Friday, November 8, 2013

A brief summary of the record of Andres Alonso, possible candidate for NYC Chancellor

Many names have been floated as possible candidates to be the next Chancellor, in Gotham Schools and the NY Post. Among the possibilities offered are several who seem unlikely, including Bob Hughes of New Visions, given that he has never been an educator and has focused on expanding the New Visions charter school network, all of them co-located in DOE buildings – as well working to preserve the network structure, which is almost universally despised by parents, teachers and principals, and which Bill de Blasio has promised to eliminate.
Other unlikely names include Carmen Fariña, former Deputy Chancellor under Klein, who is apparently happy in her retirement; and Shael Suransky, the current second in command at DOE, who helped devise the current school grading system that relies 85% on test scores, and who has defended the current regime of school closings and charter expansion. 
Among the more reasonable names put forward are Kathleen Cashin, a highly respected Board of Regent member from Brooklyn and former NYC Superintendent. Two other possible candidates who have been cited are Joshua Starr, currently Superintendent in Montgomery County, Maryland, and Andres Alonso, former Deputy Chancellor under Joel Klein, who recently left his job as Superintendent of Baltimore’s schools.
Although Alonso is not as toxic as some of the other men who have served as top educrats under Klein, including Chris Cerf, John White, Jean-Claude Brizard and Marc Sternberg, his record has not been unmarked by controversy.  Below is a brief summary of his career, written by Peter Dalmasy, researcher for Class Size Matters.
Alonso’s background as an educator
·         Alonso came to teaching after practicing as an attorney at a New York City law firm in the 1980s. According to a 2006 New York Times article, Alonso did not have a teaching license and had never taken an education course.
·         He taught for twelve years from 1986 to 1998, beginning at a NYC public high school on the Upper West Side, where he briefly taught English Language Learners and left after fear of being laid off due to budget cuts. In 1986, He began teaching in Newark at a school that focused on emotionally disturbed children, and then became director of a regional bilingual program at another Newark public school.
·         In 1998, He enrolled at the Urban Superintendents program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he was among the few students accepted with no administrative experience. He graduated from Harvard with a Master’s of Education in 1999 and completed his Doctorate in 2006.
Alonso’s tenure at the NYC Department of Education
·         In 2003, he was hired by Deputy of Chancellor Diana Lam to become Chief of Staff at DOE.
·         Alonso served for three years as Chief of Staff under Lam and then Deputy Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
·         In May 2006, Chancellor Klein appointed Alonso as Deputy Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, and called him “a natural choice” to replace Fariña, who was retiring. Some veterans said Alonso was unqualified because he had never been a principal or superintendent, yet would become the leader of more than 1,500 principals and superintendents.
·         In August 2006, when figures were released about the declining enrollment of African-American students at New York City specialized high schools, Alonso described the figures as “extraordinarily surprising.”
·         A 2006 report by the New York Immigration Coalition criticized the city policy that allowed new small high schools to deny admission to students with learning disabilities and English Language Learners (ELLs). On the policy that fledgling schools could exclude immigrant students, Alonso said that these students “have equivalent access.”
In July 2007, after one year as Deputy Chancellor, Alonso left New York City to take the CEO position of the Baltimore City Public Schools. Here are some of the accomplishments and controversies that occurred during his administration, from contemporaneous news reports.
Positive aspects of Alonso’s record in Baltimore
·         Before Alonso’s tenure as CEO of the Baltimore City Public Schools, there had been six superintendents in six years. Alonso served from 2007 until 2013, longer than the typical rate of superintendents in large, urban school districts.
·         In 2008, Alonso determined to bring back dropouts, urged all high schools to place one phone call to students who had dropped out and to visit the students’ homes. By 2012, the dropout rate in the city was cut in half.
·         During the 2009-2010 school year, suspensions fell below 10,000, nearly 14,000 fewer than in 2003-2004.
·         In September 2012, Alonso led the district into a settlement of a federal lawsuit Vaughn G. et al. v. the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore filed against the system in 1984 by the Maryland Disability Law Center, alleging the school system failed to serve special-education students. The settlement required BCPSS to improve services for disability students such as providing timely assessments and adequate resources.
·         In April 2013, state legislation passed a $1 billion plan to finance and upgrade Baltimore City’s public schools’ infrastructure, as proposed by Alonso.
Lack of oversight on financial issues
·         In 2009, the Alonso administration offered then-school board President Brian Morris $175,000 in salary to become his Deputy CEO of Operations, despite Morris’ earlier financial and legal problems as well as lying about completing an undergraduate degree. Morris refused the offer and left the school board, after criticism from the Baltimore Teachers’ Union officials, who said the salary offered was too high, given budget constraints.
·         From 2009 to 2012, The Baltimore City Public Schools system paid $14 million in overtime, primarily to police officers and temporary employees. Alonso’s driver Ralph Askins was the top earner, earning $40 per hour and amassing $216,000 in overtime from 2008 to 2010. Employees at the headquarters spent $500,000 with no oversight and the head of the IT department paid $250,000 to renovate his suite.
·         A 2012 audit revealed that the district had failed to collect millions of dollars in debt, had overpaid dozens of employees in salaries and benefits, and had paid $2.8 million in overtime without substantiating hours.
Teacher merit pay, principal bonuses tied to test scores and cheating scandals
·         In 2010, Alonso and the Baltimore Teachers’ Union agreed to a “landmark” contract that included an incentive-based teacher pay system. The system rewarded teachers who raised the performance of their students as measured by test scores, and/or received high evaluations based in part on student achievement and test scores.
·         The Baltimore Teachers’ Union members originally rejected the contract in a vote on October 14, 2010. It was passed a month later by a narrow margin, after intervention by the national AFT.
·         In a survey during the 2012-2013 school year, only eleven percent of Baltimore teachers would be willing to vote for this contract again. Only 17 percent said they supported having their pay tied to their evaluation, a system that will become a reality for all Maryland educators next year.
·         In 2008, Alonso worked out a pilot program in which $20,000 bonuses would be given principals based on factors such as student test scores and school culture.
·         In 2009, Alonso announced that George Washington Elementary, a national Blue Ribbon School, was found to have cheated on the 2008 Maryland State Assessment exams. In June 2011, Alonso said that several other schools in the district had been found to have cheated on the 2009 and 2010 state tests. This included Abbottston Elementary, a school that had received attention for its high scores and had been visited by Arne Duncan in 2009.
Fair Student Funding
·         In 2008, Alonso instituted “Fair Student Funding,” following in the footsteps of Joel Klein who had implemented this system in New York City a year earlier. Though this system was supposed to provide more equity to schools with struggling students, and more autonomy to principals to spend their budgets as they liked, it was not universally seen as successful.
·         Iris Kirsch, a Baltimore City public school teacher, wrote that “When asked whether they thought Fair Student Funding was actually more fair for students, [a] teacher scoffed: “You have people who haven’t spent enough time in schools, but also don’t have real business training. There’s a recipe for disaster for you.””
·         Another teacher complained that her principal had re-assigned a sizeable number of the teaching staff to administrative roles, leading to an almost doubling of class size at that school in the last two years. “You have a whole lot of people who could be teaching the children,” the teacher explained, “but they’re doing other things. And the children are paying the price.””
·         Kirsch also wrote that during the first year of Fair Student Funding, her school ran out of toilet paper mid-year: “No one had really trained principals in budgeting.”
·         In October 2012, Alonso released what he called an “objective, third party analysis” that showed positive results from Fair Student Funding, a report funded by the Carnegie Corporation. It was conducted by Education Resource Strategies; the same company that had helped develop his Fair Student Funding system. According to ERS, the report was requested by the district, but Alonso denied this.
Suspension bonus program
·         As CEO, Alonso helped redesign the disciplinary code and provided bonuses to teachers and administrators who reduced suspensions and absenteeism, contributing to a decrease in these figures.  
For teachers and administrators to receive the bonuses, their schools had to meet district-set targets in suspensions, truancy and chronic absenteeism — and to increase the number of families who returned school surveys that asked questions about safety and learning.  
The suspension reduction targets applied only to nonviolent and minor offenses like cutting class, inciting or participating in a public disturbance, classroom disruption, insubordination and disrespect.  Jimmy Gittings, president of the city's principals union, said that attaching financial incentives to suspensions for minor offenses would lead to more disruption.
High level of principal turnover
·         Between 2007 and 2011, roughly 75% of principals changed under Alonso’s administration. In 2011, of the 188 school principals when Alonso arrived in 2007, only 50 remained at the same schools they had led four years before. Another nine principals still led schools but had been transferred to new posts.
·         Heading into the 2011-2012 school year, there were 42 principal vacancies, of which roughly half were due to retirement or resignations.
·         Fifteen of those 42 vacancies were filled during a two-week hiring spree at the end of July and beginning of August. Over 20 schools still had no principals just weeks before the start of the 2011-2012 school year.
·         According to the Baltimore Sun, “Some principals who left the school system in recent months cited a range of reasons including constant pressure, lack of support and the exodus of colleagues in the past four years.”
·         One principal said he sent his resignation April 1 and was not contacted by any central office officials about how to handle his transition. On his last day in June, he said, he took a picture of his computer, badge and keys sitting on his desk to prove he'd left them behind.
Charter Schools
Baltimore currently has 33 charter schools, of which 14 opened during Alonso’s term.

·    Sixteen of these charter schools are housed in public school buildings, and pay rent to the district, which they budget out of their per-pupil allocations.
·           Six are in buildings converted from traditional public schools. (It is unclear whether the charter schools pay for the space.)
·           In June 2008, Alonso signed onto the principals of the Education Equity Project, founded by Joel Klein, claiming that equity would result from expanding charter schools, more testing and eliminating “teacher’s contracts and state policies that keep ineffective teachers in classrooms.”
·           In 2009, City Neighbors Hamilton, a charter school, was given free rent in return for a promise to spend over $600,000 on improvements to the facility. “It is a good deal for us,” [Alonso] said.”
·           In 2010, the Baltimore school district received a $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation to form a “compact” agreement with its charter schools. The compact encouraged closures of “low-performing schools” and the opening or expansion of “high performing” charter schools in their place.  It included a pledge from the district to “leverage partnerships to address facilities needs of all city schools, including minimizing the cost of a public charter in a traditional public school facility,” to help with financing for space for charters, and centralized purchasing by the district that would include charter schools.
·           In November 2011, Alonso denied all six applications for charter schools who applied to open in 2012-2013 and said the schools’ plans were inadequate.
The final year of Alonso’s administration
·         In May 2012, Alonso appointed Broad Residency alumnus Victor De La Paz as the district’s Chief Financial Officer. De La Paz came from the Hartford Public Schools system. Broad residents, whose salaries are subsidized by the Broad foundation, are trained in the pro-corporate reform ideology.
·         In a November 2012, Alonso proposed a ten-year capital plan which would renovate 87 buildings, renovate or replace 49 buildings (including 13 to increase size and 10 to reduce), vacate 26 buildings, relocate 12 schools to different buildings, and close 17 schools. The plan was approved in April 2013.
·         In April 2013, the Principals’ Union unsuccessfully proposed that Alonso should return a portion of the $29,000 he earned because of test score increases from 2008 and 2009, years in which schools were found to have scores that had been boosted through cheating.
·         The $1.2 billion education budget approved in May 2013, before Alonso left, included a decrease of $40 per student in the base amount for Baltimore public schools but an increase of $139 per student for the city’s charter schools.
·         When Alonso announced his resignation in May 2013 he did not give 90 days' notice as required by his contract, though the school board waived this provision without penalty. He completed a six-year term on June 30, two years' shy of the expiration of his contract, but was granted a waiver that allowed him to break his contract without penalty.
·         In July 2013, Alonso was paid by the school board $150,000 in unused vacation, sick, and personal leave days. "When you get to more than $100,000 in accumulated leave, that's very surprising," said Audrey Spalding, director of education policy, "And if the school board is not willing to give a breakdown to substantiate it, it raises a lot of questions."
·         Iris Kirsch, the Baltimore teacher quoted above, concluded that Alonso “had generally good intentions,” but that “he was overly empowered to run roughshod over schools and their families, implementing experimental, market-based, corporate-style reforms that directly contradict the truly humanizing essence of real teaching and learning.”


Anonymous said...

This guy would be a disaster for NYC teachers, students, families-he's a classic "Ed reformer." I expect more from Mayor DeBlasio on this one...Diane Ravitch would be a solid choice.

I noticed that... said...

Diane said it many times that she does not want to pursue the chancellor's position. I would rather have Diane report all the education misfits that are out there.

I feel that those who have always been on the side of education and children should be on the chancellor-canvassing committee. I would appoint Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson, Patrick Sullivan, Amy Arundell(she's fair and I feel UFT members trust her more than Mulgrew), several master teachers (20+ years of teaching), a strong parent advocate from each borough including a high school student from each borough. Let those individuals from the chancellor-canvassing committee should make the decision along with the mayor-elect.

Picking any other administrator from the remnants from the Bloomberg cesspool will continue the education deform illness that have affected our school system. It is time to heal, recover, and to mend. No, no Alonso go back and get a teaching degree. You have been contaminated with the Bloomberg education deform virus. Spread it somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

If you look carefully at the timeline leading up to Alonso's appointment as deputing chancellor, you will see that when Diana Lam was removed from office for conflict of interest, Alonso went off to Harvard to earn his credentials for the deputy chancellorship. At that time, Chancellor Klein nominated a DOE counsel to become deputy chancellor for instruction to replace Lam, but was rebuffed by the NYSED because the nominee lacked the necessary credentials in education; a waiver could not be granted, because NYSED had already done so for Klein himself, and doing so again would have resulted in NYC having its top two education administrators uncredentialed in... education. (This was years before Cathie Black's appointment.) Only at that point was Carmen Fariña appointed deputy chancellor. On almost the very day that Alonso graduated from the Harvard program that he had attended with objective of attaining those necessary credentials, Fariña retired, thereby making room for Klein's next choice to assume office.

Once in place, Alonso's long-winded, convoluted rhetoric made little sense to those who reported to him. The most telling episode occurred when Alonso berated a room of instructional leaders (all of whom were lifelong educators at the BOE/DOE) for what he judged to be their general lack of commitment to the children of NYC and the DOE -- this without the slightest basis in any kind of fact -- only to depart days later for the sweeter job in Baltimore, having given no notice whatsoever.

Michael Fiorillo said...

Alonso illustrates the problem of solely insisting that the next Chancellor be an educator: there are plenty of so-called reformer opportunists who can fill in that blank, allowing an easy loophole for a politician to slip through.

Not only must the next chancellor be a career educator with years of classroom experience, but she/he must also have a record of committed support for public education, unlike this fellow.

Anyone with high-level association with the Bloomberg regime should be considered persona non grata.