Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bush, Rove ... and Wylde??

For the past decade or more, the radical Right’s playbook – perfected by Karl Rove on behalf of George Bush – has been the same. If you don’t like the message, attack the messenger using conservative media outlets like Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and the Washington Times. In that shameful Bush/Rove tradition now comes Kathryn Wylde with an acrimonious public attack in the shameless NY Post on Diane Ravitch’s criticisms of Mayor Bloomberg’s and Chancellor Klein’s education policies.

Diane Ravitch is arguably the nation’s leading educational historian, a fierce defender of public education and a constant voice of reason in assessing education policy. What are Ms. Wylde’s educational credentials? President & CEO of the Mayor’s Partnership for New York City (an organization of corporate CEO’s who scour up private funds for Mayoral initiatives so they do not have to be approved by the City Council) and a board member for the corporate-funded NYC Leadership Academy and the Research Partnership for New York City Schools. In a prior email, Ms. Wylde wrote that her involvement (in the new Research Partnership) was “intended only to provide some additional tools to help out the schools and the experts in the educational field (which I am definitely not!).”

In a lengthy editorial reputedly crafted with the assistance of the Department of Education and uncharitably titled “Hypocritical Critic,” the ostensibly independent Ms. Wylde implies that Ms. Ravitch’s criticisms are personally motivated. She writes that Ms. Ravitch’s “reversals … seem more tied to her unhappiness with the personalities in the Bloomberg administration than its policies.” She draws inappropriate inferences by lifting Ms. Ravitch’s writings out of context and makes patently ridiculous, Rush Limbaugh-like assertions that Ms. Ravitch “appears not to share the core belief of the mayor's reforms - that every child can be educated and there are no excuses for failing to provide a child with the opportunity for a great education.” This is an insult to a true proponent of child education, coming from an uninformed, elitist dabbler, because Ms. Ravitch has the temerity to question the Mayor’s methods and approach.

According to the New York Sun, Ms. Wylde’s editorial was crafted with the explicit assistance of the DOE. In a manner disturbingly reminiscent of Nixon’s enemies list, spokesperson David Cantor flatly admitted that the DOE has compiled a dossier on Diane Ravitch (with taxpayer money, naturally). Mr. Cantor’s defense of this tactic was indeed priceless: that she’s “either distorting what we’re doing” or “attack[ing] us.” Has anybody seen J. Edgar Hoover hanging around Tweed lately?

Mayor Bloomberg and a handful of his millionaire/billionaire friends are actively recasting the City’s public school system in a corporatist image of their own devising. They seek no input beyond their own well-heeled coterie, brook no dissent, dismiss parents as ignorant or irrelevant, spend millions on misleading and self-congratulatory public relations campaigns funded by the same cronies, and now attack those who dare speak out. Public and private moneys intended to help the public schools are being diverted into a personal PR machine that simultaneously touts the Mayor’s purported “successes” while stamping down dissent from any and every quarter.

Mayoral control has morphed into Mayoral dictatorship, and the NYC school system is being transformed into little more than a Princeton Review-styled test mill. It’s time for those who would never deign to send their children to the City’s public schools to stop imposing their blindered will on those parents who do. Mayoral control as currently devised – arrogant, belittling, non-responsive, so pro-standardized testing as to be anti-educational – cannot continue to stand.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Periodic assessments: a waste of precious time and dollars

Great piece by Jackie Bennett on the UFT blog Edwize about the so-called periodic assessments – which start next week. She says they will produce “junk data” while taking away valuable time for teaching and learning.

If you’ve ever looked at the stuff coming out of the Accountability office, you’d know there’s no one there that understands either teaching or the limits of testing.

She also says that as part of this program, “Multiple choice sheets will be picked up by courier and graded by the DoE’s vendor.”

Can you imagine the cost of this exercise in futility! Couriers picking up millions of bubbled in answer sheets in hundreds of NYC schools, and scanning them to get the results five days later – all happening five to six times per year?

Not to mention all the "Senior Achievement Facilitators" and "data inquiry teams" in each school, working overtime to analyze this junk data in order to squeeze better test scores out of our kids.

It's no wonder they're trying to steal millions of dollars from our kids’ CFE dividend to pay for this ridiculous distraction.

G and T: what makes some children more special than others?

Chancellor Klein announced that starting next year, all Kindergarten students would be tested for Gifted and Talented programs, uniform programs would be instituted citywide, and admissions would be based solely on testing in the 95% percentile. This is apparently his idea of equity.

My fear is that this policy will lead to even more segregated schools and classrooms -- the last thing we need. In addition, tensions will rise if the new funding system, as promised, distributes more resources to these students than others -- in the mistaken notion that only "gifted" children need extra enrichment. The truth is that all NYC students are being deprived in our schools; all children deserve the special treatment, as well as smaller classes , that too often are reserved for a special few.

Here are observations from Ellen Bilofsky, public school parent:

The saddest thing to me about gifted programs is the fact that virtually every child could benefit from the advantages that these programs offer, especially in the earliest years, when all children are mostly learning the same basic concepts and haven't had time to diverge as much as they will later.

When I first visited the gifted program that both my children later attended, I asked about the educational philosophy of the program. The principal responded, "Oh, the children in that program have the best of everything--the best books, the best materials, the best trips ..." and, not least, the best teachers and the lowest class size. (Yes, I know that many gifted programs have higher class size on the theory that these children don't need as much attention, but this program had small classes.) Some educational philosphy, huh?

What child wouldn't do better in a nurturing atmosphere with high expectations and the best material supports and enrichment experiences, rather than a large classroom with a lot of rote learning, where they taught lots of phonetics and wrote rows of identical letters over and over?

I once edited a book about teaching young children who were blind to read braille. I was surprised to discover that the author used the same methods to encourage literacy in these children, some of whom were also cognitively impaired, as my own children's teachers did. Of course, these children had the advantage of the individual attention of a braille teacher, but the point is that despite their disadvantages, they were able to benefit from the same methods used with gifted children and learn to delight in writing and reading their own stories.

Of course, testing is the other primary issue when it comes to gifted programs. Talk about high-stakes testing! These children going into kindergarten are only 4 years old, and this test may determine their entire educational future. How does it level the playing field to compare children who come from different backgrounds on the extent of their "preliteracy skills," when one might have been read to every night of her life while the other has no books in her home? Not only that, but at this age, the difference of several months in age is extremely significant in terms of development and maturity and can put the younger child at an enormous disadvantage. On the other hand, children do mature at different rates, so a child who is too immature to be tested at age 4 may be a perfect genius (assuming there is such a thing) a few years later.

My own children did not pass the initial tests they were offered. One of them simply refused to go into the room with the tester. This was back in the day when us knowledgeable middle-class parents could still work the system, and they scored high enough on a private IQ test to be admitted into a second round of testing. They each went on to be salutatorian of their elementary school, attend gifted middle schools and Stuyvesant, and the older one is at a prestigious college. I say all this not to boast, but to show how ridiculous is the idea that testing 4-year-olds can accurately predict their future educational attainment.

Instead of spreading the advantages of gifted programs to as many classrooms as possible, this administration is attempting to narrow them to smallest upper stratum, as if they were a reward children deserved for having educating parents. As usual, they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater, dumbing down to the lowest common denominator in the name of equal opportunity. It is a travesty that seats for gifted programs were allowed to go empty last year, rather than filled with students who could have benefited, even if they didn't take the test, or score in the 95th percentile!

Parent Survey Results – More Spin, Spin, Spin

In her posting on this site on September 8, Leonie Haimson reported several of Mayor Bloomberg’s press conference comments following the DOE’s release of the Parent Survey results. In particular, she noted the Mayor’s statement that, “By a majority of two to one, parents would rather have you spend more money on enriching the programs rather than reducing class size,” an assertion that was, to be charitable, disingenuous. The Mayor followed that one up with another, claiming that the survey results showed that, “When somebody stands up and says, ‘I speak for all parents and we want smaller class sizes,’ that’s just not true.” The actual Parent Survey data for every City school, only recently made publicly available, tells quite a different story than the one spun by the Mayor.

Let’s begin with the number and percentage of schools whose parents chose smaller class size versus more or better enrichment programs as their most desired improvement.

Borough ------ Class Size #(%) ----- Enrichment # (%)
Manhattan ------- 123 (47.3%) ----------- 102 (39.2%)
Bronx ------------- 143 (43.6%) ----------- 138 (42.1%)
Brooklyn ----------178 (42.2%) ----------- 154 (36.5%)
Queens ------------155 (54.6%) ------------ 114 (40.1%)
Staten Island ------ 43 (71.7%) ------------- 18 (30.0%)
TOTALS ---------- 642 (47.4%) ----------- 526 (38.8%)

The Mayor and Chancellor reported that smaller class sizes were chosen by 24% of parent respondents overall, the single highest frequency among the ten options presented in the Survey (more enrichment was next, selected by 19% of parents who completed the Survey). By comparison, the results shown above indicate that parents at nearly 50% of the City’s 1,354 general education schools opted for smaller class sizes over any other improvement option, a number substantially more dramatic than the 24% figure.

But the story gets even more interesting when we consider the size of the student populations represented by these schools. (Note: Because of ties at some schools, these enrollment totals exceed the City’s total public school enrollment.)

------------------Enrollment at ---------- Enrollment at ---------- Enrollment at
---------------Class Size Schools ---- Enrichment Schools --- All Other Schools
Manhattan -------- 87,180 ---------------------- 43,966 ---------------------26,080
Bronx ------------- 112,633 ---------------------- 72,453 --------------------- 35,774
Brooklyn --------- 157,637 ---------------------- 90,981 --------------------- 76,722
Queens ----------- 165,271 ----------------------- 78,392 --------------------- 27,612
Staten Island ----- 48,358 ----------------------- 13,779 ------------------------ 938
TOTALS --------- 571,079 ---------------------- 299,571 -------------------- 167,126

The schools where parents deemed smaller class sizes as their most desired improvement represent 58.8% of total public school general education enrollment and account for more students than every other choice combined!

How about the City’s largest schools? Among the 241 schools with enrollments of greater than 1,000 students, parents at 49 (20.3%) of them, representing total enrollments of 60,793, chose more enrichment as their most desired improvement. Compare this result to the overwhelming 175 (72.6%) large schools, representing total enrollments of 305,718, whose parents chose smaller class size. In schools with over 1,000 students, parents see smaller class size as their most desired improvement three and a half times more often than their next highest option, constituting an enrolled student ratio of 5 to 1!

How about the 1,012 NYC schools with more financially disadvantaged student populations, defined by having more than 60% of families qualifying for free lunch? The story is similar, although somewhat less dramatic. Parents at 417 (41.2%) of those schools, representing 321,513 students, selected reduced class sizes as their most desired improvement. More or better enrichment was preferred at slightly more, (433, or 42.8%), but those schools represented 246,751 students, 23.3% fewer than were represented by the schools whose parents desired smaller class sizes first and foremost.

How about the schools on NY State’s list of Schools Not in Good Standing? Of the 371 NYC schools on that list as of January, 2007, parents at 108 (29.1%) of them, representing 80,954 enrolled students, opted for more enrichment while parents at 205 (55.3%) such schools, representing a whopping 265,917 enrolled students, voted for smaller class size as their most desired improvement. Once again, we see that parents at over half the schools not in good standing with NYSED chose smaller class size over the nine other improvement options. Furthermore, parents at nearly twice as many Schools Not in Good Standing, representing over three times as many students, chose smaller class size over the next highest choice, more enrichment.

The evidence is clear, the conclusions obvious.

(1) Class size matters to parents more than any single alternative improvement in the public school system.
(2) The larger and more needful the school, the more likely that parents place smaller class sizes at the top of their wish list.
(3) It is Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein who consistently fail to recognize and speak to the wishes of parents regarding improvements to the public school system.

Public school parents are smart enough to recognize the Mayor’s and Chancellor’s vague misdirections about enrichment, coupled with their incessant drumbeats on (parent-disempowering) empowerment, accountability and more and more standardized tests, for what they are – good, old-fashioned plate spinning. Just remember, the more plates you try to spin, the harder it becomes to keep them all going.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Why our kids need their cell phones by Dorothy Giglio

I recently received notification from my elder son's college that they were setting up an "urgent notification system" which would allow them to send out emergency information to students, faculty & staff in a variety of ways, like text messages, phone calls and instant messages.

This system was set up as a result of the Virginia Tech shootings and the recent gun incident on St. Johns Campus. The school recognized that we live in difficult times and that it was their responsibility to see that their students and staff were protected to the greatest extent possible.

While our colleges recognize the dangers today and the manner in which modern electronic communications can be used to try to minimize them, It is unconscionable that our Mayor and Chancellor continue their irrational ban on cell phones. It is not, as they are so fond of stating over and over, that parents just want to discuss with their children the dinner menu each day.

Though I pray that we never have a real crisis in any school, even for the purposes of the citywide train delays and shutdowns from flooding as occurred recently in Queens, or the gas line explosion in Manhattan over the summer, large number of traveling kids could certainly benefit from a message warning them of these emergencies.

We have tried so many ways, through the courts, the City Council, etc. to overturn the ban. Though our colleges and universities and private schools are all taking steps to ensure the safety of their students, the people who should most care about the welfare of our public school children seem to not care at all.

Dorothy Giglio

Co President James Madison HS
Former President President Council Reg 6 HS
Former President President Council District 22, Brooklyn

Jane Hirschmann: the problem with high-stakes tests

Parents are meeting in every borough to talk about the excessive and high stakes tests which drastically affect our children's education. Tests are being used to determine virtually every aspect of school: promotion, graduation, entrance into middle school and high school, teacher's merit pay, principals' jobs and school report card grades.

What has happened to public school education in New York City? Tests are driving curriculum and instruction and our children's education is suffering.

The conversation is no longer about how we can offer our children a quality education, how we can instill a love of learning, help them remain curious and read and write with enthusiasm. Instead of these goals we now have an unending diet of testing--test scores, test prep, test materials, and improving test scores. Tests have become synonymous
with schooling.

The private schools in New York State told the State Education Department that they would never introduce high stakes tests because it dumbs down curriculum and results in poor quality education.

So what can public school parents do? Believe it or not, parents have the power to change things. I'll give you one example from my own experience. Many years ago when my 27 year old was in 2nd grade, the Board of Education had the idea that they would give 2nd graders a high stakes reading test.

We PROTESTED, we organized and we did not allow this policy to go into effect. That is why today, there is no 2nd grade high stakes reading test, yet. I say "yet", because the DOE is now planning to give K-2 standardized tests. We must say NO!


1. No high stakes for students or schools. Scores from tests given by the city or state MUST NOT be used to determine promotion or graduation.
2. Eliminate all commercial standardized tests for interim or periodic assessment use.
3. No testing for grades K-2.
4. Eliminate the use of the School Report Card and promote accountability through the use of multiple assessments.

We are willing to meet with parent groups anywhere in the city. If you can organize a group of 30 or more parents, get in touch with us and we will come. If you are an individual parent and want to know how to organize other parents, email or call us.


Jane Hirschmann
917 679 8343

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Joel Just Won’t Quit

October 27, 2007 (GBN News): Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has decided not to resign over Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to include performance incentives in his contract. The Chancellor reconsidered after being assured by Mayor Bloomberg that he could earn his performance bonus simply by instituting performance based pay for 100 of his top administrators. According to sources at the DOE, the Mayor feels that since the Chancellor’s main role is to make sure others are accountable, just holding his top administrators to “standards” would be sufficient to show that Mr. Klein is doing his job effectively.

In other news, GBN News has learned that principals now being assigned to oversee rubber rooms will also be held to performance standards. Rubber room principals will be offered bonuses based on how well they maintain order and discipline as well as on the arrangement of chairs and bulletin boards in the room. They will be also be graded with respect to their teachers’ behavior, posture, and number of bathroom visits. Principals in the bottom 10% of rubber rooms, based on these standards, will be at risk of losing their jobs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Merit pay contagion strikes Tweed

Merit pay based on test scores, an even faster growing contagion in our school system than the drug resistant staph infection called MRSA, has now struck the Tweed building itself.

After offering more money to students, principals and teachers for good test results, according to NY Sun, the Chancellor has now asked
"a group of about 100 of his closest aides to draft performance goals they aim to meet by the end of the year. The goals will be monitored quarterly throughout this school year, in some cases by Mr. Klein himself. The conversations are preliminary thus far, but positive results could mean bonuses come June, the city official running the new program, Laura Smith, said yesterday.”

For some of these top executives, their goals are supposed to be based on more holistic measures – like principal satisfaction --but for some like Eric Nadelstern, head of the empowerment zone, they will be based on test scores and graduation rates alone.

So let me get this straight: if test scores improve enough in our schools, even if this leads to a ridiculous amount of test prep and/or cheating, and if graduation rates improve, even if this causes increasing numbers of students to be suspended, transferred or discharged from our schools, then the already overpaid officials at Tweed will get even more of our taxpayer money for being able to further degrade the conditions for authentic learning at our schools.

Now that’s accountability!

Forum on testing in District 26

Last night, Community District Education Council 26 hosted a forum on testing & Assessing in NYC Public Schools.

Our panelists were Randi Weingarten, President of the United Federation of Teachers, Bob Tobias, former Executive Director of Assessment and Accountability of the NYC Department of Education and current director of the NYU Steinhardt Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, and Jane Hirschmann, co-chair and founder of Time out from Testing.

We tried having a person from the Department of Education, however, their person insisted on conditions for appearing that could not be met.

There were over 150 members of the audience. Each panelist gave a presentation that was followed by a question and answer period.

We were informed that during the last five years, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of standardized tests and assessments given to our children and a vast proliferation in the ways results are used. All of the panelists explained that testing is an integral part of the education system and is necessary to determine whether or not students are understanding a given subject. However, all of them agreed that the standard tests were not designed to be used in the way that they are being used in NYC schools.

In particular, the use of these tests in determining whether a student is promoted and in evaluating an individual student and teacher’s performance was criticized and rejected as inappropriate.

It was also explained that there is no evidence that when students are subjected to more standardized tests, their efforts increase and understanding improves. Panelists also discussed: the disparity between students’ good results on New York State tests and not so good results on federally approved tests; the shrinking of curriculum so as to gear it toward test preparation; the excessive time spent on test preparation, and the monetary expenses associated with the tests.

At one point Senator Padavan spoke and said he will look into the possibility of limiting the high stakes testing by imposing limits on state funds to NYC; in a manner similar to the recent limits of CFE money for class size reduction.

In general, parents expressed equal concerns on the above matters and expressed frustration over the inability to stem the regimen of testing now imposed. In fact, a belief that the system of testing is harmful to the quality of education is held by most parents . Such is the frustration that many parents called for a student boycott of tests.

The Community District Education Council will be evaluating whether or not a boycott will be helpful to our students and if a boycott should be called and organized.

I urge you to take steps to publicize issues on testing and assessing that do not reflect only the Department of Education’s point of view. By doing so, you will be doing a tremendous service to our children.

Sincerely, Robert Caloras, CDEC26

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Klein May Resign Over Merit Pay

October 25, 2007 (GBN News): NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is threatening to resign in a dispute with Mayor Bloomberg over merit pay, GBN News has learned. A clearly disgruntled Mr. Klein termed the Mayor’s insistence that performance incentives be added to his contract “insulting”, and said that, “at this stage of the game, does he really think I’ll work any harder for a few Bloomberg LP stock options and a new Blackberry?” The Chancellor was also said to have bristled at the prospect of sharing the incentive with others in the DOE such as Deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf. However, the Mayor was adamant. “Who was he before I made him Chancellor?” the Mayor asked rhetorically. “A two bit federal prosecutor with no PR staff.”

If the Chancellor does opt out of his contract, the Mayor is expected to begin interviewing for Mr. Klein’s replacement. Candidates include Mr. Cerf, several members of the consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal, and former Bush advisor Karl Rove. Joe Torre has already indicated that he is not interested in the job.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wrap-up of commentary on the teacher incentive pay proposal

Today, lots of incisive commentary about DOE’s plan to pay teachers at schools with low-performing schools that improve on test scores. In the Daily News, Diane Ravitch questions the wisdom of this proposal, writing:

But will merit pay fix our schools? The quick answer is no. There is no evidence that students learn more because their teachers get differential pay tied to their students' test scores.

The assumption behind merit pay is that teachers are not working hard enough. Pay them more if their students get higher scores, say corporate-style school reformers, and they'll work harder. Politicians in Washington and many state capitols in both parties are attracted to the idea.

Diane goes on to argue that this particular proposal is not really merit pay, since schoolwide improvement will be rewarded, rather than the achievement of individual teachers, and then points out:

Most teachers understand that the tests now in use are imperfect measures of children's learning, which may be influenced by all sorts of external events in their lives - such as illness, disruption in their home life, emotional distress, financial worries and overcrowded classes. In effect, in its purest form, merit pay rewards individual teachers based on a single test score without regard to issues that are entirely beyond their control.

But if within every school, conditions for teachers may vary, they differ far more between schools, especially as regards class size and overcrowding.

One example: In District 1 schools on the Lower East Side, the average class size in grades K-3 is 17.6; in District 6 in Washington Heights, there is an average of 22.3 students per class. The difference is just as glaring in 4-8th grades, where class sizes in D1 average 20.4 compared to 25.8 in D6.

Even within District 6, class sizes range widely – and in some individual schools classes rise to 30 or more. Both districts have large numbers of poor and ELL students, but as a result of these far more difficult conditions, District 6 has loads of schools on the failing lists – when District 1 has very few.

So how can any reward system be fair that does not take into account the easier time teachers on the Lower East Side have reaching struggling students in classes of 18 or less – especially as compared to those in Upper Manhattan, working with the same high-needs children but teaching classes of 26, 28 or more students at a time?

Some proponents of this reward system may argue that the measures to determine which schools will receive cash rewards will be determined not only by test scores, but by survey results and attendance as well, but these factors are surely as negatively affected by overcrowding; moreover, like the school grades, in which these other factors account for only 15% of a school’s grade, I predict this will be nothing more than a fig leaf.

See also Eduwonkette, who addresses Klein’s argument that pay for performance is a routine practice in other professions and the business world. Instead, in most other fields, performance there are “holistic” evaluations – not based on numerical outputs alone (which in this case would be test scores.) This is true even in medicine:

Physicians I talked to in preparing this post laughed at me when I asked if their performance bonuses were based on patient outcomes. The most common response was that those outcomes were largely out of their control, so their hospitals rewarded them based on their inputs - i.e. hours, procedures, and revenues.

Of course, test scores are even more out of the control of teachers, unless they devote all their time to test prep or resort to cheating – neither of which would be considered desirable. Eduwonkette discusses other reasons that this proposal fails to pass the smell test:

...they do not control for differences in structures over which the school has little control - i.e. class size and large intradistrict differences in per-pupil expenditures - which are relevant for plans that plan to compare performance across schools, not only within a given school.

The administration argues at great length that their reforms have worked to improve student achievement – as in, for example, the small schools initiative. Let’s take this claim as true, for argument’s sake – though I would argue that the possible gains achieved are due more to the smaller classes at these schools rather than their smaller enrollments.

But whatever the reason, if one believes that small schools have inherent value, as Tweed does, how can one then also claim that a reward system that withholds bonuses to teachers who work at large schools could be evenhanded?

Last but not least, see Barry Schwartz' excellent oped in the NY Times. Schwartz is a psychology professor at Swarthmore who wrote an earlier, equally convincing oped in July about Roland Fryer’s experiment to pay kids for good test scores.

This new oped takes off from Joe Torre’s decision to leave the Yankees, and his rejection of the hefty bonus Steinbrenner offered if the team won the World Series next year. Clearly, Torre was insulted by the suggestion that he wasn’t already working as hard as he could to go the distance. Schwartz goes on to write:

If teachers are thwarted by their working conditions, then we need to fix the conditions, and not try to paper over them with bonuses. There are settings in which bonuses may make sense — if the work offers no opportunity to find satisfaction, for instance, or if it really is all about the money. And yes, there should be public acknowledgment of extraordinary performance. But that acknowledgment needn’t be financial, and it certainly shouldn’t be contractual.

The more society embraces the idea that nobody will do anything right unless it pays, the more true it will become that nobody does anything right unless it pays. And this is no way to run a ballclub, a school system, or a country.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What teacher surveys say about merit pay vs. class size

An editorial in Saturday's NY Times argues, as others have, that the new merit pay proposal to be implemented in 200 low-performing schools “represents a good first step toward the goal of attracting teachers to the most challenging schools — and keeping them there.”

The argument that the chance of a $3,000 bonus will draw teachers to low-performing schools is dubious. There is at least an equal chance that through no fault of their own, such a school will get a failing grade on the new progress report, be further stigmatized – and eventually closed. Why wouldn’t teachers be responsible for a school’s low grade?

First of all, the new reward system as well as each school's grade will be based largely on one year's test scores alone -- highly unreliable, statistically speaking. Moreover, many factors out of any individual teacher's control, such as class size and overcrowding, will not be considered in the assessment of his or her performance -- or a school's grade, for that matter.

In North Carolina, educators were polled from throughout the state to find out what would be the most effective measure to attract teachers to work in low-performing schools. The number one response was lowering class size, with 83.7% of teachers and 83.1% of administrators replying that this way, far outstripping any other proposal, including providing salary enhancements --which came out at number five.

A just-released Public Agenda survey found that 76% of teachers say that reducing class size would be a "very effective" method to improve teacher quality, compared to fewer than one in six who believed that tying salary increases to their students' performance would be. (You can click on the chart to enlarge it.)

If the administration were really serious about enticing teachers to work in our most challenging schools, and keeping them there longer, it would immediately cap class sizes at reasonable levels. As the Times editorial points out, this would be a better way to improve student achievement in these schools as well:

"At the same time, school officials would need to make bigger changes — like cutting class sizes and improving support services — if they want to make real headway in improving student performance."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

DOE Answers Critics, Details New Merit Pay Plan

October 18, 2007 (GBN News): Yesterday’s announcement by the NY City Department of Education of a new merit pay plan for teachers has raised a number of questions. For one, critics have asserted that basing bonuses almost entirely on test scores is not an appropriate way of compensating teachers. However, a source at the DOE has given GBN News more details of the new plan, which are said to address such concerns.

According to the source, schools participating in the merit pay plan will receive bonuses based largely on the school’s test scores, but each school will have a choice of one of the following three options to divide up the money:

  • Bonus money would be paid to individual teachers based on the time their classes spend on test prep rather than on the actual scores. Under this system, teachers who spend all day on test prep, for example, will receive more money than those who waste their students’ time with unrelated activities such as art, music, and social studies.

  • Bonuses would be spread among all the school’s teachers. If a school chooses this option, the school’s bonus money will come in a large piñata. The piñata will be placed in the center of the gym (for schools that have no gym, a large closet may be used). During assembly period, teachers will break open the piñata and each will keep all he or she can scoop up.

  • Bonus money would be used for the school as a whole. A committee consisting of the Principal, a designee appointed by the Principal, and two UFT members will travel to Atlantic City and try to double the award. Of course, they could lose the money entirely, but this option is consistent with the way the Mayor and Chancellor have gambled with the city children’s education for the past six years.

R.I.P., NYC Public School System, 10/17/07

Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have announced two new arrangements with the teachers’ union (UFT) that, combined with their policy initiatives in recent years, will be recalled in future years as the last nail in the coffin of the NYC public school system. In the end, it appears that Randi Weingarten, President of the UFT, has finally succumbed to the Dark Side rather than preserve any sense of the City schools as a truly educational enterprise.

The first of these new programs is the City’s agreement with the UFT to pay merit bonuses to teachers in low-performing schools that make the greatest gains in student test scores. Now not only can principals and students receive cash rewards for high scores, but teachers will share the wealth as well, beginning next year at the $20 million mark.

Anyone who is able to recall the criminal consequences of Sears Auto Shops paying their mechanics incentive bonuses in the early 1990s based on the charges they generated from customers can foresee what’s coming. Those Sears mechanics did only what was natural – they “discovered” thousands of unneeded repairs and generated tens of millions of dollars in fraudulent repairs. Incentives drive behavior, and badly designed incentives often drive single-minded bad behavior that creates unintended consequences.

In this instance with the DOE and the UFT, only the naïve can fail to see the consequences – more test prep, more test prep, and more test prep – and an institutionalized encouragement to cheat. Not to mention that this system of rewards will be unfair to those teachers who are left working in overcrowded schools with class sizes of thirty or more compared to their colleagues lucky enough to teach in smaller classes. Nor that one year’s test scores are statistically unreliable indicators of student learning.

Within a decade, our public school teachers will be mostly test prep functionaries, our schools subsidiaries of Kaplan or Princeton Review, and the kids won’t be any better off. Our school system is looking more and more like that of mainland China every day, where success in standardized testing determines a school’s reputation and ranking, a principal’s standing, a teacher’s rating, and a student’s future at every stage of education. Of course, as anyone who has taught in China or worked with Chinese college graduates knows, these students are robbed early in life of their creativity, insight, inquisitiveness, or interest in learning. And no wonder: their entire knowledge base has been developed for one purpose and one purpose only – success on standardized tests.

The second announcement, another handout from the Mayor to the UFT, will allow teachers to retire five years earlier with full pension benefits. Combined with the increased emphasis on standardized testing and a new budgetary system (ironically called “fair student funding”) that dissuades principals from retaining higher-paid, more experienced teachers, the handwriting on the wall is clear. Ten years from now, the NYC public school teaching population will consist even more of young and inexperienced teachers.

Even more important, as a former teacher, I recognize the implications for the classroom. Anyone who sees teaching as fun, challenging, and an opportunity to motivate and experiment, anyone who teaches as a vocation to inspire students with understanding and enthusiasm, anyone who teaches to see kids’ eyes light up with new knowledge and appreciation for the world around them – what would you do except give up and look elsewhere for the kind of teaching you want to do? Our schools’ best teachers will leave the profession or migrate elsewhere, to private schools or the suburbs, where originality and joy in their professional calling will still have a chance to thrive.

Any notion that NYC public schools can be a haven for creative learning experiences has been shattered by these announcements. Sadly, the only parents who will keep their children in this system are likely to be those who lack the financial means to escape. Randi Weingarten’s agreement to these initiatives is a stunning betrayal of public school children and their parents for the sake of more money in her members’ pockets. Future generations will survey NYC’s gutted public school system and recall October 17, 2007 as a day of infamy in the history of the UFT – and this city.

UPDATE: Check out this excellent September 2005 Boston Globe article on merit pay for teachers uncovered by Leonie Haimson. Curious how the Boston Globe can understand the problem while the Daily News and the New York Post are busy fawning over the Emperor's new clothes and the NY Times considers it beneath themselves to comment.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Tyranny of Numbers – The DOE in the Mayor’s Management Report

The recently released Mayor’s Management Report (MMR) demonstrates once again Chancellor Klein's belief that only what can be measured matters. The DOE merited five of the MMR’s mind-numbing 216 pages, filling them with multiple tables of presumably revealing information that are in fact utterly devoid of content or explanation. Apparently, charts of numbers are believed to speak for themselves, but the real effect is to preempt thoughtful analysis of whatever resides behind those reams of statistics.

As an example, consider the sole chart on the first page of the DOE section, a bar chart showing Special Education and Total Enrollment in NYC public schools from FY2003 through FY2007 as summarized in the table below.

Fiscal Special Total
Year Education Enrollment
2003 169,700 1,091,700
2004 171,800 1,086,900
2005 177,100 1,075,300
2006 180,900 1,055,900
2007 182,700 1,042,100

Here are a few of the head-spinning array of questions raised (and left unaddressed) by the MMR, drawn from just this one chart.

-- According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, New York City’s population increased by 2.45% from July 1, 2000 to July 1, 2006, yet the MMR’s reported school enrollment shows a five-year loss of nearly 50,000 students, a decline of 4.5%. Furthermore, the New York Times reported in a story on March 23, 2007 that the number of children under five years old in Manhattan alone had increased 32% since 2000. How to explain this inconsistency? Are more and more parents abandoning the City’s public school system, as these numbers might well suggest?

-- The DOE’s own Statistical Summaries of enrollment show steady but even worse declines in every longitudinal cohort from 2002/2003 through 2006/2007 at every grade level 1-8 and 9-12. General education enrollment in Grade 1 alone has declined 13.1% from 80,278 in 2001/2002 to 69,763 in 2006/2007, while the 100,947 enrolled freshmen in 2003/2004 became 47,559 enrolled seniors in 2006/2007, a drop of 52.9%. How does the MMR help citizens understand these contradictory indicators to the City’s growing population (not to mention a retention rate into Grade 12 of 47% that makes a mockery of the MMR’s claim of a 59.7% four-year high school graduation rate)?

-- Information elsewhere in the MMR suggests that 66.9% of the City’s high school students attend schools whose enrollments are already over capacity. Given that the City Planning Department conducts its own futures planning around an estimated population increase of 500,000 by 2020 and almost 1,000,000 by 2030, can the DOE expect really expect enrollment not to increase (they actually expect it drop by 0.2% from 2000 to 203o!)?

-- At the same time total enrollment has dropped by 4.5%, the MMR shows special education enrollment increasing by 7.7%. What’s behind this counterintuitive surge in the special education numbers?

-- Similarly, and contradictory to the DOE’s online Statistical Summaries, the MMR shows an astonishing 17.5% of total student enrollment receiving special education services. Why is this percentage so alarmingly high, and growing to boot?

The rest of the MMR consists of meaningless numbers (640,000 lunches served, 1,353,000 phone calls taken by parent coordinators) interspersed with startling but unexplained figures, such as a drop of 10.6% last year in parents attending parent/teacher conferences, an extraordinary one-year increase of eight percentage points in Grade 3 to 8 pass rates on standardized math tests in 2006/2007, and a decline of 12.3 percentage points in Regents science exam pass rates in 2005/2006 (the last reported year on the MMR).

When the negatives are ignored and the positives are reported without explanation or supporting analysis, it is difficult to take the DOE section of the MMR as anything other than more public relations puffery disguised by the deceptive tyranny of numbers.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Smaller classes lead to big savings in health care -- and almost two more years of life

This month's American Journal of Public Health contains an article showing that smaller classes could be the best investment society can make -- not just in terms of improving education, but also in terms of health.

Project Star, the premier experimental study in the history of educational research, revealed that students who spent several years in smaller classes in the early grades had higher test scores, better grades, were less likely to be held back and graduated from high school at a much higher rates. Now, Peter Muennig of the Columbia University School of Public Health and Stephen Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University use this data to estimate the gain in earnings, lower welfare payments, and reduced rates of crime and mortality for these students when they reach adulthood. They project that each low-income child who attended smaller classes is likely to benefit from almost two more years of life; and society would gain almost $200,000 in reduced medical costs and additional tax revenue.

According to Dr. Sydney Spiesel writing in Slate magazine, the findings of these researchers

"suggest that investment in reducing elementary school classes is better, in cost-benefit terms, than money spent on antibiotics, or hospital buildings, or even vaccines (long thought to be one of the most cost-effective interventions for health care). Perhaps I would do better for my patients if I gave up pediatrics and became a member of my local school board."

Does DOE have plans to cut services for visually and hearing impaired children?

This entry was written by a parent familiar with the concerns of visually impaired students and their families:

NYC Public School Parents has learned that the Department of Education has floated a plan to eliminate the Educational Vision Services (EVS) and Hearing Education Services (HES) offices in District 75, which oversees special education programs in our schools. Currently, 1,000 children with visual impairments and 3,000 children with hearing impairments are being served by the these offices. Last week, the head of Educational Vision Services was informed by District 75 and the Chancellor's Office that EVS would be closing and that the principals of schools would take over the supervision of the special instructors for these children. When parents started protesting, the reorganization was temporarily put on hold, but not cancelled.

Such a dismantling would likely have a devastating impact on the students in the system with visual and hearing impairments. Children who are blind or visually impaired need all kinds of special services that others don’t —for example, to learn braille, to be provided with books in braille or large print, and to learn travel skills, like walking with a cane. Many of these children are fully functioning intellectually, but need these services to be able to learn. They need special equipment as well. Regular special ed teachers don't teach these skills, teachers who specialize in working with visually impaired students do. Similarly, hearing impaired students need teachers who can teach sign language, as well as interpreters and other special services. This latest "reorganization" has the potential to completely disrupt those services.

Principals of individual schools are not equipped to supervise or support these specialized staff. In fact, these teachers usually work with students at several schools. The offices threatened with closure have the expertise to ensure that students with these disabilities get the help they need and that their teachers (and schools) receive the support and oversight necessary to make sure they do. If the responsibility to provide these very specialized services are dumped on the principals' shoulders, along with all their other new duties, how can they possibly be expected to manage?

Since the DOE's plans for special education have not been fully disclosed, it's difficult to guess what kind of structure they might have in mind once EVS and HES were closed, and what other current supports might also be slated for elimination. Only one thing is for sure: As usual, no one actually working with these students was consulted about these changes, least of all their parents.

Parents of visually and hearing impaired students are up in arms and plan to attend the meeting of the Citywide Council on Special Education tomorrow night, Wednesday, October 17th, 2007 at 6:30pm at Tweed to demand some answers. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 15, 2007

New York City DOE -- 2017

Chancellor Joel Klein, now in his 15th year at the helm of New York City’s public schools, announced today that secondary school rolls had reached their tenth consecutive all-time high while graduation rates slipped yet again for the tenth year in a row. He also noted that the average age of the City’s high school students had increased to 18.6 years.

“It’s definitely a paradox,” Mr. Klein remarked in describing these unusual trends. “We’ve never seen more students taking Regents and Advanced Placement exams, yet our student population seems to be getting older and older.”

A student interviewed outside A.P. Randolph High School offered an explanation. “Heck, everybody I know wants to stay in school as long as possible now. Me? I cleared $14 grand last year doin’ nothin’ but sittin’ in a classroom. They paid me for showin’ up, for bringin my pencils and notebooks, for bringin’ a calculator, for takin’ some stupid tests, for draggin’ my mom in to see my teachers, for not gettin’ suspended, for only usin’ the bathroom once a day, for eatin’ a salad and drinkin’ milk once a week, and I don’t even remember what else.”

A female student at Evander Childs concurred. “Why should I graduate when I can make good money here in high school? I can sit here in a classroom, or I can flip burgers at MickeyD’s. That’s a no-brainer! And if I went to college? Forget it! You actually have to pay them! Can you believe that ****?” That student reported she was 19 and was planning to attend at least one more year of high school so she could save enough money for a Microsoft Virtual Reality Xbox 3000 and an Apple iImplant(G12 Powerbook version).

In answer to a question posed during his press conference today, Chancellor Klein conceded that annual spending by the City’s privately-funded Scholars for Dollars program had topped the one billion dollar mark. He also admitted that in order to raise more money to pay students for attending school, the DOE is exploring the possibility of selling the naming rights to each City school building. “ Middle School. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?” commented the Chancellor. “Maybe once Mayor Trump completes her tenure, we’ll have to add an Ivanka High School of Fashion Design as well.”

High School Class Sizes – One School’s Story

As a consequence of a mistaken UFT press release and local newspaper reports back in mid-September claiming that my son’s school, Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics (MCSM), had 101 class size contract violations (35 or more students assigned to a class), I had reason as President of the PTA to inquire as to the facts. I was invited to review the school’s class master in detail and did so. While there were indeed very few classes of 35, all of which have since been remedied, I was deeply disturbed by what I saw two weeks into the school year, through no fault of the school administration or its teachers.

The daily reality at MCSM is one of crushing class sizes and teacher workloads. Consider a profile of just the core general education academic classes for Regents Math, English, Science, and Social Studies.

Number of Regents subject classes – 145
Number of classes with 35 students – 3
Number of classes with 34 students – 69
Number of classes with 33 students – 38
Percent of classes with 33 or more students – 75.9%
Average class size, Regents subjects – 32. 75

Add in the rest of the non-AP academic classes, such as Pre-Calculus, Multimedia I, computer programming, Introduction to Psychology, Environmental Studies, foreign languages, and so on, and the picture is no better.

Number of non-AP academic classes – 205
Number of classes with 35 students – 5
Number of classes with 34 students – 93
Number of classes with 33 students – 51
Percent of classes with 33 or more students – 72.2%
Average class size, non-AP academics – 32.38

This situation exists in a school that, according to the DOE’s Fair Student Funding formula, stands to lose $426,000 from its budget in 2009!

While the Mayor and Chancellor fumble every day over multiple jargon-laden programs styled as school reforms – increased standardized testing, elimination of social promotion, dissolution of community school boards, regionalization and deregionalization of the organizational structure, creation of empowerment zones, quality reviews, accountability, school report cards, new school funding schemes, computerized student progress tracking via ARIS, paying students to attend school and pass tests – 1,540 high performing students (over 97% children of color) are shoehorned into classrooms while their teachers are burdened with intolerable workloads from as many as five classes with 33 or 34 each, up to 165 – 170 students.

It is a credit to the collective abilities and efforts of students, faculty, and Administration at MCSM that the school manages to succeed in daily attendance (93 – 95%), Regents pass rates (70 – 95% over 65), and graduation rates (85+%) despite these adverse conditions. Nevertheless, I am certain from my own experience as a former NYC high school teacher that these 1,540 students are being deprived of the rich educational experience they deserve because of overwhelming class sizes and teacher workloads.

This situation is intolerable and only getting worse. How can the Mayor and Chancellor repeatedly strike out in so many different and sometimes radical directions without aggressively exploring this single most obvious and effective approach to improving student performance and learning? Is it not about time they gave class size reduction the same degree of attention and priority they have given to standardized testing, bureaucratic reorganizing, quality reviews, and school report cards? What is the value of Mayoral control if the Mayor makes no effort to address one of the public school system’s most pressing issues?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

CPAC’s Influence On The Rise?

October 14, 2007 (GBN News): In an astonishing turnabout, the NY City Department of Education has finally begun utilizing suggestions from the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Committee (CPAC). By law, CPAC is supposed to advise the Chancellor on educational issues, but the committee’s input has long been ignored by Chancellor Joel Klein. As recently as last April, a turf conflict had even resulted in a number of CPAC members being held hostage by the DOE. But at last Thursday’s meeting, it became clear that things had changed dramatically.

At that meeting, during a discussion on the cell phone ban, a CPAC member asked Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott when the Administration was going to ban paper and pens, given that today’s disruptive text messaging is only a higher tech version of yesterday’s note passing. The Deputy Mayor, who has traditionally been dismissive of parent concerns and ideas, immediately embraced this suggestion. “I see you parents have finally come around to our way of thinking”, Mr. Walcott said. “You’re absolutely right. Children can use pens and paper to cheat, disrupt class, and even arrange gang fights. I’ll speak to the Chancellor about this tonight and I’m sure we can have a ban in place ASAP.”

It is unclear just how this ban will be enforced, since metal scanners are unable to detect paper and pens. How children will manage to take the many standardized tests and assessments that they are subjected to also remains to be seen. Still, this could prove to be one of the more radical changes of Joel Klein’s tenure as Chancellor, and will have a profound impact on the school environment.

In a related story, the DOE is expected to announce as soon as this week a long-awaited, exclusive no-bid $18,000,000 contract with GBN News to take over the Department’s Public Relations. It is unclear what will become of the 29 PR consultants already working for the DOE.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The truth behind the new small schools

Andrew Wolf has a good column in the Sun about the deceptive ads from the Fund for Public Schools, called "Evander Childs Turnaround". The statistics clearly show that the students who were recruited for the new Gates-funded small schools now housed in the Evander building were much higher achieving before they ever enrolled in these new schools than those who had previously attended the school, undermining the administration's claim that it was its reforms that improved graduation rates.

The NY Times last spring ran both a credulous article and an editorial that read like press releases about the rise in graduation rates in these schools, without mentioning this salient fact. An excerpt from Wolf’s column:

The Fund for New York City Public Schools, a charitable group run by the Chancellor that once raised money to buy things to enhance the education of our public school children, is now spending millions on television commercials to convince the public that the programs are working. One of these commercials, highlighting "progress" at Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, has drawn particular attention on the growing network of blogs that critique the conditions in city schools.

Wolf credits the statistical findings that the students enrolled in these new schools started out way aheadto a recent Eduwonkette column and one posted last spring on the UFT blog by Leo Casey . Both were terrific pieces of work, and it’s great that this issue is finally receiving the attention it deserves, but it is long overdue.

Almost two years earlier, I pointed out some of these same facts to the Panel on Educational Policy and the United Parents Associations, in a summary posted here. Much of it was based on a report by Policy Studies Associates completed in March 2005, but suppressed for many months by New Visions before it was finally leaked to the NY Times eight months later. The authors of the PSA report based their analysis on background student data received directly from DOE. Too bad the reporters – and editors – of the Times seem to have conveniently forgotten its findings.

The PSA report examined not just those new schools placed in Evander but throughout the Bronx, those Gates-funded New Visions schools grandly called the New Century High Schools. It described how the creation of these schools had led to worse conditions and more overcrowding for those students left behind in the large schools who shared their facilities, and/or those who had been diverted to other already overcrowded schools nearby. And it pointed out how these excluded students were far needier academically than those who had been recruited for the new small schools:

Here is an excerpt from my summary:

By gaining access to student records, the [PSA] analysis substantiates what DOE officials have long denied – that these schools recruit students with better scores, attendance, and overall records than the population from which they are drawn. See for example the recent [Sept. 2005] NYC Partnership report -- which misleadingly compares NCHS students to the average student citywide.

As the Policy Studies report points out, "These citywide comparisons are of only limited usefulness, since [this] initiative is intended to improve education opportunities and outcomes for students who might otherwise attend some of the city's most troubled high schools." Thus their evaluation properly compares the earlier records of students at the new small schools to those attending neighboring or host comprehensive high schools.

The students at the small schools had eighth grade math and reading scores significantly higher than their peers in the comparison schools; and 97% of them had been promoted in the prior year, compared with only 59% of the students at the comparison schools. They had better attendance records (91% compared to 81%), and were less likely to have been suspended. They were much less likely to need special education services. Only six percent of Bronx NCHS students had IEPs, compared with 25% at the comparison schools; and none of the NCHS special education students had the most serious disabilities. Indeed, teachers at the new small schools praised their principals for "recruiting more high-performing students".

I also pointed out that these schools did appear to be doing a better job keeping their students engaged – something ignored by the recent exposes – but not because of the size of the schools, as New Visions and the Gates foundation claim, but primarily because of their smaller classes:

While the students attending small schools maintained their previously good attendance, even the subset of students who previously had good attendance who enrolled at the larger high schools experienced a 10% drop in attendance in 9th grade. And while 6% of NCHS students transferred schools, and 10% were discharged from the system entirely, the transfer rate among incoming students at the larger schools was 14% and the discharge rate was 20% -- showing that more than a third of these students departed from the larger schools each year. …

Why were the new small schools more successful at keeping their students engaged? Students reported that their teachers were able to know them well, give them individualized instruction and help, and provide lots of attention in and out of class. As one pointed out, "the teachers I have had at other schools never knew me."

While class sizes at the larger high schools average 30 students or more, class sizes at most of the new small schools were between 13 and 20 students, as pointed out by the first year evaluation. The fact that these schools provided much smaller classes was noted by students themselves in surveys as their most valuable quality. As a result, “Teachers listen to you and get your opinion.” “In a normal high school, they don’t talk to you when you have a problem. They don’t care.” Another student said, “Slipping through the cracks? Not at this school!” Indeed, without smaller classes it's hard to see how these schools could succeed in their mission at all. …

If you take higher achieving students, and give them smaller classes, it should be no surprise to anyone that they will do far better and graduate in larger numbers than the lower-achieving students left behind in classes of 30 or more, attending overcrowded schools on double and triple shifts.

In the New Visions interim report there is a timeline in which by 2010, "innovative educational methods from NYC's small high schools" are supposed to "improve teaching and learning at the city's traditional high schools." This is critical, since even if its ambitious goal is achieved of 200 new smaller schools, fully two thirds of NYC students will continue to attend larger high schools.

As the smaller classes in the small schools appear to be their most successful elements, without a plan to eventually reduce class size and provide more individualized help to all high school students, it is difficult to see how this will ever occur.

As one parent recently asked, where did all those students who once attended Evander go? I wish I knew. Probably into the great ranks of the desaparecidos -- those thousands of poor souls who each year, magically disappear from the system, without being counted as dropouts.

My more recent City Council testimony from last November is here, with more about how the new small schools not only excluded our neediest students, but also provided them with much smaller classes -- and how the administration has no plan to deal with the increasing inequities of the system it has created.

See also our earlier post about the Fund for Public School's deceptive ads that claim class sizes have been reduced in our schools -- and how this organization, which was founded to provide more resources and programs for students in our turned into a PR arm for the Mayor's political image.

Bloomberg Announces City Beef Ban

October 13, 2007 (GBN News): Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today that effective November 1, all sales of beef will be banned in New York City. In a statement to reporters at City Hall, the Mayor said that the beef ban will be put in place so that, as he put it, “Those pesky parents won’t be needing to call their kids all day on cell phones to ask if they want beef or fish for dinner.”

Despite recent incidents in Cleveland and at St. John’s, where cell phones proved to be a major boon to students’ safety, the Mayor has insisted that parents only need them to contact their children about the dinner menu. With beef banned from supermarket shelves, Mr. Bloomberg said, parents would have no choice but to serve fish every night, and “they can once and for all stop sending their kids to school with cell phones.”

The question was raised as to whether the Mayor has the authority to unilaterally ban beef sales, or whether this would require a City Council vote. But Mr. Bloomberg countered that since this is an education related issue, the state Legislature has given him full control to make the decision on his own.

The Mayor also said that the ban on beef will have the additional benefit of improving the health of New Yorkers. He pointed out that under his administration the city has already banned trans fats, and said that the beef ban is a logical next step to promote healthier eating.

A reporter pointed out that parents say they want their children to have cell phones for their own safety, especially given the recently reported incidents of gun violence. The Mayor responded, “More people die each year from high cholesterol than from school shootings. Let them eat fish!”

Analysts said that the beef ban may put the Mayor at odds with President Bush, normally an ally with respect to education policy. The President is from Texas, a major cattle producing state, and he is likely to oppose the ban on the grounds that it will hurt his state’s economy. The Mayor said that he will not yield to political pressure, however. “I will do what it takes to uphold the ban,” he declared, “if I have to stand there and block the supermarket doors myself.”

The Mayor’s announcement came hours after he was released from Bellevue Hospital, where he had been admitted for psychiatric evaluation. GBN News has learned exclusively that Mr. Bloomberg was seen roaming the streets late last night, accosting passersby and demanding to confiscate their cell phones. The results of the evaluation have not been released.

Should cell phones be allowed in schools?

On WCBS news yesterday, Maria Dapontes-Daughterty, the President of the Presidents Council in D30 Queens and I were interviewed by Marcia Kramer about how recent shooting incidents at the Success Tech HS in Cleveland and St. John’s University in Queens underlined the need for our children to be able to carry their cell phones in school.

WCBS ran the anguished recording of a Cleveland mom, calling the police after her son had contacted her by cell phone, while hiding from the gunman in a closet at school. This was juxtaposed with a clip of Bloomberg, scoffing that parents only want to contact their kids " to find out whether they want beef or fish for dinner."

The story also makes the point that the lockers outside would not help if there was an attack within a NYC public school. It's a powerful bit of news -- check out the full transcript and the video here: Should cell phones be allowed in NYC schools?

Randi comes out

In what was an open secret but never publicly disclosed before, Randi Weingarten, the President of the United Federation of Teachers, talks about being gay in this week’s issue of Gay City News. Congrats to Randi for doing this.

She also mentions the UFT's support for the City Council's passage of anti-bullying legislation that Mayor Bloomberg has refused to implement.

See: “Randi Weingarten Discusses Her Life as a Lesbian Labor Leader”.

Update: more on this disclosure, from the Daily News and NY Post.