Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chancellor threatens principals for poor survey response

Word is the response rate on the parent survey is so low that DOE will extend the deadline once again. They are now openly threatening principals that if they don't get parents to return them in greater numbers this may count against their schools in their grades, which in turn could put their jobs at risk. In turn, principals are begging parents to fill in their surveys and send them back.

Here’s part of a desperate email that went out to parents at one school today:

“Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has informed all principals that the surveys "are so vital that I have instructed the Office of Accountability to count low response rates in a school's Progress Reports".

Tweed puts together a lousy survey, they have almost no communication skills, they do little outreach except a terrible ad, they have alienated parents for six years and continue to ignore our views about the changes we'd like made in our schools – so now they will punish our principals for a low response rate?

Where's the accountability? When are the Chancellor and his inner circle going to recognize that it's not adult to blame everyone else for their own mistakes?

I bet if they had asked about issues that parents care about -- class size , testing, and the quality of leadership at the top, while offering just a hint of evidence that they actually care about what we think, rather than simply engaging in yet another empty exercise in PR, a lot more of us would have bothered to complete the surveys and send them back.

Big Joel is Watching

May 31, 2007 (GBN News): The NY City Department of Education announced today what Chancellor Joel Klein called a “revolutionary new testing program”. Saying that the previous program, “Perpetual Testing”, was a “vestige of the past”, the Chancellor touted the new plan, which is to be termed, “Total Testing”. The program will make use of a new IBM supercomputer called ARIS II. Mr. Klein said that ARIS II is so powerful that it beat the original ARIS a thousand straight times in both chess and backgammon. Calling ARIS a “dinosaur” which has “long been in need of replacement”, the Chancellor said that the DOE has been working day and night with IBM to develop the new computer, for which the Department will pay $180,000,000.

Chancellor Klein criticized the old “Perpetual Testing” program, which had not yet been implemented, saying that its scope was limited to the school day. While “Perpetual Testing” would have tested virtually every aspect of the school day, with “Total Testing”, students will carry a computer chip, linked to ARIS II, which will constantly monitor their progress both in and out of school. This way, the Chancellor said, even homework can be evaluated as it is done, and teachers can sit in the comfort of their own homes in the evening and monitor their students’ progress in “real time”.

Critics immediately branded the “Total Testing” program “Totalitarian Testing”, but Mr. Klein dismissed the criticism as coming from “the usual defenders of the status quo”. He also ridiculed rumors that the computer chips will be implanted in children’s heads. Saying that the DOE would never do anything that intrusive, the Chancellor said that children will instead wear the chips on hospital type bracelets, which will be cut off upon graduation.

In a related story, after nearly 120 years in the game business, Parker Brothers had to close its doors today after its entire game development staff was institutionalized due to the stress of keeping the game “Children First: A Game of Irony” up to date. The game, based on the NY City school system, has been wildly popular, but the changes at the DOE were just too much for the developers to keep up with. Upon hearing of their fate, IBM immediately offered jobs to the entire Parker Brothers staff to work on the development of its “next generation” computer, ARIS III, which is slated to be ready for use by the DOE by the beginning of summer school. The DOE Public Relations department is rumored to already be preparing the Chancellor’s statement blasting the “outdated” ARIS II computer and its associated “Total Testing” program.

more testing=more learning, according to the Chancellor

As our blog discussed more than a week ago, DOE announced that McGraw Hill will provide the new periodic assessments -- the same company that came up with the infamous Brownie the Cow.

According to the DOE, schools must give five assessments per year in grades 3-8 and four in High School in ELA and Math. More subjects will come later.

These tests will cost $80 million over five years and are separate from the state tests that are already required in grades 3-8. This, plus the cost of the ARIS supercomputer (another $80 million) could have paid for a whole lot of smaller classes. According to the New York Times,

“…few major cities administer standardized tests as frequently as five times a year, several education experts said, and the move instantly drew criticism from the array of groups that have mobilized against the growing reliance on standardized tests that has accompanied the No Child Left Behind law.

It’s certainly more than any other city than I know of,” said Monty Neill, an executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing in Boston, which is skeptical of standardized testing. “We’ve reduced schooling to preparing for bubble tests.”

Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in an interview that many teachers say they already spend at least one day a week preparing for standardized tests. “Our issue is, how much teaching time is this eating up?” she said. “You’re spending a lot of time doing test prep and doing paperwork associated with test prep instead of teaching.”

What’s the justification?

“I don’t think it means more pressure,” Mr. Klein said. “I think it means more learning.”

When did more testing become more learning? In the jargon of the Accountability office, more test results supposedly allows for more “differentiated” instruction “ which will lead to more learning.

Yet the smaller classes that would really make individualized instruction more possible are not considered. Instead, DOE has omitted the crucial step of improving classroom conditions – because mandating more testing will somehow substitute for everything else.

Apparently DOE could find only one principal in support of the new assessments: Elmer Myers, of PS/MS 194 in the Bronx. He is quoted in both the Daily News and NY1.

"This gives much more specificity from what I've seen for far, than what we've had in the past,” said Elmer Myers, a Bronx school principal. “We'll be able to take that information, sit down as a professional development team, and design ways we can improve instruction in a classroom."

According to Insideschools, Meyers is a new principal this year. The school’s report card shows that 14% of the students at PS/IS 89 are black, 64% Hispanic, 17% Asian, and 93% are eligible for free lunch.

According to the DOE, class sizes at the school range from 24.6 students in Kindergarten to 31.7 students per class in 4th grade. Sixth to eighth grade classes range from 27.4 to 29.8 students, with each middle school teacher usually responsible for five classes.

That means every middle school teacher has about 150 students, with charts to be analyzed for each class in different eye-glazing, color-coded categories five times a year. (See p.19 of this pdf file for an example of a class of only 17 students.)

Then, the revealed weaknesses of each of these 150 students will somehow addressed – that is, if the results are meaningful at all, which they won’t be, according to many testing experts and the record of the previous version from Princeton Review. And, of course, this will also depends on there being sufficient time in class to do so, along with all that test-taking.

Good luck to Mr. Myers, his teachers and most of all, the students at this school.

(For more information on the periodic assessments, see the DOE website here.)

The real priorities of this administration are now clear

from Dorothy Giglio, long-time parent leader and President of Region 6, High School Presidents Council:

I have just received my 3rd or 4th robo call about turning in the parent survey. I lost count. If they put that much effort into advising principals that their School Leadership Team has to have consensus, or that Parent Associations have to be part of the school budget decisions, then maybe the system would be working without parents constantly on the offensive. I would even be pleased if they sent out that many notices to attend parent-teacher conferences.

Well we know where the priorities are. Between the $ 80 million dollars going to the interim assessments, and another $80 million for the supercomputer ARIS, with top level salaries totaling in the millions, and who knows what other wasteful contracts there are, we can now see where the Campaign for Fiscal Equity money will go. We fought so hard and yet I predicted that if the state did not put rules on the use of these funds this would happen -- and sadly once again I was correct.

Instead, the money could put toward more Art, Music, Drama, Science (not just test prep but real learning) ; a really solid enrichment program (as we had in my district until the regions took over) which includes off site visits to museums, with classroom instruction before and after.

This type of enrichment could have been expanded to more children. Also, the creation of some programs for those kids that will never be able to get a Regents diploma and have no desire to go to college -- so they can use the talents they do have and get a diploma, instead of becoming a drop out statistic (or non-statistic with all the manipulation of the data.) They could get some form of job training that can afford them real opportunities in life thus building a real future for them.

I will say, however, on behalf of lower class size, I have had three sons go through the system. The youngest is a junior in high school; the other two have graduated college and in every, every instance when they were lucky enough to have a class of 25 or less, especially in Junior High school or high school, they did extraordinarily better than when their classes were 30 or more.

Even in college, my older ones have said that they did so much better in college because they had classes of 10. Teachers can get to know their students, their strengths and weaknesses. Students can build a rapport with the teacher. More than any other single change, lowering the class sizes, notwithstanding a good teacher, a mediocre teacher, a new teacher, a seasoned teacher, would raise the level of education for each child.

Monday, May 28, 2007

"Revolutionary" changes to alternative schools?

In a move called "revolutionary", Tweed announced the closing of two types of alternative schools. The first are the "P-Schools," schools for pregnant girls established in the 1960's. Eliminating these schools, which had been criticized for years as being unnecessarily stigmatizing and not providing the credits needed to graduate, was far from "revolutionary" -- instead it was long overdue.

In 2000, a NYCLU letter complained that pregnant girls were often illegally forced to transfer to these schools, which offered a substandard education. In 2003, Comptroller Thompson released a report revealing that only a small fraction of teenage mothers and pregnant girls in NYC received the necessary services to help them remain in school -- including child care.

Beth Fertig of WNYC did an expose of the pregnancy schools in 2004 -- and still nothing was done to improve or eliminate them. Even now, as pointed out by the NYCLU, there is little in the DOE press release about the closing of these schools about what will be offered in their place:

"The plan to close the 'pregnancy schools' must be accompanied by an aggressive strategy to change the culture hostile to pregnant and parenting students -- and a comprehensive plan to build active support systems that will help them stay in or return to regular schools. "

The other type of alternative schools to be phased out are the "New Beginning" centers, where high school students with a history of minor behavior problems or uneven attendance were often transferred. Of course, all of these programs were a godsend to high schools that wanted to get off their rolls any students considered marginal or troublesome.

Unnoticed in any of the articles reporting their elimination was that these centers were first established with great fanfare only four years before. Here is an excerpt from a 2003 press release from the Mayor's office:

The New Beginnings Centers enable the Department of Education to remove these students from the classrooms that they disrupt so that other students may learn there. Once removed, the students are placed in classrooms under the close supervision of an instructor using a specially-designed standards-based curriculum that allows students to earn credits towards Regents exams. Students are also provided with integrated guidance and supportive services.

A 2004 New York Times article featured an interview with Chancellor Klein, bragging about this particular reform:

Mr. Klein...praised the New Beginnings centers, 16 mini-schools for disruptive (but not extremely violent) high school students. The high schools that send students to the centers say they are also pleased with the program. As a result, four more centers are being created this spring. But some New Beginnings staff members say the program, like much else about the overhauled school system, is still getting its footing. Some sites have been sent students they are unprepared to handle, like violent or special education students.

Only this administration would claim "revolutionary" credit for getting rid of a failed program that had been created under its leadership, as well as schools for pregnant girls which lasted far longer than could be justified.

Still remaining, unfortunately, are the SOS suspension centers that the DOE has placed in the basements of community or drug treatment clinics, which provide little in the way of either education and/or counseling. The continued existence of the SOS schools continues to be a major scandal waiting to be told.

(For more on the dreadful legacy of the Pregnancy schools, see the 2006 NYCLU testimony to the Citywide Council on High Schools here.)

Controversy Over Bloomberg Survey For Public School Parents Continues

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum has sent a letter to Chancellor Joel Klein, asking him to reverse the decision to exclude special education parents from the parent survey. The widely-publicized survey was sent to all parents except those with children in District 75, the city-wide district comprised of schools dedicated to children with special needs. Here is an excerpt from Gotbaum's letter:
I urge you to rethink the decision to exclude parents of students with disabilities from the parent survey.

Furthermore, the justification for this exclusion, that District 75 students are "too unusual," attributed to school officials in recent published reports, is invalid and offensive. Parents of students in District 75 would be more than happy to participate in this survey and again in a survey specific to them next year.

Not only is the DOE excluding the parents of District 75 students from the survey, the DOE is also muffling the voices of all students with disabilities and their families.

The letter also points out the many other problems with special education under this administration: lengthy delays in referrals and providing necessary services resulting from the elimination of relevant staff in the district offices, hiring attorneys to contest parents in expensive and lengthy hearings , overstuffing classes so they exceed the size mandated by state law, and excluding special needs students from the new small schools for the first two years of their existence.

here to see the full text of the letter and here for our earlier post about the controversy over the parent survey.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


May 27, 2007 (Gadfly News): In a stealth announcement, the NY City Department of Education today released the news that it will be eliminating the position of principal in all of its schools by the start of the 2007-2008 school year. Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, weekending in an undisclosed location in East Hampton, released the announcement in Dan's Papers, a Hamptons-based give-away publication. Reached on his beach cell phone by this reporter, Chancellor Klein elaborated on the decision. "In every single one of our schools, principals draw the highest salaries. Eliminating those salaries will allow us to get the funds directly back into the classroom where the money belongs. It's a clear, simple business strategy: cut out the middle man."

How exactly will this new plan work? As Chancellor Klein explained, teachers will be able to choose from a menu of Supervision Support Organizations. "Some," he said, "called Big Bucks Supervision Organizations (BBSOs), will be funded entirely by Bill Gates. We're in discussion with him about that right now. Another option, which we're calling Throw Them A Bone Supervision Organizations (TTABSOs), might be offered by former principals. Some of our exiting principals might want to take advantage of the Memorial Day holiday to throw together a plan and submit it to us first thing Tuesday morning. And the third choice on the menu will be our Up The Creek Without A Paddle option (UTCWAP). Those teachers who opt to go the UTCWAP route can choose their Supervision Supports a la carte."

Asked whether teachers would have the time or resources to to make sense of the acronyms, much less the options they represent, Chancellor Klein counseled the teachers, "Not to worry. The new options wil be explained on a DVD that we're making available tomorrow, Memorial Day. Teachers can come on down to Tweed on their day off, and the people we have covering for us are going to make it kind of fun for them. They're putting out platters of sugar wafers and there'll be free-flowing coffee and tea."

Chancellor Klein made clear that cookies and caffeine would not be the only pluses for teachers interested in picking up the DVD. "We snagged Spike Lee for the project," he confided. "He had a role in the DVD we did for our last reorganization. This time, we shot him courtside at a Knicks game, which adds to the fun. I don't want to reveal too much, but we know our teachers are really going to enjoy this."

As for the timeline for this latest reorganization, Chancellor Klein said that the DOE is urging teachers to pick up the DVD sooner rather than later. "Teachers will need to decide which Supervision Support Organization they're going to go with. And the deadline for that decision will be Wednesday morning."

Asked if there was any significance to the timing of the news release, on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, with schools not in session, staffs and families away, and education stringers unlikely to be alert to such an important press notice, Chancellor Klein demurred. "No significance, none at all. We made the decision, we want to get it out there. Oh! There's Spike now! Down at the Main Beach snack bar! All this talk about menus has made me hungry! Gotta run!"

Chancellor Klein did not specify what, if any, arrangement would be made with the departing principals. Because of the holiday, Ernest Logan, president of the principals' union, was not available for comment.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

DOE Hires Pitchman (and Batsman)

May 26, 2007 (GBN News): The NY City Department of Education announced today that Yankee first baseman Josh Phelps and Met pitcher John Maine will be among twelve new people permanently hired for the DOE publicity department. Phelps, 29, has been frustrated by the Yankees’ poor start and the fact that Doug Mientkiewicz has received most of the playing time at first base. It was felt that he and Maine, 26, who started off well but has struggled of late, would benefit from the change of scenery.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein was said to be pleased with the recent public service announcement made by the two players, an ad designed to persuade people to fill out school survey forms, which have been coming in at a slow pace. In the ad (see text below), entitled, “Just Take It”, Maine and Phelps are heard exhorting parents, teachers and children to “Just get it”, “just take it”, and “just end it”, and the two emphasize that being “busy” is no reason for failure to complete the form. The Chancellor liked their “no excuses” approach, and noted that Phelps in particular, having worked for George Steinbrenner, should have no trouble adjusting to the culture of the DOE.

In a clarification, Maine denied that in saying “just end it” to Phelps, he was referring to the Yankees’ season.

Full disclosure: GBN News owner and Chief Executive Gary Babad is also competing for one of the DOE publicity positions. He pointed out that he is willing to do the job for $150,000 a year, far less than the millions remaining on Phelps’ and Maine’s contracts. However, he did indicate that he might be open to a platoon situation whereby he would alternate ad spots with Maine and Phelps.

Full text of the DOE ad: (Yes, this is an actual DOE announcement you can hear on radio)

“Just Take It”

Josh Phelps: I'm Josh Phelps from the New York Yankees.

John Maine: And I'm John Maine from the New York Mets.

Phelps: We are here with a message for all public school parents, teachers, and middle and high schoolers. Shall I give it to them, or do you want to?

Maine: Just say it.

Phelps: You've all received the City's first education opinion survey through the mail or inside your child's backpack. If you don't have one, call 311 or speak to your Parent Coordinator.

Maine: Just get it.

Phelps: Send the survey back by June 1. We know you're busy, but...

Maine: Just take it!

Phelps: That pretty much covers it. Should we keep the commercial going?

Maine: Just end it.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Mike and Joel Save City

Sorry if this seems like a sell-out, but you see, I just read that there’s this big expansion of the DOE PR staff, and they’re spending lots of money on people who can spin things their way. So, consider the following my “audition” for one of those $150,000 a year jobs. Hear that, DOE? I know you monitor this site. I can be on the job by July 1 with PR spin like the following:

Mayor Michael (“Friend of the Little People”) Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel (“I Saved the Schools from Ruin”) Klein had another exciting day today making our city school system the finest that no-bid contracts can buy. The tandem, who have received accolades all over the world for bringing civilization to the city schools, had to practically fight off groups of parents just to reach their respective offices this morning, as the parents shook their fists at them in obvious adulation. For the Mayor, the high point of the subway trip to City Hall was when he personally confiscated three dangerous weapons (cell phones) from children who apparently intended to bring them into school buildings.

Chancellor Klein showed his “hands-on” style during an early-morning school visit by personally administering a “high-stakes” test to a group of children in an elementary school. Mr. Klein then fired the low-performing Principal on the spot when it became clear that the children did not measure up to standards. The discovery that the children were not students at all, but pre-school siblings accompanying their parents to a School Leadership Team meeting, did not dampen the appreciation showed by the parents for Mr. Klein’s strong action as they lifted him onto their shoulders. Well, more specifically, they lifted him onto a rail that they held on their shoulders as they carried him out of the building, but it was the honor of it that was the important thing.

Back in his office, the Chancellor fielded challenging questions about the legality of his refusal to comply with the state law which mandates the use of money from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit to lower class size. Mr. Klein, showing the same great strength of character and high ethical standards of that great President, Richard Nixon, stated, “When the Chancellor does it, it’s not illegal.”

The Mayor, the Chancellor, and all of the parents and children of New York City can rest easier tonight, knowing that tomorrow, the two will again be on the job, protecting us from defenders of the status quo, low test scores, and cell phones of mass destruction.

Daily News: Bloomberg Administration Spinning of Education Stories

The Daily News blog Daily Politics takes a close look at the massive Tweed PR machine. Liz Benjamin reports that a former TV reporter will be hired to "pitch 'positive' stories to the media". Public relations staff will be increased to twelve and staff expense will top $1 million before benefits. The ramp-up in spending makes for quite a contrast with the cuts hitting elementary school cafeteria workers.

Click here for the full story. We covered the food service cuts here.

If you have not already, check out Juan Gonzalez's excellent column exposing the truth behind the spinning of test scores. Click here for "Klein Smears Immigrant Kids."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

New DoE Budget: Klein Signals Early Defiance of New State Law

The DoE operating budget for next year was unveiled this week at two events, the Panel for Educational Policy meeting on Monday and a joint session of the City Council Education and Finance Committees on Tuesday. While there was no press coverage, there was important news:

First, the budget for next year will include a substantial increase of more than a billion dollars: $16.9 billion vs. $15.8 billion last year.

Second, the state has made funds available to settle the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) case, whereby the state was ordered to address unconstitutional deficiencies in our schools. Under the terms of the new state education law requiring a "Contract for Excellence" with each district, these funds are to be spent in five areas: full-day pre-K, class size reduction, time on task, middle/high school restructuring and principal/teacher quality.

Unfortunately, Chancellor Klein seemed to signal that he was reluctant to comply with an important aspect of the new state law regarding class size reduction. Under the law, the city is required to submit a five year plan to reduce class sizes in all grades -- and start lowering class size starting next year. When questioned at both the PEP and City Council, the Chancellor, disagreed, saying no such plan was required, at least not for this year. Also disturbing was an exchange with Education Chairman Robert Jackson, the lead plaintiff in the CFE lawsuit brought thirteen years ago:
Jackson: You would agree that putting two teachers in a classroom is not class size reduction?

Klein: No, I disagree.
When questioned, Klein could not say how much money was being directed to smaller classes or how he intended to achieve them, given the overcrowding that exists in many schools. His plan seemed to consist of little more than providing principals with more money, who he thought would probably hire more teachers if they had the space. As evidence he pointed to how Empowerment Zone schools hired more teachers with their funds in prior years. He did not, however, mention that many of those same schools were sent more children as a result.

Finally, despite a budget increase of more than a billion dollars, DoE will be cutting the lunch service budget in elementary schools by $5 million. Deputy Chancellor Grimm explained the same staff would be retained but paid fewer hours.

Click here for the budget presentation and here for the text of the state education law. (Scroll down to section "S 211-D" for the new part)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

New parent survey; check it out!

I had just finished filling out my Parent Survey for the DOE, when I noticed that there were three pages of questions asking me to rate my son's middle school, but not a single question asking me about the DOE itself. What???

Immediately, of course, I realized that this must be an oversight. Clearly some underpaid assistant had forgotten to attach the relevant pages!

Because I am confident that the DOE is as interested in how I think THEY'RE doing as they are in how I think my son's school is doing, I took the liberty of crafting my own set of survey questions and mailing them in with the pages they had provided me. A copy of my addendum is attached here.

Sincerely, Jan Carr, public school parent

2007 Parent Survey

We want to know what YOU think about the DOE! By filling out this survey, you can give the DOE information about how it can improve your child’s education.

1. How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements about the DOE?

a. The DOE listens to the concerns of parents. Strongly disagree

b. The DOE listens to the concerns of principals. Strongly disagree

c. The DOE listens to the concerns of teachers. Strongly disagree

d. The DOE listens to the concerns of the City Council. Strongly disagree

e. The DOE has proceeded in a reckless fashion
with the radical restructuring of the schools. Strongly agree

f. The DOE has the best interests of the students at heart. Strongly disagree

g. The DOE is working to decrease class size. Strongly disagree

h. The DOE is humiliating hard-working educators and
pitting schools against each other by issuing report cards to schools. Strongly agree

i. The DOE is misallocating scarce resources by lining the pockets
of its friends in the testing industry. Strongly agree

2. How satisfied are you with the following things about the DOE?

a. Increased number of tests administered to our children. Very unsatisfied

b. Increased focus on assessment and metrics. Very unsatisfied

c. Proposal to pit teachers against each other
by issuing merit pay. Very unsatisfied

d. Plan to add unnecessary stress to principals
by requiring better scores each year over three years time
with punitive threat of dismissal. Very unsatisfied

e. Plan to dismantle the regions and put the supports
for schools in the hands of independent contractors. Very unsatisfied

f. Amount of information made available to principals
about the specifics of the new support organizations
they will need to choose among under the new restructuring plan. Very unsatisfied

g. Attention (if any) to staff development as a key to
attracting and retaining smart, qualified teachers. Very unsatisfied

h. Respect for educators and utilization of their experience
and expertise to improve the quality of our schools Very unsatisfied

Thank you for taking this survey!

This survey will be balled up and thrown in the trash and the results will be ignored completely!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


May 22, 2007 (GBN News): The White House announced today that New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has been appointed “War Czar” to oversee both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Mr. Klein will replace Lt. General Douglas Lute, who had held the job for the past two days. According to White House spokesman Tony Snow, President Bush was said to be impressed with Mr. Klein’s emphasis on the importance of accountability in the NY City school system, and his belief in motivating good performance through the threat of dire consequences. He also said the President feels that Mr. Klein “acts more like a czar than General Lute”.

Under the terms of his appointment, Mr. Klein will continue to have the sort of absolute power that he has exercised in the school system, power that he feels he will need to prosecute the nation’s two wars. However, Mr. Snow was quick to point out that along with that power comes accountability, and the President will expect of Mr. Klein the same sort of performance standards that the Chancellor requires of New York City school principals.

The White House statement said that the new War Czar will be evaluated every four to six weeks on the basis of a “war report card”. He will receive grades ranging from “A” to “F” on such dimensions as US casualty count, number of insurgents killed, wounded or captured, number of insurgent attacks, and number of weapons such as cell phones captured or confiscated. 85% of the total grade will be based on these measurable outcomes. The other 15% of the grade will be based on satisfaction surveys. Of these, 5% will come from the troops, 5% from Iraqi and Afghan civilians, and 5% from the insurgents. If there is no measurable improvement with each assessment, Mr. Klein will lose his job.

Mr. Klein will have the opportunity to receive assistance and logistics advice from his choice of WSO (War Support Organization). He can choose an experienced, battle tested mentor such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Alternatively, he can avail himself of a private, not for profit organization such as the National Rifle Association or a for-profit group such as one sponsored by Soldier of Fortune Magazine.

Reaction in Congress was mixed. Some legislators applauded the fact that there will finally be a series of interim standards set for the prosecution of the war, something many have long been demanding. However, others said that having an autocrat heading up the war effort would send the wrong signal to a part of the world that already resents our intervention. And, there was concern in the New York delegation that if Mr. Klein ended up being fired, he would return to his position as Schools Chancellor, which many feel would be an unconstitutional “cruel and unusual punishment” for innocent city schoolchildren.

Monday, May 21, 2007


May 21, 2007 (GBN News): With the commitment by McGraw-Hill to do interim assessments in the NY City schools, and the forthcoming implementation of the ARIS supercomputer system, the NY City Department of Education today announced a new comprehensive evaluation program. The program, called “Perpetual Testing”, will involve frequent interim tests from the moment children walk into the school to the time they leave.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, in unveiling the new program, said that the original plan, which would have tested children every four to six weeks, was flawed in that the tests were too infrequent to properly evaluate progress. Moreover, the Chancellor said that there were inadequate incentives under the old plan for children to perform well on the tests.

Under the new program, the Chancellor said, no aspect of the school day will be untested. Students will have to perform “up to standards” to earn such privileges as recess, lunch and bathroom breaks. For example, computer terminals, hooked into the ARIS mainframes, will be placed along cafeteria lines, and students will have to pass a computerized “pop quiz” in order to get their food.

The Chancellor offered assurances that all such tests would be tailored to each child’s grade level, so that no children would lose their lunch due to an unfair question. The questions, he said, will also be appropriate to the reward. A student might, for example, have to answer a question about “Brownie the Cow” in order to get a container of milk.

Testing terminals would also be located in schoolyards and bathroom stalls, among other places. Data gleaned from all of these sources will be processed by ARIS, and used to develop a comprehensive, minute by minute picture of each school’s progress, on which the principal’s job security will hinge.

In a related story, the Chancellor told GBN News that the DOE is sensitive to teacher concerns that “differentiated instruction”, driven by the expanded assessments, could lead to difficulty in juggling multiple demands. In response, he said, the DOE is implementing a program by which a clown will be placed in each classroom to mentor teachers in the art of juggling. Mr. Klein dismissed criticism that there are already too many clowns at the DOE, and he said that the new initiative will dispel “once and for all” the notion that increased testing is driving the arts out of the classroom.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Interim assessments to be provided by McGraw-Hill

According to the blog Ed in the Apple, McGraw-Hill will provide the new interim assessments to be required in all NYC public schools every 4-6 weeks starting next fall. The company has “produced a web-based diagnostic tool” that it has been “rolling out” around town and “audiences have been applauding.”

“The students can take the exam online or on a Scan-able form.….Mc Graw Hill will place servers around the City and will maintain the website. The Department deserves accolades: a useful tool that embodies 21st century technology.”

I remain skeptical, having seen the highly flawed ELA exams prepared by the same company. Remember the 4th grade standardized test featuring the notorious Brownie the Cow? Yes, that mind-bendingly absurd test was produced by McGraw-Hill.

A few years ago, due to scoring errors by CTB McGraw-Hill, 9,000 New York City school children, who had actually passed the test, were reported as having failed and required to go to summer school. Thousands more in California went to summer school and in many cases were held back due to another McGraw-Hill mistake. Moreover, most experts in testing dispute the possibility that useful information could ever be gained from standardized interim assessments -- no matter how good the test or the scoring -- because individual student gains or losses over short periods of times are too small to be statistically reliable.

Of course, all the new testing will only further diminish the amount of time available for actual teaching and learning. A recent UFT survey found that already, teachers spend “nearly five hours and 15 minutes of class time — the equivalent of a day-and-a-quarter of instruction — each week on mandated assessment-related paperwork.” Test prep is even more time-consuming, with about 1/3 of classroom time devoted to test prep for two months before the reading and math exams.

Finally, as many teachers point out, given their huge teaching load and class sizes, especially in middle and high schools, even if they had the time to analyze all the results for each one of their 150 students every six weeks, they will have little or no opportunity to address their specific deficiencies.

Since the whole point of the new costly and time-consuming interim assessments, according to DOE, will be to facilitate “differentiated” instruction, one wonders why at the same time, this administration is so resistant to providing the smaller classes that might actually make this possible.

DoE: No Surveys For District 75 Parents

District 75 is a city-wide district comprised of schools serving children with moderate to severe challenges. Despite spending millions of dollars to survey parents, teachers and students, the DoE has made a shameful decision to exclude parents in D75 from the parent survey. The Daily News covers the story here.

In their defense, senior DoE officials claimed parents were unhappy with the absence of questions addressing special education on the survey. But that was the common complaint of parents who participated in the survey design process; questions on the issues most important to parents were either stripped from the survey or jumbled together in a single question, a methodologically unsound research approach.

The survey eventually sent out was so bland and general, it's hard to understand why the DoE couldn't make the minimal effort to be inclusive.

The News quotes John Englert, President of the Citywide Council on Special Education: "We're part of the New York City public school system, and I would think that if you're going to survey the parents, you'd want to include parents of children with disabilities."

This link provides more information on District 75. Click here for an earlier post on the parent survey including news of Mayor Bloomberg's attack on parents critical of the survey.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Joel Gives Quick Ax to Principals

May 18, 2007 (GBN News): In what was termed a “warning shot across the bow”, NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced today the firing of 48 “empowerment” school principals. The Chancellor cited their schools’ “inadequate progress” in the two days since they opted to join the “empowerment zone” and trade increased funding and autonomy for more accountability.

Mr. Klein stated that the firings are intended to show that the Department of Education is serious about holding principals accountable for their schools’ progress. He criticized what he called the “culture of complacency”, and noted that the fired principals represented the bottom ten percent of the empowerment schools. “If these principals think they can rest on their laurels for even a day, they are sadly mistaken,” the Chancellor said, “and I think we were generous in giving them two days.” He went on to say that ninety percent of the principals were not in the bottom ten percent, thus proving that the new system is an overwhelming success.

In other news, Mayor Bloomberg is said to be on the verge of deciding who will not be his running mate in the presidential campaign that he has no intention of entering.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Schools choose their partners!

The DOE sent out a press release , with a tally of how many schools chose which School Support Organizations (SSO’s). (For an earlier posting explaining this byzantine system, see here.)

35% of schools decided to enter the Empowerment Zone, Judith Chin’s LSO (Learning Support Organization) came in second at 27%. Of the PSOs, (private Partnership Support Organizations) the losers were AIR, Success for All, and WestEd, none of which received enough votes to “remain eligible providers of support,” according to Tweed.

The belle of the ball with the fullest dance card among the PSO's was New Visions, chosen by 5% of schools. No doubt the fact that they will continue to be able to hand out hefty Gates grants made them even more alluring than they otherwise might have been.

Updated: Here's the full list (in Excel) of schools by borough, and their SSO's.

Mayor Blitzes Iraq Schools

May 17, 2007 (GBN News): In what is widely viewed as an attempt to bolster his foreign policy credentials in advance of a possible Presidential bid, N.Y. City Mayor Michael Bloomberg today wrapped up a surprise whirlwind tour of Iraq. With Schools Chancellor Joel Klein in tow, the Mayor spent much of the time visiting the country’s schools.

Mr. Bloomberg praised the war effort, saying that it has clearly led to a massive reorganization of the Iraqi school system. Many of the schools visited by the Mayor and Chancellor were heavily damaged or uninhabitable. Mr. Klein was impressed, calling this a “perfect example of creative destruction”, an approach championed by business guru Jack Welch, and said “sometimes you have to destroy the schools in order to save them”.

The Mayor was distressed at the large number of children who carry cell phones to school, saying that the country needs a stricter policy like the total ban in the New York City schools. He dismissed the concerns voiced by Iraqi parents who feel that their children need them for safety reasons in the face of pervasive sectarian violence. The Mayor insisted that parents only want the phones to coordinate dinner plans, and said that if the children don’t make it home for dinner safely, “there will just be more leftovers”. The Chancellor added that this could also bring down class size.

Mr. Bloomberg also dismissed criticism that Iraqi schools only have one choice of a School Support Organization. The Mayor said that the organization, Halliburton, is the best at what they do, and they already have “boots on the ground”. He did note, however, that the reconstruction contract will soon be taken over by the corporate “turnaround” firm Alvarez and Marsal, which he said has experience “taking destruction to a whole new level” in New Orleans.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

more on the cell phone decision: a dissent by Justice Goodman?

In today's Gotham Gazette there's a column by Emily Jane Goodman, a New York State Supreme Court Judge, about the recent decision by Justice Lewis Bart Stone that upheld the Mayor's cell phone ban. What’s startling is how openly critical her tone is. The column features a lengthy and very sympathetic description of the parents' plight in trying to secure the safety of their children.

She also points out, quite caustically, that Stone is only an acting” justice, who normally hears criminal cases.” His decision, she writes, "made numerous references to infractions, discipline, security, magnetometers and cited his own experiences" as well as expositions on procedural technicalities and personal philosophy along with a section labeled, "What is a cell phone?"

Two additional points:

1- Stone is the same judge who ruled against the UFT and our class size coalition that there could be no citywide referendum on class size. He went to great lengths to argue that the state did not mean to give the city enhanced powers over education when Mayoral control was established – which is why city voters could not have a voice on this issue, an argument which appeared to fly in the face of legislative intent.

In the cell phone case, again, he came out strongly in favor of upholding DOE’s prerogatives to ignore parents and unilaterally make decisions as regards our kids. He also rejected an amicus brief from the UFT, which supported the parents' position, though he accepted an affidavit from Randi Weingarten. As described in the column, he called those who submitted such briefs really “enemies” rather than “friends" of the court, and complained that the obligation to read them was overly burdensome . A Pataki appointee, Justice Stone has also told people his idol is Judge Scalia of the Supreme Court.

2- An interesting sidelight issue omitted from the column is that Stone claimed in his decision that the cell phone policy as administered by DOE was flexible enough to allow discretion on the part of principals to allow students to carry cell phones if there was good reason – if, for example, few pay phones were available. Yet this view seems to misunderstand the blanket and absolute prohibition that exists. When Chancellor Klein was asked about this very matter at the last CPAC meeting, to clarify what the actual policy was and whether the Judge got it right, he mentioned something about not commenting on litigation and glossed over the question hurriedly.

Monday, May 14, 2007

"Field of Schemes" and "Pay to Play": Bloomberg's Plan for Randall's Island Ball Fields

The story of the widely criticized Bloomberg plan to partition playing fields on Randall's Island has seen new media coverage lately. A well-researched article in Time Out New York Kids explains how an elite group of 20 private schools will be granted exclusive access to 2/3 of the the 65 new and refurbished fields during the best playing hours, while all our public schools will have to split the rest. Click here for the article entitled "Field of Schemes".

In return for the twenty years of exclusive access during afterschool hours, the 20 schools will pay a combined $2.6 million per year. In the recent public radio story "You Got to Pay to Play, Kids", East Harlem community activist Marina Ortiz questions why public schools were excluded from the exclusive cartel invited to bid for the rights to permits.

The authorization for the City to suspend competitive bidding and negotiate directly with their handpicked list of schools was granted through the Franchise and Concession Review Committee (FCRC), which is packed with mayoral appointees. In the final committee vote, only Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer opposed the plan, which he termed a "raw deal".

Several community and parent groups questioned the legality of the deal, and pointed out that the city had improperly evaded the community review process known as ULURP. Check out the Class Size Matters letter to the Mayor, outlining this and other objections here. The actual text of the FCRC reso is here.

Update: see this May 25 column by Juan Gonzalez, showing how the cost for this project has climbed to $130 million, with the private schools paying for only a small fraction of the cost.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

DOE Has New “Role” For Parents

May 13, 2007 (GBN News): Miffed over the resistance of many New York City parents to reforms instituted by the Department of Education, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has reportedly instituted a new program by which unemployed actors would be paid to fill roles as parents throughout the school system. These “parents” would attend DOE conferences, fill vacant positions on Community Education Councils, and play other visible roles. The Chancellor was said to feel that paid actors, trained to take direction and beholden to the DOE, would be more compliant than actual parents and would help the DOE give its programs a more positive spin.

A source at the DOE told GBN News that the move would actually serve a dual purpose. It would increase public involvement in the NY City educational system while also lowering the city’s unemployment rate. Participants in this program will be recruited by the DOE “Chief Family Engagement Officer” Martine Guerrier, a move which is intended to mute criticism that Ms. Guerrier has not yet been effective in engaging parents.

The DOE source also noted that Chancellor Klein was adamant that none of the actors in the program actually be parents of NY City schoolchildren. The Chancellor reportedly feels that it would be a “conflict of interest” for real parents to take part in any function which might impact on their own children.

When asked how such a potentially expensive program would be funded, the source pointed out that one of the consultants for Alvarez and Marsal, the “turnaround” firm hired by the DOE to slash the school system’s budgets, will be on vacation this week. The money saved on this consultant’s expense account for the week will be used to subsidize the program for the entire upcoming school year.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

All the Great Leaders Love Children

(click graphic to enlarge)

Even Harvard recognizes the value of smaller classes

In response to questions on class size, Joel Klein likes to rhapsodize about his great lecture courses in college. See this interview for example:

“When you enter college, when I went to college, you took some lecture courses, right, that were phenomenal, and they weren't 20 or 25 kids. And I think we should have a much more, if you would, a kind of mix tapered to the needs of the kids and what the class is trying to do.”

Recently at Columbia University, his alma mater, in another attempt to refute the importance of smaller classes, he made a rather bizarre observation:

"There were people here at Columbia who were wasting my time...One of the reasons those classes were so small is because everyone else had realized that those teachers were a waste of time."

Despite the fact that the analogy between Ivy league college students and the high needs (and much younger) population in our public schools is rather farfetched, I remember few great lectures in college. Instead, I recall dozing through all too many.

Now even Harvard has issued a new report that reconsiders the value of lecture courses. In an article in today's NY Times , Eric Mazur, a professor of Physics recounts how he

...threw out his lectures in his introductory physics class when he realized his students were not absorbing the underlying principles, relying instead on memory to solve problems. His classes now focus on students working in small groups. “

“When I asked them to apply their knowledge in a situation they had not seen before, they failed,” Professor Mazur said. “You have to be able to tackle the new and unfamiliar, not just the familiar, in everything. We have to give the students the skills to solve such problems. That’s the goal of education.”

Cell Scandal Derails Mike Prez Bid

May 10, 2007 (GBN News): According to GBN News sources, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided to forego a presidential race due to his concern about publicity generated by a group called, “Cell Phone Users for Truth”. The group purports to have direct knowledge of the Mayor’s past use of cell phones which could be potentially embarrassing and might even discredit his strict ban on students’ possession of cell phones in schools. The Mayor is reportedly afraid that revelation of this information could damage a prospective Bloomberg candidacy. Moreover, the Mayor is said to feel that the cell phone ban is so crucial to the success of his educational reforms that he is reluctant to jeopardize those reforms by risking exposure by the group.

When questioned by GBN News, the Mayor flatly denied that any decision had been made, but said that if it were, he would not be “cell phone boated” out of the race. When asked whether the “Truth” group could affect a possible gubernatorial run against Elliott Spitzer, the Mayor denied any intention of running, but said that if he did, “He can’t touch me, I’ve got more money than he does.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

2008 Budgets Released

School budgets have been published and can be viewed online. Click here for the DoE site, then page down to click on "Your School's Budget".

Now that they know how much money they get, principals have only a week to decide which School Support Organization (SSO) to choose. For our updated post on the SSOs, click here.


May 8, 2007 (GBN News): Emboldened by yesterday’s court ruling upholding the NY City Department of Education ban on cell phones, the DOE today expanded the ban to include virtually all electronic and mechanical devices. A DOE spokesperson told GBN News that while the ban covers devices of any kind, the main target of the new ban is wrist watches, which the DOE considers “disruptive” and “a safety issue”.

According to a statement issued by the DOE, students will be banned, effective immediately, from using, possessing or looking at watches while on school property. The statement details the rationale for this ban, and points out that the judge’s ruling in the cell phone case clearly sets a precedent for permitting this new regulation. The reasons put forth in the DOE statement are:

-Watches are “disruptive to the learning environment”. Students are distracted in class by looking at their watches and hearing watch alarms going off.
-Watches can be used to enable gang activity and other crimes. “Long before there were cell phones”, the statement says, “gangs and other criminals ‘synchronized watches’ to coordinate their criminal activity.”
-Watches may soon feature new and dangerous technologies such as voice and text communication capabilities. The statement noted that the judge’s ruling mentioned evolving technology as one justification for the ban. Moreover, it went on to point out that “Even an old Dick Tracy wrist watch can be used for cheating and other such nefarious purposes”.
-Novelty watches such as the ones displaying phases of the moon could also present a discipline problem by “reminding the wearer when the moon is full, thus encouraging bizarre and uncontrolled behavior.”

The DOE statement also reiterated that there are no exceptions to the ban on all electronic and mechanical devices, save for students’ documented medical needs. Hearing aids, for example, which the DOE says often disrupt classes by emitting annoying, high pitched sounds, will require a doctor’s certification. The certification must be renewed weekly since “sometimes people’s hearing improves.”

In response to immediate criticism by parent groups who said students' inability to carry watches for the trip to and from school could lead to excessive lateness to school and after school jobs, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein defended the ban. The Chancellor noted that, as the judge put it, there is a “rational basis” for the ban given the schools’ disciplinary and safety interests. As for the possibility of an appeal or an additional lawsuit, the Chancellor said simply, “Bring it on!”

Monday, May 7, 2007

cell phone ban prevails in court

Today, Judge Lewis Stone issued a negative decision in the cell phone case. NYC parents had sued the Department of Education so that their children could carry cell phones to school, to ensure their safety and to communicate with them before and after school. An appeal is likely.

Among the arguments made by the plaintiffs' attorneys, including civil rights advocate Norman Siegel and the law firm of Morgan Lewis, was that DOE's extreme and blanket ban violated the constitutional right of parents to "make decisions concerning the care, custody and control of their children," under the 14th amendment.

Yet the Judge argued rather weakly that when the 14th amendment was written in 1868, there were no cell phones, so no such fundamental right could exist.

The Judge also claimed that principals still retained the authority at their discretion to allow students to carry cell phones. This appears to be a misinterpretation of the current situation, in which Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have insisted on a complete and utter ban, with only very limited exceptions in the case of health.

The decision is here; see also this article from the NY Sun. Here is an excerpt from a statement by the plaintiff's attorneys:

Justice Stone failed to address the petitioners' argument that the cell phone ban exceeded the DOE's authority to prescribe reasonable rules and regulations for the general control and discipline of the schools.

The parent petitioners and their attorneys are disappointed with and disagree with Justice Stone's decision, remain committed to the reversal of the ban, and are strongly considering all possible grounds for an appeal.

In the meantime, it should be noted that Justice Stone suggests in his decision that the cell phone ban permits each school's principal to individually address the issue of students' possession of cell phones at their schools. In a section entitled "Special Circumstances," Justice Stone notes that principals may generally authorize students to carry their phones if certain factors exist, for example, if there are locations where the phones would not be disruptive, if the students are willing to abide by a rule against the use of the phone in school, or if there is a lack of availability of pay phones or commercial lockers for students to deposit their phones during school hours near a particular school. Individual parents and parent groups should address such authorization directly with their school principals.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

How education -- and schools -- always come last

Nothing reveals the flawed priorities of this administration more than the fact that almost twice as many new seats in sports stadiums will be created over the next five years as new seats in schools. See this chart – with 117,000 new seats projected for the new Yankees, Mets and Nets stadiums, with only 63,000 new seats in our schools.

Take the $360 million the city will give the Yankees in tax subsidies and exemptions for their new stadium – that amount alone could fund 8-10 new elementary schools or 8 new high schools with 5,000 new seats.

The plaintiffs in the CFE case determined that we needed at least 120,000 new seats to eliminate overcrowding and reduce class size in all grades – not even taking into account any population growth. This new capacity, along with libraries, science labs, and other needed improvements was the basis of the $9.2 billion that the state provided the city in capital funding.

Yet the administration plans to create only 63,000 seats. In fact, since they received all this new funding from the state, they cut back the capital plan by 3,000 seats.

Meanwhile, new development is springing up all over the city, and will likely cause even more overcrowding in our schools.

Recently, the Mayor assembled a sustainability task force to come up with proposals on how to serve a population that is expected to grow by a million residents by 2030, to deal with the increased pressure on housing, energy, sewage, transportation, parks, playgrounds, and other infrastructure.Yet this task force was explicitly instructed to leave schools out of their considerations. See the report of PLANYC 2030 here.

To add insult to injury, the only mention of schools in the 160 pg. report, aside from opening up school playgrounds for more hours, is to use school buildings for more housing!

The report uses as a model PS 109 in East Harlem, and how the school is going to be converted to artist housing: “By working with HPD and the Department of Cultural Affairs to open new affordable spaces for artists, we can not only preserve our physical city but also its essential creative spirit.“

The authors go on to describe the battle of community activists residents who fought for the school building to be preserved – without mentioning that what they really wanted was for PS 109 to be a school again!

This is the mentality we are fighting in this city. While all of our elected officials, including our Mayor, always proclaim education comes first, it really comes last – that is, if it ever enters their minds at all.

The problem is put in further relief by the fact that the DOE is now obligated by state law to submit a five year plan to reduce class sizes in all grades by July 1 – and the regulations specifically require that the city's capital plan be aligned with this proposal.

And this is why we must ask our elected officials to require that schools be incorporated in all large scale residential and commercial developments – and not just small schools with 500 seats, when the need is more than 1,000 new seats, as generated by the Atlantic yards project. And why we need a better capital plan -- one that provides at least twice as many seats as the one currently proposed by DOE.