Examining trends, practices and policy in K-12 public education

Ditch the Drill, Light the Spark: Rethinking Rigor in the Classroom

Having recently read an article by Trace Pickering (link here) about the “damage” done by the “rigor movement” I find myself in grudging agreement. For too long, the word "rigor" has echoed through education like a mantra, its stern syllables suggesting an academic boot camp where students battle through mountains of homework and emerge, battle-scarred but triumphant, clutching their hard-earned knowledge. But is this truly the essence of a rigorous education? What if true academic rigor looked, and felt, entirely different?

What’s worse is that this adaptation of rigor frequently characterizes the syllabi of far too many “honors-” and AP- or IB-level courses.  Those intellectually curious students are perhaps the most shortchanged by such an interpretation.

Educators must challenge the traditional, often narrow, interpretation of rigor that equates it with sheer volume, with mountains of assignments and endless practice tests. This treadmill of toil misses the mark entirely. It prioritizes quantity over quality, rote memorization over critical thinking, and leaves students exhausted and disengaged. As Pickering suggests, this is not rigor, it's rigor mortis.

Instead, we must embrace the vibrant power of vigor. A vigorous classroom pulsates with intellectual energy, with curiosity crackling in the air like lightning. It's not about piling on the work, but about igniting the spark of passion within each student. It's about creating an environment where minds grapple with complex concepts, where questions fly like sparks, and where learning feels not like a chore, but like an adventure.

This shift from rigor to vigor requires a seismic change in pedagogical perspective. It means prioritizing depth over breadth. Instead of covering vast tracts of information superficially, we delve deep into key concepts, allowing students to truly understand and connect them. We encourage them to ask provocative questions, to challenge assumptions, and to forge their own paths of understanding.

A truly vigorous classroom is a symphony of active learning. We trade in passive lectures for hands-on projects, collaborative problem-solving exercises, and real-world scenarios that challenge students to apply their knowledge in meaningful ways. It's about igniting imagination, not just reciting facts.

This doesn't mean abandoning standards or lowering expectations. High expectations remain the cornerstone of a strong education, but in a vigorous classroom, these expectations are coupled with unwavering support. We scaffold learning, differentiate instruction, and celebrate individual progress, ensuring that every student feels empowered to reach their full potential.

So, let's banish the specter of the stern drill sergeant and embrace the vibrant energy of the conductor. Classrooms must be laboratories of discovery, where curiosity is the currency, collaboration the catalyst, and critical thinking the ultimate prize. This is the path to true rigor, the kind that doesn't just test, but transforms, the kind that leaves students not just exhausted, but empowered, not just knowledgeable, but inspired.

Remember, rigor isn't about the volume of work, but the depth of learning. It's not about crushing students under mountains of assignments, but about building their intellectual wings to soar. It's about setting their curiosity on fire, not burning it out.

Let's rewrite the narrative of education, replace the drill with the spark, and unleash the truly vigorous potential within every student.

Posted January 22, 2024

From Graduate Portraits to Classroom Practice: Bridging the Gap with Teacher Profiles

In recent years, the focus on student outcomes has shifted beyond mere academic achievement to a more holistic approach focusing on skills graduates will need in college, in their career and in their overall adult experiences. Recognizing this, the New York State Education Department's Blue Ribbon Commission in 2022 proposed a graduate profile outlining seven key attributes for every graduating student: critical thinker, global citizen, effective communicator, social-emotional competence, culturally competent, literate across content areas, and innovative problem solver. Similarly, at the behest of the Federal Government, frameworks have been adopted by states and educators nationwide, offering a holistic vision for student success.  A number of districts in New York State have already developed their profiles for graduates.

As an administrator who participated in developing a school district's graduate profile, I witnessed its power in uniting stakeholders around shared expectations. However, defining desired student outcomes is not enough. We need a roadmap to guide educators in developing the necessary skills and mindsets in their students. School district leaders and stakeholders should consider teacher profiles – a natural extension of graduate profiles that define the instructional values, philosophies, and practices needed to achieve those desired student outcomes.

Imagine the graduate profile as a destination and the teacher profile as the GPS guiding us there. By aligning these two, a clear roadmap for educators is provided, ensuring every classroom journey contributes to reaching the shared vision for students. This alignment has significant implications for:

Figure 1 illustrates this alignment using a simplified table for a few attributes:

Graduate Attribute-Teacher Trait/Practice

Critical Thinker/Architects of Curiosity: ignites inquiry, fosters wonder, nurtures creativity.

Adaptable Citizen/Navigators of Uncertainty: equips students for setbacks, cultivates adaptable thinkers, guides collaborative problem-solvers.

Effective Communicator/Masters of Communication: cultivates clear expression, active listening, celebrates storytelling.

Examples, like the ELA teacher fostering active listening and diverse perspectives that characterize a classroom discussion on The Reader, or the government teacher empowering students to address real-world problems, showcase how these principles can come alive in classrooms. These are just glimpses into the vast potential of aligning teacher profiles with graduate aspirations.

Implementing such a framework requires collaboration. Teachers, students, parents, and community members must be involved in crafting a profile that reflects their shared values and vision. Leaders must facilitate this process, ensuring everyone feels heard and invested. While challenges like resistance to change may arise, the potential rewards are immense.  And for what it is worth, leaders can always point to the profile of a graduate to help those who might be reluctant to help them visualize the outcome.

By bridging the gap between graduate aspirations and classroom practices with teacher profiles, we empower educators to become more focused and effective architects of their students' future. Ultimately, this collaborative journey leads to a brighter destination where every student graduates not just with academic knowledge, but with the skills and mindset to thrive in a complex and ever-changing world.

Posted January 3

Redefining Rigor in Education: Beyond Homework and Misconceptions about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Change is a constant in education, yet it often faces resistance. This resistance isn't just about embracing new grading systems or educational initiatives—it's about perceptions. Particularly, the terms "diversity, equity, and inclusion" (DEI) have garnered negative perceptions, fostering skepticism among certain groups. The recent example of "Equity Grading" in the Dublin Unified School District highlights this, but it's just one facet of a more comprehensive initiative involving standards-based grading.

Challenging Misconceptions:

One common misconception revolves around the perception that all homework assignments are inherently rigorous. Closer inspection will demonstrate that not all assignments contribute equally to a student's intellectual growth. Assigning homework doesn't automatically equate to a demonstration of academic rigor.  Nor should the volume of homework be equated with academic rigor. Homework assignments should be meaningful, relevant and encourage critical thinking, creativity and problem solving.  Unfortunately, there are those educators who mistakenly believe that the more homework assignments they give, the more students will benefit.  Not surprisingly, parents who matriculated through an educational system that valued volume over rigor and mastery are objecting to the school district’s move towards grading students based on their learning of key standards.

The Equivocation of "Equity Grading":

In truth, the term "Equity Grading" used in Dublin Schools, while aiming to promote fairness and inclusivity, inadvertently invites opposition due to its narrow framing. Use of the term “equity” focuses solely on the equity aspect of the initiative, neglecting to highlight the significant shift toward standards-based grading. This oversight contributes to the misunderstandings and opposition that the district is encountering.  One could argue that were the initiative dubbed “Mastery Grading,” the shift would have received less opposition from parents.  In essence, that this new practice would promote equity is actually beside the point.  The point is that grading should measure learning and skill-building, not simply compliance and point-chasing.  

Redefining Rigor:

Rigor in education extends far beyond completing assignments. It involves the depth of understanding, critical thinking, and the application of knowledge. Assignments should aim to challenge students to think critically, solve problems, and apply their learning in meaningful ways rather than simply completing worksheets or similar assignments that value recall rather than true rigor.


Redefining rigor in education necessitates a shift in perception. It involves understanding that true rigor goes beyond the completion of homework tasks and embracing comprehensive initiatives that foster inclusive learning environments. Rebranding initiatives like the one in Dublin Schools to reflect their holistic nature—emphasizing standards-based or mastery-based grading—might bridge understanding and foster greater support for educational change.  My hope is that the district leaders succeed in their campaign to clarify community understanding of this commendable but challenging initiative.

Posted December 1, 2023

Rethinking Grading: Beyond Compliance to True Learning

In a recent opinion piece titled “The Bad Lesson of Good Grades,” Rick Hess, the Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, points to  grade inflation and the lack of correlation between student grades and actual learning.  While I agree with this observation, there's an overlooked reality: grades often reflect compliance more than genuine learning. While the prevailing debate critiques changes in grading practices in the name of equity, it's essential to recognize the complexity of grading systems and their impact on learning outcomes.

The argument against grading homework as a measure of learning is compelling. Often, grades on completed homework primarily reflect compliance or completion rather than actual understanding. It's not uncommon for students to merely comply with assignments, potentially without deepening their knowledge and earn high marks. Paradoxically, students who fail to submit homework might possess a better grasp of the material and perform better on assessments. The focus should be on assessing understanding, not compliance with routine tasks such as homework.

Moreover, the argument against grading homework goes beyond this. There's a stark reality that many students don't complete their homework themselves; they copy or plagiarize work, diluting the credibility of graded assignments. Grading these assignments can perpetuate a cycle of dishonesty rather than fostering genuine learning.

Addressing the author's view that failing to hold firm deadlines teaches students that consequences aren't real overlooks a crucial distinction. Accountability doesn't lie in rigid deadlines but in the completion of assigned tasks. In the professional world, financial institutions don't simply refuse payments and employers don't dismiss tasks because they're late. On the contrary, they hold individuals accountable for completing assigned responsibilities. It's about ensuring the work gets done, understanding the implications of and penalizing tardiness, but not eliminating the opportunity for learning through accountability.

It is also undeniable that the current grading system falls short in reflecting true student learning. The growing parental and student demands for better grades often create immense pressure on teachers and school leaders. This pressure can skew the focus of grades, making them more about satisfying these demands rather than accurately measuring genuine learning.

In striving for a revamped grading system, the primary focus should indeed shift to assessing what students have genuinely learned. It's imperative to clarify the purpose of grading, moving away from a mere evaluation of compliance and completion. Grades should encapsulate the depth of understanding, critical thinking, and the application of knowledge—an assessment that truly reflects the journey of learning.  As a school administrator, I frequently had candid discussions with teachers regarding ensuring that we were assessing what we truly value-- learning, not compliance.

Simultaneously, it's essential for educational leaders to take a stand. School leaders must draw a definitive line for academic rigor, even in the face of parental pressure. Encouraging a shift in the paradigm of grading requires strong advocacy for educational values that prioritize authentic learning experiences over inflated grades.  As a principal, I frequently negotiated parental challenges for student placement in Honors or Advanced Placement courses by ensuring that there was an  understanding that while we want students to challenge themselves, we also wanted them to be successful.  I made it clear that parents’ subsequent demands for higher grades in the advanced course would not be entertained because if the grade was most important to the parent, they should adhere to the teacher’s recommendation for student placement. 

Sadly, in the nearly ten years I had these parent conversations as a principal, only a handful of parents acknowledged that the learning journey the child would experience in the advanced course was more important than the actual grade assigned by the teacher. 

In essence, reforming grading practices should involve a collective effort to realign the purpose of grades with the true measure of learning. This necessitates fostering an educational environment that values academic rigor and genuine student learning over compliance and parent demands– both of which contribute to the grade inflation phenomenon.

Posted November 30, 2023

Fostering Inclusive Schools: Understanding Every Student's Perspective

In our journey as educators and administrators, we're entrusted with more than just imparting knowledge; we're tasked with cultivating an environment where every student feels valued, understood, and supported. Recently, an article caught my attention, shedding light on the experiences of students navigating cultural differences in school settings. It resonated deeply, prompting reflections on our practices and the responsibility we hold in shaping inclusive educational spaces.

The article shared the challenges faced by students transitioning between schools with vastly different demographics. It highlighted a key aspect that struck a chord: the necessity of understanding each student's experiences and perspectives, especially in moments of disciplinary interactions. This struck me as a reminder of the significance of empathy and open-mindedness in our roles as educators.  In one instance, when a student from the Bronx transferred to a high school in the suburbs, his use of the term “Mister” when addressing the teacher was perceived as disrespectful behavior by the teacher.  Fortunately, my presence and interaction with the teacher assured him that given the child’s background and experience as student from New York City that the student meant no ill will or disrespect. 

But what if I had not been present during that interaction?

As professionals, we acknowledge the importance of considering diverse perspectives and understanding the backgrounds of our students. Yet, in the churn of daily interactions, do we consistently put this into practice? The truth is, these practices, while acknowledged as best practices, are not always prioritized in our exchanges with students.

Worse still, I have been witness to situations where a teacher does demonstrate empathy and desire for understanding when a student is upset only to have a colleague intervene and escalate the issue into a major disruption within the school.  The demonstration of empathy and understanding was perceived by the colleague as a weakness and the student’s unruly behavior in that moment was perceived as a transgression.  However, the intervention only added gasoline to the fire.

Every student, irrespective of their background, deserves to have their experiences understood and their perspectives heard. However, reality can frequently fall short of this ideal. The occasional use of rhetorical questions, demands for compliance, or sarcasm (especially from some secondary teachers) in interactions with students tends to overshadow the fundamental need for empathy and understanding.  

As a former school administrator, I'm aware of the impact these dynamics have on the school community. Confrontational interactions, unchecked and unaddressed, leave students feeling disillusioned and undervalued. This isn't just about isolated incidents; it's about the cumulative effect on a student's sense of belonging and trust within our school system.  And when these unchecked interactions are systemic, school culture suffers because the students’ experiences lead them to believe that school is a place for the adults and not for them.

It's time we take a moment to reassess our approaches. Let's revisit the essence of our roles not just as educators but as facilitators of understanding and inclusion. Every student interaction is an opportunity to create a positive and supportive environment. It's about fostering a culture where open-minded questioning and genuine attempts to understand a student's perspective become consistent rather than selective practice.

We often talk about the need for empathy and understanding in theory, but it's in the practical, day-to-day interactions where the real impact is felt. It's about asking questions that invite students to share their experiences, concerns, and perspectives. It's about moving beyond the immediate desire for compliance to genuinely understanding the reasons behind a student's behavior.

In doing so, we uphold the principles of inclusion and demonstrate our commitment to valuing every student's unique experiences. It's about accountability and the responsibility we carry to ensure that our exchanges with students contribute positively to their growth, both academically and emotionally.

As we navigate our roles in education, let's remember that fostering inclusion isn't just a noble aspiration; it's a necessity for the holistic development of our students and the overall well-being of our school community.

Let's start by asking ourselves: Are we truly fostering an environment where understanding each student's perspective is a priority? If not, what steps can we take to make this a reality in our classrooms and hallways?

In embracing these principles, we pave the way for a more supportive and inclusive educational journey for all.

Posted November 29, 2023

Forging Cyber Guardians: Empowering High School Students in the Battle for National Security

A few weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed a three-year cybersecurity pilot program in response to demands from lawmakers and education institutions for the FCC to respond to address the increased threats to cybersecurity of schools.  In recent years, educational institutions have been subjects of an increased number of cyber attacks including ransomware attacks exposing personally identifiable information of millions of students and employees as well as crippling operations which has also proven extremely costly.

While this proposal has its supporters and detractors according to the article, the challenge presented to schools, including and especially K-12 schools, is to respond by pivoting to seize the urgency of the moment and explore ways for public education to respond not only the threat to private institutions posed by cyber threat actors, but to contribute to our national defense.

K-12 districts across the nation should consider the feasibility of establishing programs that are akin to chapters of Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC).  Just as JROTC programs across the nation instill discipline and foundational knowledge in participating students who are considering a military career, so, too, could a national Cyber Guardian training program.  Participating students would be equipped with basic knowledge and skills that would set them on a path to further their education and training.  

After all, cybersecurity presents young adults with a career path that is wide open, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a sub-agency of the United States Department of Commerce.  

Policymakers, meanwhile, should be exploring the feasibility of legislation akin to 1958’s National Defense Education Act which spurred expenditures on K-12 public education as a response to the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik.  The dangers posed by threat actors both domestic and abroad to our national infrastructure and economy is even more grave now than it was in the late 1950s.  And while Washington gets its act together on such an ambitious initiative, K-12 districts could start this work right away by promoting the establishment of extracurricular activities that center on the development of cybersecurity skills and knowledge while developing the appropriate curricula and teacher training required to support this all-important mission of national importance. 

 Posted November 27, 2023

Unlocking Educational Efficiency: The Strategic Power of Precision Scheduling

In the intricate world of education, the annual ritual of building a master schedule stands as a linchpin for academic success. Initiated around November or December– believe it or not, this process, particularly crucial for high schools, involves a meticulous examination of course catalogs, teacher recommendations, and student elective choices from mid-January through early spring each year.  As important is the fact that a building’s master schedule is a tool that can be aligned with a school district’s mission and vision.  Are courses relevant to student experience and interests or are they reflective of instructor preferences?  Are courses aimed at encouraging collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving among students, or recitation and recall?  

In addition, the master schedule is the tool by which all schools manage their key resources– time and staffing.  In the mid- and lower-Hudson Valley region, north and west of Westchester County, the median educator salary lies just below $102,000.  While specific districts will have varying lengths of school days and years, let’s assume that each high school, for instance, operates a seven-hour instructional day for 180 days.  Using the latest data provided by school districts in the region to the New York State Education Department and posted on its website, the median cost of staffing the average high school is approximately $56,000.  For some perspective, the daily median cost of staffing a building can range from $163,000 at one of the largest high schools in terms of student enrollment and staffing to as little as $11,000 at a school with fewer than 140 students.  When one parses that statistic down to the median cost per minute per year per student in each high school, the cost ranges from as low as $16 to as high as $41. 

As administrators, Guidance Directors, and school counselors dive into this complex task, a notable challenge emerges. Often excluded from their regular responsibilities, these educators grapple with the delicate balance of limited time, staffing and building space. It raises a fundamental question: Can schools strategically place students, teachers, and classes within a master schedule while effectively addressing their daily challenges? Here lies an opportunity to consider outsourcing master schedule design, freeing educators to focus on direct student engagement and district priorities. 

Enter the master scheduling consultant—a vital collaborator with administrators, counselors, teachers, and students. The mission? To identify opportunities for a master schedule that not only engages students but also maximizes the reach of educators. Strategic and precise scheduling become the tools of choice, enabling a more impactful educational experience. A strategic scheduling process can incorporate the feedback of all stakeholders– administrators, counselors, teachers and students themselves.  

Precision scheduling can uncover potential for support classes, crucial in the post-Covid-19 era, where so many students require additional time for literacy, writing, or math.  Optimizing the master schedule goes beyond efficiency; it's about reinvesting in the heart of education. Moreover, in recognition of the growing importance of mental health, this process can identify cost savings that could be used for additional mental health clinicians on staff, addressing the holistic well-being of students. The financial savings from strategic and precision scheduling can be redirected toward these areas, creating a cycle of efficient resource allocation.

At the same time, school personnel are placing their focus on what matters most– students and teaching and learning.

As we navigate the intricacies of master scheduling, the potential for educational transformation becomes evident. The power lies not only in efficient resource utilization but in the strategic redirection of those resources. It's a holistic approach that embraces the evolving needs of students, ensuring that every minute and every interaction contributes to their growth and well-being.  School districts should consider unlocking the efficiency and mission alignment a master schedule designer can provide.  

Posted November 15, 2023

Home School Trends in the Hudson Valley and What they Mean for Local Districts

The Washington Post's recent article, "Home schooling’s rise from fringe to fastest-growing form of education," delves into the significant shift in homeschooling trends. Since 2020, the number of families opting for homeschooling has surged dramatically, with a 51% increase in homeschooled children between 2018 and 2023, while public school enrollments have dropped by 4%.

This surge in homeschooling is no longer confined to specific demographics. Families from diverse backgrounds, including both urban and rural areas, high and low-performing school districts, are choosing this path for various reasons. While religious beliefs were once the primary motivator, concerns about school safety, accommodation, and mental health issues have become significant drivers of this change.

In New York and some other states, there are guidelines and expectations for homeschooling parents. They must notify their local school district of their intention to homeschool, submit an Individualized Home Instruction Plan (IHIP), and provide the resources they'll use for their children's education. Local officials review these plans and assess their completion annually. As a principal, I reviewed these documents each year.

In the Hudson Valley, the data is striking, with one district experiencing a 2267% increase in homeschooling over five years. Twenty-three districts varying in size from just over 1100 to over 10,400 students have over fifty homeschooled students. In one large district, the total number of students being homeschooled is 345. This shift presents challenges for school districts, including declining enrollment, potential funding reductions, and added administrative burdens. As the number of homeschooled children rises, districts will face additional review tasks without increased resources.

To address this trend, school districts should focus on enhancing both student and parent experiences. They can focus on providing a safer and more welcoming school environment– one that can meet the therapeutic needs of students contending with mental health issues.  They can engage with parents, making teachers and administrators more accessible and extending support for families with limited time. Additionally, districts might consider offloading home school reviews to retired administrators or education consultants, allowing educational leaders to concentrate on their core mission.

Educators must adapt to this evolving landscape and explore innovative ways to respond to declining enrollment and the growth of homeschooling. The educational landscape in the Hudson Valley is changing, and it's vital for schools to find creative solutions to meet these challenges.

Posted October 31, 2023

The Power of Resilience: Overcoming Personal Challenges with Strength and Determination


Life is an unpredictable journey, often presenting us with unexpected hurdles that test our strength and resilience. From global pandemics to personal hardships like the illness of a loved one or facing the damaging effects of a defamatory article, navigating through such challenges can be incredibly daunting. However, it is precisely in these moments that our resilience shines brightest. In this blog post, we will explore the remarkable power of resilience and how it empowers individuals to triumph over personal adversities, no matter how overwhelming they may seem.

1. Embracing a Positive Mindset:

Resilience begins with a positive mindset, allowing us to view challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. By adopting a growth-oriented perspective, we can reframe hardships as learning experiences, enabling us to find meaning and purpose amidst adversity (Werner, 2012). Embracing positivity helps us maintain focus, regain control, and develop a resilient attitude towards overcoming personal challenges.

2. Building a Support System:

During trying times, it is crucial to lean on the support of family, friends, and professional networks. Sharing our burdens with trusted individuals provides emotional solace, practical assistance, and valuable perspectives. Surrounding ourselves with a supportive community fosters resilience by reminding us that we are not alone in our struggles and that collective strength can help us overcome even the most difficult circumstances (Masten, 2018).

3. Developing Coping Strategies:

Resilient individuals often possess effective coping strategies to manage stress and maintain their emotional well-being. Engaging in activities such as meditation, exercise, journaling, or pursuing hobbies can help restore balance and provide a healthy outlet for processing emotions (Bonanno, 2004). By proactively managing stress, we equip ourselves with the resilience needed to weather personal challenges with a clearer mind and a stronger spirit.

4. Embracing Reinvention:

Resilience often leads to personal growth and reinvention. The experience of overcoming challenges can inspire individuals to reassess their lives, values, and goals. It can be an opportunity to explore new paths, acquire new skills, and redefine one's identity. Embracing reinvention encourages a fresh perspective, enabling individuals to forge ahead with renewed purpose and resilience (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004).


In the face of personal challenges, be it a global pandemic, the illness of a loved one, or the impact of a defamatory article, resilience becomes our greatest ally. Through a positive mindset, a strong support system, effective coping strategies, seeking professional help when needed, and embracing reinvention, we can harness the power of resilience to overcome even the most formidable obstacles. Remember, resilience is not about avoiding adversity, but rather navigating through it with strength, determination, and an unwavering belief in our ability to rise above.


Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, Trauma, and Human Resilience: Have We Underestimated the Human Capacity to Thrive After Extremely Aversive Events? American Psychologist, 59(1), 20-28.

Masten, A. S. (2018). Resilience Theory and Research on Children and Families: Past, Present, and Promise. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 10(1), 12-31.

Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Resilient Individuals Use Positive Emotions to Bounce Back From Negative Emotional Experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(2), 320-333.

Werner, E. E. (1992). The Children of Kauai: Resilience and Recovery in Adolescence and Adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health, 51(6, Suppl), S7-S14.

August 10, 2023

Removing Barriers to Equity 

Today, there is a lot of talk about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in education circles and among many critics of public education.  And while it seems that DEI is a new and sometimes controversial topic, the fact is that educators have been removing barriers to equity for students for a long time.

In one school where I worked, I assumed the responsibility for developing the building’s master schedule.  One former superintendent once shared with me that when you know your master schedule, you know your building.  In this district,  there was an annual ritual performed each August and September.  Counselors and Pupil Services personnel scrambled to amend individualized education plans (IEPs) because the master schedule did not support students' programs.

For example, that year, 2012-13, a student whose IEP required a special education science class was unable to take the required science course because he was also enrolled at BOCES.  The required science class was only offered in the afternoons while the student was attending his classes at BOCES. This conflict was inexcusable.  

During the 2012-13 school year, I spent a lot of time examining the scheduling process to identify the barriers that prevented students from accessing their academic program as defined by Committees for Special Education.  

That spring, with the assistance of department chairpersons, we plotted out our special education classes strategically.  In the summer of 2013, as counselors reviewed their students’ schedules, one counselor advised me the schedule “fit like a glove.”

In another district, I saw that mainstreaming attempts fell short of the intended goal when students whose IEPs included co-taught science classes placed them in classes that were designed for students who needed remediation.  To promote equity and access, the Science Department and I removed the barrier to special education students so they had access to a full range of science courses to achieve full mainstreaming of students with learning differences.  

In yet another school district, the status quo required students taking Math 8 with grades below 75 to take two years of Algebra rather than one year despite passing the class.  Understanding that enrollment in remedial Algebra limited students' options in the future, the Assistant Superintendent and I removed that barrier so students who passed Math 8 had the opportunity to take higher level courses like Pre-Calculus later in high school that many competitive colleges sought.  

Designing schools for equity is challenging but rewarding work.  To remove barriers that past practice and norms hold in place so that students have equal access to the school’s program is a moral imperative for many educators.  In looking back at my time as an educational administrator, it is probably this work with which I am most proud.  And it is the people who collaborated with me– department chairpersons, teachers and district administrators– in this work of whom I am most proud. 

August 8, 2023

Empower Your School's Transformation: Harnessing the Power of Professional Learning for Sustainable Change 

In today's ever-evolving educational landscape, schools face the constant challenge of adapting to meet the needs of their students and prepare them for the future. To navigate these changes successfully, schools must prioritize professional learning as a catalyst for sustainable transformation. By empowering educators with the knowledge, skills, and support they need, schools can drive meaningful change and ensure the success of their students.

Building a Culture of Continuous Learning

Professional learning is more than just a one-time workshop or training session; it is a continuous process that fosters a culture of growth and collaboration (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017). By investing in ongoing professional development opportunities, schools create an environment where educators feel supported and empowered to take risks, experiment with new teaching strategies, and continually refine their craft. This culture of continuous learning not only benefits teachers but also translates into improved student outcomes (Desimone, 2011).

Supporting Innovation and Adaptability

Education is rapidly evolving, and schools must stay ahead of the curve to provide students with relevant and meaningful learning experiences. Professional learning plays a critical role in supporting innovation and adaptability within schools (Hattie, 2012). By introducing educators to cutting-edge instructional practices, technology integration, and pedagogical approaches, schools enable them to create dynamic and engaging learning environments (Dede, 2010). By embracing professional learning, schools foster an environment that encourages experimentation, risk-taking, and adaptability, allowing them to respond effectively to changing student needs and societal demands.

Collaborative Learning Communities

Professional learning also emphasizes the power of collaboration and the benefits of learning from one another. By creating collaborative learning communities within schools, educators can share their expertise, exchange ideas, and collectively solve problems (Borko, 2004). These communities foster a sense of belonging, support, and collective responsibility for student achievement. By harnessing the power of collaboration, schools can tap into the collective wisdom of their educators and drive sustainable change through shared goals and collective efforts (Vescio et al., 2008).

Data-Informed Decision Making

Effective professional learning incorporates data analysis and evidence-based practices, empowering educators to make informed decisions. By examining student data and research, educators can identify areas of improvement, set meaningful goals, and tailor their instruction to meet the specific needs of their students (Hill et al., 2010). Professional learning provides educators with the tools and strategies to interpret and utilize data effectively, resulting in targeted interventions and improved student outcomes.


Empowering your school's transformation requires a commitment to harnessing the power of professional learning. By cultivating a culture of continuous learning, supporting innovation and adaptability, fostering collaborative learning communities, and embracing data-informed decision-making, schools can drive sustainable change and ensure the success of their students (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017; Hattie, 2012; Vescio et al., 2008). Professional learning is not a one-time event but an ongoing journey that empowers educators to grow, adapt, and thrive in an ever-changing educational landscape. Together, let us embrace the transformative power of professional learning


Borko, H. (2004). Professional Development and Teacher Learning: Mapping the Terrain. Educational Researcher, 33(8), 3-15.

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Learning Policy Institute.

Dede, C. (2010). Comparing Frameworks for 21st Century Skills. In J. Bellanca & R. Brandt (Eds.), 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn (pp. 51-76). Solution Tree Press.

Desimone, L. M. (2011). A Primer on Effective Professional Development. Phi Delta Kappan, 92(6), 68-71.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Routledge.

Hill, H. C., Beisiegel, M., & Jacob, R. (2010). Professional Development Research: Consensus, Crossroads, and Challenges. Educational Researcher, 39(1), 37-40.

Vescio, V., Ross, D., & Adams, A. (2008). A Review of Research on the Impact of Professional Learning Communities on Teaching Practice and Student Learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24(1), 80-91.

Published Aug 16, 2023 

Transforming Education: How AI can Revolutionize Public Schools Beyond the Classroom

As students return to school in the Hudson Valley this week, local journalists are highlighting how integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into public education has opened up exciting possibilities, and simultaneously generated much in the way of debate over academic integrity, the potential drawbacks to its use.  Whether it’s concern about the loss of human connectivity in the classroom, the potential diminution of creative and critical thinking or how safe students’ personal identifying information will be, there are other arenas in public education that professionals should consider as this technology continues to advance.  While AI in the classroom has garnered attention, it's equally important to explore how AI can transform school management, scheduling, and data analytics.  There are many innovative ways public schools can  harness AI's power to streamline operations and enhance student learning experiences.

AI in School Management

Managing a school involves a multitude of administrative tasks, from student records to resource allocation. AI steps in as a reliable assistant to alleviate these burdens, freeing up valuable time for educators and administrators.

 AI has the potential to streamline administrative processes, automating tasks like record-keeping and data entry. Each winter, district and building administrators begin the task of budgeting for proposal for the next school year.  Administrators would have the ability to use AI to assess budget utilization in prior years to guide the development of the new budget proposal within seconds as opposed to hours.   This not only saves time but also reduces the likelihood of human errors, ensuring accurate and up-to-date records.

AI can be  instrumental in resource allocation. It could  optimize classroom and resource usage, ensuring that space and materials are efficiently distributed. For instance, AI can allocate classrooms based on availability, teacher preferences, and class sizes, preventing conflicts and resource shortages.  This has the power to save many manpower hours on tedious yet necessary tasks and allows educators to focus on district priorities.

As school districts continue to harden their defense posture in terms of school safety, AI has the potential to monitor the multitude of cameras that are in place in schools and alert administrators and security personnel about any anomaly, incursion or threat in real time.  

Revolutionizing Scheduling

Master scheduling is a complex and time-consuming task for schools. As schools have mandates to generate student-centered, efficient and fiscally responsible schedules, the task of scheduling begins in earnest in January and consumes much of the next five months for the individual(s) in charge of schedule development.   However, AI-powered scheduling systems could make this process much more efficient. AI algorithms can generate optimized timetables while considering various constraints, such as classroom availability, teacher schedules, and student needs. This could potentially reduce scheduling conflicts and ensure a balanced workload for teachers.

One task that requires multiple counselors and administrators to monitor is the impact of schedule changes that students make in the summer or early in the school year.  AI can assist in identifying trends and areas for concern such as overloading classes and report it instantaneously.  

Data and Learning Analytics

Data-driven decision-making is crucial in education, and AI can play a pivotal role in this aspect.  AI systems can analyze vast amounts of student data to identify patterns and trends in performance.

In this way, AI could support teachers and administrators in assessing student progress, offering insights into areas where students may need additional support. For instance, AI can detect students who require intervention and provide timely recommendations to educators. This data-driven approach enables more effective learning interventions and helps schools better cater to individual student needs.

Moreover, AI has the capacity to improve course quality by pinpointing areas where students struggle. It can identify specific concepts or information gaps, enabling educators to refine materials and teaching methods. This targeted approach enhances the overall learning experience. And while much of this work is already being done, AI can generate this data instantaneously allowing teachers to focus more on instructional practice.


The integration of AI into public education should not be limited to the classroom; it  should extend to school management, scheduling, and data analytics. AI revolutionizes school operations by streamlining administrative tasks, optimizing scheduling, and enabling data-driven decision-making. With AI as a powerful ally, public schools can operate more efficiently, provide personalized learning experiences, and make informed decisions that benefit students and educators alike. As public education continues to evolve, AI's role in shaping the future of learning and administration cannot be underestimated.

Published September 5, 2023

Addressing the Exodus – Why Teachers Are Leaving and How We Can Keep Them in the Classroom


Teachers leaving the profession is a growing crisis. In 2020, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) revealed that one in ten teachers departs within the first five years. I, too, left public education recently, seeking a change after navigating the many challenges brought by the pandemic as a high school principal in the Hudson Valley. This issue deserves urgent attention from policymakers at all levels, akin to the response to the 1957 Sputnik launch with the National Defense Education Act (NDEA).

Understanding the Exodus:

Teacher salaries remain a key factor. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported in 2021 that teachers earn approximately 75 cents for every dollar of their similarly educated peers. Male teachers in 2019 earned about 30% less than their counterparts in other sectors (EPI). Some states have starting salaries below the minimum living wage. 

High stress also drives educators away. The RAND Corporation discovered that 73% of teachers and 85% of principals cited stress as a significant factor in their decisions. This stress, often heightened by pandemic-related challenges, can erode the joy and meaning in teaching.  In the spring of 2022, I began to feel this way about my own work– demands from parents, teachers and district administrators continued to diminish my enthusiasm for the work I was doing.  I began seeking alternatives.  Should educators experiencing this kind of stress remain in the profession, one wonders the extent to which children are getting their best effort.  

Impact on Education:

The exodus harms education at a national level. As school districts struggle to find qualified replacements, educational standards suffer. A shortage of qualified teachers who teach critical thinking and vocational skills will lead to an ill-prepared workforce.

Furthermore, this issue exacerbates educational inequality. Students from affluent backgrounds often receive a superior education compared to their peers in poverty-stricken areas due to the disparity of the varying stress levels and compensation for teachers (EPI). At the beginning of my career, I taught in a large public high school in the Bronx and while I worked with many highly qualified professionals, they were the exceptions in my department.  

Steps to Reduce the Exodus:

Policymakers must address this crisis urgently. The American Rescue Plan Act provides a starting point for funding initiatives to retain and recruit teachers. "Grow Your Own" policies, such as those adopted in Tennessee and more recently in  New York, create pathways from high school to teacher preparation programs, addressing teacher shortages.  This has to be a real focus for schools that offer vocational training.  Last year I learned from a colleague at a vocational school that it is perhaps twice as challenging to hire a qualified teacher for an electrician training program than it is to find a highly qualified Physics teacher.  

To retain current teachers, mental health support is crucial. Schools should provide meaningful mental health assistance. Sending token emails to staff reminding them about the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) is insufficient and sends a message (perhaps unintended) that demonstrates how little employees are valued.  A number of years ago, I was made aware that one of my teachers was having an “episode” while in class and was not able to teach.  My first step was to apply a bandage to the situation by assigning a teacher to substitute in that class.  My second step was to consult with my school psychologist and have her work with the teacher privately.  While the school psychologist was more than willing to support a colleague, she and I both felt awkward.  But why? While it's common for teachers to visit the Nurse's Office for physical ailments, they should feel equally comfortable seeking support from school clinicians for mental health issues when having acute needs. Administrators should also ensure that mental health clinicians receive adequate support.


Teacher attrition is a national emergency. Policymakers must act decisively. School districts and administrators should provide vital support to teachers and consider "Grow Your Own" policies to replenish the profession. It's a race against time to preserve the integrity of our education system.

Published September 15,  2023. 

Revised September 16, 2023.

Addressing Child Behavior in Schools Following the Pandemic


Child behavior in schools is a growing concern for educators, with recent disruptions shining a spotlight on the issue. While many attribute these challenges to the pandemic, it's important to recognize that the pandemic merely magnified existing issues. This article delves into the factors contributing to child behavior problems in schools, including childhood poverty, mental health issues, and shortages of pediatric mental health professionals. To address this crisis, we must invest in student mental health treatment and develop effective strategies, practices, and policies.

Pandemic's Amplification, Not Causation:

The pandemic has often been blamed for the surge in student misbehavior, which even I, as a school administrator, initially attributed to it. Disruptive behavior, such as shouting, inappropriate language, and silliness, seemingly emerged out of nowhere when schools returned to "normal."

However, it's vital to understand that the pandemic acted as an amplifier, exacerbating pre-existing conditions. One significant factor is the stark increase in childhood poverty in the past decade, particularly in the Hudson Valley. In the districts where I've worked, the number of students receiving free and reduced-price meals tripled. Economic hardships and limited resources can lead to stress and instability, which manifest as disruptive behavior among students. These issues are not new; they plagued urban educators like me a generation ago but are now emerging in suburban settings.

Furthermore, the pandemic has exacerbated mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety, which directly affect child behavior in schools. Economic downturns and parental unemployment add to family stress, impacting students who keenly sense their guardians' anxiety.

The Child Mental Health Crisis:

The Hudson Valley faces a pressing child mental health crisis with a shortage of pediatric mental health professionals. School counselors, clinicians, and administrators frequently encounter children and families in need of professional support, only to discover that available professionals have no capacity. This crisis results in untreated mental illnesses affecting student behavior and academic performance, leading to chronic depression, anxiety, and absenteeism. Without proper support, children disengage from education and may eventually drop out, as schools often struggle to provide consistent assistance.  Too frequently, this has been the outcome of inadequate access to mental health treatment.

To address this crisis, student mental health must be a priority within school systems.

Developing Strategies, Practices, and Policies:

Supporting students with acute mental illnesses necessitates comprehensive strategies, practices, and policies in schools. Currently, support often depends on individual teachers' attitudes towards students facing academic challenges due to anxiety or depression. While we should avoid a one-size-fits-all approach, establishing general guidelines for students, parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators is crucial. These guidelines should ensure clear communication and outline steps to address students' specific needs, as well as allow teachers to personalize instruction for students who have missed school due to mental health issues. This personalized instruction doesn't lower standards but removes barriers for students to access education.

This shift requires training for teachers and staff to recognize and support students with mental health challenges, integrating mental health wellness strategies into the curriculum, and fostering collaboration between schools, mental health professionals, and community organizations. Adequate training is essential, as some initiatives, like school advisories, can encounter resistance due to a lack of preparation for teachers.

Call to Action– Supporting Children through District Prioritization:

Addressing child behavior in schools requires collective action from individuals, educators, and policymakers. School districts must prioritize student mental health by allocating resources and funding for mental health services. While the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) set aside funding for student mental health, schools may not act on this urgent issue unless accountability metrics for student mental health are established. Currently, schools focus on academic support to close gaps and address “learning loss,” resulting in overlooking mental health.

Policymakers at federal and state levels may need to integrate mental health into educational initiatives and expected outcomes. There should also be a nationwide effort to promote and incentivize pediatric mental health as a career path for future professionals. Until these changes occur, our children will continue to lack the support they need to thrive.

Published September 25, 2023

Rethinking responsibility


In education, fostering responsibility is crucial for student success. However, the common practice of assigning zeros for missing work may not be the most effective method. This article explores alternative approaches to teach responsibility while encouraging assignment completion.

The Problem with Zeros for Missing Work:

Assigning zeros for missing work is a widespread practice in schools, intended to hold students accountable for their responsibilities. However, it often leads to unintended and counterproductive consequences. For instance, students can become demotivated, as illustrated by a student I once encountered who saw no reason to attend class after receiving an 11 for the first marking period. This punitive approach can foster learned helplessness and hinder motivation.

Additionally, assigning zeros fails to accurately assess students' knowledge and skills, especially in the case of homework. One year, I surveyed my faculty and learned to my pleasant surprise that many teachers agreed that grading homework lacks validity since it can be copied or completed by parents. Thus, this practice misses the opportunity to measure genuine learning.

Furthermore, the emphasis on points over learning outcomes is evident, as students often ask about the point value of assignments rather than focusing on understanding the subject matter when their teacher assigns a task.

A New Approach: Holding Students Accountable for Completion:

Rather than relying on punitive measures, educators can take a more constructive approach to teach responsibility:

1. Clear Expectations and Deadlines:

Ensure students are well-informed about assignment requirements and deadlines. Modern digital tools like Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams make communication efficient and transparent, enabling students to plan their time effectively.  As a parent, I have found this development extremely helpful in terms of staying aware of my child’s past due and upcoming assignments.

2. Supportive Guidance and Resources:

Provide students with guidance, resources, and support to successfully complete assignments. Encourage them to seek help when needed, nurturing a growth mindset and collaborative learning.  One measure of support could be “chunking” the assignments into smaller components that are due intermittently, are more manageable and help support a student’s time management skills.

3. Consequences that Work:

Instead of zeros, establish appropriate consequences for incomplete work that emphasize responsibility. Students should complete the assignment during extra time after school or engage in alternative learning activities related to the task.  After all, as adults, banks and landlords still expect to be paid even when homeowners and tenants fail to make payments on time.  Bridges and tunnels are still expected to be completed even when a project runs beyond the expected completion date.

When my child refused to turn in a missing assignment when given an opportunity to do so by citing how it would be unfair to classmates and fail to hold him accountable for meeting deadlines, my suspicions were confirmed when I got an admission that he simply did not want to do the assignment.  To my child, a zero was simply a consequence with no impact.


Teaching responsibility in schools is vital, but assigning zeros for missing work may not be effective. Shifting the focus to hold students accountable while providing guidance and support fosters responsibility and motivation.  This alternative approach encourages students to take ownership of their education, equipping them with the skills necessary for success in both academia and life beyond the classroom.

Posted October 3, 2023

Imaginable and the Student Achievement Gap


Educators have been grappling with the persistent achievement gap among minority and under-served students for decades. Despite general improvements in test scores over the years, data shows that the gap between minority students and students living in poverty and their White peers remains. Is it possible to envision a future without this gap? Drawing inspiration from futurist Jane McGonigal's innovative thinking as demonstrated in her recent book, Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything, Even Things that Seem Impossible Today, we can explore strategies that could potentially eliminate the achievement gap within the next ten years.

The "100 Ways" Process

McGonigal's approach includes a game called "100 Ways Anything Can Be Different," where participants challenge assumptions about topics they believe will remain unchanged over the next decade. I chose the achievement gap as my topic and posed the statement: "In ten years, socioeconomic status will not be a predictor of student achievement." While it demands imagination, this premise opens the door to possibilities.

Next Step– Researching the Evidence:

To explore the feasibility of this premise, I looked for evidence of change already in motion today. Douglas Reeves' work on "90/90/90 schools" offered a promising example. These schools, serving predominantly low-income and minority students, have achieved a 90% or higher mastery rate. They focus on high-impact strategies like non-fiction writing, professional learning communities, and effective feedback for students, teachers and administrators. 

Obstacles to implementing these strategies exist both internally and externally. Internally, teachers may resist collaboration, viewing it as a distraction from their classroom instruction. Externally, education trends and initiatives often divert schools from effective practices. These external pressures often lead schools to chase trends instead of adopting proven methods, like those used by 90/90/90 schools in places like Milwaukee.


By embracing creative thinking and problem-solving through the "100 Ways" approach, educators, policymakers, students, and parents can work together to envision and implement a future where the achievement gap no longer exists. While challenging, each school and district can dedicate themselves to applying the principles of successful schools like 90/90/90 institutions. With collective focus and determination, eliminating the achievement gap could become a "moonshot" goal achievable by 2033.  In considering that last proposition, perhaps President Kennedy was every bit the futurist as McGonigal.  Or as his brother famously quoted Shaw, “Why not?”

Posted October 11, 2023