NY Education Officials Make the Wrong Move on Charter School Teacher Induction

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The New York state education department has filed a lawsuit to block a controversial new rule allowing certain charter schools to certify their own teachers, claiming that the regulations will “erode the quality of teaching” across the state.

New York education officials move to block rules allowing some charter schools to certify their own teachers, Monica Disare / Chalkbeat NY

I find this to be a highly questionable move by Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and state education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. And the only way I can make sense of it is that they feel threatened by charter networks and want to exert greater state authority over charter autonomy.

Let me preface my argument by sharing my view of charter schools, since it is such an apparently contentious area of our politics. I work for and believe in NY public schools, and I do not buy into the ed reform narrative that public schools are all failing and charter schools should supplant them.

But I also don’t buy into the opposing narrative that charter schools are “privatizing” education and destroying public education. Or that they only “cream” high achieving students in order to derive mind-boggling results.

There are practices and operations from the charter sector that are incredibly valuable, and there are charter networks and schools that are doing incredible work serving their communities and students that should be scaled and emulated, especially here in NYC. And at this point in the game, the research on the charter sector in general is pretty darn convincing — unless you’re only reading Diane Ravitch’s or Valerie Strauss’s blog, in which case you’re the education equivalent of Trump watching Fox & Friends.

Highly effective charter operations have built an infrastructure around teaching and learning that can accelerate student learning. In too many public schools, we leave teachers and administrators on their own when it comes to communicating and supporting what effective instruction looks like. We all too often give them vague platitudes, complex compliance rules, and abstract concepts and then say, “Here, go apply this! Good luck!” and blame them when our initiatives don’t garner the results we expect.

That’s why I believe charters have their place alongside district schools. Their relative autonomy provides them with the leeway to develop more direct and intensive on-the-ground supports. And we should be learning from the best of them, just as we should be learning from all of the best of our schools that are performing contrary to expectations.

At the same time, I believe charters should be regulated, and that it’s the state’s prerogative to do so.

So Rosa’s and Elia’s pushback makes kneejerk sense in that they feel the need to exert state control over the charter sector in order to ensure positive student outcomes—which they are ultimately responsible for, regardless of the type of school.

But in the long-term, it really doesn’t make sense when you consider that NY’s charters are already well-regulated, and that the charter networks already in operation, such as Uncommon Schools, Achievement First, KIPP, Democracy Prep, and Success Academy, have a demonstrated track record of success.

These are networks that have extensive infrastructure built around instruction and accountability. They can take a new teacher with no certification and accelerate their ability. And if that new teacher doesn’t demonstrate results, they’ll get rid of them. That’s what being a charter school provides the leeway for.

So let them take unexperienced and uncertified entrants into the profession and develop them. And then when those new entrants get tired of having all their time drained away with few benefits from the charter school they’re working for, they’ll move into the public system with some solid training and experience.

Let’s be honest. Charter networks will probably do a far better job of preparing new teachers than the majority of our state’s certified teacher preparation programs. And this will be of ultimate benefit to the learning of NY state’s children, which our state officials can then take credit for.

Mini-Smorgasbord Monday: School Choice, Nuance, and Opioids

File:Stick figure - choice.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
By Obsidian Soul (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Choice is no guarantee of quality

“…a remark by a DeVos spokesperson last week — ‘the ultimate accountability for schools is whether or not parents choose to send their children there’ — should be seen as an attack on the idea that school quality matters. It’s fake accountability.”

This is an important point to bear in mind. There are some choice advocates who argue that rich parents already have choice and no one critiques or limits their choices, so why shouldn’t poor parents be able to make their own choices, misinformed or no?

While there’s rhetorical attraction to that proposition, it’s also a circular argument, since the primary reason choice advocates call for choice in the first place is because parents with only poor performing schools located near them should have access and options for higher quality schools.

Other than the hard-line free-marketeers, few choice advocates would argue for unfettered choice without adequate oversight. How about we have more arguments about the oversight itself, rather than choice as some mystical holy grail?

Cantor: When a Bounty of Options Aren’t Enough, How Poor Parents Really Practice School Choice, The 74

Should vouchers be equated with segregation? It’s complicated.

Matt Barnum brings in the nuance. Like many things in ed world, we need to avoid painting vouchers with a broad partisan brush (saying this as much to myself as to you).

And a lot of how vouchers or education savings accounts are perceived has to do with how they are framed.

“Advocates for school choice often point to the support of black and Hispanic voters. An Education Next poll found that nearly 64 percent of African-Americans and 62 percent of Hispanics — compared to 50 percent of white respondents — would back a tax credit program to fund private school tuition.

But support for private school choice programs tends to drop substantially when the word “voucher” is introduced or the use of public dollars is emphasized.”

Critics of vouchers say they’re marred by racism and exacerbate segregation. Are they right?, Chalkbeat

Scholarly nuance on charters vs. districts

“Despite some important differences, the teaching climates of charter and public schools do not match the enthusiastic expectations of proponents or the worst fears of critics.”

Please keep this guy away from rousing charter school debate, Huff Post

Speaking of scholarly nuance on charters vs. districts, check out these two longreads to broaden your nuanced perspective on charters and districts:

The Secret History of School Choice: How Progressives Got There First, James Forman in Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository (H/T Matt Barnum)

The Structure of Educational Revolutions, Andy Smarick in National Affairs

Charters should be able to hire uncertified teachers

Given that most ed programs haven’t exactly demonstrated a concern about outcomes and actually preparing their teachers for real classrooms, seems to me that it would make sense to allow charter schools in NY to hire uncertified teachers and train them as they see fit. Hold them accountable for the results.

And let’s be honest–the most successful charters have tightly managed structures that pair assessment, curriculum, and professional learning that could probably better prepare teachers — or send them on their way if they don’t perform.

How Teachers Are Taught, Monica Disare in The Atlantic

The difference a father can make

“My parents didn’t think I was less than my brothers because I’m a girl. My father Ziauddin says, ‘Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings.’ ”

Our Q&A with Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner and education advocate, The Lily

Teen herd behavior channels the opioid epidemic into schools

“The 16-year-old, a student at a specialized and highly competitive public high school, says drug use runs rampant at her school.

‘I was drinking and smoking (pot) because it was accepted,’ said the teen-age girl, who asked to remain anonymous to prevent bullying at her school.”

During finals and midterm exams, she said, students pop prescription stimulants such as Adderall, Vyvanse and Ritalin to aid their studies.

‘It’s crazy,’ she said. ‘Even the kids who never use drugs want to enhance their brains, so they’re taking these drugs.’

The girl’s mother thinks the school didn’t do enough to help her daughter.

‘I still don’t understand why the school had no control over what kids are doing besides academics,’ she said tearfully.’

‘Teenagers are very hormonal and go through a lot of changes,’ [the student} explained. ‘Those emotions have nowhere to go. It’s the only way that they can get a grip on themselves and their feelings.’ ”

New York City’s opioid crisis seeps into public schools as drug counselors see uptick in student addicts, NY Daily News

Smorgasbord: Last Full Week of School for NYC

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By Shuoism (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
This is the last full week of school for NYC student and teachers. Congrats to graduates and to their teachers.

This is also the last week of the NY legislative season. The kerfuffle is over mayoral control of NYC schools. Lost in the kerfuffle is legislative action on segregation.

Success Academy release some of its curriculum publicly

One of my biggest criticisms of Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz has been that she makes a big deal about terming her schools “public” schools, yet keeps her curriculum private.

Now I can’t level that criticism any longer. She has released some of SA’s curriculum, with more to come. Right now there’s only K – 4.

It’s also important to note that this material is not openly licensed.

Success Academy Education Institute (requires registration) http://successacademies.org/edinstitute/

Success Academy Charter Network Opens Up Literacy Curriculum, Ed Week

Robert Pondiscio suggests that the strength of SA’s curriculum is that it’s based around rich knowledge and texts.

Though from my (admittedly cursory) glance at a unit, SA literacy looks pretty darn similar to the “balanced literacy” approach that has been utilized for years across NYC.

So what’s the difference? There are firm guidelines for how a classroom must look and the practices that accompany the curriculum. And the units do seem to be firmly oriented around text sets that can build knowledge.

To my mind, the key differentiator in SA’s favor here is coherency and consistency.

Success Academy puts its “School Blueprints” online: How many will follow the lead of our highest achieving charter network?, Ed Next

Questions to ask about charter schools

In his new seat at Chalkbeat, Matt Barnum compiles a useful list of questions that need to be asked about charter school for further research.

Beyond the test score horse race: 5 big questions researchers are asking about charter schools, Chalkbeat

The differences between De Blasio’s and Farina’s leadership

“With Bloomberg, it was like running a hamburger joint, but it was my own hamburger joint,” Hoogenboom said. “And with de Blasio, I’m running a McDonald’s and I have to serve the Big Mac.”

From power to paperwork: New York City principals adjust to a reined-in role under Carmen Fariña, Chalkbeat NY

Doesn’t matter, really, who’s on Devos’s staff

“They could bring John Dewey back from the dead, slap a MAGA hat on him, give him one of the myriad open roles, and he’d still get rolled.”

Does It Matter Who DeVos Hires? Tucker V Finn, Allen On Choice Privilege, New Paharans, Campus Politics, Pizza Essay, Bear Punching, More!, Eduwonk

Most college students can’t make a cohesive argument because they lack knowledge

“Some of the biggest gains occur at smaller colleges where students are less accomplished at arrival but soak up a rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum.”

Exclusive Test Data: Many Colleges Fail to Improve Critical-Thinking Skills, WSJ via TopSheet

Well, yeah, chaos isn’t good for any kid

“The theory here is that chaotic schools — a loud hallway, a messy class — simply reproduce the stress that children may bring from home. Rules should be the same across the school, so students know what to expect. And students should be met with understanding and patience.”

How To Apply The Brain Science Of Resilience To The Classroom, NPR Ed

CMOs, on average, are more effective than independent and for-profit charters

My guess is this is because a CMO provides greater knowledge sharing and network effects.

“Students attending a school run by a charter management organization seem to benefit the most. CMOs lead to small but statistically significant annual gains in math and reading, relative to both traditional public schools and other types of charters.”

Who’s helping and who’s hurting? New national study looks at how charter networks measure up, from KIPP to K12, Chalkbeat

Mike Antonucci: Keep your employees happy

“I’ve had charter school people call me lots of times over the years and ask for my advice on how they keep the union out of their schools. My advice has always been the same and it’s not what they want to hear. You don’t keep the union out, your employees keep the union out because they’re happy. Happy people don’t say *we really need a union here.* They form unions because they’re unhappy and they need protection and the unions provide that.”

He also has some good advice for NEA and AFT union heads worth heeding.

Labor Pains

Rolling back accountability is NYSUT’s gameplan

NYSUT, unsurprisingly, heralded the NY Board of Regent’s recent move to limit testing from 3 days to 2.

As a next step, NYSUT President Andy Pallotta stated, “NYSUT will be strongly advocating that the new benchmarks be age appropriate, fair, and accurate in order to ensure that students and public schools are not unfairly labeled.”

So. . . All kids should get an achievement award! Woohoo!

Reduction in testing days a positive step, NYSUT

NCTQs Kate Walsh on recent moves to jettison teacher tests and credentialing requirements

“While there is good research describing the benefits of matching teacher and student race, let’s remember that those benefits are based on studies involving black and white teachers of otherwise comparable ability. Any benefits from matching race are erased when we no longer make our first priority the effectiveness of a teacher or our best estimates about who will be effective. While it’s uncomfortable to push back for fear of appearing insensitive to real problems of educational inequity, we must insist on prioritizing what’s best for students—having the most skilled teacher”

via Edu Wonk

I’ve written about Hochman’s writing method before. New book out

Here’s an article for American Educator based on the book: https://www.aft.org/ae/summer2017/hochman-wexler

Link to the book: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1119364914.html

Healthier lunches don’t decrease obesity–but they increase test scores!

“In this paper, we test whether offering healthier lunches affects student achievement as measured by test scores. Our sample includes all California (CA) public schools over a five-year period. We estimate difference-in-difference style regressions using variation that takes advantage of frequent lunch vendor contract turnover. Students at schools that contract with a healthy school lunch vendor score higher on CA state achievement tests, with larger test score increases for students who are eligible for reduced price or free school lunches. We do not find any evidence that healthier school lunches lead to a decrease in obesity rates.”

School Lunch Quality and Academic Performance, NBER

NYC Governance

If you’re interested in matters of governance (and if you’re into education, you should be), check out this interesting Prezi on the “Science of Collaborative Governance” by Ag Resource Strategies, LLC.

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There was one slide in particular that made me think about NYC and the shifts that have occurred under leadership from Klein/Bloomberg to Fariña/De Blasio.

There are three typical “governance styles” outlined in the presentation: Hierarchy, Market, and Network.

The NYC DOE under Klein/Bloomberg established a hierarchy under Bloomberg’s assumption of mayoral control, but Klein then explicitly drew from market styles by devolving more power to principals and dismantling the geographical “fiefdoms” of districts.

Under Fariña/De Blasio, there’s been an interesting mixture of some of these styles. Fariña speaks the language of the network governance style (“trust,” “collaboration,” “partnerships,” etc), and many of her initiatives follow along those lines, but her administration has also established adherence to a hierarchical style of governance, with superintendents regaining precedence and a restructuring of external support organizations to again be based primarily on geography.

For a gigantic system such as New York City’s, managing it’s complexity is difficult no matter what style or admixture of styles is used, but there certainly seems to be room for more exploration of network styles within a hierarchical framework.

Charter vs. District Systems

By NASA’s Aqua/MODIS satellite (http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_rec.php?id=6204) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Neerav Kingsland looks at the recent findings on professional development via the TNTP Mirage report and the Rand Corporation study, and comes to the conclusion that “Professional development only seems to lead to student achievement increases in charter schools!”

I noted in a recent post that in the TNTP study, teacher effectiveness and growth was notably more observable in a CMO, and I hypothesized that this could be attributable to some charter networks having more tightly managed systems of assessment, curriculum, teacher practice, and observation.

But to suggest that this is an innate quality of charter schools is questionable. There is absolutely no reason for a district school not to be in possession of such qualities, and indeed, many do.

Kingsland argues for NOLA-style systems, in which the government merely regulates, rather than operates, schools, with the idea being that the private sector can conduct operations more efficiently and effectively. But there’s a potential, and possibly critical, issue with such a system: a lack of coherency.

Within a well-managed district, on the other hand, there is potential for greater coherency. A state or central office can provide specific direction on operational shifts via policy that all district schools would be expected to adhere to.

Kingsland asks, “is it more likely that we can achieve major gains in districts or scale highly effective charters?,” I think he’s created a false dichotomy. I think the more interesting question is, “How can we achieve major gains by leveraging federal, state, and district policy to implement effective and coherent systems, content, and practices across all schools?”

A NOLA-style system might be able to make swift initial gains, due to well-managed networks putting into place strong systems of assessment, feedback, and practice. But it’s certainly feasible that a well-managed district system can make even bigger gains over the longer haul.

I disagree, therefore, with Kingsland’s position that charter schools are inherently superior in enhancing teacher effectiveness and promoting student achievement. In fact, I charge that a NOLA-style system may ultimately run up against its innate incoherency, at which point, large-scale gains would stagnate.

I could be totally wrong on this, of course, and admit that this is conjecture and based on my own values. It may be that a NOLA-style system may end up leading to greater coherency in operations due to competition, and thus, best practices evolve through demonstrated gains in one organization and subsequent adoption by those who are attempting to compete.

I may also be overstating the ability of district schools to establish coherency, given constraints in operating within often volatile political contexts.

The problem is, of course, that while NOLA has demonstrated significant academic gains on tests since moving into a private sector operated system, it’s still purely conjecture as to whether the same benefit would transfer to any other district simply due to a  structural change. It’s also still conjecture that those gains can be solely attributed to a structural shift to private sector operation, rather than the simple mechanism of distributing students across geographical boundaries.

But let’s assume for the moment that Kingsland is correct that a private sector operated school system is the optimal system. I would still argue, even in such a case, that this doesn’t mean that such a system will necessarily scale effectively into different social and political contexts.

In the face of great complexity and uncertainty, we can hedge our bets by planning for robustness, rather than optimality.

The question therefore becomes: what is the most robust? A school system operated by the public, or a school system operated by the private sector?

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between.