Monday, October 20, 2014

Joel Rose and School of One get new NYC contract that violates conflict of interest rules and the terms of his earlier contract

Yesterday’s NY Daily News reported that last month, the Panel for Educational Policy approved a contract for New Classrooms to teach math in city middle schools via an online program called the School of One.  The contract  charges the city nearly $200 per student for the licensing fee: “An estimated 2,220 students will be enrolled in the School of One program at a cost of $420,750 for license fees ($191.25 per student)."  This is the second contract granted New Classrooms; the original one was granted in January 2012.

Joel Rose, a former chief of staff to Deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf, created School of One while at DOE, starting in February 2009.  He developed the algorithm and the program along with Chris Rush, a consultant then working for Wireless Generation, now headed by former Chancellor Joel Klein for Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp.    

In March 2011, Rose spun off the program into a separate company,  renamed it New Classrooms, and became co-CEO along with Chris Rush. The company, ostensibly a non-profit, boasts an impressive list of funders, including NewSchools Venture Fund, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, New Profit Inc., and Carnegie Corporations, and its 2013 tax returns (the latest available on Guidestar) show a surplus of $4.5 million dollars. Board members include Miguel Bezos, father of Jeff Bezos, billionaire CEO of, and Gideon Stein, omnipresent corporate reformer and board member of Chalkbeat, Teach Plus, Stand for Children and a former board member of Success Charters. 

According to Rick Hess, who plugged the much-hyped program in his column, “One of my favorite things about School of One is that it's a solution that doesn't imply new costs. It's a way to optimize whatever dollars a school is spending on math instruction--to squeeze more juice from the orange--and doesn't entail new outlays. “The question becomes if it doesn’t entail new outlays, why the city has to spend more money to implement it.  

Here is an excerpt from the January 9, 2012  Conflict of Interest decision, justifying the first DOE contract with New Classrooms in 2012: 

Of course the algorithm and methodology inherent in the School of One program was developed by Rose while he worked for the DOE – and would remain fully confidential.  The city’s Conflict of interest rules also say a former employee “may never work on a particular matter or project that you were directly involved in while employed by the City.” 

Yet somehow, despite the fact that Rose is head of the company and his company would clearly benefit from the contract, the conflict of interest rules were waived. 

In any event, when Rose was granted his initial contract by the Panel for Education Policy, only nine days later on January 18, 2012, it was at no cost to the city, and the back-up documentation promised that the DOE would be granted joint ownership or a royalty-free perpetual non-exclusive license to the platform … for use in NYC schools."   (See p. 37 for this language in the  2012  PEP document.) 
Presumably, the joint ownership or royalty-free perpetual contract was pledged in recognition of the fact that the program was created by Rose while employed at the DOE.  Indeed, if anything, it might be argued that the city should also royalties each time the program is re-used in other districts, considering it was developed using city students as guinea pigs and took up much teacher and staff time.
Even so, the awarding of the contract in 2012 was quite controversial, as noted in the Daily News:
City officials defend the deal, noting Rose got the blessing of the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board because he’s promised to play no role in any of the city-related work. 

Under the agreement, the city will share with Rose’s groups the licenses for the School of One program, which uses computer-based learning to individually tailor math classes for students at three middle schools. [emphasis added] 

“This is exactly the type of thing that raises eyebrows and causes people to question” the Education Department, said Michael Loughran, a spokesman for city Controller John Liu, whose office will review the contract. 

Education Department officials note four other companies showed initial interest but did not bid because the city isn’t paying out any money during the three-year term of the contract. 
“We believe this zero-cost contract is a smart move for the city, potentially saving millions of dollars,” said spokesman Matt Mittenthal, defending the deal that aims to expand School of One to 50 schools.” 

The no-cost contract voted on in January 2012 that was to “commence on or about March 1, 2012” and was to last for three years, which means that it would only lapse in March 2015. To add insult to injury, the new contract was just granted retroactively from August 2014 --six months before the old cost-free cntract was supposed to lapse.
So what does the company say in its defense about the fact that it is now charging a per student license fee instead of allowing the city to use it for free in perpetuity? In the Daily news, a New Classroom spokesperson claimed that “the fees in the new contract cover services other than the free software license Rose promised back to the city in 2012.” But the PEP documents say otherwise: 

The DOE also claimed in the Daily News article that “no city taxpayer money was used in paying for the services” though the document says the opposite; that while the initial funding came from a federal grant, “Now that the program is fully implemented in participating schools, the DOE is responsible for the cost of supporting these schools.” 

So essentially, the company is charging the city nearly $200 per student for a program developed by Rose while a city employee, instead of for free as promised, six months before the previous contract lapsed --exactly what conflict of interest rules were designed to prevent. 

To make things worse, this is a no-bid contract.  In 2012, the DOE claimed to have bid out the contract to New Classrooms competitively, although it was apparent that the contract was designed only for Joel Rose, as at that point the DOE wasn’t willing to pay any fees:

Now, however, when the city is paying real money, the DOE hasn’t even pretended to bid it out, supposedly to prevent “a lengthy competitive bidding process” (even as the previous contract wasn't near completion):

Even so, if and when a new RFP is announced, it will likely be designed for Rose’s company to win --which despite huge hype, lacks convincing evidence of positive results.  The online data-mining program was originally designed to spread across 50 schools throughout the city, and yet it is only used in five schools at this time, compared to six schools last year Two of the three original schools dropped out because of poor results.   

When I visited one of the pilot programs at a school in lower Manhattan a few years back, I saw utter confusion, with up to 60 students in a room, switching places every 15 minutes, and many of them disengaged while answering multiple choice questions on their computers, clicking on answer A, B, C in turn until the machine told them they had  the right one.  

When the PEP was granted approval power over contracts in 2009 with the renewal of mayoral control, there was hope that some of this cronyism, corruption and waste that had been rampant would be stemmed.  The number of no-bid contracts had exploded  under Bloomberg, with no-bid contracts totaling $15 million in 2001 ballooning to $300 million by June 2008, with more than one fourth of those contracts going over the agreed upon cost.

Yet after the PEP was given the ability to vote on these contracts, every  contract but one was rubberstamped by the mayoral majority on the PEP, even when there was strong evidence of corruption --- as pointed out by independent-minded watchdogs, like Manhattan appointee Patrick Sullivan.   

The new PEP members appointed by Mayor de Blasio were supposed to be more independent; but the Panel has yet to reject any proposed contract, to my knowledge.  In some ways, the process now is LESS transparent than before, as the back-up contract documentation is not posted until the night before the PEP vote – instead of about about a week before, as happened previously.  Previously, PEP members complained that they were not allowed to see the full contracts; now no written description of what the contracts are meant for, or explanation if they have been competitively bid is available to the public until the night before the vote. It is truly disappointing to see waste and favoritism continue under a new administration which had promised otherwise.

Friday, October 17, 2014

video: Public Education Nation panel on charter schools

At Public Education Nation, hosted by the Network for Public Education, North Carolina journalist Jeff Bryant hosts a panel discussion on charter schools, with New Orleans parent activist Karran Harper Royal, New York teacher and blogger Gary Rubinstein, and Connecticut attorney and activist Wendy Lecker.

Charter Schools from Schoolhouse Live on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

video of Public Education Nation panel: Support our Schools, Don't Close Them!

The second panel at Public Education Nation last Saturday featured Chicago teacher and Network for Public Education board member Xian Barrett moderating a panel featuring the dynamic speakers Yohuru Williams, Professor of History at Fairfield University and Tanaisa Brown of the Newark Student Union.  Please watch!

Support Our Schools, Don't Close Them from Schoolhouse Live on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Videos up from Public Education Nation!

Last Saturday at the Brooklyn New School, the Network for Public Education held a terrific forum.  Here are two videos, Diane Ravitch and Jitu Brown, who wrapped up the day.  Diane needs no introduction; Jitu is aneducation organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) in Chicago, and the national director of the Journey for Justice campaign. He also teaches African-American history at St. Leonard’s Adult High School, the only accredited high school in that nation that exclusively serves people who have been formerly incarcerated.

See also the wonderful panel of Carol Burris, Takiema Bunche-Smith, Rosa Rivera-McCutchen and Alan Aja, speaking about testing and the common Core.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Funny if it weren't so sad: SUNY charter committee switches location of Success charter and switches it back

After the rally protesting the vote by the SUNY charter committee to approve 17 new charter schools for NYC-- including 14 more for Success Academy, despite the fact that two thirds of their schools are already underenrolled, a representative from the city told us that at the last minute Eva Moskowitz decided to switch the location for one of her charters from District 2 to District 1 or District 6, and the SUNY committee had approved this change.

Susan Miller Barker, Joseph Belluck and Ralph Rossi
This appalling practice is not all that surprising, given the way SUNY approves whatever Eva Moskowitz wants.  They allow her charters to repeatedly expand, despite the fact that she fails to enroll and retain equal numbers of high-needs students, which is required under the charter law and in fact, pushes out at risk kids with stunning regularity.  The committee also approved a stunning 14 more charters despite the public comments were overwhelmingly against allowing these charters to go forward.

You can see the tepid discussion of the last-minute switch and vote by the charter committee to approve it at about 30 minutes in a video of the meeting at the SUNY website.  You can also see that the committee members did not mention any of the public comment, or even appeared to have bothered to have read the summary beforehand.

The three members of the committee are Joseph W. Belluck,  the chair, Angelo Fatta and John Murad; two lawyers and a retired corporate executive, none of them with any background in education. Also present sowing more confusion in their wake, were Susan Miller Barker, the head of the SUNY Charter Institute, and the Counsel Ralph Rossi.

Understandably, parent leaders from District 1 and 6 and their elected City Council Members were quite angry that there were no hearings or outreach in their districts before this vote.  Despite the fact that SUNY considers this a "non-material" change -- switching the charter from one end of Manhattan to another -- it makes hash out of the public process, including district hearings, required by the law.  Few would argue that Washington Heights and the Lower East side are the same in terms of student population as the more middle class areas encompassed by District 2.   So these elected leaders, including Councilmembers Chin, Dromm, Mendez and Rodriguez , along with the presidents of Community Education Councils in Districts 1,2, and 6, wrote a letter to the SUNY board President Carl McCall, which is below, saying that their practice of switching districts and ignoring public input at the last minute reveals their "extreme and marked disregard for a transparent, democratic process."  Here's an article in tomorrow's Daily News about the letter and the anger aroused by this switcheroo.

Meanwhile, the NY Times had reported earlier that SUNY had not made any changed but had approved the charter for District 2, as earlier planned: "The new Success charters are approved for Districts 2 and 3 in Manhattan; 9 in the Bronx; 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 22, and 23 in Brooklyn; and 24, 27, 28 and 30 in Queens."

I contacted the reporter, Liz Harris, who assured me that SUNY had told her that there was no such change and that the school had been approved for District 2, though this might later be changed if Eva wanted.  They told the same to the DNA Info reporter, who posted a correction to an earlier article that had reported on the last-minute switch:
However, SUNY did not allow Success Academy to change its application, said a spokesman. Instead, it approved its District 2 charter “after undergoing the legally required process, including a public hearing,” he said.“The Institute was notified that Success may pursue alternative arrangements in Districts 1 or 6, an adjustment which, for a variety of reasons, is not uncommon for a charter school,” he said in a statement.
“Should they follow that course, under the law and well established practice the Institute can amend the charter accordingly, and there will be a process for additional public input.”

But as the DNA info story noted, SUNY posted the following document tonight, showing the charter had  been moved to District 1 or 6 after all.  Check out the time stamp of 6:25 PM.

CM Chin saw the new document and tweeted it:
Apparently noticing the article or CM Chin's tweet, someone at SUNY Charter Institute took down the document and revised their version of reality once again -- that the switch to District 1 or District 6 had not occurred after all:

It would all be a comedy of errors if it weren't so terribly sad.

Who knows what happened and how many ways back and forth the truth was revised? The indisputable reality is that these three men make such consequential decisions by authorizing and randomly siting 17 new charter schools,  in such a cavalier fashion, without any knowledge or apparent interest in the views of the community or impact on their schools, and our public education system as a whole. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Damaging impacts of charters on Harlem's public schools

Empty room at Success charter school taken from PS 175
On October 8 I gave a presentation to the Community Education Council in District 5 on the impact of charters on their public schools in Harlem.  Our analysis, among other facts, revealed how much more disadvantaged the students are in their district public schools .  The power point is below.

Another empty Success charter room taken from PS 175
Parents have also sent me these photographs.  The first two are classrooms that Success Academy charter school took from PS 175 this year,that are now sitting empty.

This further suggests that these rapidly expanding charters are indeed under enrolled as this article and this analysis of DOE school enrollment data from the Blue Book suggest--  facts that SUNY apparently ignored when they authorized 14 more Success charters last week.

Below is another photograph, showing how the expansion of another Success charter has taken so much space within PS/MS 149 in Harlem that the speech therapist now has to share the room with the PTA office; with the two spaces only separated by sheets.

PTA office/speech therapy room at PS/MS 149
I emphasized at the meeting how important it is for parents and teachers to speak out about the negative impact of charter co-locations on their schools. If you have stories to tell or photos to share, please share them with us at  Thanks!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Eva Gets Cozy With Bill

October 10, 2014 (GBN News): NY City Mayor Bill DiBlasio may be regretting the decision to rent out his Brooklyn apartment and live in Gracie Mansion. GBN News has learned that Eva Moskowitz, CEO of the Success Academy charter school chain, plans to co-locate one of her 14 recently approved charter schools into the Mayoral residence. Under a deal pushed through by Governor Andrew Cuomo last spring, the city must provide rent-free space for charter schools. Thus Mayoral control over charter co-locations is now significantly restricted, and Ms. Moskowitz appears to be taking full advantage of that fact.

It is unclear just how much of the Mayor’s residence will be taken up by the new school. Many charters have appropriated classrooms, lunchrooms and other common space from co-located public schools, and have relegated those facilities to using separate entrances. Mr. DiBlasio has tried to curry favor with the Governor, helping him secure the Working Families Party endorsement and supporting him in the Democratic primary. But given Ms. Moskowitz’s considerable influence over Mr. Cuomo, the Mayor might soon be making up some extra sets of keys to the back door of Gracie Mansion, and collecting takeout menus from local restaurants.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Tory Frye on the questionable claims of supporters of Success Academy and charters in general

On Thursday, as the NY Times revealed, Eva Moskowitz closed her Success Charters for the day, and told parents that they had to accompany their children to a rally near City Hall or find alternate baby-sitting for them. NY1 reported that all 32 of her schools had the morning off and parents got a wake-up call reminding them to attend. She bussed parents, students and staff to the rally; as did Achievement First charters.  One can only imagine the criticism in the media if any public school had called off classes and demanded that parents do the same for a political rally.

Here is an analysis of Victoria Frye, parent and CEC member in District 6 in Washington Heights on the claims of those who support Success Academy and charters more generally, with data and links for those who want to explore the issue further.

Looking at “demand” data for schools is obviously a market-based approach to education.  Even if one does believe that market or business models are ideal for educating children, waitlists prove nothing.  Guess how many kids are on the wait list for District 6 schools? Over 3,000.  How is that possible? The same families applied to multiple schools, probably including charter schools. 

 Charter school waitlists are equally inflated.  Even a D6 elementary school that is labeled as failing by “Families for Excellent Education” in their laughable “research” report TheForgotten Fourth,  PS 132 (The Juan Pablo Duarte School) had 152 applicants for just 50 seats; what does that demonstrate?  Some D6 schools had hundreds of students wait listed last spring. School acceptance rates were  18 and 14% for PS 311 and 314 -- both smaller than the acceptance rates of 19% percent claimed by Success Academy in its SUNY application, asking for the authority to establish 14 new charters across the city. 

Data on enrollment at the Success Academies in D2 shows that good portions, from a quarter to a third of students, come from outside the district.  How does that demonstrate “demand” within D2 for a Success Academy?  So the “evidence” (if you choose to interpret it that way) is clear: the demand for public schools eclipses the demand for charters.  So, no, charters should not get space or resources until we replicate the "high demand" and "high performing" public schools in our city.  For more on this see this analysis.

Apples to Apples Comparisons
Luckily some serious researchers have looked at this issue.  Bruce Baker, a professor Education at Rutgers, for example put together this chart: 

According to 2013 school report cards, “PS 149 has nearly double the number of special needs students compared to Academy 1: 20.6% compared to 12.6%, and more than four times the number of English Language learners  --18.9% compared to only 4.1% at Success Academy.”  (As described here: )  Success also suspends students at double the rate of their local public schools, for example Harlem Success 1, 2, 3, and 4 suspended students at a rate of 22, 15, 14 and 19% as compared with 6, 7, and 9% in Districts 3, 4, and 5. And again the IBO reports that special needs students leave charters at a much higher rate than comparable public school students (). And when charter students leave or are counseled out of a charter they do not go to another charter, they go to a public school.  Even SUNY, as the charter authorizer, acknowledges that attrition at Success is problematic.  

Regarding inclusion at public schools, we have a citywide policy of inclusion that mandates that local neighborhood schools must accommodate special needs students.  Budget realities constitute real barriers to schools being able to do this, so there is a tension between the relatively new inclusion policy and years and years of budget cuts.  The Chancellor has acknowledged this issue; but as of yet, I have heard of no solution to it.

Our D6 public schools do not have space – FULL STOP.  We are over 90% capacity district-wide with the faulty capacity formula and we have numerous schools that are desperately in need of new facilities. We have the largest average class size in D6 since 2006. Last year, 6 D6 schools have K class averages of 25+. Ten D6 schools had grade 1-3 class averages of 25+. Five D6 schools had at least one 1-3 class with 30+. 14 D6 had at least one 4-8 class with 30+. PS 366 had a K class with 28 students. PS 153 had a 1st grade class with 32 students. PS 28 had a 2nd grade class with 31 students. PS 132, a struggling school, had a 3rd grade class with 29 students. The average D6 utilization rate is 94%.  
Thirteen schools are over 100% utilization, including PS/IS 187, which is blocks away from the Mother Cabrini High School, which the DOE handed over to Success Academy.  D6 also has 19 “TCUs” (aka trailers) at 3 schools, not including the “mini buildings” at schools like PS 192/325.  Mott Hall is in a building that is dilapidated and dangerous; it ought to be condemned. So someone please explain to me how our D6 public schools have “space” for charter schools?  Taking space from D6 schools will HARM D6 students.

Hedge Fund supporters
Hedge fund people do not donate to systems that educate the masses; if they did, they would have been donating to public schools all along and/or advocating for increasing taxes on capital gains and investment incomes to levels that would fund public schools at the same levels of private schools.  Why have they not been doing this?  I thought they cared deeply about public school students?  Why do they only donate to charter schools or PACS that advocate vouchers and charters?  They see a business opportunity wrapped in a bogus charitable donation; they are about creating new “markets” and the best way to do this is to engage in "disruption," which is exactly what charters do.  The fact is they see public education as a 700 billion dollar (now 1T?) industry waiting to be privatized; and they need an education "crisis," a private-public "solution" (created by ALEC) and then lobbyists and politicians to pave the way for them.  This is well documented, for example here.  
Just a taste of what they have in store for children in the future: virtual schools. “Baird Equity Research, in a giddy note to investors this year about the potential growth of K12 Inc., noted, “capturing just two million (3.5%) of the addressable market yields a market opportunity of approximately $12 billion … Over the next three years, we believe that the company is capable of 7%+ organic revenue growth with modest margin expansion.” How will it achieve this growth? According to Baird, K12 Inc.’s “competency in lobbying in new states” is “another key point of differentiation.” The analyst note describes “K12’s success in working closely with state policymakers and school districts to enable the expansion of virtual schools into new states or districts” as a key asset. “The company has years of experience in successfully lobbying to get legislation passed to allow virtual schools to operate,” Baird concludes.”

The Independent Budget Office, which is just what its name says, reports that charters get more money per student than public schools. As well, each new charter gets $500K to start up, along with renovations etc.  This new round will cost us a cool 7M just to start.  If we accept that a competition-/market-based model of education is the way to go, and schools should be marketing to and competing for students, then we need an even playing field where public schools can offer the same programs and resources that charters do, with their hedge fund donor-money and extended days.  

 Eva Moskowitz earns 475K per year and according to Wikipedia has 4 assistants.  She runs 22 schools.  The NYC schools Chancellor earns $200K.  Eva also moved her offices to Wall Street recently.  So let's start paying public school teachers and administrators similar salaries and see what happens.  The truth is that Eva is getting paid this much because it is expensive to be the face of the destruction of the public education in the US, which is what she will go down in history as, if we let her do it.

Quality Schools
First, I have to point out that one of the schools included in The Forgotten Fourth report is D6’s Harbor Heights middle school, which is a school for new arrivals to the US.  The research was so sloppy that they did not even eliminate schools where students who just arrived in the US and do not speak English AT ALL attend and - as would be expected - do miserably on the state ENGLISH tests.  It’s also incredibly disrespectful to the educators and students in the school. 

According to CEC1 President, a D1 school for new arrivals was also included in the report.  Ignoring this, but accepting charters’ definition of “success,” if they are doing something unique, why is it not being replicated in public schools? If some children flourish under this model, then we do not need to remove the charter school cap statewide; we can just start doing what charters do.  If it is the longer school day, then lengthen it and pay teachers for their time.  If it is instruction that has been replicated many times over at various charter schools, then teach public school teachers to do it and implement it in magnet public schools to which parents can choose to send their children.  
But the truth is that this is not about implementing successful strategies in a public system to the benefit of all public school students.  It is about privatizing public education in the US and opening up a trillion dollar market to investors.  And the best way to go about this is to make it look like and to help public schools “fail” and that there is a “demand” for charters and thus we should just turn the whole system over to charters.  That’s what today’s rally was about; next is to try to lift the charter cap. 
 And, finally, teacher attrition…
Teacher attrition at Success is stunning.  As noted in this recent article: “In Harlem Success Academies 1-4, the only schools for which the state posted turnover data, more than half of all teachers left the schools ahead of the 2013-14 school year. In one school, three out of four teachers departed.”  The model is clearly unsustainable and obviously not “family-friendly” (which may explain their relatively young and inexperienced teachers and principals), but then again they only have to sustain it long enough to disrupt the system, buy the politicians, pass the legislation and open the market…

Plenty of NYC public schools stink and need very serious attention - don't get me wrong.  The current state of racial, ethnic and social class-based segregation must be addressed.  School funding must be addressed and child poverty must be addressed.  And no we cannot wait to get all of that right before we implement evidence-based education strategies that drive student achievement, like integrated schools and small class sizes (both shown to drive performance).  And if the research shows (using apples to apples comparisons) that some charters use techniques that improve achievement that public schools do not, given the same students, resources and environments, then we should implement the techniques in public schools.  

-- Victoria (Tory) Frye