Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/202 Tue, 19 Jun 2018 14:47:05 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Former Top DOE Official: Time to Move Beyond ‘Relic’ of Specialized High School Test http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7719:former-top-doe-official-time-to-move-beyond-relic-of-specialized-high-school-test http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7719:former-top-doe-official-time-to-move-beyond-relic-of-specialized-high-school-test Shael Suransky DOE

Shael Polakow-Suransky, right, with Carmen Farina (photo: Bank Street College)


Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan earlier this week to diversify the city’s elite specialized high schools through changes in admissions policies. The schools currently enroll very few black and Latino students, while, relative to their numbers in the larger school system, white and Asian students are highly over-represented.

De Blasio’s plan involves a first step of setting aside 20 percent of seats at these schools for low-income students whose scores fall just under the qualifying threshold, which the city can take on its own, as well as pushing for phasing out the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and implementation of a new admissions system based on state test scores and middle school grades, which requires approval from the state Legislature.

The mayor’s initiative was quickly met with both widespread praise and consternation. Supporters, including some educators and elected officials, applauded the administration for taking the first step in desegregating the city’s top high schools while some parents, elected officials, and alumni groups cried foul that the changes would be unfair to students who work hard to do well on the test, that it is a piecemeal reform that will largely punish low-income Asian students, and that it will exacerbate inequities in educational achievement.

In Albany as well, the mayor’s proposal was met with resistance and the state Senate looks like it may reject his push to scrap the SHSAT even if it is successful in the Assembly in the final few weeks of this year’s legislative session. Governor Andrew Cuomo, while acknowledging the problem the mayor is targeting, did not take a set position and predicted the issue would be taken up next year alongside a variety of other education topics.

Among those who are more full-throated in calling for change is Shael Polakow-Suransky, president of Bank Street College of Education, who oversaw the city Department of Education’s SHSAT contract as the DOE’s chief academic officer and senior deputy chancellor. After the mayor’s announcement, Polakow-Suransky tweeted that the SHSAT is “not a particularly strong or predictive test.” He said “a multiple measures approach” to admissions with both qualitative and quantitative data “is long overdue.”

Gotham Gazette spoke with Polakow-Suransky about the mayor’s plan, the problems with the current system, and the administration’s overall approach, or lack thereof, to school desegregation.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Gotham Gazette (GG): What you think about the mayor’s plan? How is it going to work and what are the issues with the existing system?

Shael Polakow-Suransky (SPS): I think the biggest challenge here from my perspective is that the current system is missing a lot of talented children who have the right skills to be in these schools, but because we’re looking through a very narrow and pretty blunt instrument at who has those skills, we’re missing a lot of talent that could really strengthen these schools. So that’s a real shame and if the ideas of these schools is to take the most talented young people in the city and accelerate learning for them so they can be leaders, then we need to be looking for the best talent in the city and in order to find that, we can’t use an instrument that you need to game and we can’t use an instrument that only focuses on some narrow set of math and reading skills.

As someone who used to oversee the accountability office, one of my responsibilities was managing the contract with Pearson [the testing company] around this test and…we didn’t have as much money as we would have liked, and I think that’s still true, to spend on this and you kind of get what you pay for.

GG: To spend on the test?

SPS: Yeah. Tests are expensive and the quality of the instrument depends on how much you’re going to spend on it. And so this is a really basic one, like as far as tests go, it’s about as simple an instrument as you can create.

GG: So, what are the problems with it exactly? You’re saying it’s too simple?

SPS: I’m saying that the kinds of skills it’s measuring are the kinds of skills that you can measure through multiple-choice questions, and the content area it’s focused on are English and math. So it’s multiple-choice questions, there’s no writing. If you look at good exams out there today, there’s a combination of multiple-choice and writing and we aren’t looking at any writing. We’re not looking at kids’ problem-solving skills. We’re not looking at their ability to work with others. We’re not looking at their presentation skills. You know, those are the kinds of things you would see if you took into account the grades that they’re getting in middle school, references from teachers, they’re asked for writing submissions.

Any high-performing university, any high-performing private school, and most of the other high-performing screen schools in the city all look at a range of measures in order to find the best talent and we don’t for the specialized schools. We just look at this very narrow set of English and math skills that you can measure with multiple choice questions. And it leads to an inequitable outcome because we’re relying on the students who are participating in this test to kind of focus on how do they do well on this set of questions that this test is measuring, which is not really the right set of things that we should be looking for to find the best talent. And then people spend lots of money and lots of time doing test prep to get good at taking this test which doesn’t necessarily indicate that they’re great writers or great thinkers or great leaders.

GG: Have there been efforts to change it over the last couple of years?

SPS: There haven’t been meaningful changes. I think there have been small changes around the edges. But, nothing meaningful.

GG: Did you try to implement changes when you were there?

SPS: I didn’t because it wasn’t something that I could convince others was an important area of focus.

GG: Where was the pushback coming from?

I think the folks at the leadership level felt that this was something that had been in place for a long time and they didn’t really want to open this issue up. They were more interested in investing in trying to provide more supports for kids in middle school, which is also really important. I think there wasn’t major focus at that point.

GG: And by leadership level, you mean just the DOE or just in terms of the City Council, the administration? No one was pushing for it?

SPS: I mean I was working in the DOE, I can’t really speak to things beyond that, but this has been in place for a long time, and it’s a fairly new thing that people are seriously considering changing the state law.

GG: Mayor de Blasio’s plan, what do you think about it? Could it have been better? Is it a good first step?

SPS: I’m not sure what the right solution is. I applaud him for taking the issue on. I think trying to think about how should the state law change so that we can use multiple measures to find the most talented young people in the city for these schools is important. It’s important in order to have more diversity, but it’s also important to make sure that we’re really rewarding talent and not a narrow set of test-taking skills.

GG: Do you think in terms of the larger efforts to desegregate the city’s schools, is this a good first step, and what needs to happen next, in your opinion?

SPS: Well, I think the larger question on segregation is much more complicated than this small group of schools. I think that, if you look at the school districts in the city at the elementary and middle school level where there really is a lot of diversity in terms of different races, those school districts could pursue policies that allow for more choice at the elementary and middle school level that would increase diversity.

But, that is a process that needs to be negotiated in partnership with the local Community Education Council. It’s not completely up to the Department of Education and the mayor to change those zones that currently exist. It’s to include a process with the community and I think that’s happening in District 3 now. It’s happened in District 1. There’s efforts in District 15. But I think it’s that type of work that is needed in order to sort of move away from zones that completely track to where people live.

GG: What do you think of the resistance to the mayor’s plan?

SPS: I think that there are people who are afraid that they’re going to be winners and losers with this shift and they’re trying to protect their current status, which positions them with an advantage in the system. So any change is hard. The truth is that there are many, many other good high schools in the city that are not specialized high schools…so, the notion that these are the only places where you can get a good education is just ridiculous.

I think it’s sort of become a symbolic issue and symbolism is important and we’re a city that has a public school system and 70 percent of the kids in that school system are African-American and Latino. And it’s not right that we aren’t identifying this talent among the African-American and Latino students when we have schools like this that are meant to serve the most talented young people in the city. So, we need to figure out a better way to do it. And, I think with any change, there’s going to be a process where folks push in different directions and that’s part of the nature of making change in a large school system.

GG: Are there comparisons with other cities - is there a path that New York City could follow that some other cities have already done or are there similar issues?

SPS: Most cities have magnet schools like this. So, it’s an interesting question. I don’t know a lot about their admissions processes in other cities, but I do know in the private school world and I know in the university world, it’s very rare that you rely on a single test as a way to do admission for the elite programs in this country. There’s almost nothing left in the world that relies on a single test as the way the admission is granted. So this is really a relic. And, it’s a really blunt instrument to do it because it’s only measuring a really narrow set of skills. And so we’re missing tons of talented kids that could be great in these schools.

GG: What do you think of the mayor’s leadership in general on schools, on school segregation?

SPS: I think he’s moving in the right direction. I think it’s good that - I think it’s impressive that the new chancellor has decided to take this on and that he’s supporting him.

GG: People have been critical that the mayor didn’t take this up until his second term when it’s sort of politically safer for him to do it. And of course the new chancellor seems a bit more willing to take a line that’s not the same as the mayor’s. So, you think that’s promising?

SPS: I think they’re on the same page, actually. I think it is politically complex to do this well because if you force changes through the system that generates conflict in communities between parents or within schools, between teachers, that can distract from the education. And, so, you have to be really strategic and deliberate about the changes you make and to the extent that you can build support within communities and make the changes in ways that bring all stakeholders along, that’s the ideal. So, you know, I don’t have an opinion on the pace of this or when it’s happening, but I do think it’s great that we have a chancellor that wants to take on this issue and it’s great that the mayor is supporting him.

The only other thing I would say is that one of the things that a lot of folks who are lay-people, who don’t know the school system that well, think when they think about specialized schools is that these are the only good schools and the truth is that that’s not the case. I currently run a graduate school of education and as part of that we also have a lab school that is a K-through-8 independent school. And so our eighth-graders apply all over the city to the top schools, some of them private, some of them public. And for many really talented kids at our school, the specialized schools are not the right set because they have a fairly traditional education model with lots of direct instruction by teachers, very large schools, large classes, not great at personalizing the education to the individual child and so I certainly want folks to understand that these are wonderful schools for young people who thrive in that larger environment, but they’re not actually the best schools in the city. There are better public schools that exist that are doing much more innovative work and I think that we need to be thinking about this less from this being the sort of pinnacle of the school system and more in terms of this is one option within the school system that is an important option, but there are many other really interesting options as well.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Former Top DOE Official: Time to Move Beyond ‘Relic’ of Specialized High School Test Wed, 06 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Mayor’s Much-Needed Investment in Culturally Responsive Education http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7653:the-mayor-s-much-needed-investment-in-culturally-responsive-education http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7653:the-mayor-s-much-needed-investment-in-culturally-responsive-education de Blasio Carranza

Mayor de Blasio & Chancellor Carranza visit a school (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement last week that the City is investing $23 million in culturally responsive education and anti-bias training in schools -- likely the largest investment of its type nationally -- is welcome news for New York City parents, educators, and researchers.

Education researchers have long-known that culturally responsive education (CRE) -- the practice of aligning curriculum and instruction with students’ backgrounds, life experiences, and cultures -- has a positive impact on improving student outcomes, especially for students of color. Just in the past two years, research has shown growth in student outcomes from having Black teachers, fostering positive racial identity, and taking Ethnic Studies courses.

Results from a new survey concur. They show that New York City teachers are eager to use CRE as a strategy to improve educational outcomes. According to the survey of nearly 400 city public school teachers conducted by the NYU Metro Center, a majority of teachers believe that CRE would improve their practice. However, a lack of preparation and expertise has limited the extent to which teachers can put CRE to practice.

The vast majority of respondents (87%) felt that teachers are responsible for helping students acquire the skills to critically understand, analyze, and respond to issues related to race and ethnicity. An even greater majority (93%) said they would be willing to modify their lessons to connect with students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Until now, support for teachers to do this has been scarce, both in teacher preparation programs and in professional development offerings. Fewer than one in three (29%) of the teachers surveyed reported that they receive ongoing professional development on issues of race and ethnicity in the classroom, and only 10% indicated that they rely on the city Department of Education for this support. When tensions related to racial, ethnic, sexuality, or other identities arise between students inside schools, over half (55%) of respondents said they felt unprepared to intervene, and 93% said their colleagues would be unprepared to intervene.

The mayor’s announcement can begin to change that.

However, the city’s program must become bolder. In order for them to actually shift their practices to teach more effectively across differences, teachers will need a program of deep, ongoing training – not just a one-day workshop. Unlearning biases, being reflective about one’s identities, reconstructing curricula that are sustaining and relevant to students, and bridging the distance between student and teacher does not happen overnight.

Survey respondents call for more training on integrating race and ethnicity into their lessons, more resource materials, and more opportunities for relevant discussions with colleagues. They will need ongoing support to work effectively across lines of race and ethnicity, to ensure that teaching and learning is culturally responsive for all our children, and that teachers are culturally competent to teach them.

In this time of heightened visibility and awareness of racial bias in education, teachers are eager for ways to reach beyond differences to close gaps not only in student achievement but also between student and teacher. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, with his extensive history and track record with bridging cultural divides, is the right leader to make New York City a national model in the area of culturally responsive education.

We hope that New York City can now finally and truly make culturally responsive education the core of its strategy for educating all students, particularly those most implicated by cultural bias.

[Access the full survey findings here.]

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David Kirkland is the Executive Director and Jahque Bryan-Gooden is a Research Analyst at the NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools.

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

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The Mayor’s Much-Needed Investment in Culturally Responsive Education Wed, 02 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Assignment for the New Schools Chancellor: Address Race Head-On http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7616:assignment-for-the-new-schools-chancellor-address-race-head-on http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7616:assignment-for-the-new-schools-chancellor-address-race-head-on mayorbdbschool

(Credit: Photographer/Mayoral Photography Office)


When I was in 5th grade at a public elementary school in Manhattan, my teacher was Mrs. Camiji, and I loved her. She taught us about diverse cultures all over the world, and pushed us to think about what roles we could serve in our community. It was empowering to see her in front of the classroom. She was the first African-American classroom teacher I ever had, and the last African-American classroom teacher I had until college.

Ms. Camiji was part of the reason I have been so committed to education as an adult. Over the past four years, I dedicated hundreds of hours serving on the city’s Panel for Educational Policy and voting on hundreds of policies affecting the students of color who make up the vast majority of the city’s public school students. But extremely few of those policies have directly addressed the racism and bias in our schools that are obstacles to academic achievement.

In his State of the City speech a few months ago, Mayor de Blasio said, “We face an achievement gap today that is rooted in the enslavement of Americans and the pervasive discrimination against people of color over centuries. We know exactly where the problem comes from, but to defeat structural racism and to overcome this achievement gap, we have to flip the script. We have to do something different when it comes to education….”

The mayor is right, and he is in a position to change this. Former schools Chancellor Carmen Farina made many positive changes in New York City public schools - elevating the role of educators, diminishing the role of standardized tests, expanding community schools, and other great initiatives. But over the past four years, this administration has danced around issues of systemic racism in schools, unwilling to confront it directly.

Despite a deep body of research showing that students are more likely to succeed academically when they see themselves reflected in the books and curriculum they read, in the courses they take, in the issues discussed in class, I have seen very few system-wide policies that reflect this approach to advancing the success of students of color, beyond small and excellent initiatives like NYCMenTeach and Expanded Success Initiative.

I hope that the new leader of the school system, Chancellor Richard Carranza, will take up this issue and do more than the administration has so far.

Chancellor Carranza has seen first-hand, as a principal and a superintendent, the incredible impact on students of color when they learn about their own history and culture, and from educators who understand and connect with their history and culture. He has a reputation for engaging families in genuine and culturally appropriate ways, and knows the investment in schools that approach builds.

My daughter graduated from high school last year, and she never had an African-American classroom teacher in New York City public schools. In elementary school there was one African-American music teacher; in high school there was an African-American substitute science teacher. The students loved that science teacher, and my daughter confided in him and relied on his input to shape her decisions and keep her focused. But it’s a disgrace that my daughter’s teachers were no more diverse than my own, 25 years earlier.

Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza, let’s make this the last generation of New York City public school students who have to experience what my daughter and I have. Let’s grow the number of teachers and administrators of color, increase cultural competency among all teachers, and diversify curriculum and course offerings. This is the path to expanding academic success among our students of color, and for all students.

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Elzora Cleveland is a former mayoral appointee on the Panel for Educational Policy, and a parent leader with the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice. On Twitter @CEJNYC.

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Assignment for the New Schools Chancellor: Address Race Head-On Mon, 16 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Let Carranza Lead http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7579:let-carranza-lead http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7579:let-carranza-lead Carranza de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


According to press reports, Mayor de Blasio, First Lady McCray, and First Deputy Mayor Fuleihan were the key decision-makers in appointing our new schools Chancellor, Richard Carranza. They now must let Carranza lead.

De Blasio had worked with Carmen Fariña for decades, so her appointment was a no-brainer. But when it came to finding her replacement, his secretive process blew up. Alberto Carvalho, the mayor’s first choice, publicly repudiated the job after taking it, reportedly because City Hall attached strings to his hiring authority. The micro-managers are now doing the same to Carranza. It has to stop.

First, soon-to-be-former Chancellor Fariña appointed herself to some ambiguous job placating warring co-located schools. Then Aimee Horowitz, the senior administrator for the beleaguered Renewal Schools program, was transferred from that post to assist Fariña’s efforts.

Installing the old chancellor in another job and reshuffling other leadership positions before Carranza arrives belittles an already hobbled second-choice candidate.
Mayoral control should not mean that chancellors become lap dogs to political expediency. In setting an agenda of continuity from on high, the mayor is sacrificing educational improvement to claim his previous education agenda as the single path to quality.

That’s nonsense. Whatever Fariña’s accomplishments, the system has yawning failures. Barely 40% of 3rd through 8th graders are proficient in reading, fewer than 30% for black and Latino students according to 2017 state test scores. Citywide math scores are even lower, with only one in five black students meeting proficiency standards. Graduation rates stand at about 70%, but only half of grads are deemed “college ready.” Add to that severe shortfalls in educational attainment by students with disabilities, English language learners, and students experiencing homelessness, and the mayor’s rosy picture seems less about progress and more about his next campaign.

Leadership untethered from claims of “Mission Accomplished” is needed for further progress and mid-course corrections. This can’t be done by a mayor wedded to his own record.

First, of course, is giving Carranza the ability to select deputies who know the system but are answerable to him, not City Hall. Next, he needs to be able to speak out not as a ventriloquist’s dummy but as someone who has already led two urban school districts.

Carranza’s statement that there is “no daylight” between him and the mayor better not be true. We are not talking about the Sun God here. De Blasio is prone to mistakes and it is up to Carranza to push back when issues arise, as when he needs to take on the politically powerful teachers union in upcoming contract negotiations.

Then there are policy matters where the mayor needs to take a step back. Carranza actually used the word “segregation” at his initial press conference, something the mayor regularly avoids. Taking on the multiple achievement gaps left to him will mean confronting widespread enrollment issues that de Blasio has so far refused to tackle.

Coming from outside the system after a secret search, a runner-up already scarred by gender-bias allegations and mixed reviews of his previous experience, our new chancellor must bring new thinking and new energy to the table. De Blasio has already done him a disservice by cocooning Carranza, who faces great challenges. But the greater challenge is the mayor’s to let his hand-picked leader lead.

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David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Educational Leadership, Law and Policy at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center. On Twitter @BloomfieldDavid.

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Let Carranza Lead Sun, 01 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Attacks on Yeshivas Present a Dangerous Slippery Slope http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7569:attacks-on-yeshivas-present-a-dangerous-slippery-slope http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7569:attacks-on-yeshivas-present-a-dangerous-slippery-slope eric ulrich1

Eric Ulrich, the author, right, and Cardinal Dolan (photo: @eric_ulrich)


In the coming months, the city and state education departments are expected to rule on an issue that may have huge repercussions for parental school choice and religious freedom. A small group of former yeshiva graduates have alleged that religious schools in Orthodox Jewish communities are failing to provide adequate education to students. As an avid supporter of parental choice, I worry education leaders will side with these critics, posing a threat to private schools well beyond the Jewish community.

Many years ago, I attended P.S. 63, an elementary school in Queens. My mother, a single parent and devout Catholic, made the decision to transfer me to the former Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School, a Catholic elementary school. She wholeheartedly believed Catholic school was a better environment for me at the time – and it was. Appreciative of the opportunities Catholic school afforded me, I continued my religious education at Cathedral Prep Seminary High School.

As the product of both public school and Catholic school education, I recognize the importance of parental school choice. The values instilled in me through my religious upbringing and education paved the way for my career as a public servant. Attending Catholic school ignited my passion for helping people; and at one point in my life, I seriously contemplated becoming a priest. If my mother did not have the freedom to enroll me in the school of her choice, I might not have taken the path I’ve taken, which I have found extraordinary fulfilling.

During my time in office, I have visited many yeshiva schools. In each of those visits, I saw a vibrant atmosphere. It is clear to me the Orthodox community takes education seriously. The school day begins just after sunrise, and the majority of yeshiva students study long after they are dismissed. Their studies are deeply rooted in the Torah and Talmud, which encourage discussion and debate at a very young age. Their studies focus heavily upon religious and legal texts, and teachers employ a method of Socratic dialogue with students more commonly found at law schools. That may not be a familiar experience for graduates of traditional secular schools, but tens of thousands of parents choose these schools each year because yeshivas have served them – and their families – well for generations.

The narrow issue before officials is whether these yeshivas are adhering to a vague state regulation requiring private schools to provide a substantially equivalent education to that of public schools. What that means in practice is enormously subjective; private and religious schools throughout the state are awaiting the results of a looming “clarification” from the State Education Department with deep trepidation.

Government officials are being subjected to a pressure campaign by anti-yeshiva activists, who continuously attack the Orthodox Jewish community under the guise of educational quality. We must continue to protect freedom of religion and the rights of parents to send their children to religious schools – whether they are Catholic, Islamic, or Jewish. If we do not stand-up for yeshivas today, the future of other private schools may be next.

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Eric Ulrich is a City Council member representing parts of Queens. On Twitter @eric_ulrich.

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Attacks on Yeshivas Present a Dangerous Slippery Slope Mon, 26 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Education Adrift: New Chancellors Needed for City School, University Systems http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7481:education-adrift-new-chancellors-needed-for-city-school-university-systems http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7481:education-adrift-new-chancellors-needed-for-city-school-university-systems de Blasio Farina schools new chancellor

Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Fariña & others (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Lame duck chancellors now lead New York’s school and university systems. Governor Cuomo, who controls the CUNY board, and Mayor de Blasio, who appoints the schools chancellor, each show a shocking lack of urgency to fill these critical posts.

This is intolerable. Education is the driver of our information age. Social progress and economic prosperity depend on a vibrant public sector commitment. The city Department of Education enrolls a million children, pre-K through grade 12. CUNY enrolls 275,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Yet our elected leaders allow these essential institutions to remain rudderless.

Our schools and colleges should be brimming with excitement. New technologies, exploding fields of scientific endeavor, novel business opportunities, and a wealth of artistic media make this a particularly fertile time to teach and to learn. A new generation of education leaders is needed to meet this challenge, ready to bring vision and creativity to jobs that have become handmaidens to parochial political interests.

The leadership vacuum holds us back. New York’s position as the World’s Capital is threatened by educational backsliding and neglect. When Mayor de Blasio announced that Carmen Fariña’s successor would be cut from the same mold, my heart sank. Not that she’s been a bad chancellor but because we need a new chancellor, filled with original ideas and vision.

And who beside insiders even know the CUNY Chancellor’s name? James Milliken announced his departure three months ago after just three years on the job. His tenure has been marked by defending repeated charges of long-term fiscal mismanagement. Belated filling of vacancies on the CUNY board by Governor Cuomo and tensions surrounding appointment of City College’s new president added to system-wide stasis, a lost opportunity when Columbia, NYU, and Cornell’s new Roosevelt Island campus are all expanding.

Union leadership has been complicit in this lack of forward motion, settling into predictable cycles of management opposition and compliance for short-term interests. But Michael Mulgrew of the UFT and Barbara Bowen of PSC-CUNY, each safely ensconced in their positions, should do much more. New York labor leaders have historically been national figures, fighting tooth-and-nail for their members and the public good. Innovative contract terms can be an engines for implementing instructional progress if union sights are raised above routine salary demands.

Current belt-tightening by the federal, state, and city governments should not be an excuse for treading water. If anything, the budget picture requires increased institutional agility. Consolidation of organizational structures may be necessary, requiring different operational strategies. Principled reform of antiquated or unneeded functions can be catalyzed by cuts. Public officials’ well-known motto that “no serious crisis should go to waste” requires courage and consensus to implement. This is a challenge that requires new thinking, pointing again to the need for immediate change in the city’s top education posts.

This is a propitious moment for such change. With two ambitious politicians on the cusp of filling these leadership positions, a coordinated approach to New York City’s educational future is possible. Perhaps the Cuomo-de Blasio feud can find a moment of détente or realization that their mutual self-interest dictates summitry. With claims to being The Education Governor and The Education Mayor, the high-visibility appointment of quality chancellors for each of their fiefs will send a message of optimism and renewal that both can use to their advantage. Let us hope this flickering possibility can light our educational future.

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David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Educational Leadership, Law & Policy at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center. On Twitter @BloomfieldDavid.

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Education Adrift: New Chancellors Needed for City School, University Systems Wed, 14 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Celebrating ‘Renewal’ Success as We Acknowledge More Work To Do http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7408:celebrating-renewal-successes-as-we-acknowledge-more-work-to-do http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7408:celebrating-renewal-successes-as-we-acknowledge-more-work-to-do celebrating renew

Mayor de Blasio & Chancellor Fariña on a school visit (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)


School is back in session after an eventful December and long break. As students returned to our community schools, so many were grateful to be back where supports and resources are in place. For many of our students, community schools provide additional support services; food pantries; mental health and social-emotional learning programs; and family support aligned to what’s happening in the classroom. In other words, they focus on educating the “whole child.”  

Coming back to school in the new year feels like a good time to recognize the commitment the city and many nonprofits like mine have made to creating community schools. And, three years into the Renewal School program— the largest school turnaround effort in New York City’s history, which has a two-pronged strategy: the infusion of a strong instructional core and the conversion of every school into a community school—it’s time to look at the results. Each Renewal School has a non-profit partner to lead its transformation into a community school; the goal is to bring together the expertise of educators and community partners to make improvements across all the areas schools need to succeed.

My organization, Partnership with Children, is a partner in nine Renewal Schools, and we are proud that two of them – Renaissance School of the Arts in East Harlem and P.S. 67 in Fort Greene – have made steady progress and will transition out of the Renewal program to become “Rise Schools.” As we evaluate the potential of the investments made in Renewal Schools, we need to recognize the success of these schools and others like them.

Renaissance School of the Arts is exemplary because it has the right people and resources in place, thanks in large part to its Renewal School status. The school leadership and faculty are strong and have implemented new cutting-edge teacher training. Partnership with Children’s social work team has provided counseling, a parent support group, and social-emotional learning workshops. By working together, Renaissance and Partnership with Children have established a flourishing school culture where a strong student voice is developing, both in and out of the classroom. You see it in an active student government, a student-run school store, and even the way students communicate and support their ideas when interacting with adults.

Attendance is at 95% so far this year, up from 89% for the 2013-14 school year. Since 2014, the percentage of students proficient in English Language Arts (ELA) has increased 17 points and the percentage of students proficient in math has increased 13 points. There is need for more improvement, but the model is working at Renaissance.

We also have an excellent partnership at P.S. 67 with the ambitious and impressive principal and her dedicated team. Partnership with Children staff are in the school building before, during, and after the school day – and on the weekends and during the summer – working side-by-side with the principal. Parents stay after drop-off and pick-up to meet with guidance counselors and social workers, teachers are eager and faculty retention is increasing, and student outcomes are improving. Proficiency in ELA has improved 20 percentage points; in math, 10 points. This is what happens when everyone in a school building puts their resources, experience, and heads together.

The students, faculty, staff and leaders at both of these schools are ambitious and aligned, and that is part of what helped them make gains that other Renewal Schools have struggled to make. They’ve broken down silos and gotten all the adults in the school community on the same page. Data absolutely drives their work.

In light of the news about the schools that are closing, I urge us not to overlook the success of schools like Renaissance and P.S. 67, and the others moving from Renewal to Rise Schools. It should inspire us to re-commit to this radical transformation of schools – not pull back from that call to action. The DOE has committed to continuing the Community Schools partnerships and investments in educating the whole child in the 21 new Rise Schools—those that have met their benchmarks, including Renaissance and P.S. 67.  And it is also responsibly making the difficult decision to close the schools that are farthest off their benchmarks.

Programs are always politicized, but let’s not let our children be. I applaud the commitment of the DOE, the City, and our fellow community-based organizations to take on the challenges of these schools – underperforming and under-resourced for decades – at an unprecedented scale.

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Margaret Crotty is the executive director of Partnership with Children. On Twitter @PWCNYC.

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

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Celebrating ‘Renewal’ Success as We Acknowledge More Work To Do Mon, 08 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Our School Governance Isn’t Working, and It’s the Perfect Time for Change http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7409:our-school-governance-isn-t-working-and-it-s-the-perfect-time-for-change http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7409:our-school-governance-isn-t-working-and-it-s-the-perfect-time-for-change De Blasio schools kids

Mayor de Blasio visits a school (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)


With the announcement that Carmen Fariña will retire in early this new year, Mayor de Blasio has an opportunity to improve the way that New York City public schools are governed, and he should take this chance.

Many New Yorkers have lost their patience with the mayor on this important issue. In addition to Fariña’s retirement news, we learned just one day earlier that the DOE spent a mind-blowing 600 million taxpayer dollars to improve just 94 struggling schools over three years. Only 21 schools improved enough to shed the label, despite $2 million per year per school, on top of regular school funding! Tangible results are hard to find at the Renewal Schools, de Blasio’s signature school improvement program.

Further, thousands of Renewal Schools children, their parents, and hard-working teachers all around the city also learned that their educational futures would abruptly change via a cornucopia of closures, mergers, and truncations upon which the mayor’s Panel for Educational Policy will vote.

In District 3’s Harlem neighborhoods, where two such Renewal Schools exist, one of them is being punished while the other gets another year to show progress. Our elected council of parent keeps asking for answers to contradictions like these and keeps finding a common problem: mayoral control of city schools without mayoral responsibility.

The most recent two-year extension of mayoral control in Albany was hailed as a victory for school governance, but it was, as usual, peppered with backroom deals allowing recycling of revoked charters and increasing the city’s financial obligations for charter school operations. In the weeks prior to the deal, advocates for mayoral control painted a bleak picture of what would befall New York City children if Albany failed to extend it.

But a simple question remains unanswered – indeed, unasked – from the original mayoral control debate under Mayor Bloomberg: If the mayor has control, for what are the mayor, the schools chancellor, and district superintendents responsible beyond daily operations and basic accountability for the overall system?

As the elected parent leaders of Community District 3 in Manhattan, we consider this question urgent. Many districts suffer from the question of local accountability; there can be circular finger-pointing among superintendents, principals, and the DOE. Many of the school communities we represent face a crisis not of their own making and for which the Department of Education has taken little responsibility.

In the northernmost part of our district, zoned elementary schools have seen a drop in their enrollment of a full third in the past decade. Leadership under successive mayors has not led to a dramatic renewal of these public schools, but a systematic hollowing out of their enrollment and place in our community.

This is not accidental. Under Mayor Bloomberg, charter schools proliferated through cooperation between his office and charter-friendly politicians in Albany. Today, parents across the city face a wide array of school options, but choice has ballooned in geographic clusters that correlate directly with racially segregated neighborhoods. In District 3’s Harlem neighborhoods, just 36 city blocks, parents send their children to more than 60 different school options inside and outside of the district.

District 3 is not even the most impacted by this failing governance structure. In the South Bronx and all over Brooklyn, public school leaders, parents, and other stakeholders face the same conundrum.

School choice was promised to improve all of our schools through competition, but the results have been far from that. In fact, the lack of transparency surrounding charter schools makes it almost impossible for school districts to predict enrollment, manage their administrations, and develop long term plans. We essentially have a de facto two-school system Department of Education, and that must end.

Across the city, zoned schools in heavily chartered neighborhoods have higher percentages of high-needs children than a decade ago; far higher, in fact, than the surrounding charter schools. Furthermore, district schools are left to “compete” in this complex environment with no assistance from the Department of Education, which leaves principals to “market” themselves with whatever they can shoestring together from already overstretched budgets.

Meanwhile, charter networks such as Success Academy spend lavishly on marketing consultants and direct mail campaigns to attract applicants. And they deliver this marketing via third party transactions that tap into student and family residential information that the DOE licenses, yet won’t provide to traditional public schools for the same purpose. The playing field to compete for students is not level, and nobody in the mayor’s office or DOE is taking responsibility for it, preferring to leverage dwindling enrollments by school mergers, closures, and truncations without looking at key underlying problems.

And the promised systemic improvements to all of our schools? It is nowhere to be seen.

While some charter networks boast high test scores, many do so by employing methods that would never be tolerated in our city’s high-performing schools largely attended by middle and upper middle class families.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg bragged in March 2012 to a panel in Washington, D.C. that his policies had cut the achievement gap between white students and students of color in half. However, using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and from New York’s state exams, Dr. Aaron Pallas of Teachers College demonstrated that between 2003, just before Mayor Bloomberg’s reforms had been implemented, and 2011, the achievement gap demonstrated by the NAEP actually rose and the gap measured by state exams closed by a mere 1%.

Mayor de Blasio, not an ally of charter schools, did not initiate this problem, but he does own it. That is the meaning of mayoral control. It is about the roots of school governance, school choice, and school quality.

The parents in District 3 are tired of this situation. If the mayor is going to have control of our schools, then his office needs to engage in a serious, respectful, and sustained conversation with our community about what we truly need so that all our district schools are places where all children thrive. Moreover, he needs to take responsibility for helping them compete in the slick, professional marketing environment in which they exist. This cannot wait for another two years when Albany will go through yet another staged drama at our children’s expense, considering the new terms of extending mayoral control.

The search for the new New York City schools chancellor should factor in these critical issues as well. Before the mayor replaces Chancellor Fariña, we ask that he taps into our collective expertise. We need an educator, with a vision that will permeate to superintendents, an adroit manager, and someone who is willing to go deep into the structure for changes that will heal gaping fissures in the organization. New York City children deserve it.

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by members of the District 3 Community Education Council
Kristen Berger; Manuel Casanova; Inyanga Collins; Daniel Katz; Lucas Liu; Michael McCarthy; Genisha Metcalf; Jean Moreland; Dennis Morgan; Yan Sun; and Kimberly Watkins (President).

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

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Our School Governance Isn’t Working, and It’s the Perfect Time for Change Sun, 07 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Support, Not Trouble, for a School Successfully Teaching Students with Disabilities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7193:support-not-trouble-for-a-school-successfully-teaching-students-with-disabilities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7193:support-not-trouble-for-a-school-successfully-teaching-students-with-disabilities lenny cci opening

Opportunity Charter School leader Leonard Goldberg, middle, the author


A new report from the city's Comptroller showed once again that the City is unable to fulfill its responsibility to provide the necessary services to students with disabilities, failing to track $84 million allocated for disabled student services. Worse still, these findings come on the heels of the Public Advocate's report that revealed a troubling trend whereby the city offers parents vouchers instead of the necessary, required services for children with special needs. Troubling, but not surprising.

It’s no secret that the city’s public schools are not designed or equipped to properly serve the individual needs of students with disabilities, particularly those in low-income communities. In fact, while roughly half of all vouchers issued citywide go unused, this rate climbs dramatically in lower-income communities. District 8 in the Bronx, for example, has the highest rate of vouchers going unused at 91 percent.

This is why so many Bronx parents turn to Opportunity Charter School (OCS), a Harlem-based charter school that disproportionately serves children with special needs from communities of color. At OCS, we have been providing wraparound services since our founding in 2004, and focus on providing comprehensive clinical services to students and their families.

The majority of our students live in the Bronx, making the commute every morning because they can’t find the support they need in traditional public schools. And in spite of this, the city’s Department of Education has tried relentlessly to close our middle school, even after a Manhattan Supreme Court judge cautioned that the DOE would be wise to take a closer look at how to better evaluate a school as unique as OCS.

The trouble is there’s a gap between these schools in theory and in practice.

The students, who enter our middle school after years in the public system, are among the lowest performing in all of New York City, and well over 60 percent have a moderate to severe learning disability. These are the students who benefit most from the extra support OCS provides, and the same students that the city has previously failed to help.

At OCS, we work hard to help these students catch up, develop critical life skills and prepare for post-secondary success. Our individualized approach to learning pays off. In fact, this year, 86 percent of OCS students graduated on time, including 82 percent of students with disabilities. But the city, which is responsible for holding the 51 charter schools it authorizes accountable and renewing their charters, relies on a flawed system to make these judgements. The city bases decisions largely on the percentage of students in each grade that achieve “proficiency” on state tests, without acknowledging the makeup of the student body or how much progress individual students are making over time.

Meanwhile, the tests themselves are not designed to measure achievement among students with disabilities. Even DOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña acknowledged as much, going as far as to say that students with disabilities are ‘never [going to] get to a certain level on this kind of test’ and would consider opting out her own child if she were the mother of a student with a disability. This accountability system advantages students and schools with a history of academic success; bolstering charters that curate their student bodies and punishing those that take in struggling students. In other words, the current system is designed to enforce the status quo.

Each student with an IEP is different. Some have relatively minor disabilities, such as a speech impediment, but others face more significant obstacles, such as a severe learning disability. At our school, we don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, and neither should the city.

Better alternatives are available. For example, the State Education Department, as well as other state authorizers have created systems tailored to evaluate schools that focus solely on serving at-risk student populations. Authorizers can allow charter schools this flexibility in measurement and it is important that they use this function properly. The DOE, despite its rhetoric, chooses not to apply this sensible approach.

If the city really wants to help students with disabilities, its leaders are going to have to rethink their entire approach, from the supports they provide to measuring growth. It’s past time for the New York City DOE to concentrate its efforts on supporting the city’s most vulnerable children and getting them the help they need, rather than unfairly targeting the institutions that make these kids a priority.

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Leonard Goldberg is the Founder and Head of School at Opportunity Charter School.

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

Note: this column has been updated with more recent data than originally published.

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Support, Not Trouble, for a School Successfully Teaching Students with Disabilities Thu, 14 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
‘Zombie’ Charter School Agreement Rests on Interpretation of Ambiguous Law http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7056:zombie-charter-agreement-rests-on-interpretation-of-ambiguous-law http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7056:zombie-charter-agreement-rests-on-interpretation-of-ambiguous-law de blasio law interpretation

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


A much talked-about provision of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 13th-hour deal to have his control over city schools extended was the agreement that 22 revoked or surrendered charter school charters could be reissued without counting towards the predetermined state cap on the number of charter schools.

In exchange for a two-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, de Blasio agreed to a series of charter school-friendly administrative maneuvers, including the “zombie” charter provision, as well as others around rental reimbursements and school space allocations. The mayor made the deal with state Senate Republicans, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and their charter sector allies.

What has not been widely noted is that language added to the state Education Law at the end of the 2015 Albany legislative session already allowed exactly 22 charters that had been “surrendered, revoked or terminated” on or before July 1, 2015, to be reissued, raising the question of why it was necessary to clarify that point at all.

The answer might lie around the ambiguity of the language. The law states that “such reissuance shall not be counted toward the statewide numerical limit” – the cap of 460 charters – but makes no mention of the separate limit of 50 charters issued after July 1, 2015, for cities of one million or more people, a criteria only New York City fits.

The mention of the state cap and omission of the city cap could be understood as affirming that charters which were revoked and then reissued in the city would continue to count towards that predetermined ceiling of 50, of which there are now 23 remaining aside from the defunct “zombie” charters. It seems that the mayoral administration’s concession was not to read the law that way.

In a brief phone conversation, Department of Education (DOE) spokesperson Toya Holness said Monday that the administration “agreed not to challenge the way [the law] was being interpreted,” but declined to offer examples of potential alternative interpretations.

Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, said that it was the Senate Republican majority’s “position that those 22 ‘zombie’ charters shouldn’t be counted towards any kind of cap.”

In essence, state authorizers issues the charters that allow applying entities to open charter schools, but for one reason or another some are revoked or the schools close down, leaving the question of whether those charter slots under either of the two caps are newly available.

Wrangling over the status of revoked charters has been going on for years; in 2010, before the law was changed to include specific directives on reissuing charters, an Assembly bill introduced by charter-friendly Democrats tried to establish that “that revoked charters will no longer count against the cap,” according to its summary. It didn’t pass at the time.

The reissuable charters won’t be separately marked, but simply added the available pool of charters under the cap, which now appears to stand at 45 for New York City, where 216 charter schools currently operate. Potential schools hoping to secure a charter must follow the normal application procedures through state authorizers -- New York City’s Mayor and Department of Education actually have very little control related to charter schools, less so given changes to the laws ushered in by Senate Republicans and Cuomo after de Blasio, a longtime charter foe, took office in 2014. Senate Republicans and Cuomo are supportive of charters and well-funded by charter allies, while de Blasio and state Assembly Democrats are close with and funded by teachers unions, who see largely non-unionized charters as anathema to their survival.

It is not clear why the law was amended to permit specifically 22 reissuances, nor who exactly included the language. It was part of the 72-page end-of-session bill passed on June 25, 2015 that includes a wide variety of measures.

Even if the de Blasio administration stands down from challenging the charter stipulation, the lack of legal clarity means that another entity could. Public school advocates and teachers unions in particular have been consistent opponents of charter school expansion, and have been willing to use legal tools to stop it.

In 2013, the United Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit against the DOE to try to stop it from offering space to charter schools in existing city public schools; the suit was eventually dismissed by a judge. The UFT, which is largely allied with de Blasio, did not return a request for comment about whether it would challenge the agreed upon interpretation of the charter school law.

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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‘Zombie’ Charter School Agreement Rests on Interpretation of Ambiguous Law Tue, 11 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000