2017 New York State Public School Testing Season

It’s New York State testing season and as this Times article notes, some schools are under tremendous pressure to do well. Schools in Mayor de Blasio’s Renewal Program, an effort that works to provide consistently and critically underperforming schools with additional social, mental, and academic support (as opposed to closing them), will no doubt be under a microscope. The schools in the program are in their last  year but have shown “mixed results” thus far. The Education Department does not know what it will do with schools that do not “pass” the three-year program. 

As I was reading, I wondered what metrics they will use to determine successful, detrimental and eveything-in-between aspects of the program. What impact does having added social support and how can you slice and dice different answers to that question. Perhaps students are still underperforming but there seems  correlation with a particular health program that shows suspension rates gave gone down. I worry that most people will focus academic performance so much that it will be hard to see these other forms of “wins”. The article may have the same concern and cites Norman Futcher at the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools to point out weaknesses as a test-heavy data point for reasons to close schools . Futcher honestly and realistically notes that real test gains, with the history of schools in the Renewal program, won’t be realized immediately. Fair enough. It’s not uncommon for seventh grade teachers, for example, to inherit students who are several grades below their reading and math levels. At that point, we are expecting some teachers to fix years worth of the system’s neglect. Students are promoted to the next level when they have hardly adequately grasped…makes no sense. As I mentioned earlier this year, in addtion to the changes New York City is making to supply  support, it should work on changing the system for students in the earlier grades. Part of the biggest issues is that the system tries to rush an “fix failing schools ” too late. The schools are not the problem per se. The students who are forced to do work they are not prepared to do (at no fault of their own) need help sooner rather than later. Period.

Detroit Press Exposes Great Example of Why DeVos is About Money

​Back in September 2016, Stephen Henderson, a columnist at the Detroit Free Press, wrote a piece about how Betsy DeVos and her family used their wealth to influence a vote on whether Detroit charter schools should be held to the same accountability standards as Detroit public schools.

More specifically, DeVos and her family “donated” more than $1.45 million dollars to the Michigan Republican Party in the two months following the rejection of the bill, including a $475,000 “donation” made in one day. I placed words stemming from the verb “to donate” in quotes because this action has a positive connotation that implies some level of selflessness. DeVos, having never attended or continuously worked with the public school system and having been on the financial receiving end of failing charter schools and outrageous student loan programs, wants to selfishly and narrow-mindedly destroy the public school system. Her donations are in fact a request to buy votes in favor or against education policy issues that will impact her bottom line. 

I wanted to find something in her history that said,  “I’m actively engaging in working with the public school system to identify and rectify what is wrong with this system. Equally, I am working with the charter school/voucher program sector to identify severe flaws.”…Unfortunately, I learned that it is true: she very much appears to believe vouchers and the expansion of all types of charters, especially for-profit and this that continuously fail students, are the only changes that should be made.  She hardly acknowledges the charters that score below standards but are still allowed to open more schools. She won’t acknowledge that Charters and vouchers are not the answer to our troubled public school system. Instead, she continues to ignore it.

After Henderson points out the blatant corruption her family’s partakes in, DeVos jumps on the defense, writing this deaf piece that disregards Henderson’s points about her family wielding their money to get what they want and how what they want is evidently just as harmful, if not more harmful, than the public school system we have now. Just because DeVos represents change, doesn’t mean it’s for the better. 

Why Senator Cassidy Took DeVos’ Hearing for a Joke

One of the most infuriating moments from Betsy DeVos’ hearing is republican Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy’s line of questioning. He asked exceptionally vague questions with the expectation that DeVos’ answers were as equally vague. The main point of any public nominee hearing is for the public to get a taste of what a nominee is capable of through thoughtful and prudent questions from senators.

This Washington Post article explains why Cassidy didn’t care to ask a  more serious, challenging, and engaged set of questions that can provide his constituents in Louisiana with beneficial insight into the capabilities of the potential head of the federal Department of Education. We need to realize that the HELP Committee is voting on behalf of their states and the United States as a whole. So the committee’s questions should elicit and demand more than surface level answers from DeVos. Even if Senator Cassidy knew he was going to vote for her because his education policy initiatives align with DeVos’, the hearing wasn’t about what Cassidy wanted; it was for the benefit of the tens of millions of people who have never heard of DeVos and who don’t know or understand her initiatives. So what’s Cassidy’s issue?  Aside from taking a brief moment to ask DeVos about the highly important and laudable topic  of dyslexia and disability protections, why did he waste his precious, public five minutes of conversation with DeVos that illlustrated only DeVos’ ability to say yes or no to very broad questions? 

Senator Bernie Sanders later points out the DeVos and her family have donated more than $200 million to members of the Republican Party who push the same philosophies as the DeVos’. With that said, it’s no surprise that Cassidy, spreading charter schools and vouchers wherever possible in Louisiana (but especially in New Orleans), received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from DeVos or her family members in the last three years. 4 out of the other 12 republican senators on the HELP Committee are in a similar position. Why this isn’t a conflict of interest is beyond me. 

In addition to all democrats voting against DeVos, we need three republicans to vote against her as well. Hopefully, republicans will take her poor performance, as noted in my last post, when voting tomorrow.

DeVos Proves to be Incompetent During Hearing

Billionaire Besty DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, looked like a fool at her confirmation hearing last week. At first, I felt embarrassed and tried to give her the benefit of the doubt–maybe she was nervous. But I resigned that sentiment, as it became obvious that she is blatantly an inexperienced, unfit, visionless, uninformed, and one track minded puppet.

If we learned anything from DeVos’ hearing it’s that she does want to act on two initiatives as Trump’s Secretary of Education: decentralize federal education and privatize our public education system. DeVos seems to believe that most education policy issues should be left to the states, including whether guns should or shouldn’t be in schools. She continuously deferred responsibility to the states. This deferral of responsibility seems to act as both a way for DeVos to let Americans know that she plans on rolling back the federal government’s role in education while allowing her to avoid providing substantive answers that demonstrate her knowledge (or lack thereof) of education policy. Despite her efforts to conceal her ineptitude, senators Warren, Sanders, Murray and Kaine, to name a few, asked questions that revealed how little she knows outside the realm of right-winged charter and  voucher initiatives.

So although Americans can now say that while we know DeVos is likely to try to shed some of the current federal policies currently in place to protect students, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, we dont know much outside of that. DeVos did not engage in conversations that clearly illustrated some of her goals or helped America better understand how she would execute a single initiative. Most answers were so vague, she could have applied it to any question. 

It didn’t help when Chair Alexander continuously denied Democrat senators’ request for a second round. Citing precedents from Obama’s two Secretary nominees who brought with them an extensive available-to-the-public education history, Chair Alexander made an unfair decision to limit each senator to one round, five minutes. But Chair Alexander’s decision was all about politics. Anyone listening to DeVos’ answers can tell you they were shallow. He didn’t care that the reason more senators were requesting more time is because DeVos hardly answered questions and when she did, they were surface level. 

Here is the complete hearing:


Here are clips from the hearing:

Elizabeth Warren:


Tim Kaine


Maggie Hassan


Bernie Sanders


Al Franken


Only 3% Pass NYS Math Test at NYC Public School

I read a New York Times article about the closing or merging of more chronically underperforming middle schools and high schools. The article mentions that these schools are part of a de Blasio program that aims to rehabilitate schools through additional resources, rather than closing or “giving up on them.” de Blasio wanted to give these schools three years to improve under his program. The three years is almost up and some schools in the program, despite the additional resources, are still underperforming to the point where parents, teachers, and education advocates should be up in arms. The Times notes (emphasis mine):

The schools to be closed are all low-performing, to be sure. In the 2015-16 school year, only 8 percent of the students at J.H.S. 145 passed the state reading tests, and only 3 percent passed the state’s math tests. Even so, it is not clear that they are necessarily the worst among the schools in the program. All of the six schools met at least one of the goals assigned by the city last year. Some are being closed for low enrollment as well. 

What is the problem that a school given additional resources to combat the affects of poverty can’t even get grades to show that students are retaining anything? At this point, the middle schools mentioned, J.H.S. 145, should certainly not be considered a school, as learning of any sort doesn’t seem to be happening.

So what could be the problem?

My first thought was what kinds of resources does this school recieve? Perhaps this school, and schools like it, are not receiving enough of certain tyoes of resources or that they are not receiving the right set of resources.

The schools in this initiative receive extra educational instruction time, teachers received additional professional development training, and each school received more funding for ‘wraparound’ efforts that aim to take the effects poverty head on (mental health issues and lack of sufficient food).  What is not clear is how resources are being used, which resources seem to be working, and which resources are not as effective.

At first glance, it would seem that any amount of any of the above resources should have some kind of positive impact, no matter how small. However, on closer inspection, something like additional professional development training for teachers could be ineffective, if the additional training is does not impart new knowledge on the teachers or is not tailored to the needs of any given teacher/group of teachers. It could be that principals and school districts are wasting time and money of programs that don’t work, though they aim to address a serious issue.

As of now, we do not know enough of the how the additional resources are being used.

What else could the issue(s) be? 

This initiative rears away from the Joel Klein administration in many ways. Klein’s biggest initiative was to close down large, historically failing schools and open smaller schools, which turned out to not do any better than the schools they replaced. Between this finding and the fact that additional needed resources (though they may not be used effectively) aren’t changing the academic trajectory of New York City public schools, mayoral control of the citiy’s schools doesn’t seem to be working out in students’ favor.

With that said, I’ve been thinking more and more about school culture and how profound of a role it can play in a school’s success. All the resources and teachers provinding attention to fewer students can still turn out to be harmful when school culture and way of life is not moving along with those initiatives. What’s interesting is that we seem to be trying to jump in and help students at the junior high school level, but the Klein and de Blasio administrations have been ignoring the fact that these students come to junior high school with six years of school culture and attitude that developed  over a child’s most impressionable stages. The school culture in elementary schools is a students first understanding of what it means to be a student. Students and teachers who walk into middle schools and high schools like J.H.S 195 in the Bronx bring with them baggage tossed on them during their prior school experience.

I’m suggesting we’re intervening too late. I applaud de Blasio’s effort to try to mend failing schools but efforts need to start while students are in pre-k. It’s clear that a junior high schools 3% pass rate goes beyond the work done in junior high school. The students come in far more academically damaged and negatively influenced than most would admit, despite that fact being clear as day. I need to go into more detail on the effects of school culture in a later post.

School Choice Advocates Don’t See Flaw in Their View

School choice advocates have been applauding Donald Trump for nominating Betsy DeVos, a stalwart supporter of school choice and charter schools, as the Secretary of Education. DeVos and her family have a lobbied for and funded school choice initiatives in Michigan; DeVos’ husband went as far as starting a charter school. And with Trump’s campaign trail vow to defund public schools and increase school choice and charter school funds, DeVos’ most monumental goal is probably to do just that.

Fred Hiatt published an opinion piece in the Huffington Post that suggests how DeVos should go about this task. Hiatt makes three commendable points:

  1. Any school choice initiative should protect low-income students and families and students with disabilities.
  2. Test the possible school choice proposal on 1-2 volunteering states.

While I agree with the idea that a change of that magnitude should be tested on a micro-scale (Hiatt suggests that a couple of states should volunteer to act as guinea pigs) before being rolled out countrywide, his idea of protecting low-income and disabled students is limited to ensuring they are adequately funded. The article, and others like it, fail to address how these same vulnerable students would be shielded from bad, ill intentioned, inexperienced, for-profit charter, private, and parochial schools that would no doubt prey on these very families. While one could say that poor test scores would cause parents to send their child to another school, the truth is that the money has already been wasted; the child given a poor education and an unstable learning environment. Damage done. And since non-public schools under a school choice system would not be held to the same auditing requirements as today’s public schools, it would be harder to identify and stem financial abuse. Basically, it’s one of the reasons why I have an issue with charter school system.

My second issue lies with the market-based system school choice advocates. There would no doubt be an increase in schools across the board: public, private, charter, and parochial. Without a set of common core standards that states are not required to adopt, standards will undoubtedly be all over the place.

How would school choice cupporters go about fixing these detrimental flaws in their school choice argument?

It’s not that I am 100% against school choice. I just don’t see how deregulation of tax dollars and weak standards would be beneficial to low-income and disabled students.

Election Day and Public Education 

In addition to electing a president, citizens of states like Georgia and Massachusetts will have to vote in favor for or against potential  laws that can change the make up of their public school education systems.

Massachusetts’ voters have to answer the following question, known as Question 2:

Can the state add up to 12 charter schools (or expand existing charter schools) a year?

At first, I was indifferent to the result, as charter schools in Massachusetts tend to perform better than district schools and none of them are for-profit.

But, at the end of the day, public schools are closing because of the increase charter schools. How can e create a system such that students and teachers aren’t harmed due to diverted chart school funds? Charters schools may be considered “winning,” but we should acknowledge that there are serious losers in this unfortunate race, which include dedicated teachers who would like to be protected by a union or students who want to stay at their community school.

In Georgia, voters are being asked whether or not they want the State to intervene in the State’s poorest performing public schools, relinquishing local control.

It would seem that low performing schools need new leadership, so having the State step take on some accountability makes sense. After all, if success isn’t happening at the local level, then who should the baton be given to?

The issue with State control is that, historically speaking, it hasn’t worked.

Mayor de Blasio’s Ban on K-2nd Grade Suspensions

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio plans to ban suspensions for students in kindergarten to second grade, according to the New York Daily News

The New York Daily News also outlines that, of the 801 K-2nd grade students who were suspended during the 2015-2016 school year, 487 students were suspended for either being physically aggressive towards another student or teacher/staff members. It is clear that at least some of these students, especially the ones who bring violence into the classroom, were suspended for good reason (this is not to say that suspension is the right direction to improve the education of both the violent student and the students surrounding him). But, it is crucial that suspensions are not simply banned for these young children; remedies that try to fix the reason why they would be suspended to begin with must also be put in place.

For example, six-year old Jimmy cannot hit his teacher, not be removed from the classroom, and all who is negatively impacted by his actions just hope and pray it does not happen again. If he is to stay in school, there needs to be some kind of action put in place to ensure that both he and his classmates get every second of education they can possibly recieve.

Fortunately, Mayor de Blasio’s administration released “Maintaining the Momentum: A Plan for Safety and Fairness In Schools,” a report that includes findings, reccomendations and next-step efforts to make the NYC public school system a safer place. The most impressive effort in this report is the inclusion of mental health-related support in the 2017 school year budget. The budget, which will include the expansion of support for teacher training in mental health and dealing with students who have social-emotional issues, as well as the addition of about 100 mental health consultants, will still be limited in how much it can achieve.

Because the ban is effective in just a few days (9/8/16) and most of the $45 million funding won’t be seen until next school year, teachers, parents and union leaders are wondering if this is being implemented too soon– the training just is not there. One teacher, interviewed by ChalkBeat, made the following comment:

“When you just ban all suspensions, my next question would be: If I have a child who’s acting out and I’m not getting cooperation from home at all — they don’t come to meetings, they don’t take the child to screenings — what’s my next step then?” Ranieri asked. “None of us have received that support yet.”

Mayor de Blasio’s suspension policy may be too premature: some teachers are seemingly unprepared for such a policy, thus making the policy unfair to students and teachers who have to brook, and are impacted by, some serverly disruptive students. One would think Mayor de Blasio is aware of this issue students and teachers face as a result of a premature no suspension ban. One could only assume that his main reason for acting now, if not his only reason, is that suspensions tend to make the suspended student disengaged from the learning enironment. In other words, suspensions harm the student being suspended by making him less willing to learn. And, since we know suspensions have more of an insidious effect, we should not do it.

Boy, if it were that easy. 

If some schools are unprepared for such a plan, despite the plan’s goals and assume rationale, the plan should not be implemented until schools feel ready and supported. This is a lose-lose dilemma: continue to suspend students and risk those students continuing being unsuccessful. Require misbehaved students to stay in school without appurtanent, and risk other students not learing as a result. There is, however, data that suggests that it is worth delaying the suspension plan (or at least slowly implementing it across schools, starting with the most equipped to the least equipped) unil schools feel confident enough to implement such a plan. Accodring to the New York State Department of Education, 4% of all students are suspended and less than 2% of all elementary level students are suspended. In other words , more students would be distracted by another student’s misbehaving, should the misbehaved student remain in the school without adequate support. Taking this into consideration, Mayor de Blasio should countermand or, at the very least, modify his K-2 suspension ban.