The CUNY Institute for Education Policy (CIEP) was formally launched on May 9 at the restored and historic Roosevelt House, now the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College. It was a standing-room-only crowd of educators, education academics, policymakers, practitioners, and philanthropists, who joined City University of New York Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, Hunter College President Jennifer Raab, and, in a personal video message, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in congratulating David Steiner, Klara & Larry Silverstein Dean of the Hunter College School of Education and Founding Director of the new Institute.
After laying out the vision of the Institute as “a space for research and analysis and debate,” Steiner moderated a panel discussion about the challenges and possibilities for the future of public K-12 education. (See also Steiner’s Q&A with Gotham Schools here.) Panelists at the May 9 event included Common Core architect David Coleman, New York State Commissioner of Education John B. King, Jr., teacher education authority Sharon Robinson, and veteran turnaround superintendent Paul Vallas.
Over the course of the 60-minute discussion, the speakers set out an ambitious agenda for improving the nation’s public schools. A video of the event may be seen here; an accompanying log is below. Panelists offered provocative insights into the issues of the day, such as the Common Core State Standards and early childhood education, as well as intimate and moving anecdotes about educators and education programs that work. For educators and education policymakers it is sixty minutes worth watching.
For those of you with limited time, we have created a log of the video (below, with time stamps, in parentheses, that are relatively accurate), which will help in navigating to key topics and issues covered during the discussion, including questions from the audience. You may scroll through the log, watching for highlighted text or search for key terms (such as, Common Core, poverty, knowledge, early childhood, accountability, teacher education, teacher salaries, test, Core Knowledge, curriculum, content, founding documents, Response to Intervention, wraparound services, Head Start, vocabulary, gifted students, even “hucksterism,” microwave instruction texts, and “Nixon going to China”).
This is but a brief guide and we would urge you to refer to the actual video for context – and the exquisite full flavor:
**Jennifer Raab, President of Hunter College…. Welcome…. Gratitude to Matt Goldstein, CUNY Chancellor for 14 years… The Roosevelt House, a national treasure, had been closed and abandoned when Raab arrived in 2001 (1:30—1:50). The house may be called “the first New Deal”; FDR and wife Eleanor lived in one half, mother Sarah in the other. FDR launched his campaign for the presidency from this house… Social Security was born here. (2:00—3:50)… Both Roosevelts valued education; FDR called it “the safeguard of democracy” and Eleanor said, “on the public school largely depend the success or failure of our great experiment in government by the people and for the people” (3:55–4:11)… CUNY is the perfect place for an education policy institute. (4:40—5:40). Kudos to David Steiner and the new Institute (5:50–6:30).
**Matthew Goldstein, Chancellor, City University of New York (8:00)… The best fourteen years of my professional life (8:50)… Kudos to Raab (9:45) and Steiner (10:15)… Education today is a matter of national security and if we’re not serious about improving it, we’re in great peril (10:38-11:50)…
**Arne Duncan Secretary of Education (via video, 14:16—16:52), congratulating Goldstein, Raab, and Steiner… The new Institute will be an invaluable resource… Congratulations, yes, but he issues this challenge: “We need informed voices to lead a national dialogue about improving the quality of teaching and learning” and “more evidence about promising educational strategies, so we can do more of what works – and less of what doesn’t work.”
**David Steiner, Founding Director, CUNY Institute for Education Policy (17:00)… “Our vision for the Institute is very clear: it will be a space for research and analysis and debate, dedicated to addressing the most urgent issues across the entire span of public education….” (17:50-18:30) What are the values we seek to transmit to the next generation? What in the end constitutes an educated human being? (18:50–19:03).
Panel Discussion (19:36). Introduction of the panelists by David Steiner (19:50-20:20) Each speaker was asked to discuss his/her view of our education system’s opportunities and challenges in opening remarks:
**David Coleman, President of the College board and chief architect of the Common Core State Standards for ELA (20:50–)… challenges and opportunities ahead include access to rigor, the singular social justice initiative of the College Board (21:20), giving talented low income students access to college…. Up to 40,000 low income students at the highest quartile of SAT or PSAT don’t go to college (22:00—23:05)…. One great challenge is closing the vocabulary gap. There is now available to this country in Pre-K to 2nd grade, a free program, designed by the Core Knowledge group, that provides a high-quality knowledge-based curriculum…. Take it everywhere… (23:35—24:20)… These are hard times. The vultures are out…. Stand by John King… This a Dr. King who also cannot wait. (25:05—25:43).
**John King, New York State Commissioner of Education. Picking up on Coleman’s comment (and Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” to which Coleman referred) King says, “and this is why we can’t wait. Because wait always means never.” (25:50)… Last year only 74 percent of high schoolers who had entered high school four years earlier graduated; a majority were not college and career ready; only 11.5 percent of African-Americans who started 9th grade graduated college and career ready four years later (27:10)…. That is “not a foundation on which to build a strong state. It is not a foundation on which to build a strong country” (28:20)
**Sharon Robinson, President and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. “The challenge is for everyone to work faster, cheaper, better” (30:55). The teaching community is a “professional community…. We don’t do missionary work.” (32:00) One of the biggest challenges is mastering the academic content so that you can teach it, in the classroom (32:40). Good practice needs to happen everywhere (33:47)
**Paul Vallas, Superintendent, Bridgeport Public Schools. The veteran superintendent – Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Bridgeport – said there are four key components of successful districts (35:59-37:25): 1) emphasize essential practices (early childhood education is one), 2) have a curriculum and instructional strategy, 3) have a dedicated system of data and benchmarking, 4) have strong instructional leadership teams (37:15). We know what works (38:00). While believing in and emphasizing best practices, Vallas warned against micromanaging. “The key is flexibility,” he said (39:10). “Remove obstacles” to student learning. “Create entrepreneurship in the field” (40:00). He likened a school district best practice to what the military’s war colleges do: bring soldiers in from the field to talk about what it’s like in the trenches (40:20).
**Question from Steiner (41:17): The pushback to reform we see from many quarters paints the reform movement as one of measurement and punishment. Are we failing to take communication seriously?
**Coleman (42:40). “Were this the Institute to redefine the modern media!” He tells a story about being interviewed for an hour by a mainstream journalist about the meaning of the Common Core only to see the resulting story headlined, “Controversy Growing About the Common Core” (43:00)… We have “a culture of complaint and victimhood” (44:00)…. When 98% of teachers are job secure for life and 70 percent of students need remedial education – that is not okay. (44:14)… The reform movement is “not being hard on teachers” (44:45). He says that the difference between teachers is “haunting and massive.”
**King. There is too much ideological talk, too much talk about good guys and bad guys, “black hats and white hats” (45:35)…. He says that his department has tried to communicate with teachers and the public with EngageNY.org, a website to keep the lines of communication with the state’s educators open as Race to the Top and Common Core reforms begin to be implemented. There have been 16 million page views on the site (46:25).
**Robinson. Every public university should be engaged with what is going on “in the field” (47:49)…. We have to have “our sleeves rolled up,” get engaged with the community as part of school improvement. “But that is not missionary work. That is the work of the profession.” (48:00-48:20). Higher ed needs to produce “contributors not just chroniclers” (49:00).
**Vallas. The reform movement is “going to collapse under the weight of how complicated we’re making it” (50:00)…. We’ve created a Test Assessment Industrial Complex…. Sometimes we’re losing the communications debate “because we don’t have a good message to communicate” (51:15)… “Me complaining about standardized tests is like Nixon going to China” (51:26)… “I am an accountability freak. When I say it’s getting too complicated, believe it” (51:40)…Teacher evaluation rubrics are so complicated they “make you suicidal” (52:00)… We are creating “a bureaucratic monstrosity” (52:56).
**Question from Steiner (53:40) David Tyack and Larry Cuban in their book Tinkering Towards Utopia warn of being driven by the extremes. How do we move beyond this dichotomy? Have we created too many silos?
** King. Too often we set up a false dichotomy (55:20) Poverty or education? Schools can’t solve every problem…. But you can build in wraparound services…. I visited a school in Cincinnati that had things like a health clinic and social services and the principal told him that such non-acedemic things “free me to work on my job as principal” (55:46)… There are lots of things we can’t control, but we can control what goes on in the classroom and what is taught there…. Do we teach books that are good or not good?… He recalls growing up poor in Brooklyn and being lucky to have a great teacher in sixth grade. “If Mr.Osterwald had not made us read Midsummer Night’s Dream and the New York Times ever day, I would not be sitting here tonight” (57:50).
**Robinson We have to give students access to services in the community (58:20)…
**Vallas We have to open doors to resources (59:20)… Early childhood education is essential. He tells the story of Virginia York, a woman who lived in Chicago’s Robert Taylor houses and her program for pregnant teens.… They took care of the teens and of their babies…. There was no achievement gap when their kids hit 3rd grade. The graduation rate for the mothers was 90 percent (1:01:10)… Let’s retrain the next generation. That’s a game-changer (1:02:25).
**Coleman The good news about the poverty/not-poverty fight is that good things cost as much as bad things (1:02:37). An early childhood program without knowledge and vocabulary leaves a child unprepared for the world (1:02:45)…. We’ve already spent a lot on early childhood education, without appreciable effect. We must deliver quality… content (1:03:10)…. Need more muscular conversation about the early years and about money (1:03:35)…. Strange claim that because of poverty we shouldn’t worry about the achievement gap (1:03:45)… If schools don’t matter and poverty does, then let’s cut teacher salaries by 50 percent and give the money to the poor (1:04:01)…. Poverty is no reason to avoid reform…. There’s a lot of “hucksterism” in education about this (1:04:25).
**Robinson Poverty is no reason to avoid reform (1:04:47)… Not teaching the poor would be like a physician who tends only people who are well (1:05:20)… We can ill-afford not to deliver a good education to the poor… the cost of failure is unimaginable (1:05:48)…
**Vallas There are plenty of differences of opinion about education reform. I’m either the savior of New Orleans or Katrina 2 (1:07:35)… You need accountability… Head Start is stop and start because of the absence of accountability (1:08:00)… Who trained my wife to be a good mother? Her mother. Who trained me to be a good father? My mother [lots of laughter] (1:08:20)…. Every early childhood program needs to have a literacy and numeracy component, needs to have accountability, and needs to have parent training (1:08:40)
**Steiner Recalls the instructions to an AP reading test, saying that no advantage would accrue to the testtaker for having read any particular text (1:09:05)… There is a deep animus against content in this country (1:09:50)…. How do we reimagine high-quality content in our classrooms? We cannot skills our way to Finland (1:10:14).
**Coleman I think the greatest problem with the AP was a ruthless march to covering too much material (1:11:10). The problem was not a fear of content, but a love of all of it equally (1:11:23)…. The College Board is redesigning the SAT (1:12:04)…. He reads the Four Freedoms excerpt on the back wall of the Roosevelt House auditorium to illustrate the need to know the founding documents and the conversation they gave rise to… this is part of the common knowledge of the country (1:12:38).
**King Districts will have to make hard choices about what content and materials to use (1:13:38)… People whose books are not chosen will have new reason to attack the Common Core and question the standards because their material wasn’t chosen (1:13:47)… It’s controversial… Tells the story about an award-winning book about an Iraqi librarian who saves her library’s books. Many people don’t think it should be on a reading list (1:14:20—1:15:26) Another good story, about kids reading Esperanzo Rising to illustrate the value of close and slow reading (there is laughter and applause) (1:15:27—1:16:40)
**Steiner Quotes Hans-Georg Gadamer, “If throughout your life,you only read a book once, you’re condemned to read the book always.” (1:17:00)… Question: What about our gifted students? (1:17:40)
**Vallas In Chicago we put IB programs into 15 schools – changed the whole attitude about the school (1:18:20—1:19:20)… It would be good if there model curricula and instructional best practices so that small districts could find the best material (1:19:21—1:19:45)…. Response to Intervention (RTI) have enrichment and acceleration programs (1:19:50—1:22:00)…
**Steiner We don’t yet do a very good job of helping tomorrow’s teachers in working with those kids. (1:22:15—30)
**Robinson An ethical issue here at the core of what we’re doing. It’s the job of teachers to instill a love of learning and support that…they see the needs of the gifted learner (1:22:34—1:23:30)
Audience Questions (1:23:40)
**Q1 Should administrators get back into the classroom for a year or so? (1:24:00)
**Vallas Command and general staff office model – bring people from the field (teachers) to administrative offices – need information from the field (1:24:48–1:26:30)
**Q2 What impact would the Warren Buffet approach to reform: abolish private schools and randomly assign students to schools in a 20-mile radius? (1:26:31—1:27:15)
**Coleman Not much. Clarifies point about poverty. Talking about people who appeal to the argument that poverty matters most. Follow the consequences of the argument to the end. Implications for spending (1:27:20—1:27:50)…. Access to Rigor program… Our insistence to the College Board is that a generation of low income children who have earned the right to excel must go to college. Will require colleges to shift practice of admission (1:27: 55—1:28:56)
**Q3 Teach for America? (1:29:00)
**Steiner Every child should have a great teacher… Wrong to condemn the program because teachers aren’t there for a lifetime… Our schools not designed to keep teachers…. Not enough planning… The important thing is that a good teacher be in the classroom (1:29:36—1:31:20)
**Vallas The majority of teachers in New Orleans are teach for America and alternative certification.… Test scores have skyrocketed… The best and brightest are not going into teaching field. All the academic elite should have opportunity to teach… we need to expand the pool. (1:31:25—1:34:00)
**Robinson All teachers need support. TFA teachers can make a tremendous contribution, but when the system is meant to be an intervention, it doesn’t work…. We’re not building a strong institution… This isn’t missionary work. (1:34:02—1:35:23)
**Q4 Those of us on the ground have to deal with fallout of corporate reform movement…. Teacher told to put away literature books and photocopy microwave instructions… RTI is wonderful. (1:35:25—1:36:30)
**Coleman “Careful reading is a powerful thing.” Common Core has two areas of reading, literature and literary nonfiction… Period. That’s all that’s there… High quality fiction and high quality nonfiction… The standards also honor literacy in technical texts… (1:36:32—1:38:00)
**Steiner Thank you… After the shadows there is the light…. In the end, let’s just do the work (1:38:00—1:38:58)