careers. In fact, 40 percent of Oklahoma's high school graduates under those standards needed remedial courses as college freshmen.

Elsewhere around the country, there are countless states that reviewed the Common Core looking to solve their political problems yet ended up leaving the standards themselves largely intact.
South Carolina's new standards are 90 percent aligned to Common Core and it is much the same for West Virginia's new standards.

In New Jersey, a review resulted in the recommendation to keep 85 percent of standards and to continue administering the PARCC exam developed by a consortium of states and aligned with the Common Core.

The story is much the same in Florida, Arizona, and Iowa where the standards were simply rebranded with new names.

Experience elsewhere clearly indicates that forcing the repeal of Common Core is the wrong move for our children and would be a colossal waste of time and money.

Instead of putting politics first, our policymakers, from the Governor to the Regents and Education Commissioner, should work towards customized standards that meet the unique needs of our students, while remaining closely aligned to the Common Core.

So what should we take away from all these efforts to help us make the right decisions here in New York right now?

First, and most importantly, trying to repeal or substantially replace the Common Core standards would be a waste. It would be a waste of time, a waste of money, and worse it would plunge classrooms into confusion, setting yet another generation of children back.

Second, new "New York" standards must be as or more rigorous than the Common Core. We cannot forget why these rigorous standards were implemented in the first place – to actually prepare children for college and 21st century careers. Standards that promote critical thinking and reasoning are essential so that our children have the tools to succeed in an increasingly global economy.

Rigorous standards based on the Common Core and assessments aligned with those standards give us the baseline to ensure that all children are advancing together. We cannot go backwards on this.

Third, when politicians become too involved in the mechanics of what happens in the classroom, nothing good happens. That is why any review process should be driven by the professionals at the State Education Department – the people who know education policies the best.

Fourth, and similarly, classroom teachers must be the driving voices in any revisions. Teachers are on the front lines and understanding what is working in our classrooms and what is not.

And finally, a new name actually matters. Renaming the standards, yet keeping them based on the Common Core, removes from the debate what has been a name easily demonized for political purposes. Instead, New Yorkers would be able to turn their attention to the standards themselves. When that happens, as shown in a recent Center for American Progress poll and in countless states, rigorous standards are overwhelmingly popular.

Students, teachers, and parents in other states learned the pitfalls of replacing Common Core the hard way. In New York we don't have to.

***
Stephen Sigmund is the Executive Director of High Achievement New York and Denise Toscano is an Elementary Principal in Suffolk County. She is a member of High Achievement New York and an America Achieves' New York Educator Voice Fellow.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
Common Core Mistakes Worth Not Repeating Wed, 27 Jan 2016 03:33:57 +0000
The Wisdom of Primaries http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6105:the-wisdom-of-primaries http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6105:the-wisdom-of-primaries teachout fracktivists

Zephyr Teachout, in yellow, with "fractivists" (photo: @zephyrteachout)


In her zeal to attach herself to Barack Obama at the recent Democratic debate in Charleston, Hillary Clinton at one point issued a somewhat unexpected line of attack. In advance of the 2012 campaign, Clinton charged, Bernie Sanders had "publicly sought someone to run in a primary against President Obama." 

There's no disputing that Sanders did in fact express such a position, based on his concern that Obama was moving to the right during his first term. But during the debate on Twitter and later that evening on CNN, Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod echoed Clinton's disdain for Sanders' view that a primary might be good for the party.

Notably, neither Clinton nor Axelrod deemed it necessary to explain why in their view, such a challenge would have been a bad thing. Here in New York, meanwhile, we've seen quite clearly the positive benefits of making an incumbent answer to his party's base.

In 2014, Zephyr Teachout bucked the leadership of both the state Democratic Party and the Working Families Party by running a primary challenge against Andrew Cuomo. Though outspent by an astronomical sum, Teachout won the same number of counties as the sitting governor. Cuomo's healthy margin of victory (62-34%) came mainly because of the vote in New York City and Buffalo.

Although weakened by a novice candidate, the legendarily vindictive Cuomo has actually sought to make amends with the constituencies that did not support him in the primary.

First he surprised many upstate activists by banning fracking. Over the past year, he has responded to the teachers unions and public school parents by withdrawing his support for the Common Core (an issue central to Rob Astorino's unsuccessful Republican bid in the general election). And Cuomo has patched up his ties with Working Families Party unions by pushing for a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave.

Ethics reformers—another Teachout constituency—are still holding their breath. Even as the cloud of suspicion cast over by Cuomo by Preet Bharara hovered, the governor paid only lip service to changing the rules in Albany. For example, despite his stated support for closing the LLC loophole, he continued to rake in donations from big real estate developers. Bharara's investigation thus can't be credited with forcing Cuomo to shift gears.

Nor does Cuomo's sandbox sparring with Mayor de Blasio sufficiently explain the governor's leftward lurch. After all, de Blasio campaigned for Cuomo in 2014, and the latter remains the more popular of the two figures in citywide polling.

In short, absent the primary contest that allowed voters across the state to express various disagreements, Cuomo most likely have would have remained on the centrist course of his first term.

Because there no was primary challenge to Obama in 2012, it would be pure speculation to say that a meaningful challenge from the left would have forced him to move in that direction. But in his second term, Obama hasn't offered up any significant new domestic policy initiatives, suggesting that he's not terribly worried about what the activist wing of the party thinks about his presidency.

Here in New York City, it's unclear whether any candidate will wage a primary contest against Mayor de Blasio next year. But those on the left unhappy with the mayor's caution on police reform and closing Rikers, or coziness with developers, might welcome it. So, too, might more centrist voters concerned about the mayor's management of the homeless problem or the budget implications of his deals with unions.

Regardless of whether a strong contender enters the ring, this much is clear: Always be wary of politicians or pundits who argue that more democracy is not a good thing.

***
Theodore Hamm is chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph's College in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. On Twitter @HammerDaily.

]]>
The Wisdom of Primaries Thu, 21 Jan 2016 01:57:13 +0000
New York's Education Policy in Historic Disarray http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6101:new-yorks-education-policy-in-historic-disarray http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6101:new-yorks-education-policy-in-historic-disarray cuomo parental choice BK May 2015

Gov. Cuomo in May, 2015 (photo: Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin)


The past several months have been one of the most tumultuous periods in New York State's educational history, culminating several years of false starts and disarray in education policy. It's not without precedent, though, and history has valuable lessons for New York today.

Disillusionment and disavowal of recent educational practices
In December, President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, replacing the 15-year old No Child Left Behind Act and sweeping away its emphasis on standardized tests and punitive approach to failing schools. The new law returns power to the states and dilutes the federal government's power to impose educational standards. That will loosen the hold of federal requirements on New York's educational policy.

Also in December, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced and endorsed the report of his "Common Core Task Force," which had been charged with evaluating the rollout of Common Core educational standards, which the federal government had supported. The task force recommended adopting new, locally-driven New York State standards and, as the governor noted, "greatly reducing testing and testing anxiety for our students. The Common Core was supposed to ensure all of our children had the education they needed to be college and career-ready – but it actually caused confusion and anxiety. That ends now."

At the same time, the Board of Regents approved a four-year moratorium on using student scores on state standardized tests as part of the teacher evaluation system, something teachers had protested (local tests will still be used, though). The Regents' suspension of the policy is in line with another recommendation of the governor's Common Core task force. The governor had also endorsed use of student test scores in teacher evaluation, a position he has also now abandoned.

The Regents adopted the Common Core some years ago and required its use in the schools without providing the necessary implementation materials or training for teachers, and mandated exams on material that had not been fully covered in the classroom. Teachers protested that the process was too rushed and opposed using the test scores in their own job evaluations. Thousands of parents joined an "opt out" movement by refusing to let their children take the exams. The embattled state commissioner of education, John King,  who oversaw the rushed rollout, left for a post in Washington, D.C. His successor, MaryEllen Elia, has promised a more thoughtful and responsive approach.

New York's per-pupil spending is among the highest in the nation but there are constant reports and press stories that our graduates are not adequately prepared for the workforce or college.

In the meantime, over the past several years New York has established a second network of publically-funded schools called charter schools, paralleling and often competing with its traditional public schools, with mixed results.

After years of disarray, we are (or should be) at a turning point. It is time for a fresh look at education policy in New York.  

Gov. Cuomo, in his State of the State address on Jan. 13, proposed changes, but relatively limited ones. Referring to criticism in his common core task force's report of "common core curriculum implementation mistakes and testing regimen," he said that "we urge the state education department to do it right this time." He supports increased school aid, expansion of charter schools, and more support for "failing" high-needs schools, including through the community schools program.

Those are significant, but they are modest; mostly more funding and a do-over of the common core rollout, well short of new departures.

Historic turning points in New York educational policy
This could be a time of opportunity for major changes to strengthen education in New York. But that would require bold, imaginative leadership.

Over the years, history suggests, New York periodically worries about, analyzes, and occasionally takes dramatic initiatives to strengthen its educational system or move off in substantially new directions.

A few examples:

*New York commits to public education. In 1812, after earlier plans to stimulate the establishment of public schools (or "common schools" as they were called then) had failed, the legislature passed the Common School Act of 1812. It created a state superintendent of public schools, outlined a process for creation and operation of local school districts, provided that the voters in each district would elect trustees to operate the schools, established a system of local revenue raised by towns and counties matched by state aid to support the schools.

The act established three precedents: public schools are a function of the state; they are to be locally administered with state oversight; and funding is a joint state-local responsibility. Article XI of the current state constitution reflects the state commitment established back in 1812: "The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free public schools, wherein all the children of the state may be educated."

*A governor initiates consolidation and streamlining of state educational policy. New York entered the 20th century with responsibility for educational policy scattered between the state Department of Public Instruction (successor to the Superintendent of Public Schools established in 1812) and the Board of Regents, established years earlier mainly to oversee higher education. Governor Theodore Roosevelt (1899-1901), a Republican, appointed a study commission which recommended consolidation of educational oversight in a new State Education Department under the Regents. "The plan proposed is simple, effective and wholly free from political or partisan considerations," Roosevelt said, optimistically, in a message to the legislature in 1900.

However, partisan bickering and procrastination stalled action until 1904 when, during the tenure of Roosevelt’s successor, Republican Governor Benjamin B. Odell, Republicans in the legislative majority drew up a bill to implement the recommendation.

But Democrats denounced the bill, in part because Republicans had proposed it. Democratic Assembly Minority Leader George Palmer called it "the most vicious...partisan legislation offered before this body in the last decade." The bill passed by a strictly party vote, except for one Democratic assemblymember who broke ranks to vote for it. But it launched New York onto a new educational path.

*A Commissioner of Education charts a new course for education. New York's first Commissioner of Education, Andrew S. Draper (1904-1913), took charge of educational policy. "The public school system has come to be the main hope of our nation," he wrote in his book, American Education, in 1909. "In this American system of schools the predominant characteristics of our future American citizenship are being, and must continue to be, developed." Schools should be expected "to give every child not only the means of informing himself and of expressing himself, but also a definite trade or vocation through which he may earn a living."

Like most effective commissioners since then, he recommended policy actions to the Regents, worked for their approval, and then vigorously implemented them, rather than waiting for the Regents to tell him what to do.

Draper raised standards, adjusted the curriculum to ensure students received instruction that would make them job-ready and also effective citizens, clarified and strengthened the roles of local principals and superintendents, and pushed for school consolidation. He supported stronger teacher training and established a statewide teacher retirement system. Draper's initiatives strengthened and elevated  education.

*A governor dramatically increases state aid for education. State aid to schools was meager in the early 20th century. Governor Alfred E. Smith (1919-1921, 1923-1929), a Democrat, championed public education and pushed for more school funding. When the Republican-controlled legislature balked, Smith appointed a Commission on School Finance and Administration headed by a prominent civic leader and businessman, Michael Friedsam, president of  B. Altman & Company department store in New York City, which recommended a substantial increase in state funding in 1926.

The Friedsam report resulted in a good deal of public support for substantially increased aid to education. But the fiscally tight-fisted legislature refused to act on the report. Smith made education aid a priority in his successful 1926 re-election campaign, denouncing his political opponents' "cheap political tricks" and "underhanded propaganda." The 1927 legislature raised funding to $82,500,000, a significant increase. But in a political swipe at the governor, legislative leaders announced that this was $2 million less than Smith's request, an indication, they insisted, of the legislature's fiscal frugality.

*The Regents revamp education policy. By the early 1930s, educators were complaining that curricular requirements were outdated, employers asserted that public education was not adequately preparing students for jobs in business and industry, and many taxpayers thought that education had become too costly.

The Regents responded by launching a searching analysis, The Regents Inquiry into the Character and Cost of Public Education, in 1935-1938. When the legislature showed reluctance to fund the study, the Regents secured support for it from the Rockefeller Foundation. The study was headed by highly respected Regent Owen D. Young, who was also chief executive officer of General Electric. It was carried out by recognized experts in education and public policy. The inquiry issued a summary report and ten supplemental reports on specific topics.

Youths leaving high school "are not adequately educated...not prepared to play a helpful part in the life of this state," the report said. The school curriculum "has not been designed to fit them for the new and changing work opportunities which they must face in modern economic life." The report recommended more technical and vocational training to impart "immediately marketable skills" and "character education," training in civics and citizenship, and many other curricular changes.

The Education Department should relax its regulatory oversight over the schools, allow greater local school board autonomy, and concentrate on identifying and disseminating modern educational practices to the schools, it said.

The report also recommended stronger teacher training programs, higher salaries and expanded tenure protection to attract more and better teachers.

The report was a wellspring for substantial changes in education policy, practices, and curriculum over the next decade.

This could be another historic turning point for education in New York State
The past few years of education policy disarray, and the historical examples outlined above and others that might be cited, suggest five insights for shaping New York's future educational plans.

One, leadership is critical, and it can come from the Governor, Regents, Commissioner of Education, or key legislators.

Two, for many years New York's educational system was regarded as among the best in the nation. Regents exams and degrees were something approaching a gold standard in education. Those were years before substantial federal involvement in education, before externally-created standards such as common core, and before a continual barrage of proposed educational reforms from outside think tanks such as the Gates Foundation. New York leaders acted on New York reports on the state's needs and opportunities. This might argue for returning to a system of more reliance on New York's own educational experts and less on outsiders.

Three, a carefully-compiled, visionary, thoughtful analytical report, describing current conditions, setting forth a vision, and outlining a preferred course of action, can inform and streamline the process of reaching a consensus and taking action.

Four, sometimes a bold, innovative, mostly unprecedented new approach may be needed, e.g., a new way of preparing and evaluating teachers, more robust and imaginative integration of educational technology and social media in education, more sharing of resources between schools (for instance, courses taught over the web), different forms of evaluation, or a new way of funding public education.

Five, whatever is proposed and enacted will require years to be implemented, take root, and have a measurable impact.

***
Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne lives in Guilderland, New York. He is the author of The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History, published in 2015 by SUNY Press. 

]]>
New York's Education Policy in Historic Disarray Tue, 19 Jan 2016 23:48:10 +0000
What is Flanagan Looking for From De Blasio on Mayoral Control? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5847:what-is-flanagan-looking-for-from-de-blasio-on-mayoral-control http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5847:what-is-flanagan-looking-for-from-de-blasio-on-mayoral-control Flanagan Cuomo

Sen. Flanagan, right, celebrates with the governor (Governor's Office via flickr)


Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has made it no secret that he lacks confidence in Mayor Bill de Blasio's handling of the New York City schools. Made clear when the state recently extended de Blasio's control of city schools for just one year, on Monday in a New York Post op-ed Flanagan sent another shot across de Blasio's bow.

Seizing on The Post's reporting about grade fixing in city schools, Flanagan reminded de Blasio that he not only expects the mayor to make himself available for hearings, but wants to see major improvements in the education system before he considers renewing mayoral control again next year.

"There are still unanswered questions about de Blasio's plan to fix New York City's 91 failing schools and the city's commitment — both financial and otherwise — to the students who attend those schools," wrote Flanagan. "Before we move forward, the mayor and chancellor must agree to hearings so we can examine this grade-fixing scandal and mayoral control...[R]eal reforms must be enacted before mayoral control can be extended any further."

Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island and former chair of the Senate education committee, published his column in the middle of an escalating feud between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and de Blasio and months before the start of next Albany legislative session, which is sure to be dominated by political posturing in preparation for the 2016 elections when the entire legislature will be on the ballot.

Last year, rather than renewing mayoral control for multiple years as it had under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senate Republicans teamed with Cuomo to limit the extension to just one year. Though Cuomo and de Blasio are both Democrats, they have differing philosophies on education, with Cuomo supporting the so-called education reform movement and supporting the expansion of charter schools.

Both Flanagan and Cuomo have indicated they want to see significant improvements from city schools under de Blasio. "Next year we can come back, and if he does a good job, then we can say he should have more control," Cuomo said of de Blasio and mayoral control of schools at a press conference in July. The Cuomo administration did not return requests for comment for this story.

The posturing by Cuomo, Flanagan, and others begs questions: How much improvement can possibly be seen in one year? And exactly what kind of data points would demonstrate it?

When asked what would constitute significant improvements for Flanagan, spokesman Scott Reif, of the Senate's Republican Majority, referred Gotham Gazette back to the op-ed. Reif also said he expected the Senate's education committee to get deeper into the details in the next session.

Reif stressed that de Blasio must make himself and city education chancellor Carmen Farina available for hearings. Flanagan wrote in his op-ed that de Blasio only agreed to make Farina available for an hour last year. Leading up to the one-year extension, the de Blasio administration said that Flanagan failed to return the mayor's calls and was combative.

De Blasio administration officials stress that they think mayoral control should be judged over the long haul as a governmental system, not on incremental progress over a short period of time made by one mayor or the other. Administration officials say Flanagan's office has not communicated any specific concerns they want addressed, or benchmarks they want hit.

Senate Republicans did propose a host of changes to the system in bills last year, including one that would have given the legislature the ability to approve the city DOE budget. That measure is totally unacceptable to the de Blasio administration and did not fly with Assembly Democrats, who are more aligned with the mayor.

The administration clearly views Flanagan's position on mayoral control as designed to hurt the mayor rather than to boost the city's educational system. They point to a week's worth of New York Post articles attacking the DOE and Flanagan's op-ed as a strategy designed to blunt the good news contained in the test scores revealed this week.

On Wednesday, de Blasio and Farina announced that the city's students in grades 3-8 have made improvement on Common Core-aligned English and math tests. In touting mostly across-the-board gains, they also noted that 41 of the city's 63 struggling "Renewal Schools" saw an increase in their English scores and 36 saw an increase in math. These schools, identified by the state as the most unsuccessful, will likely be at the center of what de Blasio must answer for when he faces state lawmakers next year.

De Blasio said Wednesday that the city's test scores beat out increases seen in the state's other "Big 5" urban school districts and stressed that the city is closing its performance gap with schools across the state in general. "We now have the smallest-ever gap between New York City's scores and the rest of the state's scores," said de Blasio. "It's less than a one percentage point difference, and we intend to close that gap. This is an indication of how quickly things are changing in our schools."

An administration press release on the scores said that they demonstrate "the effectiveness" of the "Mayoral Control system and strategies to raise achievement."

Still, de Blasio downplayed the importance of "high-stakes testing" during the press conference, stressing instead the need to make sure children receive a practical education. "Our schools must deliver real preparation for the real world," he said. "Education determines economic destiny." De Blasio is likely to make his community schools push, whereby schools become hubs that provide social and medical services, central to his case for renewing mayoral control.

Jasmine Gripper of the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-supported group with close ties to the mayor, said that test scores shouldn't be used as a measuring stick on de Blasio's success with mayoral control. "The data points shouldn't be test scores but parent engagement, the amount of [student] suspensions, and the improvements made at struggling schools."

Gripper said AQE is paying attention to whether community schools are looking after the overall wellbeing of their students, examining the plans they submit to make sure students are getting eye exams and have access to guidance counselors and psychiatrists. "One year is just not enough time to see significant gains," said Gripper. "Three to four years would be more like it."

But de Blasio doesn't have three or four years. Instead, he faces the potential political embarrassment of having mayoral control stripped away by his enemies, which could leave him extremely vulnerable during the next mayoral election, in 2017. That's why many Democrats and education advocates see the one-year extension as a political move that serves both as retribution for de Blasio's attempts to win the state Senate for Democrats in 2014 and to prevent him from getting openly involved in the 2016 legislative elections.

Flanagan and Cuomo also both appear to be interested in quieting de Blasio's criticism of charter schools. "The grade-fixing scandal, along with the earlier attacks on charter schools, show exactly why we took such a cautious approach to mayoral control," Flanagan wrote in the Post.

But mayoral control isn't as simple as one side against the other. Many Democrats in both the Assembly and Senate, who rallied to de Blasio's side last year to support a minimum three-year extension of mayoral control, do harbor major concerns about the system. Some of them are concerned about creating more checks and balances on the city Department of Education's spending, while others want to increase parental involvement while weakening the mayor's ability to make appointments to the Panel for Educational Policy.

Sen. Diane Savino, of the Independent Democratic Conference, said she felt one year to show improvement in mayoral control is "reasonable."

"It shouldn't be that hard," said Savino. "Since the inception of mayoral control we've had a host of issues raised every year by just about all the major Democrats, including the mayor himself. Just pick some of them and get to work."

Savino, who said she hadn't read Flanagan's op-ed, said she wants de Blasio to get to work dealing with the grade-fixing scandal that sparked Flanagan's column. "What is a diploma worth when no employers take it seriously?" asked Savino. "We need to take action quickly against anyone who is rigging grades and we need to figure out what we are doing that leaves students without enough credits to graduate."

The mayor and his schools chancellor responded to new grade-fixing allegations by creating a new task force within the DOE to investigate and uphold academic integrity. Supporters of de Blasio note that credit-recovery problems have been at play in city schools for years, if not decades, and that there are a relatively small number of students involved. Regardless, anything happening with city education is de Blasio's responsibility now. And the mayor has repeatedly argued that mayoral control makes clear that he is ultimately accountable for the city's schools, and that voters will hold him so come 2017.

Savino and Flanagan both point to the fact that 77 percent of city high school students entering CUNY need remedial math or English. Savino said she'd like to bring CUNY officials to hearings on mayoral control to get their take on what kind of education city students are getting. "Test scores are just a piece of this," Savino told Gotham Gazette. "We need to involve CUNY because they are the best judge at whether we are providing our students with a sound education that holds up once send them out into the world."

During Wednesday's press conference de Blasio was asked whether he felt pressure to accelerate improvements given that he will have to go back and face the legislature to win renewal in less than a year. The mayor responded that "since day one" he felt the pressure to improve the city's schools regardless of Albany.

"So, no," de Blasio said. "The pressure I feel as the person accountable for our schools is to make sure our kids are getting what they need, and I'm accountable to their parents. That's my focus." 

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

]]>
What is Flanagan Looking for From De Blasio on Mayoral Control? Wed, 12 Aug 2015 20:04:20 +0000