Sunday, September 30, 2007

Spitzer on Bloomberg

"He is wrong at every level - dead wrong, factually wrong, legally wrong, morally wrong, ethically wrong." -- Elliot Spitzer on Michael Bloomberg, Sept.27, 2007

This quotation suggests that the mutual lovefest between Spitzer and Bloomberg may be over – which is important given the influence of the Governor over education funding and the future of mayoral control in NYC.

The context was Bloomberg’s opposition to Spitzer's proposal to grant driver licenses to undocumented aliens – but the same statement could be made of the Mayor's educational policies as well.

Stay tuned.

Friday, September 28, 2007

New York Tests Flunk!

Diane Ravitch has a great oped in today's NY Post about how the recent NAEP scores further undermine NY State’s claim of great jumps in achievement, entitled NEW YORK'S TESTS FLUNK. (See also Steve Koss’ earlier posting about this issue.) An excerpt:

The release this week of national test scores in reading and math was an embarrassment for the state Department of Education. Scores nationally and in many individual states showed modest gains from 2005 to 2007, but New York did not - even though the Education Department had trumpeted "gains" on its tests just weeks earlier.

Diane concludes that this disparity further points out the need for an independent auditor for New York State test results. For a longer version of Diane's op-ed, check out the City Journal.

Also, see this article in the NY Sun which points out how all the recent findings that the 2005 tests were easier in math and in reading have given strength to the call for an independent audit.

September PEP Meeting: Mayoral Appointees Reject Resolution on Military Recruiting

The Panel for Educational Policy meets monthly to review DOE policies and approve budgets. As the appointee of Borough President Scott Stringer, I represent Manhattan on the Panel.

At Monday's Panel for Educational Policy, I brought to the panel a resolution recommending measures to improve the oversight of military recruiting in schools. The resolution would also ensure that families could exercise their right to keep their personal information from being turned over to the military. We lost in a 6 - 3 vote with Chancellor Klein, the mayoral appointees and the appointee of the Staten Island Borough President voting against. The Queens and Bronx members joined me in supporting the resolution.

The impetus for the resolution was a report and student survey released by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Students or Soldiers Coalition.

The main findings of the survey were:

1) One in five students reported that class time was being used by military recruiters.
2) 40% of students did not receive forms allowing them to opt-out of providing personal information to military recruiters.
3) One in five students did not believe anyone in their schools could advise them on risks and benefits of military enlistment
4) Half of the survey respondents did not know to whom they should report military recruiter misconduct

In light of these findings, we prepared a resolution with a series of recommendations for the Department of Education. We suggested a chancellors regulation be implemented to clarify the policy and require appropriate enforcement measures:

1) Use of classroom time should be prohibited and limits be placed on frequency and location of recruiter visits.
2) Opt-out forms should be distributed in multiple languages to all high school students. Other easy methods should as a website or check boxes on school forms should be employed.
3) Records of military recruiter visits should be kept and published.
4) School staff should be trained in the policies and a procedure established to report recruiter misconduct and all compliance with all policies should be monitored by the DOE.
5) In each school, appropriate staff members should be trained to advise students on military enlistment.

While Chancellor Klein agreed that many of the measures made sense, he was not willing to adopt the resolution, citing the burden the measures would place on the schools. I suggested that the DOE might manage aspects of the policy centrally, for example using the new ARIS database to send the opt-out mailings, thereby actually removing an administrative burden from principals. I also pointed out how expense and administrative effort seem to be of no concern when it comes to enforcing the mayor's ban on cell phones. In any event, we will continue to press the DOE to fulfill its obligations to our children.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Childrens do learn! But do the Mayor and George Bush?

Yesterday, President Bush stood in front of a group of New York City elementary school students with the Mayor by his side. He urged the renewal of NCLB by saying "Childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured."

Then the President praised Bloomberg for "moving aside bureaucracy that will inhibit the people he has selected to achieve the goal."

Bloomberg used the occasion to defend high-stakes tests: "As they get into high school, they have to decide whether to hang out with a gang, whether to hang out with somebody who has a gun, whether to try drugs, whether to act responsibly when it comes to sex...They're faced with whether to get married, whether to stay in school. We are, our children are facing high-stakes tests all the time."

As many experts have noted, there are all sorts of tests in life.

So why should the only tests that count in our school system be those given on paper, with multiple choices? Shouldn’t other measures of achievement count for our students, as they do in real life?

Update: According to the NY Times, the official White House transcript of Bush's remarks corrected his grammar.

Our kids being cheated out of smaller classes, yet again

This week the NYC Independent Budget Office came out with new class size figures, showing that class size reduction has slowed to a crawl, due to the city’s refusal to maintain the number of classes offered in K-8.(Click on the graphs below to enlarge them.)

The figures also showed that last year there were nearly 170,000 students in grades K-3 (or 63%) in classes above the state goal of 20, and more than 60,000 students (22%) in classes 25 or above.

For 4-5th grades, more than 76,000 (or 57%) students remain in classes of 25 or above, and nearly 22,000 (or 16%) in classes of 30 or above.

In 6th through 8th grades, the picture is even more dismal. More than 160,000 (78%) of our middle school students are in classes of 25 or above, and more than 80,000 (39%) are crammed in classes of 30 or more.

Clearly, the Department of Education has to work far harder to improve opportunities for our children, particularly in the context of the new state law that requires them to do so.

For seven years, the city has received almost $90 million in state funds, intended to reduce class size in the early grades to 20 or less. Yet a 2006 audit from the State Comptroller’s office criticized the DOE for only creating 20 extra classes in grades K-3 in the year 2004-5, instead of the 1586 classes the city had claimed. This new data shows that the situation has gotten much worse. Far fewer classes have been offered in these grades each year.

Last year there were 446 fewer classes in grades K-3 than before the state-funded class size reduction program began – and more than 2,000 fewer classes than DOE claims to have created with these funds.

The same is likely to occur with the new state funding that is supposed to be used to reduce class size in all grades, without much more rigorous accountability, oversight and compliance.

For more information and an excel file showing the class size averages in each school district in the city for the last two years, go here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

NYS Education Department Spokesman Hears, Sees No Evil

Results from the recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) put into doubt many NYS Education Department (NYSED) and NYC Department of Education claims of “substantial” student progress in fourth and eighth math and reading based on State-developed exams. This year’s NAEP announcement showed that progress in New York State has remained nearly flat in eighth grade math and both eighth and fourth grade reading, with a modest improvement only in fourth grade math.

According to the New York Sun, NYSED spokesman Tom Dunn defended the State's annual progress assessments by saying that concerns about lack of sufficient student progress suggested by the NAEP results are “flat-out wrong.” In fact, it is his arguments dismissing the apparent discrepancies between the NYSED exam results and those revealed by the NAEP -- that only about 2% of New York students in each grade take the NAEP exams and each student only takes a portion of the test -- that are flat-out wrong.

Apparently, Mr. Dunn has never heard of statistical sampling as a means of drawing inferences from larger populations. Perhaps he has is not aware that most surveys and polls are conducted in a similar manner. Maybe he has never read the small information boxes the New York Times inserts with its CBS News/New York Times surveys showing that statistically reliable national polls can be taken with fewer than 1,000 Americans. It could well be that he is also not aware that a random sample of just 1,200 – 1,500 people gives results which are mathematically provable to be well over 99% reliable. As a point of comparison, a mere 350,000 students across the U.S. participated in these most recent NAEP exams.

The NAEP tests, administered in all 50 States every two years, are the closest thing in America to national, standardized exams in math and reading. These exams are universally respected by educators for their consistency, reliability, and lack of an underlying political agenda. They are the only such exams immune from local gubernatorial, legislative, or mayoral pressures to "prove" the positive progress those politicians want. For Mr. Dunn to besmirch the NAEP and its national and state level testing methodology as somehow inadequate and unrepresentative demonstrates that even the NYSED can hide behind mathematical ignorance in order not to hear or see a problem. Then again, perhaps their goal is to render adults in New York State even more mathematically ill informed than they already are at the same time they are claiming such admirable improvements in children’s mathematical understanding.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Free Ride for Bullies

Check out this NY Times oped -- by education advocates Neha Singh and Khin Mai Aung --pointing out that DOE officials have refused to enforce the anti-bullying law passed by the City Council in 2004, called the Dignity for All Students Act:

"The bill requires the New York City Department of Education to establish procedures to protect children. These include creating anti-harassment policies and communicating them to students, parents and administrators in several languages; reporting annually on incidents of harassment; and explicitly making harassment a basis for disciplinary action. "

Because of this refusal, the Department has given scant attention towards stemming the bullying of students from different ethnic and religious backgrounds; and no "tracking of harassment incidents, educational outreach and mandating meaningful annual reports on bias in schools."

This is yet another example of how the DOE sees themselves as above the law.

The op-ed relates the example of a Sikh student named Harpal Singh Vacher who had his turban forcibly removed and his hair shorn in a school bathroom.

"The department must do more to maintain an atmosphere of mutual respect in our schools. As a result, children like Harpal are suffering."

GBN News Editorial: Let Them Speak

September 25, 2007: Controversy swirled this week over whether it is appropriate to give a forum to illegitimate and dictatorial leaders, chosen by an undemocratic process, who are out of touch with the needs and wishes of the people they represent, who persecute their citizens with severe penalties for trivial offenses and who manipulate facts to serve their own ends. The idea of showcasing such leaders is certainly abhorrent, and it is understandable that people would be upset. GBN News shares these feelings, but nevertheless, we feel that in a free society, people should be allowed to express even the most offensive of ideas. Therefore, we feel that calls for the cancellation of the meeting between President Bush and NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein are not in the spirit of our open and democratic society, and the meeting should go on as scheduled. Their statements - whether about the illusory “improvement” in test scores or the illusory WMD; the purported commitment to working with parents or to working with Congress; or the rationalizations for failure to obey City law on the cell phone ban or international law on treatment of prisoners - should be laid out for all to see as the rantings of leaders near the end of their time in power; leaders whose policies and decisions are being discredited, and who will be judged harshly by history. Our willingness to allow the free and open airing of their views can only hasten that process.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

City Council hearings on parent involvement

The hearings on parental involvement before the City Council on Thursday offered some fireworks -- and real insights. Because there was no media coverage of these important hearings, here is a detailed account.

Full disclosure: I wasn't there the whole time, so have cobbled together this report from some trustworthy sources who were. I have also posted links to the full written testimonies for those that we have available.

As usual, DOE got the prime morning slot, and Council members grilled Deputy Mayor Walcott and Chief Family Engagement officer Martine Guerrier for several hours.

The Chair, Robert Jackson, started off by mentioning that the only office in DOE that has no website link was the Office of Family Engagement. He said that he had two staff members try to get in touch with the Office by calling 311. In both cases, operators told them that there was no such office and directed them to old regional office phones that were disconnected. Walcott gave him a cursory apology and said he would make sure that 311 operators knew where to direct parents from now on. Guerrier commented that they are still working on a webpage for the OFE and that it should be working soon.

Jackson also said that the new parent brochure—“The NYC Family Guide” -- came out on September 18th, nearly two weeks after the beginning of the school year. It was later noted that there is no phone number for Guerrier’s office in it —only for the district offices. In the section “How Families Find Answers,” parents are instructed to call the school parent coordinator first (appointed and accountable to the principal, of course) and, if they cannot get their problem answered there, to call the district offices and ask for the District Family Advocate.

Guerrier testified that she was convinced of the "sincerity on the part of the administration” to change the tone of their interaction with parents. Her five goals by July 2008 are that all PTAs should have elected officers, all School Leadership Teams will be “functioning”, all Community Education Councils will have full membership, and that the DOE parent survey will receive a greater response rate. (Her powerpoint presentation, with more information, in pdf , is here.)

Jackson challenged Guerrier on how her office might also help ensure that DOE policies actually begin to take into account parental concerns. Jackson, Vallone, Liu and Ignizio addressed the Department's chronic neglect of the problem of class size, and DOE's attempt to manipulate the parent survey results. Walcott smoothly responded that they are reducing class size and that the results of the survey are out there for anyone to see. He also claimed that "the Mayor's doors at City Hall are and always be open to parents." (!!)

The other two areas of major attention were the cell phone ban and the administration's proposed revisions of the regulations concerning School Leadership Teams (SLTs), which will eviscerate their authority to provide real input into school budgets. Fidler was especially aggressive on the lack of input that parents have on school closings and the installation of charter schools in their communities. He also threatened a lawsuit if DOE doesn’t abide by the Council legislation on cell phones.

When the two DOE officials departed, so did as usual most of the Council members and the media. Finally, the rest of us got a chance to speak our minds. (It is ironic that Council members who are so vehement about the fact that DOE doesn’t listen to us almost uniformly are absent when any parent testifies.) Only Robert Jackson stayed on to listen.

Joan McKeever Thomas, UFT parent liaison, said that the Chancellor's proposed changes to the SLTs, in which these teams of parents and staff will compose comprehensive education plans only after the principal has already unilaterally decided on the school budget, would render them essentially meaningless. They would become "redundant organizations, talk shops with no direction or larger purpose."

Patrick Sullivan, Manhattan representative on the Panel for Educational Policy and a fellow blogger here, agreed that the new regulations would disempower parents, and added that "Parents are marginalized by the manner in which the PEP public meetings are structured: all public comment is relegated to the end of the session after all voting has concluded...[This] makes it painfully obvious that parental input is not being taken into consideration on the most important issues facing our school system."

Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children pointed out that now, parents who have concerns or complaints about their schools are being directed by DOE to the Office of Family Engagement, which lacks any ability to address these problems:

"District Family Advocates and their supervisors have no authority whatsoever over the principals; they are not even in the same chain of command. ... Parents with complaints are being funneled to the District Family Advocates, rather than to DOE officials who have the authority to respond to their concerns. This structure does not promote parent engagement; it promotes parent disenfranchisement."

Shana Marks-Odinga from the Alliance for Quality Education said that the recent borough hearings on the Contracts for Excellence were rushed and without parents being provided with enough details to be able to give sufficient input. She recommended that “Public engagement around the 2008-9 Contract for Excellence should begin in October 2007 to ensure a meaningful process" and that a parent complaint process be instituted, according to the new state law.

Miguel Melendez, Latino activist and former DOE employee, pointed out that there were no Hispanics in the inner circle at Tweed or among the top level of the Office of Family Engagement; this is unacceptable considering that Latino students make up 40% of the system. He also revealed that “On four separate occasions (May 24th, 30th, July 2nd, and August 2nd, 2007) the National Institute for Latino Policy has requested Equal Employment Opportunity data only to be denied each and every time.

Ellen McHugh of Parent to Parent noted that there was no information for parents of special needs children in the DOE family guide. Jim Devor, acting president of the Association of CECs, pointed out that while it was commendable that DOE had instituted a 30 day public comment period for the proposed revision of the SLT role, under the new system, “most of the major decisions regarding school policy will have already been made (without meaningful input by parents)" before the process of writing the schools’ CEP has begun.

Several representatives from the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council testified. Tim Johnson, CPAC chair, reiterated that parents continue to be left out of the loop as to major policies adopted by this administration. David Quintana, CPAC rep from D 27 in Queens, said that parent coordinators were being used to deflect the concerns of parents away from principals.

Then I spoke briefly, pointing out that the peculiar structure imposed by the recent reorganization further puts parents at sea – since District Superintendents no longer spend any time supervising the schools in their own districts. This means parents have no place to go to when they have problems with their children’s schools. I also discussed out how the recent DOE parent survey was designed specifically to minimize parental concerns with both class size and testing, and that even when smaller classes came out as the top priority of parents, the DOE still tried to manipulate the statistics by making it look otherwise – showing their utter disrespect for our views.

Susan Shiroma, the new president of the Citywide Council on High Schools, complained that with the recent elimination of the regions, there were no longer any HS Presidents Councils in existence – rendering the job of the CCHS to gather input from HS parent leaders throughout the city almost impossible.

Sadly, as mentioned above, there were no stories in any of the media about these hearings. For more coverage, check out the InsideSchools blog entries for Sept. 20.

Former VP Quayle Named DOE Diversity Czar

September 23, 2007 (GBN News): The NYC Department Of Education announced today that former Vice President Dan Quayle will become the DOE’s new “Diversity Czar”. The position is being created to address charges that groups making up a major portion of school enrollment are vastly under-represented at the DOE. For example, there were reportedly so few Latinos in the Office of Parent Engagement that the DOE was said to have represented a native of Curacao, a Dutch territory, as a Latina because she spoke Spanish. Mr. Quayle admitted that simply speaking Spanish does not qualify someone to represent the Latino community, and the former Vice President pledged in a statement, “That’s why I’ll be looking far and wide to find people who actually speak Latin, to truly represent that community at the DOE.” A DOE spokesperson praised the new Diversity Czar, who as Vice President once said, “I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn't study Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people”. The spokesperson said that Mr. Quayle seemed the obvious choice for the DOE due to his “longstanding experience in the area of cultural competence”.

Ed. Note: If this sounds far fetched, follow this link to a Word file containing testimony given before the NYC Council Committee on Education. A read of this devastating testimony suggests that a Quayle appointment such as the one suggested in the above parody would not be out of character for the DOE. As Mr. Melendez stated to the Council, “The DOE has demonstrated, not just in the Latino community, that it is well below standard in Cultural Competency”.

Friday, September 21, 2007

DOE to Kids: Shovel It

September 21, 2007 (GBN News): A controversial new plan by the NY City Department of Education to have children bury their cell phones outside before entering school buildings has been coming under increasing criticism. The DOE plans to engage an outside vendor to rent shovels to children for what it terms a “nominal fee” of $1 a day. Many City Council members and parent advocates termed the proposal “ridiculous”, but Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg held their ground, so to speak. Mr. Klein acknowledged that the cost of renting shovels could be a burden for some families. The Chancellor told GBN News that the DOE is considering a compromise whereby the children would be allowed to provide their own shovels. However, he said that since the shovels are potentially “dangerous implements”, they could not be brought into the school buildings and would have to be buried alongside the cell phones.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Council Member Fidler Threatens Lawsuit Over School Cell Phone Ban

Today's City Council hearings on parent engagement went for many hours. One early development was the angry back and forth between council members and DOE over the cell phone ban. Council member Lew Fidler of Brooklyn finished one exchange by telling Deputy Mayor Walcott "We'll see you in court".

While the council has recently passed a law protecting the rights of students to carry phones to and from schools, they have previously not openly expressed willingness to fight the battle in court. That heavy lifting has been done by public school parents represented by Attorney Normal Siegel and law firm Morgan Lewis. Fidler's comment may signal that the Council will now step up to defend both its own legislative prerogative and the rights of families.

Earlier, Martine Guerrier, who heads the Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy (OFEA) and Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott had testy exchanges with Council member Peter Vallone. Vallone was frustrated that Guerrier endorsed the mayor's position on cell phones rather than advocate for the position even she admitted was held by an overwhelmingly majority of parents.

No “Wired” Kids on Subways

September 20, 2007 (GBN News): NY City officials announced today that all city subway stations will soon be wired for cell phone use. The plan, in the works for some time, was given new impetus after this summer’s severe flooding, which shut down the subway system and left riders stranded for hours. The move is designed to enhance the safety and emergency communication for all New Yorkers, except for schoolchildren traveling to and from school.

Asked why children, who are our most vulnerable city residents, are not being afforded the same safety opportunities as adults, Mayor Bloomberg was characteristically dismissive. “Subways are for studying”, the Mayor said. “If the train gets stuck, they should be concentrating on their math homework, not bothering their parents about whether they want beef or fish for dinner.”

In a related story, the Department of Education announced today that the plan to install lockers outside schools, for children to store their cell phones before entering the building, is being dropped. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told GBN News that the DOE was unable to find an outside vendor who could make a profit on the lockers. Instead, Mr. Klein said that all high schools and middle schools will provide designated outside garden areas for children to bury their cell phones before school. The DOE is soliciting bids from outside vendors to rent shovels to children at a nominal cost of $1 a day.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The DOE and the Parent Survey: A Case of the Blind Men and the Elephant?

Since the results of last June’s Parent Survey were announced, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have repeatedly played down parents’ collective concerns over class size, as reported previously on this site. The DOE has not yet made a database of the survey results publicly available for comparative purposes. However, we now have enough information to take a closer look, at least for the Districts (1 through 6) that comprise the schools on Manhattan Island.

Here’s a summary of the results for the 266 elementary, middle, and high schools whose Learning Environment Survey Reports were posted on their DOE school web pages.

-- Parents in 46.6% (124) of the schools -- almost half!! --voted smaller class sizes as their most desired improvement. The next highest improvement choice was more or better enrichment programs, chosen by parents at 38.0% (101) of the schools.

-- Parents at an impressive 66.1% (37 out of 56) of the Manhattan schools with enrollments of over 700 students chose smaller class size as their first priority.

-- Parents at an even more remarkable 84.6% (22 out of 26) of the Manhattan schools with enrollments of over 1,000 students chose smaller class size as their highest priority.

-- Overall, 27.0% of Manhattan parents who responded to the survey chose small class size as their highest improvement priority (versus 24% Citywide reported by the DOE).

-- There was a noticeable statistical difference between schools whose parents chose smaller class size versus those that voted for enrichment.

Smaller Class Size
Number of Schools -- 124
Total Student Enrollment -- 88,551
% Manhattan Enrollment -- 58.0%
Average Enrollment -- 714
Median Enrollment -- 556

More/Better Enrichment Prog.
Number of Schools -- 101
Total Student Enrollment -- 45,057
% Manhattan Enrollment -- 29.5%
Average Enrollment -- 446
Median Enrollment -- 256

The conclusions are inescapable. Parents in just under half of all Manhattan schools cited smaller class sizes as their highest improvement priority, and those parents represented larger schools on average as well schools with 58% of the Borough’s student enrollment. Given New York Magazine’s recent real estate report citing city population growth projections of 200,000 in the next three years and 500,000 by 2020, suggesting that class size is not (or should not be) public school parents’ first concern is willfully manipulative of the facts. Or perhaps it’s just a case of the blind men and the elephant?

More on the Broad prize, our children's CFE dividend, and the parent voice

Although NYC did receive the Broad prize, as widely expected, our letter from parents protesting the award was mentioned in the NY Times today.

David Quintana, a parent whose statement we posted yesterday, and who participated in the focus group that met with Broad researchers, was quoted both in the Times and in today’s NY Sun .

In case anyone is wondering, none of us spoke out to deny NYC students their fair share of $375,000 in scholarships; (NYC was guaranteed at least $125,000 in funds as a Broad finalist.) God knows if these students got through our public school system alive – where fewer than 50% graduate in four years, they deserve it!

We knew our letter would have no effect on these scholarships. Eli Broad is a long-time supporter of many of the education initiatives of this Mayor, has given millions of dollars to DOE, and is in full agreement with the administration’s emphasis on corporate, top-down management, free market competition, and more charter schools. Indeed, we had heard months ago that the fix was in.

Instead, we were trying to ensure that the dissenting voices of parents would be reported along with the award, and to this extent we were successful.

In any event, the Broad award doesn't change the fact that DOE continues to misuse of millions of dollars of state class size reduction funds – in the process, depriving thousands of children of their right to smaller classes -- or the fact that thousands more students are forced drop out of school each year without getting a fair chance to earn a HS diploma, without their fates ever being reported in the official statistics. It is the ability of all these thousands of children to succeed in school and life that we continue to fight for.

$375,000 is a pittance compare to the more than $250 million in state funds that DOE is now putting at risk because of their stubborn refusal to submit a real class size reduction plan to the state.

For more on this more important “prize’ – which represents our children’s CFE dividend, and should be spent responsibly, rather than wasted on more consultants, “data inquiry teams” and testing, see this entry and the NY Sun article from yesterday.

DOE Announces Criteria for Broad Scholarships

September 19, 2007 (GBN News): Having won the Broad Prize for Education, the NYC Department Of Education has announced the criteria for students competing for $500,000 in scholarships, which will be funded by the prize. Not surprisingly, the requirements will closely parallel those of the Broad prize themselves.

Foremost among the criteria for students will be, of course, their test scores. Students will be expected to demonstrate consistent improvement in scores from year to year. Extra credit will be given to students who took tests that became progressively easier each year.

Just as importantly, students must demonstrate proficiency in public relations, to better “sell themselves” to the scholarship committee. While students can, if they wish, take responsibility for their own PR, it is strongly recommended that they hire high priced consultants so as to put themselves in the best possible light.

Finally, students must demonstrate a familiarity with the scholarship committee. Prior personal and professional relationships are a must. The committee is free to ignore the evaluations of any others, including teachers or school personnel, who might have actual knowledge of the students’ work.

The committee, which has already chosen the scholarship recipients, will announce the awards in January.

Bloomberg Administration Intransigence on Contract for Excellence Undermining Support for Mayoral Control

While the mayor and chancellor were being lionized in Washington yesterday by the Broad Foundation and Bush Administration, back home some key stakeholders in public education were not so flattering. In this article by Elizabeth Green in the NY Sun, Queens Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette expressed his frustration over the Bloomberg Administration's failure to submit an acceptable plan to spend new state funds:

Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette, a Democrat of Queens who is the deputy speaker, said he is concerned that the city might not agree to revise its plan. "We're offering all that extra money, but the city refuses to use it as they're requested to do," he said. "They're like petulant children."

Mr. Lafayette said the resistance has convinced him that his support for mayoral control of the schools was a mistake. "The one nice thing we did about this turning the power over to the mayor is that it sunsets in '09," he said.

The article goes on to quote Regents Vice Chancellor Merryl Tisch who also made the misbehaving-children comparison.
Several members of the Board of Regents, the body that governs state education policy, said they have been assured that the city will add a five-year plan to reduce class size and revise its distribution of funds among schools.

"If you don't like the rules, you just don't pick up your marbles and walk away," the Regents vice chancellor, Merryl Tisch, said. "The mayor and the chancellor are such responsible leaders that they would never adhere to ‘I'm picking up my marbles and walking away,'" she added, referring to Mr. Bloomberg and the schools chancellor, Joel Klein.
Earlier coverage of the Contracts for Excellence controversy can be found here and here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Yet another contaminated high school?

Fox News carried a very scary story last night, about the toxic contamination at the Information Technology HS in Long Island City -- and the lack of action by the DOE to do anything about it.

$20 million of our tax dollars went into converting a former metal-plating factory into this school– with the building still being leased from its owners at more than $1 million per year.

Through documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Fox News found out that the contraption built to vent the toxic fumes outside the school (see the white tent-like object at the right of the school in the photo above) is actually bringing more contamination inside – and consulting engineers on the project have advised officials to shut it off. Yet the Dept. of Environmental Conservation and the School Construction Authority refuse to address this issue.

The building also houses a school for special needs children.

As Dave Palmer of NY Lawyers for Public Interest writes,

"This disturbing report suggests what many of us have feared: that DOE and SCA are incapable of ensuring the safety of children, teachers and community residents when they choose to build schools on contaminated sites....This should not be allowed to happen."

The administration's chronic and apparently deliberate practice of siting schools on contaminated sites, with no public review or oversight, has been noted previously on the blog, here and here.

Hopefully, this will strengthen the position of Dave and other environmental advocates who who have been pressing for more community and City Council review of leased school sites.

A parent in the Broad award focus group speaks out

As widely anticipated, the Broad Foundation gave its prize to NYC today -- despite the letter we sent yesterday, asking them to withhold this honor as it was not legitimately earned.

Unmentioned in the announcement of the prize, of course, are the millions of dollars that the Broad Foundation has given NYC and the innumerable ties -- both financial and ideological-- between the foundation and the DOE.

As mentioned in this AP article, the Foundation says that "it
conducts focus groups with teachers and parents" before awarding this prize.

Below is a statement from David Quintana, parent leader in Queens and a member of the group of parents that met with the researchers from the Foundation a few months back. It is remarkable that even with a hand-picked group of parents, DOE could apparently find no one who would say anything good about their administration of our schools.

As one of the four (4) parent participants in a focus group held at Tweed for researchers from the Broad Foundation, I am disappointed in the fact that NYC received the Broad Foundation prize today.

This group of parents, handpicked by Martine Guerrier of the Department of Education (DOE), expressed uniform disappointment with the various changes put into place by DOE, the lack of transparency and accountability, and the lack of consideration given the views of parents about what their children really need to succeed.

Clearly the Broad Foundation did not take parents views into consideration when awarding this prize to NYC today.

I feel that the DOE is totally dismissive of parents views and makes short shrift of our concerns for our children (i.e. - class size reduction, cell phone ban, school bus fiasco, numerous reorganizations of the DOE, et al.)


David M. Quintana

District 27 Presidents Council - Recording Secretary; District 27 Representative to Chancellors Parents Advisory Council, Queens Community Board 10 - Education Committee and Queens Borough President's Parents Advisory Council member

Monday, September 17, 2007

Setting the record straight; why NYC should not win the Broad prize

It is widely expected that after being nominated three times, NYC will win the Broad prize tomorrow for most improved urban school district. We faxed the following letter to the foundation today, to set the record straight.

Dear Eli Broad and the Broad Foundation:

We urge you not to award the Broad prize to NYC this year. As parents and teachers, we have witnessed one incoherent wave of reorganization after another over the last five years, leading to unnecessary chaos and in many cases, disruption of educational services. None of these changes have been planned or undertaken with any consultation of the stakeholders in the system.

In the first phase, when districts were dissolved and schools placed into regions, a year went by when thousands of special education students were denied referrals and/or essential services. Now regions have been dissolved, and districts re-instated, but without the ability or manpower to supervise and provide support to individual schools. More recently, the Department of Education instituted bus route changes in the midst of winter, which left thousands of shivering children in the cold, and others as young as six years old who were given Metro cards and expected to take the subway by themselves.

Instead of transparency and accurate information, we get spin and PR. Though overall, the amount spent on education has risen, there is no evidence that a larger percentage of resources has gone to the classroom, despite repeated claims by DOE. Instead, each year the headcount grows of highly paid officials at Tweed, as well as the number of multi-million dollar consultants.

Though test scores have risen, a careful examination shows that for the 4th and 8th grade state exams, there was more growth during the four years before the administration’s reforms were put into place than in the four years since. Moreover, as recent news reports have revealed, the 4th grade exams in both ELA and math were much easier in 2005, when the largest gains in NYC performance occurred, putting into doubt their validity.

And while the city claims a rising graduation rate, the way in which the DOE calculates this rate excludes thousands of students “discharged” from the system to GED and alternative programs each year, none of whom are counted as dropouts. What is most disturbing is that the number of these students continues to rise, as the City Comptroller has pointed out. Without fully accounting for the fate of these students, as the DOE refuses to do, there is no way to assess whether graduation rates have actually improved. Even according to DOE’s own unreliable calculations, the six year graduation rate is no higher than it was in 1996.

With nearly every change they have made in recent years, this administration has ignored the input of parents, and continues to show its contempt for our concerns, including the need to communicate with our children before and after school and help ensure their safety through the use of cell phones. Though the City Council has passed a law that would allow students to carry cell phones to and from school, the administration has said they will not comply with this law, since they claim unilateral authority when it comes to our schools.

The DOE is similarly scornful of the legitimate desires of parents for their children to be educated in smaller classes. This was the number one priority of parents in the recent DOE survey, though the administration continues to attempt to obscure these results. Our classes remain the largest in the state by far and some of the largest in the nation, without any significant improvement in five years. The State’s highest court concluded that class sizes were too large to give NYC children their right to an adequate education, yet in 2006, an audit showed that the city created only 20 additional classes with $90 million in state funds meant to reduce class size. Despite the audit’s findings, the DOE has refused to adopt any of the recommendations of the State Comptroller to improve compliance.

On your website, you have said that you will take into account the views of stakeholders, including parents and teachers, in awarding the prize. We urge you to consider these facts, and withhold this award from the NYC Department of Education until it is more legitimately earned.

Yours, fifty one NYC parents and teachers

For the letter with footnotes and full list of signers, click here.

More on the school bus scandal

The Daily News follows up with updates on its revelatory -- and horrifying -- series about abuse of special ed students on school buses. For the original five part series, click here.

Yesterday, the paper revealed that the Department of Education had withheld at least 225 complaints of abuse of students on city school buses after the Daily News had FOILed them last spring.

Today, more revelations of mismanagement and lack of follow-through by the Office of Pupil Transportation – with the director of that office, Richard Scarpa, still in charge.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

DOE: Random Scanning Fulfills Class Size Mandates

September 16, 2007 (GBN News): GBN News has learned that contrary to critics’ claims, the NY City Department of Education does not need to come up with a plan to reduce class size, because it already has one in place. The DOE policy is called “Unannounced Scanning”, and, if the experience of at least one high school is any indication, it has lowered class size significantly. At Forest Hills High School, attendance during a metal scan for cell phones last week was down 9.7 per cent, which resulted in a commensurate reduction in average class size. The DOE presumably hopes that if these figures can be replicated throughout the system, they will finally be compliant with state law.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, when reached for comment, said this proves that the DOE is responsive to parents’ concerns, as expressed in a recent survey. Mr. Klein admitted that the parents at Forest Hills High School made “smaller classes” their top choice in the survey, and acknowledged that the school was chosen for scanning on Tuesday in response. He also noted that “better communication with parents” was the parents’ next preference, and said, “What better way to communicate our concern for parents’ wishes than an unannounced metal scan?” Mr. Klein also pointed to a tremendous increase in parent involvement, when the next day hundreds of parents appeared at the school to retrieve their kids’ cell phones. “And we didn’t even have to pay them”, he said.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Joel Klein on the Colbert Report

Colbert was very funny on Wednesday night's show-- the Chancellor not-so-much. See Colbert commenting on the administration's controversial program to pay kids for high test scores:

"Now, I love this idea of paying the students because, what it does is, it brings free-market forces to knowledge. If you score in seventh grade and make $500, you can invest that money in nerds to write term papers for you when you get to eighth grade.”

And: “As long as you’re going to be paying kids and making it seem like a job, why not just bring back child labor? Because, I’ve got to tell you, you give those 10-year-olds a couple of shifts in my textile factory, you know, a couple of fingers missing, they will hit the books hard and achieve.”

Klein made the following dubious claim: “There have been programs where they pay kids for abstinence and it’s worked.”

In fact, none of the abstinence programs have been proved effective.

Assembly Leader Lafayette: "Klein is still giving State Education Department the runaround"

On Thursday, the Queens Times published a lengthy letter from Deputy Assembly Speaker Ivan C. Lafayette which was highly critical of DOE's failure to provide the State Education Department with an acceptable plan for reducing class sizes. Here's an excerpt:

Despite all of the rhetoric coming from City Hall and Chancellor Joel Klein, they have made it clear that there are no plans in the immediate future to utilize any of the additional state funding to reduce class size. As of this writing, the city has still yet to come up with a plan on how to reduce class size. Did I mention that the contracts for excellence were supposed to be concluded by mid-August? Because of the irresponsible stubbornness of city Department of Education, we have already started the new school year and there are many more children who are being forced to try achieve more, but under even worse conditions. The budget was enacted on April 1st of this year, with New York City schools receiving $714 million more than last year. Six months later, Chancellor Klein is still giving the State Education Department the runaround. The current school year has already started and a plan is still not in place. It is an absolute slap in the face to the students and teachers who are still working and trying to teach in overcrowded classrooms.
Lafayette concludes his letter with a condemnation of the Bloomberg administration's woeful record on schools construction:

Figures provided to me from the State Department of Education show just how few new schools have actually been constructed over the last five years in New York City, with a majority of these schools being initiated by the previous administration. The law passed this year authorizes that state to provide New York City with an additional $283 million to carry out the goal of smaller class size. Chancellor Klein’s foot-dragging will not only cost the city money, but also cheat the children out of a quality learning experience.

For the full letter, see the Queens Times.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The cover-up on class size continues

In response to our letter to the Mayor, asking him to correct his misstatements about the results of the Department of Education parent survey, DOE officials and the Chancellor himself continue to deny that they have been disingenuously spinning the results. In the process, they are still trying to cover up the fact that the need for smaller classes was the top priority of parents who responded to the survey.

See this NY Sun article, Mayor Asked To Correct Class Size Statements, in which David Cantor, DOE spokesman said: "Class size is a major concern, but the fact is that more than 40% of parents say improving academics is the most important issue facing our schools."

Here, Cantor is lumping together four different responses -- more enrichment, more arts, more hands-on learning, and more challenging courses. Moreover, two of these are hardly "academic".

And Chancellor Klein on NY1 said: "The numbers are clear; the mayor's representation is accurate...We don't need people to politicize the debate when the facts are all known and all visible. We put them all out there." (Video clip here.)

Ironic that Klein claims that we have "politicized" the debate, when all we asked in our letter is that the Mayor should stop mischaracterizing the results of his own survey.

Indeed, it was Bloomberg himself who tried to politicize the findings, by falsely claiming that the responses showed that class size was not the top priority of parents and casting aspersions at groups like Class Size Matters, asserting at his press conference that that''When somebody stands up and says, 'I speak for all parents and we want smaller class sizes,' that's just not true.''

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Queens Chronicle Story Misses Mark on Standardized Testing

On Thursday, September 13, the Queens Chronicle ran a story by Colin Gustafson entitled, "Parents Give 'A+' To Teachers But Low Marks On Class Size." To the Chronicle's credit, the story summarized fairly accurately the recently announced results of last spring's DOE Parent, Student, and Teacher surveys. In particular, Colin Gustafson noted properly that nearly 25% of parents who responded indicated that smaller class size was their highest priority improvement while the DOE has "cobbled together" data from four different categories to claim higher parent priority for an amorphous (and hard to reject) entity called "more or better programs."

Unfortunately, the Chronicle story rather missed the mark in its statement about parents' responses concerning standardized testing. As Mr. Gustafson wrote, "...only 1 percent believe schools put too much emphasis on standardized test preparation — a finding that has startled many of the mayor’s most ardent critics on education policy." Aside from the fact that note such critics were mentioned by name, the most startling aspect of this observation is the conclusion itself.

A brief recap is in order. As a concession to parents and the focus group that participated in creating the Parent Survey, the DOE included a final question that asked parents to choose their most desired improvement from a list of ten items: smaller class sizes, more or better enrichment programs, more hands-on learning, more challenging courses, more or better arts programs, more effective school leadership, better communication with parents, more teacher training, more preparation for state tests, and less preparation for state tests. Thus, less preparation for tests was just one of ten possible choices from which parents were instructed to choose just ONE. More preparation for state tests received about 10% of the parent votes, while less preparation received about 1%, the lowest of any item.

The Chronicle's interpretation of this result is incorrect in several respects. First, 100% of responding parents did not comment at all on their attitude toward standardized testing -- they were never asked about this issue on the Survey. The 1% response simply represented the group of parents who perceive reduced test preparation time as the single greatest improvement they would like in their children's schools. To infer that this 1% response level reflects the prevailing attitudes about standardized testing among the nearly 217,000 parents who responded is invalid and devastatingly misleading.

Second, the DOE Parent Survey question is precisely worded as "more (or less) preparation for state tests." This choice presumably refers to New York State 3rd through 8th grade Math and English tests and Regents exams for high schoolers. NYC parents were not widely opposed to the State's original 4th and 8th exams or Regents exams. However, by referring to this question as having addressed "standardized tests," Chronicle readers are being further misled. They are asked to believe that there is virtually no parental objection or concern with respect to the batteries of 3rd through 8th grade high stakes grade level exams introduced in the last few years or the even more intrusive intrayear exams the NYC DOE plans to begin implementing this year. To the contrary, there are many parents concerned with the dramatically increased testing regime, the planned use of such test scores for student, teacher, and school evaluation, and the loss of true educational time and content as teachers feel more and more pressure to "teach to the tests."

All is not well with the state of standardized testing in NYC public schools (check out the Time Out from Testing website at, and the degree of dissatisfaction is likely to swell to all-time highs once parents actually see their children subjected to as many as 20 more standardized tests per year (five each in math, English, science, and social studies). To suggest otherwise from the Parent Survey results or elsewhere is to misrepresent seriously the concerns of many parents. If a full explanation of the DOE testing program had been coupled on the Parent Survey with a direct question asking whether parents wanted more time or less spent on standardized test preparation, one can safely assume that well more than 1% of parents would have opted for less time.

Still No Approval from State on NYC's Contract for Excellence and Class Size Reduction Plan

There is still no word from the State Education Department on DOE's Contract for Excellence, the plan that needs to be approved in order for our schools to receive additional state funding. Parent Karen Koenig sends this message to the State Education Commissioner, Richard Mills, and his bosses on the Board of Regents. Parents can email the commissioner at

Dear Board of Regents and Commissioner Mills:

I am a NYC public school parent. As you may be aware, the need for smaller classes in our schools was the top priority of parents in the recent DOE parent survey. Yet DOE’s proposal under its “Contract for Excellence” is inadequate, especially with respect to class size, and will not lead to the smaller classes necessary to provide my child and other NYC children with their right to a quality education.

Please refrain from releasing any state funds to NYC until and unless the DOE submits a real five year class size reduction plan, showing how class sizes will be significantly reduced in all grades starting this year, aligned with a capital plan that will provide sufficient space in the long term.

I am tired of high school classes with an average of 30 students (and sometimes way more than that). I am tired of my daughter attending a high school that was built for 2,000 and now has 3,500 kids in it. I am tired of my child not receiving adequate instruction in math and science because there are so many in the class that not all questions can be fully explained and responded to. I am tired of my child starting classes at 7:30 in the morning because of overcrowding. I am tired of not being able to meet with all teachers during parent/teacher conferences because there are so many other parents trying to do the same. I am tired of the DOE NOT listening to or respecting what parents have to say about school over-population and the need for smaller class size.


Karen Koenig
Recording Secretary

John Bowne HS
Flushing, Queens

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More on the 9/11 Forest Hills Cell Phone Raid

A follow up to yesterday’s Forest Hills HS scanning story:

1) My co-worker, whose son’s phone was confiscated in yesterday’s scanning, spoke to another parent while they sat in the auditorium this morning awaiting return of their kids’ phones. That parent related how last year her daughter was almost abducted after school by a man in a car. She was able to get away and call for help on her cell phone. This parent said she was terrified at the prospect of her daughter traveling without a cell phone after this trauma, and doesn’t know what to do now. Perhaps the Mayor can send his limo to pick her up every day.

2) Here is what my colleague reports about the raid, for the benefit of those of us who have not yet had this unique DOE educational opportunity:

  • Most kids were late for class because of the scanning.
  • A number of kids did not go into school because of the scanning.
  • At least three kids were arrested. –Details were unclear, but it seemed there was some sort of conflict or confrontation over the confiscations.
  • A number of teachers had to waste their valuable time assisting in returning the phones to parents today, because there was not enough support staff to handle it.
  • Though she came before 8 AM today, she still had to wait 40 minutes to get her son's phone back, as the school personnel attempted to accommodate hundreds of irate parents, most of them, like her, having to take hours off from work (good thing I'm her supervisor). Parents were still streaming in as she left, and they obviously were going to have to wait even longer than she did.
  • One last piece of absurdity: Kids who had both an ipod and a cell phone were given a choice of which they wanted to have confiscated. I'd love to hear the logic behind that one!
Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg, for making sure our kids are not distracted from their learning!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Class Size Limits for NYC Public Schools

We are getting a number of inquiries from parents seeking to know the limits on the number of children per class. From the Frequently Asked Questions page at Class Size Matters:

What are the current class size limits? Are they set by the teacher contract?

Yes. The UFT class-size limits are as follows:

• In kindergarten, 25.
• In grades 1-3, 29.
• In grades 4-6, 32.
• In Title I middle schools, 30.
• In non-Title I middle schools, 33.
• In high schools, 34 for academic classes.

If class sizes have increased in your school, send us a note.