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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Klein Stiffs Parents of Children Receiving Special Ed Services to Defend Accountability

At Monday's Panel for Educational Policy meeting, Chancellor Joel Klein made a last minute agenda change to make room for Chief Accountability Officer Jim Liebman's rambling and defensive account of how much money his office spends. To make time for Liebman, Klein postponed an update on special education, drawing howls of protest from the many parents of children receiving special education services who had come specifically to hear the briefing. Citywide Council on Special Education member Patricia Connelly waited patiently for the public comment period, then gave an impassioned speech on how Klein's indifference was emblematic of his attitude toward the 180 thousand public school children with IEPs.

The impetus for the Accountability briefing was a report by the Independent Budget Office demonstrating how DOE will spend $129.6 million this year and $105 million next year on its Accountability initiative. The report, which drew wide press coverage, must have struck a nerve because Liebman came loaded for bear with a thirty-page Powerpoint, three live testimonials from DOE administrators and a live demonstration of the much-delayed ARIS system.

You can find the Powerpoint here. From start to finish it is a preposterous document. Some highlights:
  • There are the usual statistics on DOE "success" which carefully omit any mention of Federal NAEP tests showing a lack of progress.
  • An absurd statement from Columbia's Jonah Rockoff insisting school progress reports released only a couple of months before children sat for state tests were responsible for improving their scores.
  • Not one but two pages of endorsements from those great sages of pedagogy, the editors of the Daily News.
  • A blatantly false assertion that the $80 million spent on ARIS had to be spent on technology as part of the city's capital budget (actually, new schools, gyms or science labs would have been fine -- exactly the things Bloomberg tells us we can no longer afford)
  • An extensive assault on the IBO analysis, the only point of which appears to be that, yes DOE is spending the hundreds of millions IBO said they are but technically speaking, it's not really on "accountability".

The reality is that Liebman is spending even more than even what IBO enumerated; they agreed to exclude the massive Interim Assessments expense which will be $26 million this year alone and another $8+ million in Senior Achievement Facilitators went uncounted.

At the end of his presentation, I asked Liebman how he could justify the six positions posted on the DOE web site with titles like "Knowledge Manager" and "Achievement Facilitator" when we are likely to see layoffs of art & music teachers and cuts in custodians. His reply that he was not necessarily really hiring people drew chuckles from the audience. The net of all this is that the Bloomberg administration is set on protecting this standardized testing juggernaut even if it means passing on the cuts on to our classrooms.

The PEP meeting ended with a long barrage of public comment. The parents who had come for the special education briefing were bitter, ATR and rubber room teachers were out in force and several parents spoke on the ever-present overcrowding crisis. See EdNotes for another account of meeting.


Leonie Haimson said...

The worst part of this was that special ed parents said it was the very first time that the issue of special education had been put on the agenda at Tweed -- apparently because of Patrick's suggestion -- and thus they were encouraged at the sudden interest of Klein in this area which he has neglected so long.

Also, the presentation of Liebman in which it appears that he has been given a blank check by Klein to hire as many people in this office as he wants-- despite supposed layoffs at Tweed -- was followed by a bleak presentation by Kathleen Grimm, talking about big mid-year budget cuts being imposed on all schools, with even larger budget cuts to come.

Sometimes you have to think that Klein and Liebman must live on another planet altogether.

Patricia Connelly said...

The Good Fight continues! I am oddly pleased that Chancellor Klein did not disappoint on Monday at Tweed during his monthly Panel for Education Policy meeting. As I told my comrade John Englert, President of the Citywide Council on Special Education, during our ride back to Brooklyn, Klein confirmed, yet again and quite publically, that we are not hyperbolically unhinged in characterizing him and his cabinet as appallingly indifferent to the challenges faced by the 180,000+ special needs students and their families in our public school system. We have, indeed, been left behind and marginalized by Bloomberg's Children First reforms.

The more we are stopped in our tracks (by whatever outside force) to think about what we did not realize to be not only problematic but inequitable, the better. And when such an opportunity presents itself in a public forum, and to be occasioned by a high ranking public servant who should possess better social/political skills, and -- moreover -- to have the chance to speak some truth to power, the better for our collective groping toward the democractic and
transparent governance of our public schools.

What I believe is crucial for all of us fortunate enough to find our voice as parent advocates to bear in mind is this: Just how many, many more parents and guardians are out there who are silenced, kept by circumstance and fear from doing so. In the case of families with special needs children, the obstacles and challenges of navigating the currently bifurcated and dysfunctional and downright Byzantine special education and related services delivery system is overwhelming. Many lack the resources to mount concerted action to protect the rights of their kids to FAPE ("free and appropriate public education") guaranteed under federal law (IDEA-Individuals with Disabilites Education Act).

All too many of us are low income, people of color, stuck in low performing, segregated schools, struggling to provide the basics of food, shelter and safety for their children (often more than have special needs) as single parents (a.k.a. mothers).  In a nutshell: Families of students with special needs in NYC pubic schools do not yet constitute, in the current view of the DOE and the mayor it takes its marching orders from, an "interest group" to be reckoned with. (I was struck by something Klein said, Monday evening at Tweed, in attempt to "apologize" for his unilateral decision to postpone the special education update to next month's meeting. He said that as long as he is Chancellor, special needs students would be "welcome" in our school communities. Welcome? How generous and beneficent of the Chancellor! Hello?! It is his obligation under federal and state law!)

Anonymous said...

Mayoral Control has delivered realresults, and going back isn't an option. Our job should be to figure out how we improve the process, make things more transparent and give parents more opportunities for input. The two things can work together.

Leonie Haimson said...

Check out our more recent posting, "The Mayor's campaign to keep control over our schools has begun" pointing out that this Anonymous commentator is likely working for the Mayor's organization called MASS.