change of the guard

Accountability guru Liebman out; former principal will fill spot

James Liebman. (Photo courtesy of NYC Department of Education)
James Liebman. (Photo courtesy of NYC Department of Education)

James Liebman, the law professor mastermind behind the Bloomberg administration’s school accountability system, is resigning, Chancellor Joel Klein just announced.

A former principal, Shael Polakow-Suransky, will replace Liebman on an “interim acting” basis. The swap transitions the Office of Accountability to the hands of a longtime educator from those of a outsider criticized for having no teaching experience.

The accountability system constructed by Liebman, a law professor at Columbia University, changed the tone of many schools in the city, sometimes dramatically. The new focus on improving students’ test scores drew both sharp criticism from some city educators who said it narrowed curriculum and created incentives to cheat — and a carnival of visitors from around the country and abroad hoping to model the system in their schools.

The matrix of tools built by Liebman includes report cards that assign each school a letter grade; quality reviews that evaluate schools’ use of test score data to inform teaching; a data warehouse searchable by teachers and, now, parents; so-called “formative assessments” that help teachers diagnose students’ strengths and weaknesses before state test time; and a “data inquiry team” system that encourages teachers to make curriculum decisions by referring to students’ test scores.

Liebman will return to teaching at Columbia full-time, but will continue to work on special projects for the Department of Education, Klein’s press release said. Neither Liebman nor Klein could be reached for an immediate comment.

Updates to come. Here’s the full press release:


Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today announced the resignation of James Liebman as Chief Accountability Officer and the appointment of Shael Polakow-Suransky as interim-acting Chief Accountability Officer, effective July 20. Mr. Liebman, who is also a professor at Columbia Law School, will resume teaching full time while undertaking special projects for the Department of Education. Mr. Polakow-Suransky currently serves as Deputy Chief Schools Officer and collaborated closely with Mr. Liebman in designing the Department’s accountability tools and achievement resources.

“Jim has led some of the most revolutionary work in public education in recent years, work that has helped accelerate the progress our students and schools are making,” Chancellor Klein said. “People from school districts around the world regularly visit New York City to learn about the accountability tools he has developed. Jim will be greatly missed, but both he and I agree that Shael is the right person to continue this important work.”

Before becoming the Department’s first Chief Accountability Officer in January 2006, Mr. Liebman built a distinguished career as a public interest lawyer and a law professor. A public school parent, he has written and taught extensively in the fields of public education and public institutional reform.

As Chief Accountability Officer, he has led the Department’s efforts to provide parents and educators with information they can use to improve student results and hold schools and educators accountable for helping all students make academic progress. He has built the Division of Accountability and Achievement Resources and overseen the development of the most comprehensive set of school accountability tools and achievement resources in the nation, including:

  • Progress Reports, which grade schools based on the amount of academic progress their students make each year;
  • Quality Reviews, which provide an analysis of how well each school is organized to respond to the learning needs of its students;


  • the annual School Survey—the largest survey in the country other than the U.S. Census—which asks parents, teachers, and students what their schools are doing well and how the schools can improve student learning;

  • a comprehensive and flexible package of no-stakes Periodic Assessments that educators can use to assess students’ strengths and needs, diagnose areas in which instruction is not working for particular students, and tailor lessons to the match the learning needs of each child; 

  • the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS), a data system that gives administrators, teachers, and families access to critical information about students’ academic performance as well as to lesson plans and other resources and collaboration tools they can use to improve performance; 

  • Inquiry Teams, groups of teachers and administrators in every school that develop strategies to help struggling students;

  • and enhanced data verification, integrity, and governance systems to assure the accuracy and usability of data for educators, families, and the public.

Mr. Polakow-Suransky has compiled a long record of raising student achievement in the New York City public schools during the last 15 years. He is currently the Department’s Deputy Chief Schools Officer, helping to oversee the work of the School Support Organizations and Integrated Service Centers. He began his career as a math and social studies teacher. In 2001, he became the founding principal of Bronx International High School, which has served as a model for the development of many of the City’s new small schools. He has also served as a Leadership Academy facilitator, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer for the Office of New Schools, and the Chief Academic Officer for Empowerment Schools, which he helped build into the Department’s largest School Support Organization.

Mr. Polakow-Suransky holds a bachelor’s degree in education and urban studies from Brown University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the Bank Street College of Education. He recently graduated from the Broad Superintendents Academy.


Contact: David Cantor / Andrew Jacob (212) 374-5141

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.