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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Darkness at Five

The evening grew lonely as twilight descended over City Hall and lone Council Members Robert Jackson, chair of the Education Committee, and Lewis Fidler heard out the public comment section of the Council’s hearings on the DOE’s proposed five-year capital plan. Councilmember Gale Brewer had weathered a few rounds of public comment, but the other members had all vanished, along with reps from the DOE and SCA, the moment the official testimony was over. The following estimable witnesses played to a nearly empty house: UFT President Randi Weingarten; a representative of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity; Dan Golub, Senior Policy Advisor to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; Class Size Matters Executive Director Leonie Haimson; liaisons for Representative Carol Maloney and Assemblymember Deborah Glick; a number of ardent and articulate students from Bushwick and Highbridge; parent representatives from notably overcrowded neighborhoods; and a teacher. I guess DOE/SCA and City Council Members must have such good information that they do not need to hear from these persons—though the substance of the testimony suggests otherwise. Readers are encouraged to put down their eggnogs long enough to go to their local CEC meetings on the capital plan and shout loud and clear, because word has it that responses coming in after January 9 will not be taken into consideration, so whatever influence there is to be had over this ominous process had best be had now.

(The thoughtful reader may protest that it is difficult to respond to the capital plan without 2007-2008 utlization figures, which are not yet available. To this we can offer no consolation.)

Read testimony of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, UFT President Randi Weingarten, Doug Israel, Center for Arts Education,
Class Size Matters Executive Director Leonie Haimson, this reporter


Ceolaf said...

You imply that DOE/SCA and City Council Members can't get these people's views without staying to hear their testimony.

Most of them have already published their views, either online, in reports or in interviews. Many of them have already spoken publicly. And if the DOE/SCA and City Council Members wanted to learn more, they could call them on the phone or invite them in for a meeting.

Can you name a single new or surprising comment to comment from any of these people at this meeting?

These hearings are a public ritual, and perhaps even an important one. But they are not where the deals happen. They are not where the DOE/SCA and City Council Members learn about issues and difficulties. If you want a DOE/SCA and/or City Council Members to take your issue/concern seriosuly, you've got to get a meeting with their chief advisor on the issue, and then s/he will help the DOE/SCA and/or City Council Members to make sense of it.

You MUST know that, right?

This was about showing respect and/or disrespect. They these people were dissed by DOE/SCA and City Council Members. Call it what it is, and then we can deal with it. But don't claim that they don't know or can't get access to what these people think.

Show your readers more respect than that, else you are dissing us.

Leonie Haimson said...

I learn something new at every Council hearing I attend -- even though I'm far more up on these issues than the average Councilmember.

Councilmembers would learn a lot if they stuck around. And it would show more consideration and respect for their constituents -- who deserve better.

Ceolaf said...

I'm not saying that they can't learn at hearings or hearing. I'm saying that that is not why DOE/SCA and City Council Members attend them, and if they don't listen to learn, the usually won't.

They pretend to pay attention. They play their role. And they go with what the learn on other occassions.

Ceolaf said...

Ms. Haimson,

Also, honestly, if you think that class size the most important -- or even one the few most important issues -- you've got a ton more to learn.

There is great research that shows that class size makes a difference. But only for k-2, only for a huge reduction, and I don't believe that the substainability of the effects has been properly established.

As a former teacher, I can attest to how much easier it is to teach smaller classes. But I can't tell you -- and I don't think that anyone else has shown -- that smaller classes lead to better educational outcomes. The research just is not that.

Teacher like it. And parents like it. But it is an incredibly expensive reform, and there is no evidece anywhere that it is the most cost effective reform. None.

If you haven't figured this out yet, you've got a lot to learn.

Now, I am with you on the Bloomberg/Klein model of reform. I am with you on the problem of our the current paradigm of accountabillity. I am with you on a lot of issues. But if you urging class size reduction to be high on the education reform agenda, then I've got a lot of issues with what you are trying to do to our schools.

Pogue said...

I'd rather have an "incredibly expensive reform" going towards benefitting people (students, teachers), than incredibly expensive reform than benefits test publishing companies and six-figure salaried "accountability" job positions. Smaller class sizes can only help. Why are people so tight with helping the middle class and kids, and so open to kicking money to those who already have too much. It kills me.

Leonie Haimson said...

Ceolaf -- the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the US Department of Education, concludes that class size reduction is one of only four, evidence-based reforms that have been proven to increase student learning through rigorous, randomized experiments -- the "gold standard" of research. Nothing that Klein has done, by the way, is on the list.

The other three are one-on-one tutoring by qualified tutors for at-risk readers in grades 1-3rd ; life-skills training for junior high students, and instruction for early readers in phonics.

You could look it up.

check out the factsheet on my website at

Ceolaf said...

I don't defend anything that Klein has done.

But I also don't defend the standard that W's DOE uses to determine good practice or worthwhile reforms. Their so-called "Gold Standard" comes from medical research, which is not the same arena as educational reform. They don't care about understanding process or implenetation fidelity or determining replicability of impacts.

Where's the research that shows that reducing class size by 10-15% works in middle or high school? Where is the research that shows that that the gains are kept through graduation?

Advocating for a reform that we cannot afford to implement does nothing to help kids. In fact, advocating any reform that only gives a single boost is a foolish effort.

I want reforms that create engines of continuous improvement. And I want reforms that we tweak or back off of if we find that they don't work as we expected.

Because reducing class size requires incredible amounts of capital investment (e.g. new construction), it a huge gamble that cannot be taken back. That's a big problem.