Tag Archives: Merryl Tisch

Andrew Cuomo – Still Petty and Destructive

When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo gave his 2016 budget address, he sounded like a changed man.  Less that 4% of his speech was dedicated to P-12 education compared to over 20% of his 2015 budget address where he detailed a brutal agenda to make student test scores 50% of teachers’ evaluations and calling the existing teacher evaluation system, which he had previously championed, “baloney” solely because it failed to find more teachers incompetent.  Governor Cuomo charged hard at this agenda, ramming it through the budget process, but then he took a beating in public opinion polling and set off the largest opt out movement in the nation.  After months of various agencies and entities trying to walk back the harshest measures of the 2015 budget bill, Governor Cuomo’s 2016 speech in Albany presented a far less ambitious P-12 education agenda, highlighting only the light concessions he had made on standards and testing and promising to find enough money finally to stop stealing school aid from districts via the hated gap elimination adjustment.  Observers could have been forgiven for thinking this signaled a change in Governor Cuomo’s approach to education and that he might be willing to finally recognize that growth and support are better tools than test and punish.

Not a chance in Hell.

Last week, the state Division of the Budget, which reports directly to the Governor, announced that 70 schools which had improved sufficiently to be removed from receivership would no longer be eligible for state improvement funds.  The argument is based upon the fact that $75 million in state school improvement funding is only available to schools on the receivership list even though New York State Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman argued that removing the money just as the schools have made progress “makes no sense.”

The Governor’s Division of the Budget could have responded in any number of ways.  They could have expressed pride in the success of schools that were removed from the list and pledged to find other ways to support their growth and development.  They could have lamented the limitations of the state receivership law that potentially leaves schools in the untenable position of having to function under constant threat of being closed even when they meet their improvement targets or of losing critically needed funds.  They could have called for an immediate legislative fix allowing the Division of the Budget to keep school improvement funds allocated while schools actually improve. After all, isn’t the purpose of examining school performance and requiring clear improvement targets about improving the schools?

Not a chance in Hell.

Spokesman for the budget division, Morris Peters fired back,  “To suggest that these schools should remain eligible for the funding even though they were removed from the program is contrary to the law and, most importantly, a blatant disservice to the children who have been condemned to these failing schools and received sub-quality education for decades.”  Mr. Peters went on to claim that NYSED had “unilaterally” removed the schools from the list, so they could not get the money.  Not a word about the improvement the schools had made.  Not a word of regret that schools which had made actual progress would lose funds.  Just a snarl worthy of the nastiest we have ever seen coming out of education “reform” in New York stapled to a gripe about NYSED actually exercising its legitimate authority.

It is helpful to revisit education authority in New York.  Contrary to Mr. Peters’ petulant gripe, the executive branch of New York has almost no direct education authority whatsoever.  Most of that authority resides with the New York State Education Department which is run by the Commissioner of Education appointed by the state Board of Regents.  The Regents, through the Commissioner, oversee the complex and sprawling University of the State of New York which includes over 7000 public and private schools, 248 public and private colleges and universities, 7000 libraries, 750 museums, the State Archives, 48 licensed professions employing over 750,000 practitioners, and 240,000 certified public school teachers, administrators, and counselors.  The Regents themselves are selected by the Legislature to represent different judicial districts and at large seats, and they elect their own Chancellor. The Executive Branch, meaning the Governor’s office, has no legal authority over the USNY and its board of Regents whatsoever.

This is not to say that the Governor is without any authority or influence.  The budget is a powerful tool with which to shape agendas, and Mr. Cuomo has wielded it like Mjolnir to smash everything in sight.  The Governor can also pressure legislators to pass favored policies, and he can cultivate a working relationship with the Regents.  Certainly, Governor Cuomo and former Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch enjoyed a chummy enough partnership, exchanging letters towards the end of calendar year 2014 that became a rough outline of Mr. Cuomo’s 2015 education agenda.  However, the Board of Regents has a new Chancellor, Betty Rosa, a former New York City teacher and administrator, who told reporters that if she were a parent and not on the Board of Regents, she “would opt out at this time.” Time will obviously tell, but it is very likely that Governor Cuomo will face far more challenges from Chancellor Rosa than he would like.

Which makes the sneering disdain from Mr. Cuomo’s budget spokesman so glaring.  Under the terms of waivers from the worst provisions of the No Child Left Behind law that New York got from the Obama administration, the state has to identify and provide interventions for so-called priority and focus schools that comprise the bottom 5% and 10% of schools respectively.  Additional legislation in New York requires that schools be identified as “struggling” and “persistently struggling”among the 5% designated “priority schools,” and these schools have very short timelines within which to make progress before they are at risk of extremely drastic consequences such as being closed and turned over to private management.  The more savvy reader will note that, based upon test scores, there will ALWAYS be a “bottom 5%” of schools in the state, so even if schools currently on the list are removed, a fresh round of schools will be eligible for priority school status immediately and given the same threats.

Not that that matters to the Governor’s office which complained bitterly that NYSED used its authority to recognize schools facing severe consequences and had improved.  Apparently, it doesn’t even matter that many of the schools removed from the list had actually made progress in the previous year according to federal accountability reports that were not available when they were originally listed.  If I had to guess, I’d wager that Governor Cuomo is most upset that the schools are no longer legally under threat of being shut down and given to charter school networks so clearly favored by him and by his campaign donors.  Recognize that the schools in question were making progress?  Recognize that remaining on the list would keep them under constant threat even though they had succeeded in beginning the improvement process?  Recognize that progress should be supported and call for ways to continue to support the schools even though they no longer met the criteria for “struggling” and “persistently struggling” schools?  Recognize that some of the interventions slated under the state grants – such as developing community schools with wrap around services for high need students – are interventions that all schools with students in extreme poverty should consider?

Not a chance in Hell. This is Andrew Cuomo’s Albany.



Filed under Betty Rosa, Funding, MaryEllen Elia, NCLB, New York Board of Regents, politics, Testing

New York Testing Gets a Bit Weird

I cannot imagine that it is easy being New York Stated Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.  Brought to Albany in May of last year, she came to a post where her predecessor, Dr. John King Jr., had strained relationships with many parents and communities to the breaking point.  Commissioner Elia arrived in the wake of record breaking test refusal in her new state, and her obvious job was to mend fences between NYSED and school districts and parents while not backing off of the Common Core Standards, the accompanying testing, and plans to use test data in the evaluation of districts, schools, and teachers.  In most respects, she was an ideal pick for the job.  She is clearly a believer in today’s reform environment, having taken on a $100 million grant for Florida’s sprawling Hillsborough district from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation  to implement the foundation’s vision of teacher effectiveness (a vision that turned out to be an expensive bust that lost funding and was ultimately abandoned by the district).  More importantly, Commissioner Elia is a lifelong educator with thorough knowledge of how complicated the stakeholders in education can be, knowledge that seemed to elude her predecessor whose actual school experience was mostly limited to no excuses charter schools.  Regardless of one’s opinions about Common Core or state testing, Commissioner Elia seemed well positioned to ease tensions in the Empire State.

That was the theory, anyway.

Commissioner Elia began her tenure with a “listening tour” where she visited districts across the state to hear concerns and make the case that the state was heading in the correct direction – even if that direction was causing widespread concerns.  This was meant to distinguish herself from Commissioner John King who was widely regarded as unwilling or unable to listen, and to present herself as an NYSED Commissioner eager to discuss with the public.  One can probably give Commissioner Elia credit for both speaking to the public and for sticking with her belief in the importance of annual testing.  In a talk at Sweet Home Middle School in the Erie County school district where Commissioner Elia began her teaching career, she told attendees that “Life is one big test.  We have go to get to the point where people are at peace with that.”

Commissioner Elia’s tone took a turn by the end of the summer, however, when both she and representatives from the federal DOE discussed the need for plans to reduce opt outs in New York.  The Commissioner probably felt that she would have some support from both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Chancellor of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch.  After all, Governor Cuomo unleashed a torrent of harsh measures using annual testing in his 2015 budget address, and Chancellor Tisch, speaking to the New York State Council of School Superintendents, compared opting out of state tests with refusing to vaccinate your child.  Commissioner Elia probably felt she had plenty of back up when she followed her conversations with Washington on possible consequences for districts with high opt out numbers with her own opinion that the movement was “not reasonable” and that any educators who supported it were “unethical”.

In short order, however, the Commissioner found herself standing alone with both Chancellor Tisch and Governor Cuomo emphatically denying any plans to threaten school districts with loss of funding if they had high opt out rates.  Commissioner Elia quickly admitted that parents have the right to opt their children out of the state exams, although she also emphasized that she hoped to convince them otherwise.  Governor Cuomo followed this in September by announcing a commission to review the Common Core standards and their implementation in New York.  The Regents, meanwhile, after giving districts more time to work out how to use state tests in teacher evaluation, announced a two year moratorium on the use of the state tests for those evaluations – although local tests will still need to be used.

Then last week, Commissioner Elia announced the latest changes to testing in the Empire State – removal of time limits on the state examinations:

“I heard from parents across this state and from teachers that part of the stresses that we had on our kids was that they were timed, and particularly younger children,” the commissioner said in a question-and-answer period following her testimony on Gov. Cuomo’s $145 billion budget proposal.

“So if they are working productively, then they will be able to continue the assessment in a setting where they can read, comprehend and respond to the questions that correspond,” Elia said of students who will be taking the tests this year.

Interestingly enough, it is possible for standardized tests, especially criterion referenced tests, to be administered without time limits.  After all, if the purpose of a test is to see if a child knows a specific bit of content or skill, the ability to do it in 5 minutes versus 10 minutes is not as significant as actually knowing it.  And I will go out on the limb and simply acknowledge that anything which reduces the likelihood that 8 year olds will vomit and wet themselves during testing is a move in the right direction.  That’s the good news.

On the other hand, one does have to wonder how this move reduces the amount of time consumed by state testing, and the logistic challenges with schools potentially having to proctor students for very various lengths of time will be interesting.  Moreover, will all of these moves by high authorities in Albany – increasing the length of time to modify and implement Common Core Standards, a temporary moratorium on high stakes purposes for the state standardized exams, removing time limits from the exams themselves – do anything to make a dent in the state’s nation leading opt out numbers?  All of these options were available a year ago, but Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Tisch chose to pursue a punishing agenda on teacher and school evaluation, only backing off when the governor’s approval ratings plunged and the scale of test refusal became clear over the summer.  With the federal government strongly urging state education authorities to get a handle on their test refusal situations (or risk sanctions from the USDOE), it seems most likely that all of these moves are designed to keep opt outs from increasing this year and to convince parents who refused the tests last year to come back.  After all, visibly beating up on schools and teachers got them where they are now.  Maybe a velvet glove will help.

Opt Out leaders are not buying it.  Former New York school principal and current director of the Network for Public Education Carol Burris sees Opt Out as permanent fixture in education unless more dramatic changes are made.  According to Ms. Burris, leaders in the movement remain unconvinced and are energized by USDOE moves to convinced states to lower the boom on test refusal:

Jeanette Deutermann, lead of the Long Island, New York Opt Out, agrees. And she is furious with what she sees as the scare tactics being spread by the media based on the threatening letter issued by Acting Secretary of Education John King.

“As opt outs take root in NY and spread across the country, the federal and state governments continue to play a bizarre game of “yes we will, no we won’t” concerning funding threats. This year the threat took a different spin. The Feds gave the states a great little ‘bullying toolkit’ which basically says, ‘these parents aren’t afraid of us. Make sure they’re afraid of YOU.’ They came up short on one key fact: the USDOE and the SED have no authority to strip our schools of funding for a parent-led action. Our schools are in compliance. Our children are administered the test. We, the parents, direct our children not to take it. There is no law or regulation in NY that affords the SED the right to arbitrarily decide to withhold funds from our local districts.”

Other leaders in test refusal agree, citing the efforts from Albany as entirely missing the point of their concerns over the tests and accompanying policies.  President of Community Education Council 31, Michael Reilly, told Chalkbeat: “I think she’s trying to put a bandaid on the issues that parents and educators have raised…This is one attempt to appease parents. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s well thought out.”  Lisa Rudley of New York Allies for Public Education was dismissive and said that Commissioner Elia was still treating the tests as more misunderstood than in need of major changes.  Time, of course, will tell, but New York’s strongest opponents of the current testing environment are thoroughly unconvinced and confident that test refusals will continue.

Maybe next year, Governor Cuomo can propose a new iPhone for every family that opts in.



cat on leash

NYSED Trying To Convince Opt Out To Just Take The Test Already….


Filed under Common Core, John King, MaryEllen Elia, NCLB, New York Board of Regents, Opt Out, Testing

Andrew Cuomo and the Difference a Year Makes

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo began 2015 with a hard charge against public schools and public school teachers in particular.  Having called public education a “monopoly”  he wanted to “bust” during his reelection campaign in 2014,  he vetoed a bill his own office had proposed that would have protected teachers and principals from consequences because of low test scores for a two year period, and his office opened a correspondence with Regents Chancellor Dr. Merryl Tisch where they both agreed that it was necessary to change teacher and principal evaluations to greatly increase the portion determined by growth measures on standardized tests.

The Governor came out swinging for New York’s public schools in his 2015 State of the State Address, delivered on January 21st:

Education – the great equalizer. And this is the area, my friends where I think we need to do the most reform and frankly where reform is going to be difficult, given the situation of the way education is funded in this state. Our education system needs dramatic reform and it has for years and I believe this is the year to do it. This is the year to roll up our sleeves and take on the dramatic challenge that has eluded us for so many years for so many reasons.

Governor Cuomo dedicated 2,254 words of his 10, 324 word speech to P-12 education, and he certainly kept his promise to put forth “dramatic reform.”  He attacked the quality of teachers by citing a entry exam that nearly a third of prospective teachers did not pass in the previous year.  He attacked the then existing teacher evaluation system in the state, which he had previously championed, as “baloney” because it rated too many teachers as effective and highly effective.  The Governor justified this by citing that “only” 38% of students were “college ready” and he rattled off other proficiency levels on state exams as more proof that very many more teachers have to be rated ineffective.  In doing so, he failed to mention that the cut scores for “proficient” and “highly proficient” were deliberately pegged by the New York State Education Department to scale scores that only about a third of students were expected to reach.  Despite this, Governor Cuomo took it as a matter of faith that many more teachers deserved to be labeled ineffective, and his proposed teacher evaluation system shifted 50% of teacher evaluations to student growth on standardized exams.  Further, he demanded the use of outside evaluators for teacher observations, and the book that was released with his address specified that those evaluators would count for 35% of teachers’ ratings, leaving local administrators with only 15% of input on their own teachers.  He also called for tenure to be limited to teachers who received 5 consecutive years of effective ratings, and he offered a $20,000 bonus for highly rated teachers.  That was joined by a proposal to allow school districts to get rid of any teacher with two ineffective ratings.

The Governor went on to scoff at the idea of more money helping the schools he labeled as failing, and instead called for any school that is deemed failing for three years to be turned over to another school district, a not-for-profit, or a turn around “expert” and he specifically cited charter schools as part of that effort, calling for statewide cap to be lifted.  Governor Cuomo addressed funding, but largely to hold the state’s school hostage to his reforms: he proposed an increase in funding of 4.8% or $1.1 billion if, and only if, the legislature passed his reforms – otherwise, the increase would top out at 1.7% or $377 million.  Mind you, this is in a state where Albany has continued to use the Gap Elimination Adjustment for years after the economic crisis eased, cutting promised aid from school districts to plug holes in revenue shortfalls for the entire state budget.  This accounting trick has cost New York public schools billions of dollars in promised state aid from an aid budget that itself was short $5.6 billion needed to meet long promised commitments to equity in school funding.

The Governor forcefully went after this agenda, spending copious amounts of political capital and goodwill among the public, and while he did not get everything he wanted, on teacher evaluations, he finally forced state lawmakers to give him precisely what he wanted in order to meet the budget deadline.  By all accounts, Governor Cuomo had won a sweeping change that was bound that transform New York into a cutting edge laboratory in the “test and punish” philosophy of education “improvement”.

What has happened since then has been a lot different.

Over the summer, NYSED’s new Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, went on a “listening tour” of the state to, in theory, hear concerns of parents and teachers after the rocky tenure of her predecessor Dr. John King, Jr., but she also made her take on high stakes testing apparent by calling life “one big test“.  Commissioner Elia’s “charm” took a different turn when she announced to reporters that her office was in communication with the federal education department over potential consequences for schools and school districts that failed to test 95% of all students.  However, that stance was almost immediately reversed by Regents Chancellor Tisch who declared that Washington was leaving the matter to the state and that the Regents had no intention of withholding funds, and even Governor Cuomo echoed that sentiment, leaving the new Commissioner out on a limb from which she bid a hasty retreat.

Things got even weirder in the Fall when Governor Cuomo, citing widespread dissatisfaction with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards as well as questions about their quality and lack of input from stakeholders, announced a new commission to review the standards, review New York’s curriculum guidance and support, and review the testing environment in the state.  The commission returned in December with a framework of proposals, including pushing full transition of changes to how standards are implemented and teachers are evaluated out to the 2019-2020 school year, although critics remained only cautiously skeptical.

Meanwhile, Regents Chancellor Tisch was seeking wiggle room in the reform environment as well.  As early as April last year, she suggested that school districts would need an additional year to implement the evaluation system passed in the state budget, and in December, the Board of Regents went further by pushing the deadline for using state test scores in teacher evaluation to the 2019-2020 school year as well.  While most districts are still operating under the previous evaluation system where 20% of teacher evaluation is based upon state scores, 20% based upon local measures, and 60% on observations, this move by the Regents means that the portion tied to the contentious state tests needs to be replaced locally – and if implementation of the new evaluation system happens in the following year, towns will still need more local measures since the state tests will not be used in evaluation.  Currently, 83 districts managed to negotiate an approved implementation of the new evaluation system, but they will now need measures other than the state exam.

Governor Cuomo took to the stage again this month to deliver his 2016 State of the State address, and the tone could hardly have been more different.  Last year, more than a fifth of the 10,300 word address was dedicated to his punishing P-12 education agenda.  This year? 364 words.  Out of a 9,683 word speech.  Barely 3.75% of his address.  And what did he offer?

  • He bragged a little bit about reforms that he made no mention of last year – like increasing parental involvement and reducing testing and the Common Core recommendations.
  • An increase of $2.1 billion in funding over 2 years.
  • Using that money to end the Gap Elimination Adjustment.
  • He made a vague call to turn “failing” schools into community schools, and repeated a positive platitude or three about charter schools.
  • Suggested that we can attract and keep the best teachers – by offering a $200 tax credit to cover their out of pocket expense. New York teachers may not have to worry any more about choosing between decorating their classrooms and a visit to the dentist.

This is, shall we say, a far less ambitious and far less confrontational agenda for a Governor whose donor base expects sweeping changes that benefit their interests.  Is there something that might account for such a dramatic change in tone and ambition?


Oh, right.

After months of Governor Cuomo’s aggressive charge against New York teachers, and after months of protests across the state, the Common Core aligned state assessments were given and reports of huge opt out numbers came in.  In August, those numbers were confirmed: 20% of New York State students eligible to take the tests, roughly 200,000 in all, refused them. This was huge increase over the previous year, and a majority of New York school districts did not test the 95% of all students required by federal law with a substantial number seeing refusal rates above 50%.  Governor Cuomo, aided by Chancellor Tisch and former NYSED Commissioner John King, managed for foment a full blown parents’ revolt against his education priorities, and everything we’ve seen since the budget bill last April – Commissioner Elia’s threats and rapid retreat, Chancellor Tisch pushing the new evaluation system off for a year, Governor Cuomo’s Common Core and testing commission, the Regents delaying using state test scores in teacher evaluations, Governor Cuomo reducing his own education agenda to “YaddaYaddaYadda – Teachers are swell” – is likely a sustained effort to put out fires and take the urgency out of test refusal.

This being Andrew Cuomo, of course, changes in tone are not necessarily tied to changes in substance.  While state tests may be on hold for teacher evaluations until 2019-2020, that merely represents a delay, and districts will still have to use some kind of test data for 50% of teacher evaluations when the new teacher evaluations actually get started next year. Assemblyman Charles Barron correctly points out that Governor Cuomo’s promised increase in school funding is more spin than substance, amounting to barely a portion of what the state still owes school districts under agreements made long ago.  In fact, the governor’s proposal would use much of that increase to stop hacking away at promised, inadequate, aid via the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which is a bit like asking school districts to be happy that they will only be starved rather than starved and punched.  Finally, nobody should forget how Governor Cuomo made a long list of promises to secure the endorsement of The Working Families Party and head off a challenge from his left in 2014 – only to give the progressive party the royal shaft.

Andrew Cuomo wants New York’s families and teachers to believe he is a changed and humbled man.  History suggests it is a scam.


Filed under Common Core, Funding, John King, MaryEllen Elia, New York Board of Regents, Opt Out, politics, Testing

NYSED’s Incoherent Opt Out Muddle

Pity those poor zealots of standardized testing in Albany.

No matter what they do, no matter what tactic they employ those pesky parents who are sick and tired of standardized testing consuming their children’s education won’t come around to see the error of their ways.

First, Governor Andrew Cuomo, perhaps taking an anticipatory victory lap days before his November re-election, unleashed a torrent of bad ideas upon his favorite punching bag – New York’s unionized public school teachers.  He vowed to “break up” the “public monopoly” of our free public school system which dates back to the formation of the New York Free School Society in 1805.  Governor Cuomo’s preferred method of “breaking” public education is the use of standardized test scores and growth models to designate schools and teachers as failures ripe for state take over and firing.

Then New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Governor Cuomo took up the role of pen pals after the election, declaring the need for much tougher teacher evaluation and tenure rules using, you guessed it, an even greater role for growth measures based on standardized test scores.  Governor Cuomo followed that communication by vetoing a bill he himself had proposed that would have given teachers and principals a two year grace period from professional consequences as a result of the still new Common Core aligned state examination, and then quickly announced a punishing agenda that led to 50% of teachers’ evaluations being tied to growth measures on the state examinations.

Dr. Tisch, for her part, attempted to take on the role of the velvet glove with a prepared speech to the New York State  Council of School Superintendents in March where she lamented the Opt Out movement in New York and compared it to the anti-vaccination movement:

Why on earth would you not want to know whether your child is on track for success in the fifth grade or success in college?  Why would you not want to know how your child and your school are doing compared to other children in district, region, and State?  Why would you not want to know the progress of our multi-billion dollar investment in education?  Why would you not want to know whether all students are making progress, not just the lucky few?

I do not pretend that test results are the only way to know, but they are an important piece of information.  They are the only common measure of progress we have.

We are not going to force kids to take tests.  That’s not the New York way.  But, we are going to continue to help students and parents understand that it is a terrible mistake to refuse the right to know.

We don’t refuse to go to the doctor for an annual check-up.  Most of us don’t refuse to get a vaccination.

Did you get that?  Standardized testing is as good for curing problems in education as vaccines are for preventing polio.

Dr. Tisch dug herself deeper in later comments, first trying to claim that the new teacher evaluation system over which Governor Cuomo held long overdue state aid hostage did not necessarily mean teachers would be evaluated 50% by student test scores, and then she publicly suggested that communities with histories of high test scores (i.e. wealthy, white communities) might be excused from the new evaluations – leaving a lot of African American and Hispanic teachers who teach predominantly in urban poverty on the hook and sparing their white peers.

When Commissioner John King, in a spectacular case of failing upward, left the NYSED to join Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Washington, D.C., his replacement, MaryEllen Elia, formerly Superintendent of Florida’s sprawling Hillsborough district, was already known as a major fan of the Common Core standards, standardized testing, and evaluating teachers based on those tests.  Commissioner Elia immediately embarked upon a “goodwill tour” of sorts to listen to and to speak with stakeholders across the state.  The new commissioner did not waiver in her support for high stakes testing or in her opposition to opting children out of those exams, telling one audience that “Life is one big test.”

Then the opt out numbers came in with the results of the tests themselves, and New York’s rate of test refusal in 2015 jumped to 20% of all testable students, a huge leap from the previous year’s numbers.  And the charm offensive was over, with Commissioner Elia declaring to reporters that her office was in communication with the Secretary of Education in Washington over the potential “consequences” at hand for districts and schools where parental opt outs meant that fewer than 95% of students were tested as required by the No Child Left Behind act.  In other statements, she declared that opting out of the state tests was unreasonable and called school personnel who encouraged it unethical.

And almost as quickly as that was said, the backpedaling began.  Chancellor Tisch reported that the her office was told by the federal DOE weeks earlier that financial consequences were up to the state and that NYSED had no plans to do anything, saying, “I think when you withdraw money from a school district, what you’re doing is you’re hurting the kids in the school district. So I don’t think that’s an effective way to deal with it.”  The King of Test-Based Punishment, Andrew Cuomo, also declared that the state had no intentions of withholding money from communities that failed to reach 95% of students tested.  Commissioner Elia bid a hasty retreat from her earlier threats, first pivoting away from punishment to saying she planned to spend the next year trying to convince parents not to opt out of the exams and then saying that parents have a right to opt their children out of the state examinations.

The quick retreat from talk of punishment is no doubt tied to the dreadful politics that would be involved of playing games with funding, given that the funding in question is federal Title I money intended for districts with high percentages of children in poverty.  Withholding those moneys from the smaller number of districts and schools with high poverty and high opt outs while leaving affluent communities with high opt out numbers untouched would be a political firestorm, not to mention it is highly questionable whether NCLB was ever intended to punish schools and districts because of the actions of their parents.

The 2015 round goes to Opt Out:

mic drop

The future is, of course, murkier.  There is no chance at all that Commissioner Elia, Chancellor Tisch, and Governor Cuomo intend to back away from the central role of standardized testing in education policy for New York just as there is no indication that they really understand the multitude of reasons why parents are opting out.  Commissioner Elia’s “tool kit” for convincing parents to test their children will be an object of some interest, and there can be little doubt that significant pressure will be placed upon superintendents and principals to reign in their parents where Opt Out is strong or to block it from being established where it is not.

If Opt Out in New York grows by similar numbers for the 2016 examinations, the entire system will be on the verge of collapse, but it would be wrong to assume those numbers will materialize.  2015 was a particularly turbulent year with Governor Cuomo aggressively pursuing an agenda that made test and punish the centerpiece of New York schooling.  Further, the Opt Out movement’s future growth will also depend upon making inroads in urban and minority communities where support has been slower to grow than in the suburbs.  Nationally, African American and Hispanic parents are less likely to support opting out and less likely to say they would do so for their children than white parents (although they, like white parents, also value demonstrations of their children’s learning that are not based on standardized tests far more than they value the tests).  Given the civil rights history of the United States, it is not hard to understand and to appreciate why these parents might be more inclined to seek accountability for states and municipalities to take care of their children.  If Opt Out is to grow, it will need to listen to those concerns and articulate a compelling vision that addresses them.  Goodness knows, we can expect Commissioner Elia to tell them the test is the only way to hold schools accountable.

There are, of course, strong arguments to make for parents concerned about the historic failures of states and cities to hold themselves accountable for children of color.  The trends that harm education overall when standardized testing becomes a goal in and of itself hurts minority and urban communities even worse.  School closures, unaccountable charter schools, and the loss of non-tested subjects are trends that take their biggest bite out of those communities.  Further, contrary to the claims of testing advocates that only mass standardized testing can be used for accountability, districts and schools can use low stakes sampling to monitor the system and individual teachers can use small scale, formative assessment systems to track student progress.  The massively disruptive tests that replace the curriculum are not necessary.  Further, as Julian Vasquez-Heilig demonstrates, local accountability models not only exist, they are promising to bring communities back into how schools are held accountable.  These arguments need to be made more and more in public because we can count on NYSED to claim they are simply impossible.

For now, however, Opt Out has momentum on its side, and the bullies in Albany have backed down in a major way.


Filed under Activism, MaryEllen Elia, New York Board of Regents, Opt Out, Testing

Look Out, NY Opt Out: Here Comes the Pro-Testing Charm Offensive

The University of the State of New York (USNY) has a new Commissioner of Education.  By a unanimous vote, the Board of Regents selected MaryEllen Elia, the recently fired superintendent of Hillsborough County, Florida,  to head the New York State Education Department (NYSED) and serve as President of USNY which, in addition to overseeing the entire public K-12 education system of 7000 schools, oversees more than 240 public and private universities, 7000 libraries, the state archives, special schools for the hearing and visually impaired, over 750,000 licensed professionals, and over 200,000 certified public school teachers.  She replaces former Commissioner, John King, Jr., and unlike her predecessor, she brings significant experience with public education, including a decade leading the 8th largest school district in the country where she was awarded 2015 Superintendent of the Year for Florida just a few weeks before a series of conflicts with the school boiled over in her early dismissal.  Under her leadership, her district was given a $100 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to tie teacher evaluation and compensation to student performance.  While the grant program includes mentoring, principal evaluation, and peer evaluation, the district was also tasked to “develop fair and accurate measures of effective teaching” — for the Gates Foundation, this almost always means including at least some growth measures based upon student test scores.

Ms. Elia is certainly a change from former Commissioner Dr. John King Jr. whose impressive academic credentials were never matched with an equally impressive ability to listen to stakeholders and whose lack of experience at any level of public education was painfully obvious.  From her recent statements, Commissioner Elia is aware of what undid her predecessor:

“I think it is important for us to communicate with all of those people who have the stake in what’s happening in education,” said Elia, who most recently led the nation’s eighth largest school district, Hillsborough County, Florida, a racially and socioeconomically varied area that includes the city of Tampa. “So, yes, my plan is to be out in the state, listening to various groups and getting feedback and making sure that there is a response when that feedback is brought back to the department.”

Whether or not she is genuinely capable of do so remains to be seen.  Although she ran Hillsborough for an impressive ten years and was successful in securing the Gates Foundation grant, her removal represented long standing frustration with her leadership style which critics described as consistently uninterested in communicating with people she deemed as opponents.  More pronounced criticism described a workforce under Ms. Elia that was “cowed” and afraid to speak up about concerns for fear of retaliation, and board members complained they often did not get information they needed from her — even when a 7 yearpold stopped breathing and later died during a school bus ride.  Commissioner Elia had strong and loyal defenders as well, especially among the business community, but if her primary role coming back to New York is to lead a charm offensive that Dr. King was never able to do, watchdog organizations in the Empire State will need to keep a close eye on the substance behind the style.

While our new Commissioner is preparing to go on a speaking and listening tour of the state, she would do well to try to understand exactly why New York is the current leader in the nationwide Opt Out movement against today’s standardized testing policies, having seen test refusals jump from nearly 60,000 in 2014 to 200,000 in 2015.  In comments to the New York State Council of School Superintendents, Board of Regents Chancellor Dr. Merryl Tisch, lamented parents who opt their children out of standardized examinations, compared them to people refusing vaccination for their children, and pledged that “…we are going to continue to help students and parents understand that it is a terrible mistake to refuse the right to know.”  In April, Chancellor Tisch insinuated that the growth of the opt out movement was the fault of the dispute between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state teachers’ union, making roughly 200,000 families pawns in a labor dispute.

So let’s just say that if Commissioner Elia is going to travel the state to understand the concerns of families and teachers, she needs to genuinely listen because NYSED has had cotton stuffed in its ears for some time now.

The first thing she needs to understand is that simply explaining why we test as suggested by Dr. Tisch is not going to be sufficient.  The still growing discontent in New York is not simply because nobody has bothered to explain the vision behind education policy in the state – to the degree that such a vision exists.  The reality that nobody at NYSED appears willing to examine is that parents understand that there are very real and actually tangible costs to making standardized testing as high stakes as it has become in the No Child Left Behind era, and, worse, they are increasingly aware that those policies do not work and should be set aside.  What has happened in the past decade and a half is a classic example of ever increasing perverse incentives that have taken standardized tests and converted them from an occasional check on the system into an increasingly important end unto themselves by which entire schools and individual teachers’ lives depend.  Since little has been done concurrent with high stakes accountability to actually support and improve schools with resources and innovative services, the result has been a policy environment where the tests have consumed more and more of the curriculum.  If you do not understand that parents are increasingly fed up with these phenomena and if you do not have a reasonable set of answers for them, then it is not likely that they will be swayed by mere explanations of why NYSED does what it does.  Parents want change, not platitudes.

It is unclear to me if Ms. Elias is suited for that task.

While New York’s new commissioner is clearly far more experienced and far more understanding of how education consists of intersecting and overlapping stakeholders that policy must consider, her record is no less devoted to the core elements of “reform” — Common Core Standards, standardized testing, use of testing to rank and sort schools and teachers — than her predecessor’s or her new Chancellor’s.  In the application for the $100 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Hillsborough predicted they would fire at least 5% of the districts tenured teachers for “poor performance,”  and the grant work led her to develop, with collaboration from the teachers’ union, an evaluation system that uses test scores for 40% of teachers’ ratings.

All but guaranteeing the percentage of teachers you will fire in an application to revamp your teacher evaluation and reward system should raise any serious thinker’s eyebrows.  It smacks of the kind of stack ranking of employees that, ironically, the Gates founded Microsoft finally ditched after a disastrous decade of evaluating employees that way destroyed effective collaboration.   If the Hillsborough application was taken seriously in the early years, teachers with low growth scores had to be constantly concerned if they would hit that bottom 5% in combination with other measures and be in danger of losing their jobs.  While not as daft as the Microsoft system that required every employee in every unit to be placed on a normal curve, the five percent prediction amounted to over 420 teachers a year.  As it turns out, the district came nowhere near that number by 2012, but it did manage to make a significant number of employees jittery.

Of greater concern is Commissioner Elia’s comments on how to incorporate test scores into evaluations as she enters a state with a new evaluation matrix that gives those scores an entire axis:

“The research is very unclear on any weight at all,” she said, when asked about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to base evaluations 50 percent on tests. “There have not been any studies that indicate that 50 percent is better than 40 percent is better than 20 or 30. And so I think what we need to do is get out there, work together collaboratively to come up with what we believe is a reasonable approach to evaluation, and constantly be getting feedback. And when it needs to shift, we need to shift it.”

I’d like to offer a suggestion on what weight to give standardized test scores in the evaluation of teachers:

None. Zip. Nada. Bupkas.

The destructive nature of including standardized testing data in teacher evaluation is discussed above.  It narrows the curriculum.  It incentivizes schools and teachers to make the test itself the curriculum. It consumes instructional time and resources that could be better used.  It focuses learning on the least interesting skills and diminishes actual love of learning.  It serves as a disincentive for both teachers and students to take risks that might diminish test scores.  But there is an even more important reason to reduce the role of standardized testing data in teacher evaluation.

It doesn’t work.

Maybe one could have pretended otherwise in 2009-2010, but this should not even be controversial anymore.  Growth models for teacher evaluation based upon standardized testing data do not work.  In order for a growth measure to work, it has to be be able to peel away every factor that accounts for the differences among student test scores that is not attributable to the teacher, and we simply do not have statistical models that do this reliably.  Commonly used models have standard errors as high as 36% for a single year of data, and they would require a decade of data to reduce the likelihood of mislabeling a teacher to 12%.  Growth models are unstable, and ones that tend to produce stable results tend to be poorly designed. The models have a strange ability to label even teachers who are locally known to be excellent working with advanced students as ineffective because of how little room there is for students to not hit the model’s predicted scores.

No wonder then that the American Statistical Association released a statement in 2014 saying that Value Added Models should not be use for teacher evaluation.  Yet here we are in 2015 with Governor Cuomo having successfully browbeaten the state Assembly and Senate into passing a budget that makes value added measures based on test scores effectively half of the evaluation system for teachers, and with a new Commissioner who is pondering what percentage is “correct” for such measures. This all but guarantees that the tests will continue to have both a disruptive and distorting effect on schools and classrooms, threatening teachers who are good at what they do and diminishing the depth and breadth of the curriculum students experience.

It also means that the reasons for the Opt Out movement to both exist and grow remain firmly in place.

Education reformers today seem to treat any resistance to their favored policies as simple matters of marketing — throw a lot of money at consistent messaging and people will come around to realize that they actually love what you are selling.  That approach can work in the world of innovative technology where people need to learn how it can change their daily lives. Education reform is not like that, however.  First, we are pretty familiar with how standardized testing is overwhelming education as we well into the second decade of test based accountability.  Second, people do not favor using those tests to evaluate teachers; while over 60% strongly agree that evaluation should help remove ineffective teachers, 61% oppose using tests scores to do that, up from 47% in 2012. Third, in the same PDK/Gallup Poll, parents with children in school reported something they have consistently said over decades: they like the schools their children attend. For 30 years, the percentage of parents giving their children’s schools grades of A or B has hovered near or above 70%.  It has dipped lately, but that is as likely connected to the disruptive impacts of Common Core and associated testing as it is connected to parents agreeing with reformers.

So reformers may want to believe they need to sell families on a new iPhone.  In reality, they are peddling New Coke: messing fundamentally with something people like without giving them a substantial benefit in return.

This is the challenge Commissioner Elia faces as she considers how to mount a defense of New York state policy to an increasingly restive population.  If she continues to try to convince parents that they really love the taste of New Coke instead of laying the groundwork for the NYSED to walk back its disastrous policies, this will not go well.


Filed under Gates Foundation, NCLB, New York Board of Regents, Opt Out, Testing

Merryl Tisch Suggests Firing A Lot of Black and Hispanic Teachers

New York Regents Chancellor Dr. Merryl Tisch has been downplaying the potential negative consequences of sweeping changes to teacher tenure and evaluation in the new state budget.  On April 1st, she commented that the new system does not specifically say that test scores make up 50% of teacher evaluations and suggested that concerns over the weight given to tests was overblown.  Dr. Tisch is technically correct which, as we all know, is the best kind of correct.  The new evaluation law does not say scores are 50% and it leaves various weighting decisions to the Regents and the NYSED.  However, the scoring matrix, which is in the law, has two axes, one of which is for test scores.  I can count really well up to two, and it is fairly obvious the tests, as one axis out of two, are 50% of the evaluation (not to mention that both axes determine the outcome in the matrix roughly equally).

Dr. Tisch was back in the press this morning, suggesting that she thinks the new evaluation system should potentially be lifted from districts that have had strong records of student achievement.  The upshot is that if a district has high graduation and college acceptance rates and strong “college readiness” (aka test scores), they could be freed from state regulations and allowed to craft their own evaluation and accountability systems within certain parameters.  Dr. Tisch suggested that such changes could come from the Commissioner’s regulatory power, but she would also consider asking legislators to make amendments to the newly passed system allowing these changes.  In her view, such changes in favor of high performing districts would “…give them the respect that they deserve for the job that they do, and let us turn our attention, our scarce resources and our capacity to the districts that really need us in terms of access and opportunity for students.”

It would also mean many fewer African American and Latino teachers would ever get tenure and many more of them would be fired.

Now I am not suggesting that Chancellor Tisch actually hopes to do this, but there are consequences to not thinking things through in policy.  Exempting districts with records of high achievement from the new evaluation requirements would place a significantly heavier burden on teachers of color and result in their removal at disproportionate percentages.  The reason for this is fairly simple: just as our communities and schools are segregated by race and income, so are our teachers.  In New York State, 9.8% of teachers are Hispanic and 8.6% are African American.  These numbers are not, however, even distributed across the state.  In New York City, for example, African American teachers make up 19.6% of all teachers and Hispanic teachers are 14.4% of all teachers.  The numbers shoot up when you are talking about schools with a high percentage of students in poverty:

Teachers by race and poverty

Now we are talking about schools where 25.2% of the teachers are African American and 23.7% are Hispanic, while in schools that are low poverty, those numbers are only 12% and 8.2% respectively.  That means of the roughly 21,000 African American teachers and the roughly 24,000 Hispanic teachers in the state of New York, 5,275 of the African American teachers and 4,961 of the Hispanic teachers work in high poverty schools in the city of New York alone.

Given the long known impact of poverty on school performance, it doesn’t take a degree in rocket science (or even a doctorate in education from Teachers College) to understand that schools with higher concentrations of poverty are going to be schools where more students struggle to demonstrate annual progress on standardized tests and that the teachers who teach them will have similar trouble demonstrating their “value added” to those test scores as required in the new evaluation.  What percentage of new African American and Hispanic teachers in New York will struggle to and ultimately fail to reach “effective” for three out of four years in the new tenure process?  What percentage of their more experienced colleagues will fluctuate between “ineffective” and “developing” because the lack of statistical validity given to one axis of the new evaluation matrix?  How many schools with high concentrations of poor children and faculty who are disproportionately African American and Hispanic will be forced to sacrifice social studies, science, art, music, and health education in favor of mimicking the teaching practices of charter schools who emphasize test preparation for months of the school year?

Looking for a way to allow high income districts with good test scores to avoid the new evaluations might be a politically savvy move to allay growing discontent among outspoken parents.  But it will also end up kicking teachers of color and their students right in the teeth as they, already hard pressed by test based accountability, will be the only ones to bear the full brunt of the new system.

The sad part is that Dr. Tisch is not entirely wrong, but her statement demonstrates only a minor understanding of how to use data to leverage system wide change.  She suggests that relieving high performing districts would allow the NYSED to focus its efforts and resources on struggling districts, but she has not offered any insight into how that would work as a system that focuses on support and growth rather than on test and punish.  It is possible to use system wide data to identify schools and school systems that can have greater autonomy, but the policy should be wedded to increasing resources and support within schools that struggle with the understanding that the vast majority of teachers want to do well by their students and that a great many are doing precisely that even if it is not captured on one test.  Instituting a continuous improvement policy takes time and patience and resources — things for which Dr. Tisch has not recently demonstrated patience.

So I have to ask the Chancellor: If you uncouple wealthy districts from the new accountability system will you simultaneously implement a vastly different perspective for our struggling school districts with high levels of poverty? Will you embrace a support and growth model of system wide change and work to find ways to de-emphasize test and punish?  Because if you do not, the end result of your suggestions will simply be to subject schools with a majority of poor students and high percentages of African American and Hispanic teachers to the kind of churn and burn faculty turnover that we tend to see in many urban charter schools while leaving teachers and students in the majority white suburbs largely untouched.

That cannot possibly be what you want — right, Dr. Tisch?


Filed under New York Board of Regents, teacher learning, Testing

Merryl Tisch: Let Them Eat Test Scores

New York State Regents Chancellor Dr. Merryl Tisch addressed the winter institute of the New York State Council of School Superintendents last week.  Her prepared remarks were fairly dry compared to the lively yet facile talk given by keynote speaker Michael Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who extolled the gathered superintendents to be “cage busting” leaders without mentioning that most of them were being routinely stiffed by Albany’s school aid budget.  Dr. Tisch stuck to three main points: rigor, flexibility, and comparing parents who opt their children out of annual standardized exams to people who refuse to get their children vaccinated.  Oh wait, that last one was folded into her discussion of “the future.”  I’ll get back to that.

Dr. Tisch’s comments on rigor were brief and not exceptionally interesting.  She took issue with an unnamed “national leader” in education who claimed a good school was one “where parents want to send their children, teachers want to teach, and students are engaged.”  According to Dr. Tisch, this missed a necessary component: “…students are challenged by high standards and are supported in their growth by great and caring teachers.”  Neither “high standards” nor “rigor” are actually defined by Dr. Tisch, and I am familiar with entire schools of educational philosophy that assert student engagement actually comes from doing challenging and meaningful work in partnership with teachers who support student growth, so Dr. Tisch’s objection could have been phrased as simple clarification and served a much more useful purpose.

However, I would point out that this focus on “high standards” as a proxy for “rigor” or “engagement” is a patently simplistic.  In my critique of Michael Petrilli’s comments to the same audience of superintendents, I pointed out that the connection between recognized high quality standards and student achievement as measured on assessments like the NAEP is tenuous at best, and it points to a need to actually pay far more attention to the systems that support (or fail to support) teaching than to the documents that serve as a starting place for planning.  Chancellor Tisch, however, has demonstrated little patience for systemic change, and last November announced she would move aggressively by Spring to start closing New York City’s most struggling schools even though Mayor De Blasio had only just announced a three year program to turn around those schools.

Amongst its other, undefined, characteristics, “rigor” simply has no patience.

Dr. Tisch’s remarks quickly pivoted to flexibility, where she was just as vague and rambling as her shorter remarks on vigor had been.  There is some boilerplate acknowledgement that “one size does not fit all,” and a few specific points where the Regents have either asked for more flexibility from the USDOE or delayed high stakes consequences for students.  The superintendents got an acknowledgement that “college readiness is complicated,” and that a single test score cannot capture qualities like “persistence, collaboration, and creativity.”    However, they were assured that the Regents understood this as the Diploma with Advanced Designation “requires persistence through advanced math and science courses, as well as advanced coursework in CTE or World Language or the Arts.”

Well, gosh.

I am baffled by Dr. Tisch’s assessment of “flexibility” that includes no mention of content, pedagogy, differentiation of instruction, reduced class sizes, co-teaching, organizational and leadership changes, or frankly anything else that actually might result in improved teaching reaching more students.  Highlighting a request to the federal government for the “flexibility” to treat English language learners in a sane and humane manner is highlighting a minimal obligation and does not speak to me of a department whose cup is overflowing with much flexibility.  Further, saying an “advanced designation” Regents Diploma “requires persistence” because it requires advanced coursework is mistaking dutifully checking off ticky boxes with a complex and highly variable psychological phenomenon.  “Collaboration and creativity” get stunningly brief mentions but no substance whatsoever.

This thinking is not merely stuck inside the box, but it is holding desperately on to the box and wailing in terror at the thought of being dragged out it.

Dr. Tisch turned to discussion of “the future” with a brief boast that the Board of Regents has proposed a $2 billion increase in school funding which is, in fact, the largest increase proposed by anyone in Albany.  That sum, while substantial and welcome, would be, if it passed, more than $3.5 billion SHORT of the minimum sum necessary for the state to meets its obligations in the 2007 Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement.  I am certain the superintendents were pleased to hear her actually address the issue of foundational aid and the gap elimination adjustment, but they probably would have liked more than a paragraph on it.  She also previewed the Regents’ priorities that the next state Commissioner be someone who is “good at listening, explaining, and adjusting course as warranted” among other qualities.  This is good news in no small part because the outgoing Commissioner of Education, John King Jr., was fundamentally incapable of listening, demonstrated no ability or willingness to explain anything to anyone, and was as willing to “change course” as a cat is willing to be walked on a leash.

Chancellor Tisch reserved the longest portion of her address to a defense of testing and to denouncing the opt out movement.  The defense of annual testing of all children is familiar by now and as wrong as it is when uttered by Secretary of Education Duncan or the editorial board of The New York Times: If we don’t test every child in every school in every grade then kids “disappear.”  As far as monitoring the system overall is concerned, this is inaccurate and representative sampling of student populations in ways that are minimally intrusive are fully capable of telling us how we are doing as a whole.  If Dr. Tisch is worried that individual students “disappear” then our efforts would be far better served working to give all teachers access to more sophisticated and less intrusive formative assessment tools that could actually provide useful feedback during the school year and could help teachers and parents effectively discuss individual students’ progress. The insistence on mass delivered standardized tests attached to high stakes has already done sufficient damage to curriculum breadth and done so little to raise student achievement on stable measures like the NAEP that there is no good argument to maintain it.

The the Chancellor turned to opting out:

If you encourage test refusal, you have made a very powerful statement. We all want the tests to be even better – as short as possible and as closely matched to instruction as possible.  That is a fair critique, and we continue to improve the tests over time.

However, some have a very different goal.  They have said they want to bring down the whole system on which adult accountability is based – even if only a little bit – on evidence of student learning.

I am much less cynical, and I see things very differently.  I believe that test refusal is a terrible mistake because it eliminates important information about how our kids are doing.

Why on earth would you not want to know whether your child is on track for success in the fifth grade or success in college?  Why would you not want to know how your child and your school are doing compared to other children in district, region, and State?  Why would you not want to know the progress of our multi-billion dollar investment in education?  Why would you not want to know whether all students are making progress, not just the lucky few?

I do not pretend that test results are the only way to know, but they are an important piece of information.  They are the only common measure of progress we have.

We are not going to force kids to take tests.  That’s not the New York way.  But, we are going to continue to help students and parents understand that it is a terrible mistake to refuse the right to know.

We don’t refuse to go to the doctor for an annual check-up.  Most of us don’t refuse to get a vaccination.  We should not refuse the test (emphasis mine).

Most of this section of her talk betrays the same staggering lack of imagination that is common among the defenders of annual testing — and it conflates entirely different purposes of assessment.  Keeping tabs on the system and how it functions does not require annual testing of all children to be effective, and keeping tabs of individual children is done with much greater nuance and usefulness by a raft of other tools, both qualitative and quantitative, that teachers can use in ways that actually inform instruction of individual children.  If the Regents want to help teachers develop them, adapt them, and create systems for effectively communicating between school and the home, then that would be a welcomed effort, but Dr. Tisch is mainly saying the critical element here is locating every child’s place on a box and whisker plot while she pays very minor lip service to more useful measures.

The truly telling part, however, is her comparison of refusing to have a child tested with refusing routine medical care and vaccination.  Despite a half-hearted attempt to note that tests are not the only way to know how a child is doing, Dr. Tisch apparently believes that having your child sit for a standardized examination is as important to that child’s long term readiness in school as having your child vaccinated against polio is to keeping your child out of an iron lung. The comparison is actually breathtaking because whereas annual visits to the doctor usually involve a number of different measures of health and keeping a routine vaccination schedule is based upon individual and public health concerns, annual standardized testing provides a generally crude snapshot look at individual children’s academic accomplishments and test refusal has zero impact on any one else’s ability to get an education. “Opting out” of routine medical care is frequently a decision to discount well-established science about personal and communal health benefits.  Opting out of high stakes standardized examinations is a decision based upon — well, I will only speak for myself and my family here.

Absent massive changes, my wife and I intend to opt our oldest child out of New York’s Common Core aligned and Pearson designed examinations.  Our reasons are a bit more involved than Dr. Tisch apparently assumes:

First, the tests are of questionable appropriateness for the age of the children taking them.  Russ Walsh of Rider University in New Jersey examined Pearson’s sample reading passages for the PARCC exams, and he found that by most accepted measures of readability, the material was up to two grade levels above the age of the children taking the exams. While the Common Core exams are meant to be challenging, this is an absurd way to design a mass standardized test and a completely back door way to redefine what is considered average skills.  My family objects to a standardized exam that is designed to flummox students who are not entering the test well above their grade level skills.

Second, the New York State Education Department, led by John King Jr., set the proficiency cut scores in a way that deliberately and predictably places almost 70% of the students in our state as below proficiency and did so with no public explanation as to why.  NYSED pegged cut scores to performance levels roughly indicative or SAT scores that were roughly indicative of first year college “success.”  There has been no public discussion or debate about why this is an appropriate way to define “proficient” for all students, regardless of their college plans, but the result was entirely predictable — the percentage of students reaching “proficient” is slightly larger than the percentage of adults over 24 in New York with a BA.  My family objects to opaque changes in the meaning of test scores.

Third, the lack of explanation of what these scores mean or attempts to justify the way they were set has resulted in a thoroughly dishonest representation of what the scores mean from a multitude of sources, including the media, anti-tenure and pro-charter school advocates, and Governor Cuomo himself. Campbell Brown who has taken the legal battle to strip teachers of tenure protections to New York, repeatedly says the test scores mean students are not reading or doing math “at grade level.”  The charter school advocacy group “Families for Excellent Schools” released a report where it uses the test scores to claim that over 140,000 NYC students are in schools where 90% of the students cannot read or do math at grade level, and this misrepresentation is dutifully repeated in the media. Governor Cuomo repeatedly uses the test scores to insist that there must be many more incompetent teachers in our schools. The combined goal of this rhetoric is obvious: the closing of many more public schools so they can be turned over to charter school operators who appropriate the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement while funneling public money into private hands and increasing segregation of the schools.  My family objects to the cynical and opportunistic manipulation of the test scores that has gone on without a peep of objection or correction from the Board of Regents, the department of education, or the Commissioner.

Fourth, both Dr. Tisch and the governor intend to use the test scores in invalid ways that will objectively harm educational quality in our state. Dr. Tisch, in communications between her office and Governor Cuomo, endorsed raising the percentage of teacher evaluations governed by standardized test scores from 20% to 40%.  Governor Cuomo’s “Opportunity Agenda” calls for raising it to a full 50%.  Both of these ideas are horrible and run contrary to the warnings and advice of actual experts in statistics and evaluation.  Far from improving education in our state, these plans will hasten an already alarming narrowing of the curriculum and give teachers heavy incentives to teach to the test.  Instead of ferreting out bad teachers, this will take random and unpredictable aim at even excellent teachers.  Dr. Tisch thinks people who object to this want to tear down the “adult accountability” system, but it would be more accurate to say we object to that system being built upon a foundation of Grade A Bullplop.  My family does not want our child’s test scores used to further deprofessionalize teachers and harm the curriculum.

Fifth, my child will not gain a blessed damned thing by sitting for hours upon hours in these examinations.  Our oldest child is quite bright as every teacher from pre-K until now has attested.  Our oldest child is also quite creative and can spend hours in inventive and imaginative play.  Our oldest child also does most thinking and reasoning via talk, so work that is entirely done silently at a seat is sometimes a struggle and sometimes torturous.  While it is true that school work (and work work) will eventually necessitate an ability and willingness to work for long stretches in silence, it is also true that our oldest child is a young kid and should fully explore being that first.  Further, future school and work will also necessitate discussion and collaboration, qualities that our standardized exams do not remotely address.  My child needs assessments that demonstrate a full range of strengths and challenges rather than one that will foster a sense of failure and inadequacy and then be used to punish teachers for having a student who thinks orally. My family objects to subjecting our child to frustration that serves no constructive purpose.

I would submit to Dr. Tisch that far from being like refusing routine medical care, our plan to refuse standardized tests is akin to switching medical providers because the last three times you went with a mild fever and headache the doctor’s boss insisted you have a colonoscopy.  And then used the results of that to fire the doctor because you didn’t get better.

If Dr. Tisch is serious that standardized tests are “an important measure” then she should be working to rehabilitate them so they are only being used for what they can actually accomplish.  Testing to monitor how the system is serving students needn’t be disruptive of the entire system.  Assessment to check student progress and communicate that to parents should consist of a broad portfolio of tools for teachers to use in the classroom, and the NYSED would do better to invest in those and in new pathways to communicate to parents and guardians.  Testing to evaluate teachers based upon adequate yearly progress using value added measures should be tossed onto the dung heap of abandoned educational fads in favor of teacher evaluations designed to identify actually beneficial teaching in the classroom.

What does the future hold, Chancellor Tisch?  A school system whose improvement is based upon models of growth and support?  Or lots and lots of tests?

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Filed under Common Core, New York Board of Regents, Pearson, Testing

New York Parents Alert: Sample Letter For Your PTA

With Governor Cuomo’s damaging education proposals in the open, it is incredibly important that parents become informed about what he intends and stand up to defend their children’s schools. The text below is a slightly modified version of a letter I have sent to the heads of the PTA in my children’s schools in New York City.  In it, I lay out a brief summary of the Governor’s proposals, why it will harm our schools, and urge the PTA to take action to education our parent population about what is going on.

I invite anyone to use the bulk of the text to write your own PTA letters:

My child attends P.S. ***, and I am writing about an issue that I believe is of urgent importance for all parents of public school students in New York State.

Governor Cuomo delivered his State of the State address this week.  As you probably know, he plans many changes to education, including dramatic changes to the ways teachers are evaluated.  It is my belief as a lifelong educator with 21 years teaching experience from 7th grade to higher education and as a scholar of education practice and policy that Governor Cuomo’s teacher evaluation proposals are not merely ill advised; they are abjectly dangerous to the quality of education in every school in the state.

The Governor is proposing that the portion of teacher evaluations tied to student performance on standardized test scores be raised from 20% to 50%.  He further proposes that the remaining 50% be based upon two observations, one conducted by a local administrator for 15% and the other conducted by an approved outside observer for 35%.  The Governor also wants any teacher found “ineffective” on either measure to be unable to be rated as higher than “developing”.

The test score component is problematic for several reasons.  First, it is based upon value-added modeling (VAM) which predicts student annual gains on tests and rates a teacher based on whether students met, exceeded, or fell below the prediction. VAMs, however, are both unreliable and unstable.  The American Statistical Association is so concerned about the use of VAMs in teacher evaluation that they issued a statement last year warning that they do a very poor job capturing teacher input in student learning and should not be used.  VAMs are also unstable, and teachers whose VAM ratings place them in the top quintile in one year can be ranked much lower subsequently which further demonstrates how poorly they capture teacher input.  Teachers in excellent schools are not safe from these models.  In 2011, the “worst” 8th grade math teacher in NYC according to the VAM was at Anderson School, a citywide gifted and talented program.  The VAM placed her at the bottom of all 1300 8th grade math teachers in the city even though all of her honors students passed the Regents Integrated Algebra exam, a third of them with perfect scores.

If Governor Cuomo gets his way, such a teacher will have no recourse because the VAM will count as a full 50% of the evaluation, and a principal like ours will be limited to only 15% of that teacher’s evaluation.  85% of teacher evaluation will be determined by Albany with no local say.

Since NCLB passed in 2001, the increased stakes attached to standardized exams have resulted in a nationwide narrowing of curricula with subjects like social studies, science, art, music, and health losing instructional time because of the drastic consequences attached to mathematics and ELA.  If Governor Cuomo gets the teacher evaluation system he wants, even teachers at PS 87 will be pressured similarly because of the emphasis on value added models and the plan to make principals effectively irrelevant to evaluating their own faculty.  Further, as more experienced teachers are forced out of the classroom for questionable reasons, they will be replaced by new teachers facing steep learning curves to become effective teachers – if they survive long enough.

I strongly recommend that the PTA consider bringing this issue to the attention of PS *** parent community.  There is a limited time this winter for lawmakers in Albany to hear from their constituents, and I firmly believe that every school in the state will be negatively impacted by this plan.

Thank you for your consideration.


Filed under Activism, politics, Social Justice, VAMs

Andrew Cuomo to New York State: Your Teachers Stink. I Will Fire Them. I will Break Their Union.

The gauntlet that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch picked up with their public correspondence in December has been thrown down.  The Governor announced his plans to revamp and revise education in New York with his State of the State address on January 21st, and it was accompanied by a book detailing his policy proposals.  On teacher evaluation, Governor Cuomo is delivering a massive change — and a direct challenge to community control of their teacher workforce.  If the governor gets his way, 50% of teachers’ evaluations will be controlled by students’ annual progress on standardized tests, and no teacher rated “ineffective” in either half of the evaluation will be scored higher than “developing.”   The other 50% of annual evaluations will be comprised of two observations, one by a school administrator and another by an “independent observer” in the form of an administrator from another district or a state approved outside agency.  The so-called “independent observer” observation will count for 35% of the evaluation.  Local administrators are to be restricted to 15%.

New York State principals?  Andrew Cuomo says you cannot do your jobs.  New York State communities?  Nobody in your town is qualified to evaluate your children’s teachers.  Andrew Cuomo wants to take that away for Albany.

Governor Cuomo insists that these draconian measures are necessary because only a third of New York students scored as proficient or highly proficient on the new Common Core aligned standardized examinations, and by his logic that means the teacher evaluation system, which currently weights the results of those exams for 20%, is “baloney” because only 1% of teachers were found ineffective.  However, tying a criticism of the teacher ineffectiveness to the CCSS aligned exams is flagrantly mendacious because “proficient” was never tied to “grade level” or “passing”;  it was tied to SAT scores loosely predictive of college success.

Governor Cuomo’s teacher evaluation plan is set to punish teachers for not graduating vastly more students ready to succeed in college, as measured by one test score, than currently attend college.

What can reasonably be predicted as an outcome of this?  Plenty.  And none of it will be pretty.

First, this policy will fall heavily upon districts with high levels of poverty which are tightly concentrated because of New York’s appallingly high Residential Income Segregation Index.  We know from disaggregated PISA data that schools with high levels of poverty struggle in standardized test achievement compared to schools in affluent communities. Following Governor Cuomo’s logic it is not that these schools and their teachers struggle with the long established deprivations of poverty upon their student population and would benefit from aggressive plans of economic renewal and integration; it is that their teachers are ineffective and need to be fired.

Second, no teacher in New York will be actually safe no matter how good they are or how talented their students.  The value-added models (VAMs) of teacher performance based on standardized tests are by now subject to so much research demonstrating their unreliability that using them at all is indefensible.  The American Statistical Association (ASA) warned last year that teacher input can only account for 1-14% of student variability on standardized tests, and VAM generated rankings of teachers are not stable, meaning a teacher can be in the top 20% in one year and slide below the median in a subsequent year.  If you think that your child attending a selective public school with a math teacher whose students all pass a challenging algebra examination will have that teacher spared via VAMs — think again.  Teachers who are excellent by every other conceivable model of assessment can be rated as the “worst” grade level teacher in New York City via value-added modeling.

And Governor Cuomo wants that to be 50% of teacher evaluations.

The predictable outcome of this will be an objectively worse education for nearly every student in the state.  Consequences from the No Child Left Behind law’s focus on test-based accountability include a steady narrowing of school curricula to subjects that are tested, leaving science, the social studies, the arts, and health as dwindling portions of public eduction.  Teaching to the test as is common practice in “no excuses” charter schools will become a prominent methodology in historically struggling schools, and it will grow in currently successful schools as well.  Teachers and administrators will have little choice — with so much riding on VAMs that unstable and able to find teachers of advanced students in the bottom 10% of teachers, test preparation as curriculum will spread.  Further, as experienced teachers are pushed out, the teacher workforce will become younger, assuming that New York State schools can possibly entice new teachers to start a career under these conditions.  These will be novices whose classroom skills will be on a steep learning curve for their early years, and many of them will be forced out by VAMs before reaching the point where their skills start to level off.

A less experienced teacher workforce teaching more and more to the test — THAT is the likely outcome of Governor Cuomo’s evaluation proposals.  There will also be no local measure that can preserve a teacher in his or her job because the only local component of the evaluation system – local administrator observations – will be restricted to 15%.  Are you a principal whose teachers work in underfunded facilities with students who live in poverty?  Tough.  Are you a parent whose child’s teacher works with gifted students in a curriculum accelerated 2-3 years beyond the test?  Tough.  Are you a school board member who wants to preserve the social studies, sciences, art, music, and health?  Tough.  85% of your teachers’ evaluations are outside the input of any local stakeholders; Albany will be in control.  And Governor Cuomo will hold nearly three quarters of a potential increase in aid for schools hostage unless he gets his way.

It is impossible to not connect the dots here.  Among Governor Cuomo’s most reliable donors are Wall Street supporters of charter school expansion who can turn such schools into revenue streams for private corporations using public money.  Charter schools, among whose strongest supporters at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently admitted are in the business of pushing out harder to educate children, have been turned into a way to monetize our public education budgets.  Governor Cuomo, who raised half of his $40 million election war chest from just 341 donors, owes that sector.

The only entity with enough members and resources to resist that is the NYSUT.

Most of Governor Cuomo’s teacher evaluation plans (and his other education proposals) will make our schools objectively worse places to learn with many fewer experienced teachers and a diminishing curriculum.  However, they will make the teachers’ union much weaker with an unstable and uncertain cadre of members who have less experience and no practical job security — and who will not be able to effectively resist more and more of our public schools turned over to private interests.

Everything about this is wrong.


Filed under Corruption, New York Board of Regents, politics, schools, Testing, Unions

New York’s Public Schools Need Some Friends in Albany

This is the text of a detailed letter I am sending to my representatives and other leaders in Albany.  I invite anyone to use any portion of it and the resources in the notes to write your own.  However, the New York State Allies for Public Education has a convenient web form that will generate a letter to your representatives as well.  It can be found here.  The agenda has been set by Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Tisch — it will make our schools objectively worse in every way and it will sweep up all teachers regardless of their capabilities.  We need parents, community members, and teachers to band together to say that this must be stopped.  Let’s dare our representatives in Albany to become friends of public education.

The Honorable Linda Rosenthal
LOB 741
Albany, NY 12248

Senator Jose Serrano
181 State Street Room 406
Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247

Dear Assemblywoman Rosenthal and Senator Serrano:

The public schools of New York need some friends in Albany.

I wish I could say that the parents, children, and teachers of this state could count upon friendship in the Governor’s office or at the Regents Chancellor’s office, but both Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Tisch have made it very clear that they intend great harm to our public education system.  They have powerful backers among Wall Street and private foundations, and they have the encouragement of the United States Department of Education, but regardless, what they say they intend to do will not only harm the 600,000 public school teachers of New York, but also it will degrade the quality of education enjoyed by millions of school aged children and counted upon by their parents and communities.

Governor Cuomo vetoed a bill on December 29th that his own office drafted (1) and which would have given teachers and principals a two year grace period from suffering professional consequences due to the results of the new Common Core aligned state examinations.  The Governor justifies this by claiming that the current teacher evaluation system finds too few teachers incompetent and that student scores of the new exams demonstrates that this is untrue.  Chancellor Tisch has joined the Governor in calling for far more rigid teacher evaluations, responding to a December letter from the State Director of Operations with her own priorities. (2) Chancellor Tisch backs changing teacher evaluations so that the 20% currently set aside for local measures of teacher performance be eliminated and that the portion assigned to student growth in standardized tests be raised to 40% overall.  In addition, Chancellor Tisch proposes that a teacher found “ineffective” by the standardized tests be determined to be ineffective overall, and she believes that two such evaluations should lead to a teacher’s removal.

There are few proposals that could be so immediately harmful to students regardless of Governor Cuomo’s declaration that he is looking out for them and that the NYSUT only wants to protect bad teachers.  This change to teacher evaluation rests upon a flawed premise about student achievement in New York, will subject teachers to an evaluation system with no basis in research, and will dramatically harm the quality of curriculum and instruction across the state in both affluent and impoverished districts.

Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Tisch apparently believe that because the student proficiency levels on the new Common Core aligned examinations are in the 30-35% range then it is “obvious” that many more New York teachers must be incompetent and deserve to be removed from the classroom.  This is a flawed premise and deliberately misleading. Both the Governor and Chancellor know full well that the cut scores for proficiency were set deliberately to match SAT scores (3) linked to specific grades in first year college courses.  The percentage of New Yorkers over 25 with a bachelor’s degree is 32.8 (4),so the argument that THESE proficiency levels on THESE exams mean that many New York teachers are incompetent only works if you assume that there is a demand for college educated workers not being met currently.  The economic evidence for that assumption is weak, however, because while a college wage premium exists, its growth has shrunk dramatically in recent decades (5) and much of that small growth is coming from falling wages for non-college graduates.  It would be worthwhile to question the uneven distribution of college opportunity among racial, ethnic, and economic lines, but it would also be worthwhile to discuss the loss of opportunities for families to move from poverty to the lower middle class (6), losses that keep many more families in poverty than can be lifted by more college degrees.

From that flawed premise, Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Tisch assume that teachers can be accurately measured as ineffective based upon standardized test scores.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Value Added Models (VAMs) are not widely accepted as valid for teacher evaluation, and the evidence against using them that way led the American Statistical Association to issue a statement warning about the limitations of VAMs (7).  Teacher ratings using VAMs can be highly unstable.  Dr. Bruce Baker of Rutgers notes that teachers who ranked in the top 20% of teachers using value added modeling were likely to shift in subsequent years (8), some even to the lowest quintile and then back to the top, demonstrating how unreliable these methods are.  VAMs take their toll on excellent teachers in excellent schools as well, as demonstrated by the case of the “worst 8th grade math teacher in New York City” in 2012 (9).  This teacher taught at a citywide gifted and talented school, and all of her students passed the challenging Regents algebra exam, but her VAM, based upon an exam testing material her students had learned several years earlier, placed her at the absolute bottom of all 8th grade math teachers.  Hers is not an isolated case, and if Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Tisch have their way, there will be no locally derived measure sufficient to have saved her job.

The tragic impact this will have upon classrooms everywhere should be obvious.  With such dire consequences tied to a single set of standardized examinations and with no other measure mattering, teachers, even in successful schools, will have to teach to the test.  Narrow and relentless test preparation can increase student scores, but it comes at the expense of creativity and subjects not tested.  Research since the passage of No Child Left Behind demonstrates that subjects such as science, social studies, art, music, and physical education have all been reduced because of the consequences attached to low test scores (10).  The Cuomo/Tisch proposals for teacher evaluation will inevitably accelerate this, leading to less time spent in a well rounded curriculum and more time in didactic instruction and seat work.

Meanwhile, the New York Times recognized this week that fiscal inequity is “the central crisis” in New York’s schools, and that Albany is over $5.6 billion dollars short annually of commitments made in 2007 (11).  The New York State School Boards Association estimates that the average district in New York has lost $3.1 million a year in state aid due to the continued use of the gap elimination adjustment (12), and Dr. Baker of Rutgers calculated that New York City alone has lost between $3-4000 per pupil per year through Albany’s refusal to fully fund its own aid formula (13).

In a time when teachers are being told to do far more with their students, Governor Cuomo has consistently starved local districts of funds, and now he and Chancellor Tisch demand that these same teachers produce test results or be fired using statistical models with no foundation in research.

Enough is enough.  The New York State Allies for Public Education has responded to Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Tisch (14), and I implore you to join them in opposing this damaging agenda. It has no basis in fact, it will severely harm all of our schools in every community, and it fully ignores the ongoing failure of Albany to equitably fund our state’s schools.

Our public schools need friends in Albany.  I hope that you will be among them.


Daniel S. Katz, Ph.D.
Director of Secondary Education and Secondary/Special Education, Seton Hall University
Father of Two New York Public School Students


1. Taylor, K. (2014, December 29). Cuomo Vetoes Bill That Would Protect Teachers From Low Ratings. The New York Times. Retrieved January 6, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/30/nyregion/cuomo-in-reversal-vetoes-bill-that-would-have-protected-teachers-from-low-ratings.html

2. Burris, C. (2015, January 1). Teacher Evaluation: Going from Bad to Worse? The Washington Post. Retrieved January 6, 2015, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/01/01/teacher-evaluation-going-from-bad-to-worse/

3. Burris, C. (2014, April 29). The Scary Way Common Core Test “Cut Scores” Are Selected. The Washington Post. Retrieved January 5, 2015, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/04/29/the-scary-way-common-core-test-cut-scores-are-selected/

4. United States Census Bureau. (n.d.). Retrieved January 7, 2015, from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36000.html

5. Shierholz, H., & Mishel, L. (2013, August 21). A Decade of Flat Wages: The Key Barrier to Shared Prosperity and a Rising Middle Class. Retrieved January 7, 2015, from http://www.epi.org/publication/a-decade-of-flat-wages-the-key-barrier-to-shared-prosperity-and-a-rising-middle-class/

6. Harris, B., & Kearney, M. (2013, December 4). A Dozen Facts about America’s Struggling Lower-Middle-Class. Retrieved January 7, 2015, from http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2013/12/12-facts-lower-middle-class

7. ASA Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment. (2014, April 8). Retrieved January 7, 2015, from https://www.amstat.org/policy/pdfs/ASA_VAM_Statement.pdf

8. Baker, B. (2012, November 17). On the Stability (or not) of Being Irreplaceable. Retrieved January 7, 2015, from http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2012/11/17/on-the-stability-or-not-of-being-irreplaceable/

9. Pallas, A. (2012, May 16). Meet the “Worst” 8th Grade Math Teacher in New York City. The Washington Post. Retrieved January 6, 2015, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/meet-the-worst-8th-grade-math-teacher-in-nyc/2012/05/15/gIQArmlbSU_blog.html

10. David, J. (2011). High Stakes Testing Narrows the Curriculum. Educational Leadersip, 68(6), 78-80. Retrieved January 6, 2015, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/mar11/vol68/num06/High-Stakes_Testing_Narrows_the_Curriculum.aspx

11. The Central Crisis in New York Education. (2015, January 4). The New York Times. Retrieved January 6, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/05/opinion/the-central-crisis-in-new-york-education.html?_r=1

12. Q&A: New York State’s Gap Elimination Adjustment. (n.d.). Retrieved January 7, 2015, from http://www.nyssba.org/clientuploads/nyssba_pdf/Q&A/Q&A-Gap-Elimination.pdf

13. Baker, B. (2012, December 7). Forget the $300m Deal! Let’s talk $3.4 billion (or more)! Retrieved January 7, 2015, from http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/forget-the-300m-deal-lets-talk-3-4-billion-or-more/

14. NYSAPE Response Letter to Governor on Public Education. (2015, January 5). Retrieved January 7, 2015, from http://www.nysape.org/nysape-response-letter-to-governor-on-public-education.html


Filed under Activism, New York Board of Regents, politics, schools, Social Justice, teaching, Testing