Saturday, June 30, 2007

Small schools success?

See articles from the NY Times and NY Post about the Gates-funded small schools boasting of much higher graduation rates than the larger schools that they replaced. A few points omitted or glossed over in these articles:

First of all, these comparisons assume that the students who attended both sets of schools were similar. Yet the independent evaluation done by Policy Studies Associates (in pdf) revealed that the students who were admitted to the small schools in all respects were much more likely to succeed. (This study was suppressed by New Visions until a copy was leaked by a critic to the NY Times in 2005.)

Not only were there far fewer English language learners and special education students among them, two groups with the worst graduation rates in the city, but on average, their students also had higher test scores, higher grades, better attendance, and were far less likely to have been held back than students at the large host schools. For example, only 10% of the students at the small schools scored below basic in their 8th grade ELA exams, compared with 35% at their host schools -- with a similar disparity in math. Moreover, 97% had been promoted in the prior year, compared with only 59% of the students at the host schools.

They had better attendance records in middle school (91% compared to 81%), and were less likely to have been suspended. Only 6% of Bronx NCHS students had IEPs, compared with 25% at the comparison schools; and none of the students at the small schools had the most serious disabilities. Indeed, teachers at the new small schools praised their principals for "recruiting more high-performing students."

The new small schools also had significantly more resources, more space, and much smaller classes than the large schools that they replaced. While class sizes at the larger high schools averaged 30 students or more, class sizes at most of the new small schools were between 13 and 20 students, as the first year PSA evaluation (in pdf) noted.

Students observed that their smaller classes were their most valuable aspect: “they liked the small class sizes, the willingness of teachers to provide extra help…” One student said, “I like the close thing with teachers and that you can discuss your problems with them.” According to another, “I like that it’s small, and we each get attention. There’s not one person who doesn’t get attention from our teachers. And they treat us all the same. In a normal high school, they don’t talk to you when you have a problem. They don’t care.”

I don’t think that it should be any surprise that if you take higher-performing students and give them smaller classes, they will be more likely to graduate on time than lower-achieving students with much larger classes.

Another important point to note that as the small schools take up more space, and exclude so many special ed, ELL, and low-performing students, large schools throughout the city have become even more overcrowded with "at risk" students, undermining their chance of success. Many affected high schools have since been put on the state failing list, including Murray Bergtraum, Washington Irving, Norman Thomas, Jane Adams, etc. etc.

The question is if this is equitable and sustainable, with so many of our large schools destabilized. Sadly, the administration has no strategy to improve these high schools, rather than close them down, exclude the neediest students, and cause more overcrowding and failure elsewhere.

As more than two thirds of our HS students continue to attend large schools, there needs to be some plan in place to increase the capacity of these schools so they can provide their students with some of the same sort of opportunities, including smaller classes.

Unfortunately, no such plan exists.

For more on these issues, see the recent Class Size Matters testimony to the City Council.

Also, Tilden HS teachers fight for their school’s survival. Though the school has one of the few bilingual programs for Haitian students, and a good record of graduating ELL students, the administration is determined to shut it down. Yet it is these very students who will be likely be excluded from the small schools taking Tilden’s place.

Even some of the older generation of small schools face the same fate --- being closed down prematurely so that the administration can establish yet another generation of small schools in its place: see the statement from teachers at the New School for Arts and Sciences, a small high school in the Bronx, that has improved results for its population of about 40% ELL and special ed students.

This just in: see Diane Ravitch's take on the media's unthinking acceptance of the administration's small school spin in Ed Week.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

NYC Charter Schools Plagued by Management Woes

The NY Times ran a front page story on a charter school whose wealthy benefactors purged the board of trustees of parents and teachers. According the account, parents at the Beginning With Children School were unhappy:
The move caused an uproar among parents and teachers who said they would be left with no formal say at the school. “My voice is going to be lost,” said Shakema Daise, the mother of a first grader.
The couple that funds the school, Joseph and Carol Reich, demanded the resignations under threat of withdrawing their support for the school. Parents charged that the Reichs were focused excessively on test prep, a charge that has become all too familiar.

Also revealed in the Times story by David Herszenhorn was that the flagship charter school of the Bloomberg Administration, the Ross Global Academy housed in DoE headquarters at the Tweed courthouse, is now on its fourth principal in less than a year. A long New York Magazine story on the Ross School included this disconcerting passage:
By this past November, both the principal and the president at Mrs. Ross’s charter school had quietly vanished. In February, another principal went up in a puff of smoke after just a couple of weeks bobbing around the premises. The “ ‘chaos’ of a school evolving around its students helps them become poised for a world of constant change” is a tenet of Mrs. Ross’s philosophy.
Those kids need a stable environment for learning, not chaos.

Charters have been attractive to some parents, mostly because they are allowed to cap their class sizes, a luxury generally not available to traditional public schools and because they provide the types of enrichment programs cut from public schools. But with a growing record of management problems, like this disaster in the Bronx, people are beginning to realize that charters are not the panacea their supporters make them out to be.

Cheney to Take Over DOE In Secret Deal With Mayor

June 28, 2007 (GBN News): Concerned that Mayoral control of the NY City school system may not be renewed, Mayor Bloomberg has, according to GBN News sources, made a secret deal with Vice President Dick Cheney to put the Department of Education under the authority of the Vice President’s office. The Mayor reportedly offered the deal after learning that the Vice President is apparently able to operate without any accountability whatsoever. Mr. Cheney has claimed that as President of the Senate he is not part of the Executive branch and thus not answerable to its agencies, but yet he has also asserted “executive privilege” to avoid oversight by Congress. While Mayor Bloomberg has claimed a similar sort of freedom of action regarding the schools - he says he is not accountable to the City Council because it is the State that gave him control over the DOE, yet he is not accountable to the State because the DOE is a City agency - he fears that he could lose this legal loophole if Mayoral control sunsets automatically as the law provides.

While the deal would cede titular authority for the DOE to Mr. Cheney, the Vice President would refer operational control back to the Mayor and Chancellor. In return, Mr. Bloomberg would agree that, should he be elected President, he would protect the secrecy of all of Mr. Cheney’s Vice Presidential documents. The sources also told GBN News that the Mayor’s plan is to name current Schools Chancellor Joel Klein as his running mate. This way, if Mr. Bloomberg is elected, Mr. Klein, as Vice President, would continue to run the NY City school system whether or not Mayoral control is renewed. In fact, with the power that he would have, Mr. Klein as Vice President could potentially take over every school system in the country, “reform” them all, and be accountable to no one.

Some analysts think that this purported “plan” is just a ploy to scare critics into renewing Mayoral control, and that the Mayor has no intention of running for President. Others say that Mr. Bloomberg’s real motive is to have Mr. Cheney declare cell phones to be a “tool of terrorists” and use the Patriot Act to enforce the DOE ban on them in schools. Still, should the plan, if true, come to pass, it would consolidate Mr. Bloomberg’s control of the City schools for years to come.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Our independent parent survey; check it out!

Today, we released our independent NYC parent survey online.

It was launched by some of us who volunteered to be part of the DOE focus groups, but were sorely disappointed when so many of the critical issues we brought up were omitted from their official survey.

We then put together our own parent focus group, and enlisted the help of another public school parent who volunteered her time and experience as a professional survey designer to help write the questions in a fair and objective fashion.

The issues addressed in our survey include class size, testing, our schools' strengths and weaknesses, and the leadership and direction of the school system as a whole – none of which were covered in the official DOE survey. It's sponsored by Class Size Matters, with assistance from the National Center for Schools and Communities at Fordham University. A polling company is also administering it by telephone, to ensure the statistical reliability of the responses.

I hope everyone will take just a few minutes to fill it out, now that your memories are still fresh about the year that just ended. Parents who have done so already have said the experience was fun and very fulfilling.

We hope that the results will help the Mayor and Chancellor better understand what areas may still need to be addressed in order to improve our schools and the system as a whole. I encourage all of you to please complete the survey, and then send the link to every other parent that you know!

Here is a press release about our survey; here is a NY1 story about it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

GBN’s Annual “Predict Next Year’s Education News” Contest!

It’s the end of another school year, and time for the GBN News “Predict Next Year’s Education News” contest, an annual GBN tradition since 2007. What will be the top education news stories of the 2007-2008 school year? Answer the multiple choice “assessment” questions below. The reader or readers who come closest to what actually occurs in the coming year will receive a prize (or “incentive” as it’s known around the DOE). Note: There are no hot links; you’re on your own for this one.

1. The number of complete reorganizations of the NY City Department of Education during the 2007-2008 school year will be:
a. 0
b. 1
c. 2
d. One each month, based on aggregate interim test scores and ARIS computer data.

(Note: If your answer was “a”, don’t even bother with the rest of the questions. You obviously don’t know the DOE well enough to win anything)

2. The next high-salaried DOE “officer” position to be created will be called the:
a. Chief Accountability Officer
b. Chief Assessment Officer
c. Chief Cash Incentive Officer
d. Chief Cell Phone Confiscation Officer

3. The DOE will demonstrate its commitment to lowering class size by:
a. Paying students $5 to stay outside in the hall
b. Counting custodians, aides and cafeteria workers as teachers to lower student to teacher ratios
c. Squeezing the same number of students into smaller classrooms, then declaring, “the size of classes has been reduced”
d. All of the above

4. In a secret, no-bid deal, NY City will:
a. Give a consortium of private schools a 30 year lease on all NY City school buildings; however, the private schools will generously allow public school children to use the buildings on weekends and evenings after 9 PM
b. Sell the DOE to the Gates Foundation
c. Buy the military’s Guantanamo Bay prison facility, to detain school cell phone violators and troublesome Principals
d. Sell off all “failing schools” to Donald Trump for conversion to condos

5. The next DOE “celebrity” PR spot will feature:
a. I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby saying, “Our schools’ success is no secret.”
b. G. Gordon Liddy saying, “If you had anyone else but Alvarez and Marsal plundering your schools, it would be nothing but a third rate burglary.”
c. Pete Rose saying, “The New York City Schools: Success you can bet on.”
d. Barry Bonds saying, “Chancellor Klein has done such a great job, you’d think the whole school system was on steroids.”
e. OJ Simpson, pitching a new partnership between the School Transportation Department and Hertz, saying, “Don’t let the school bus cuts leave your children behind. Rent a bus from Hertz, and you’ll get them to school with time to kill.”

6. In an effort to increase parent involvement in their children’s education, Chief Family Engagement Officer Martine Guerrier will announce:
a. A city-wide bake sale
b. Cash incentives for attending PTA and PA meetings will be doubled for those who attend but keep their mouths shut
c. Parents will take the interim assessments alongside their children. The motto will be, “The family that tests together, has success together.”
d. An outing for public school families at Randall’s Island. The announcement will be rescinded when she is reminded that most of the island is set aside for the exclusive use of private schools
e. All of the above

7. Mayor Bloomberg will announce that:
a. He is forming a third party, and will run for President on the “Eccentric Billionaires” line with Thurston Howell III as his running mate; analysts will say that Mr. Bloomberg feels he has more control over a fictional running mate such as the former “Gilligan’s Island” co-star
b. He will forego a run for President, fearing that if Betsy Gotbaum becomes Mayor, she will derail all of his education reforms by allowing cell phones in schools
c. He has determined that no law prohibits him from being both Mayor and President, so if elected President, he will moonlight until his Mayoral term runs out, thus keeping his promise to serve out his term
d. He has made a deal to buy the White House from President Bush for $2.5 billion, thus giving him the advantage of incumbency. After the election, it will emerge that the deal included full pardons for Mr. Bush and Vice President Cheney.

8. President Bush, in a major educational policy address, will announce that:
a. The No Child Left Behind act should be renewed, because, “If our children is left behind, the terrorists win.”
b. Joel Klein is doing “A heckuva job.”
c. He has finally finished reading, “My Pet Goat”, this time “without any silly interruptions.”
d. In a characteristic “faith based” initiative, he has ordered Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to bolster the chances of NCLB renewal by praying for better test scores
e. All of the above

9. A court will rule that:
a. Mayor Bloomberg’s ‘cash incentive” program is in violation of Federal and local anti-bribery statutes
b. The new “outside locker” plan to “take crime out of the schools and put it back on the street where it belongs” puts students and their property at risk and must be terminated
c. The DOE, with its present organizational structure, falls under Federal “anti-racketeering” statutes
d. Mayor Bloomberg’s “Congestion Pricing” plan applies to schoolchildren as well as autos. The court will order the Mayor’s EZ Pass charged for every child over mandated class size limits.

10. The ARIS supercomputer will:
a. Supercede classroom teachers and determine the educational objectives and lesson plans for every class, based on data gathered from interim testing
b. Take control of the physical plant and environment in every school building in the city, rendering custodians obsolete and breaking their union
c. Compete with the Chancellor for control of the DOE, and in April 2008 will refuse to open the Tweed Courthouse doors, thus stranding the Chancellor outside
d. Play and win 153,968,007,363 simultaneous games of solitaire
e. All of the above

Responses are due no later than the first day of school in September, 2007. Answers can be submitted via the “comments” section below. No partial credit will be given. The decision of the GBN News judges is final. If, by the first day of school, the CEO of GBN News has been given a $150,000 a year PR job with the DOE, this contest will be void.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

How "fair student funding" fails our failing schools

Here's an excerpt from a letter to Chancellor Klein from John Elfrank-Dana, teacher and chapter leader at the Murry Bergtraum High School in lower Manhattan:

I was in "shock and awe" at our last school budget meeting. We are held harmless for over $200,000.00 and are expecting increased austerity for the next two years - all of this in a post-CFE world? It's hard to believe that we are not feeling any of the trickle-down from the CFE money. We need smaller class sizes for our freshman and advisories as a fifth (not sixth) class. Mr. Klein, we want to succeed and demand a chance to do so. ....Can you explain where our share of the CFE money is going, and when we will feel it at the school level?

Murry Bergtraum is a severely overcrowded high school that has been on the state failing list for several years. In fact, it is in its second year of "restructuring"-- with the possibility of closing in the near future if results don't improve. Class sizes range from 28 to 30.4 students-- far higher than the rest of the state, where high schools average twenty students per class.

Yet according to the "fair student funding" reform that DOE claimed would drive more dollars to our neediest schools, Bergtraum's budget would have been cut by $282,365 next year if the proposal had been fully enacted. Because of the negotiated agreement to "hold harmless" all schools, it will receive a big fat zero through this formula for the next two years instead.

Compare this to Stuyvesant high school, with the highest graduation rate and the top performing students in the city, due to receive an increase of $68,929 next year through its FSF allocation.

In fact, 47% of all the failing schools in NYC would have received cuts averaging $322,000 if the proposal had been implemented as originally designed -- and will get no extra funding through the formula for the next two years. The other 53% failing schools will get an average of only $81,676, enough to pay for one extra teacher at most.

For example, in District 4 in East Harlem, only one of nine failing schools will receive any dollars through FSF. In District 5 in Central Harlem, only two of eight failing schools will. In District 7 in the Bronx, only six out of 20 failing schools will receive FSF, and in two of these, the amounts are too small to hire even one extra teacher. In Brooklyn, there is not a single failing school in District 13 with enough funds through FSF to hire a new teacher. District 21 in Brooklyn has only two out of 11 failing schools that will receive new FSF funds. In Queens, only two out of 10 failing schools in District 28 and only one school out of seven in District 29 will receive enough funds through FSF to hire any additional teachers. And the list goes on.

What makes this particularly disturbing is that so far, the FSF allocation is the only way in which DOE has announced it will distribute any of the extra funds resulting from the settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit to schools, a case which was more than 13 years in the courts and was finally settled by the State Legislature this spring.

Councilmember Robert Jackson (see photo to the right) was the original plaintiff in this lawsuit -- in which the state's highest court concluded that class sizes were too large in NYC schools to provide our students with their constitutional right to an adequate education.

The so-called "fair student funding" allocation is also the only way in which so far Chancellor Klein has publicly revealed that he will attempt to comply with the new state law requiring class size reduction -- by simply aggregating the individual choices of principals who choose to use their FSF funds to hire extra teachers to reduce class size. The city is supposed to submit a five year class size reduction plan on July 1 -- with the first year focused on low-performing, overcrowded schools -- a description that fits Murry Bergtraum to a T.

From all the evidence so far, the administration's class size reduction plan -- as well as the FSF formula itself--is a fraud.

For more on how the city's FSF plan fails our failing schools, see this memo here.

For how it fails to be an actual class size reduction plan, see the Class Size Matters letter to the Regents and the State Education Department.

Paying for test scores: Anti-social, bone-headed perversity?

Check out the scathing critique in the Huffington Post by Diane Ravitch, contributor to this blog, of the Mayor's proposal to pay students for getting library cards and good test scores, as well as their parents each time they show up for parent-teacher conferences. An excerpt:

It demeans the poor parents who do meet their children's teachers; who do have library cards; who do care desperately about their children's schooling. And it insults the kids who are trying their best but having trouble because New York City has the most overcrowded classrooms in the state of New York.... The pay-for-behavior plan is anti-democratic, anti-civic, anti-intellectual, and anti-social.

There have also been negative columns in the New York Post from the Manhattan Institute's Nicole Gelinas here (called "Mayor Mike's Poverty Perversity") and from Andrea Peyser here, who writes that it is the " the most insulting, bone-headed plan ever cooked up. "

We now have an unusual consensus of the Huffington and NY Posts, which rarely agree on anything, that this proposal is morally repugnant. Too bad our Mayor doesn't appear to have the same scruples.

Public School Parents and Community Activists Sue Bloomberg Administration Over Randall's Island Fields Controversy

Mayor Bloomberg has won accolades for his plan of sustainable growth, PlaNYC 2030, which he calls "our plan for a greener, greater New York". While his intents are laudable, his actual record on city parks has shown that some people get more green than others.

His plan for 171 acres on Randall's Island will double the number of playing fields. Unfortunately, he intends to grant exclusive access to 66% of these fields during after-school hours to an elite group of twenty private schools for the next twenty years. The Franchise and Concession Review Committee approved this controversial no-bid contract in February with the sole dissenting voice from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Last week, public school parents represented by the District 4 (East Harlem) PTA Presidents Council and the Citywide Council for High Schools, the elected and legally mandated representatives of high school parents, joined East Harlem community activists Marina Ortiz and Matthew Washington to sue the Bloomberg Administration.

The NY Times quoted Eugenia Simmons-Taylor, president of the Parent and Teacher Association of the Young Women's Leadership School:

“The Parks Department never met with the parent associations of District 4 in East Harlem to discuss their plans. Our PTA presidents voted unanimously to be part of this lawsuit because it’s wrong to deprive public school children of these fields, in their own district, for the next twenty years. Also, I faithfully follow the Chancellor’s regulations and Robert’s rules of order as a PTA president. The Parks Department should have to abide by the law, like everyone else.”

In response, the Bloomberg Administration claims the review process was adequate. The Times quotes Law Department spokesperson Connie Pankratz:

“A full and fair public hearing appropriately addressed citizens’ concerns prior to the approval. While we have not seen the lawsuit, we intend to vigorously defend the decision to approve the sports complex, as it was entirely lawful and in the city’s best interests.”

When was this hearing? Febuary 13th. When was the deal approved? February 14th. Not so much time to address "citizens concerns". Private school headmasters testified they had been working with the Parks Department for over a year. Some citizens apparently get more attention from the mayor than others.

The City Charter says concessions considered "major" need to go through an extensive land use process including review by the local community board, borough president and the New York City Council. To be considered "major" the contract must cover use of more than .7 acres. With this concession involving 171 acres, the mayor's attempt to avoid review by forcing the deal through various loopholes has been particularly brazen.

Public school parents and community activists are represented by Norman Siegel, the noted civil rights attorney and Alan Klinger of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, LLP.

See additional news of the lawsuit in the NY Times here and Metro here . Our earlier post on the topic has more in-depth coverage here.

For the latest, including text of the legal documents, check East Harlem Preservation's website.

Friday, June 22, 2007

GBN News Exclusive Interview With Chancellor Klein

June 22,2007 (GBN News): In a rare, exclusive interview today with GBN News, NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein discussed a wide range of educational issues. Excerpts from the interview follow:

GBN: Chancellor Klein, thank you for speaking with us today. I understand that you have another new initiative to announce.

JK: Yes, I’m sure that our parents and schoolchildren will be as excited as I am about this. The Department of Education will now be partnering with the New York City Police Department and IBM to use our ARIS computer system to replicate, for the DOE, the Compstat system that the police use to track crime. This system will track educational progress and students’ behavior right down to the classroom level, and will help us hold those in charge accountable.

GBN: How will it work?

JK: As you know, ARIS can track every aspect of our students’ school day, from test scores to bathroom visits. All ARIS information will be fed on an ongoing basis into a central database, which will be constantly analyzed. If we see a problem in a particular school, we can respond on an immediate basis and take care of the problem before it gets out of hand. For example, suppose a class bombs out on an interim assessment. We will have a response team on call to go immediately to the school and take over the situation.

GBN: “Take over” in what way?

JK: First, we need to secure the school. That means a mobile scanning team to rid the school of dangerous weapons like cell phones. “Safety First” is our motto, and we want to make sure that no kid jeopardizes our response team by, say, throwing a cell phone at them. And don’t think it hasn’t happened. Anyhow, then we arrest the Principal, and our mobile administrators assume temporary control of the school.

GBN: Why arrest the principal?

JK: The school is the principal’s responsibility. Obviously, if they’re part of the problem, then they can’t be part of the solution.

GBN: What else will the team do?

JK: Next, we bring in a Brink’s truck and flood the school with money. Nothing motivates like giving people money. We immediately double the incentive awards: $10 to take a test, $100 to ace it. That sort of thing. Then, it’s intensive test prep 24/7, for a week.

GBN: What then?

JK: Then, if things still don’t improve, it’s obviously a “failing school” and we take away their funding. Nothing motivates like not giving people money.

GBN: There has been a lot of criticism over what some have termed “heavy handed” security practices since Emomali Rakhmon, the former dictator of Tajikistan, took over as school security chief.

JK: Actually, “Rocky” is a great guy once you get to know him. Turns out we have a lot in common. He’s a little intense, but as “Rocky” likes to say, “better to be feared than liked”. And he really did rid the university system in Tajikistan of cell phones.

GBN: But what about the reported detainment of cell phone violators here in the city schools, at a place they call, “Little Gitmo”?

JK: Oh, “Rocky” was just kidding about that. But don’t think we’re not serious about the cell phone thing. And we just heard that the real Gitmo is up for sale, so we’re putting in a “no bid” to the Bush Administration to buy it. There are 313 principals who will be needing a place to stay soon. They thought they could bribe the Mayor and me by paying us to rescind the DOE reorganization. Imagine, thinking that paying people will change their behavior!

GBN: Speaking of “no bid”, there has been criticism, too, about the massive bus cutbacks made by those “no bid” consultants, Alvarez and Marsal. A kid recently was seriously injured, hit by a commuter bus while crossing an intersection that, if his bus route had not been cut by Alvarez and Marsal, he never would have had to cross.

JK: That’s not a fair question. Ask me something nicer. We now have a new DOE incentive policy for the press, you know. You can get $200 if you ask about the math test scores going up.

GBN: Do you really think I’d sell out for $200? I won’t accept anything less than a full time PR job at the DOE. $150,000 a year, final offer!

JK: I’ll have “Rocky” get back to you.

Editor’s note and disclaimer: The preceding interview is, of course, fictional. The idea that the Chancellor would ever speak to GBN news, at least without an incentive, is ludicrous. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely intentional and within the realm of parody. Should the Chancellor feel that anything written above is offensive or reflects badly on him, GBN News will not only apologize, but will deny under oath that we ever wrote it. For a price.

"School's out"; great examination of the Bloomberg education record

Lynnell Hancock has written a terrific piece for the Nation laying out the way in which this administration has autocratically ignored the views of parents and other stakeholders in our public schools, leading to the failures of the small schools initiative, the bus route fiasco, the obsession with testing, the lack of financial accountability and more.

It is the most comprehensive look yet at Bloomberg's education record. The article is called "School's Out"; but it's only available to subscribers. It was also radically shortened for publication.

Thankfully, Lynnell has sent us the original unedited version -- which we've posted here. It is well worth reading.

An excerpt:

Another parent shut out from the meeting that night had waited outside the Hostos Annex for a chance to ask the exiting chancellor a question. The mother emigrated from Mexico more than a dozen years earlier. She had come so her kids could get a decent education. "But there are 32 kids in my son's classroom," said Esperanza Vasquez. She never got a chance to ask Klein about the overcrowding. He left the Bronx that evening in a hurry, without giving an email address.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


June 21, 2007 (Gadfly News) In a surprising twist in the city’s increasingly tense struggle over the direction of its schools, a coalition of 313 New York City public school principals have banded together to offer Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein a schedule of cash payments if the two agree to rescind recent changes instituted by the Department of Education.

“We had no choice,” said a principal of a Brooklyn elementary school who asked to remain anonymous, as did all the principals interviewed. “The changes they were making were radical and extreme, but more than that, they were wrong-headed. It seemed as if they were deliberately designed to destabilize our schools.”

Another principal, who heads up an elementary school in the Bronx, seconded the sentiment. “I hate to do this, offer an award schedule,” she said. “As all of us who got our degrees in education know, doling out rewards to people can seriously undermine their intrinsic motivation to do something. It sends the message that the thing itself is not worth doing, not rewarding in and of itself. But we can only assume from the actions of the mayor and the chancellor that they have no intrinsic motivation to do the right thing by the schools. We’ve come to the conclusion that money is the only thing they understand.”

Students at this principal’s school did not seem as concerned about the direction of the schools as she was. When asked their opinions about some of the changes recently instituted by the DOE – the increase in testing dates, the proposal to pay students for passing scores – all of the students approached refused to answer unless they were compensated. “What’s it worth to you?” asked one student. “Show me the money,” demanded another.

A third principal in the coalition, this one heading up a Manhattan middle school, seemed near exhaustion when interviewed for this article. “I feel as if I’ve been on a reality survival show all year,” he said. “Every week the DOE has thrown a new ‘challenge’ at us, and now that it’s the end of the year we’ll have to look around and see which schools are still standing.”

When apprised of this principal’s comment, Chancellor Klein brightened. “A survival show?” he said. “Great idea! Who says we don’t listen to our professional educators? I’m going to have my people investigate the possibility ASAP!” He peeled a bill out of the wad in his wallet. “The last principal standing will win a grand!” he said. Then, “Can somebody run this ten spot over to the principal who came up with the idea, as a little incentive along the way?”

The principals representing the coalition, masked in order to conceal their identities and protect their jobs, gathered yesterday afternoon outside of Tweed, where the DOE is housed. In the opening remarks, the spokesprincipal apologized for the low dollar amounts of their rewards. “We realize that these amounts might not be ‘motivating’ to a billionaire,” she said, “but they were all we could raise in our bake sale.” The group then announced the schedule of rewards as they had structured them. The schedule included:

• Repealing the assessment tests: $100
• Reinstatement of the district structure: $500
• Revoking mayoral control of schools: Priceless

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cash Rewards Cause Chaos in City Schools

June 20, 2007 (GBN News): The rollout of New York City’s new educational cash incentive plan was marred by several incidents yesterday. The plan, designed to motivate children and parents through cash rewards, pays specific dollar amounts for taking and passing tests, obtaining library cards, and other educationally beneficial behaviors. However, the first day was not without its glitches.

At MS 322 in Brooklyn, a sixth grade class took matters into their own hands and demanded to be tested in order to earn reward money. According to several witnesses, the class began chanting, “We want a test” so loudly that it could be heard all over the school. Other classes then took up the cry, and the Principal was forced to direct the entire teaching staff to immediately administer interim exams to all classes. Other schools ran out of cash, unprepared for the high level of motivation shown by their students, and teachers had to reach into their own pockets to provide the rewards to keep order.

By afternoon, so many people were applying for library cards that long lines formed outside many public library branches, and the libraries quickly ran out of new cards. To make matters worse, a number of parents were miffed upon learning that they were not eligible for the $50 reward because they already had library cards. At one library in Queens, in a scene reminiscent of a 1960’s draft protest, dozens of parents stood outside and burned their library cards so they could apply for new ones and earn their $50. Chancellor Joel Klein responded in a statement that these were all “growing pains”, and that he was pleased at the positive overall response to the plan.

Mr. Klein also announced a major change in student report cards for next year. Eschewing the traditional letter grades, the new report cards will simply indicate the dollar amounts earned for each class. “We’re trying to focus children on real-world measures of success," he said, "and what better measure of success than money earned? Look at the Mayor and myself.” And responding to criticism that the new incentive program will lead to more disparity between economically advantaged and disadvantaged students if children who score well are not poor, the Chancellor reassured parents that since benefits will be subject to the income tax, the less advantaged students will keep a greater percentage of their earnings. Furthermore, he said, to simplify tax filing, report cards will be printed straight onto W2 forms.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Does Bill Gates need a lesson?

Instead of yet another fawning profile of Bill Gates and his education iniatives, most of which have turned out to be absolute busts, take a look at the critique online at the Nation, one of the best that I've seen.

The author, Sarah Seltzer, who spent a year teaching in the Bronx, examines Gates' new Political Action Committee, Ed in '08, and its agenda: longer school days and years, merit pay for teachers, and a uniform national curriculum --- at least for the schools that other people's kids attend.

Instead, she recommends what's offered in elite private schools, including smaller classes:

In smaller classes, where conversation can flow more freely, the qualities that help students achieve are analysis, leadership and questioning. One set of skills puts students in managed mode; the other promotes students into manager mode. I can't emphasize that difference enough.

Since kids from poor and middle-class homes are less likely to have other mentors around--nannies, tutors, counselors and the like--the chance to talk with adults and air their opinions is more important for them. But they don't get that chance. When I taught during the NYC subway strike and attendance shrunk, all my formerly rowdy students turned docile. In the more intimate environment, their attitudes towards school and authority were different.

This kind of individual attention can do more than an extra half hour of classroom time will ever do. Kids are kids, after all--they tend to lose focus. An hour and a half and two hours of math are virtually equal in terms of what a child can absorb, and everyone who teaches knows that nothing gets done in June.

You don't see private schools clamoring for longer years; they have the shortest school calendars around! But those calendars are packed with vital activities--newspapers, sports teams, theater productions, field days. These are a bonus that encourages kids to come to school and help to build self-esteem and passion, not to mention a nice resume for colleges.

Patrick Sullivan on the Panel for Educational Policy!

Patrick Sullivan, a public school parent, a Class Size Matters board member, and co-founder of this blog, was appointed by Manhattan Borough President Stringer as the Manhattan representative to the Panel on Education Policy. He was sworn in at Tweed on Monday.

At Monday's PEP meeting, without a moment's hesitation, Patrick immediately became the the panel's most independent member, with incisive questions to James Liebman, head of the accountability office, and Chancellor Klein about the interim assessments and the so-called "fair student funding" (FSF) proposals.

He pointed out that parents are already tired of the excessive testing of their kids driving out real learning, and that the new set of interim assessments supposed to be given five times a year will only make things worse. He asked Liebman why his claim that these were "no-stakes assessments" was not contradicted by the recent announcement that students would be paid for receiving high scores. Liebman also admitted, in passing, that schools might also choose to count these scores as part of students' grades.

Patrick pointed out that under "fair student funding" about half of all failing schools would have seen substantial budget cuts if this proposal had been fully implemented-- and even under the compromise agreement negotiated by the UFT not to cut schools' budgets, would see no extra funding at all. How this proposal will lead to improving our lowest-performing schools -- and students -- is hard to imagine.

He also asked why the funding changes would not undercut the professional status of teachers, by giving a financial incentive to principals to get rid of their most experienced staff.

It was an auspicious and feisty debut and foretells more stimulating sessions to come. In short, there will be a definite reason to attend these meetings once again. Thank you, MBP Scott Stringer!

Paying for test scores

Harvard Professor Roland Fryer who intends to experiment on our students by giving them cash awards if they score high enough on their interim assessments is going to become "chief equality officer" at Tweed, according to the NY Times.

So much for these supposedly "no-stakes" exams.

The results of this experiment will be monitored by Fryer.

So much for independent evaluations.

The Mayor apparently loves the idea of paying kids cold hard cash for performance, just as much as he approves of the "pay for play" arrangement in his controversial Randall's island deal, now in court, in which exclusive rights to most of the fields in a public park would be granted to private school students for the next twenty years.

But what if you're a conscientious student and you are trying hard, but still can't make a perfect score? What about kids with disabilities, or ELL students?

Too bad for you.

Question: can anyone tell me why this experiment is likely to lead to more equality, rather than even more disparity between high and low achieving families and kids?

This and other similar experiments (in pdf) involving cash incentives to kids for high scores are being funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, Robin Hood, the Open Society Institute (George Soros' foundation), and the insurance company AIG, as well as the Mayor himself.

Students who pass all five Regents would be paid $3,000. If the program is seen as "working" and is expanded, it could cost the city "hundreds of millions" a year, according to Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs in the NY Post.

The last days of Lafayette High school

See this NY Post oped by Jerry Della Femina, a graduate of Lafayette high school, lamenting the fact that his school is being closed.

"Now, in the mother of all dumb moves, they're closing it. The Board of Education, Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have thrown up their hands and admitted the bad kids have won. No mas, they cry. We're closing the school."

Lafayette has a fabled list of graduates -- including Sandy Koufax, Vic Damone, Maurice Sendak, and Larry King.

The truth is that after six years, this administration still has no strategy for improving low-performing high schools – rather than just closing them down. With nearly 400 schools on the state failing list, this is not an acceptable strategy for success.

This fall, despite being a School in Need of Improvement for the second year, Lafayette had average class sizes ranging from 28-31 students per class. (Click here for a link to the class sizes of all schools for this current year, according the DOE.)

Compare this to only about 20 students per class for the average high school in the rest of the state.

Here are some other NYC high schools with rich histories that have recently closed or are being phased out over the next year -- Thomas Jefferson HS, Springfield Gardens HS, Harry Van Arsdale HS, Wingate HS, Theodore Roosevelt HS, William Taft HS, Seward Park HS, Samuel Tilden HS, and many others.

In every single case, the most obvious reform strategy -- reducing class size – was never even tried.

NYC graduation rates; still pretty dismal

Just in time for the end of the school year, Education Week came out with its annual graduation report , Diplomas Count 2007.

NY State (in pdf) had a four year graduation rate of only 65% for the class of 2004; 11th worst in the nation. Pretty bad considering we also spend most per capita than any other state on education.

NYC was at 45.2% -- fifth lowest among the 50 largest districts in the country. The only ones worse were Detroit at 24.9, Cleveland at 32.1%, Baltimore at 34.5%, and Dallas at 44.4%.

What does DOE (in pdf) claim for the class of 2004? 54%.

What's interesting is that even by Tweed's own inflated estimates, our six year graduation rates currently remain at only 64% -- no higher than they were in 1996, and only 1% higher than before mayoral control.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Memo to all NY City School Principals: From Chancellor Joel Klein

GBN News has obtained a draft memo from Chancellor Klein, detailing a new Department of Education initiative which appears to be part of Mayor Bloomberg's plan to improve achievement through financial incentives. The text of the memo follows:

I am pleased to announce to you a new financial incentive program for children and parents. We expect that this program will substantially improve students’ academic performance by providing financial rewards for behaviors and achievements which further children’s learning and parental involvement in their education. Please bear in mind that the expenses incurred from this program will be charged to your school’s budget. But the test results will be well worth it! And you will then be able to offset the costs by cutting teaching positions. After all, with incentives like these, larger classes will be no deterrent to learning.

Effective immediately, each school will provide the following cash incentives for the behaviors and achievements listed below:

•Take interim assessment: $5
•Achieve perfect score on interim assessment: $50
•Use #2 pencil: $2.50 per exam
•Attend test prep class: $25
•Get library card: $25
•Register with DOE website: $25
•Demonstrate ability to make sense of DOE website: $50
•Attend parent teacher conference:
Elementary School: $50
Middle School/High School: $10 per subject teacher
•Attend PTA meeting: $25 plus cake and coffee
•Use Metro Card instead of school bus:
Child over 10 years old: $50
Child under 10 years old: $100
•Turn in cell phone: $100 ($200 for a two year plan)
•Conform to school’s dress code (or wear school uniform, where applicable): $1 per day
•Spell name correctly: $.15 per occurrence
•Raise hand in class: $.10 per occurrence
•Raise hand in class for reason other than going to the bathroom: $.25 per occurrence
•Homework completed on time: $1 per occurrence, up to a maximum of $20 per month
•Neatness: Counts, but no reward (unfunded mandate)
•Write letter to Times, Daily News, or Post praising “Children First” reforms: $500

As you can see, parents and children together can earn thousands of dollars through this incentive program (more by giving up a two year cell phone plan). They can get a taste of the way it is to be rich like the Mayor and myself. And if that’s not an incentive to love learning, I don’t know what is!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Diane Ravitch: Reflections on the Math Scores in New York City and State

Math scores are up in New York City on state tests in grades three through eight. They are up in every grade. That’s terrific news for kids and their teachers, who have been working hard to improve achievement.

Last year, math scores were down, so the increase this year was a welcome change.

Across the span of grades 3-8 in the city’s schools, there was a gain of 8.1 percentage points, as compared to lower scores in 2006. The state has tested grades 3-8 (in response to the federal No Child Left Behind law) for only two years, in 2006 and 2007, so it is impossible to compare the scores for grades 3-8 in 2007 to any other year except 2006. As a matter of record, the largest increase in a single grade in a single year in New York City occurred in 2003, when math scores in the fourth grade jumped by nearly 15 points. This was the last state test reported prior to the implementation of Chancellor Joel Klein’s reform program.

This is what happened in this year’s math tests:

Math scores are up across the state; the gains in New York City outpaced the state gains. In grades 3-8, 72.7% across the state met the standards in 2007, compared to 65.8% in 2006, a gain of 6.9 points statewide. In the same grades, the proportion of New York City’s students meeting the standards rose from 57.0% to 65.1%, a gain of 8.1 points. Very impressive gains indeed, for both the state and the city, especially the city.

When Chancellor Klein’s Children First reforms were launched in September 2003, 66.7% of children in fourth grade met the state standards in math. In 2007, 74.1% of fourth grade students in New York City met the state standards in math. That is a cumulative gain during the years of mayoral control of 7.4 points, or a shade less than 2 points per year.

Recently, the press department at the New York City Department of Education had been claiming credit for the huge gains of 2003, but these scores (14.7 points in a single year) were recorded before the implementation of Children First.

Apparently the press department now claims that the city has gained 27.8 percentage points in grades 3-8 since 2002, but that seems unlikely. For one thing, the state has been testing these grades for only two years (before then, only grades 4 and 8 were tested annually). The press office seems to have combined the results of the state tests for 2007 with city tests that were administered in earlier years and have since been abandoned. It is unlikely that any independent psychometrician would approve of mixing the results of these disparate tests, which were not based on the same standards nor equated for their reliability and validity.

In the eighth grade, the gains for the city were also impressive, since this has been a historically low-scoring grade, where only twice before have more than 40% of students met state standards. When the Klein reforms were launched in 2003, only 34.4% of eighth graders met the state standards; in 2007, 45.6% did, a gain of 11.2 points over four years. That is a demonstration of the power of intensive test-prep activities, in which Tweed has invested heavily.

To be sure, testing experts tend to be suspicious of big changes in large-scale assessment programs, whether they go up or down. When a city or a state or a nation reports large one-year gains or losses, experts tend to raise their eyebrows and wonder about the test itself or the way it was scored. Was it easier or harder?

Jennifer Medina of The New York Times wisely pointed out in her first-day story that a federal study released just a week ago found that New York state’s math tests in 2005 in fourth grade and eighth grade were easier than in many other states. Indeed, New York’s fourth grade test was ranked easier than those in 28 of 32 other states, while the eighth grade was ranked below those of 12 other states in rigor. The State Education Department claimed that it changed the test in 2006 and made it more rigorous, which explained the drop in math scores last year; this year, with the astonishing increases in districts across the state, the State Education Department claims credit for improvements in teaching, curriculum, alignment, teacher training, collaboration with higher education, and everything else imaginable. So, if scores go down, the test got harder, but when scores go up, it has nothing to do with the test!

When the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reported the 2005 results for mathematics, New York state found itself in an embarrassing situation. According to federal data, New York claimed that an astonishing 87% of fourth grade students met state proficiency standards, but on NAEP tests in 2005, only 36% of fourth grade students were rated proficient. In eighth grade, the state claimed that 56% of students were proficient, but on the more rigorous NAEP, only 31% were proficient.

Once again, New York state has reported startling results, after last year’s dismal scores in math. The public can be relieved that its state and local leaders are on the job, raising scores diligently and boldly, doing all the right things in the classroom, the school, and the district.

I suggest that we wait patiently to see whether the recent gains on the state tests are reflected on the national tests when the results are posted in November 2007.

In the meanwhile, I suggest that Governor Spitzer think seriously about creating an independent agency to administer tests and report on test results, one staffed by top-notch psychometricians who take neither credit nor blame for test results in the state and local districts.

Diane Ravitch

For analysis of 2007 ELA click here and here

Bloomberg Sworn In As President - A Look Ahead

Contributing to this story was Andrea Norwich, a psychic residing in New York City

January 20, 2009 (GBN News): Amid continuing controversy over an election that many still say was either bought or stolen, Michael Bloomberg took the oath of office today on the steps of the Capitol Building as the nation’s forty-fourth President. The inauguration came just days after the Supreme Court effectively handed the former New York City Mayor the election, agreeing with Mr. Bloomberg’s contention that his total control of the city schools extended to the polling places in the schools. State election authorities were thus forced to accept the Department of Education’s own election figures, which gave Mr. Bloomberg a whopping 94 per cent of the city vote, and the total easily enabled him to top both Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani for the State’s electoral votes. Mr. Bloomberg’s surprisingly strong vote totals in the South had also helped run up the Electoral College totals, after the massive advertising spending of his independent campaign dwarfed the entire state budgets of Alabama and Mississippi.

In his inaugural address, the President focused largely on his plans for reorganizing the nation’s schools. With Secretary of Education designate Christopher Cerf, formerly NY City Deputy Schools Chancellor and CEO of Edison Schools, looking on, Mr. Bloomberg announced that Edison Schools would be given a multi billion dollar no bid Education Department contract to provide support services upon request, to any school in the country.

The President also introduced a school security plan, which he called, “All Phones Left Behind”. This would ban cell phone possession in all of the nation’s public schools, and would be enforced by the new Homeland Security Director, former Tajik strongman Emomali Rakhmon. Any school district not in compliance with this strict ban on cell phones will lose Federal money, and, after going bankrupt, will be taken over by Edison and run at a profit.

The President said that his education plan should enjoy widespread approval, and that any opponents would be simply “incrementalist defenders of the status quo, who have no experience in doing anything”. He went on to point out it’s a “win-win” for the parents and children, since if their schools get taken over by Edison, they’ll essentially become private schools, where cell phones are perfectly legal.

Many analysts said that this statement finally cast some light on Mr. Bloomberg's longstanding but seemingly irrational policy banning cell phone possession in public schools. By banning the phones in public schools, while private schools such as the ones his children attended allow them, it would encourage parents to demand greater access to private schools so that they could keep their children safe on their trips to and from school. Thus, opposition to vouchers, and to takeovers by for-profit companies such as Edison, would be effectively undercut.

While the education plan dominated his address, the President also announced an immediate massive reorganization of the nation’s military under Defense Secretary designate Joel Klein, the former NY City Schools Chancellor. The plan, called “Soldiers First”, will hold individual unit commanders, rather than the Defense Department leadership and the President, responsible for the war’s progress, and will subject local commanders to weekly evaluations under another no bid contract by McGraw Hill.

In a related story, the Inaugural Parade had to be cancelled when sudden huge transportation cuts in the District of Columbia prevented most of the marchers from getting to the parade route. The cuts were the brainchild of corporate “turnaround” firm Alvarez and Marsal, who were hired to trim costs in the District. Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty had engaged the firm on the recommendation of President Bloomberg, who Mayor Fenty worships as a god.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Boy Ruled Ineligible for School Bus Hit on Way to School

Today's Daily News tells the story of an 10-year old Bronx boy, Eliseo Oler, who was struck by a commuter bus on his way to school. Eliseo had previously taken a yellow bus from a stop close to his home but was told he was not eligible this year because he lived too close to school.

His mother blamed the accident on the DoE:
"If they hadn't taken him off the bus, none of this would've happened," Miriam DeJesus told the Daily News from her son's bedside. "I told the principal, how could you make a 10-year-old child take the [city] bus to school?"
Eliseo was one of many children thrown off buses by high-priced consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal and issued half-price Metro cards. His path to the city bus took him through the busy intersection of Jerome Avenue and Mosholu Parkway South. It was there he was struck yesterday.

Full story here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

2007 ELA and Math Test Scores for NYC Public Schools

Quick links to 2007 test scores:
English Language Arts (ELA) click here and Math here. (Source NYC DoE)

(NY State Education Department has the ELA here and Math here)

Commentary on the results:
NY Times has an interview on the Math scores with former Board of Ed assessment chief Robert Tobias here.

Diane Ravitch on Math here and ELA here and here.

Juan Gonzalez of NY Daily News on ELA here

NY Sun Op-Ed from retired Board of Ed analyst Fred Smith here

Bloomberg Declares “Major Cell Phone Combat Over”; Test Scores Up

June 14, 2007 (GBN News): In a speech given on the steps of a warehouse storing thousands of confiscated cell phones, a camouflage clad Mayor Bloomberg declared victory today and announced that “major combat operations against cell phones have ended”. Making a direct connection between confiscation of cell phones and the recent city gains in standardized math test scores, the Mayor spoke to a gathering of school security officers and their director, former Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon. “Because of you, our schools are now secure”, the Mayor told them, “and we have beaten the rest of New York state in Math scores. We were able to accomplish this because unlike elsewhere in the state, our students don’t have parents interrupting their tests with silly questions about what they want for dinner.”

The Mayor, after a dramatic parachute landing on the roof of the warehouse, admitted that skirmishes do continue, and that there are a few pockets of cell phone resistance in some of the city schools. Mr. Bloomberg said that he has directed his security chief to sweep those schools immediately to clear out the renegades. Mr. Rakhmon, speaking through an interpreter, unveiled a new security plan under which students will be searched by his forces for cell phones before every test, and armed officers will replace teachers as proctors to insure continued compliance. “We will not have our students distracted”, he said, “even if we have to drag them away in handcuffs.”

“Wait till you see our test scores next year”, Mr. Bloomberg predicted. “When we get the rest of those yackity-yackers out of the schools, we’ll beat the whole country’s scores. And there will be so few kids left, even those whiners who keep asking for smaller classes should be happy.”

In other news, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein was hospitalized today for psychiatric observation after one of his statements caused aides to question his mental status. Mr. Klein had just named Marcia V. Lyles, former Region 8 Superintendent, as Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, an appointment which surprised some observers because the test scores in her region had not risen as much as in some others. Mr. Klein was quoted as saying that test scores alone were not the basis for his decision to appoint her, a statement which one aide called so uncharacteristic as to raise concern that “He could not possibly be in his right mind.” Moreover, the fact that the appointment drew praise from both the principals’ and teachers’ unions raised further concerns as to whether Mr. Klein was sane at the time he made the appointment.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Flushing's IS 237 Fights for Space

The PTA of Rachel L. Carson Intermediate School 237Q has asked for support in their fight to keep from losing space in their building as a result of the expansion of one of the DoE's new small schools, East-West School of International Studies. IS 237 had been told East-West would reside in the building for a year, now the news is that East-West will expand to 500 students.

Despite record surpluses and state matching funds for new schools construction, the Mayor refuses to plan for reducing the overcrowding and large class sizes our children endure. In fact, many schools, like IS 237 are seeing increased, rather than decreased overcrowding.

Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott will join City Councilman John Liu at a meeting tonight at the school.

Here's an excerpt from a letter to the Mayor, Chancellor and elected representatives of the community. Click here to see the full copy.

Our children are more than statistics which can be manipulated to make things appear to be something they are not, and our children are more than dollar signs. Our schools are more than just buildings with unused space and are not, and should not be, run like a corporation. We have programs in place that serve well our students and our community and we feel that you have not looked deeply enough at the entire picture. While we understand the need for change in the school system, and wish East-West only the best in building their school, we refuse to allow their success to be had at the expense and sacrifice of our own children. We have done our best to ensure the safety and comfort of all students in our building and students from both schools have embraced one another without incident; and while we have gladly offered and shared our resources with East-West, please do not forget that we were here first. Our school is our priority and should be as much a priority to you and is East-West. Anything less than this is unacceptable and offensive.

We want: (i) the planned expansion of East-West School of International Studies within the walls of Rachel Carson Intermediate School I.S. 237Q halted immediately until a new home is found for them, or a more just and equitable arrangement can be made; (ii) you to be transparent in your dealings regarding our children – no more secret deals; (iii) the community to be informed of changes in a timely manner; (iv) community organizations, parents, teachers and school administrators involved in matters such as these that affect our community and schools so that all points-of-view can be considered and the best fit for all achieved; and (v) no more money wasted on outside consultants -- statistics tell only a small part of the story. You have valuable resources at your fingertips in people who live in our great City and are part of our educational system -- use them.

UPDATE: Councilman John Liu is taking a hard look at a Home Depot site which could be purchased to house East-West because a new store in the chain will open 1/4 mile away. As usual in the face of overcrowding, the Department of Ed is sitting on its hands. Full story from the Daily News here.

Mayor Bloomberg's School Success

Math scores are up. I just hate it. I've thought that Mayor Bloomberg's policies on NYC schools utterly deplorable and I've deplored them. That said, the results of statewide math tests show that NYC children are doing better. There are some reasons to think a portion of the increased math scores is an artifact of the testing and some reason to credit past curriculum changes. However, these increases are significant as I read the data and the Mayor and Chancellor Klein deserve credit for them. I hate having written that. Review the data yourself here .

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


June 12, 2007 (Gadfly News) Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced this afternoon that the city would build a new warehouse in which to store all the cell phones recently confiscated from New York City public school students. The mayor, flanked by Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, made the announcement in an warehouse that is currently being used to house other items confiscated by the city, principally bicycles impounded during the Critical Mass bicycle rides that gather monthly in Union Square.

“As you can see,” said Mayor Bloomberg, “housing all our confiscated items has become a problem for us, with the bicycles and the cell phones having to share space. But we’re determined to address the overcrowding.”

As the mayor was speaking, another shipment of cell phones arrived in the warehouse. Many of the phones were ringing, and the cacophony of different ring tones nearly drowned out the press conference. Mayor Bloomberg shook a playful fist at the phones, then plucked one at random out of the crate. He glanced at the caller I.D., then said with a wink, “It says it’s ‘Mom’ calling.” For the benefit of the assembled reporters he flipped open the phone and affected a juvenile voice as he answered it. “Hi, Mom…Yeah, I left school already … No, I haven’t got to my piano lesson yet… Wait! Some big scary man is following me!... Oh no! He’s dragging me into his car… Mom! Help! I…” The mayor then flipped shut the phone and high-fived Chancellor Klein. “I guess I got that mom’s knickers in a twist, now didn’t I?” he said.

Returning to the subject of the new warehouse, the mayor explained that it would be built on the site of P.S. 234 in lower Manhattan. “That will put it close to Tweed,” he said, “so we can keep an eye on the inventory.” The mayor acknowledged that the warehouse would displace P.S. 234, but insisted that that would not be a problem. “We’ve identified a brownfield site where the school can eventually relocate,” he said.

Mayor Bloomberg deflected any questions about whether the closing of the elementary school would add to the severe overcrowding already plaguing District 2. “I’m really tired of this issue coming up,” he said. “People are going to have to just trust me on this. In this case, the warehouse is just going to have to take precedence. I think that when you look closely at our facilities and how they’re being used, you’ll see that the vast majority of our school buildings are being used to house schools, so the balance is still tipped in their favor.”

Addressing the issue of how the new warehouse would be funded, the mayor pointed to the increase in state funding the city is promised “because of the decision in our favor on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case. We’ve earmarked some of those funds to build the warehouse.” But the mayor was interrupted by Chancellor Klein, who tapped him on the shoulder and whispered discreetly in his ear.

“I stand corrected,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Joel here tells me that the CFE funds are already committed to our McGraw-Hill testing contracts. No worries. I’m sure we can tap some of our Homeland Security money. Right, Ray?”

Asked what would eventually happen to all the cell phones confiscated by the city, the mayor noted that that was a bright spot in the plan. “We’ve looking into an unusual public/private partnership,” he said. “And by ‘private,’ I mean private schools. A lot of our city’s independent schools have community involvement programs in place, so we’re going to turn the phones over to them and I trust they’ll find some charitable use for them. Luckily, we developed a good relationship with many of the private schools already, after granting them preferential use of the refurbished playing fields on Randall’s Island. And,” he concluded with a wink, “Chancellor Klein and I both have relationships with the private schools that go back further than that, don’t we, Joel? All those whopping checks we wrote out over the years, for tuition and more?” The mayor draped his arm around the chancellor. "Don’t forget – the two of us are private school parents.”

Sunday, June 10, 2007

GBN News Commentary: Satire or Reality? Response to a GBN News Reader

By Gary Babad

I feel that a recent blog comment by a reader named Jonathan, questioning a GBN News article, warrants a response in this space. Jonathan expressed confusion as to whether the story (“From Cash to Crash”) was satire or reality. I sympathize, Jonathan, since I often have the same confusion when I read the things that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein say and do. I suppose the simplest way to clear up the confusion is to say that when I do parody, I write it in a GBN News article, but when Bloomberg and Klein do parody, they call it “reorganization” and then actually implement it!

Seriously, though, Jonathan, these parodies we do on the blog are, I think, the only way we can stay sane in the face of these fanatics who have hijacked the city school system and turned it into a massive “mad scientist” experiment on our children, carried out in secret, with no real oversight. They reorganize, then reorganize again like a reality show version of “Groundhog Day”. They jeopardize our children’s health and safety with a mid-year bus cutback that leaves kids waiting out on the street in the middle of winter, and with their metal detector/confiscation policy that equates cell phones with knives and guns. In light of this, is it that much of a stretch to imagine Rumsfeld in charge of school transportation or Rakhmon as school safety chief? It might even be an improvement!

But I fear it will get worse before it gets better. The reality is, the Tweed folks have failed, but like Bush in Iraq, they either don’t know it yet, or they are trying to spin it long enough to attempt to salvage their own reputations before they leave office. Six years into their experimenting, test scores are not rising significantly, parents and children are confused by perpetual reorganizations, and there is a growing backlash against a testing regime that goes far beyond the No Child Left Behind mandates. The DOE openly flaunts the law, ignoring State mandates to lower class size. And because they have taken such a cavalier attitude towards any criticism or input, they have alienated both voters and politicians enough to jeopardize the very Mayoral control that they have used to bring about their ill-advised “reforms”.

People with their backs against the wall and reputations to preserve can be awfully dangerous, and I fear that there will be even more of their bizarre machinations to come. So now that we are facing even more of the same, it will need to be countered in multiple ways: through legislative lobbying, public education, legal action, and yes, satire, because the barb can sometimes be as effective as the sword.

There are certain twisted realities I just cannot accept. To give just one example, the fact that a major factor in choosing what high schools my child will apply to will need to be the schools’ informal policy on cell phones and whether they have metal scanners. Because I will not have my child traveling around the city without something that many of the city’s own police officers have recommended as an essential safety tool. What an irrelevant thing to have to base a school application decision on! They’re messing with our kids’ safety and interfering with rational educational decision making, and we cannot allow that.

So, Jonathan, all I can tell you is that you’re not alone in your confusion. I hope you will continue to read the blog. And to guide you, keep in mind that the intentional parodies are under the GBN News and Gadfly News titles. The other articles are pieces of serious news and commentary that you can trust as independent voices of reason and sanity. And the unintentional parodies will doubtless continue being issued in the name of Bloomberg and Klein.

Gary Babad is creator, owner, CEO, and crack reporter for GBN News. With this commentary, he has probably blown any remaining chance at that $150,000 a year PR job at the DOE.