Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The field tests are coming! The field tests are coming! Opt out says testing expert Fred Smith

Dear parents,

I just wanted to call your attention to the stand-alone field tests that are coming in June.  This is the fourth year in a row that SED and Pearson have followed this questionable approach.  And each year they do it without informing parents about the field tests.

The list of schools is hereChange the Stakes also has information about the 1,013 schools and grades that have been targeted to give the ELA and math field tests.  The window for administering the tests is from June 1 through June 10.   Some schools have been tapped to give the tests on two grade levels. I have projected that 135,000 children are targeted to be guinea pigs in this sample of schools. A sample opt out letter is here.

Please remember that taking the tests is not mandated.  There is absolutely no requirement for kids to take them--and they have proven to be a flawed way to develop the Core-aligned exams that children have had to endure since 2012.  The CtS web site also provides information about the nature of the field tests and why children should not take them.

The key to putting an end to this practice is to insist that parents be made aware of the tests and asked to fill out a consent form if they want their children to participate.  But, to date, both Albany (SED) and Chancellor Farina have not notified parents about this field testing scheme and have not sought their permission.  Continuation of the stand-alone field tests has depended on keeping parents in the dark.

We must spread the word to all parents, especially those whose children are in a targeted school, that the tests are coming, and parents have the right to reject them.  It is a safe and responsible step to take along the path to greater parental involvement and empowerment.

Best, Fred Smith

On the risible statement DOE makes about Pearson & their proposed $8.6M no-bid contract to be voted on tomorrow night

1.       First of all, the DOE page listing items to be voted upon tomorrow for public review and/or comment does not list contracts though it should.
2.       Secondly, I am writing about the no-bid  $8.6M, 7 year contract for Pearson’s software line.
All the DOE says on pp. 82-83 to justify this no-bid contract is that “Pearson Education is the sole provider of this software, so a Request for Bids was not practical.”  Huh?  Of course Pearson is the sole provider of Pearson software, but this is tautological.  Where is the analysis showing a detailed comparison of the cost/benefits of other similar software?  Where is there any evaluation of the quality of this software at all?
The subsequent statement that “DOE has found Pearson’s performance to be satisfactory on prior work” is risible, considering the well-documented low quality of Pearson exams, the repeated errors they have made in scoring both here in NYC and elsewhere, and the corruption they have engaged in, as determined by the NYS Attorney General.
I cannot see the rationale for this contract stated anywhere that would counter NY’s repeatedly deplorable experience with Pearson products and service.
Finally, I urge you to check out Prof. Alan Singer’s recent column on Pearson at and vote no.

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Despite worsening overcrowding, de Blasio's ten-year capital plan allocates less for schools than Bloomberg's

See  the testimony below that I gave today to the NYC Council on the deficiencies of the proposed Mayor's proposed executive and capital budgets for schools, which if adopted as is would lead to larger class sizes and even more overcrowded schools.

The school capital plan was released more than three months late, supposedly  to align with de Blasio's new ten-year city overall capital plan, which cuts back on education compared to the previous ten-year plan, developed under Bloomberg.

The new ten year plan has schools at only 28% of overall capital spending, compared to 34% in the Bloomberg plan, and cuts back the spending by almost $5 billion.  See the above charts to compare.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

An open letter to CEC members in regards de Blasio's promises on co-locations

NYC KidsPAC is composed of a group of parent leaders and advocates, including several Community Education Council members.    A few weeks ago, NYC KidsPAC released an education report card for Mayor de Blasio, with grades ranging from “A” to “F” based on whether he’s lived up to his campaign promises after more than a year in office in many key areas such as class size, school overcrowding, co-locations and parent engagement. 

More specifically, de Blasio promised to have a moratorium on co-locations which never happened.  In response to the NYC KidsPAC candidate survey,  promised to ask Community Education Councils to cast advisory votes on all “major school utilization changes in their communities including proposed co-locations” and that “This vote will influence and provide insight to the Panel for Education Policy.”   

He added that he would “raise the level of significance of the CEC's. The Panel for Educational Policy must address the PEP's vote on major school utilization changes in their PEP meetings. They must state why they disagree with the local CEC and work with the local CEC for alternative solutions.” 

Yet this process has not yet occurred in the case of any co-location of which we are aware.  

We urge any and all CECs that are facing a proposed change in school utilization, including co-locations up for a vote this month and next (see list below), to consider passing a resolution, expressing your views on the proposal in detail – and then send your resolution to the Mayor’s office, the Chancellor and the members of the PEP, whose emails are here, with a cover letter, explaining that you expect the PEP to follow through on the Mayor’s campaign promises.  

Please copy KidsPAC and Class Size Matters in your emails at info@nyckidspac.org and info@classsizematters.org if you do. 

We have drafted a sample draft resolution below including some relevant bullet points.  Please feel free to alter the language and of course, you will have to add to it by explaining why your Council is taking this position on the proposed utilization change. 

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters 
Shino Tanikawa, President, NYC KidsPAC
           Draft language for a resolution on co-locations 

       Whereas while campaigning to become Mayor, Bill de Blasio promised that he would be more collaborative and respectful of the input of parents and community members than the previous administration;

·         Whereas in his responses to the NYC KidsPAC candidate survey, in July 2013, he promised that Community Education Councils would be urged to vote on “major school utilization changes in their communities” and that “This vote will influence and provide insight to the Panel for Education Policy.” 

·         Whereas in the same survey, he pledged that as Mayor he would “raise the level of significance of the CEC's” and that “The Panel for Educational Policy must address the PEP's vote on major school utilization changes in their PEP meetings. They must state why they disagree with the local CEC and work with the local CEC for alternative solutions.”

·         Whereas the Community Education Council is [opposed or in favor of] the co-location of x school in the X building, to be voted on at the PEP meeting on x date for the following reasons….(add your reasons here)

·         Be it resolved that the CEC in District x is [opposed or in favor of] the co-location of x school for the reasons stated above;

·         Be it resolved that we will send this resolution to the Mayor, the Chancellor and to the members of the Panel for Educational Policy before their vote on this proposal on x date;

·         Be it resolved that if any PEP member should vote in contradiction to the CEC’s position , he or should be obligated to state why, as the Mayor promised would occur when he ran for office;

·         Finally, be it resolved that the PEP should work with the CEC on alternative solutions, as the Mayor also pledged.

May 20 vote


June 10 vote

Friday, May 8, 2015

Why the Renewal program will likely fail, without attention to class size and space

The de Blasio administration and NYC Department of Education recently announced they would expand the community school system to 200 schools by 2017, by supplying them with a “suite of social services.”  Eighty-three of these “community schools” would be sited at the struggling Renewal schools, as already announced (though there are 94 Renewal schools, all of which were supposed to get wraparound services.) 

In addition, forty five “community schools” will be schools with low attendance rates; forty are already existing “community schools” (where?) and another sixteen are supposed to be new schools that are not low-performing.   
Yet there are many problems with this plan.  In many of the Renewal schools, the DOE is going ahead with co-locations, inserting new schools into their buildings rather than leaving them with the space needed for a counselor’s office, medical office, or other social services.  When Norm Fruchter, mayoral appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy asked about how co-locations threaten the space needed for community schools during a co-location vote at the February PEP meeting, Chancellor Farina responded that “community schools are a state of mind.”  

Of the ten schools targeted for co-locations and voted on during the April PEP meeting, five were Renewal schools.  And the problems don’t just lie in space for social services. Many parents and teachers at the PEP hearing talked about how class sizes were already too large, and that these co-locations would prevent them from being able to reduce class size, and that they feared class sizes would increase.  And yet all the co-locations were approved. 

The Success charter Academy Bronx 3 proposal was the most contentious, to be co-located in JHS 45 in the Bronx; where three Renewal schools are already located.   At JHS 145, there are many classes as large as 29, according to DOE data.  At Millennium Business Academy in the same building, many classes at 28 and 29 students, and Urban Science Academy many at 25-26 – both far above what would be optimal and the Contract for Excellence goals for 23 per class in the middle grades that the city promised to achieve in 2007. 

During the April PEP meeting, two other co-locations were voted on for Renewal schools:  P.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio with class sizes of 31 in 2nd grade, and a seventh grade inclusion class with special needs students at 33.  At August Martin high school, many classes run as high as 34 or 35. 
And yet all of the co-locations were approved.   The vote on the Success Academy Bronx 3 co-location co-location to be inserted into the JHS 145 building was the closest, with 7-5 in favor.  

Voting yes were mayoral appointees, Isaac Carmignani, Roberto Soto-Carrión, D. Miguelina Zorilla-Aristy,  , Vanessa LeungLori Podvesker, Kamillah Payne-Hanks - Staten Island Representative, and Ben Shuldiner (the new mayoral appointee who just a few weeks ago put his name forward for the NYS Board of Regents seat in the Lower Hudson region—where he claimed to be a resident.) 
These class sizes are simply unacceptable for struggling schools facing possible closure.  No matter what wrap-around services these schools receive – their academic results will likely falter with class sizes this large. 

Every year the DOE gets more than $500 million as part of the Contracts for Excellence funds from the state; in return they are supposed to be reducing class size.  Instead, class sizes have risen steadily since the program was introduced in 2007. 

In their response to public comments to the C4E plan this year, the DOE wrote in December 2014 that “To better align with the Chancellor’s priorities, C4E’s class size reduction plan will now focus on the 94 schools in the School Renewal Program. More information about the schools may be found here: School Renewal Program.” 

Yet on that page, and in the press release  in which the city announced that $32 million more funds would be allocated to the Renewal schools, there is no mention of reducing class.  
Instead, lengthening the school day, professional development and more counselors are cited, none of which are likely to have the same impact on academic achievement or student engagement in the learning process.  Instead the statement proclaims:  

 “Schools will be able to use the new funding to hire guidance counselors, bring on teachers for special academic intervention programs serving students who have fallen behind, extend the school day, or add advanced placement classes. To qualify for funding, schools must submit detailed plans for approval that demonstrate precisely how the new funds will be spent …” 

None of these measures are likely to have the same positive impact on academic achievement or student engagement in the learning process.  Yesterday, the DOE apparently raised the amount for the 130 struggling schools, presumably including the Renewal schools, to $50 million in 2016 and $76 million in 2017.   The Chancellor said again, the funds would go towards extended school days, guidance counselors and more teacher training,, but still has made no commitment to reduce class size.  

Our analysis shows that over 60% of renewal schools have at least some class sizes of 30 or more.  To punish students, teachers and schools for their huge class sizes without doing anything about this is simply unacceptable.