Sunday, December 29, 2013

About Fariña: Just One Quick Note

Ednotes says that the NYTimes says that Carnen Fariña will be the next chancellor.

Fun fact: As a retired educator, Ms. Fariña is capped: She's not permitted to make more than a certain amount of money from a public institution per year. It's no big deal, actually. It just means that her appointment will require a waiver from NYSED.

What's worth mentioning is that our new chancellor will be the fifth in a row to require some type of waiver from the state in order to be appointed to the position (following Walcott, Black, Klein and Levy).

But there is one major difference between her and the others. (I've never worked in a system with a real educator in charge. Hmm... I wonder what that's like.)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The New Chancellor (or What To Expect When You're Not Expecting Much)

Well another Friday has come and gone without an announcement as to who the next chancellor will be. Given that we won't have word until next Monday or even Tuesday, I thought it would be a good time to lay out the possible scenarios about how the pick might shape up and how that next pick may or may not bring actual change the DOE.

Scenario 1: "Sellout!" The fear is that the new mayor will sell us all out and pick a true-blue ed reformer as the next chancellor. That's not very likely. While the reformers would love to have sway over the next leadership (a $24 billion budget directed by one man has a tendency of doing that to people), the truth is that no spottings of Ed Reformers in NYC have been seen as of late. The rumors that Washington is pressuring BDB or that the pro-charter lobby in NYS is doing the same, are probably true, but meaningless. New York City has been the epicenter of reform and the reformers would not like to see it let go. But the fact is that NYC also has the largest contingent of activated, angry stakeholders in the nation. Those people vote and they know how to get on TV and in the papers. Now that we'll have an actual politician in office, he'll be inclined to listen to those people a little more and  I can't think of a reformer in the world who would want the job of chancellor without a mayor who will give them carte blanche to do whatever they want. Truth is, a sellout is probably not going to happen.

Scenario 2: "Farina or Cashin Hit the Ground Running"  It's not very likely, but there is the possibility that the next chancellor has known he or she has had the job for several weeks and has been quietly assembling the team that will be put into place when she (or he) goes in. If that's the case, and if the pick is either Cashin or Farina, then they'd be in a position to hit the ground running in January. They each have years worth of relationships and are the only two who would be able to assemble a team rather quickly if they wanted to (stress; if they wanted to. I can't think of any reason why anyone would want to rush into a job like this. Can you?).  If, on the other hand, the next chancellor knows he or she is it and it's not Farina or Cashin? Well, then there will be no hitting the ground running at all. Instead, there will be a slow, months long transition into however the DOE 2.0 will look.

Scenario 3: "Chancellor Shael" If no announcement is made, or if the announcement calls for a deferred start for the new chancellor, then look for DC Shael Suransky to assume control over at Tweed. Most folks don't realize that he was already acting chancellor once in his career. That's right! After Cathie Black departed, Shael was the chancellor for ten whole days, making Dennis Walcott the fourth chancellor (not third) under Michael R. Bloomberg. Suransky might be there for a week, or he might be there for several months as the 'new' chancellor begins to establish him or herself. If he is, don't count on much changing in the near future (Shael once called for standardized exams once every 12 weeks for NYC students!). Instead, pin your hopes on the more distant future.

Scenario 4: "New Chancellor; Old Leadership Staff". This is probably the scenario that will occur: If the new chancellor is announced on Monday or Tuesday, then he or she will probably be going in with a very small group of people loyal to him or herself. As he or she gets set up (it takes time to review policy and to review budgets (which are more important than policy as they dictate actual policy). It also takes time to review and interview staff. All the while, it is the nation's largest school district and it has to be run), the old staff will be humming right along with the old policies -and the old mindset. If the old leadership staff is in place, don't look for any big changes over at Tweed this winter. Whatsmore, if the old leadership staff is in place, and with the political need to a get money from Albany for the pre-K plan, don't look for much (not even the UFT contract) to be done anytime until Spring at the earliest. Even if there will be big changes at Tweed, try to imagine the process of turning a large cargo ship around 180 degrees. It's a slow process that takes a very very long time. Those hoping for drastic changes at Tweed should be warned: It will take an established chancellor years to sift through what the previous leadership team has been up to and perhaps years more to begin making needed changes. Did you expect the networks to immediately go away? Or the lawyers to stop running key parts of the system? Did you expect the $4 billion in consultants to start going to unionized men and women across the city, the way they were before Bloomberg? Or fair funding to just vanish? Fat chance. Replacing the old leadership staff with a new one will take months all by itself. Then the new chancellor can begin thinking about making his or her mark. During that time is budget season for both the city and the state -and it will be de Blasio's first budget. Not much gets done during budget season (Late January to mid May/early June). If there are big changes (and that's actually a big if) they won't come until the next fiscal cycle (after July 1).

Conclusion: "The Plane Will Be Built After We Take Off. Please Sit Down and Enjoy the Ride"  The bottom like here is that the politics since the election (or whatever is to blame for slowing the process of selecting a new chancellor down to glacier like speed) have squandered a chance to really shake things up down there at Tweed. A new, empowered chancellor who was announced early would have been able to make some strong changes by the end of January. But a late announcement chancellor has no such luck. He or she will be able to do little more than assemble a team after the appointment then begin planning -for next September- when any possible shakeups may occur.The de Blasio plane down at Tweed will be built as it's flying. Any impact that will have on clusters, networks, districts or schools -or children- won't be felt for months.

As RBE at Perdido Street School concluded yesterday: Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Open Letter to Our Next Mayor: Hurry Up Already!!

Dear Mayor-elect de Blasio,

Congratulations on your victory last month! You may be interested to know that I was rooting for you since before you were a front-runner. After twelve years of rule by a one-percenter, your campaign of liberal populism inspired me into hoping that New York could have mayor that actually understood the people he governed. Seeing your victory was like a breath of fresh air and I hope you govern as you promised; bearing the other half (or 46%) in mind.
Why? well, because I think you know that New York's poverty problem won't go without New Yorkers coming together to address it! I think you get -really get- that forging one city out of the two we currently have will take an 'all-in' approach from its residents, and I sort of think you're the guy who can convince those residents to go all-in. You look like a uniter and that's just what NYC needs.
And I know you know that our city's problems won't go away until its schools become a place of support for children and until those schools are seen as only one part of the problem of addressing poverty. As you know, those schools have become obsessed with accountability over the past twelve years. That obsession has led our whole system into dissaray. And whenever the public discussion turns to the topic of education, the conversation becomes so polarized that it actually has damaging effects on those who depend on public education the most.

I'm sure you're aware that teachers across the city are demoralized. We are not the problem. And I'm sure you're aware that charter schools have been given too much leeway -for political (as opposed to pedagogical) reasons. They are not the solution. And I'm very sure  you're aware that children are the only reason any of us have a job. Yet, nine times out of ten, they are not the topic of discussion! Can you believe that?
Common sense tells us that there are bad teachers just as there are good (even great) charters and that students needs to be involved in every discussion we have. Applying still more common sense, one could easily see that focusing only on teachers or only on charters -or only on standardized tests- will not bring the discussion back to students.

It will also not bring order to a chaotic school system and the most cantankerous group of stakeholders the country has ever seen. We need to get to a place where we can all talk about the child again. We need to talk about the child -the whole child- and nothing but the child.  But while we need to do that while considering respect for teacher, school leaders, support staff and parents, we also need to be honest and we all need to solutions-driven as we have that discussion.
And yet we can't do that if we don't know who the next school leader is! We need a uniter, so guys like me can feel safe enough to stop being a partisan and start being a participant again. But we need one with sharp elbows. We need a recognized leader, so everyone can accept that the person who is united us actually has their bona fides. But we need one who will listen. We need someone who can challenge the system, so that it can move toward a supportive structure while maintaining its commitment to accountability. But we need one who will make this system's hard working employees feel the reward that civil service's greatest endeavor brings.

But if any of that is going to happen, we need to hit the ground running on 1/1/14!! It's been almost a month and a half since you've won. I'm writing to ask if you would please hurry  and pick a chancellor. That person, whoever he or she is, will need as much time as possible to put a leadership team together and right the ship down there at the Tweed Courthouse.

Do you want a system of support? The person who gets the job will need enough time to get ready. Do you want a teaching core -the finest in the nation- who is treated with respect? The person who gets the job will need enough time to get ready. Do you want to end the polarized atmosphere from among the stakeholders (like me) and give us all a chance to get back on the same page? The person who gets the job will need enough time to get ready. Do you want a local government that will stop thinking about different ways of telling the world we have great schools and start thinking about what those great schools do? The person who gets the job will need enough time to get ready.
In short, Mr. Mayor-elect: Tick-tock! We're all waiting to see exactly what the next page in NYC's history is with regard to its schools. Time is getting short and we'd all like you to hurry it up.
Thanks for reading,

Thursday, December 12, 2013

On Ednotes: A MUST READ From a NYC Principal

How does Norm Scott get a hold of this stuff!!?!?!

This time, he found an email from a NYC principal written to Earnst Logan (his union president), Michael Mulgrew (mine) and the DOE number 2, Shael Suransky.

The email destroys the Danielson based observation process and sets the record straight about what teaching really is.

If my principal didn't rock, I'd ask to work for this guy. He really seems to get it.

Click the link and read over on Ednotes.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

John King Goes One Round With the Straw Man -And Wins!!

I'd like to congratulate NYSED Commissioner John King on finally winning one! He's been getting bruised so bad by New York suburban parents and educators for so long that I was starting to feel sorry for him! Last night's forum in Brooklyn, where he was applauded by people who support the Common Core, must have made him feel much better.
In fact, the supporters who turned out in favor of the Common Core helped King look like he is the champion of equal rights in New York! Now supporting him means supporting the Common Core and with it, equal rights for education in New York. But if you oppose him (like parents all across New York's urban and suburban areas have been for months now), then you must be opposing the Common Core -and that means you oppose equal rights and you oppose equal opportunity. Shame on you.

 King has now juxtaposed himself between angry "white" parents in the suburbs and accepting "black" parents in the city as the official guy who cares and is willing to 'take it on the chin' for what he knows is right. It is the most brilliant political move -and slick playing of the race card- that I can remember seeing in a very long time.

Thing is, is a false argument. Parents in the suburbs never were angry over the Common Core. They were angry over the rollout of the Common Core and of the high stakes tests that King is fast becoming associated with.

You see, the rollout of the Common Core has lead to hastily drafted curricula that do not serve students very well in their present form. Those curricula will need to be improved.  The rollout had also lead to an assumption that students of all grades can just snap their fingers and be CC ready with no phase-in from the school system at all. That's bogus. The standards are phased in so that you cannot easily be successful in grade 5 unless you have been able to demonstrate CC understanding in grades k-4.   Finally, supporters have demonstrated no interest in tweeking or improving the standards at all -even though they don't, in their current form, work for every subject and for every grade. This rigid embrace has lead to some zealous interpretations of the standards that dismisses the notions that they can be improved.

And yet, Mr. King would like to test students along the standards anyway. Although no student currently attending school has had an opportunity to interact with the standards for more than a year, Mr. King has insisted that student promotion (by proxy) and teacher and principal evaluation scores (by statute) be linked to new tests that are based on the Common Core (and which assume the students who take them had been learning at the Common Core level the whole while). These super-charged high stakes tests have united parents from across New York State in protest to Mr. King and his policies. People are angry -so angry that they have decided that their only recourse is to take to the streets.
Yet they're not actually protesting the Common Core themselves. Listen carefully to the activists and you'll hear a clear message: Poor implementation  and terribly destructive tests. The idea of 'Common Core' protests are shorthand for these very real concerns.

But those concerns didn't stop Mr. King from fighting the straw man out in Brooklyn last night! They sent special buses for the E4E  and StudentsFirst crowd. They let them in the room early, then they let them have at it (see here)  They pretended it was all about the Common Core and allowed his supporters -charter school activists, E4E members and others specifically associated with one side of (the polarized) edreform movement- to praise the standards, while ignoring the very things about the Common Core that are making everyone across the state very very angry.  This made it seem as though anyone who appears to be against the Common Core actually wants low expectations for under privileged students.

Great job, Mr. King. You kicked the straw man's a$$ last night. Your sham argument seemed to pay off. Everyone is talking about high expectations. No one is talking about poor tests, poor curriculum or a rollout that is far less than competent.

It's based on a lie. You've driven a wedge between stakeholders. You've pitted race against race and taxpayers against taxpayers. Most importantly, you've set the notion of honest discussion and discourse about education in New York State in a backwards motion -something I thought was only possible in New York City under Michael Bloomberg.

But hey, you got the "W". That's all that counts for you, isn't it?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Accountability vs. Support: Here Is One Example of How Things Need To Change

the second part of my Gotham piece has been delayed by a death in my extended family and my school's QR. It's still forthcoming. In the meantime enjoy my rant.

(Disclaimer: This is not a rant about doing extra work on a weekend. It's a rant about what's wrong with the current NYCDOE (as evidenced by the fact that I'm doing extra work on a weekend). Read on...)

Every six weeks, high school teachers compile their grades for report cards. While the method has changed during the Bloomberg years (we used to fill out bubble sheets. Now we use Excel to complete the grades and email them in. Soon, we'll be doing them online), the basic structure of grades has remained the same. Most of us are expected to score students on a numeric system, rounding each grade up or down to the nearest 5th point (55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, so on and so forth). This is the end of the second marking period of our Fall semester. We received our grade reports and were given the Thanksgiving Weekend to complete them.

We are also responsible to leave comments with each student (we're expected to leave two comments for students who didn't achieve a passing grade). It is important to note that, over the fourteen years that I have (proudly) been teaching in New York City's schools, these comments (and their corresponding numbers that I have been asked to enter) have not changed. It's been one of the few things that have remained exactly the same in this system

 Until now, of course. Someone down at the Tweed Courthouse has decided that now (in the middle of a semester where many teachers are giving up time from their holiday weekend to complete grades and during a year where Danielson and Common Core are in full on implementation) is the time to update the comments.

And it's not just and update. They have completely re-formatted both the comments and the way we find those comments such that every teacher who sits down with them has to spend even more time learning the new codes and finding a brand new set of comments to leave that both satisfy our school's policy and our responsibility to leave effective feedback. Sure, the old comments were a little antiquated and could have used updating. But dropping this on teachers in the middle of a semester, as opposed to September at the beginning of a school year (and dropping it on us during a holiday weekend) makes a tough job even more difficult.

 I've said this before, and I'll say it again: I don't complain for the sake of complaining. If I raise an issue with something here, it's because I believe it points to a larger issue that should be addressed. Dropping something like this on classroom teachers in the middle of a holiday weekend is yet another example of what's wrong with current district leadership: It's a good idea, that has been rolled out in the absolute wrong way. It's a way of keeping everyone -teachers, students and parents- accountable except for the managers who think of the ideas and expect them to be implemented. It fails to gives employees the proper support - which in this case, is simply time and the courtesy of an announcement- that is needed to get the job done.

The ideas of accountability and support are pretty important. For years,  DOE leadership has been obsessed with holding us accountable. Yet, as their critics often charge,  the leaders have consistently failed to consider the right types of support  needed in order to achieve the accountability they seek. For example, current school funding (call "Fair Funding") has prevented extra monies from flowing to schools who serve the students with highest needs. The results of that?  Schools who serve students of higher needs perform worse on indicators like school Progress Reports and they receive lower letter grades. (File this one under 'Duh'. The Queens schools with the lowest Special Education Students (Students With Disabilities) and ESL ("L") populations received the highest grades: A whopping ten received an "A" (two received a "B"). Yet in the schools who serve the highest populations of SWDs and Ls; zero received an "A", only four received a "B" and four were given a "C", (oh, and and one "F"!). Just to underline the point I'm making: These schools are held accountable, yet are not given the proper supports needed to achieve that accountability (and when they fail to reach that accountabiliy, they're closed).

This business of dropping a whole new system of comments (a required task for teachers) right in the middle of a semester -during a holiday weekend and with no announcement at all!- is just another symptom of this approach. They want to hold people accountable without even considering the supports needed to achieve that accountability (in this case, it's new specific comments, without regard to proper time or introduction). It's one of the many many things that need to be changed with regard to the leadership of this district and I hope the new chancellor identifies and addresses it.