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  • ourschoolsnow
    Jan 25, 2014
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      An Educator in Charge: Can Carmen Fariña 'Put the Joy' Back in Education?
      New NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
      By Brian Jones
      Issue #193

      An educator has been put in charge of New York City’s Department of Education. With 1.1 million students in some 1,700 schools, the Big Apple has the largest K–12 school system in the country. Carmen Fariña, the new chancellor, has worked in the public schools for 40 years. She has been a teacher, a principal, a superintendent and a deputy chancellor. Although Fariña’s appointment has elicited strong responses — cheers from the ranks of progressive educators and jeers from the corporate education “reform” crowd — it may not be time for activists to lay down their picket signs just yet.


      Fariña’s predecessors were largely recruited from the corporate reform camp. They favored applying free market ideas to schools: more competition based on standardized test scores, more “choice,” more reliance on private vendors and education “providers” and, crucially, fewer unionized teachers. To build a cadre of educational administrators devoted to these principles, the corporate reformers have had to look largely outside of the pool of people who have actually taught. In some cases, they thought the less experience, the better. For the past 12 years, New York City has epitomized this trend. Added together, the years of K–12 classroom teaching experience of the last three NYC schools chancellors — Dennis Walcott, Cathy Black and Joel Klein — was nearly zero.


      Chancellor Fariña and Mayor de Blasio are on record as critics of some of the hallmark education “reforms” from the Bloomberg era: especially the reliance on standardized tests as the ultimate arbiter of student progress and teacher effectiveness. Whereas previous administrations closed schools with callous disregard for community input, de Blasio has promised a moratorium on school closures and Fariña has vowed to make all parents feel welcome in the schools. 

      “We’re going to have a system here, where parents are seen as real partners,” she said.


      Enthusiastic Response

      Many progressives and educators are enthusiastic about the appointment, and are optimistic about the direction Fariña is likely to take as chancellor.


      “She is what she seems to be,” said Dr. Nicholas Michelli, professor of education at the City University of New York Graduate Center, “genuine, progressive and open.”


      Education historian Diane Ravitch called Fariña’s appointment “a new day in New York City.” “The era of punishing, blaming, and shaming professional educators is over,” she wrote.


      Citing Fariña’s 22 years in the classroom, Julie Cavanagh, a special education teacher at PS 15 in Brooklyn and member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) said, “She was a teacher. She gets it.” Cavanagh added, “We have a lot of reasons to be hopeful. We will see parent empowerment, democracy and those kinds of things come back to public education in NYC.”


      On the other hand, those who favor free-market-oriented (also known as “corporate”) education reform have expressed skepticism about Fariña’s appointment. In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal called her a “competent steward of the failing status quo.” Infamous charter school CEO Eva Moskowitz praised Fariña as “an educator who cares” but questioned whether she would allow more charter schools to open.


      Joe Williams, executive director of the pro-corporate reform group Democrats for Education Reform told the Washington Monthly that Fariña is not likely to reverse the changes of the past decade. “The Bloomberg haters are going to have to settle for a change in style rather than major changes in substance,” he said. “Rich kids will continue to have good public school options; poor kids will play the lottery.”


      Fariña’s History

      Is Fariña’s appointment more a shift in style than substance? A review of her career in New York’s public schools may offer some clues.


      At her appointment ceremony, Fariña emphasized her own story as a student in the public schools. The painful experience of having her name mispronounced and being marked absent under the wrong name was a defining one. For Christina Fuentes, a DOE director of English Language Learner Instruction, the prospect of a chancellor who understands the importance of respecting the cultures and languages of New York City’s students is thrilling. “I was heartened by what Carmen said about the need to see second languages as an asset and not a deficit — that’s great,” she said. “I’m excited about the possibilities of doing second language acquisition right, and making it attractive to everyone.” 

      Fariña was a teacher for most of her career, but when she became a principal in District 2, she was part of a massive — and controversial — reform effort under the leadership of district superintendent Anthony Alvarado. In her book, Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch recounts the process by which standards-based reforms (some of which are ostensibly progressive, such as “Balanced Literacy” and a constructivist approach to math) were implemented in a heavy-handed way throughout the district, disregarding concerns and complaints from parents and teachers. At the same time, Fariña’s widely praised effort to turn around her own school, PS 6, involved turning over 80 percent of the staff and recruiting wealthy parents to pad the budget.


      The plot thickened when researchers and politicians seized on the test scores of some of District 2’s schools and decided that the achievement gap had been “solved.” As Dr. Lois Weiner, a professor of education at New Jersey City University, pointed out at the time, researchers acting more like “cheerleaders” overlooked the fact that District 2 was rapidly becoming one of the wealthiest districts in the United States (not just in New York City), and that the wealthiest and whitest students had the highest scores, while the poorest schools with the most non-white students had the lowest scores.


      Nevertheless, this very same educational model was exported to San Diego, and later re-imported to New York City by none other than Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his first schools chancellor, Joel Klein. Under Klein, Fariña rose to the rank of superintendent. There is some evidence that, at the time, Fariña embraced Klein’s appetite for “creative disruption” as a means of education reform.


      In 2003, Fariña was quoted in Business Week praising the infamous CEO of General Electric whose management style was hailed by Bloomberg as an ideal model for running New York City schools. “Jack Welch said one thing that really struck me,” Fariña said. “You can’t allow an organization to grow complacent. When you find those kinds of organizations, you have to tear them apart and create chaos. That chaos creates a sense of urgency, and that sense of urgency will ultimately bring [about] improvement.” The chancellor’s office did not respond to an offer to comment on that statement.


      Fariña’s emphasis on the quality of teaching and learning is refreshing, but may come at the expense of other issues that stakeholders care about, such as class size. In 2005, when then-City Councilmember Eva Moskowitz called for a report on class sizes throughout New York City, Fariña, now elevated to the rank of deputy chancellor, testified that while she favored reducing class size in general, she was opposed to mandating lower classes in the city. Instead, she favored giving school leadership teams flexibility on how to use those funds, arguing that ultimately “teacher quality trumps everything.”


      Fariña retired in 2006, citing philosophical differences with Bloomberg, but remained involved in education. After PS 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, was co-located with a charter school, Fariña chaired the Friends of PS 15 Committee, which tried to publicize the school and bring in donors to support its growth and expansion. A new library in PS 15 is the result of this committee’s work and “Carmen’s Corner” — filled with books donated in her name — is an indication of her role in the effort. When another District 15 school, the School for Global Studies, was selected as a site for co-location with one of Moskowitz’s Success Academies, Fariña suggested that the introduction of a new early childhood center would be a better way to meet the needs of the community. Both of these efforts earned Fariña a reputation as someone who sought creative alternatives to competitive co-locations. Given this history and Mayor de Blasio’s softening rhetoric on charter schools (from charging rent to charging rent to “those that can afford it”), it seems likely that the mayor and chancellor will neither promote charter schools (as the last three chancellors did) nor directly confront their powerful backers.


      Democratic Party Agenda

      Fariña may try to distance herself from the Bloomberg agenda, but its main tenets are also the agenda of the Democratic Party. From the White House to the Governor’s Mansion, the Democrats have thoroughly embraced nearly everything that New Yorkers came to associate with Bloomberg: the Common Core standards; evaluating students, teachers, and schools primarily by standardized test scores; closing schools with low scores; promoting charter schools; and encouraging market competition as the driving force of reform.


      Municipal leaders across the country have, in some cities, bypassed democratic structures by granting mayoral control over the schools. Neither de Blasio nor Fariña have spoken against mayoral control. Sam Anderson, a member of the Coalition for Public Education and the Independent Commission on Public Education (iCOPE) suspects Fariña will carry out “business as usual with a different style.” “We have to be about reconstruction,” he said. “Like the radical Republicans did after the Civil War — you can’t reconstruct in a democratic way if you maintain mayoral control.”


      Still, Fariña portrays herself as someone who will bring a different ethos to the school system. She has said that she opposes competition in education, and seems to have backed that up in practice. Zipporiah Mills, principal of PS 261 in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, credits Fariña with instituting collaboration as policy.


      “A lot of the things that are now regular practice in the schools are her creation,” Mills said. “Teacher study groups, visiting each other’s schools, sharing best practices — those are things that were almost non-existent as policy before Carmen.”


      Troubling Signs

      But as The Indypendent went to press, the Department of Education seemed poised to increase competition between schools by following through with Bloomberg-era plans to roll out the Kindergarten Connect system — an online application process that pits every one of the roughly 900 kindergarten classrooms citywide against each other. The system uses algorithms developed by the Institute for Innovation on Public School Choice to “match” students to schools based on parent rankings. But only the DOE will be able to decide which student can attend which school. In a letter to the chancellor, several public school parents (including some elected parent representatives) from across the city pointed out that this program will disempower parents who don’t have the language or technical skills to navigate the online process and will potentially push many parents towards charter and private schools, since it results in the selection of a single, take-it-or-leave-it school “match” for each child.


      Fariña says that she opposes the overuse of high-stakes standardized tests, but some of their uses are beyond her control. Evaluating teachers by test scores is now mandated by state law, for example, and federal policy requires standardized testing for grades 3-8 and for high school graduation.


      As of this writing, Fariña has not spoken publicly in favor of City Council Resolution 1394, which would place a moratorium on all high-stakes testing in New York City. Additionally, some who have high hopes in Fariña were alarmed to learn that she supports the new standards. “My biggest concern about her is her support of Common Core State Standards, which have not been proven to work and there is no safety net if they fail,” said Diana Zavala, a District 6 parent who is also a member of the anti-testing activist group Change the Stakes.


      Mayor de Blasio has said that he will impose a moratorium on school closures and abolish the letter grading system for schools. Those are welcome changes. School closings are precisely the kind of “chaos” that has led to so much demoralization among parents and teachers, and the fact that schools were graded on a curve guaranteed that a predetermined percentage of them would be labeled as failures each year.


      Some of the proof of the new administration’s progressivism will be in its handling of labor contracts. Mayor de Blasio has spoken forcefully about economic inequality, but seems disinclined to grant retroactive pay raises to the 300,000 city employees — nurses, firefighters, sanitation workers, teachers and so on — working without a new contract for as long as the last five years. On the flip side, the Bloomberg administration was infamous for wasting millions on no-bid contracts with private vendors. How Fariña’s distaste for standardized testing abuse collides with New York State’s $32 million contract with test publishing behemoth Pearson, Inc. will be revealing.


      Furthermore, just before the clock ran out on the previous administration, the DOE put out a call for proposals for the development of standardized tests for early childhood grades. Although top DOE officials have gone on record opposing standardized testing in early grades, the contract solicitation calls for “Computer Adaptive Testing” software graded by artificial intelligence for pre-K through second grade. Will Fariña put a stop to the proliferation of these tests in early grades?


      Some educators suspect Fariña’s administration — even if it rolls back some of the excessive abuses of standardized testing — won’t go far enough. “The challenge,” Dr. Weiner said, “is to do what wasn’t done in District 2 and still has not been done: to acknowledge and confront the contradictions of class and race in the school system today.”


      Pushing for Real Reform

      Whether Fariña’s term as chancellor amounts to a change of style or substance remains to be seen — and is not entirely up to Fariña to decide. In the Bloomberg years, many parents, teachers and students felt they had no choice but to protest, march and picket to make themselves heard. Progressive faces in high places creates opportunities and dangers; opportunities, perhaps, to push for real reforms that were previously never under consideration and dangers in that a friendly face can more effectively demobilize us than a hostile one.


      With Fariña at the helm, some people who care about specific issues — class size, standards, budget cuts — may experience pressure to be quiet so as not to embarrass “our chancellor.” In truth, we’re a long way from having the schools our children deserve, so this is not the time to be quiet. Now is the time to push for the full implementation of the promises Fariña has already made and to continue to raise our own demands.


      MORE, the social justice caucus of the UFT, is circulating a petition calling for full retroactive pay for municipal employees who have been working without a new contract for five years. iCOPE published an open letter to Mayor de Blasio listing 20 steps a progressive administration could take immediately to reverse Bloomberg’s legacy and create a truly humane, democratic school system. The list includes a program for recruiting and training Black and Latino teachers from New York City, and opening an office of Multicultural Curricula. Citywide, activists are gearing up to teach even more parents about how to exercise their right to opt their children out of standardized tests.


      Fariña has said that she wants to do reforms “with” people, not “to” them. If this truly is to be a new day for New York City schools, parents, teachers and students will have to hold her to that promise.



      Brian Jones taught elementary grades in New York City’s public schools for nine years and is currently a doctoral student in urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center.



      Breaking News: New York Teachers' Union Votes No-Confidence in State Commissioner John King

      By dianeravitch

      January 25, 2014 - http://dianeravitch.net

      On Saturday morning, the Board of Directors of NYSUT–the New York State United Teachers–voted unanimously for a resolution of "no confidence" in State Commissioner John King.

      This is tantamount to calling for his removal.

      The implementation of Common Core testing in New York state was widely recognized as a fiasco. Many legislators, including the leader of the State Assembly, have called for a delay.

      King's high-handed tactics, his refusal to listen to the public, and his lack of experience as an educator have set off widespread protests among teachers, principals, and parents.

      This is the press release from NYSUT:

      ALBANY, N.Y. Jan. 25, 2014 – New York State United Teachers' Board of Directors approved a resolution Saturday that declared "no confidence" in the policies of State Education Commissioner John King Jr., therefore calling for his removal by the Board of Regents. NYSUT's board also withdrew its support for the Common Core standards as implemented and interpreted in New York state until SED makes major course corrections to its failed implementation plan and supports a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences from standardized testing.

      The union's board acted unanimously Saturday morning at a meeting in Albany.

      "Educators understand that introducing new standards, appropriate curriculum and meaningful assessments are ongoing aspects of a robust educational system. These are complex tasks made even more complex when attempted during a time of devastating budget cuts. SED's implementation plan in New York state has failed. The commissioner has pursued policies that repeatedly ignore the voices of parents and educators who have identified problems and called on him to move more thoughtfully," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "Instead of listening to and trusting parents and teachers to know and do what's right for students, the commissioner has offered meaningless rhetoric and token change. Instead of making the major course corrections that are clearly needed, including backing a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences for students and teachers from state testing, he has labeled everyone and every meaningful recommendation as distractions."

      The resolution states that the board declares "no confidence in the policies of the Commissioner of Education and calls for the New York State Commissioner of Education's removal by the New York State Board of Regents."

      NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said the union has been sounding warning bells since 2011 about the over-emphasis on standardized testing and the state's rushed and unrealistic timeline for introducing curriculum and assessments tied to the Common Core state standards. She said NYSUT is seeking:

      completion of all modules, or lessons, aligned with the Common Core and time for educators to review them to ensure they are grade-level appropriate and aligned with classroom practice; better engagement with parents, including listening to their concerns about their children's needs; additional tools, professional development and resources for teachers to address the needs of diverse learners, including students with disabilities and English language learners; full transparency in state testing, including the release of all test questions, so teachers can use them in improving instruction; postponement of Common Core Regents exams as a graduation requirement; the funding necessary to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to achieve the Common Core standards. The proposed Executive Budget would leave nearly 70 percent of the state's school districts with less state aid in 2014-15 than they had in 2009-10; and a moratorium, or delay, in the high-stakes consequences for students and teachers from standardized testing to give the State Education Department – and school districts – more time to correctly implement the Common Core.

      "The clock is ticking and time is running out," Neira said. Students sit for a new battery of state assessments in just a few months. It's time to hit the 'pause button' on high stakes while, at the same time, increasing support for students, parents and educators. A moratorium on high-stakes consequences would give SED and school districts time to make the necessary adjustments."

      The resolution will go to the more than 2,000 delegates to the 600,000-member union's Representative Assembly, to be held April 4-6 in New York City. The resolution underscores NYSUT's longstanding, strong opposition to corporate influence and privatization in public education and calls for an end to New York's participation in InBloom, a "cloud-based" system that would collect and store sensitive data on New York's schoolchildren.

      New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members. Members are pre-K-12 teachers; school-related professionals; higher education faculty; other professionals in education, human services and health care; and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO. Share this:


      From Tea Party Types to the Radical Left:

      The Growing United Front Against the Common Core State Standards

      Anti-Common Core bandwagon nears capacity

      Rob Astorino. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

      By Jessica Bakeman Jan. 23, 2014

      ALBANY—Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the closest thing there is to a plausible Republican challenger to New York's Democratic governor this year, took the opportunity at an impromptu press conference Wednesday to blast what he called "Cuomo's Common Core."

      And in fact Governor Andrew Cuomo beat him to the punch Tuesday, criticizing the state's rollout of the Common Core curriculum standards in his budget address and announcing his plans to appoint an expert panel to look into changing it.

      It is a testament to the rough rollout of the Common Core agenda in New York, and perhaps even more so to the poor marketing of it, that there should be such unanimity of political opinion about it.

      It's not just Astorino and Cuomo.

      There were labor unions and their Democratic allies, capitalizing on parent anger and folding Common Core into a broader campaign against standardized testing and teacher evaluations.

      And now, following a national trend, New York's conservatives have joined in, using what they portray as a specimen of big-government overreach in the service of a longer-term fight to eliminate teacher tenure and promote alternatives to traditional public schools.

      Meanwhile, few advocates for the standards are left standing.

      Common Core is a new set of academic standards adopted by New York's Board of Regents in 2010, outlining which math and English skills students should be able to demonstrate at each grade level. Adopted by nearly every state and largely commended by educators, the standards were designed collaboratively by education leaders and teachers to prepare students for the challenges of the modern workplace.

      But the rollout in New York and other states was problematic. Students were tested on the new curriculum before educators were familiarized with it. Test scores plummeted, teachers and parents protested and, eventually, the politicians followed.

      Well before Cuomo's tactical retreat this week (during which he blamed the Board of Regents), governors and lawmakers who had previously supported the standards, particularly in the South, had begun to back away from them. Some chief executives have even issuing executive orders declaring that education decisions would be made by their state governments, not at the federal level.

      In New York, the fight had originally been fought at the grassroots level, with angry parents sounding off on social media and public forums about their children's struggles with the harder material.

      An organized effort formed, led by high-profile unions and advocates that focused on the state's "botched" implementation of the Common Core rather than the standards themselves. And the Republicans like Astorino are joining in just as lawmakers will consider action on the Common Core.

      In his press conference, Astorino blamed Governor Andrew Cuomo for a "terrible" rollout of the standards, saying that "Cuomo's Common Core has been an awful mistake in this state."

      "I think Common Core needs some major changes," he said. "There are elements of it … The standardized testing and elevating education is a good thing. But teaching to a test, which is going to unfortunately leave kids who are right on the edge, or who are struggling—they're going to get swept away in this.

      "You're going to have school districts who, I think, are going to lose good teachers because of this, and school districts are going to struggle to keep up with this. It needs to be completely revamped," he continued.

      On Astorino's Facebook page, he referenced the libertarian argument against the Common Core, writing: "I believe in local control of our local schools and not control by faceless state and federal bureaucrats."

      Education commissioner John King, who is one of the only remaining state officials offering unwavering support for the Common Core, said there are "different strands" of opposition in New York, arguing that both views are fueled by misinformation.

      "Nationally, there is certainly a view, and it's reflected in places in New York state—there is an objection to the notion of standards that are common across states," King said during in a recent interview with Capital. "And one of the pieces of misinformation that we've got to correct is the notion that the standards were imposed by the federal government. They weren't. They actually were developed by states working together.

      "Then there are other areas where Common Core has been conflated with contentious issues," King said. "The Common Core isn't about testing, for example. The Common Core is a set of standards. And yes, you want your assessments to reflect the standards that you are teaching, but the Common Core isn't about testing. Certainly there is contentious national discussion about the role of testing."

      One lawmaker who has intimate knowledge of education issues recently told me that New York conservatives with bigger agendas have found "the perfect wedge" in the Common Core.

      "When hard-core conservatives like the Koch brothers have a unity of interest with groups like NYSUT, that's not only unusual, it's surprising. That alone should raise eyebrows and make people pay closer attention," the lawmaker said.

      Take Senate bill 6307, introduced in early January. Written like a press release from New York State United Teachers, the bill pushes for a three-year moratorium on using student scores on Common Core-aligned exams for "high stakes" decisions—principally, teacher evaluations.

      The bill's author? Conservative Republican State Senator Greg Ball, the same guy who made national news last year when he tweeted that Boston-marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be tortured, despite that he is an American citizen. (Ball explained his position during a media blitz that included an awkward interview with CNN host Piers Morgan.)

      The Putnam County senator, who was elected with Tea Party support and has hinted at congressional ambitions, explained his position on what seems to be a crossover issue by touting his "independent" voting record: "I have never seen an issue that has been as powerful or pulled together such a wide, diverse and disparate number of groups," he said during a recent interview with Capital.

      Ball has also co-sponsored a bill to ditch the Common Core altogether, along with the federal competitive grant program Race To The Top, which is President Obama's signature education initiative. New York won $700 million

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