after the fall

After test score criticism, Klein allows more planning time

Teachers are starting the school year with 37.5 more minutes a week to figure out how to raise test scores.

In an email sent to principals on Friday, Chancellor Joel Klein announced that schools are now allowed to convert one period of tutoring time into teacher planning sessions aimed at boosting scores. The four-times-weekly, 37.5-minute sessions were introduced in February 2006 for teachers to offer small-group instruction.

“This time must be used in a structured way to look at data and student work, to examine curriculum and teacher practice and to diagnose what changes and supports are needed to improve performance for the students who need it most,” Klein wrote.

Klein’s email announcement marks the city’s first concrete response to the state’s more stringent test score standards. In July, when the scores were announced, Klein said schools would have to give struggling students “more attention” but didn’t specify how. Mostly, he and Mayor Bloomberg have focused on defending the city’s progress despite lower scores. In the email to principals, Klein dismissed challenges to the city’s claims as “belligerent critiques.”

Klein’s complete back-to-school email to principals is below:

Dear Colleagues,

There’s been a lot of discussion and debate about the impact and meaning of the decision by the New York State Education Department to make testing requirements for student proficiency significantly more demanding.  As school starts, parents and teachers will have questions about what the resultant decline in proficiency throughout our state and City means for students.

The State’s purpose was to align the results better with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which indicated that New York State had dramatically lower proficiency rates than our New York State test had demonstrated.  The State set out to resolve this inconsistency by redefining the cut scores needed to achieve a desired percentage of Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4 after the results were known.  If you increase the score required to pass a test, the number of people that pass is inevitably going to fall.

Understandably, we are all disappointed that the pass rate went down.  When you are working hard to achieve a result, and then it becomes even harder to achieve that same result, it’s frustrating.  But I strongly believe that we shouldn’t be disheartened.  New York State is not alone in having set a proficiency standard that was too low to serve our children; the vast majority of states have similarly low standards.

I know you are working with your networks to interpret these adjustments, their impact, and the instructional strategies you can use to help your students improve. I appreciate the time you’re taking to understand your school-level data thoroughly, especially Progress Reports, which underwent significant changes this year to reflect the higher bar that has been set. I encourage you to check out our Principals’ Portal for helpful information.

As you know, our goal is to have all our teachers working collaboratively to meet students’ individual instructional needs. I have received many requests from principals over the past year to build in regular time for these teacher teams to meet.  I know it’s essential, in order to improve instruction in your school, for you to have built-in time for your teachers to plan in teams.  Moving forward, we will support your SBO requests to use one of the 37.5 minute blocks for teacher teams to meet.  This time must be used in a structured way to look at data and student work, to examine curriculum and teacher practice and to diagnose what changes and supports are needed to improve performance for the students who need it most.  This time and the remaining 37.5 minute blocks will be an important resource that must be used strategically in this tight budget year to raise achievement for our weakest students.  Our networks will be working with you to ensure that this time is used to maximum effect.  These teacher teams are also critical to our efforts to raise the bar as we prepare for the Common Core standards.

Raising standards is the easy part.  The hard part will be getting our students to achieve at higher levels.  There are two important points that I want to reinforce with you directly today to help provide context as you plan for the important work that lies ahead.

High proficiency numbers may make us feel good.  But calling a child proficient who is not on a secure path to college and career success is a disservice to the student, her family and the school system.  That’s why I wrote to you almost a year ago stating that “we must hold our students to standards that are as rigorous as those set by NAEP.”  I know it’s not easy to do this, but we have got to be honest with ourselves. Otherwise, our children will pay a terrible price when they graduate into a globally competitive world that will not be forgiving to them if they are not properly prepared. We need to embrace the change the State has imposed, even if it hurts to see our proficiency results fall in the short-term.

I also want to address head on some of the belligerent critiques of our collective work in the days following the State’s announcement of our scores.  Instead of seeing it for what it is-a call for more demanding standards-some have suggested that the data obliterate the substantial progress that we have made.  That view is wrong.  Had it not been for the tremendous progress made over the last eight years, we could not conceive of how we would meet the new standards.  Other school districts in this State are now at proficiency levels in the mid- to low-20s.  That’s where we would be if not for the good work that you and your staffs have done.
Let me emphasize what you already know: while important, data, like test results and graduation rates, don’t tell the whole story of what’s going on at a school.  Many intangibles matter, and in so many dynamic ways our schools have improved-not all at the same pace or in the same manner.  But this is a very different and greatly improved school system compared to what it was in 2002.  The data also confirm that view.

I am linking here to a presentation that shows in detail the progress we’ve made and how substantial it has been.  Here are some of the highlights-what I see as our biggest accomplishments.


  • On our watch, fourth graders have made big gains-11 scale-score points in English and 11 in math, which reflects an increase of more than a year’s worth of learning. The percentage of kids proficient in math went from 21 percent to 35 percent-a 67 percent increase-and the percentage proficient in English went from 19 percent to 29 percent-a 53 percent jump. (Slide 14) In fourth grade, NYC’s performance now matches that of the nation as a whole, even though NYC serves a much more challenging population. That’s called “closing the achievement gap.” * In the eighth grade, the results are mixed and trending up. We’ve gained 7 points in math, mostly since 2005, and, while we’re flat in English, on the last exam we were up 3 points, boding well for the future. (Slide 4)

New York State tests

  • First, let’s look at how NYC would have performed in the past under the new, much more rigorous proficiency standards adopted by the state.  Applying the new standards, our overall proficiency rate would have gone up by 6.4 points in English (from 36 percent in 2006 to 42.4 today) and by 22.1 points in math (from 31.9 percent in 2006 to 54 percent today). Whichever way you measure it, we’ve made progress.  (Slide 3)* From 2006-2010 our scale scores went up across the board in grades 3-8, by an average of 23 points in math and 13 points in English. Those are big gains. (Slide 4)

High school graduation

  • NYC’s gains in high school graduation and college-going rates are impressive.  From 1990-2002 the City’s graduation rate had stagnated in the mid-forties. Last year, it was 63 percent. (Slide 16)
  • This increase has resulted in significantly more NYC students going to college. From 2002 to 2009, the number of graduates attending City University of New York (CUNY) colleges went from 16,000 to more than 25,000-a 57 percent increase.  At the same time, the percentage of students requiring remediation at CUNY decreased. (Slide 20)

Highlighting this point and responding to vocal critics, former U.S Secretary of Education Richard Riley wrote an article in the Daily News summarizing the City’s achievement results, especially the NAEP gains, concluding that “we should celebrate students and educators in New York City for significant improvements-even as we call for higher levels of performance.”  The current Secretary, Arne Duncan, similarly stated in a recent speech: “And these higher standards [adopted by New York State] in no way erase the gains made by New York City in recent years, gains that showed up not only on the state tests, but also on the national tests, called NAEP.”

As you may also have heard, last week New York State won the Race to the Top federal grant competition which will send more than $240 million to New York City over the next four years.  Winning this competition means that we have additional funds to institute core reforms that will support students’ continued progress.  But it’s about more than the money: this victory validates the significant strides we’ve made as a City to improve student achievement.

I am more confident than ever before that we have the right people in place-our principals, teachers, and other school staff-to make our City’s public schools even stronger tomorrow than they are today.  It isn’t going to be easy-putting children first never has been.  But our students are counting on all of us to work together to help prepare them for success.
Thank you, as always, for your hard work and dedication.  Best of luck for a great first day.

Joel I. Klein

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.