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January 21, 2014
Heading to Bank Street, Polakow-Suransky is first to exit Fariña’s ed department
The top Bloomberg-era deputy is leaving the Department of Education, marking the first visible leadership shift under Carmen Fariña and the potential start of a pre-K partnership.
Leadership & Management
January 21, 2014
Fariña to staff: “I am thrilled for Shael” and will work with him
Chancellor Carmen Fariña is looking forward to continuing to work with Shael Polakow-Suransky, the Department of Education’s top deputy under the Bloomberg administration, she told…
December 6, 2013
New school to honor Mandela already easing political tensions
Just one day after Nelson Mandela died at his home in South Africa, city officials announced that a new high school will be named in his honor—and its creation appears to have won over some prominent critics of co-locating schools. The new Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice will open inside of Boys and Girls High School, the Bedford-Stuyvesant school that Mandela visited in 1990 when he was celebrated by Mayor David Dinkins and the rest of New York City. Walcott called the school "a perfect way to give testament to the man who is just admired by so many and transformed lives of so many people, and generations of people. And touched personally the people of Brooklyn as well as the people of New York City." The school's social justice theme and connection to Mandela's visit to the neighborhood have also smoothed tensions that have been simmering for years at Boys and Girls over the possibility of the city adding another school to the building, which already contains the small Research and Service High School.
November 20, 2013
Architects of school grades concede errors as overhaul looms
Warren Simmons, of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, speaks during a panel discussion about New York City's accountability system. Two architects of New York City's controversial school progress reports acknowledged on Tuesday that the accountability system they developed needs to change. Law school professor James Liebman, who devised the A-F grading system "from scratch" in 2007, said the school grades were initially useful as a "powerful motivator of educators to take responsibility" for student learning in their schools. But after six years of relying on a narrow set of data — primarily state test scores and graduation rates — to hold schools accountable, Liebman said now is a good moment for "toning down on performance management." Liebman's suggestions, which hewed closely to recommendations offered Tuesday by the Department of Education's chief academic officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, come as an overhaul looms for the controversial grading system. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has said he would do away with the school grades, although he hasn't yet said whether he would maintain the underlying data that contributes to them. Liebman and Polakow-Suransky appeared on a panel discussion hosted by the CUNY Institute for Education Policy, a think tank run by former state education chief David Steiner, at which Polakow-Suransky released a report called "What's Next for School Accountability in New York City?" The report outlined six areas for de Blasio to consider when he takes over in January.
November 19, 2013
Previewing Polakaw-Suransky on accountability after Bloomberg
In just a little while, Shael Polakow-Suransky, the number-two official in the city Department of Education, will explain his thoughts about the city’s school accountability…
November 14, 2013
On early ed tests issue, agreement on everything but a solution
First grade teacher John O'Hickey, of Brooklyn School of Inquiry. Part of O'Hickey's evaluation will be based on state test scores from students in higher grades in the school. When it comes to getting rid of standardized testing in early grades, the city and the teachers union are on the same page — both want them eliminated from their teacher evaluation plans. But the two sides, whose toxic relationship seems to have reached new highs in Mayor Bloomberg's final year in office, are taking different approaches toward achieving the same end goal. The United Federation of Teachers ratcheted up its latest critique of teacher evaluations today by joining a statewide coalition that wants to ban standardized tests in any class below third grade. UFT President Michael Mulgrew first raised the issue two weeks ago, arguing that they are developmentally inappropriate because some students can barely hold a pencil, let alone fill in bubble sheets. "To be using it at these young ages is just ridiculous," Mulgrew said today on a conference call with reporters. In New York City, a small fraction of the city's roughly 800 elementary schools is supposed to administer the bubble tests this year because of how the city's evaluation plan was written, though parents at some schools are rebelling against the mandate. Officials at the Department of Education agree with Mulgrew, but they are hoping a quieter discussion with state education Commissioner John King will lead to a solution. There is optimism that the strategy is working. "The commissioner has indicated a willingness to look at this issue and consider some flexibility for the current school year," Polakow-Suransky said.
November 13, 2013
New school grades mark possible end of an era in accountability
A school accountability era in New York City is going out not with a bang but with a technical briefing in the basement of the Department of Education's headquarters. That's where Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky will be unveiling this year's progress reports, the letter grades that the Bloomberg administration awarded annually to schools since 2007, to reporters. The setup is similar to what has happened in the recent past but a far cry from the early years of the progress reports, when Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein used to tout the scores — and their improvement from the previous year — with great fanfare. The letter grades are not the biggest school story today for Bloomberg and his current chancellor, Dennis Walcott. They're appearing together early this afternoon at a high school in Hell's Kitchen to announce a donation from AT&T to fund a new software engineering curriculum. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has said he wants to overhaul how schools are assessed, so today's grades could well be the last that schools receive, at least under the current system. What they show will become a lasting data point in Bloomberg's education legacy, along with the city's higher graduation rate and this year's dramatic test score decline because of the state's new standards.
November 12, 2013
Ex-DOE official with de Blasio ties offers a NYC schools vision
She says she's not interested in the job herself, but Carmen Farina has a clear vision for how Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio's chancellor should lead the city's schools. That vision includes some big ideas — including converting empty classrooms into dormitories for homeless students to forcing real estate developers to build space for early education — that the retired educator says have been on her mind recently. On Monday, Farina shared her thoughts publicly on an education panel about the transition underway at City Hall between the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations. Farina said her philosophy around education policymaking represents an approach that's been absent at the Department of Education in recent years. "I want to see us have a system where people do things because they have a sense of joy about it, not because they have a sense of fear," Farina said during the panel, which was part of a daylong conference about the transition at the CUNY Graduate Center.
October 29, 2013
New York City looks for a way out of its "bubble tests" problem
UFT President Michael Mulgrew testifies at a state senate hearing in New York City. At right, Senator John Flanagan, chair of the education committee, listens. The city wants to get rid of unpopular "bubble sheet" tests that some of its youngest students are required to take this year, a top Department of Education official said on Tuesday. "There are better ways to do assessments of early childhood and I think that we can find a better way to do it," Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky told lawmakers in testimony at state Senate hearing. The hearing was planned by Senator John Flanagan in large part as an opportunity for people to air their frustration with the state's new standards and the tests associated with them. The math tests in question, called Discovery Education Assessment, are being given to small portion of students in kindergarten through second grades as part of their teachers' evaluations, a portion of which must measure student learning over the course of a school year. Discovery's tests include elements, like No. 2 pencils and standardized bubble answers, that teachers and experts have panned as developmentally inappropriate. Polakow-Suransky echoed that criticism on Tuesday and vowed to offer an alternative student learning measure soon to take effect for this school year. It represents a somewhat sudden reversal for the city, which bought the Discovery tests from a vendor in August for this school year after declining to use its own elementary math assessments, an option that Commissioner John King preferred when he crafted DOE's new teacher evaluation rules. Polakow-Suransky's comments come as push back against testing policies from parents and teachers have escalated statewide in recent weeks, prompting the State Education Department to make a series of its own changes to curtail the role of testing requirements.
October 17, 2013
For a deal on teacher conferences, usual adversaries team up
The Coalition for Educational Justice announced the $5 million allocation for additional test score talks in September. Parent advocates stood with a top city education official on the steps of City Hall in late September to make an announcement: The city was setting aside $5 million for extra parent-teacher conferences for students with low state test scores. But advocates weren't sure that was the event they were going to have. Until two days before the press conference, members of the Coalition for Educational Justice thought they might just be calling on the city to set aside the funds. Though the group had met with Department of Education officials twice, they had been told that the costs seemed too high and the funding source unclear. Three days after their last meeting, Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky emailed the group. You made a persuasive argument, he wrote, promising to continue the search for funds. The city did find $5 million to finance the conferences, which the Coalition announced at City Hall. Since then, the teachers union and the principals union have joined the city and Coalition members to hammer out the logistics — a level of collaboration that many of involved said they hadn't seen in years on an optional initiative. "It's been a little surreal," said Natasha Capers, a parent leader with CEJ. "At one point I was sitting at the table, and thought, would it be weird if I just took a picture of everyone doing this?"
October 15, 2013
When crowds go wild: 8 loud moments in education activism
A raucous Poughkeepsie parent crowd prompted Commissioner John King last week to cancel plans for future meetings with parents. But the disruption, in the video above, is just the latest instance of angry protesters derailing public events in recent years. In New York City, other meetings have long been the backdrop for battles over school closures, charter schools, overcrowding, teacher evaluations and testings have wages. Here are highlights caught on tape from event in recent years: "Sex and the City" star gets jeered, then cheered Nov. 12, 2008: Even the rich and famous don't get a free pass to air grievances about the city's public school system. "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon and noted education advocate spoke up at a Upper West Side meeting in opposition to an overcrowding plan that would move her son's school to another building. Nixon was booed by the plan's supporters as she stepped to the microphone. But her argument — that the plan exacerbated racial and socio-economic segregation — ended with applause.
October 8, 2013
Looking to future, education officials imagine next UFT contract
At a panel geared toward current and potential education funders in New York City, city and state officials said they'd like to see some changes that philanthropy can't produce. City Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky and State Education Commissioner John King both said they want to see the city's next mayor use contract negotiations with the teachers union to give educators time to work together. “The next union contract needs more professional development time,” Polakow-Suransky said. “One of the biggest mistakes Randi and Klein made in the last contract was removing professional development time.” He was referring to Randi Weingarten and Joel Klein, who as UFT president and chancellor in 2005 negotiated a contract that traded about two hours a week of teacher training time for more teacher time with struggling students. The city’s contract with the teacher’s union has expired, as have the contracts of all labor unions in the city, and one of the new mayor's first tasks will be to negotiate a new one.
October 2, 2013
Five people who could be the next chancellor of New York City's schools
When the next mayor takes office on January 1, one of his first acts will likely be to choose a schools chancellor.
September 16, 2013
Instead of telling teachers apart, new evals lump some together
Across the city this year, thousands of teachers will be rated in large part based on test scores of subjects and students that they do not teach. The scenario represents how the original purpose of the new evaluation system, to differentiate teachers' effectiveness, has been squeezed by restrictive state laws, limited resources, and a tight timeline for implementation.
August 5, 2013
Before lower test scores arrive, a fight over how to interpret them
Union and city officials are sparring in advance of tough test score news that arrives at a pivotal moment for Mayor Bloomberg's education legacy. Scores due out on Wednesday reflect students' performance on the first tests tied to the new Common Core standards, which aim to get students solving complex problems and thinking critically. State officials have long warned that the new tests would produce lower scores, which they say will more accurately reflect students' skills, and in April, teachers and students reported that the tests were indeed challenging. After the state sent a letter to principals on Friday confirming that the scores would be "significantly lower" than in the past, the United Federation of Teachers argued — as it has before — that the news will undermine Bloomberg's claims of education progress. Chancellor Dennis Walcott called the union's criticism “despicable” and “really sad” during a conference call with reporters on Sunday. “What they're trying to do is politicize something that shouldn't be politicized at all," he said. Instead, Walcott emphasized that the scores should be seen as a baseline against which to measure future improvement. Walcott and Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s chief academic officer, said they would not be comparing this year’s test scores to scores from past years. "You can't compare these directly because they're not just slightly different tests, they're dramatically different tests," Polakow-Suransky said. "It's going to be difficult to make close comparisons with old state exams."
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