It's obviously easier than we thought:
Monday, April 30, 2007
Now, we are calling on all parents to boycott the survey, cross out the questions listed, and before sending it back, write “We want real parent input – as well as smaller classes, less testing, and new priorities at Tweed to deal with the real problems in our schools.”
Class size, testing and test prep, the principal’s attitude towards parents, and the functioning of school leadership teams were all key issues for us and the other focus groups whose results we were shown. Despite this fact, none of these issues will have individual questions dedicated to them in survey.
Rather than admit that these are key concerns, the Chancellor responded to our letter that they were merely “one or another of the many hunderds (sic) questions that were proposed.”
Instead of including questions about the issues parents really wanted addressed, there are many that seem designed to put the blame on us, if our children are not receiving a sufficiently individualized education.
In any event, since the parent survey will account for at most only 3-5% of a school’s grade, the results will continue to deny us the ability “to exercise the kind of voice and influence over our schools that every parent, secondary student, and teacher in the City deserves,” as the Chancellor claims. Yet again, this is simply another PR offensive by Tweed, to try to show that they really care about what parents think when the reality is otherwise.
We deserve far better. Parent voices and views have again been stifled– even when it comes to the parent survey itself.
Please, send the survey back corrected – so that Tweed hears how we really feel.
UPDATE: Bloomberg lashes out at parents who criticize survey. See our new post with links to press coverage.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
April 29, 2007 (GBN News): Controversy continues to rage over the NYC Department of Education plan to construct lockers where students can store cell phones and other dangerous weapons outside the school. Parents, teachers, politicians - in fact just about everyone besides Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein - have attempted to convince the DOE to overturn its ban on cell phones in NYC schools. The Mayor and Chancellor have held their ground, blaming cell phones for everything from gang warfare to acne, but the DOE did propose the locker plan as a possible compromise.
While parents and other critics have been skeptical as to whether the locker plan is feasible, the DOE has been enthusiastic about the possibilities. A senior DOE official, speaking on condition of anonymity, spoke to GBN News about the advantages of the plan.
The official told us effusively that the locker plan has “something for everyone”, and will make the schools safer. “For students”, he said, “it’s a place to store items like electronics and drugs, without fear of being caught with them in the school.” He went on to say, “And it will also keep theft out of the schools. Why steal stuff in school, when it will be like a regular shopping mall outside? All they have to do is to watch as kids take out their expensive stuff, decide what they want to purloin, and go for it! And for every theft outside the schools, that’s one less we have to worry about inside.”
The DOE official continued, “Even the wireless phone companies will benefit, when kids need new phones because the old ones got damaged from the cold or dampness outside. And that’s not only good for the economy but the students will be happy too. What kid doesn’t want to get a brand new phone every few weeks?”
When it was suggested that some of the so-called “benefits” could actually increase the risks and costs to the students, the official said, “With this locker plan, dangerous items like cell phones and weapons are taken out of the schools and put back out on the streets where they belong. Let nobody say the schools didn’t get safer on our watch.”
In another move that is certain to be controversial, the DOE is considering requiring teachers as well as students to store their cell phones in the lockers. Mayor Bloomberg has reportedly become concerned about what he views as the similarity between the United Federation of Teachers and the National Rifle Association. The mayor was said to have insisted on extending the plan to teachers because, as he paraphrased the NRA motto, “If outlaws have cell phones, only cell phones will be outlawed”.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
From Lisa Donlan, CEC member from District 1 in Manhattan:
One of the immediate, if relatively minor, consequences of the re-organization has been the suspension of several key parent engagement activities as the DoE tardily contemplates the effect on parents of kicking over the anthill to see what crawls out, once again.
Missing in action are the A-660 (Chancellor’s Regs that govern/define PTAs and Presidents’ Councils) the A-655 (regulations on School and District Leadership Teams), the CEP (Comprehensive Education Plan that is to align school goals with budgets, structures and actions) for each school, and the DCEP (CEP for community districts) to name a few of the casualties.
Each of these documents is in the midst of a major rewrite to accommodate the restructuring, and thus are not accessible for parents to use.
This year the individual school budgets, the first ones under the (watered down) revolutionary new funding scheme will be released in “early May.” CEC’s are to hold public hearings, reporting back parent input by May 31, as the Panel on Educational Policy is to rubber stamp the budget in the June meeting.
The Citywide Education Councils for High Schools and Special Education are based on the current region structure that will disappear on June 30, affecting the formation of the councils as the elections go forward.
In any case, the DoE has refused for three years to follow through on suggestions from parent leaders and elected officials to improve the council election process, legislation that governs the councils, or the training and operations of the councils.
It is clear that while the Mayor and Chancellor are willing to commit enormous energy into making bold new changes to our public education system, their implementation is often sloppy and poorly thought out. Instead of leaving parents limited opportunities for input in the wake of their reforms, the DoE would be wise to include us as partners in the planning and design of changes that affect us, our children and their schools.
I am sure we could contribute much to counter the negative effects of the culture of group think and yes-men that the consultants and lawyers have brought to the policymaking table.
Rob Caloras, the council president in District 26 in northeast Queens, a district known for its excellent schools and high levels of activism by parents, said that only five people were running for the parent council.
“It’s kind of sad,” Mr. Caloras said. “We’ve lost people who were on the council. They went back to the PTA because they feel it’s much more important to be active in their children’s schools than waste their time here.”
In District 27 (Queens) Andrew Baumann was the only candidate to show up at a forum where candidates were to address parents.
“The mayor and the chancellor really don’t want us involved,” said Mr. Baumann, who calls himself a reluctant candidate for a third term. “When you’re running a big corporation, you don’t ask the guys on the loading dock what their opinions are. The way I see it, we’re just pushing a box from one side to the other in a warehouse.”What the article fails to mention is that Chancellor Klein hired accounting firm KPMG to manage the election process. But their poor management was a major factor in the low turnout at the candidate forums. PTA officers eligible to vote and even candidates themselves were not told of the forums until a few days, sometimes hours, before they happened.
Click here for the full article.
Friday, April 27, 2007
While the mayor and city teachers union celebrated several hard-won compromises on school budgeting last week, Queens parents were bemoaning what, for them, has become a bitterly familiar situation by now: not having a seat at the bargaining table...Parent leaders David Quintana (CPAC for District 27) and Marge Kolb (District 24 CEC) are quoted.
Click here to read more.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
To keep its readers informed, GBN News hired a Private Investigator to try to get to the bottom of this enigma. While the trail of the class of 2004 has gone cold, he was able to track down a handful of current students who claim they are attending school but are not being acknowledged by the system. Some of them, along with their parents, graciously allowed our reporter to speak to them.
One student, who like the others spoke to us due to the condition of anonymity, said the past year and a half have been “eerie”. “I’m at school, I go to classes”, she said, “but nobody seems to acknowledge that I’m here. My lunch card won’t swipe, my cell phone didn’t set off the metal detector, and my teachers don’t even call on me when I raise my hand.” Another student complained that while he stars for the school basketball team, his 20 point a game average is not included in the final score, and the team keeps losing. And a student who writes for the school paper said that her byline keeps printing out as “Anonymous”.
A parent of one of the missing students expressed concern that despite all the hard work her son is putting in, he may not be able to officially graduate. However, a DOE spokesperson guaranteed that any and all of the “so called missing students” will receive their diplomas. “Just because a child is not really here”, she said, “doesn’t mean the child won’t graduate.”
When reached later for comment, Schools Chancellor Klein blamed the UFT and “other defenders of the status quo” for raising this as a problem. “They keep harping on the need for smaller classes. Well, if the kids are not really there, they can’t take up class space. Duh! You get smaller classes. Higher graduation rates. Our reforms are working, but those people are never satisfied.” When told of this remark, one of the “missing students” said, appropriately, “No comment.”
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Late breaking news: the NY State Education Department released their graduation rate data for NYC and the rest of the state.
Readers may recall our March 14th post where we reported negotiations where the NYC DoE was insisting that the state report the city's graduation rate at 50% or greater while the state wanted it lower.
Well, low and behold, the number published today is 50%. Somehow, the number for last year's graduation rate, which had been 43.5%, has been revised to 47%!
Click here to get to the state press release and Powerpoint charts.
Several things are strange about the NYC data as reported -- including that the 2002 cohort is lower than in 2000 cohort despite demographic trends to the contrary. Of course, the fewer students entering 9th grade, the fewer diplomas have to be granted to achieve a higher rate.
Update: The morning press reports don't explain why the state decided to revise the rates upward. If anyone knows, leave us a comment.
The President's plane landed in Central Park yesterday, so that George Bush could visit a charter school, the Harlem Village Academy. There, he promoted NCLB, which encourages charter school conversions. Clearly, charter schools are a big part of the Bush education agenda, as well as a top priority for Bloomberg and Klein.
Most charter schools do offer smaller classes, and this tends to be their most attractive aspect for parents and teachers. In the April newsletter put out by the US Dept. of Education, called the Achiever, a charter high school in Chicago is featured at length, including an extended interview with a teacher named Ellen Metz:
"A key factor in running Noble Street productively has been reducing the class size. Metz-whose largest class is 23 students, a stark contrast to her previous school where 45 students filled one class-says the smaller class size enables teachers to give more individualized attention, which is particularly critical in urban schools where a student's needs can be great."
Charter school advocates also argue that their schools lead to improved outcomes throughout the public school system through emulation of their successful practices- including, most notably, smaller classes. Check out this power point from the NY State Charter School Institute.
Yet here in NYC, the same administration that promotes the proliferation of charter schools continues to deny the value of smaller classes in the regular public schools. Moreover, the rush to establish more charter schools in NYC has ironically hampered the ability to reduce class size throughout the system.
As the administration insists on cramming these schools in already existing school buildings, where each one eats up valuable classroom space with new administrative and cluster rooms, it either causes class sizes to grow in the pre-existing public school, or makes it that much more difficult to achieve smaller classes in the future.
The best quote about Bush's visit is in Newsday -- from a parent of a child who attends a regular public school in the same building:
He's only here to help the kids at the charter school; he's not helping my child," Edith Jackson, 37, an unemployed mother of an 11-year-old boy who attends school in the same building that houses the charter school, but doesn't have access to the same amenities. "Get them computers; get them a music teacher, and art," she said.
She said she was also upset that almost none of the parents from her son's school had been invited to hear the president, but that many from the charter school were allowed in.
In a scene reminiscent of the leadership the President demonstrated during 9/11, Mr. Bush spent time reading to some of the children. Unlike that previous episode, there were no annoying interruptions as he read “My Pet Goat” to one of the classes. Mr. Bush did appear to stumble over some of the words, but second grader Stacey Burton gave him a pass. “He tried his best, really”, she said, “but I guess he doesn’t get to read much in that job he has.”
The President repeatedly emphasized the importance of standardized testing under NCLB. In his remarks, he stated, “I said before I was President the most important thing I said in my Presidency. I said, ‘Rarely is the question asked, “Is our children learning?”’ And you know, with all the steak we have in Texas, I know something about rare. And learning can’t be rare, so we test them. I may be the Decider, but I’m also the Tester. And I’ll put the whole country to the test before I’m done. I’m not leaving that to the next President.”
Mr. Bush went on to say, “This is a charter school. We’re talking about school choice here. School choice - that means schools get to choose, right? They’re the Deciders. I mean, I’m the Decider, but so are they. And they can decide to let in the kids that when we test them, they’ll get the highest scores. So the school does well. That means the kids is learning, and that’s a good thing.”
The President and Chancellor also announced a new public/private educational initiative, called the “Summer Work/Study in Iraq Program”. Sponsored jointly by the NY City Department of Education, the City Parks Department, and Halliburton, this will provide a combination summer job and learning experience to select high school students. The program will be provided under a 30 year contract, which Mr. Klein said will guarantee that "Though most of Randall's Island may only be available to private school kids, I can assure you that all of Iraq will be available to our public school children through the year 2037.”
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
On Sunday, the NPR radio show, Infinite Minds, replayed one of Kurt Vonnegut’s last interviews. Vonnegut, who died a few weeks ago at the age of 80, spoke at length on several topics close to my heart, including global warming, turn of the century
“If you were to build or envision a country that you could consider yourself to be a proud citizen of, what would be three of its basic attributes?
Kurt Vonnegut: “Just one: great public schools with classes of 12 or smaller."
Question: “That’s it?”
Kurt Vonnegut: “Yeah….Just do this.”
To hear for yourself, click here.
Monday, April 23, 2007
April 23, 2007 (GBN News): Game developers at Parker Brothers have been working feverishly to keep up with a myriad of new rule changes for their board game “Children First: A Game of Irony”, based on the NY City school system. To keep the game as realistic as possible, the rules already allow the player designated “Chancellor” (similar to the banker in “Monopoly” but more powerful and less trustworthy) to change the rules at any time while the game is in progress. But Parker Brothers has also been trying desperately to put together an up to date set of written rules for players to start the game off with.
Pressure has been so intense to keep up with the constant reorganizations at the DOE that there are reports of increased drug abuse among Parker Brothers creative staff, mostly amphetamines and antipsychotic medications. The difficulties in keeping the board version up to date have even led the company to discount the computer version, which can be updated on line, to encourage people to buy it instead. The price of the computer version had been $80,000,000, about the cost of an ARIS computer system, but can now be pre-ordered for a mere $75,000, the approximate cost of a DOE lounge renovation.
GBN has been attempting to keep our readers abreast of the latest modifications, but this has been virtually impossible, as anyone having anything to do with the city school system already knows. In the last week alone there have been at least two major changes:
• A rule change: If you are a “Principal”, when you pass “Go”, you may collect an extra $25,000, if the Chancellor feels like it, for no apparent reason.
• A new card: The Mayor confuses your “UFT” card with an “NRA” card. Go directly to jail for possession of a “dangerous weapon” - a cell phone.
Further updates as we hear of them - if we feel like it.
Each episode will feature a new and challenging set of tasks, which will test the contestants’ creativity, deviousness and willingness to suck up to the Chancellor. Each contestant will operate within his or her own school, and the goal will be twofold: to convince a majority of that school’s PA or PTA to accept whatever new policy or regulation is being promoted that week, and to undermine opposition to the Chancellor’s plans. Possible tasks will include generating support for the cell phone ban, choosing the Chancellor’s favored Learning Support Organization, and organizing a “spontaneous” parent rally opposing the UFT. Each week, the Chancellor will direct a principal to fire one contestant (hence the new rule), until only the winner remains.
The winner will be given a lucrative consulting job with either Alvarez and Marsal, Edison Schools or New Visions. The losers will become Deputy Chancellors at the DOE.
No Budget Cuts For Two Years
The Chancellor and DoE staffers responsible for the Fair Student Funding proposal have argued that many schools receive too much funding. Fair Student Funding would have cut some budgets while raising others. Despite record city surpluses, DoE was intent on taking these budget actions that many feared would destabilize successful schools -- as Deputy Chancellor Grimm told parents at a District 2 CEC public meeting, "there will be winners and losers". Under last week's agreement, the Mayor guaranteed that no school will have its budget cut in the next two years. For the many schools who would have seen large cuts, this retreat on the part of the administration is important.
Joint Planning for Class Size Reduction
New state law requires the Bloomberg administration to develop a five year plan to reduce class sizes in all grades. Under the agreement, the administration pledged to "work with the UFT, and other stakeholders, such as New Yorkers for Smaller Classes to develop a joint set of recommendations on how best to implement the law". Given the administration's past refusal to reduce class size or to engage anyone on this issue, their statement that they will proceed in cooperation with others represents a change in their public stance and may lead to progress. New Yorkers for Smaller Classes is a coalition chaired by Lillian Rodriguez-Lopez of the Hispanic Federation and includes the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), Class Size Matters, the NAACP, CPAC, ACORN, as well as many other parent and advocacy groups.
Increased Funding for English Language Learners (ELL)
The weighting for ELL students will increase compared to the original Fair Student Funding proposal, resulting in more funding for each student. A reserve fund will be established to ensure sufficient money is available should the new funding methodology leave gaps as it is implemented.
The agreement calls for a committee chaired by the DoE's Chief Family Engagement Officer and comprised of parent groups, to "design improved systems and processes for parent engagement, and specifically, to ensure that every school has a well functioning and well trained School Leadership Team".
Commitment to Engage on Issues
On several other issues -- middle school reform, teacher tenure and student success centers -- the administration pledged to work closely with various relevant advocacy and parent groups, as well as other stakeholders, including the City Council, going forward.
For parents, the agreement is a bit of a mixed bag. There are significant concessions and a welcome willingness on the part of the administration to take input from a wider group of stakeholders. These openings need to be pursued in good faith. At the same time, none of the elected parent organizations mandated by state and city regulations to represent parents were mentioned in the discussion of issues that are tremendously important to parents. The citywide elected parent organizations -- Chancellors Parent Advisory Committee (CPAC), Citywide Council on High Schools (CCHS) and Citywide Council on Special Education (CCSE) -- were clearly not parties to the agreement, nor were the Community Education Councils that represent parents in each of the 32 school districts. Many of these bodies have passed resolutions that address important issues not included in the agreement, for example excessive testing, the poor state of special ed services, the reckless pace of the incessant restructurings, etc. There is clearly much more that needs to be done.
The press release detailing the agreement can be found here.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Two articles about Ric Klass’s book about teaching in a large Bronx HS, “Man Overboard: Confessions of a Novice Math Teacher in the
“He does hold out some hope for schools that spend their money on smaller class sizes. “Given the discipline issues, the teacher will only get their attention when there are about 15 students in the class. Small schools, such as those being promoted by the Gates Foundation, are not the answer; it's smaller class sizes.”
And today’s Education supplement of the NY Times features a review of several teacher memoirs , including Ric’s and another by Dan Brown, a former filmmaker who was assigned to an elementary school in the Bronx, “The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle” to be published in August.
In both, the authors describe their unwieldy class sizes as their most insurmountable challenge. Both fled the public school system and are now teaching in elite NYC private schools where no classes are larger than 15 students.
Ric’s story, in particular, puts the lie to Klein’s claim that we cannot reduce class size because of the shortage of qualified math and science teachers. If we could provide them with smaller classes, more people like Ric – who had all the right credentials, including degrees from MIT and Harvard Business School -- would hang around longer and we’d have a more qualified teaching force. It’s the attrition rate – not the lack of applicants –that doom so many of our students to less effective and experienced teachers.
Here is an excerpt from the review:
Apparently, even those who acknowledge that reducing class size is the key to improving our schools believe it to be a remedy that is “nearly impossible” to achieve, as in the case of the reviewer. This shows that the biggest challenge we face may be changing people’s minds about what is and what is not possible.
Today, the NY Post reports on a Bloomberg administration plan to allow principals to remove PTA leaders for a pattern of "negative behavior". The Post quotes three parents on the proposed policy change:
CPAC Treasurer Suzanne Windland: "The way it's written now, the principal can basically get rid of the entire PTA if he doesn't like them. What's negative behavior? A voice a principal doesn't want to hear? A parent who rants and raves about something he or she finds unsatisfactory? That needs to be extremely clear."
Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters (and blogger here): "No one at DOE should be allowed to determine who parents elect to represent them. Tweed officials or principals are likely to abuse that power and make accusations against parents simply because they are strong leaders."
Monica Ayuso, a PTA president in Queens: "This is saying parents don't have any brains to make their own decisions."
Article is here.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Reports that the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Committee (CPAC) was not invited to participate were apparently untrue, though the Committee was at first reluctant to come to Tweed Courthouse given that recently a number of them were held hostage there by the DOE. According to the Chancellor, the DOE had even tried to have Pupil Transportation Services bring them to the meeting, but unfortunately after they were picked up, Transportation Chief Donald Rumsfeld loaned their buses to the Defense Department for troop transport. Chancellor Klein said that CPAC’s participation will most certainly be welcome, just as soon as they complete their tour of duty in Iraq.
The Chancellor began the meeting by apologizing for the accommodations. He indicated that he would have held it in a new lounge that the DOE is renovating, but logistical difficulties had slowed the construction. However, a buffet lunch consisting of a variety of cuts of meats and budgets was catered by Alvarez and Marsal.
Participants were then seemingly taken aback when the Chancellor started the meeting by suggesting that everyone join him in playing the game, “Children First: A Game of Irony”. The Parker Brothers game, similar to Monopoly, pits stakeholders against each other to try and win enough “test points” to control the City school system. The participants were clearly skeptical about this idea, especially given that the rules of the game give the Chancellor the right to change those rules during the game, and the Mayor the right to declare himself the “winner”. However, they had all heard reports that the Chancellor takes this game seriously, and that some people have won actual buildings from him playing this game. They decided that even the remote possibility of gaining something from this would warrant going along with the idea.
The players competed for most of the day, and surprisingly, neither the Chancellor nor the Mayor have as yet invoked their right to change the rules or declare the outcome. However, the game had to be adjourned, as no winner had yet been established. Many of the people at the table were still concerned that the outcome was pre-ordained and that they were being “hustled” by the Mayor and Chancellor. And skepticism persisted as to the fate of CPAC and other stakeholder groups. Yet the “deal” was struck, and they agreed to continue holding meetings and will play the game until the outcome is resolved.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
The contents of the deal are unclear to me from the articles. While Mayor Bloomberg now appears to promise that no school will lose money, the content of that promise may be empty. It seems to me -- that a key element of the Bloomberg-Klein reorganization -- that funding follow each child, is left in place. If so, as I see it, staffing at school will become somewhat more unstable as principals will have a budget motive to shed senior teachers. I am somewhat alarmed at the apparent exclusion of CPAC from the bargaining. What is the story here?
Thursday's New York Daily News is reporting a bargaining session between the Department of Education on the one hand and the United Federation of Teachers and parents on the other. The link is here. Does anyone know more about this?
Update: NY1 coverage of the joint press conference here.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
We also have links to well-researched and thoughtful letters of concern from two councilmembers, Dan Garodnick and Gale Brewer of Manhattan. Click here and here to read them. Both letters make the obvious point that the unnecessary rush to implement these changes and the lack of input from stakeholders makes little sense.
In this chart just now provided to us by DoE staffers, each SSO option is defined along with pricing to be charged each school for the services provided.
There are three types of SSO:
1) Empowerment Support Organization (ESO): schools choosing this option will join other schools in a network and choose how to receive support
2) Learning Support Organization (LSO): four organizations to be led by former regional superintendents
3) Partnership Support Organization (PSO): non-profit groups under contract to provide services
We also have a list of entities that applied to become a PSO. Those that were accepted are noted. Princeton Review, St. John's University and a unit of New York University were not accepted, nor were any for-profit entities who applied. We note that the NYU entity is headed by Pedro Noguera, one of the more outspoken critics of the Bloomberg education policy in the academic community.
Principals will learn more at an April 23rd briefing and have until May 15th to decide which SSO to choose. Parents will be invited to "borough fairs" to learn more. The press release does not specify dates for these events.
UPDATE: Principals' Guide to School Support Organizations has been released by the DoE. Click here.
Recently, more CECs (community school boards) and Presidents Councils (comprised of PTA presidents) have passed resolutions of opposition. Below is an updated list with links to resolutions where available:
District 1 Community Education Council (Manhattan) click hereMany PTAs have also passed resolutions, including those at PS 3, PS 41 here, PS 116, PS 150, PS 290, Clinton Middle School, School of the Future (D2), PS 166 (D3), Middle School 210 (D27), and the following high schools: Manhattan Center for Science and Math, Stuyvesant, James Madison and Port Richmond.
District 1 Presidents Council (Manhattan)
District 2 Community Education Council (Manhattan) click here
District 2 Presidents Council (Manhattan)
District 3 Presidents Council (Manhattan)
District 4 Presidents Council (Manhattan)
District 6 Community Education Council (Manhattan)
District 24 Community Education Council (Queens) click here
District 26 Community Education Council (Queens) click here
District 27 Presidents Council (Queens)
District 30 Community Education Council (Queens) click here
District 30 Presidents Council (Queens) - the first to act
Region 6 HS Presidents Council (Brooklyn)
These bodies represent parents across the city:
Citywide Council on Special Education click here
Citywide Council on High Schools click here
Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council click here
If parents know of other PTAs, CECs or parent groups that have passed resolutions or are considering them, please leave a comment below or send us an email.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
In a series of articles in the NY Metro, investigative reporter Patrick Arden has explored Mayor Bloomberg's controversial plans to reclaim toxic sites to build schools. As Arden explains, the plans will not result in a complete clean-up. Instead, complex engineering systems will be required to continuously vent toxic fumes out of contaminated soils and away from children and teachers. One problem is that the Mayor's administration refuses to provide any plan for long term monitoring of these systems. In today's article, Arden quotes two Pace University scientists:
The local community board has opposed the construction plans.
Schlesinger and Cervino noted the ventilation system would have a monitor to ensure it was working. They asked if another monitor could be installed to detect levels of specific chemicals being released from the site.“Even if the controls are working, we still want a monitor in that school,” Cervino said. “We asked, ‘If it’s not about the money, why wouldn’t you do it?’ They said, ‘Because we’re doing everything within the law.’
In the Bronx, parents and community leaders exasperated with the Administration's refusal to provide a monitoring plan for the Mott Haven schools site have filed a lawsuit. See Metro coverage here and Post here. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott blasted these concerned parents, calling their actions "unconscionable". Oddly enough, we didn't hear a peep from Walcott when the Daily News reported how School Construction Authority bigwigs had diverted school repair funds into a well-appointed lounge for themselves.
Monday, April 16, 2007
GBN News investigative reporters have discovered that the DOE has secretly drawn on the vast experience of Pupil Transportation chief Donald Rumsfeld, the former Defense Secretary, who has provided many of the political and business connections needed for this endeavor. Rumsfeld’s close relationship with Vice President Dick Cheney was said to be particularly helpful. Cheney reportedly offered use of his “undisclosed location” as a site for much of the planning and pre-construction activities.
The Vice President also apparently helped smooth some ruffled feathers at Halliburton, a company that is expected to provide much of the “heavy lifting” to transport interior equipment and furnishings to the building site. Engaging Halliburton was particularly sensitive, given that the company recently lost its Iraq reconstruction contract to Alvarez and Marsal, DOE consultants who are the new owners of the building that the DOE is renovating, and who plan to use it as an executive clubhouse.
Other individuals and organizations who are said to be assisting in the secret building planning and renovation are: The CIA (still apparently hoping to lure Chancellor Klein away from the DOE to become its Director); The Emir of Dubai (future headquarters of Halliburton); and deceased Enron Chairmen Ken Lay.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
A recent Daily News report that the NY City Department of Education is using school repair money to build a $38,000 luxury lounge facility may be just the tip of the iceberg. According to a source inside the DOE, the consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal (A&M), has decided to close the Division of School Facilities and will then take over its Long Island City headquarters. The Division is responsible for school repair and maintenance, but A&M has determined that repairing schools is not cost effective. It is far cheaper, they decided, to simply close down those schools which are in need of repair, and to put their students into “small schools” within the remaining school buildings that do not have repair or maintenance problems. The Facilities Division will thus become superfluous, and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has agreed to sell its building to A&M for the price of $1.
Apparently, the lounge that was the subject of the news report is only the beginning of a complete luxury renovation of the former Facilities headquarters building. The building is to become a sort of private “clubhouse” where A&M executives and those of DOE partners such as Edison Schools and New Visions can relax and decompress after a hard day of plundering the city school system. The cost of the renovation, which will be borne by the DOE, is to be defrayed in part by applying the $1 price that A&M will pay for the building.
This entire plan has been a closely guarded secret, but, according to the DOE source, there is more to the secrecy than meets the eye. There has reportedly been growing concern among DOE staffers as to the Chancellor’s state of mind since he reportedly became addicted to playing the new monopoly-like game, “Children First: A Game of Irony”, and these staffers have become convinced that the Chancellor has been confusing the game with reality. Blaming an “overzealous” aide for the recent ill-advised sale of a historic school building may, according to this view, have been simply a way to cover up the Chancellor’s own misconception that this sale was part of the game. It is unclear whether the decision to renovate and sell the Facilities Division building represents a similar circumstance, but speculation is that A&M Co-Chairman Bryan Marsal may have actually “acquired” the building from the Chancellor playing “Children First”.
In other education news, Chancellor Klein was said to be so pleased with the success of his appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as School Transportation chief, that he is looking to employ other notables with a proven track record in public relations. For example, Mr. Klein has reportedly offered an unspecified position to recently fired radio “Shock Jock” Don Imus. However, Mr. Imus spurned the offer, saying that the DOE was “just too controversial”.
April 14, 2007 (GBN Sports): In what was certainly one of the more unusual games in sports history, Horace Mann bested Curtis High School 6-5 Saturday to win the first annual Mayors’ Cup Tournament in Girls’ Lacrosse. The site of the match was Randalls’ Island, which has been the focus of a great deal of controversy between the City and numerous citizen groups over use of the island’s ball fields. Under a recent deal, a consortium of private schools has exclusive rights to newly renovated fields, which will encompass a majority of the island’s sports complex. PSAL officials running the tournament had not anticipated that a public school might meet a private school in the finals, and were unable to obtain permission on such short notice to allow the Curtis team, from a public high school, onto a restricted field to play Horace Mann.
This dilemma was dealt with in an unusual and creative way. Each team played alone on a separate field; Horace Mann on the main field featuring Astroturf and an electronic scoreboard, Curtis on a dusty “public” field. Each team would play, by itself, only whenever they got possession of the ball, and when they lost possession they would then stand and wait until they received a message that the other team on its own field had turned the ball back over to them. Since the fields were not within sight of each other, communication posed a particular challenge. The original plan was to use cell phones to signal each turnover, but Chancellor Joel Klein, under pressure from Mayor Bloomberg, refused to allow the public school students to possess cell phones on their field. Fortunately, a track meet was taking place in adjoining Icahn Stadium, and some of the fastest runners were persuaded to take messages back and forth between the fields.
Despite the disadvantage of Curtis playing on an inferior field, the lead swung back and forth until the final minute when Horace Mann pulled ahead for good. It was speculated that Curtis, as a DOE school, was more accustomed to bizarre circumstances, and they were thus able to adapt and stay competitive until the end.
Note from Gary Babad (seriously): There actually was a Mayors’ Cup Girls’ Lacrosse tournament on Randalls’ Island Saturday, and both public and private schools participated (on the same fields). I was there to watch my daughter play for the Cardozo team, and was privileged to watch some wonderful games, including the final in which Horace Mann did indeed top Curtis 6-5 in a thrilling last minute finish. It was a great day! Congratulations to the winners, and in fact to all of the young women, from public and private schools, who competed with such great enthusiasm, skill and sportsmanship.
It did occur to me, though, as I watched some of the games on a dusty side field, and others including the final on a beautiful new Astroturf field, that while the above scenario hasn’t happened yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if something like it did. One thing we can count on: once the city-funded renovations take place, the best fields will not be the ones that our public school kids will be using most of the time.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Enough is enough! Listen to parents. These are our demands:
• Provide smaller classes and a better capital plan to eliminate overcrowding.
• Restore arts funding and reduce testing.
• Include real input from parents and other stakeholders at the school level and system-wide before important decisions are made.
• Invest more resources in our children and the classroom, and waste less on expensive bureaucrats, consultants and no-bid contracts at Tweed.
• Stop the privatization and outsourcing of critical education services.
• Finally, no budget cuts to any school. Every one of our public schools is under-funded. With more than $1 billion in additional education spending and record city surpluses, there is no reason for any school to have its funding cut next year.
Click here to read the full text and sign the petition. It only takes a few seconds. And don't forget to forward to a friend.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Below is an email from an intermediary organization that receives funding from DOE, sent to principals and teaching mentors, after being asked to sign onto the letter of support that Mayor Bloomberg released on Monday.
The letter was signed by 100 individuals, representing groups ranging from small afterschool programs to the The DOE email which follows calls the signers "
The DOE email which follows calls the signers "the Department's partners and friends."
It is interesting that this particular organization, whose name is removed, asked for input from principals as to whether they believed that their schools and/or network might be punished if they did not sign on – and specifically requested feedback by phone or from a non-DOE email account, as though worried that Tweed might actually monitor their communications.
It would be interesting to know if officials at
Take note that the actual pros and cons of the proposals were never mentioned – no less whether these changes might really be in the interests of “the people who matter most: Our children” as the DOE letter claims.
Here is more evidence of the way in which the bullying tactics of the administration are viewed by educators on the ground. So much for the supposedly independent groundswell of support.
Dear principals and mentors,
We received this letter on Tuesday asking for [our group] to sign on. So far, we were told by one intermediary (who is NOT signing) that there was an earlier version which explicitly criticized politicians and the teachers union and that after pushback, it was revised to this version.We are asking for your input….(phone or non-doe email is best)…
What cost and/or benefit to your school (and our network of schools) do you foresee if we do or do NOT sign this letter?
We are also reaching out to other intermediaries to gauge their response.
From: Marcus Debbie [mailto:DMarcus6@schools.nyc.gov]
Below is a public letter than many of the Department's partners and friends are signing. We have a long list of signatories already. Would you consider signing on to this public letter of support on behalf of xxxxxx [your group]? It would be great to have you.
Dear New Yorkers,
Until Mayor Bloomberg took charge of the city's schools, student performance had been all but stagnant for decades. Now, because of the first phase of the Children First school reforms the Mayor and the Chancellor have enacted,
Students' progress in reading and math is now outpacing gains in the rest of
But our schools are still not serving all
For the sake of our children, we need to act. And we need to act now. If we don't take the smart next steps the Bloomberg administration has outlined, we risk failing the children of
The reforms make sense. Schools need the authority and the resources to build the right educational program for every child, and to ensure that they're getting the job done, they must be held accountable for their students' academic success in all subject areas from math and reading to the arts and science. Schools also must be funded fairly.
Our students and their families, indeed all New Yorkers, deserve the kind of schools and the kind of school system that our Mayor and our Chancellor are creating. We can't put special interests ahead of the interests of children. This Mayor has it right-we need to put our students' interests first. We urge all New Yorkers to join together to support these reform efforts. These reforms have real promise and will make schools better for the people who matter most: Our children.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
I don't even know how to react to this latest slap in the face. I am amazed that I am suddenly a "special interest group". Well I am a parent who has an interest in seeing that the children get what they need and deserve and that parents have a voice in the process, so I guess that is a special interest.
It astounds me that after the Mayor and Chancellor took their dog and pony show all over town trying to drum up support for this new plan and received only concerns and jeers, from parents, teachers and community people that they would pull this blatant attempt and making it appear that support is there when it isn't. If I heard from one person that they thought this was a good idea, I might be willing to rethink my position. If I heard from one parent over the last five years that thought the first reorganization was good for their children or for them, I might rethink my position, but the opposite is exactly what I have heard, over and over again.
I have even spoken to teachers and administrators (who for fear of repercussions will not speak out) that the first reorganization was bad enough, but this one would be a disaster. An end to the system. To the people who lined up behind the Mayor, for what ever their "special" reason. Shame. They are pandering in order to gain jobs, or contributions or just because they consider him a friend.
Well as a parent, and a volunteer for over 20 years, I have seen plans come and go, and I will certainly admit that we did need some changes five years ago, but not what we got. There were inequities that had to be corrected in many areas, but what we wanted was a quality education for each child. We are still not getting that, instead we got a giant overpriced bureaucracy. Now they want to make it worse and keep attacking us because we want a voice. A real voice, not an hour of speechmaking and telling us how we are wrong.
I am asking every parent member in my Presidents Council to call their representatives today and tell them that they expect them to stand up for our parents and children in this latest insult and tell the Mayor he cannot buy or bully his way when it comes to our children.
On Monday, Mayor Bloomberg held a press conference where he castigated critics of his risky restructuring and funding proposals, calling them "a small chorus of people who are calling for a return to the good old days", who represent "special interests," like the National Rifle Association.
"You always do have the problem of a very small group of people who are single-issue focused having a disproportionate percentage of power," he said. "That's exactly the NRA."
Others might think, on the other hand, that it is he and the Chancellor -- a very small group with almost dictatorial powers over our schools -- who are the real problem.
Given the fact that among the many critics of their proposals are parents legitimately concerned about what these funding cuts might mean for their children, in terms of the loss of experienced teachers, class size, or essential services, I don't know how he can call us "special interests."
For an excellent critique of these funding proposals, and how they treat public education differently from all other municipal services, see this discussion from the Educational Priorities Panel.
Can you imagine if the city funded firehouses or police stations based not on the actual salaries of the employees, but on average salaries citywide – essentially forcing police captains to try get rid of their most experienced officers?
The attitude reflected here – seeing teachers as disposable resources -- goes against everything that the administration pretends to say about respecting them and honoring their profession.
"We want smaller classes, we want more arts funding, we want less testing, we want more input from real stakeholders on the ground....We have been asking for real changes for six years and they have kept their ears shut to us."
In fact, many of us have been calling for real change in our schools long before Bloomberg even thought of running for Mayor, and Joel Klein was still a prosecutor living in DC.
On the other hand, the Mayor surrounded himself yesterday with people who had signed onto a letter of support - with none representing either parent or mainstream education groups. Most of the organizations represented had financial interests with DOE or had received funding from the city or Bloomberg's own charitable donations.
Several had applied to be a partnership support organizations. Many of the news articles, including the NY Sun and the NY Post, pointed out how many of these organizations were dependent on
What was not pointed out, though, is how many had been the recipients of large no-bid contracts from DOE.
Last spring, CityYear (which contributed not one, but two signers to the letter) received a five year, no-bid contract for $11 million through 2012, “to help children learn to read, encourage children to stay in school and to care about their communities.” (The sixth year, and more millions of dollars, are to be contingent on follow-up questions “to be asked of CityYear.”)
Or what about the New Teacher Project, whose director also signed onto the letter of support? Last April, Tweed officials submitted a two year, $2.2 million no-bid contract for the Project, based at the
So the contract was re-submitted for even more money in May, and this time was approved, for $2.8 million! There's accountability for you.
And parents are the special interests, according to the Mayor!
In any case, the fact that the administration asked its contractors to sign onto such a letter shows how isolated and desperate they have become, to resort to an ethical and PR blunder almost as bad as New Visions asking their grantees for kickbacks.
Monday, April 9, 2007
Sunday, April 8, 2007
We know that the leading claims of the DOE about having made "historic gains" in reading and math on state tests are not actually true (the city did not gain 19 points in math since the Children First reforms began, but 4 points; and it did not gain 12 points in reading, but 6).
But I began to wonder about other subjects. In May 2005, it was reported in all the city's newspapers that 81% of eighth graders failed to meet state standards in social studies, a decline of nearly 20 percentage points since 2002. While 18.6% of NYC eighth-graders met the state standards, 43.8% statewide met them.
I decided to review the NAEP science scores for 2005, which were released last fall. I remembered that
The city not only was significantly behind the national average, but significantly behind the average for central city districts in science. This is the first time that this has ever happened.
Thus, NYC can boast a relatively small achievement gap between white and black students in eighth grade, because white scores are lower than in almost any other city tested. To show you how ridiculous this measure is, the city with the smallest 8th grade achievement gap between white and black students was
Bottom line: only a small minority of our middle-school students know any science.
Here are the websites for NAEP science, 4th grade and 8th grade.