Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Success For Lucienne Mohammed

On September 15, 2009 I posted an article in response to the "Worst Teachers" article published in the New Yorker magazine and written by Steven Brill. My article:

The Rubber Rooms and the Misinformation of Steven Brill

One of the reasons for my posting this piece on my website and blog was to try to get the NYC BOE Attorney, Dennis De Costa, to ask questions of Lucienne Mohammed relating to her allegations of wrong-doing by PS 65 Principal Daysi Garcia, and get this information into the 3020-a hearing record.

This effort was successful.

A little bit of background into the 3020-a hearing itself may be relevant: arbitrators either are reluctant, or forbid altogether, information about the administrators in the school from which the re-assigned teacher was removed. I heard one arbitrator say at a 3020-a hearing, "I will not hear any information about what the principal did or did not do, as [he/she] is the Supervisor. You must do what the Supervisor asks you to do, and grieve it later." Some arbitrators are less strict about the "dont ask, dont tell" policy of the NYC BOE and what I call the "rubberization" process.

Yet it makes no sense to me that a hearing could be fair if the reasons for a teacher to be observed as "incompetent" are not based on performance, but on some other "fact", and these "facts" or information are not permitted by the arbitrator to be mentioned. A principal who wants to remove a teacher from his/her school can see a 'messy' classroom when indeed the room may be picture perfect; a lesson may take ten minutes too long, says the Principal on the U-rating sheet, but that may not have happened at all; two students may be talking in class about the subject at hand (this is called "accountable talk"), but on the rating sheet the "U" is for deficiencies in classroom management. And so on.

What must be addressed is the visual prism of the Principal when he/she is observing the teacher, and I believe that this information must be allowed into a 3020-a hearing to clarify the record. By the way, as you can see in the information supplied by Ms. Mohammed in her statement about what was happening at PS 65, she signed up for the PIP+ Program, a totally-owned-and-paid-for-by-the-NYCBOE-no-bid-contract thing designed to help Principals. Who said that the program was designed to support the Principal? Executive Director Sandra Kase. Lucienne Mohammed's Peer Observer, who watched her teach and was supposed to help her 'improve', last taught in New York City in 1968 and was never trained in the Workshop Model (the program used at PS 65). The observations proved to be exactly what Principal Garcia asked for: total support for Ms. Mohammed's removal from the school because of incompetence. Watch out for the observers, and try to find out what their visual prism may be. By the way, I filed a freedom of information request of the NYC BOE for the RMC Contract, (see sections #1, #2, and #3) and I was asked to pay $52+ for the document - missing pp. pp. 88 - through 94; 114 – through 183; 187 – through 191; and 221 – through 252. I've appealed.

So, how can the teacher get in to the 3020-a record that the Principal was discriminating against him/her, and this may have been the root cause of the re-assignment? One way is to write about the Principal during the 3020-a, and anger the NYC BOE Attorney into forgetting that the hearing is not supposed to focus on anything the Principal has done or may have done in the school building. Another way is to have your Attorney ask questions about what the Principal was/is doing in the school, and any grievances or special complaints you may have filed, but this is not always accepted by the arbitrator, as I wrote above.

PS 65 Principal Daysi Garcia, in front of PS 65 in Brooklyn, NY

On September 17, 2009 Lucienne Mohammed went to day 37 of her 3020-a hearing and she was cross-examined by NYC BOE Attorney, Dennis De Costa of the BOE "Gotcha Squad". I was there for the afternoon.

Evidently when Lucienne and her Attorney Mr. Cavallero walked into the hearing room, Mr. De Costa had my article on the table before him. All of his questions to Ms. Mohammed were about the actions of Principal Garcia, based upon what Lucienne had sent to me for my posting online.

Mr. De Costa wanted to know if, indeed, Principal Garcia discriminated against Ms. Mohammed and another staff member (whose hearing was not completed, but at which Ms. Mohammed testified), and Ms. Mohammed was asked how, and when this discrimination took place. The possible motives of Principal Garcia to remove Lucienne Mohammed from her job at PS 65 for reasons OTHER THAN the actual performance of Ms. Mohammed were brought to the table and put into the record. This was my goal in writing the article.

The impossibility of "proving" incompetence in the hearing room at 51 Chambers Street is clear to anyone who attends these hearings. A good teacher is someone who knows the subject he/she is assigned to teach, and who transfers this content knowledge in an "appropriate" and "educationally sound" way - please excuse my use of these general terms, but my point is, both "appropriate" and "educationally sound" are based on the students you have in your class and the visual prism and mindset of the person reporting. Thus, arbitrators placed in the position of deciding cases of incompetence must try to understand the school culture and the specifics of the classroom of the teacher whose case is being heard. James A. Gross, author of the book "Teachers On Trial" puts it this way:

"This study has demonstrated that decision makers' conceptions of the way things ought to be and beliefs about the way things presumably are - unchecked and unverified by empirical evidence about the way things actually are - often lead to unjust decisions about teachers' conduct and performance and to outcomes that are detrimental to teaching and learning. Injustice and inefficiency will persist as long as policy makers and decision makers operate without sufficient evidence."
(p 110)....and,

"This study has revealed the serious inequities that result when decision makers operate without objective standards or reliable evidence concerning the educational conseqences of various teacher behaviors both in and outside of the classroom. Of course, educational reform involves matters of productivity and performance as well as equity, and the objective should be to maximize learning and teacher effectiveness in ways consistent with justice and equity for teachers, students, and administrators." (p. 111).

I recommend that you beg someone for this book, or buy it yourself.

Of course in Lucienne Mohammed's case no one knows what the decision of Mr. Jay Siegel will be after the closing on October 27, 2009, but for now, the record is clear that Principal Daysi Garcia may have had a motive to make Lucienne Mohammed appear to be "incompetent" when indeed she was - and is - not.

Think about it.

Betsy Combier

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Winning Your 3020-a Part 2: Information Advocacy

You are your own best advocate or enemy.

It is almost ridiculous to write that, and know that you may have no idea why you were told to report to a re-assignment center. But think about it for a minute -"it" being the "unknown".

Haven't there been signs of dislike coming from the administration to you for a "long" time, or at least since the new Principal/Assistant Principal came to your school? How did you deal with this? Was there an incident in your class that ended with a letter to file, disciplinary meeting, or even a SOHO report which includes your name? (A SOHO report is an online occurence report filed with the NYC BOE by a Principal or Assistant Principal which details an incident that led to a Superintendent's Suspension). Was an informal observation done that bothered you because the time or entry of the Principal or AP into the classroom was improper? Keep a log of all such events. Did all of your formal observations have a pre- and post- observation properly addressing the classroom activities? Did you observe the administration doing something wrong? Document everything, then look over your notes. You may see what may have led, or may lead to in the future, to a charge or specification. Or, you may see nothing at all, and this is your defense as well. "They" made a mistake in re-assigning you.

You know your case, and you were there when "it" happened or didn't happen. You need to gather together all of your notes, documents, files, tapes and other possible relevant material and arrange these items chronologically. Then take a good, long look at what you have.

Oh yes, please do not use ignorance of the law, rules and bargaining agreement to excuse your re-assignment and/or removal from your teaching assignment! Read everything that concerns the process known as "rubberization", including:


How The New York City "Gotcha Squad" Gets Tenured Teachers Declared "Incompetent", and Placed in a Rubber Room by Betsy Combier

and in the article above, read the Labor FAQs.

What Do you Have?

Do you have a tape or video - or can you get one of these - for the time or day that you think you are/will be charged with? Note that in New York State it is the law that you can tape anyone without telling him or her, as long as you are part of the conversation.. If someone calls you up and you believe that you need to preserve the conversation, you can tape the call and not tell the person or people, if more than one, on the other line. Obviously this cuts out hacking into someone else's telephone line, or taping people who are not talking with you or did not include you in their conversation. I observed how two teachers used secret tapes of conversations with NYC BOE personnel in a conversation with them, and this secret taping technique resulted in the presentation of evidence to impeach the testimony of the Principal of the school, the SCI investigator, an arbitrator, even Theresa Europe, Director of the Administrative Trials Unit (ATU) at their 3020-a hearings. In both cases the arbitrators allowed in the tapes as evidence for the teacher. Neither has a decision yet, so stay tuned.

Do you have notes or documents that 'prove' your side of the story (assuming that you know what story you are being held accountable for, or what your charges are)? Keep all notes until after your 3020-a is over, or forever - hey, you never know (slogan of the New York State Lottery).

Do you know anyone who may have any items or information that may be relevant to establishing your defense? Jot down their names/addresses/emails, and google anyone who you can think of who be able to provide information for you with which you can strengthen your defense. After you locate a possible witness, do not call any of these people yourself, but indirectly keep track of those individuals who are essential to establishing your side of 'the story'. Stay on top of this information, as often you may sit in a re-assignment center for a long time, and students graduate, staff move, etc....dont lose your best witness(es). Six degrees of separation: with email, blogs, websites, media now getting more and more in the hands of everybody on the planet, somebody may be able to reach "Jane Smith" who worked with you during the 2007 school year as a para. You can find people today with a little bit of good cyber-snooping.

If a witness is very ill or is moving out of state, see if this person will write a statement about what occurred and ask this person to notarize the statement and then give it to you for your hearing. Keep a file.

Look for the piece of paper that had something on it you remember was important. Search under your bed, behind furniture, in places this note simply couldn't be. It might be there. Try to re-create scenarios that you remember, then go to the source of possible information about the day/location/people there and ask for any documents that might be relevant. Dont give up.

If you are being charged with incompetence, the 'proof is in the pudding' - results count. What were your students' scores? Did they go up? Good teaching requires content knowledge and professional delivery of information. The argument that you are "incompetent" is weakened if your students' scores in your subject area went up the year that you taught them. Use this information to help your attorney prove your point, that you should not be terminated.

If you have your personnel file, fabulous. Go through it very carefully. Pick out all relevant rating sheets, letters to file, etc., and arrange chronologically.

If you dont have your personnel file, GET IT. Call your UFT District Office up and speak with your representative as soon as possible. Get all online postings about you as well. See below.

What Dont You Have?

As I wrote above, if you do not have your personnel file, GET IT.

Get all online postings as well - SOHO reports may have your name mentioned, so ask for these for your students.

You may say, but what if I dont know what I dont have? Then, think. What would you like to have to prove your innocence if you were proving that you were innocent of x, then y, then z. As you may not know your charges, or what the NYC BOE may bring up against you when your hearing begins (this is another story), create charges you think may be charged against you, and think about what documents you may have that you would need to prove your innocence. You will feel better when you know that you have information that will help you overcome any charge or specification.

If you dont have your students' scores, file a freedom of information request of the city or the state. Call the New York state education department. Below is one of my recent freedom of information requests, and you can copy it and put your own information in:

send your FOIL request to:

Joseph Baranello
Central Records Access Officer
New York City Board of Education
52 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007

Here is a request I filed on August 2, 2009:


Joseph A. Baranello, Esq.
Central Records Access Officer
Office of Legal Services
New York City Department of Education
52 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mr. Baranello:

RE: FOIL Request # ______ (Categories Used to Rate Teachers)

Under the provisions of the New York Freedom of Information Law, Article 6 of the Public Officers Law, I hereby request to obtain/inspect records or portions thereof pertaining to:

For each of the following numbered categories pertaining to teaching service (which are listed underneath four lettered headings), the records, memoranda, circulars, bulletins, reports, newsletters, manuals, training materials, PowerPoint presentations, webinars, etc. containing the rubrics, standards, or policies that are used by principals in order to assess whether the category merits a rating of "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" on the Annual Professional Performance Review and Report on Probationary Service of Pedagogical Employee form:


1) Attendance and punctuality
2) Personal appearance
3) Voice, speech and use of English
4) Professional attitude and professional growth
5) Resourcefulness and initiative


1) Effect on character and personality growth of pupils
2) Control of class
3) Maintenance of wholesome classroom atmosphere
4) Planning and preparation of work
5) Skill in adapting instruction to individual needs and capacities
6) Effective use of appropriate methods and techniques
7) Skill in making class lessons interesting to pupils
8) Extent of pupil participation in the class and school program
9) Evidence of pupil growth in knowledge, skills, appreciations and attitude
10) Attention to pupil health, safety and general welfare


1) Attention to physical conditions
2) Housekeeping and appearance of room
3) Care of equipment by teacher and children
4) Attention to records and reports
5) Attention to routine matters


1) Maintenance of good relations with teachers and with supervisors
2) Effort to establish and maintain good relationships with parents
3) Willingness to accept special assignments in connection with the school program

The responsive records may be located in any of the following offices or divisions:

a) Office of Legal Services
b) Office of Labor Relations
c) Office of Labor Policy
d) Office of Appeals and Reviews
e) Office of the Chancellor
f) Office of the Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning
g) Division of Human Resources
h) any Integrated Service Center
i) any Learning Support Organization
j) any superintendent's office or deputy superintendent's office
k) any principal's office

After the inspection, I may decide to purchase copies of the entire records or certain portions thereof. Alternatively, you may E-mail me copies of the records.

If you have any questions relating to the specific records or portions being sought, please phone me so that we may discuss them.

As you know, the Freedom of Information Law requires that an agency respond to a request within five business days of receipt of a request. Therefore, I would appreciate a response as soon as possible and look forward to hearing from you shortly. If for any reason any portion of my request is denied, please inform me of the reasons for the denial in writing and provide the name and address of the person or body to whom an appeal should be directed.


Betsy Combier
Editor, ParentAdvocates.Org
NYC Rubber Room Reporter

Meeting with your attorney

If you are going into a 3020-a arbitration hearing, you are a tenured teacher. This means that when you receive your charges CONTACT THE UFT DISTRICT OFFICE AND HAVE YOUR REPRESENTATIVE FILE FOR A HEARING!!!!!!! You have 10 days from the date of receipt of your charges to request a 3020-a due process hearing. Your rep will know what to do.

You will be assigned a NYSUT Attorney. When the NYSUT Attorney schedules a meeting, remember that you most proabably will not be paid for this meeting if you leave your assigned location during school hours, so arrange to meet after the school day has ended, if at all possible.

Realize that your assigned attorney has many other cases going on and is overworked. Bring copies of your documents to this meeting and show your attorney everything that you have. Make your defense clear.

You have the right to be treated with respect at all times, so treat your Attorney with respect as well.

Take detailed notes.

Support your attorney by trying to get any information that you do not already have.

If you have the money, you always can hire a private attorney. Be careful. The process known as the 3020-a in New York City is a strange one, in many respects. More about that later.

Principals Are Told To Hire Teachers From the Reserve Pool

Ernest Logan, President of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators (CSA)

September 18, 2009
Klein Pressures Principals to Hire Reserve Pool’s Teachers

With more than 1,500 existing teachers on the city’s payroll without permanent job placements, the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, has told principals that if they do not fill those jobs by the end of next month, they will lose any money they had allocated for their teacher vacancies.

Principals across the city have resisted hiring teachers from the so-called absent reserve pool, in which teachers are placed if they lose their posts when a school is shut down or forced to shrink its teaching staff because of budget cuts or declining enrollments.

Though the pool has shrunk to about 1,500 teachers, from 1,983 about three weeks ago, it would still cost the department roughly $127 million this year. By forcing principals to fill the remaining 1,050 vacancies in the system from the existing pool, education officials expect to save about $75 million.

In a letter sent to principals this week, Mr. Klein called the pool a “fiscal liability we cannot sustain.”

“Nobody dislikes this situation more than I do,” Mr. Klein wrote to the principals. “Limiting your hiring freedom goes against what I stand for, but because of the economic reality, we must control costs and protect our schools from deeper budget cuts.”

The letter was first reported by, a Web site that covers New York City education issues. Mr. Klein has lifted the hiring restrictions in some subjects, like special education and science, and several principals have said they received waivers to hire new teachers in math and bilingual education.

The Education Department is continuing to hold job fairs over the next several weeks and requiring those teachers in the pool to attend the fairs.

Ernest Logan, the president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, said in a statement that the council was pleased that the human resources department was “stepping up to the plate” with the job fairs, but sounded a note of caution. “We would like to know more about what the Department of Education will do if appropriate licensing matches are not made or if excessed teachers fail to show up at the recruitment fairs,” he said.

From Betsy Combier:

I guess that 300 teachers found jobs since the previous article was published about how 1,800 excessed teachers were not being given positions...Anyway, let's see what happens as teachers continue to attend job fairs and report that no jobs are being advertised.

Principals in NYC Leave 1,800 Teaching Jobs Open Rather Than Hire Excessed Teachers

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Rubber Rooms and the Misinformation of Steven Brill by Betsy Combier

The education of more than 1 million public school children in New York City is a big business. Too big to allow any employee to undermine or sabotage the huge amount of funds generated every year by no bid contracts, scrubbed grades, false test results, and other misinformation that wins big awards. I have attended hearings of Rubber Room teachers for almost 5 years, and visit the Rubber Rooms every week. The article published in the New Yorker magazine article on the Rubber Room written by journalist Steven Brill is a fabricated tale that the NYC BOE will try to market as truth. Dont believe it.

The New York City Board of Education funds the "rubberization" process which removes tenured members of the United Federation of Teachers from their classrooms and jobs and places them in rooms called temporary re-assignment centers, TRCs, or “rubber rooms”. Sometimes members of the Principals’ Union, CSA, also end up in these locations. More often than not these re-assigned teachers and school personnel are not only experienced, but dedicated to protecting the health, education and welfare of the children under their care. Some do disobey rules and the law, and some are, indeed, incompetent. The system should remove these employees from the classroom, especially if there is evidence of misconduct or a crime, and there is substantial evidence to prove this. But many of these tenured, re-assigned people are removed simply because they notice theft, harm and other wrongdoing in their schools by others, and report the crimes and misconduct to authorities – the Special Commissioner of Investigation, for example. SCI then goes "after" the person for reporting what he or she has seen (do not believe the website). Suddenly the "mandated reporter" becomes the dreaded Whistleblower that no one in power wants around. For this reason, many acts of a criminal nature are pushed under the rug.

When you hear the word “incompetent”, look at the person who is writing or saying it. The word itself is situation specific. For example, if a teacher is tenured and teaches chemistry for 10 years and then the Principal assigns this person to teach high school English literature, most people would say that perhaps this person would be “incompetent” to teach that subject. When you find out that a teacher was placed in a Senior calculus class but actually is certified in teaching global history, you know something is wrong. When you hear that a teacher is “incompetent”, the very next question should be “at what?” Nine times out of ten this person can find a classroom right for him or her and the Principal is assigning the wrong one. Classic sabotage.

The person who is dragged through the door of his or her school is not always guilty of anything other than speaking up about someone else’s crimes. You can tell a person to be quiet and not say anything about school personnel doing something that harms someone else, but this doesn't always work. The thought is so unbelievable to a person that he/she would be retaliated against for trying to fix a problem that he/she won’t hide what looks like theft of funds, cheating, abuse of a child by the administration, and, as mandated reporters, speak out about it anyway. (What employees should do when they see harm being done to children in the school is call the police, report the abuse to the NYS Mandated Reporting Line: 1-800-635-1522, or call other non-BOE agencies).

Punishment is swift and degrading for the employee who leaks the news that the Principal hurt a child, that an Assistant Principal changed records, that there is racial and religious discrimination in publicly funded buildings of New York City, and other such activities. Almost every week we can read the NY POST or Daily News and see a school employee handcuffed and led outside the front door of his or her school in front of the very same children who were being taught by this person moments before.It is very easy for a Principal to make a call to the local police station and tell them that a teacher just touched/punched/hit a child, whether this teacher did so or not. Within minutes, cameras are in front of the school as the person accused is marched out in handcuffs. The public is "told" visually that this person was guilty of a crime, before there is any investigation. This is the process that Joel Klein has spent seven years perfecting, and the public must put a stop to it.

However, being re-assigned to a “rubber room” is often as simple as the Principal doesn’t want you, and doesn't want to train you or assign you to a class that is appropriate for you. The Principal can pick up the telephone or open his/her email, and let someone know at the NYC BOE that teacher X stole something, scrubbed test scores or harmed a child, and need not have any evidence or proof. The teacher is not informed of the allegation until the Gotcha Squad has “proven” the allegation, and he/she is on the subway, in a bus, or is driving to a TRC. Often, the employee does not know even then why he/she is going away from the students who are waiting in the school. The NYC BOE would like to get rid of the Union protection and fire the individual on the spot, but the UFT stops the firing of any tenured employee, and gives the employee a chance to gather evidence and prove his or her innocence. The UFT also provides, as I wrote above, some of the best lawyers in town, free of charge to its members for 3020-a hearings.

But the NYC BOE is not interested in finding the “right” classroom for an employee, and does not want people who have a conscience, are courageous, are too experienced, lose a loved one and must attend funerals, gets sick or has operations, or in any way impedes the business of education. Notice I did not say “educating”.

The education of more than 1 million public school children in New York City is a big business. Too big to allow any employee to undermine or sabotage the huge amount of funds generated every year by no bid contracts, scrubbed grades, false test results, and other misinformation that wins big awards. Guess who wins The Broad Prize every year? The most successful education business, not necessarily the school district that educated its students most successfully...and is validated by national testing standards (NAEP).

I have been writing on this website and on my blog (NYC Rubber Room Reporter) about the "rubberization" process since 2004, when I attended my first 3020-a hearing at the request of a re-assigned teacher named David Pakter. As my dad was Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York, I was familiar with the legal system from an early age, but I had never seen anything similar to what I saw at Mr. Pakter's arbitration. I decided then that I would research this further, and, for the past five years, I have attended hearings when asked by the teacher whose hearing it is, to attend, and he/she requests an open and public hearing. Full disclosure: I am a part-time consultant for the United Federation of Teachers, and therefore can visit the "rubber rooms" of New York City to speak with the teachers temporarily re-assigned now to any of the six separate locations. The time I spend sitting at hearings is my own time.

A tenured teacher accused of incompetence or misconduct not only has Union protection from being fired until the charges against him or her are "proven" by a preponderance of evidence, but the teacher also gets free legal representation from NYS United Teachers, or NYSUT, based in Latham New York. Most of these Attorneys are the best in the business, they know the rather unusual procedures followed at the arbitration hearings, they know the arbitrators, they care about their teacher-clients, and do thorough jobs.

I have, therefore, personal knowledge of what I write about the "3020-a" hearings of teachers displaced because of an allegation of wrong-doing or incompetence. One of the biggest problems with this process is the fact that Principals are immune from prosecution for any lies they tell or false claims alleged against anyone, due to the support and assistance of the City of New York Law Department, the New York City Board of Education, and the personal intervention of Joel Klein, his General Counsel Michael Best, Corporate Counsel chief Michael Cardozo, and Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon. Principals and Assistant Principals are almost always protected from any accountability for their own theft, conflicts of interest, misconduct, or incompetence. This in turn leads to an erosion of the working relationship between the administrators and everyone else inside a school building. I often hear how 20 or more teachers left at the end of a school year, rather than go back to a building where an abusive, hostile Principal wielded a heavy hand of unfairness and abuse against all the staff and teachers, with a few designated favorites staying out of the boxing ring. This is not good for the children, who always value stability, especially if they love a certain teacher who suddenly is gone without explanation. The children never forget this.

The "Gotcha Squad" starts the process when a Principal is told that something has happened in the school that involves a teacher, or a teacher is not making the grade - in his or her opinion - and must leave the school. This squad's assignment is to cull the personnel file of anything that can be used against the teacher to remove him/her from the school. Often, this "research" is done without any awareness of the teacher, and the teacher is re-assigned based upon the “sufficient” gathering of evidence to “prove” the case against him or her at a 3020-a.

Think of this as if you were working on your job for five years, and one day you are told to leave your school in five minutes, or at the end of the day, and report to a re-assignment center where you await charges. You could wait months, even years, for your charges. Your employer, the New York City Board of Education, may tell you that "an investigation" is being conducted, so you must wait until this is over. This information is either frivolous or false. The two resident investigating agencies, the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and the Special Commissioner For Investigations (SCI) are not interested in conducting proper investigations unless there are documents/pictures/first hand witnesses who cannot be refuted. You know how that works - you are actually guilty and then you have to prove your innocence.

Sometimes the NYC BOE is right. Not all teachers are innocent. But no matter what, the process is broken, and the New York City BOE has placed unlimited power in the hands of Principals who can carry grudges to the extreme, and trash a person who they simply dont like. This is often called workplace bullying, or mobbing. The hardship usually begins and ends with mean-spirited administrators who want to use their power abusively. As the NYC BOE has control over the personnel file of each employee, and as accurate, factual information is the nightmare of the NYC BOE, Bloomberg and Klein have spent the last seven years getting “friendly” with the New York City media. How do I know? I know many of the reporters in NYC. I hear all the time, “They don’t want me to do that story” (if the NYC BOE may end up looking "bad"). However, it's perfectly ok for the NYC BOE to make re-assigned teachers in the "rubber rooms" look 'bad'. See the picture below which was used in Steven Brill's article "The Rubber Room - The battle over New York City’s worst teachers."

and the caption to this picture reads: "One school principal has said that Randi Weingarten, of the teachers’ union,“would protect a dead body in the classroom.”.

In fact, David Pakter’s story appeared on this website several times and on my blog, and also in the New York Teacher. For this last article, he was charged with making the NYC BOE “look bad”. The UFT demanded this charge be removed from his 3020-a specifications, and it was. Amidst the current economic downturn there is an office at Tweed, the NYC BOE headquarters, which continues to grow: the press/public relations office. The NYC BOE is deathly afraid of people who are not under their control, and write about their actions. I am proud to be in this group.

When I attended the open hearing of a teacher named Lucienne Mohammed at her request, I was not surprised to see Steven Brill and Ann Forte from the NYC BOE public relations office already sitting in the room assigned for the arbitration hearing. Lucienne’s case is a strong one for her and the UFT, and the NYC BOE is clearly worried. So, what they decided to do, is, I believe, 'encourage' Steven Brill to do an article on the Rubber Rooms with the main agenda being to put a quick end to Mrs. Mohammed’s employment. Mr. Brill could, he was told, have access to any file that he wanted, courtesy of the NYC BOE. So my questions to Mr. Brill are: First, who paid you to write the article on the NYC Rubber Rooms?? Second, if you were given Lucienne Mohammed's file, why didn't you write about her Special Complaint and her grievances?

I have written about payola before on this website. Mr. Brill and Ms. Forte stayed maybe 10-15 minutes at Ms. Mohammed's hearing, then abruptly left. We did not know that Brill had been given Lucienne’s file without her agreement or knowledge.

Yet look at the Protective Order and stipulation that New York City Law Department Attorney Maxwell Leighton sent teacher Hipolito Colon, who sued the NYC BOE for putting him in a Rubber Room after he blew the whistle on the wrong-doing of the Principal of PS 120, Liza Carabello. Mr. Colon asked for the disciplinary letter that Superintendent James Quail wrote to Principal Carabello for hiring an uncertified teacher for a year, and for other improper acts. Mr. Leighton sent Mr. Colon a log of all the documents that he could have IF he would not show anyone these documents. Ever. In this log, you can see documents that were given to the Panel For Educational Policy members who are not NYC BOE employees. You might ask, as I did, how do they get away with this selective viewing of material evidence?

Lucienne Mohammed has one of the most interesting cases that I have observed. I have attended almost all of her 30+ hearings, so I know her case and the people involved quite well and can say unequivocally that Steven Brill misinformed the readers of his biased article "The Rubber Room" published in the New Yorker magazine at the end of August, 2009. He could not have been more wrong about the facts in Lucienne's case.

Who is Steven Brill? He is an extremely bright man who seems to fail at everything that he does. A source told me that Mr. Brill is "a gun for hire" but doesnt really check his facts. I downloaded just a few of the ventures that he has started and that have failed, and I offer articles from the internet:

Steve Brill introduction to fee media
Brill failures
Clear stops
Journalism Online

The article that is so offensive and wrong is here:
New Yorker Magazine

A journalist named Michael Wolff was investigated by Steven Brill in 1998, and he wrote about it:

New York Magazine
Wolff's Brill's Content
by Michael Wolff, August 31, 1998

When Steve Brill decided to investigate me, (pictured at right) I decided to investigate him back -- and therein discovered the "true" nature (more or less) of his overreaching crusade.

I am being investigated by Brill's Content.
"There are serious questions being raised about your new book," a young reporter from the magazine charges.
"Who's raising these questions?"
"I'm not free to tell you that."
"It's a funny book," I say lightly. "I hope the questions aren't too serious." The book, Burn Rate, is a memoir about the birth of the Internet industry and the tragicomic (more farce than tragedy) failure of my own Internet business.
"I don't think it would be funny if you distorted the truth."
"It's my story. It's the way I saw it," I sputter defensively, feeling unpleasantly compared to the disgraced reporter Stephen Glass.
A few days later, Brill's reporter, Noah Robischon, calls back and asks for the notes and other materials I've used to write the book. He seems genuinely put out, affronted even, when I decline to surrender my notes.
"I think you should seriously think about turning them over," he says ominously.
The editorial proposition of the magazine is that we all want to know about how the media works. The subtext is that journalists are such a despised class that large numbers of people will buy a magazine that rebukes them. "Journalists are probably the only people on the planet who make lawyers look good," says the magazine's chairman, CEO, publisher, and editor, Steven Brill, whose earlier entrepreneurial effort was a magazine about lawyers.
The business proposition is aggressive, too. The magazine is not just for people in the media business. Brill's Content wants to achieve a circulation of 500,000 and attract big brand-name consumer advertisers -- a formidable, expensive, and wildly unlikely undertaking. Brill himself says it will cost $25 million. In an introduction to the first issue, editor Brill speaks of a search for truth -- Brill's reporters will be an independent truth squad ("We see this as the one black line in everything we are going to write about: Is it true?"). Putting aside questions of whose truth it will be, it's hard to imagine that a seasoned entrepreneur would spend $25 million only for the truth.
Brill's mission is to cover the media, and so is mine; therefore, I reason with some insouciance, I should cover Brill covering me. Sort of Wolff's Brill's Content.
I e-mail Brill's twentysomething reporter that I would like to question him about his questioning of me.
In short order, Caroline Miller, New York's editor-in-chief, receives a call from Brill complaining that I am trying to intimidate his "young reporter." Partly, no doubt, because Brill himself is changing the assumptions of how to report who said what to whom, Ms. Miller prepares what lawyers call contemporaneous notes of her conversation with Brill. From Miller's report of her conversation, it's clear that Brill is not amused by the double reversal I'm proposing -- writing about Brill writing about me writing about other people. His mission, he obviously believes, is righteous, and mine dubious.
"The tenor of Michael's proposal," Miller says to Brill, "as it was conveyed to me, was quite . . . sportsmanlike."
"Well," says Brill, "this was a young reporter, and when he came to talk to me about it, I have to tell you, he was scared to death. . . ."
This seems to be, if not an invitation, at least a reason to call Brill himself. Brill says: "I do not discuss stories we're working on . . ." and hangs up on me. There's wrath in his voice, and some other note: fervor. (Minutes later, however, his assistant calls back to get my address, title, and other specifics for the office Rolodex.)
I find myself asking the question the investigated always asks about the investigator: Who is this guy, anyway?
In fact, it's hard to have hung around the media business and not know Brill. He's one of the business's unique creations. Many people have their Brill story: He's made them cry, or kept them waiting for hours, or upbraided them publicly. The stories of his financial ups and downs, his deals, his battles, his chutzpa, are legion. His passionate admirers are outnumbered only by his passionate detractors. He is what my father used to call "an operator." So his new role, necessarily holier than thou, seems an unlikely one.
But maybe not.

His first venture, American Lawyer, launched in 1978, was dedicated to arbitrating the professional behavior of lawyers. As the bĂȘte noire of the legal community, Brill cut a vivid figure: a bouncerlike, cigar-smoking, bullying, crass-comic character in a Saul Bellow novel; part journalist, part wheeler-dealer, part power broker. It wasn't just lawyers whom he antagonized, either. The magazine New York Woman ran a story about the worst places for women to work, flatly stating that the story did not include jobs "inherently loathsome for men and for women, such as working in a subway booth, scrubbing floors or working for Steven Brill, the notoriously bullying editor of American Lawyer."
Brill's bid to build a legal-publishing empire foundered on his expansion plans (he spent $30 million to $40 million on local legal newspapers), and in 1988, Warner's Steve Ross agreed to bail him out. What Brill sold Ross was a new idea: the law as tabloid television. Under the auspices of Time Warner (after Ross agreed to buy American Lawyer, the Time Warner deal happened), Brill launched Court TV, which, post-O.J., found itself at the bottom of the cable ratings.
The mantra inside Time Warner whenever Brill's name came up was "Has this guy ever made money?"
A year ago, having decided it did not want his legal publications and did not want him to run Court TV, Time Warner ousted Brill with a reported $20 million payoff for his remaining stake -- in media-mogul terms, a relative pittance. Certainly not enough to buy yourself another company.
With the help of Howard Milstein, of the real-estate Milsteins, investment banker Lester Pollack, and Barry Diller (can you run a media-watchdog magazine when your partner is a media mogul?), Brill began Brill's Content.
"Once you come up with a couple of ideas that work, people will usually finance the next one no matter how dumb it is," Brill told the New York Times.
And certainly on its magazine-business basics, Brill's Content is dumb. Try finding 500,000 subscribers to a magazine about ethical conduct. In fact, the idea is so dumb that you have to assume there is another strategy here beyond circulation and advertising.
His choosing to call the magazine Content (Brill says the magazine changed the name to Brill's Content because of trademark issues), that awkward word that technologists use to describe the non-code stuff that augments software, is noteworthy. I think it's fair to assume Brill's Content's business model works like an Internet business model. The proposed $25 million investment in the magazine seems clearly designed to grab "mindshare," to build brand. And the brand is Brill.
My guess is that Brill is trying to create an official seal of approval -- to become the independent prosecutor of information. (Indeed, I received a written set of interrogatories from Brill's reporter. Example: "Dinner in SF -- it's midnight for you and you stay up most of the night -- how did you get the right quotes from the people at the table?") Information's independent prosecutor is a very frightening thought, but it could also be an incredibly valuable one.
In its most benign form, it could be a sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. We in the Brill Labs have tested this nonfiction and find that its sourcing methods and general probity conform to our standards. It is easy to imagine that Yahoo, for instance, could "partner" with Brill or "co-brand" with Brill. Brill would provide the editorial "brand" on the vast streams of content running through the global network. FEATURING ONLY BRILL'S CONTENT would flash across participating Websites.
I have seen this business plan many times -- numerous entrepreneurs believe that the market demands a way to regulate the anarchy of content. We need a global editor (editor-in-chief of the world) to tell us what information we can trust. What this plan has always lacked is someone with the certainty and aggressiveness to say, I can tell you what's true and what isn't! Brill's Content, Brill says, "is about all that purports to be nonfiction. So it should be no surprise that our first principle is that anything selling itself to you as nonfiction should be true."
Still, Brill has overreached before. If I were making suggestions about his business plan, I'd say the whole of nonfiction is a grab. Apparently, Brill doesn't want just television news or newspaper reporting. Brill wants everything that is not a novel or a poem to fall under his stamp of approval -- that is, news, essays, magazine features, memoirs, documentaries, history, criticism, speeches, polls, news-group postings, editorial cartoons, and the Bible, as well as a good deal of humor, satire, and parody. All this turned over to Brill's young reporters.
"Our approach," Brill says, "is to look at nonfiction media as a consumer product."
For me, having written a book that is both true and satirical, one that, in the venerable tradition of satire, shamelessly settles many scores, it is something of a literary comedy or nightmare to be dogged by a young reporter calling up the various people I have savaged to get them to say, Yes, Michael Wolff is a person of questionable morals.
Indeed. Alan Patricof, the New York venture capitalist and Clinton host and contributor who is a figure of some derision in my book (and who is or is not an acquaintance of Brill's), and who is represented by the noted First Amendment lawyer Marty Garbus (who is or is not an acquaintance of Brill's), is soliciting me to change certain passages about him in future editions of my book. Part of the inducement is that if I agree to make such changes, Patricof, Garbus suggests, will not talk to the Brill reporter who has contacted him regarding the story about me.
And then: Brill's young reporter seems to believe I've made up the figure in my book of the smarmy AOL executive (I wish) who seduced me with deals that never got done. Though I decided for various soft-hearted reasons to spare this person public disclosure, now, according to Brill, in order to preserve my own reputation, I should name him.
"Why didn't you name names?" Brill's young reporter asked, oblivious to the echo.
The reversals, inversions, and conflicts are breathtaking. The level of full disclosure that's required is Jesuitical. I suppose I should disclose that the more Brill criticizes my book the more books I sell; likewise, the more I rail against him, the more Brill Brill becomes. Brill, of course, is using the media to make a spectacle of himself covering the media. Brill is shocked, shocked; I am shocked, shocked that he is shocked, shocked. What Brill is showing us is not the backstage view of how the media really works, but the levers and cranks by which almost everyone, most of all Brill himself, gets hoisted by his own petard.
Building brand, or making a name for yourself, is largely a function of aligning yourself with the Zeitgeist. As the Zeitgeist turns, Brill chose to go with Starr not Clinton -- with the prosecutor, not the rogue. Maybe he's picked right, although I hope not.

E-mail: E-mail:

Pretty scary stuff. Presently, Mr. Brill is trying to get media to set up a system whereby they will get paid for the information that they publish. Mr. Brill believes that people will want pay for information, and has started a business to provide this information to the media. In his rubber room article he does not say that he was paid by the NYC BOE, but it was very clear to Lucienne and me that indeed he was working with and/or for them when he wrote the article for the New Yorker. When someone is hired to write an article and does not disclose who is paying him or her, than there is a serious error, because the public will not know that the ‘facts’ cited in the article may not be true, or are reported in a biased fashion. I believe that Steven Brill was paid to write the article called “The Rubber Room” by the NYC BOE in order to provide the NYC BOE another step in the desire to overrule any presumed objection to what the NYC BOE is doing, i.e., making teachers guilty when indeed they are innocent of any charges. I believe that the public and teachers must look at the giving of personnel files to a reporter without prior approval of the person whose file it is, is unconstitutional.

Look at what the NYC BOE did to Teddy Smith (pictured above): "they" - meaning the SCI folk with the help of Theresa Europe at the ATU (Gotcha Squad) - published a report and sent it to the media saying that Mr. Smith had threatened to kill his arbitrator. Only investigator Michael Humphries of SCI NEVER asked Teddy whether or not he had said this!!! Teddy won his Article 75 appeal, and plans to sue.

Back to the New Yorker article, let me go over all of Mr. Brill’s erroneous “facts”:

-He says that when he entered the re-assignment center at 333 7th Avenue there 15 people in the room. I went every week to this location to speak to the members there, and never saw more than 10 during the 2008-2009 school year. Brill must have

included the two security guards from Allied Barton (another no-bid contract) sitting right outside.

- paragraph two – a “system that rarely calls anyone incompetent”. Where is the proof, Mr. Brill? I want stats. And, did you interview each and every teacher in the TRC the day that you visited? If not, where does you statement of guilt by all stem from? Are the 8 teachers there all guilty of incompetence? No.

-“teachers have been in the rubber room for an average of three years” …oh, really? Prove it.

- that Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg are not popular is true.

-Brandi Scheiner has a “raspy” voice from Brooklyn, not Queens, and her voice was an asset to the school (PS 40) and the Principal Ms. Sandra Felder told her that. She received satisfactory ratings for most of her career, and never said that there was no such thing as “incompetence” before the Bloomberg/Klein takeover, and the statement that teachers simply realized their own incompetence and leave on their own is untrue and ridiculous. She told me that she never told Brill that she was a whistleblower, she never received two “U”s in a row, and her Principal Susan Felder never went to the Leadership Academy; her school, PS 40, is a successful school, one of many at the

pre-2002 BOE. Who did Mr. Brill speak to about Principal Felder? No name? Maybe it was Ms. Felder herself. At least 17 teachers have left the school last year, according to Brandi Scheiner, and one committed suicide – because, it is believed, of the harassment of Felder.

- Dan Weisberg is quoted as saying that the effort is made to remove teachers in order to “make sure the right people are teaching there”. Please Mr. Weisberg – or, now David Brodsky, who are the “right” people? Good teachers, for sure. Who decides? If a principal dislikes a teacher because he/she is too black, too old, too senior, too smart, or “knows too much “ of the politics in the school, does this mean that he or she is a “bad” teacher? Often, yes it does to the NYC BOE. There is alot wrong with this criteria for excellence.

-test scores and graduation rates have improved since 2002? What do you expect, when doubletalk and scrubbing, and massive amounts of public relations time is purchased with public money? The truth can be hidden temporarily but not forever.

The biggest mistake Mr. Brill made was characterizing Lucienne Mohammed as an incompetent teacher. There is no evidence of that in all the 5,000 pages that the NYC BOE Attorney Dennis DeCosta brought to “prove” his case by the preponderance of the evidence. The 5,000 pages are pages that were read into the record from the notebooks held at the school on the Workshop Model and the scripts required of all teachers. I sat quietly, like I always do, at Lucienne’s first 13 days of her 3020-a while Jay Siegel, the arbitrator, allowed Assistant Principal Jaggon to read each page of the notebook, one by one. (By the way, why was Jay Siegel talking to Steven Brill at all, considering that this case is not over?).

I had no problem staying awake, but Dennis De Costa did. I started clocking his naps. He would nod off for 4 minutes, wake up for two, then nod off again. During his awake moments he sometimes writes a short note into his pad, but usually he draws rectangles and triangles. He colors them in, too. I have tried to copy his designs and I think I’ve got it right.

Dennis De Costa probably would not survive as an Attorney either on his own or at a large law firm. He is, in my opinion, not competent. In fact, last week I spoke with a teacher whose case was with Jay Siegel, and Dennis’ actions were so outrageous that when this teacher was completely exonerated, Dennis had to write a letter apologizing for his actions. He is a tall, handsome African American, and his tactic is to scream insults to gain points at a hearing. More than three times Mr. Siegel had to ask Dennis to leave the room with him to be reprimanded for screaming at Antonio Cavallero, Lucienne’s NYSUT Attorney. Dennis always chews gum.

Antonio Cavallero is one of the best attorneys I have seen. I am a big fan. He usually takes Dennis’ antics with a grain of salt, but every once in a while Dennis violates the ethics of common decency too much, and Antonio speaks out when that happens and is very effective.

Lucienne Mohammed is a beautiful person, inside and out. When I first met her more than a year ago, I thought that she must be a model. She is African- American and has the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. She is also beautiful inside, a person of intelligence, character, and integrity. I am proud to say that she is my friend. The case against her is false, and the Principal is motivated to get rid of her because of her filing grievances .

I asked Lucienne to give me the information she would like to publish, so here it is:

From Lucienne Mohammed:

“I have taught at PS 65 for a little over 17 years and have only received satifactory ratings. Ms. Daysi Garcia became Principal in 2004 and by the end of her first term two Black Assistant Principals and guidance counselor lost their positions. The two administrators were demoted to their previous positions and the guidance counselor was sent to the Rubber Room.

In the 2005/2006 school year a teacher who supported the UFT and associated with me and the only other classroom teacher of African descent in our East New York school was advised to stop associating with us. When she continued the friendship she was harassed and then terminated in 2006. However, in a subsequent lawsuit the NYC BOE had to award costs to this teacher and clear her record.

Ms. Garcia (pictured at right) is openly anti-UFT. She promptly disposed of our newly elected UFT representative in the beginning of the 2006 school year, he was sent to the Rubber Room along with the remaining Black Guidance counselor.

Ms. Garcia began an OSI investigation against me in October 2006 for taking part in the filing of a grievance regading teachers’ contractual right to have a menu of choices for their professional development period.

Ms. Garcia prosecuted me for supporting a boy whom she maligned in an open lunchroom by stating that the student’s religion (Islam) “cant be tolerated because it starves children”.

I reported to OEO in April 2007 Ms. Garcia for allowing a racist act to occur during a professional development conference wherein I and the only other teacher of African descent in our East New York school were told to play the role of “Big Ugly Negro”. In April 2007 I gave a character reference to a teacher in defense against slkanderous and discriminatory actions made by Ms. Garcia against him. This was followed by a slew of misleading, embellished, fabricated events put into letters placed in my file. After a series of attacks and harassment at the hands of Ms. Garcia, I filed an Article 2 Grievance in December 2007.

Since Ms. Garcia came to our school in 2004 I had never been given a U rating. My first came after the retirement of the Assistant Principal. Immediately following this Ms. Garcia put in her place a teacher of 4 years’ experience who was elevated rapidly to do her bidding which included harassing me and another teacher.

The new Assistant Principal was ordered to perform observations in the last 6 weeks of the school year, and I and another teacher of African descent received U ratings for the first time. I filed with the DOE’s OEO office, and filed another Article 2 grievance prior to my knowing that I had received a U rating.

Ms. Garcia admitted to making negative and derogatory remarks about me in the open office as was brought out during the arbitration hearing. I attempted to find some resolution for the constant harassment I was subjected to in the 2006/2007 school year and followed proper, recommended procedures: grievances, attempted dialogues, grievance, Special Complaint, OEO, and even a meeting with the Superintendent which was facilitated by State Assemblyman Darryl Townes.

The UFT validated my allegations of harassment and retaliatory behavior by accepting my case as a Special Complaint. Nothing has yet been resolved and Ms. Garcia made no attempt to compromise or have a dialogue. Instead, her harassment became more vicious and I was placed the following year in a new grade (5th) which had students at different cognitive levels and a different curriculum than that for which I was trained. I was given no training.

The 2007/2008 school year saw me in a small classroom with one of the largest, diverse ability group of students in the grade. The room was isolated from any other classroom. I had no desk, no file cabinet, student computers, or even closets. These conditions persisted until I was removed in June, 2008. I was the only teacher in the school who was required to hand in 18 lesson plans every Monday prior to the start of the school day.

Contrary to the UFT contract and the BOE agreement, I was told to sign up to be in the PIP+ program even though I had only one U rating, not two. The PIP+ peer evaluator was not competent to observe me: she had not taught in NYC since 1968; she had no supervisory certification or experience, no knowledge of the required curriculum and was not in a position to advise or mentor me. She did not follow the time allotted for pre- and post observations, and I never received her recommendations in a timely fashion. She stated for the record that she was told by the administration to support a U rating.

In June 2008 I was told to leave the school by the secretary and not allowed to retrieve any personal belongings such as books, my digital camera, games I had bought for the children. These items have never been returned to me.

Not satified with removing me from the school, Ms. Garcia sent police officers to my home after accusing me of theft of student funds, The police called this ridiculous.

I was ordered to sign for letters to my file weeks after being interned in the Rubber Room. Then, after being in the Rubber Room for 6 months, the administration again tried to file a charge against me, with OSI. The charges were unsubstantiated.

Mr. Brill was never given permission by me to see my file, and the NYC BOE will be held accountable for giving my file to a reporter without my knowledge or consent, especially given the fact that Mr. Brill took liberty to alter all the facts for his article. The letter, by the way, mentioned in Brill’s article, was NOT given eleven days earlier. It was from my doctor written the day before it was given I had been in the hospital with viral and bacterial bronchitis the Sunday and Monday of the previous week.

I was never asked questions about any “enforcer student” nor have I ever chosen a student to be an “enforcer”. Furthermore, it was during the 3020-a that I first heard of such charges.”

That’s from Lucienne. This is from me: I will be a witness for Lucienne Mohammed in any venue, at any time, and I will discuss the despicable sabotage of a beautiful, talented and dedicated teacher by the NYC BOE as represented in this case by Principal Daisi Garcia and Dennis De Costa, TPU Attorney at Law. I will try to remember to buy Mr. De Costa a package of gum before I speak.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) Has Failed, Say Educators

Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Has The P21 Movement Succeeded?

Founded in 2002, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) set out to "serve as a catalyst to position 21st century skills at the center of US K-12 education by building collaborative partnerships among education, business, community and government leaders," according to its Web site. Some of the biggest players in education and business are part of this effort, including the National Education Association and Microsoft, and it's been endorsed by the Department of Education.

Framework for 21st Century Learning

The framework presents a holistic view of 21st century teaching and learning that combines a discrete focus on 21st century student outcomes (a blending of specific skills, content knowledge, expertise and literacies) with innovative support systems to help students master the multi-dimensional abilities required of them in the 21st century.

The key elements of 21st century learning are represented in the graphic and descriptions below. The graphic represents both 21st century skills student outcomes (as represented by the arches of the rainbow) and 21st century skills support systems (as represented by the pools at the bottom).

Route 21
P21 Framework Definitions

Now that we are nearly a decade into the 21st century, has this endeavor succeeded?

Veteran education reporter Jay Mathews dismissed the 21st-century skills movement, and P21 itself, in an article titled "The Latest Doomed Pedagogical Fad." Do you agree? Has P21 accurately identified 21st-century skills? If not, what are they?

-- Eliza Krigman,

Responded on September 12, 2009 10:58 AM
Jackie Bennett, Executive Board Member, United Federation of Teachers

P21 is a curriculum initiative, and as such success would be defined by how well it addresses the question of what students need to know. By that definition, P21 has not been successful. Its standards give short shrift to something that is of great concern to many teachers: broadening student knowledge. P21’s standards make passing reference to the nine core subjects outlined in NCLB, but the thrust of their work really lies elsewhere. Let’s see how P21 defines success: 21st century skills represent the necessary student outcomes for the 21st century, i.e. students need to obtain Learning and Innovation Skills (creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, etc.), Information, Media and Technology Skills, Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes (global awareness, financial literacy, etc.) and Life and Career Skills (initiative and self-direction, among others) .

A lot of teachers would take umbrage at the notion that these skills represent the “necessary student outcomes” that ought to drive their classrooms. Is global awareness good enough? Is financial literacy (balancing a checkbook; devising new ways to bundle mortgages) really the point of what we do? And while creative and critical thinking are wonderful things, why are they being practiced in classes devoted to basic survival skills? Having skills may be part of what it means to be educated, but only a part, and not even the most interesting or exciting part.. Perhaps P21 didn’t intend to exclude deep knowledge, but in effect it did.

But even assuming P21’s language intends something richer and more nuanced than it says, there is the larger problem with this curriculum. We hone our creativity and critical thinking abilities as we acquire knowledge. It doesn’t happen the other way around.

Think of it this way: can’t most children create a powerpoint comparing bicycles to skateboards? Can’t they think critically about their dolls, their teachers, their parents and their friends? But when a high school student reads about France and cannot even conjure up a picture of the Eiffel tower in his head; when he does not associate slavery with the Civil War, or asks why there are no Roman ruins in New York; when he cannot distinguish between a vertebrate and non-vertebrate; and when schools don’t teach these things because, after all, students can always ”access knowledge” on the web (a phrase I often hear) – when these things happen, then what good is it to know how to “think innovatively” if all we can think about is our dolls, our skateboards, and our friends?

Not such hyperbole as it seems. All of these examples come from various Advanced Placement English 11th grade classes that I have taught over the years in a school that was busy with skills well be for P21 came along. The knowledge deficits I saw in my students may not have been what the policy people had in mind, just as they probably are not what the P21 people intend. The fact is, however, that time is a zero-sum game in the schools. In far too many, the exciting world to be discovered has been replaced by skills and skills and skills.

Of course, indirectly, and sometimes directly, good schools teach skills, and certainly much of what P21 encourages, like self direction and initiative should be suffused in what we do. What is more, all students need opportunities to practice that other set of skills that one acquires from carpentry and cooking and shooting films and building cars. We sell kids short when we don’t provide these things.

And we sell them short when we deny them knowledge in order to drill skills. Broad knowledge, along with a broad vocabulary, is the foundation children need for reading. Most likely, it is also the foundation the writers on the blog were given so that they might lead a rich, fulfilling life.

Responded on September 11, 2009 2:34 PM
Lisa Graham Keegan, Principal, The Keegan Company

I count myself among the skeptics here... our children have 21st Century skills. We are struggling to give them the serious intellectual capacity worthy of the tools of our age.

The "movement" is problematic in that it positions itself in opposition to serious academic pursuit. It need not do that, but it does, per the examples already alluded to.

I think plenty of the businesses and folks who support this and don't look really closely think they are merely supporting the latest technoloogies and workplace skills. Not so.

Steve Peha, President, Teaching That Makes Sense

This week’s posts brings up a fundamental debate: content standards vs. skills standards. Research into the content standards of other countries – in particular, those who beat us on standardized tests – makes a clear point: higher-scoring countries have tougher content standards. The implied message is that if we raise our own content standards, our students will perform just as well.

But this is, as yet, an untested hypothesis. And, in any case, I’m not sure it’s correct.

I’ve always been fascinated by the “If we build it, they will learn” mentality of the standards movement. Frankly, I think it’s a big power trip. When I watch people creating standards, I almost always see a God-like gleam in their eye: On the first day, they created reading. And it was good.

I’m not opposed to standards. But I’ve had three questions on my mind ever since they sprung up:

1. How did so many students receive good educations before standards?

2. How did so many teachers created rich and rigorous curricula before standards?

3. How did so many schools provide good teaching and learning environments before standards?

There must be ways of teaching, learning, and running schools that get good results without standards. Why didn’t we study these examples to set the bar for American education?

Instead of taking a political method of determining standards, where the education elite get to decide what kids must learn, I wish we had taken a research-based approach and actually looked at what our best students, teachers, and schools were up to. Standards based on real-world models would surely have been better than what we’ve created thus far. If nothing else, we would have discovered how diverse high-quality education is. And I think this would have helped us avert the “one size fits all” path we appear to be walking down.

The most difficult issue we have to acknowledge is that standards are arbitrary. It’s hard to make a case that someone can’t live a good life if they miss any one of them. Making our standards more like the standards of high-testing foreign countries will not fix this problem; we’ll just be substituting our own arbitrary set of knowledge for someone else’s. But if we observed what the best American students know, and how the best American students learn it, we’d have a logical blueprint for what the best American education might look like – and we’d discover that the line between content and skills is not as sharp as we think it is.

Many people today are excited about content knowledge. Why? Because they see that countries with more rigorous content knowledge standards score higher on standardized tests. What few of us think about is that standardized tests are highly biased toward identifying content knowledge.

In our zeal for more rigorous content standards, there are important things we must consider:

First of all, standards are a zero-sum game. If we tell teachers to make sure kids know their standards, and we have tests, along with rewards and punishments associated therewith, educators will spend their time focusing on prescribed curriculum and virtually nothing else. This narrows the curriculum.

Second, since the existence of standards means the existence of tests, which again have high stakes associated with them, we create a culture of “teaching to the test”. Yet most of what we know about good teaching tells us that rather than teaching to arbitrary benchmarks, it’s better to teach to the needs of our students. As Dan Willingham points out in his book, “Why Kids Hate School”, one of the biggest reasons they hate it is that the material they are forced to master is often too low or too high relative to their ability level.

Third, standards are rarely road-tested in real classrooms before they are released. We’re never sure how they will be interpreted or how teachers will teach to them. Furthermore, no standards body I’m aware of has ever had research-proven answers for practical questions like, “How can all this material be covered, with mastery, in a single school year?”

(Before we leap to the conclusion that standards are our only hope, let’s keep in mind that the ACT, the SAT, and the NAEP are the three tests we seem to trust the most and neither comes with standards attached. Clearly, there are effective ways of generating achievement data that don’t involve standards.)

Fourth, the criterion-referenced achievement model that we have paired with standards creates a culture of minimum competence. There’s no advantage to schools in pushing their kids to the highest levels so most just make sure their students inch over the bar.

Finally, let’s get back to the issue of content standards versus skills standards. Learning is the acquisition of new knowledge. How will kids learn it? By applying skills, of course. Even listening is a skill; and yes, most kids need direct instruction and frequent reminders in order to do it well. Then there’s the memorization issue. If we throw a ton of content at kids, how do we expect them to remember it? Might they not need some good memorization skills? Does any standards document currently contain memorization skills? If so, I haven’t seen one. And yet, anyone who is in favor of a content-rich curriculum must, of necessity, be in favor of kids being good memorizers.

Content and skills cannot be separated. It is a fallacy to think that standards documents favoring one kind of learning over the other are anything but inherently flawed. More than that, the content vs. skills debate, when applied in a traditional academic context, sets up a false dichotomy about the kinds of learning kids need in order to be successful, happy, contributors in a contemporary democracy. There’s more to a good education than what appears in any standards document.

Then there’s the conformity problem. We have millions of students in this country. And most people believe there are many paths to success. Standards send the message that there is only one path, and that every child must walk it in lock step fashion. This may fit the cultural milieu and social history of other countries. But it strikes me as wholly un-American. When content people criticize skills people, or vice versa, the dialog devolves into something that is not only meaningless but dangerous. America stands, not just for cultural and religious diversity, but for intellectual diversity as well. That’s one of the reasons why we value Freedom of Speech so highly. And why it’s so important for all of us to remember that standards constrain speech. Specifically, they constrain what teachers say to our kids. And what our kids say in return.

As we run ever faster toward the precipice of national standards, I hope we take at least a fleeting moment and pull back far enough to see what we’re really doing. I would challenge our standards-makers to ask themselves questions like these: How would you feel if the standards you created were imposed on your children in an average public school? As a teacher, would you prefer to teach to national standards or would you find it more rewarding to teach using your own mind and heart? If, as a teacher, you had kids who spanned a wide range of abilities, would you want the freedom to meet their individual needs? Or would you prefer to teach every child the same thing, the same way, at the same time, on the same day? (I know that in theory standards don’t dictate this type of teaching. But in practice, I see it all over our country in classroom after classroom. Standards discourage differentiated instruction. Yet differentiated instruction is considered a current research-based best practice. All reforms, including standards, should encourage good teaching.)

Finally, let’s stop all this content vs. skills baloney. Yes, background knowledge is vital. But how do children acquire background knowledge if not through some kind of skill? If it’s important for kids to know the causes of The Great Depression isn’t it also important for them to be able to find that information – on their own! – through research?

As we move ahead with education reform, and, in all likelihood, continue the dubious battle between content and skills, let us never forget the inherently reductive nature of standards and how this contrasts so starkly with the wide open world we want our children to master. Let’s tell our kids the truth: that there are many ways to succeed and that different people succeed differently. Let’s think carefully and proceed cautiously when we impose standards and tests on millions of young Americans who are forced, by law, to attend school; who cannot vote to choose their representatives; who have had no input into the standards they must meet; and who have no choice but to live thirteen years of their lives under the shadow of an approach that has some serious drawbacks and that may not be the best way to improve our schools.

Mary Ann Wolf, Executive Director, State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA)

Several years ago when I was teaching, my principal discouraged me from having my 5th grade students do presentations because the state would not be testing these skills during the year end high stakes assessment. While this seems infuriating and short-sighted to most who value quality instructional practices, it is an unfortunate, unintended consequence of the statewide accountability systems that has happened in many schools and districts across the country. While the skills included in the Partnership for 21st Century Skills framework may not be new, they have never been more important to ensure that our students are college- and career- ready. These skills are harder to assess, but that does not make them less valuable. They should be seamlessly integrated into the instructional practices at all levels, in all subjects.

Several years ago when I was teaching, my principal discouraged me from having my 5th grade students do presentations because the state would not be testing these skills during the year end high stakes assessment. While this seems infuriating and short-sighted to most who value quality instructional practices, it is an unfortunate, unintended consequence of the statewide accountability systems that has happened in many schools and districts across the country. While the skills included in the Partnership for 21st Century Skills framework may not be new, they have never been more important to ensure that our students are college- and career- ready. These skills are harder to assess, but that does not make them less valuable. They should be seamlessly integrated into the instructional practices at all levels, in all subjects.

With our ever expanding global economy, skills like collaboration, global awareness, technology literacy, and financial literacy are critical to give our students the opportunity to compete with students around the world for high level, innovative and creative jobs. It is important to note that this is not necessarily because such 21st Century skills cannot be assessed, but rather that most states have chosen assessments that do not currently address these kinds of skills.

Despite the fact that many schools and districts have minimized focus on such skills, the good news is that truly effective instruction leads to an increase in student achievement in core subject and performance on 21st Century skills. We see this again and again in models in schools across the country. One example is eMINTS, which began in Missouri, but has expanded to 11 other states. The eMINTS program provides a 21st Century learning environment for students and teachers, including high quality technology tools, resources, and curriculum; availability of data on students achievement daily or weekly; and over 200 hours of professional development for teachers. Teachers typically use more project based learning approaches with students, and teachers are able to individualize instruction for students based on instructionally embedded assessments. Students are given opportunities to learn by applying knowledge and skills to relevant situations, and they often become creators of content. Teachers are part of professional learning communities that meet regularly to develop lessons, explore resources, and discuss implementation. This also includes mentoring and classroom observations to provide models and support teachers in the program.

Based on the evaluation data available from the ten years of implementation, eMINTS is shown to definitively help close the achievement gap, improve achievement, increase parent involvement, and decrease discipline referrals. This is true for some of the highest need schools and most at-risk students, frequently in Title I schools, while also addressing many 21st Century skills.

The Texas TIP Model, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, and the North Caroline IMPACT model have had similar results in increasing student engagement by transforming teaching and learning. In these models, maximizing the potential of technology has been critical to accelerating change and addressing both core subjects and 21st Century skills.

The 21st Century Skills movement has certainly been effective in ensuring that education stakeholders and policy-makers are aware that skills like collaboration, global awareness, and financial literacy are recognized as critical to students being college- and career ready. We know inherently that these skills matter for kids and for our country; but if we do not specifically work to address the 21st Century skills, many students will not be prepared for college and career.

We are very encouraged by these important models and the fact that many states are addressing skills beyond the core subject areas. We do not need to choose or emphasize one or the other. Sound instructional practices and leadership, like in eMINTS schools, ensure that our students are college- and career-ready. We have many opportunities for policy and programs to help us guarantee that all students have access to this high quality instruction.

Eliza Krigman,

Lynne Munson, President and Executive Director, Common Core, submitted the following:

We and other critics of P21 agree, and have stated repeatedly, that the skills P21 promotes are important. What we take issue with is P21’s unserious treatment of subject matter content. Consider these examples of recommended lessons from P21’s website:

12th grade English students “translate a piece of dialogue from a Shakespearean play into a text message exchange and analyze the effect of the writing mode on the tone or meaning of the dialogue. Students then discuss audience and purpose in relation to communication media.” P. 6

8th grade science students “view video samples from a variety of sources of people speaking about a science-related topic (e.g., news reporters, news interviews of science experts, video podcasts of college lectures, segments from public television documentaries, or student-made videos of parents and professionals in their community). Students rate the videos on the degree to which the person sounded scientific….” P. 5

12th grade geography students “test the law of retail gravitation (i.e., the number of visits a resident makes to competing shopping centers is inversely proportional to the distances between residence and center and proportional to the size of the center), students work in small groups to conduct a community survey of a retail area’s “retail gravity” on a non-school attendance day….” P. 15

Compare P21’s vision for American education to the comprehensive, content-rich education offered in countries that outperform the United States. Which way should we go?

Sandy Kress, Former Senior Advisor on Education to President George W. Bush, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP

I'll close out my "half of the inning" with Monty with two very brief comments:

1) The issue is not one about locals versus feds; rather, it's about equity, assuring that poor and minority kids are educated to high, common standards, and

2) Whatever else is done to improve assessments, the assessments that are used for accountability must be valid, reliable, aligned to high content and performance standards that are common at least across the state (and, even better, across the country), and common and comparable across the subgroups. If they are not, all this talk about getting ALL students to high, common standards - with the capacity to achieve in the 21st century century - is simply not serious.

Monty Neill, Deputy Director, FairTest

It is certainly true that some local approaches have been tied to low-level practices and expectations - while others have been excellent. High-stakes standardized tests have created an illusion of quality based on inflated scores. They have failed to support or lead the kinds of strong schooling all children deserve (through inadequate tests and often by pretending that ignoring resources and focusing on tests could solve educationa problems). And they are undermining high quality in many localities. The danger is to believe we must choose between inadequate localism and inadequate centralized high-stakes testing. Nor is the solution simply to have better centralized standardized tests, though such would be part of any overall improvement. At a FairTest-NEA conference on overhauling state assessment systems, I addressed these issues. My remarks, along with slides from a presentation by Jim Pellegrino and other materials, are at

At a FairTest-NEA conference on overhauling state assessment systems, I addressed these issues. My remarks, along with slides from a presentation by Jim Pellegrino and other materials, are at I insert them below - sorry for length and not every point is immediately germane, but they do address the issue of including local assessment information in accountability evidence. Again, that approach was acceptable to Chairman Miller and Ranking Member McKeon in their NCLB reauthorization draft two years ago: they recognized the problems of negative localism could be resolved, and in doing so they could address the problems of negative centralism.

These remarks were delivered by Monty Neill, Ed.D., Interim Executive Director of FairTest, as part of a panel discussion following a keynote presentation by Dr. James Pellegrino.

Thank you. I am very happy to be with you today, and I am looking forward to a very interesting, challenging and productive conference.

I'd like to make two main points:

First, the need to shift from an accountability model to a shared responsibility approach.

Second, the necessity to build systems that rely primarily on school and classroom assessing.


Jim Pellegrino has explained well the limits of the tests, and why we need to change the assessments we use.

Accountability as now conceived is highly centralized, top down, and acts as a 'gotcha' tool. As a result it causes narrowing of curriculum and instruction to the tests and inhibits the kinds of work necessary to create high quality schools.

We can redefine accountability or we can use better terms, such as shared responsibility. In either case, we need a different approach that does the following:

1. Uses multiple sources of evidence of student learning across all important areas.

2. Includes opportunity to learn data from both schools and communities (such things as health care availability).

3. Focuses on school improvement efforts and successes. In various documents from the Forum on Educational Accountability that you have in your packet we discuss some of that, especially professional learning and parental involvement and support. [See Redefining Accountability and Assessment and Accountability for Improving Schools and Learning, both on the web at]

4. Uses the multiple sources of evidence across inputs, improvement efforts, and results to evaluate school status, efforts, and improvement or lack of improvement.

5. Provides to schools – and communities – that which has turned out to be lacking and needed.

6. Builds systems to foster improvement. Such systems must be based fundamentally on schools as communities of learners engaging in shared practice.

7. Engages in targeted interventions when evaluation of data shows there are problems and schools, despite help, are not improving.

This means responsibility is shared among governments, educators, parents and communities. It requires continuing dialog and mutual respect. Only in a context of shared responsibility, rather than enforced top-down accountability, can the energy of educators truly be released.

Local assessment:

A healthy evaluation of student learning will draw on many forms of assessments. I agree with Jim: we have to find ways to develop new tools, good tasks and projects, etc., and professional learning will be essential. I want to emphasize some other aspects. Some of this is in the expert panel on assessment report in your packet [see links above], which Jim and Alba Ortiz and I worked on. This report is the basis of the starting principles for our discussion. I would emphasize the following:

- First, teachers are the primary assessors. They need access to many tools and must know how to use them well, but in any event a good deal of assessment in a rich, high-quality classroom necessarily means assessing on the fly, adapting, deciding to use assessment B instead of A, etc., replying to the emerging needs of each and every student. It is a core teaching skill. In addition, teachers should know how to create good assessments – not because any one teacher can create all the good assessments she will need, but because that knowledge is necessary for understanding assessment and because good assessments will need to bubble up from teachers. In sum, we must respect teachers as assessors but ensure they can become good at this work.

- Two, the kinds of information that come from the ongoing flow of classroom work provide essential data for being able to fairly and helpfully evaluate individuals and schools. Thus, assessment information should draw on evidence from three sources: ongoing classroom work; the flexible use of approved questions, tasks and projects; and larger-scale assessments. By approved questions, I mean, for example, a bank of tasks that teachers can use in instruction or for more formal assessing done as part of classwork (rather than on the state education department's schedule). Technology is beginning to provide many valuable tools and procedures to make this workable.

- Three, there needs to be flexibility in using assessments. The requirement that all students answer the same questions or perform the same tasks at the same time should be minimally employed with little weight relative to the evidence provided by flexible use of approved items and tasks and information from the ongoing flow of classroom work. But this flexibility must be embedded in schools in which educators share and develop their practice.

- Four, states must develop systems that rely on the three sources of evidence and a variety of types of assessments to provide public information and support thoughtful evaluations. Note that I am emphasizing evaluation by humans, not judgments triggered automatically by a set of test scores.

- Five, there are several reasons a statewide system must include local evidence. If, for example, performance tasks are a key part of the evidence of learning, as they should be, we cannot realistically have many tasks shipped off for central scoring. That means we must have local scoring, as is done in many nations. (There are ways to ensure quality and consistency.) [A note for National Journal readers: some of the evidence for this point, which is central to Sandy's concerns, is at]

In addition, the desire to ascertain progress in multiple subjects runs up against the danger of far too much testing (e.g., annual testing in multiple subjects). Relying on locally controlled, largely classroom-based information, can solve that contradiction.

To avoid a rigid system that is bound not to work for many, we need local flexibility in deciding which assessments to use when. Assessments also must be incorporated into instruction so classes don't have to constantly stop to do external tests, such as the currently popular "benchmark" or "periodic" tests.

As I noted above, teachers are the primary assessors. By expecting local assessments to include classroom evidence from the regular flow of student work and by building in the supports to enable strong teacher-based assessing, we commit to systems that really are about employing high-quality professional educators. That seems to be the secret in Finland and other more educationally successful nations.

Finally, ensuring that local assessments, varied as they will be, are of adequate quality and that different does not mean low expectations for some, will take time to work out. The evidence I have seen tells me that acceptably uniform and accurate systems can be built. If we must trade some looseness in data as a price for a system that does not turn schools into relatively low-level test prep, that should be an easy choice to make. Further, if the emphasis is on using evidence for improvement, not for gotcha and sanctions, a modest increase in looseness creates no real problems.

In sum, we need high-quality, mainly performance assessments, we need local flexibility within reasonable bounds, and we need a shared responsibility approach to school improvement.

Sandy Kress, Former Senior Advisor on Education to President George W. Bush, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP

I want to thank Monty for bringing us to the crux of the matter that Checker, too, began to address.

We all want improved assessments, assessments with "higher tops," and multiple measures. We do so because folks like Diane correctly want, in simple terms, for teachers to teach and students to learn the canon. We do so because folks like me want to teach students the capacity through socratic dialogue to learn to think through and discuss the important ethical, philosophical, and other issues involved in living the good life. We do so because the 21st century skills folks want students to be, er, well steeped in 21st century skills.

But we should remember one wise, though by no means perfect, decision made by that band of staffers and members - both Democratic and Republican - who constructed NCLB. Yes, Monty, they wanted multiple measures. But they did not want a student's failure to read or do math at a basic level to be hidden, disguised, or trumped by some other "measures." Aren't we aware enough by now how these other school "judgments" have been used in the past to allow mostly disadvantaged students to slip through, even at the cost of creating the pernicious achievement gap?

Current assessments are indeed in need of real improvement. But I have yet to see evidence of a single student in Texas who has failed our "too-low-standards" reading tests but who could effectively read Shakespeare, engage in high level socratic dialogue, study advanced science, or be successful in "21st century skills."

So, as we discuss higher level achievement for all our subgroups to higher level, COMMON content and performance standards, let's be sure we are all committed to valid, reliable, and common assessments to hold ourselves accountable for success.

Monty Neill, Deputy Director, FairTest

Assessments used for accountability should meet the thoroughly ignored criteria that were in the 1994 and 2001 (NCLB) authorizations of ESEA, including the requirements to use multiple measures (multiple sources of evidence would be an improved way to say it) and to assess both lower and higher order skills.

What is "commonly given" as Sandy puts it should be at a minimum open to more investigation: if kids can show they really can write well, do we care if they all respond to the same prompt? Doing the latter has clearly shown it produces teaching to narrow prompts and is no way to ensure good teaching and learning. I do not mean no common assessments, but rather a system in which such are just a part, probably a minor part. But that would put more weight on ensuring high quality local and classroom evidence, inspectorates, and such.

Sandy Kress, Former Senior Advisor on Education to President George W. Bush, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP

I think Monty is right: there is a lot of support for improving assessments. But I also assume that this consensus includes the notion that assessments used for accountability will continue to be characterized by the key requirements of NCLB, largely set out by amendments from the late Senator Wellstone. Those essentially are that the assessments be valid, reliable, aligned closely to common content and performance standards, and commonly given both "across the tracks" as well as across the state. If so, we might be on to something!

Monty Neill, Deputy Director, FairTest

It is encouraging to see how much the discussion of 21st, 20th and 5th BCE century skills recognize that the current testing structure cannot work for our children or our society. Neither it nor the unequal educations provided by race and class ever served many children well. As some have noted, too many current efforts, such as looming "common" tests and the intensified misuse of current state exams to measure (not evaluate) teachers are helping to cement in place the inequalities of past centuries. So long as the nation mandates high stakes attached to multiple-choice and short-response standardized tests, we can be sure that neither high-quality content nor the opportunity to learn strong thinking skills in and across content areas will be provided to most of our students. Low-income students, students of color, those learning English or with disabilities will suffer most grievously.

So it is heartening to see Andy and Tom, for example, make testing reform central to their understanding of school improvement and join FairTest in calling for performance assessment. There are of course myriad devils in the details: What kinds of assessments do we mean by "performance?" How much standardization is required for any given purpose, and what other means of establishing consistency (where needed) can we employ? How high should stakes be for any given assessment or set of assessments? What's the balance among content, understanding, and thinking skills? How can we best ensure not only teacher knowledge but voice and power in using them when appropriate? How can we get the funding for creating and maintaining the new systems and ensuring the needed professional learning? These and more won't have one right answer.

As a first major step forward, the Department of Education should rewrite its proposed requirements for use of "Race to the Top" funds for states to build combined classroom-local-state assessment systems that meet multiple needs and support rich content and powerful thinking. Reps. Miller and McKeon were ready to support that move in their efforts to reauthorize NCLB two years ago. Don't expect the results to look alike, do monitor and evaluate them carefully, and do require states to share their learning experiences and results. That revised approach should be combined with a re-written, sensible effort to help states construct high-quality educator evaluation systems rather than its current scheme to replace inadequate systems with destructive reliance on low-level tests. And it should ensure that whether states stay with their own standardized tests or partake in new consortium-based tests, those tests become only a small part of the evidence of student learning and school success.

Given the wide support across this blog for improving assessment, that should be something we unite on.

Eliza Krigman,

Paige Johnson, Global K12 manager at Intel and former Partnership for 21st Century Skills chair, submitted the following:

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills was created to garner deeper understanding of and support for the connection of content knowledge and performance skills. Why? Because currently too many of our students are no longer seen as potential winners in a workforce that demands more of them than just factual knowledge. If others truly believe that this work is not important or that the issue is not a significant one – I ask that they please direct me to evidence that proves all of our students are critical thinkers, able to solve complex issues, financially literate, understand and respect diversity, and manage themselves and others while working in team situations. Show me the statistics that prove that any student can step forward and be a future leader.

The work of the Partnership is founded on the belief that all students need and deserve both knowledge and accompanying performance skills if they are to be successful citizens in a rapidly changing global society. Over the last decade, our education system has been test-focused and teachers and administrators are under pressure to demonstrate student success on single measures of accountability that do not include or reward application of knowledge to real-life experiences, problem solving or innovation. Intel is collaborating with others to help develop assessments that will be more meaningful measures of a student’s skills, capabilities and content knowledge.

The Partnership is a success – as evidenced by the diversity and strength of the Board membership and the states that are now part of the work. Our goal has been to demonstrate how content and skills are needed in current time – not how they were needed in the system of the past. The world constantly evolves and so should our education policies and practices. There is incredibly important work left to do, starting with clearly articulating the relationship of 21st century skills to standards, assessments, curriculum and instruction and profession development. Educators, researchers and other stakeholders agree that we have to intentionally combine knowledge and skills into all aspects of the education system to give our students the education they need to thrive in today’s world. Currently, 13 states are working toward making this a reality.

The Partnership has never believed that skills such as creativity, problem solving and respect for diversity were created in this century or that they can or should exist independent of content. The stronger the Partnership makes these statements, the louder and more vociferously they are twisted by those who are seemingly afraid of changing a very comfortable status quo – one that works for some, but not for those students who cannot break free from the cycle of poverty or failure. We need to move beyond a decade of singular emphasis on “minimum proficiency” and “adequate progress” in basic skills. We must have greater hopes and dreams for our youth and move toward a broader and more ambitious set of learning expectations.

Tom Vander Ark, Partner, Revolution Learning

As a number of C21 critics have pointed out, good schools have long taught critical thinking and enough content to think about. What's missing from this thread is the importance of performance assessments. We've bent public education to bubble sheet assessment and squeezed out nearly everything authentic about learning. Good schools like High Tech High demand frequent presentations of learning where students show what they know. The focus is on great work product not great test scores (which, of course, take care of themselves).

The Partnership has a lot of supporters but hasn't done much to change schooling in America. I'm hoping we'll see some advances in assessment as part of RttT and i3 that pilot combinations of adaptive assessment and performance assessment. However, there's substantial risk that we'll lock in on a Common Core and a common set of old-fashioned assessments--an unintentional Partnership for 20th Century Skills.

Ken Kay, President, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and, CEO, e-Luminate Group

Certainly the Partnership for 21st Century Skills has experienced some success to date. Most notably, we have worked with practitioners to create a critical set of 21st century objectives for K-12 education and raised the importance of critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills for every child. In addition, we have elevated the importance of other critical subjects such as global competence, financial literacy and information, media and technology literacy.

Still, we would be the first to admit that we have a long way to go. Nevertheless, providing the impetus for these important conversations and working with practitioners to accept these notions as part of the education reform conversation is a major step forward.

The Partnership has addressed a lot of the previous claims to date, i.e., never did the Partnership for 21st Century Skills believe creativity, problem solving and other skills were created in this century, nor do they exist without or supersede content. These are not the reasons the movement can’t be called a complete success.

Rather, there is still incredibly important work left to do, starting with clearly articulating the relationship of 21st century skills to standards, assessments, curriculum and instruction and profession development. Educators, researchers and other stakeholders agree that we have to intentionally combine knowledge and skills into all aspects of the education system in order to give our students the education they need to thrive in today’s world. Currently 13 states are working toward making this reality a success.

Chester E. Finn, Jr., President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

I've little to add to what Andy, Sandy and Diane have written. There's nothing new about 21st Century skills. Those qualities of mind, behavior, temperament and interaction have long been in demand and good schools and teachers have long helped youngsters to acquire them-- in addition to core knowledge and basic skills. Where I fault the P-21 folks is in deflecting attention from the latter to the former and ignoring the painful tradeoffs inherent in a 6 hour school day. I also note that, while traditional knowledge and basic skills are relatively easy to assess (and thus to hold schools and educators accountable for imparting), that's not true of "creaitivity" or "communicating" or "working well with others". I fear that more than a little of the P-21 push is an effort by educators to abjure results-based accountability by changing the emphasis from those things that can be assessed to those that cannot be.

Steve Peha, President, Teaching That Makes Sense

Having lived now in the 21st century for almost ten years, I’m beginning to get a sense of the skills I need to succeed even though my school life came and went more than 20 years ago. Tops on my list are social and emotional literacy, followed closely by financial literacy, technological literacy, and health. I wish I were wiser in all of these areas. Fortunately, I’ve noticed that our bookstores overflow with information in these domains. But sadly our school curricula give them short shrift.

The movement for so-called 21st century skills is well-intentioned. But, looking over curriculum standards for most states, I think the current century has largely been ignored. Since the standards movement began, I’ve had a sick-in-the-gut feeling that this effort did not represent true reform but simply codified into state law the traditional mindset of the post-Sputnik period in American education.

The process for creating standards is highly politicized and therefore given to compromise. This curriculum-by-committee approach can never yield anything that truly represents reform in education. Instead, we end up with either a lowest common denominator result or regression to the mean, both of which amount to little more than a regurgitation of the past.

I think this is what the 21st century skills folks are worried about. As many people have noted, their “21st century skills” are not exactly new or revolutionary. But they do provide some contrast to the backward-looking results of the standards movement.

The real question we’re all dancing around is this: Are schools going to teach what our children need to be successful in their lives? I would argue that the answer is no.

Education is today, and has always been, squarely focused on tradition. Think, for example, of all those people, both in and out of school, who cry foul any time a progressive educator decides to teach kids to read rather than teaching them the canon of Western literature. Even a skill as simple as subtracting whole numbers is still taught in American schools with one of the least efficient algorithms. And don’t even get me started about the sorry state of writing and grammar instruction. We might do better showing students “Goodbye Mr. Chips”, “To Sir with Love”, and “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”. For extra credit, I’m sure we could license re-runs of “Room 222” and “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

America is in many ways a modern nation. And central to our national identity is an optimism that propels us into the future with hope and the promise that our children will live a better life. But school has never been aligned with this reality. So I come back to the real question: Are we giving kids what they need? And just about everything I see in schools says no.

My real frustration with school today is that giving kids what they need is more possible than ever. We know so much about children and how they learn. And the professional literature on teaching has gone through an incredible expansion in the last 15 years. In short, we know enough about kids and enough about teaching to serve our children well. And, if we’re honest, we know enough about the 21st century to at least have some intuition about what today’s kindergarteners will face when they finish school circa 2025. But we’re not using any of this information. In fact, many people in our society, and especially some of those in the movement toward education reform, stand squarely against this.

Let me give an example. Recently, The New York Times published an article about reading. The upshot was a way of teaching where kids choose their own books. What they were talking about (although they did it poorly) was the Reader’s Workshop method of instruction. Reader’s Workshop is a fantastic approach to reading that I have used for more than 10 years. I’ve also taught it to many others. It has been serving children and teachers well for more than a quarter of a century. But in the NYT article it gets trashed by people who have never used it and who obviously know little about it.

So here we have a very modern way of teaching reading – a model that works well – and high-status ed reform experts will speak negatively about it even though they’ve never used it or studied it in any serious way. But that’s how we roll in American education. Most of what’s new and helpful gets smacked down by the old guard in the guise of preserving arbitrary traditions for which there is little or no proof of value.

While the notion of 21st century skills may not get much traction among the edurati, I applaud those people who have at least given some thought to what a contemporary curriculum might look like. Of course, if what they produce is actually helpful, it too will get smacked down by traditionalists and other self-interested parties like conservative politicians, educational publishers, and testing companies – all of whom would have a lot to lose if schooling in America caught up with the times.

Again and again, I’m troubled by the direction of curricular progress in our country. The question I keep asking just won’t go away: Are we giving kids what they need? After visiting and working in more than 200 schools over the last 15 years, I’m almost certain the answer is no and that we’re moving in exactly the wrong direction. Instead of exploring the future, we are codifying the past – locking into law ideas that didn’t serve children well in the 20th century and likely won’t serve them at all in the 21st.

Perhaps education is not about learning; perhaps it’s about the preservation of culture. In this sense, I think we’re doing fabulous work. But in the process of teaching the past we’re cementing the inequities of the past. I would argue that some aspects of our culture should not be preserved and that education, as the great equalizer, should be just as dedicated to eradicating the worst of the past as it is to promoting the best of the future.

If there are groups of people who wish to dedicate themselves to thinking seriously about what children will need to succeed in the 21st century, I wholeheartedly support them. I believe their mission is worthy of our attention and our admiration. But given the temper of the times, I don’t know how they can succeed. If past is prologue, it will be another hundred years before anyone in education becomes comfortable with 21st century skills.

Phil Quon, Superintendent, Cupertino Union School District

21st century skills can mean different things to different people depending on your educational background, your work with young people, and your ability to look forward into the endless possibilities of what education can become. How often have we sat in classrooms today and realized that we could just as well be sitting in a classroom 50 years ago? What happened in those 50 years? Or the larger question might be what didn’t happen?

Today’s young people enter our schools as “digital natives” - - - students who embrace technology and can do so much more with it than we would ever think possible. I am convinced that the physiology behind their learning is much different than what my learning was due to the tactile, audio, and visual media that young people are exposed to from birth. As educators we ought to be tapping into these new technologies to see how academic content can be delivered in richer and more meaningful ways. We should be asking if 21st century skills are the key to learning content more efficiently and freeing students from the grips of past pedagogies which require all students to learn the same content at the same pace. Efficient businesses would abhor such organizational structures.

21st century skills are skills we want our young people to acquire to be successful in their workplaces of the future. Workplaces and jobs not yet defined. So how can we be sure we are doing right by our kids? Our teachers need to embrace pedagogical practices which tap into the learning dynamics of their students - - - the “digital natives.” Wouldn’t it be great if we could deliver the academic content in half the time with greater comprehension and retention? Should all students reach the same academic milestones at the very same time? These are the questions that have plagued our education systems for many years. The breakthrough will come when 21st century skills serve as the basis for teachers changing academic content and instructional methodologies and for students to have the skills (along with the technologies) to access the curricula.

“Pedagogical fad?” I think not. It is the synergy behind the drive to improve student access to meaningful learning and ultimately success in academic performance and achievement.

Cynthia G. (Cindy) Brown, Vice President for Education Policy, Center for American Progress

As my colleague Raegen Miller points out, the forces that make the P21 movement relevant are still at work (see Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane's 2004 book, The New Division of Labor: How Computers are Creating the Next Job Market, for a fuller treatment of this subject). At bottom, we're talking about Moore's Law: the cost of a fixed amount of computing power halves every two years or so. This trend will continue, and with it, the frontier of which jobs are susceptible to some level of automation will continue to expand. Jobs that aren't threatened by automation are of two kinds. First, there are service jobs that require neither complex communication nor problem solving, flipping burgers, for example. Such jobs do not pay much, and their immunity to off-shoring is cold comfort. Second, there are jobs that require complex communication and expert thinking, i.e. 21st century skills.

I don't think anyone seriously imagines that a high enough proportion of US students leave school prepared for the second kind of job. A lack of focus on "21st century skills" is part of the reason, as the P21 movement has helped point out. But there are many facets of the challenge to improve US schools in light of the shift in demand driven by Moore's Law.

Kim M. Stasny, Superintendent, Oxford School District, Oxford, MS

Diane has a very good point in that Jay Leno’s interviewees laugh about their ignorance. That is a very sad fact. As a superintendent of a public school district, it amazes me that we talk so much about 21st Century skills (which I agree is fiction) and we continue to look like a system from the early 1900’s. As a matter of fact, instead of focusing on the bigger issues, so many of my colleagues get bogged down in determining whether or not to allow cell phones on campus. So, I ask, who needs to enter the 21st Century…certainly not our digital natives that we teach today.

As for the P21 organization, I don’t believe there has been any impact. We talk quite a bit about redesigning high schools to meet the needs of our global market but we continue to frame our practices in the same mold…teaching classes in blocks of equal length, sponsoring athletics after school, having students sit in rows, following all the mandates that our legislators continue to perpetuate, and on and on and on. As an aside, one of the laws that came down from the powers that be mandated school districts to give parents of twins (or multiple births) the final say on whether or not their children are placed in the same classrooms. (I just hope they didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time in that discussion.) And heaven forbid that we get out of the box to try something innovative without the blessings from above (ie State Department of Education).

I like Andy Rotherham’s statement: “Today, by contrast, our commitment to a more equitable society as well as the demands of our economy mean a deliberate effort must be made to ensure that all students learn how to think, analyze, problem-solve and so forth.” And that should have been our goal since time began.

Diane Ravitch, Research Professor Of Education, New York University

The notion of "21st century skills" is a fiction. There are no such skills. Every single skill listed as a "21st century skill" has been in demand long before the 21st century, in some cases for many centuries. Most of what is now proposed--whether critical thinking skills or working in groups--has been an integral part of the progressive education movement since the early years of the twentieth century. Anyone knowledgeable about the history of American education would recognize most of these skills as another manifestation of progressivism (see Lawrence Cremin's The Transformation of the Schools or my own Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform). In reality, the so-called 21st century skills are no more than an echo of the ideas that have dominated our colleges of education since the early twentieth century. I have elsewhere ( suggested that the schools should emphasize such 19th century skills as love of learning, the ability to think for oneself (individualism) and to work alone (initiative), the ability to stand alone against the crowd (courage), and so on.

The board of P21, the organization that promotes this alleged movement, is top-heavy with representatives of the major technology companies, suggesting at least to me that the movement will end up noted as a lobbyist for selling more hardware and software to the schools. But even the idea of information literacy is not new. Schools have already spent billions on equipment from these same companies (and others that have since disappeared). Our children are not deficient in skills or in computer literacy; they know better than their parents how to use computers to access information. Unfortunately what they lack is the knowledge with which to evaluate the information they so easily access. They are deficient in knowledge; they are deficient in understanding of history, civics, science, geography, foreign languages, the arts, and literature. Anyone who has seen Jay Leno's street interviews (his Jaywalking interviews) has observed the profound ignorance that Leno encounters when he meets young people and asks them questions about the most basic ideas and facts of history, civics, and geography. Those he interviews--who seem to be mainly in their early 20s--laugh about their ignorance; they think it is funny that they know so little of the world. They do not lack thinking skills or computer literacy. They lack knowledge. The 21st century skills movement, like so much else that we are now doing in education, will plunge us even deeper into our present morass of happy ignorance. Diane Ravitch

Sandy Kress, Former Senior Advisor on Education to President George W. Bush, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP

I'm with Jay and Andy on this one.

In fact, I'm announcing this morning the formation of a new group, the Partnership for 5th Century BCE Skills. We will be using the teaching methods of Socrates as our basic approach since we believe that they are more relevant for all centuries, including this one, than those of our rival partnership. For those who worry that we're just a bunch of fuddy-duddys, I want to ease your mind. We will encourage the use of the tools of modern technology that, of course, are important to us today but were unavailable in Athens to our founder.

Andrew J. Rotherham, Co-Founder and Publisher, Education Sector

Most education observers and analysts agree that schools need to do a better job of teaching students how to think and a substantial subset believe that schools also must do a better job imparting content and knowledge to students as well.

The concerns of this first group gave rise to the "21st Century Skills" movement and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. But along the way some of the manifestations of the 21st Century Skills idea have prompted a backlash. That debate is pitting the second group of reformers, those concerned with content, at odds with many of those promoting 21st Century Skills.

This is not one of these phony wars in education where both sides are basically right and the way forward lies in synthesis. Sure, schools need to teach both content and skills but that sentiment is meaningless except rhetorically. When one scratches below the surface of the debate you quickly find non-trivial debates about content, knowledge, pedagogy, and the nature of teaching itself.

I've been among the skeptics of a lot of what masquerades as 21st Century Skills. The whole construct of "new" skills seems to me to reek of contemporary flattery and miss the point that none of these skills are actually new. What's new today is the need for universality: In other words, in the past elites in society (our society and others throughout history) had these skills while the masses generally did not. Today, by contrast, our commitment to a more equitable society as well as the demands of our economy mean a deliberate effort must be made to ensure that all students learn how to think, analyze, problem-solve and so forth.

This is not a trivial distinction either. Thinking that these skills are 'new' rather than thinking that they are simply 'more necessary' leads to different remedies. Because many of the teaching and curricular constructs that fall under the 21st Century Skills banner are new and not grounded in research or experience, concern about the 21st Century Skills movement encompasses a wide-swath of education reformers across the political and ideological spectrum - many of whom agree on little else. The depth and diversity of concern is something that 21st Century Skills adherents should pay attention to.

Given the patchwork curriculum and teacher quality problems that pervade the education system today an effort to dramatically improve teaching and learning and effectively teach knowledge and skills is an enormous challenge. In an article in this month's Educational Leadership Dan Willingham of the University of Virginia and I lay out the three key challenges - curriculum, teacher quality, and assessment. Singularly, each of these issues has confounded generations of school reformers. Tackling them in tandem and at scale is akin to an educational Manhattan Project.

To date neither the 21st Century Skills movement overall nor P21 has seriously engaged with these challenges, although to their credit they've lately signaled a willingness to do so as the critics have become more vocal and the pushback more intense. But a failure to go deep on these issues is why rather than being transformative so far the 21st Century Skills movement instead runs the risk of being another educational fad that changes little - or worse unravels some of the progress that has been made on behalf of low-income students over the past few decades.

We should all hope for much richer teaching and learning than is generally the case today. But it will take deeper engagement and discussion for a radically improved vision of teaching - and one that is grounded in evidence and a coherent theory of action - to permeate our notoriously change-averse system of schooling.

About This Blog

This Education Blog is funded by support provided, in part, by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the purpose of creating an educational forum for sharing research, ideas and opinions regarding issues related to college readiness and college completion. The Blog may not be used to post partisan political statements supporting or opposing candidates for public office. All statements and materials posted on the Blog, including any statements regarding specific legislation, reflect the views of the individual contributors and do not reflect the views of National Journal or the Bill& Melinda Gates Foundation. National Journal and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation take no positions regarding any legislation discussed in the Blog. National Journal reserves the right to monitor material placed on this site and to remove any posting they may deem inappropriate.