A little--actually, a lot--of context is in order here; the key words being according to the department's own measurements. Key measures from this report (a power-point, actually) are highly subjective and misleading, especially some of the data selected for use in this article.
For example, the "overall scores" used to compare charter schools versus district schools (with charters scoring lower) consists of a subjective weighting of four measures: school environment, student performance, student progress and the "additional credit" -- this latter one an especially inchoate category using "exemplary progress" in certain circumstances. By far the "student progress" measure is assigned the most weight of 60 points out of 100, while "student performance" is assigned only 25 points -- fewer than half the progress measure. Both measures are important, but woefully lopsided.
For all those charter schools that by 2009 had students scoring high for several years running, including those operated by Icahn, KIPP, Renaissance and many others, you're not going to find too much student "progress." This weighted measure therefore unfairly downplays high-performing charter schools in the overall DOE score.
Charter Schools are Outperforming District Schools
The Daily News story saw fit to report that City district schools overall scored at 80.5 "points" (as compiled by the DOE) which supposedly outperforms charter schools, scoring at 77.9 -- a whopping 2.6 points below. Considering the skewed weighting the DOE assigns for student progress, these scores are flawed by severely diminishing the impact of already high-performing charters.
When reviewing student performance, the same DOE report shows charters scoring higher than district schools, 20.6 points to 19.3. A more proper and accurate measure of performance must give a greater account for the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state performance standards.
For mathematics, 90.7 percent of NYC charter students in 2009 were proficient on the state tests for grades 3 thru 8 compared to 78.7 percent of City students in those same community school districts with charter schools, i.e., the "host" CSDs. For the state English language arts exam, 77.4 percent of charter school students were proficient compared to 65.5 percent of district students.
In fact, this same DOE's report showed charter schools outperforming district schools on these exams for the last four years -- and scoring higher year-after-year, to boot. This the Daily News article overlooked, or ran out of space to report. For additional perspective, the article failed to remind its readers of the study by Stanford professor, Caroline Hoxby, from last month that also showed higher student performance in the City's charter schools.
Special Education Students
And what of special education students? The percentage gap of 7 points between charter schools and district schools is not at all significant (district schools have 16 percent of their students labeled as "special education" versus charter schools with 9 percent). A variety of factors contribute to this difference, including charter schools having space needs with many using operating funds to pay for facilities; and that charters are schools of choice, i.e., they cannot select a student with special needs over a student who does not.
In addition, urban districts are notorious for assigning too many students to special education, which generates additional federal and state funding. Some of this may be due to students who by middle school get assigned to special education as a result of inadequate literacy and insufficient discipline in elementary grades.
Charters Serve More "At-Risk" Students
This same DOE report, however, also claims that "New York City charter schools serve higher proportions of 'at-risk' student populations than NYC averages." For example, 80 percent of charter school students qualify for federal lunch programs for poverty households and 92 percent of the students are African-American or Latino.
For all the handwringing about special ed students and students with English language needs, charter schools are in fact serving and benefiting a greater proportion of students deemed "at risk" than the City as a whole. As for students with limited English proficiency, by all means the DOE should carefully review the patterns here, which may be isolated to certain areas of the City, with or without charter schools, where there are concentrations of need.
The upshot of all this is that on reliable, straightforward measures, charter schools are outperforming district schools in New York City and in most other districts around the state with charters. The data from the state exams shows this plainly; and recent studies from Stanford University (Hoxby) and the Manhattan Institute (Winters) substantiate this favorable charter comparison.
Yet today, we are presented with a hodgepodge compilation of numbers cherry-picked for an article resulting in a false and misleading comparison between the academic performance of charter and district schools with zero context added. All of this comes less than a week before a Mayoral election, no less, enabling one Patrick Sullivan of the City's education policy board his embellished anti-charter talking-point. What a coincidence.
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1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire or undiminished.
"We're lying to our children."
That no-so-subtle remark came from none other than the United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. He was commenting yesterday on the dumbing down of state-developed standards and assessments, which was documented in a study just released by the Department's National Bureau of Education Statistics.
Articles on this subject appear in today's Wall Street Journal, New York Times and New York Post.
Conspicuously absent in these articles was any comment by the New York State Education Department. New York was one of 15 states that was found to have lowered one or more standards, while it also was one of eight states that raised one or more standards.
It's not reassuring for New York that some states like Oklahoma, Tennessee and Georgia had lower standards.
This national study reviewed standards from 2005 to 2007, so it doesn't include any analysis of any further dumbing down since this period, which is widely believed to be the case in New York. The 2009 results on state exams in math, for example, were 47 and 52 points below proficient levels for 4th and 8th grades, respectively, compared to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), as previously discussed on The Chalkboard.
There is no shame in having "lower" test scores in a state, compared to other states, if it can be shown that the standards are high. Such integrity in testing can better focus classroom instruction to improve those results for students as we prepare them for adulthood when being responsible starts to matter more. What a concept. It's apparently been lacking in too many state education bureaucracies around the country.
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Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch confirmed as much in her remarks at the Annual NY Charter School Conference earlier this month, and in today's New York Post (here).
I commented, in today's Post, that to successfully turn around existing failing schools means to essentially start-over. That is, new operators--be they charter school groups or anyone else--need to have the organizational flexibility to make necessary changes to bring success, rather than be stuck with the same impediments that contributed to the school's failure in the first place.
Furthermore, if charter school operators take over such schools, the charter cap will have to be lifted if these projects are counted as new charter schools, which they invariably should. This is because the Regents cap will be reached, or have come very close, by January. (NOTE: a new charter that ensures serving the same students in the district turnaround school could invoke the existing statutory "at-risk" enrollment preference.)
What if they were conversion charters, which don't count against the cap? A turnaround effort under the rules for a conversion charter will almost certainly fail. Currently, only six charter schools are converted from district schools, and these were successful to begin with, as they have a mission-driven school culture with exceptional leadership and faculty that sought charter autonomy.
School Essentials for Turnaround Success
Specifically, that would begin with establishing a mission-driven, results-oriented school culture focused on achievement and graduation to college. A turnaround project should include a revised, separate teachers contract or, better yet, no union contract at all; a do-over schedule with emphasis on Regents exam coursework; suitable facility space, including control over such space; ability to hire new personnel and hold them accountable; and start-up funding to ensure personnel and supplies are in place, to name a few examples.
In other words, a turnaround project needs to copy-cat the independence and flexibility that new charter schools have to achieve success. Last month, the study on New York City charter school performance by professors Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University and Sonali Murarka of the Wharton School at UPenn, listed the key characteristics common to charter schools that contributed to their higher academic outcomes compared to student performance in district schools. This study was discussed previously on The Chalkboard. These school characteristics leading to success included:
a) a mission emphasizing academic performance as opposed to other goals;
b) a longer school year;
c) greater number of minutes daily devoted to English;
d) a small rewards/small penalties discipline policy; and
e) performance-based teacher pay as opposed to a traditional pay scale based on seniority and credentials.
Challenge for State Ed. Department
In preparing the Race to the Top application, the state Education Department and Governor should not go wobbly. Yet sheepishness is apparent on charter schools at the moment. Going half-witted in a turnaround program by protecting the usual "constituencies" will lead to half-wit results, which means a failure and a waste of everyone's time and money.
Be bold, Chancellor Tisch, and unafraid. That will likely mean knocking over the tightly held systems in these schools slated for turnaround; and necessitate raising the charter cap to exploit the statutory freedoms of new charter schools.
for The Chalkboard
The article also includes discussion by NYSUT president, Richard Iannuzzi, who name-dropped U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Duncan "personally assured [Iannuzzi] New York is entitled to Race to the Top money," the article states.
"Entitled?" That would be a first for the Secretary, who has been publicly saying that "we're going to invest in those states that aren't just talking the talk but that are walking the walk." New York has been doing the former -- well, actually, the state's leaders haven't been doing much talking the talk, either.
At the risk of second-guessing the head of the statewide teachers union, could he have confused some wording here? New York has been informed by the U.S. Department of Education that it is eligible for Race to the Top funding. All that means is that the state can apply on a competitive basis for a grant, which is a far cry from being entitled to one. With the application guidance yet to be released by the Department and no due date for applications from states, it is hard to imagine the Secretary giving verbal assurance that New York was going to get an award; that is, "entitled."
Race to the Top Presumption is Risky
The key issue with Race to the Top funding is New York's competitiveness with other states, which is dubious in light of so many states enacting education reforms in response to this initiative by the Department -- exactly what the Obama Administration envisioned. Why then would the same Administration award a state like New York if it maintains its do-nothing, presumptuous posture? That would undermine the President's purpose for establishing the program in the first place.
Times Union education reporter, Scott Waldman, reminds us in today's story of Mr. Iannuzzi telling him that he (Iannuzzi) was wrong about his initial opposition to charter schools a decade ago, though he still doesn't like how they are funded. As an aside, either the district continues to pay for their own resident students in charters (which are counted in the district's state aid); or the state pays charters directly and removes them from district aid. Either way, NYSUT has to share the education pie in a more competitive public education sector.
If Mr. Iannuzzi has evolved in his views on charters to being more favorable, there is no reason for him to oppose lifting the charter cap. His reasoning that a cap insures "only the best of the best" charter proposals get approved is not the way it has worked in practice. SUNY, the Regents and the NYC Schools Chancellor have approved the "best of the best" by rejecting many charter applications over the years when there was plenty of room remaining under the cap.
Regardless of his private conversations with the Education Secretary, NYSUT should not risk costing New York hundreds of millions in Race to the Top with its penchant for recoilng at having to raise the charter cap. Larger issues are at stake. School districts with NYSUT members could use that federal money, too, especially with state education funding cuts looming.
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Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Institute and author of the study, wrote an op-ed in today's New York Post, which can be found here. This study follows another breakthrough study on New York City charter schools released last month that was co-authored by Stanford University Professor Caroline Hoxby. The study compared the test scores between charter students with district students who sought admission to charters but were not selected through the lottery.
Charter schools are on the threshold of reaching the existing statutory cap and need other reasonable changes to the law to enable them to operate even more effectively for students. These studies should provide reassurance to policymakers that New York is way beyond the risk or experimental stage of chartering. They are a success for students in New York and have helped nearby district schools improve their overall scores as well.
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Gov. Paterson has been supportive of charter schools, but lately has taken a more wait-and-see approach on the cap lift. Hopefully, this is a matter of timing as he wants action first on his mid-year deficit reduction proposals. The cap on the number of Regents and NYC Chancellor-approved charters will be reached by January, or be very close to it, as more than a dozen charter applications are likely to be approved by then. SUNY has more room under its cap. (NOTE: The two statewide charter authorizers, SUNY and the Regents, are each capped at 100 charters.)
Charter advocates, including The Chalkboard, have been arguing that the state also should lift the cap now to compete for federal Race to the Top funds, especially since President Obama has called for states to do so and several have followed through on his request.
As for Speaker Silver, he's not one to act favorably on charters without consensus from the other players, including the Governor, the Senate, and enough of his own members in the Assembly Majority Conference. He's been around too long to get in front of an issue like this until he sees enough others demanding it, especially with historic union opposition to the issue. Certainly, the Speaker has been willing to compromise on charter schools when the time comes.
Manhattan Institute Breakthrough Study
In making the case in favor of charter schools, the Daily News editorial cites a just released study by Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute (http://www.manhattan-institute.org/) that found that the more district schools in New York City lost in enrollment to charter schools, the better those district schools performed on the state English exam; that is, there's been a reverse "creaming." In other words, if a district school lost a significant number of students to charter schools, it followed that its scores on reading noticeably improved.
Considering charter schools have, on average, attracted a greater percentage of low-income students that generally do more poorly on state exams, it stands to reason that the district schools from which they departed would improve their overall scores. Now, the Manhattan Institute study has documented such findings.
The objective of charter schools, first and foremost, has been to improve student learning and achievement for those students who attend their school. The statutory objectives in the Charter Schools Act make this clear. It's never been about improving the district, or spurring innovation on a district-wide basis, which sometimes has been a straw-man criticism of charter opponents.
The findings by Winters study for the Manhattan Institute are significant in that the presence of charters has indeed had a positive effect on district test scores, at least for those schools that had enough of a student exodus to charters. State policymakers take note.
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Dues from 600,000 union members buys a lot of air time.
NYSUT released a statement on Tuesday (here) calling on the Legislature to "reject damaging education cuts." NYSUT didn't stop there. The organization outlined other areas that should be targeted, including tapping the state's rainy day fund of $1.3 billion; eliminating the "failed" Empire Zone program for $600 million; imposing taxes on soda and other "sugary" drinks, and grocery bags, supposedly worth $1.34 billion; and reducing outsourcing services from consultants to save more than $700 million.
Taxing soda and grocery bags would not be my way of trying to get another billion dollars, and eliminating consultant hiring is a union talking point with mostly phantom savings. But credit NYSUT for coming up with ideas that gores another sector of state government, especially these so-called Empire Zones, which have been around forever and accomplished little that I can discern.
The last time the state whacked school districts mid-way through a school year was exactly 19 years ago in 1990-91. School districts are annually appropriated a level of state aid and they budget accordingly, including levying a property tax rate. For the state to come along a few months later and renege is bad faith and can wreck havoc on district operations.
One can argue the state appropriated too much based on unrealistic revenue assumptions and a sour economy. But it promised the money and the districts responded as they should have. To renege midway through the school year is wrong and NYSUT and other groups are right in opposing it. That's why its been nearly 20 years since the last time this occurred.
Charter Schools Already Cut
Charter schools know this feeling. The state formula for charters had been untouched for a decade. It may not be a fair formula for charters since it doesn't provide facilities funding, but it is based on a school district's operational spending and was predictable. As school districts spent more, charter schools were due more until the Governor and Legislature accepted NYSUT's recommendation to freeze this formula. This, despite the fact that school districts got more aid this year than last year thanks to federal Stimulus funding. The result is that charter schools lost $50 million.
Cutting school aid affects district spending and therefore will mean less for charter schools, too. That is bad enough. It was doubly unfair to also freeze charter funding this year. Charter school funding should remain tied to what districts spend from all revenue sources. As such, the Governor's school aid cut should be opposed, as NYSUT and others are doing.
Still, NYSUT should avoid its overheated rhetoric that risks discrediting the argument, e.g., "the governor attempts to dismantle education." Is that really necessary? A strong enough case can be made without embellishing. Governor Paterson is hardly "dismantling" education considering state aid to districts is nearly $22 billion. But his proposal is disruptive to school districts who are operating on annual budgets based on the enacted state budget.
Race to the Top Funds, Anyone?
The Legislature is conducting hearings around the state on the Governor's proposed mid-year budget cuts and NYSUT's ad campaign is one of many pressure points they will feel to oppose the Governor.
One important way to alleviate budget cutting now, or in the near-term, is for the state to aggressively enact education reforms to improve our chances for potentially hundreds of millions in federal Race to the Top funds, which could make up the Governor's proposed aid reduction. So far, Governor Paterson is not viewing it this way. This do-nothing approach is inexplicable.
Improvements to the charter school statute, particularly removing the cap on the number of charters, is being opposed by NYSUT. The teachers union should drop this counterproductive position and focus on the the larger interest of winning federal education funds for the state, especially since this funding could offset the education cuts its fighting against. That would be good for charter schools and school districts, as both sectors have dues-paying members of NYSUT.
for The Chalkboard
The editorial acknowledges that the bill needs more sponsors to have any hope for enactment and praises Hoyt for his "worthwhile effort" that "deserve[s] serious debate."
The Hoyt bill includes provisions to remove the cap on charters, immediately repeal the ban on using student data for tenure decisions, extend the school year to 200 days and many other reform measures.
This bill provides exactly the menu of reforms which the state's leadership, beginning with Governor Paterson and Education Commissioner Steiner, should consider advancing.
So far, the Governor is not interested "at this time," as his spokesperson said yesterday; and Steiner's tenure as Commissioner is not yet a month old. Assemblyman Hoyt has begun the important discussion to reform state education policy which will continue in the months ahead. It will take leadership from high-ranking officials to make any of it reality. Stay tuned.
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- President Barack Obama, March 10, 2009
"Legislative changes are currently not needed."
- Spokesperson for Gov. David Paterson, Oct. 26. 2009
Last March, the President of the United States outlined, in detail, his vision for states to make education reform changes to "race to the top," as he put it. Included in the just-signed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a $4-plus billion pot of money to be used as an incentive fund for states to change their laws to reflect the President's agenda for education reform. States, not the federal government, are the places that most affect education policy. Knowing this, the Obama Administration created this competitive Race to the Top fund to spur them to change.
Many states have responded favorably to the President by amending their laws, including raising their caps on the number of charter schools. New York is not among them and has no plans to do so, according to Governor Paterson's office, which made that clear yesterday to the New York Post (here).
This is the same Governor, incidentally, who is warning of the state running out of cash to pay its bills. Me thinks New York could use some of that Race to the Top money -- ASAP -- and it shouldn't risk losing out to other states who are taking this program way more seriously. Moreover, New York officials continue to confuse the state's eligibility for applying to the feds, with its competitiveness for a grant award. New York may be eligible, but its competitive standing is dubious.
Politics at Work?
Since sound educational policy and fiscal facts do not seem to be influencing New York's do-nothing approach, I proffer three possibilities with the common denominator of politics at work:
1) Gov. Paterson is not interested in responding to, nor doing the bidding of, President Obama, the man who ostentatiously "dissed" him when his unnamed political operatives made clear their preference is for Paterson not to run for election next year. Instead, the President's preference was for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to run for Governor. One diss deserves another, perhaps.
2) Gov. Paterson is courting the powerful state teacher unions, who do not like charter schools. Since the Governor is trying to cut state school aid, appeasing the unions in other areas may make sense in his mind. This theory was openly speculated upon by Bronx Democratic Assemblyman, Michael Benjamin: "I think he's running for re-election. He doesn't want to do anything that would jeopardize [teacher union] support -- and changing the current state law to make the state far more open to the advancement of charter schools would anger NYSUT and the UFT." It's rare when an elected official says the obvious regarding interest group politics. However, the Governor should remember that the state teachers unions last year endorsed candidate Obama's Democratic primary opponent.
3) The fix is in with the feds. It could be that New York's sizable congressional delegation, headed by the powerful U.S. Senator, Chuck Schumer, will see to it that New York gets its share of Race to the Top funds, no matter what. While President Obama doesn't have to try to win New York state in a re-election (he'll have it anyway), he does need Sen. Schumer, who I predict will be the next Senate Majority Leader sooner rather than later. The risk in relying on this supposed fail-safe is there is no sign the U.S. Department of Education has diluted its program standards and doing so would be an embarrassing cave-in. See also possibility #1: the President may not be interested in helping the Governor politically with a grant, which is all the more reason for New York to compete on the merits.
Politics is an art, not a science. So any of these three factors could be in play, or none of them. Gov. Paterson's non-action on the charter cap and other education reforms could be one of simple timing; that is, he wants to focus on dealing with the state's budget deficit now and propose reforms later, in January. I hope that much is true. In addition, he's getting bad advice from the state Education Department, which also is in no hurry to advocate for a charter cap lift.
The Education Department is the last place the Governor should be heeding. It's not accountable to him and doesn't care about him or any other Governor. Rather, the Department reports to the Board of Regents, who are appointed by the Legislature, not the Governor. The wrinkle, however, is this: the Governor ultimately must sign off on the state's Race to the Top application, so he's actually in the driver's seat--if he wants to be--instead of State Ed.
To make charter schools or any education reform viable requires executive leadership. We are getting that from President Obama. We also got such from Governor Paterson's two immediate predecessors who bucked the establishment and respectively made charter schools a reality and doubled the cap. He should follow their example of leadership in this area. There is still time, but it's running out.
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Gov taking a pass on schools
The extent to which the profession changes can be influenced by Tisch herself: she went on to say that the state Education Department is looking to "redesign teacher certification," as The Chalkboard previously (reported).
What form the Department's plan for teacher preparation and certification will take remains to be seen. But the federal government appears to be on this train. U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, today is speaking at Teachers College at Columbia University and is calling for "revolutionary change" in teacher preparation programs.
For starters, Duncan is critical of current ed school programs for not adequately training teachers to use test score data to drive instruction and for managing the classroom, particularly for high-needs students. The Associated Press reports today from an advanced copy of the Duncan speech.
Commissioner David Steiner is a co-founder of Teacher U at Hunter College where he was Dean of the School of Education. As Dean, Steiner described ed schools as having a disconnect to the classroom: "[F]or so long there's been a divide between the schools of education and the work that teachers do in the classroom." Given the Commissioner's background, I'm optimistic the state Education Department will propose something meaningful to reform teacher preparation and certification.
Teacher U was established to prepare teachers to meet the very shortcomings described by Secretary Duncan so that students would be better served. Not surprisingly, it was a partnership with charter school organizations, KIPP, Uncommon Schools and Achievement First, that joined with Hunter College. As charter school operators, they must improve student academic outcomes and need an expanding pool of teachers that are better trained and result-oriented to accomplish this.
What is clear so far is that schools of education are headed for a makeover. But it shouldn't stop there. Teacher certification itself should be relaxed to allow for more professionals to become teachers without having to be traditionally certified, even if ed schools do (someday) improve by the force of new state and federal policy.
Charter schools in New York, for example, can hire a limited number of teachers--too few, in my opinion--with at least one of the qualifications in lieu of certification, including: having at least three years of classroom teaching experience; tenured or tenure track college faculty; two years of satisfactory experience with the Teach for America program; or individuals who possess "exceptional business, professional, artistic, athletic, or military experience."
School districts should have this same flexibility to hire non-certified teachers with one of these alternative credentials , except it shouldn't be limited to the lesser of 30 percent of the teaching staff or five teachers in a school. These thresholds should be substantially raised for all public schools--charter and district.
Making teacher certification more flexible by providing alternatives is a great place to start for the state Education Department's "regulatory audit" mentioned last weekend by Chancellor Tisch to "free schools to innovate."
We should be able to trust superintendents and principals to employ qualified individuals to teach with alternative certification and be judged by their results rather than having to trust a piece of paper from most ed schools that the state ed commissioner and now education secretary have discredited.
for The Chalkboard
This matters because adopting these and other proposed measures by Hoyt would greatly enhance New York's competitive position for federal Race to the Top funds, which could amount to hundreds of millions of new dollars for the state. In fact, the bill contains numerous provisions that parallel President Obama's education agenda for states.
Governor Paterson, last week, just proposed $5 billion in budget reductions over the next two years, including nearly half a billion dollars in school aid cuts this year. He's called for the state legislature to return later this month to act on his proposals. Yet, a spokesman for him has taken no position on the Hoyt legislation, though he told the Assemblyman privately to "go for it." Swell.
It's one thing not to have a position on the bill, but usually gubernatorial spokesmen will tell the press on a new proposal, "we're studying it," which would have been a more apt response, especially if he's already been encouraging Hoyt to put this together.
It's significant how seriously many states are taking this Race to the Top competition. New York is not one of them. Assemblyman Hoyt is pointing the way. Now, the legislature plans to return to session shortly. New York has both a financial crisis and a education crisis, judging by the NAEP scores discrediting New York's test results. The time to act is coalescing.
The Governor needs to be a little bolder and get behind this Hoyt measure --now. What reason remains for him to not?
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This was Merryl Tisch's first appearance at the charter conference. She said many positive things about charter schools and urged them to continue their strong academic record. Phillips raised the issue of New York's competitiveness to secure federal Race to the Top funding and the need to improve the charter law. Several other states have raised their charter cap, while New York has stood still -- and even went backwards with this year's funding freeze.
The Chancellor responded by saying "everything is on the table" as far as making improvements to the charter law, including raising the cap on the number of charters, soon to be exhausted on the Regents side. She also said she was concerned that charter school operators and representatives were uninterested in doing school "turnarounds" as part of a plan for the state's Race to the Top application as several low-performing high schools are expected to be designated by the state Education Department for this purpose.
While not speaking for the charter school movement on this issue, I believe any attempt at a high school turnaround effort, by a charter school or any new operator, should be on the minimal condition that new management be able to hire new staff and be exempt from the district's union contracts; in other words, create a new charter school with perhaps a special admission preference for students from the "turnaround" school (and which will necessitate a cap lift). The ability to manage changes without such encumbrances will make a positive turnaround more achievable.
Still Looking to Clip SUNY's Wings?
Chancellor Tisch also took questions from the conference attendees. First up was Roxanne Ashley, the head of the highly successful Roosevelt Charter School on Long Island, which was approved by SUNY in 2000 over the Regents' objection. Ms. Ashley was concerned about the Chancellor's support for the Regents having sole control over chartering. Tisch subtley demurred.
Last spring, shortly after being elected Chancellor by the Regents, Tisch came out in favor of legislation to remove SUNY's ability to approve charters on its own and require Regents' approval for all SUNY-approved charters. This bill provoked visceral opposition in the charter community and critical editorials. Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, the sponsor of this bill in the state Senate, soon withdrew her support.
Still, Chancellor Tisch gave strong indication she remains supportive of clipping SUNY's chartering autonomy by having the Regents control chartering. For example, she voiced concern about SUNY's recent approval, over the objection of the Regents, of what she described as a pre-kindergarten program at one of the Harlem Success Academies operated by Eva Moskowitz. Though Tisch favors charters serving pre-k students, she said the law doesn't allow it. SUNY, on the other hand, approved it as a kindergarten program for 4-year-olds, which allowed under state Education law. With all due respect to Chancellor Tisch, two charter authorizers are better than one.
A New State Education Department in the Works
Aside from the simmering disagreement on charter authorizing, Chancellor Tisch was encouraging and impressive at the conference luncheon, especially on the new direction at the state Education Department -- beginning with the Regents superb appointment of Commissioner David Steiner and his Senior Deputy, John King (himself a former charter school operator).
She has directed this new team to conduct a comprehensive "regulatory audit" of the Department's requirements on all public schools to free them up to innovate, which is desperately needed and welcome. She also touched on providing a quicker, more streamlined review of charter proposals. More boldly, she is interested in redesigning teacher certification. Commissioner Steiner has a reform track record in this area from when he was Dean of the Education School at Hunter College.
The charter "conversation" with Chancellor Tisch took a welcome step forward on Saturday. No doubt it will continue.
for The Chalkboard
The New York Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability (NYFERA) commented on the study (here). NYFERA's Director of Research & Communications, Jason Brooks, described the NAEP results as a "red flag" and that New York schools are doing a "poor job [in] preparing students to high academic standards."
That's not what state education officials were saying last spring when the state test scores were released. Former Education Commissioner, Rick Mills, preparing for retirement, said at the time: "as students progressed through the grades, their math scores progressed steadily." Then, incredibly, Mills alluded to the dubious soundness of the state tests by saying, "As we prepare to develop the next set of tests for 2010, it's probably time to raise the bar again."
Raise the bar again? Why is that, Rick? Did ya lower it on the way out? Judging by the NAEP results, it sure looks that way.
Test Score Discrepancy: NAEP v. NYS Exams
What is so alarming is the sizable gap between NAEP math scores for 8th grade compared to 8th grade results on the state's math exam. NAEP results showed nearly two-thirds of 8th grade students failed to achieve proficiency, as only 34 percent scored proficient. By contrast, 86 percent of 8th grade students in New York achieved proficient (level 3 or 4) on the state's math exam -- a gap of 52 percentage points!
Fourth grade results show a proficiency gap of 47 points between NAEP results, with 40 percent proficient; compared to the state's 4th grade math exam, with 87 percent proficient. Ouch.
Something is wrong here, and that's not all.
The racial achievement gap is on full display with these NAEP results and it appears to be getting worse rather than narrowing. The 2009 results showed at least a 25-point gap between white students compared to African-American and Latino students.
New State Education Leadership
Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Commissioner David Steiner are not unaware of this credibility problem with New York's tests. Nor is the Obama Administration, which is encouraging states to adopt world class standards as part of its Race to the Top competition for federal grants. President Obama said that states ought "to stop low-balling expectations for our kids" that results in gaps in test scores among students with similar knowledge.
Indications are that Tisch and Steiner will confront this problem head on. The evidence more than ever suggests that the previous Education Commissioner, Rick Mills, had the Department dumb-down the state tests so that students would score higher as a sign of accomplishment as he prepared to ride off into the sunset after 14 years at the helm. If this is true, it's political selfishness on his part or someone's part. Even worse, it's the moral equivalent of cheating on the test. What happens to a child who cheats on a test? They cheat themselves first and foremost. In this case, the students were being cheated by the government test designers.
It's time to start over, raise the bar, and keep it there. Watch for state test results to come crashing down to earth.
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You don't go to the press. Bad career move.
It appears that is just what Ryan Marie Roberts did last week. Ms. Roberts, a 24-year-old middle school teacher at the Achievement Academy Charter School, got fired. This is not an unusual occurrence--getting canned--unless you're in public education. If a run-of-the-mill insurance broker or desk clerk gets fired, it's not news. A teacher? That's news, especially if you shovel a juicy-sounding story like "secret" taping.
Yes, Ms. Roberts' classroom was being taped by the school, except it wasn't a secret, as Roberts herself acknowledged to the Times Union last week (here). The taping of teachers was planned in August for the upcoming school year, and the school did so openly for the last several weeks.
A second teacher at the school, Carol Connelly, last week quit over the taping and walked out. Her apparent disgust was because she claimed the students told her they "felt violated" over the taping. Maybe Ms. Connelly should have told her students at the outset of the videotaping--assuming they didn't know--since she also knew it was occurring. Quitting your job because the students supposedly expressed unhappiness is pretty thin.
Videotaping as Professional Development
The purpose of the classroom taping is to help teachers improve their performance as part of professional development training. I've seen this done to instruct teachers by reviewing how they taught lessons and how they handled student behavior. I've also seen taping of exceptional teachers for use to instruct other faculty.
The New York Charter Schools Annual Conference, for example, has included videotape of teachers in the classroom for attendees to learn from and discuss.
State Education Commissioner, David Steiner, "strongly endorses the use of video as part of an open, collaborative process to help teachers strengthen their skills," a spokesman at the Education Department told the TU. Steiner, in fact, instituted just such a program at Hunter College in New York City when he was Dean of the Education School.
This is exactly what was going on at Achievement Academy.
It's a wonder videotaping in schools is not more ubiquitous. Cameras in schools and work sites are more common, often for security purposes. But, as any professional athlete will tell you, watching yourself or others on tape is invaluable to improve performance. The same can be said of teachers in class.
Except for the Times Union, which published a fairly balanced story from both sides, the Albany-area media was all over this nefarious "secret taping" of classrooms when it was neither.
Former teachers, Roberts and Connelly, hopefully will find gainful employment somewhere in this economy. Problem for them may be, by going public with their travails about something legitimate that they knew was occurring, it's not the school they hurt.
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The upshot of Mr. Iannuzzi's presentation yesterday is: there's too many charter schools, I don't want any more, but if they show up I want their money!
Significantly, Iannuzzi confirms that NYSUT is "aggressively seeking to unionize teachers" in the state's charter schools, even though he thinks there are too many (there are 140, not 130 as the article states). I remarked that in doing so, NYSUT has handed out highly deceptive campaign literature in charter school parking lots in Buffalo that provides half-baked information about its deliverables for teachers.
Charter school teachers should understand all the ramifications of unionizing before deciding to do so. That free choice should be respected and remain intact without the legislature mandating it as it does for district employees.
During an attempt to organize, teachers should examine both sides of the issue with both parties rather than just the union's side. Unionizing, for example, cannot protect you from losing your job if a charter school fails to win renewal. High student academic performance is the best job security for teachers and vapid union promises or stultifying contract provisions at variance with that must be avoided. Unfortunately, state law is stacked in favor of the union getting its message out while it handcuffs employers from countering those arguments in good faith. It's a joke.
Teachers also must ask the question, is NYSUT really working for me? Many union charter teachers were stunned to learn that NYSUT lobbied successfully to get the state legislature to cut 2009-10 school year funding for charters - and their dues subsidized this very effort. In fact, NYSUT has a financial interest in unionizing - it generates more money in their coffers -- yet charter schools and their faculty (union and non-union, alike) have $50 million less this year thanks to NYSUT's influence with lawmakers.
For many years I've watched NYSUT's lobbying in the state Capitol. It's never been in favor of charter schools. I hope that changes, but it's unlikely for the simple reason that charters are competition for district schools where most of NYSUT's members work. They will choose their interests in Albany over charters every time, with the most glaring example being the charter funding cut that districts were allowed to keep.
A test for NYSUT will be this: what will they do about proposed legislation to benefit charters that has no effect on a union's interest? So far, the signs are not encouraging on that front but I want to be open-minded and optimistic that a new day will dawn on this front.
Richard Iannuzzi also unleashes the classic anti-charter school strawman, saying NYSUT wants no part of those charter schools with "an anti-labor, anti-union ideology." Please. Got any names? An "anti-labor" charter school won't be opened very long since they wouldn't have anyone working there.
Iannuzzi takes this tact as his way of attacking all charter schools in general, simply because most are not dues-paying members of his organization. The reality is teachers have a pretty good arrangement already without having to pay the union to get them what they already have on their own.
"Saturation" of What?
Finally, Iannuzzi continues harping on the so-called "over-saturation" of charter schools in Buffalo, same as he does in Albany. The issue is not too many charter schools in either place; rather, its "over-saturation" of low-performing district schools that should close down, especially with so many families having pulled their children and enrolled them in charters.
Would Iannuzzi rather have fewer charters in order to keep more low-performing district schools? That is precisely the implication of what he's saying since his members work in those district schools. This isn't complicated.
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New York actually has two caps: one for the State University-approved charters, and the other for Regents-approved charters, which includes all those from school districts. So, the state limit of 200 charter schools (not counting district school conversions) consists of two caps of 100 each for SUNY and the Regents.
NYC Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, has been approving about a dozen or more charter schools each year bringing us to the point of reaching the Regents cap by this January. SUNY still has 19 charters remaining to issue.
Thus, I write today in the Post that the new state Education Commissioner, Dr. David Steiner, spoke prematurely last week in saying there was plenty of room under the cap and therefore no need for the state legislature to rush toward lifting it.
Commissioner Steiner is a superb appointment to this position, as The Chalkboard has written. He has a genuinely reformist background, including extensive involvement with New York's charter schools as Dean of Hunter College's School of Education. With the enormous weight of statewide education policy now on his shoulders, the charter cap is esoteric enough to miss the actual count, especially when there is a myriad of ways to tabulate the number of charter schools. I felt it was important to clarify the charter cap issue today, and I hope that has been achieved.
New York is very fortunate to have this caliber of an education leader as commissioner, as both the charter and district public schools have an atypical leader rather than the conventional type that rises through the ranks. That will make things very interesting, indeed, which a good thing for New York's students.
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The Mayor wants to see the statutory charter cap raised, the schools chancellor to approve new charter schools independently, and added facilities money in the city's capital plan along with private sector investment. He envisions one hundred more charter schools opening in the next four years in the city--double the current number--to meet the current demand of 40,000 students on charter waiting lists.
The Mayor's enthusiasm for charter schools is welcome and encouraging. The concern I raised in today's New York Daily News is that facilities will be the biggest hindrance to the Mayor's vision of more charter schools, more so than the charter cap (though that also is a concern in light of the less than alacritous support expressed by the just sworn-in state education commissioner, David Steiner). Facilities already are a huge challenge for the City's charter schools, and Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have done a tremendous job in allowing available district-own space to be used by them. About two-thirds of the city's charter schools are housed in district buildings.
Similar concerns on facilities were raised by Joe Williams, head of the Democrats for Education Reform, and Eva Moskowitz, former chairperson of the city council's education committee and now head of the Success Charter Network, which operates four charter schools in Harlem.
In addition to lifting the charter cap, a facilities funding stream from the state is essential to help charter schools meet their space needs. This will reduce charters' dependence on district space, and tensions with district schools. Charters that continue in such space can pay real money for a long-term lease - effectively transmitting additional state aid to the city's education coffers.
Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) has introduced legislation (A.7518) to provide facilities aid to charter schools, which also will largely eliminate the funding inequity--a decade-long injustice--that charters have with district schools which get such building aid.
That's the ticket; and the Mayor and charter community should continue to raise facilities concerns and support Assemblyman Lopez' bill. Moreover, this funding gap, and the fast-approaching charter cap will severely diminish New York's chances for federal Race-to-the-Top funding as long as that program maintains its integrity and President Obama's vision.
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The Albany City School District is eliminating seven (7), pronounced "sev-en," teaching positions!
This bonfire of a story is all over the Albany regional media, on today's tv (channel 10) and radio news; and the largest daily, yesterday's Times Union, whose original reporting clearly drove the t.v. and radio news to repeat it. [Radio and tv should pray for the survival of newsprint journalism, but we digress.]
Let's stipulate that the TU story went somewhat beyond the seven positions; that it also discussed the need stated by the Albany School District to finally consolidate classes in several buildings due to the ongoing exodus of students to charter schools. Interestingly, however, district officials are reportedly surprised at the large one-year decline in district enrollment of 300 students and are investigating "other explanations than just charter schools." Like, maybe people are moving out, as they have for decades from Albany and New York State? Is the dropout rate increasing? Or, perhaps former Superintendent of Schools, Eva Joseph, has lured students to her new perch at the Academy of the Holy Names?
What also makes all these news stories overwrought is that no one is losing their jobs!
The seven teachers will be reassigned and offered other positions in the district. In fact, for years the district has eliminated dozens of teaching positions that already were vacant since the lower enrollment required no need to back-fill them. What's different today is that seven warm bodies are involved, less than 1 percent of the staff positions in the district; and still none are getting a pink slip.
I cannot recall a single example of a layoff occurring in the Albany School District, yet the enrollment decline is down to 7,700, according the TU story. Little wonder, considering the district is running an undesignated surplus this year of $4.3 million. Layoffs are required to save money, except the district doesn't need it since it has plenty stashed away. Regardless, if positions aren't needed for lack of students, they should be axed.
The upshot of all this is that removing seven teachers from one job to another is hardly news, especially under the economic conditions of the last year to which the public sector has been immune. In fact, the real news is that it's been boom times in the local education market, especially for teachers.
Even better, there are at least 200 teaching positions in the nine charter schools currently operating with more to be added in the next several years as three new charters will be opening and some existing charters are scheduled to add grade levels. If teachers really ever hit the streets in Albany, there are plenty of employment opportunities for capable faculty who should be knocking on charter school doors since so many of the students preceded them.
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Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.