Monday, May 31, 2021

Summer Rising Will Flop In Many Schools. Here's Why

I was beyond upset when I learned that my school's summer program was going to look no different than regular summer school. The summer plan includes teachers at desks working only with NX students. No bridge programs of any sort would take place. No experiential learning. No enrichment programs and no remote instruction so that students may engage in any programs during the day. None of that. Summer school would be only to remediate this year -again. Just like last year. Only the usual three hours of classes with no break, with maybe an offer to stay after with an SBO -if a child wanted to. 

Turns out, many schools all across New York are planning the same damn thing. 

The past year and a half has been extremely difficult for children. Over the course of this term, many of my (mostly remote) students have gradually turned more and more inward, handing in fewer assignments and attending fewer and fewer live lessons. Their parents are communicating to me that it has been gradually more challenging just to get their children out of bed and into classes every day. And, from what I gather through conversations with them, the economic toll this has taken on the families of many of my Title I students has been significant. As a teacher, I was counting on a thoughtful program that would slowly work children back into the outrageously fast-paced and pressure-filled routine that we all know as school. 

Gradually transitioning students back into "normal' isn't just common sense. Experts are indicating the same thing. Here is how one expert described the challenge for WaPo's On Parenting blog back in March:
“Our children are going to show signs or symptoms of anxiety when they reenter ... And because parents are so relieved their children are getting back to school, “we won’t understand why they’re not happy. ...we also need to realize that this transition back (if they’re lucky enough to have it) will be accompanied by nerves, anxiety and questions...."

All children will face these (or similar) challenges in the Fall. Not just NX students. This is why transitioning back into what "normal" used to be (as opposed to simply returning to what we were all doing before) is a very important path to follow.  

So I was excited when Chancellor Porter announced the 'Summer Rising' plan. Obviously Tweed and City Hall want a full and complete easing of the students back into school routines. Here is some of what is included in the Summer Rising plan (and it is amazing):

  • Open to a large amount of students (not just NX students)
  • The encouragement of experiential learning 
  • PSAL (during the summer months!)
  • Focus on the whole-child (SEL)
  • SBOs funded by Tweed but chosen by the school
  • Enrichment Programs Galor!
  • Remote learning (for HS students) as an option if schools took it.

So what's the problem here? If our students need to be transitioned back into normal, and if Tweed and City Hall want a transition back into normal, then why are several schools planning the same old summer program for their students? 

The answer is simple: Superintendents, principals and incentives. 

The superintendents' function in New York City schools is to help schools produce good data. Teacher effectiveness, test scores, attendance, school culture are examples of what shows up on a superintendent's dashboard. If their data dashboards do not all show green ink (as opposed to yellow or red) and point up (meaning that the data seems to be trending in an upward trajectory), then the supes put pressure on the principals to change the data. The principals are fully aware of this, of course. So they design school programs that are specifically intended to make their boss' dashboard show all green and point only up. The principals and superintendents are therefore each naturally incentivized to produce only a dashboard that shows all green and points only up. 

And Summer Rising does nothing to alter or change these natural incentives. 

And what's on that dashboard? Attendance, culture, passing rates and value added scores. That's the way I like to categorize them. Any one of the metrics that are reflected on the superintendent's dashboard will fall into one of these categories.  Now we should keep away from "valued added scores" and and "culture" for this year. No one really cares about any of that right now because of COVID. What remains are what schools are naturally incentivized to build programs around: Attendance and passing rates. 

That's it. Having an emotionally prepared (and, in many cases, repaired) student for September will not be on this dashboard. Some of the resulting data from the Summer Rising Program, will, however, show up on the school's dashboard next year. And that -the achievement data that a school's Summer Rising program actually produces- had better produce a dashboard that shows all green and points only up.  This is what schools are actually incentivized to do this year for summer school.

Here are a few examples of what schools are not naturally incentivized to do this summer:
  • Open up to  large amount of students
  • Encouraging experiential learning 
  • PSAL (during the summer months!)
  • Focus on the whole-child (SEL)
  • SBOs funded by Tweed but chosen by the school
  • Enrichment Programs Galor!

In fact, some district/building leaders can easily make the case that many of these data have little to do with actually 'reaching proficiency' on these metrics (attendance and passing rates) and many of those people may are superintendents and principals -the ones who will actually build the programs. Summer Rising may sound nice to them, but reaching the metrics is what pays the bills, know what I mean? 

You had better. Because that's what pays our bills.

The very real consequence of this seems quietly to be playing out right now, as principals are beginning to design their summer programs. Many schools will build a program for July and August that encourages only the more challenged students to attend (so as to remediate an NX grade because they fell behind). The rest of the children in many of these schools will have to find another city sponsored program or "transition" themselves this summer on their own, in parks that are no longer as safe and in neighborhoods that are no longer as active and in a city that is currently flooded with illegal guns. 

That's terrible, if you ask me. But that is the result of experienced district and building leaders responding to their natural professional incentives. 

So unless your school's principal is a real 'damn the torpedos' type of person, and he or she chooses to focus on the whole child and build a program that transitions the students back into the world of school, the only thing Rising next Summer may be your bank account from that extra per session. Because your school may be going full-on for the attendance and pass rate metrics, but bare bones on the enrichment. 

This is going to have enormous implications on the issues you and deal with in the classroom next September.  This about the difference between an emotionally prepared student and one who is not. Now imagine whole classrooms filled  with emotionally unprepared students next Fall. Think about those implications. Summer Rising could mitigate those issues. But, if plan is going to work, then they will have to find ways to change the natural incentives around designing an educational program.  

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Conventional Wisdom Says the Early Retirement Incentive is Dead. Is It?

Edit (6/1/2021) Ice Blog published there will no be no ERI. See read here. 

Most of the things that are nycdoe-NUTS are related to bad decisions or bad communications. This ERI topic -whether or not the state or the city will offer a buyout for its teachers- has become a pretty big example of a doenut.  I've written a few posts about the possibility of a buyout (Early Retirement Incentive, or ERI) coming from Albany and City Hall (see here here and even here if you're interested) and I have been quietly watching from a distance as the bill (and the process) has unfolded. After being one of the first to (correctly) predict that NYC schools would have to close because of the Virus' first wave, I feel like I have a pretty good read of the tea leaves coming from City Hall and 52 Broadway. Let me just say this: the odds for an ERI are not looking good. 

I can also say, with complete confidence, that whole swaths of both outfits are a mess right now. City Hall has become a toxic bag of mistrustful micromanaging. And no matter what the UFT says or does these days, someone (sometimes its own members) frames and depicts them as the bad guys in this saga. That has real-time effects on which policies and possibilities the union is willing and able to pursue. Unfortunately, this includes the ERI. 

Back in November, when the union allowed the city to extend part of its retro payment (owed to some of us since 2008, by the way. Only saying), the city agreed, among other things,  to support an early retirement option so as to help avoid the possibility of 2021-2022 layoffs. The bill that they supported was signed in April. That bill (now law) gives the city until May 31, 2021 to decide and actually declare an ERI. If the city doesn't announce it by that date, then there will be no ERI this year -period. 

As of this writing, that date is just two days away. And when you consider the city's new fiscal realities, it is easy to understand why we are this close to 5/31 with no deal: The Federal Government has just sent oodles of money to help shore up the budget and the city no longer needs the savings that come with offering a buyout. Because of this, the city simply presented an option that applies only to certain licenses. 

Now, on the surface, this may seem fair enough. But the city knows very well that, due to their general composition, this is not an offer that any union can really accept. So the UFT is telling its members and partners that they are trying their best and will fight until the last possible moment, but  that they will not to agree to an ERI for only some people and not others. Again the deadline is in two days.

This is why conventional wisdom is now coming around to the belief that there will no ERI this year (probably). Folks are slowly reaching the conclusion that the deadline will pass and no deal will be reached. 

In this instance, the conventional wisdom is very wise and is probably very accurate. But beyond that conventional wisdom, other items are also being negotiated and these other items may or not be connected with the negotiations around the ERI. 

I actually think they may be very connected andso I'll point some out here:

  • The UFT has been relatively muted all week. On Monday, when the mayor announced  no remote option, he did so on national TV. He has made announcements without finalizing with the unions in the past and the union has usually pushed back. But not on Monday! On Monday, the response from the UFT seemed very muted (they waited until an hour or so after the announcement and then posted on social media how they generally supported the plan). Why choose now to be muted in their PR approach? 
    • (Also, this shouldn't go unmentioned: Up until just one week earlier,  union folks, and some partners, had been softly suggesting that a remote option for students and or staff could still be a benefit for summer school and for September. Monday's muted response represented (for me, at least) an about-face in that position). 
  • The DOE is actually allowing new hires for next year Buried in James Eterno's post about the UFT and city reaching a separate agreement (about ATRs assignments) for next year, was this announcement for principals: 
No hiring restrictions on school pedagogical titles: In preparation for the 2021–22 school year, there will be no hiring restrictions on any school pedagogical titles.

This is a message for principals. so it seems that there is going to be a hiring spree next year (much to the chagrin of folks like me who have been hoping to transition into a new school after a buyout 😔). This is a clear if not quiet win for the union, who stands to receive more union dues from the new hires and it keeps the possibility open for an ERI. 

  • Though scoring victories, the UFT is holding off on celebrating them. Allowing new hires for next year is a big win for the UFT. But here has been almost no celebration. The new ATR agreement, which means that the jobs of excessed teachers will be more stable for all of next year, is another big win for the union. Yet no celebration. In another quiet victory about ATRs, the union got the city to agree that anyone in the ATR who had been 3020-A'd would have their case reviewed before determining their placement for next year. [A] "review cases of every staff member in D96 (in excess) for legal reasons and will individually discuss these cases with principals before they are placed at the schools by June 11". Again, a victory yet no announcement or celebration of it. This is just a feeling, but it feels to me like the muted communications are related to ongoing ERI negotiations.
  • The UFT is facing a new crucial issue: The Return of the EdReform Movement. Both leading mayoral candidates (and several candidates who aren't in the lead) have close ties to the Charter School lobby and to StudentsFirst. From a distance, it seems like the union is asking its more Unity-aligned members to write and talk about the election this week (and not a buyout). So if you check social media, you may see many posts from active UFT members who are aligned with Unity calling attention to the mayoral election, but you won't see many of those activists talking about the buyout. Why aren't those activists asking about a buyout? I think that the priorities of the moment may be shifting away from this ERI.
Those who believe the conventional wisdom may look at the actions of the union over the past week and conclude that the ERI is dead and the union is just trying to its best to stay under the radar as it scores other crucial victories for its members. But there is still a chance to win a negotiated ERI with the city! And as long as that is the case, there is also an incentive to stay under the radar until the whole topic of a buyout is resolved. And I believe that the union feels there is still small chance to win it.

There is one more component at play here that is worth mentioning. Believe it or not, history will record that Bill de Blasio has been the most teacher-friendly mayor in UFT history.  And this guy has been literally taking it from every political player in New York State and beyond since the pandemic began. And the man is a Brooklynite. So I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if there was a smile on Bill del Blasio's face this weekend as he makes the union wait until the last possible moment for his decision (I can almost see the smile on this guy's face). 

I don't gamble, so I'm not taking or suggesting any bets. But if I were, I would put the odds at 4-1 that there is no deal on ERI. That is to say there won't be one! But I feel like there is an 80% chance that there will be no buyout.

So, with two days to go, I think the odds are 80% no. 20% yes. You  probably get more satisfaction watching the Indianapolis 500 tomorrow than you will checking Twitter about this buyout (I mean, at least if you watch the race, you will know the results). 

(Post script; I have decided to leave comments are off for this post. This is only a place for a little updated analysis that you can consider while you wait for the final decision.  While I really deeply appreciate all of the questions about the ERI, the fact is that the details of that plan should be left for a real expert to discuss.  I'm hoping to avoid creating more confusion over this so I'll just leave the comments off for now. Thanks for understanding!)