Thursday, March 15, 2018

New evidence of an extreme gender bias in selective high school admissions demands an independent evaluation of the exam

Today, Ben Chapman of the NY Daily News wrote about the disproportionate number of girls rejected from the highly-selective Specialized high schools compared to the boys. As I was quoted in the article, "You would think that the city would be taking every step they could, to ensure that girls are accepted to these high schools at, at least the same rate as boys...Girls should have the same opportunities as boys and the data suggests that this entrance exam has a gender bias that needs to be addressed.”

I have been writing about the gender imbalance at the specialized high schools since 2010.  There has been much written about the low numbers of black and Latino students admitted through the SHSAT exam, with only 10 Black students and 27 Latino students accepted into Stuyvesant high school this year.  Indeed, in 2012, a complaint was filed with the Civil Rights office of the US Department of Education about the exam's discriminatory impact.

Meanwhile, the Mayor has continued to blame the state for the problem, which passed a law years ago requiring that the exam results be the deciding factor in three high schools, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech; yet in the case of the other five high schools that use the exam, their method of admissions is completely under his control.  It is also important to note that  NYC is the only district in the country with selective high schools in which a single high stakes exam is the sole criterion for admissions.

Yet today's Daily News article is the first time to my knowledge that the mainstream media has reported on the sharp gender differential between the admission rates of boys vs. girls.  Here is a chart showing a large gender gap of ten percent, with only 15.4% of girls who took the exams admitted to the specialized schools compared to 20.4% of boys:

These disparate results strongly suggests the  exam exhibits gender bias, especially as among NYC public school students, girls tend to get better grades AND better test scores than boys.  Here, for example, are their comparative scores on the 2017 state 8th grade exams:

You can see from the above that according to the state exams, girls obtain higher scale scores, achieve higher proficiency rates and more of them score at the highest level (level 4) in both ELA and math. 

I also checked for the gender differential on the 7th grade state 2017 math tests, since many 8th graders take the Regents exams in math instead.  Girls get higher scores on these exams as well:

In past years as well, according to this paper by Sean Corcoran and Christine Baker-Smith, if state test scores, grades and attendance from 2005-2013 were used as criteria instead of the SHSAT, girls would be 9 to 13 more points more likely to be admitted to the specialized high schools: "In fact, the gender gap would shift dramatically in favor of girls with the use of grades and State tests."

That's a far greater disparity than they found for Black or Latino students (who tend to score lower on the State exams).  Yet among similar applicants with the same performance on the State exams, girls, Blacks, Latinos  and low-income students were all significantly less likely to score high enough to be admitted to these schools, and Whites and Asians significantly more likely to be accepted.

Corcoran and Baker-Smith also said, however, that over that period, girls were less likely to apply to the specialized high schools, which is no longer seems to be the case, with more girls  now taking the SHSAT than boys. 

In 2016, after much criticism of the exam and its racially disparate results, Pearson was awarded a six-year, $13.4 million contract to improve the previous SHSAT, which was also written by the company.  This is despite the fact that Pearson is not noted for its high-quality exams, to say the least.

They did eliminate the scrambled paragraph section of the exam, and the logical reasoning section, but appear to have made few other changes, other than making the exam even longer -- to 180 minutes from 150 minutes.  They also included only non-fiction passages in the ELA section (perhaps a nod to the Common Core/David Coleman personal preference for informational texts.)  

One of the most frequent criticisms in the past has been the highly unusual way in which the SHSAT was scored, to give extra weight to students who scored exceptionally high on the math or the ELA sections, rather than those who received an overall high average score.  Apparently this remained the scoring method as late as 2016. Has the methodology changed?  Is this one of the reasons for the extreme gender disparity in the results?

In any case, whether you believe that using one high-stakes exam as the sole criterion for admissions is itself unfair and highly unreliable (as I do), it is long overdue that the SHSAT be independently evaluated for gender AND racial bias.  There have been calls for this independent evaluation as far back as 2008.  Given the latest stark disparity in admissions for girls vs boys, that should be mandatory.  Or perhaps a Title 9 complaint?  Please leave your comments below.

Below are the offer of admissions by gender and  by school; you can see that the more selective the school the more unbalanced the numbers; with Stuyvesant 58% male and 41% female.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Is Mayor de Blasio turning into Michael Bloomberg? and will our legislators heed the need to reform mayoral control?

On Friday, we learned that Elzora Cleveland was pressured by the Mayor's office to resign from the Panel for Educational Policy because she voted against a number of school closures and co-locations at the last PEP meeting on February 28.  On Sunday,  more details were reported in a NY Post article, in which I am quoted:

“I find it deeply disappointing that the mayor would break his promise to parents in this way,” said Leonie Haimson, a member of the PAC board. “This ensures there will be no checks and balances on his autocratic decision-making that affects so many families.”

By firing Elzora Cleveland, de Blasio is also breaking a promise he made when he first ran for mayor.  In his 2013 response to our NYC Kids PAC candidate survey,  his campaign wrote: "PEP members will have two-year fixed terms, which will ensure that PEP members who might disagree with Bill will maintain their membership." 

He also responded yes to the question, "having Board of Education members with set terms, who cannot be fired at will by the Mayor."

Yet de Blasio has broken so many of his campaign promises, as reported in the 2016 NYC Kids PAC report card.  He selected not one but two Chancellors through a highly secretive process, without any public input or parent feedback, contrary to his campaign pledge that would hold a "serious, serious public screening" rather than select one the way Bloomberg did who is "pushed down our throat."  Last month, he refused to even talk to  parent leaders who asked to meet with him about how they participate in the process.

Yesterday, Diane Ravitch asked on her blog, "Is Mayor de Blasio turning into Michael Bloomberg?"

Bloomberg and his Chancellor Joel Klein were rightfully criticized for being dismissive of parents, arrogant in their slash-and-burn school policies, and ignoring what rigorous research shows works to improve learning. Now with de Blasio's record of closing schools, refusing to reduce class size, firing PEP members, ignoring parent input, co-locating charters and generally refusing to collaborate with stakeholder groups, his educational policies are increasingly resembling those of his predecessor.  To some extent, this behavior is the predictable result of mayoral control out of control. As Lord Acton famously wrote, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Clearly mayoral control needs checks and balances, no matter who is sitting in that chair.  I hope our legislators will heed that reality.

Friday, March 9, 2018

New Parent Guide to Online Learning; check it out!

Please check out and share this new NPE guide: What Every Parent Should Know about Online Learning.

Many of the software programs being used in schools have uncertain value, and can undermine student privacy, engagement and authentic learning.  I hope that this guide will help chip away at some of the massive hype that has surrounded the subject of so-called "personalized learning" in recent years.

It offers questions parents should ask their children's schools and districts before adopting computerized programs to deliver instruction, assessment or behavior management.

It also has sections examining the efficacy of some of the most over-hyped online programs like Summit Learning Platform, Rocketship and New Classrooms, as well as widely used online assessments like MAP and i-Ready. The press release is below.



For more information contact: Carol Burris, NPE Executive Director, 718-577-3276,

Kew Gardens, New York –
Today the Network for Public Education (NPE) released a new report, Online Learning: What Every Parent Should Know, in response to the growing dependence on technology in K-12 education. Schools are increasingly implementing digital instruction, often requiring that students use online programs and apps as part of their classwork. Many students even attend a virtual, full-time charter school, never meeting teachers or classmates face to face.

Yet there is scant evidence of educational technology’s success and growing concerns regarding its negative impact. This guide presents a frank assessment of the intended and unintended consequences of online learning in K-12 school and offers questions parents should ask principals if their child’s school adopts computerized programs to deliver instruction, assessment or behavior management.

Rachel Stickland, Co-Chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, had the following to say about the report: “NPE’s Online Learning report is essential reading for anyone questioning the research behind the national push toward digital education. With this report in hand, parents can discuss their concerns with online learning confidently with school leadership – whether it’s the lack of evidence showing that it actually works, the political and moneyed interests advancing it, or how it places student privacy at risk.”

Dr. Faith Boninger of the University of Colorado Boulder researches and writes about commercial activities in schools. Commenting on the importance of the report she said, “As much as companies are eager to sell digital technology to schools, and schools are eager to increase children’s achievement, research does not support claims that shifting to digital educational platforms achieves the desired goals. What a growing body of research does indicate, however, is that excessive computer use by children leads to negative health effects such as vision and sleeping problems, social-emotional disturbance, and addiction to digital devices. NPE’s report on on-line learning is an important, timely, resource for parents. In plain language, its review of what we know about online learning shows that parents would do well to not accept promises or bland reassurances, but rather be extremely skeptical consumers. Armed with this report, parents will be able to ask administrators the very hard questions that must be answered adequately in order to justify the use of digital technologies to teach children.”

The 18-page guide is a parent-friendly review of the research on virtual schools, online courses, blended learning and behavior management apps. It also includes a discussion of the student privacy issues that arise when highly sensitive personal student data is collected by online programs and then distributed to third-party vendors without parent knowledge or consent.

The guide’s harshest criticism is reserved for virtual charter schools, whose academic ineffectiveness, coupled with fraudulent attendance practices, resulted in NPE’s recommendation that parents refrain from enrolling their children in online charters.

Based on the report’s findings, NPE President Diane Ravitch advises parents to “be wise consumers.” According to Ravitch, “Technology can be used creatively in the classroom by well-prepared teachers. But most of what is sold as ‘digital learning‘ is a sham that allows vendors to mine student data. Worse, online charter schools are educationally worthless. Students learn best when there is human interaction between teachers and students and among students. Parents must beware of false promises by profiteers.”

Online Learning: What Every Parent Should Know is available online at

The Network for Public Education (NPE) was founded in 2013 by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody. Its mission is to protect, preserve, promote, and strengthen public schools for both current and future generations of students. We share information and research on vital issues that concern the future of public education. For more information, please visit:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Important clarification: schools with high opt out rates will NOT be punished according to the new NYS school accountability system

One point to add to this  press release from NYSAPE: Chancellor Farina apparently told parents at a recent District 1 Town Hall  that schools with high opt out rates wouldn't be considered as Reward Schools and thus would be ineligible to apply for certain awards.  

Yet the Reward school program has been eliminated and replaced by something called Recognition schools in the new state ESSA plan, and the rules for eligibility and potential grants, if any, haven't yet been determined.


More information contact:
Jeanette Deutermann (516) 902-9228;
NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE)

New York Schools will NOT be Penalized for High Opt-Out Rates, Contrary to Misleading Claims

Since New York State’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan won federal approval, some school district officials, administrators, and advocacy groups have conveyed considerable misinformation about the plan, especially as it relates to students who refuse the State’s ELA and math tests in grades 3-8.
Lisa Rudley, Westchester County public school parent and NYSAPE founding member said, “It is disturbing that anyone, especially those who serve children, would intentionally misinform parents and rob them of the information needed to make informed decisions for their children. By using scare tactics and misinformation to suppress opt outs, these individuals and groups are also curtailing parental rights. This is NOT what the Board of Regents and NYSED had in mind when writing the State’s ESSA plan.”
Dr. Michael Hynes, Long Island Superintendent, added, “I believe it is our duty as school superintendents to ensure our parents know the true information regarding their rights to opt out their children for grades 3-8 state assessments. For any school educator to lead parents into believing they don't have this fundamental right is to act against what they were sworn to uphold as a leader in their community.”
NYC public school parent Kemala Karmen added, “In New York City, representatives of the NYCDOE and even the Chancellor herself have made claims about the consequences of ESSA-era opt out that are patently false. I get that the state’s plan, which runs to over 200 pages, is complicated. However, that doesn’t give the NYCDOE license to speculate on its details and make things up. Shame on them for baseless scare mongering and shame, too, on the media outlets that simply repeat false claims without bothering to dig any deeper.”
According to the New York ESSA plan, NYSED will calculate a school’s proficiency rate in two ways: 
1) with participation rate factored in, based on 95% of continuously enrolled students, and counting all opt-out students as having achieved an arbitrary level 1 score. This score is for calculation purposes only and will NOT be assigned to any individual student who opts out; and 2) a more accurate evaluation, with proficiency rate based on the actual number of students tested. 
Deborah Brooks, co-founder Port Washington Advocates for Public Education, explained, “Congress legislated the 95% participation rate in direct response to school actors engaging in the malfeasance of systematically excluding low-performing and/or special needs students from the state assessments. The participation rate was always about prohibiting such systematic exclusion and was never about prohibiting parents from exercising their right to refuse the assessments on behalf of their children. Accordingly, punishment is appropriate when and only when a school or district engages in systematic exclusion of children, and not when participation is low due to parents exercising their legal rights.”
The Board of Regents has assured the public that only the higher of these two calculations will be used for state accountability purposes, so that no school will be identified as low-performing simply because of its high opt-out rate, and no students will be judged as failing because they refused to take the state exams. 
In addition, the approved New York ESSA plan clearly states that the only schools that must develop a multi-tiered plan to raise participation rates are those whose low participation rates were determined to have resulted from school staff or district officials preventing or excluding students from taking the exams.  Schools whose low participation rates resulted from students opting out based on their parents’ choices will NOT be required to develop any such plan.
"For parents to become strong advocates for their children and partners with their leaders, it is vital that we receive effective communication and that the information we receive is accurate. Parents deserve and expect this, and I am extremely angry that we continue to be misinformed and uninformed​," Eileen Graham, Rochester parent and Black Student Leadership Organization founder.
Chris Cerrone, a school board trustee, NYSAPE founding member, and parent from Western New York, echoed this sentiment, “Despite media reports to the contrary, a local school district or school that has high opt outs because of parent advocacy, cannot be punished under the New York ESSA plan.”
Jeanette Deutermann, NYSAPE founding member and leader of Long Island Opt out, expanded on that statement. Schools and districts with high opt-out rates will not lose money, drop in rankings, or be put on any failing list according to the State’s ESSA plan.  Despite the claims of lobbying organizations such as HANY, districts on Long Island with high opt-out numbers have seen a steady increase in real estate values over the past five years, demonstrating that parents value districts and schools that respect their rights to decide whether their children will take the tests.  Not surprisingly, these are also the districts and schools that put children first,” she pointed out.
Jamaal Bowman, parent and Bronx school principal, summed it up: “Opting out does not equal failure. Opting out does not lead to a decrease in funding. Opting out is simply a parent exercising his/her right as a citizen; parents should have a say in their child’s education. With aspects of this new ESSA policy, parents continue to be disenfranchised.”
#OptOut2018 Test Refusal Letter: English​ and Spanish

​NYSAPE is a grassroots coalition with over 50 parent and educator groups across the state.


Monday, March 5, 2018

Introducing our new schools Chancellor Richard Carranza

After watching the press conference with our new Schools Chancellor and hearing reports from those who know him, I am cautiously optimistic.

Here is a video of him singing and playing with a mariachi band when he was appointed as Houston Superintendent.  Below that is the letter he sent to DOE colleagues today.  When have we ever had a Chancellor who could sing?  More about Carranza in Politico and NY Times.


I am so deeply excited and honored to serve as your next Schools Chancellor.

I want to take a moment to tell you about myself, my career, and why I believe in the power of public education, but before I do, I want to recognize you for the work you do every day for New York City’s 1.1 million children. That is what is most important.

Whether you are a teacher, an administrator, a member of school support staff, or part of the DOE’s central team, you are making an impact on our children, their families, and the future of New York City and our country. It will be my job as Chancellor to support you – to help you build on the work you are already doing and reach even greater heights. Together, we will keep moving towards a shared vision of Equity and Excellence for every student in New York City, regardless of their zip code or background. To this end, I plan to spend my first weeks as Chancellor visiting your schools and offices to simply listen and learn – just as I did when I took on my current role as Superintendent of the Houston Independent School District.

Now, a little about me and my career: I am a lifelong educator and have served at all levels of our educational system – as a bilingual high school teacher in Tucson, Arizona; a high school principal in Tucson and Las Vegas; a regional superintendent in Las Vegas; a deputy superintendent and then superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District; and now superintendent in Houston. I am proud of the work I have done in partnership with educators on the ground across these districts. Together, we have raised the bar for students, including improving graduation rates, narrowing achievement gaps, and turning around long-struggling schools.

I have devoted my life to public education because a strong public education is the greatest gift I ever received. It is why I chose to start my teaching career nearly 30 years ago at Pueblo High School in Tucson – the same high school that put me, the son of a sheet metal worker and a hairdresser, on the path to college and success my parents never could have imagined. It is why a child who didn’t speak English until he entered kindergarten can rise to become New York City Schools Chancellor. I know – just as Mayor de Blasio does, just as educators in San Francisco and Houston and New York City do – that public education is an investment in our future.

Already, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña have made historic investments in the future of New York City through the Equity and Excellence for All agenda. You are a national model for early childhood education, launching Pre-K for All, 3-K for All, and Universal Literacy. You are leading the way in supporting the whole child with the nation’s largest system of Community Schools and after-school programs. And ultimately, when I look at New York City schools, I see a clear focus on improving instruction and sharing success across classrooms and schools – this is the nitty-gritty work that has a positive impact on every child and family.

I so look forward to meeting and working with you and your school communities – including parents and families, who must be part of all the work we do together. I want to hear about your successes, but also the challenges you are facing. I want to hear your ideas about how I, as Chancellor, can better support you and better support the 1.1 million children of New York City.

There’s so much work to do.

In unity,
Richard Carranza

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Uncomfortable Truth about Toxic Testing: Johanna Garcia speaks out

Check out NYC parent leader Johanna Garcia on how high-stakes testing is toxic for kids and widens the achievement gap & inequities among schools.  See the videos in English and Spanish below; produced by the Network for Public Education and filmed by Shoot for Education.

Friday, March 2, 2018

What went wrong with the selection of Carvalho as Chancellor

If you live in New York City , you know we've had a wild time during the last 24 hours. On Wednesday night the news broke that the Superintendent of Miami-Dade schools, Alberto Carvalho, had been selected by the mayor as our next Chancellor, but then Thursday morning, during a live-streamed Miami-Dade school board meeting, Carvalho changed his mind.

This has caused considerable embarrassment for de Blasio, as evidenced by the NY Post cover above, though some say that Carvalho's unexpected flip-flop wasn't the Mayor's fault.  Yet if Carvalho had gone through a public vetting process as occurs in other large school districts like Boston or Los Angeles, his school board and community would have had the opportunity to entreat him to stay in advance of the final selection, he could have withdrawn his name, and all this wouldn't have blown up in the Mayor's face.

In support of de Blasio's intransigence, someone in his office argued, "In terms of public process, the tendency of elected boards across the country to have public searches is, in my opinion, one of the challenges of school governance.  I think it adds to the instability and turnover of leadership in districts because boards lose commitment to their superintendents when they hear that the superintendent has entertained a conversation with another district."
Really?  Did that happen in the case of Carvalho?  Did he lose face with his school board when they found out he had "entertained a conversation" with de Blasio?  Quite the opposite I would say.

Instead, the sequence of events is being compared by reporters to the Cathy Black fiasco.  Like Bloomberg's selection of Cathy Black, this vetting process has been overly secretive and unprofessional - with no search firm hired, and with no one on the outside even aware of who at City Hall is involved in carrying out the search.  Though the Mayor has been asked by reporters to divulge who is involved in the process, he refuses to say.  I've had people who are potentially interested in the job asking me how to apply, and I couldn't tell them anything.

Even after this recent PR disaster, the Mayor and others in his coterie refuse to make the names of candidates they are considering public, because it might cause too much embarrassment for those who may eventually be rejected.  To that I say, really?  If applicants are going to be so sensitive then they're not tough enough for the Chancellor job, heading the largest school district in the nation.

If the Mayor is going to consider the possible hurt ego of someone he might reject over the interests of the 1.1 million school children in the public school system, that's wrongheaded.  Instead, he should live up to his promises when he first ran for office that there would be a "serious public screening" rather than select a Chancellor who is "pushed down our throat."  Yet now he refuses to even meet with the parent leaders who asked to talk to him about how they could best have their voices heard.

Of course there are even more reasons to let parents and other members of the public have a say in the vetting process.  As the new chair of the NYC Council Education committee Mark Treyger  said, "The best decisions are the most informed have to involve critical stakeholders."  Or as Diane Ravitch asked, it's time for Mayor de Blasio to institute an open inclusive process, with parents and educators involved in the decision.

In contrast, check out what's happening in Seattle which is also looking for someone to head their schools.  There, the school board has publicized the name of the search firm, "Ray and Associates, a national leader in superintendent search processes, to assist us in this critical work" as well as a posted a survey, asking the public what qualities they would like to see in their next Superintendent:

As we embark on this exciting superintendent search, we are asking for your input. We want to know what leadership qualities matter most to you in a superintendent. Please complete the superintendent search survey by Jan. 19. Take the leadership qualities survey. The provided input will shape the position description and candidate selection criteria.  

You are also invited to attend a community Town Hall on Jan. 18 6:30-8:30 p.m. at a location to be determined to learn more about the process and timeline. To learn more about the engagement process and for more information, visit the School Board’s superintendent search webpage

The critical nature of the NYC Chancellor's job was exhibited Wednesday night, when the Panel for Education Policy voted to close ten schools, after a raucous meeting lasting more than seven hours, filled with the raucous protests of hundreds of teachers, students and parents. Only two schools were spared, PS/IS 42 and MS 53, both in Queens, with the vote postponed on the fate of the Health Careers and Sciences in Manhattan. This was a heartbreaking scene that we lived through repeatedly during the previous administration, and hoped would never happen again.

Five of the schools slated for closure are Renewal schools, in which the DOE had promised the state to reduce class size. Yet in nearly half of these schools, class sizes were not lowered and in several, class sizes went up. In most of the Renewal schools in which class sizes were lowered, like PS 15 in Manhattan, unsurprisingly results strongly improved. In fact, we found a significant correlation between the average class size of Renewal schools and their impact on student achievement.

See my testimony to the City Council on this point, and about how the DOE has repeatedly botched its policies to improve these schools. You can also check out my summary of Tuesday's Council hearings, including the DOE's inconsistent and often arbitrary rationales for putting schools in the Renewal program in the first place, and then deciding which schools to close.

Among the other non-Renewal schools that the PEP voted to close last night was PS 25 Eubie Blake in Brooklyn -- despite the fact that, according to the DOE's own analysis, it has shown fourth highest positive impact on student achievement of all the 633 elementary schools in the city. More on this here.

If and when we get a new Chancellor, let's pray the person will be someone who is better at listening to parents, supporting students and teachers, and strengthening schools. I hope that it will be someone who has shown she has the mental toughness to survive in the tough NYC political environment, a willingness to collaborate, and a proven record of improving schools.  Potential candidates who exhibit such qualities include Betty Rosa, Chancellor of the Board of Regents and Regent Kathy Cashin, both of whom had spectacular record of achievements as District Superintendents in the Bronx and in Brooklyn.

But with only one man involved in the selection?  Who knows who he will come up with next.