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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Carol Burris On John King's Leadership

Carol Burris

From The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss:

How New York’s education commissioner blew it big time — principal

John King (
John King (
New York Education Commissioner John King recently started a series of forums co-sponsored with the New York State PTA to talk about the Common Core State Standards — but things didn’t go as planned. At the Poughkeepsie forum a few days ago, audience members were less than polite when they were given little opportunity to speak, and he cancelled other stops on his mini-tour. In this post, award-winning Principal Carol Burris of South Side High School in New York,  talks about what this all means for the reform movement in New York.
Burris has for more than a year chronicled on this blog the many problems with the test-driven reform in New York (here, and here and here and here, for example). She was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010,  tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. She is the co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student test scores. It has been signed by more than 1,535 New York principals and more than 6,500 teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens. You can read the letter by clicking here. 
By Carol Burris
Thomas Sergiovanni was a renowned international scholar of educational leadership.  In his book, Moral Leadership, he explains the differences between subordinates and followers.  Sergiovanni argued that educational leaders need followers because followers are not led by coercion, but rather by commitment to beliefs, values and ideals.  In a 1990 article for Educational Leadership he wrote:
When followership is established, bureaucratic authority and psychological authority are transcended by moral authority.
The New York State Education Department has lost its moral authority, as defined by Sergiovanni.  That loss was clearly on display at a recent New York State PTA-sponsored hearing on the Common Core in Poughkeepsie, New York.  By the last half hour of the evening, the audience was both boisterous and impassioned, angered because there was limited opportunity to speak. What little time remained for the audience was twice interrupted by Commissioner John King, who had held the floor for an hour and a half.
The miffed King then reacted by cancelling upcoming scheduled forums.  In response to an inquiry about the cancellation by Long Island’s Newsday, King responded:
 I was looking forward to engaging in a dialogue with parents across the state.  I was eagerly anticipating answering questions from parents about the Common Core and other reforms we’re moving ahead with in New York State.  Unfortunately, the forums sponsored by the New York State PTA have been co-opted by special interests whose stated goal is to “dominate” the questions and manipulate the forum.”[1]
 The people in the audience at the Poughkeepsie forum were teachers and parents.  The common “special interests” of both groups are children.
What occurred in Poughkeepsie is not surprising to those who have followed the course of reform in New York led by John King.  John King was a teacher for only three years—teaching in Puerto Rico, in a private school and in a charter school in Boston.  After his short career as a teacher, he became the co-director of Roxbury Prep, a charter school with fewer than 200 students during his tenure. Five years later, he became the managing director of Uncommon Charter Schools.
In 2000, John King entered the Inquiry Doctoral Program at Columbia University’s Teachers College.  Each Inquiry cohort was small and intimate—about 25 students.  I know the program well—I was a member of the 1999 cohort.  A fellow member of John King’s cohort was the wife of billionaire Jim Tisch, Merryl Tisch, who was appointed to the New York State Board of Regents four years earlier.  King and Tisch took classes together for two years. In April of 2009, Merryl became the Regents’ chancellor.  In September 2009, John King was appointed deputy commissioner of  education. Two years later, John King was appointed commissioner following the abrupt resignation of David Steiner.  It was the meteoric rise of a man who became commissioner at 36 years of age.
King has surrounded himself with bright young people, most of whom like King, have limited or no experience in public education. They are called the Regents Fellows. Their positions are funded by donations, including a million-dollar gift from Chancellor Tisch herself, and nearly a million dollars from Bill Gates.  At a recent gathering of Long Island school leaders, Tisch was asked about the Fellows. She chided the audience, telling them that they should be grateful for the private donations.  The skeptical audience, however, well understood that there is nothing like a million dollar donation to ensure that ‘my will be done.’
‘My will be done’ has been the tone and the tenor of chaotic reform in New York.  In its rush to implement teacher evaluations, the Common Core and new testing, the state leadership has likened it to building a plane in the air.  Cut scores anchored to ridiculously high performance on the SAT caused proficiency scores to plummet.  Students, often in tears, rushed to finish tests that were too difficult and too long. The Common Core Algebra modules are still not finished, even though teachers must teach the course to students now. Rushed APPR plans reviewed by law school students and supervised by a young, former Teach For America grad now Fellow, led to disastrous results such as those of Syracuse, where 40% of the teachers were rated below effective and no elementary or middle school teacher was found to be highly effective.
Syracuse is not alone—other districts have simply chosen to hide their disasters.  The very APPR rating bands themselves produce illogical results, leaving one to wonder if the department can add three, two-digit numbers. The confusion continues. Just a few days ago, the department’s website directed those who wanted information about the parent portal to a telephone number of a sex chat line. From APPR, to the Common Core, to 3-8 testing, the plane being built in the air is falling apart.
As a result, there is no followership—no commitment among parents, teachers and principals to the values and ideals of reform.  The interest in the Common Core has turned to tepid support at best. What remains is compliance.  Even that compliance, however, is waning, as evidenced by the Poughkeepsie hearings, the Buffalo forum on testing that drew 2500, and the Opt Out movement that is growing exponentially around the state.  The moral leadership that is needed to navigate through the seas of sweeping change is not there. The source of authority is at best, bureaucratic.
In the authoritarian world of the Uncommon Charter Schools as described so well by scholar Pedro Noguera here, the rule is “thy will be done.”  In the real and messy world of democracy it is different.  Leaders must listen deeply, learn and respond.  They must be willing to consider alternative courses, and even in loud crowds, hear truth. In teaching, we attempt to perfect the skill known as “monitor and adjust.”  You can only master that skill by truly engaging learners.
In many ways, it is a sad tale.  One might imagine that if John King had first been a principal of a New York City public school, or the superintendent of a district, he would have become skilled in dealing with emotional and boisterous groups.  In doing small-scale reforms in a district, he could have practiced effective pacing. John King would know, as Sergiovanni taught, that the heart of good leadership is the development of followership.  Without followership, no reform has a chance.
[1] A Newsday reporter sent me this quote for response on October 12.

AISR Report Describes Disparate Treatment of Students In NYC

Research reveals late-enrolling New York City students disproportionately assigned to struggling high schools
Phil Gloudemans (401) 863-3552 or (401) 338-6385 (cell) envelope 
Norm Fruchter  (212) 328-9252 or (718) 499-1890 envelope
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (October 10, 2013) 
NEW YORK CITY–Each year between 2008 and 2011, more than 35,000 late-enrolling,
high-need students were disproportionately assigned by the New York City Department of 
Education (DOE) to struggling public high schools, essentially setting up the students and 
schools for failure, according to a new study from Brown University’s Annenberg Institute 
for School Reform (AISR) detailed in the AISR report “Over the Counter, Under the Radar.” These late enrollees missed participating in the school system’s almost universal high school
choice process the previous school year and are traditionally labeled as “over the counter”
(OTC) students. OTC students include many of the system’s highest-needs populations:
new immigrants; special-needs students; previously incarcerated teens; poor, transient, or
homeless youth; over-age students; and those with histories of behavioral incidents in previous
high schools. AISR’s study shows that these high-needs OTC students are disproportionately assigned to New York City public high schools with high percentages of low-performing students, English-language learners, and dropouts.
“Compelling evidence suggests that the DOE’s inequitable assignment of OTC students to 
struggling high schools reduces the opportunities for success for both the students and their schools,” said AISR Principal Associate Norm Fruchter, one of the study’s authors. “In contrast, some high schools are consistently assigned very small percentages of these students, thereby enhancing their capacity to maintain high performance results.” 
The study’s analysis of the 2011 OTC assignments shows that large, low-performing high schools had an average OTC assignment rate of 20 percent, compared to an OTC enrollment rate of 12 percent at better performing similarly large high schools. During the time period studied, high-performing schools, such as Midwood High School in Brooklyn, were consistently assigned very low numbers of OTC students (3 percent), while low-performing Jamaica High School in Queens had an OTC rate of 31 percent, significantly higher than the school system average.
Similarly, the AISR study found that OTC students are disproportionately assigned to schools targeted for closure or already undergoing the closure process. The researchers cite Christopher Columbus and John F. Kennedy High Schools in the Bronx, and Jamaica High School in Queens as prime examples. While Christopher Columbus was undergoing closure in 2011, OTC students made up 37 percent of that school’s student body, 31 percent of Jamaica’s, and 29 percent of Kennedy’s, compared with 14 percent for similarly sized high schools. “We reconfigured our academic and support programs to meet the needs of our very sizable annual percentage of OTC students,” said Christine Rowland, teacher and UFT Teacher Center Site Staff at Christopher Columbus. “But without sufficient resources, the burden on the school staff was enormous.”
This study is the first of its kind. “What surprised us is that our study is the first systematic look at OTC students and the high schools they are habitually assigned to,” said AISR Principal Research Associate Christina Mokhtar, study co-author. “OTC students compose more than 17 percent of the high school population every year and yet, until this study, nothing was known about the high school experience of OTC students because research had never focused on them.”
"This study backs up what teachers have been saying for years: The New York City Department of Education pushes the neediest students into a small number of schools, causing both the students and schools to fail," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. 
AISR’s recommendations to remedy these disparities and make the assignment of these high-need students more equitable include the following:
  • The DOE should commission a study of the demographics and academic performance of OTC students to identify high schools in which such students achieve significantly higher academic performance than system-wide averages, and then identify the exemplary practices of these “beat-the-odds” schools.
  • The DOE should ensure that all high schools employ these exemplary practices to help improve the academic outcomes of all OTC students.
  • Since the overall percentage of OTC students during the years of the AISR study was 17 percent, all New York City high schools should be assigned OTC students at an annual rate of between 12 and 20 percent of their respective student populations.
  • The DOE should develop specific criteria governing the decision rules for OTC assignments below and above 17 percent.
  • Schools targeted for closure or already undergoing the closure process should not be assigned any OTC students.
  • Persistently low-achieving high schools should not be assigned any OTC students until their respective performances improve sufficiently for removal from the state’s list of struggling schools.
“Implementing these recommendations would significantly reduce the disparities and inequities that OTC assignment policies create,” said Fruchter. “These recommendations would help the city’s high schools reconfigure their instructional resources and support programs to better meet the needs of a predictable rate of incoming OTC students.”   
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer focused on the study’s importance: “How New York City deals with high-needs students who enter our schools in the middle of the year – many of them homeless, living in poverty, recently incarcerated, or struggling to adjust to a new language or culture – is one of the most pressing challenges of our time,” said Stringer. “I am grateful that the Annenberg Institute for School Reform has chosen to shine a light on this issue and offer such thoughtful recommendations. This report should be required reading for anyone who cares about our children and our city.”