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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Some highlights from the interviews for Regents applicants, including a former NYC principal -- and a correction

Update: please note the correction below re my misinterpretation of Ben Shuldiner's view of the DOE teacher data reports.

The  interviews of the Regents candidates are now posted online.  Two seats are open due to retirements, in Queens and the Lower Hudson valley; and five Regents are re-applying as their terms are up.  The Board of Regents is very powerful, sets educational policies for the state, and soon will be selecting a new Commissioner of Education as our  embattled former Commissioner John King resigned in December to take a job with Sec. of Education Arne Duncan.  

The Regent members are voted upon by the NY Assembly and the Senate, joined together as one body.  Because the Assemblymembers outnumber the Senators and the Democrats in the Assembly hold the majority, that means the Democratic Assemblymembers have the decision-making power. Traditionally, Board members have been automatically re-appointed unless they choose to retire; but  last year, Regent Jackson from the Albany area was replaced because of dissatisfaction of the Assemblymembers in his region. Here are highlights I gleaned from some of the interviews on hot-button issues:
  • Long time Regent Robert Bennett who has served on the Regents for 20 years, and is reapplying for a seat in the Buffalo area, claimed that former Commissioner King was a "good listener" & said his view of King was "very positive."
  • Judy Chin, former NYC superintendent, nominated for the open Queens seat, was critical of the whole idea of national standards, said she was against hi-stakes testing, calling them a “gotcha game” that had taken all the joy out of learning, and pointed out that charter schools operate under vastly different rules. 
  • Judith Johnson, former Superintendent of Peekskill and Mount Vernon, for the vacant Lower Hudson seat as long-time Reent Hary Phillips is retiring , has a strong resume and made a convincing critique of high-stakes testing and teacher bashing.  Judith spoke of standards needing to be evidence- based and the importance of midway corrections when policies are not working. She was particularly eloquent on the importance of arts education.  
  • Lisa Litvin, attorney and PTA leader, a candidate for the same seat, spoke about funding cuts, testing, and Common Core.  As to Common Core, she said, any other organization that took a brand new unpiloted system as the Common Core would be derelict in its duties if they refused to review it. She said the Regents should put a panel together with educators and lawmakers and experts and see if the Common Core standards are actually working.
  • Ben Shuldiner, former principal at High School for Public Service: Heroes of Tomorrow in Brooklyn who now teaches at Hunter College, is applying for the same Lower Hudson seat as Johnson and Litvin.  He said that the school that he founded in 2003 had attained a graduation rate of 98% compared to the 23% of Wingate HS, the large school it was replacing, despite having the “same students”.  Yet for at least the first several years, these small schools were allowed to openly exclude ELLs and special needs students.  See this report on the exclusion of ELLs  and this article about the legal complaint filed in 2006 with the Civil rights office of the US Department of Education by Prof. David Bloomfield, at the time the president of the Citywide Council on HS.
Even now, according to Inside Schools: “Although the school accepts students who score a Level 2 or higher on state exams, many students arrive performing at grade level and there are fewer students who require special education services than at most schools…Admissions: Students must score at least a Level 2 on state math and ELA exams and have a 75 average in core middle school subjects. Priority goes to Brooklyn students.”

Asked about how his school achieved such high graduation rates, Shuldiner said “it all boils down to one thing and one thing only, the belief that all children can learn.  All children are going to graduate and go to college.  You change the conversation.”   He implied the problem with Wingate was that the faculty there had “given up.”   He added that even with the higher standards of the Common Core, they could have achieved the same graduate rate; only they would have to work harder. 

His goal would be to leave the high-performing districts in Lower Hudson off the hook in terms of the statewide accountability system:  “If things are going well, we don’t want to be so punitive for you.” Only if “schools are failing” should the state come in to regulate.  [Yet as Assemblymember Pat Fahey from Albany pointed out, the only reason there was widespread protests against these damaging policies is that every school in the state was in the same boat.]

He said as a Regent, he would work to counter the attack on teachers, and “show love and respect for teaching profession.”   He added that he didn’t support the Governor’s proposals to revamp the teacher evaluation system to take decisions out of hands of superintendents and use a metric that relied too much on test results: “We shouldn’t just rely on exams or outside vantage points.” 

Yet when the teacher data reports were produced under Klein in NYC– based 100% on value-added test scores rather than the 50% now proposed by Cuomo– Shuldiner said the ratings should be released to the public.  As quoted in City Limits at the time:  “Principal Ben Shuldiner of the High School for Public Service: Heroes of Tomorrow School in Crown Heights says the public should know how teachers are graded.”

CORRECTION: I just heard from Helen Zelon , the author of the City Limits article quoted above.  Apparently, Shuldiner meant that the formula behind the teacher evaluation grading system should have been fully transparent, not that the individual ratings of teachers should have ever been made public.  My apologies to Mr. Shuldiner.  Here is what Helen now writes about his attitude at the time:


"He was never in favor of publicly rating (or berating) teachers in any shape or form -- only committed to transparency and, as we all felt from time to time, flummoxed by the double-talk and lack of candor.  I think that you understood a somewhat opposite meaning, which is ironic, given his staunch and strident opposition."

All the interviews can be seen at this link – they should be livestreamed by the Legislature; but instead they are being made available to the public thanks to Mert Melfa, videographer extraordinaire.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So much for non-biased review. Sheesh.