Sunday, March 30, 2008

More disinformation from the city on the budget cuts

According to today’s Daily News, the Bloomberg administration is arguing in Albany that the Assembly’s proposal to erase the Governor’s cuts to education but also to require the city to refrain from making its own cuts would instead force even more draconian reductions than currently planned to other essential city services, like policing and sanitation.

This argument flies in the face of at least three realities:

1- There is no city deficit that necessitates any cuts. In fact, surpluses in the city’s budget are expected until at least 2010 – according to the Independent Budget Office’s analysis here.

2- At the same time the administration is proclaiming that declining revenue obligates them to make these cuts, they are also insisting on reinstituting property tax cuts and rebates amounting to $1.25 billion – more than enough to fulfill the city’s promise made last year to increase funding for our schools.

3- Education is the only area that the state’s highest court deemed so underfunded as to deprive our children of their constitutional rights – and the administration’s promise last year to increase education spending over four years that now Bloomberg wants to renege on was made to address these illegal deficiencies.

Thanks to Pigs and Fishes Art Services for the inspired visual.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Are NYC Parents Voting on the DOE with Their Children's Feet?

As readers of this blog may have noticed by now, I often analyze data sets in order to “coax out” the stories they tell. I particularly enjoy counter-spin situations where the DOE’s actual data can be shown to contradict their public spin machine or reveal things they would rather not talk about.

While researching my previous posting ("I’m Shocked! Shocked!”) about graduation rates, I happened to take a closer look at NYC’s public school register totals (General and Special Education combined, Pre-K to Grade 12) for the last decade, from 1995-1996 through this year, as shown below with their year-to-year percentage changes.

School –- Register ----- Year-to-Year
Year ------ Totals---------- Change
95-96 ----- 970,174
96-97 ----- 993,304 ------ +2.38%
97-98 --- 1,004,042 ------ +1.08%
98-99 --- 1,012,966 ------ +0.89%
99-00 --- 1,010,601 ------- (0.23)%
00-01 --- 1,014,927 ------ +0.43%
01-02 --- 1,022,925 ------ +0.79%
02-03 --- 1,027,844 ------ +0.48%
03-04 --- 1,028,008 ----- +0.02%
04-05 --- 1,021,277 -------- (0.65)%
05-06 --- 1,000,189 ------- (2.06)%
06-07 ----- 992,953 ------- (0.72)%
07-08 ----- 967,268 ------- (2.59)%

Notice the almost nonstop increase in public school enrollment from 1995 - 1996 to 2002-2003, resulting in a net total inflow of 57,670 children to the system, an increase of 5.94% over seven years. Entering the first full year of Mayoral control (2003-2004), the trend essentially flat-lined, screeching to a halt with a year-to-year gain of just 164 students (+0.02%). The last four years of Mayoral control under the less-than-popular Chancellor Klein have witnessed a non-stop downward trend resulting in a net public school enrollment drop of 60,740 children (- 5.91%) to a level this year below that of 1995 – 1996.

Even allowing for the 18,000+ students that 60 charter schools have now siphoned out of the system (and whose numbers are resolutely and doubtless intentionally excluded from the DOE’s publicly-accessible statistical summaries), the Bloomberg/Klein era has seen an apparent enrollment drop of over 40,000 children in just the last four years! This while construction cranes litter the Manhattan skyline and the New York Sun is reporting the City’s population as still growing and now at a record high! A November 2007 press release from the City Planning Office proudly crowed Mayor Bloomberg's announcement that the City's July 2006 intercensus estimate is 8,250,567, up more than 242,000 from the 2000 U.S. Census. In addition, the NYC Planning Department's own projections from 2000 - 2030 (dated December 2006) show a 2.66% increase in population aged 5-19 from 2000 to 2005, and only a slight decrease (0.56%) from 2005 to 2010, for a net increase of 2.08% for the decade. While there may be declines in certain sub-groups, the aggregate numbers for school-aged children 5-19 show increases from 2000 to 2010, suggesting that the DOE's falling school register numbers from 2004 through 2008 may reflect more than just demographic effects.

These figures suggest that after years of steady growth, New York City parents may be rejecting the Mayor’s authoritarian, data- and test-driven, parentally disempowering, and unabashedly non-responsive public school system at an alarming rate. Perhaps the public is demonstrating its understanding that if you can’t vote out the man, you can still vote with your feet.

Friday, March 21, 2008

I'm Shocked! Shocked!

To paraphrase the immortal words of Casablanca’s Captain Renault, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that fudging the graduation rates is going on here!”

The New York Times has reported the “shocking” news that many states are inflating their graduation rates for reporting under NCLB and even keeping two different sets of statistics, one federal and one for home state use. These discrepancies run as high as 23.7 percentage points in Mississippi, but even our own Empire State shows an 11.7 percentage point difference, and Connecticut’s is an almost equal 11.3 points. The article goes on to speak about the politicization of graduation rates under NCLB and how this leads school districts toward pushout policies that increase dropouts while simultaneously boosting the apparent success rates.

This story recalled the DOE’s persistent use of their 60% graduation rate figure for NYC schools (see, for example, "NYC graduation rates; still pretty dismal"), contrasted with the State’s 50% figure. A quick check of the DOE’s own Statistical Summaries webpage shows the following data for three recent student cohorts:

---------------------------------------Pct. Of Grade 9
2002-2003 Grade 09 ---- 94,648
2003-2004 Grade 10 ---- 77,945 ------- 82.4%
2004-2005 Grade 11 ---- 50,859 ------- 53.7
2005-2006 Grade 12 ---- 43,711 ------- 46.2

2003-2004 Grade 09 ---- 97,875
2004-2005 Grade 10 ---- 79,663 ------- 81.4%
2005-2006 Grade 11 ---- 51,281 ------- 52.4
2006-2007 Grade 12 ---- 45,786 ------- 46.8

2004-2005 Grade 09 ---- 99,721
2005-2006 Grade 10 ---- 81,256 ------- 81.5%
2006-2007 Grade 11 ---- 54,468 ------- 54.6
2007-2008 Grade 12 ---- 49,518 ------- 49.7

In all three cohorts, the Grade 12 register is less than 50% the size of the same cohort in Grade 9, and that assumes an unlikely 100% of those Grade 12 students will be graduating. One can only imagine the sequence of flaming hoops the DOE has to jump through to turn any of these figures into 60%.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More on the blogs re 8th grade retention

Check out what two expert researchers have to say about the know-nothing grade retention policies of Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein.

Read Diane Ravitch here: Who's Failing Whom?

and Eduwonkette, Really!?! Joel Klein

(And I'm stealing Eduwonkette's idea for an illustration as well.)

Public School Police State

Few public school parents had a reason to attend last Sunday's PSAL City Championship basketball games, but those like myself who did saw a virtual replay of the near state of martial law imposed by the NYPD for demonstrations during 2004's Republican National Convention. The event was effectively closed to the public, ticket prices jacked up to $15 (in an apparent attempt to keep out the "riffraff"), attendance limited to 5,000 or less. Not that anyone would have a clue about most of this from the happy-go-lucky reporting in our local newspapers.

My son and I emerge from the 34th Street subway station at 10:30 Sunday morning into a scene that makes me think, "This must be what the Baghdad Green Zone looks like." Barricades blocking 33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue, with 33rd Street itself lined with dozens of School Safety vans. Police everywhere along Seventh Avenue in front of the Garden, with more barricades set up to create a narrow sidewalk path into the Garden itself. Multiple requests to show our tickets from NYPD officers spaced every few feet along this artificial corridor. In the open spaces outside the barricades and inside the MSG plaza, dozens more uniformed NYPD and School Safety officers. At the entrance, more police and the inevitable metal detectors staffed by completely humorless guards. "Remove your metal objects. Hand over your cell phone. Take off your belt. Move over there, out of the way. Sir, don't go over there! But he just told me to put my stuff back on over here!"

Inside the Garden hallways, still more of the same, enough man and woman power to defeat the Belgian army. "Keep your ticket on you at all times or we might not let you back in," we're advised in no uncertain terms. Finally, we're at courtside and see, despite an otherwise empty arena, that we're being forced to sit behind the basket at one end, the other school similarly positioned at the opposite end. We've come to cheer on our Girls' team and we can hardly see them at the other end of the court, nor can they hear us. The good seats, on either side of the court, are nearly empty but hardly without security -- School Safety and NYPD personnel are stationed every 15 or 20 feet even where no students are present!

Just as the game begins, a fully decked out police officer positions himself squarely in the middle of the aisle, almost directly in front of me, feet spread apart in a classic power pose. I can't see a single thing happening on the court. "You're not going to stand there the whole game, are you?" I ask in disbelief. "I'm sorry, but your mother didn't make glass," I add, only half under my breath. He gives me the look, then decides to move up the aisle a bit. As a group, our school's supporters -- students, parents, teachers -- watch the entire game from behind the Visitor's basket. Half the time, we can see more by watching the TV version being broadcast live on MSG. At least they give the home audience a mid-court view.

Of course, I am entirely sympathetic to the concern over the violent events that took place at last year's PSAL Championships. Of course, I concede an NYPD and School Safety presence as the prudent response. But as this Mayor and Police Commissioner have done in every similar instance, the official response, doubtless with Chancellor Klein's consent, was an over-the-top demonstration of force meant not just to intimidate but to convey power and inspire fear. The message was clear, especially for the kids: "You're all thugs -- as you proved only too well last year -- and the only thing that will keep you from behaving like animals is brute force intimidation."

The good news was that our Girls' team shone by their determined play and great sportsmanship, and the students who attended in support acquitted themselves beautifully. Still, what are our high school-aged children to make of the "official attitude" projected toward them? How will the inescapable resentment from these condescending slights, blatant intimidations, and less-than-subliminal signals ultimately manifest themselves? When will we ever contemplate putting our children's well-being ahead of political image management through incident avoidance at any cost? What must a tourist passing by the Garden on Sunday morning have thought upon being told that the purpose of such a massive lock-down police presence was two high school basketball games, one for girls and one for boys? When did these games become the Prison System Athletic League (PSAL) Championships?

This was NOT a response to the post-9/11 era. Rather, this has sadly become the norm in the Bloomberg/Kelly/Klein era. Our silence is taken as tacit agreement that this is how it should be, that what would be beyond the pale in Westchester or Long Island is just "keepin' it real" in NYC.

Shame on us.

8th Grade Retention Vote at March 17th Panel for Educational Policy

On Monday, the Panel for Educational Policy voted to approve the Chancellor's plan to hold back children in the 8th grade based on standardized test scores. I voted against the policy and ended up being the lone dissenting voice. The statement released prior to the vote by Manhattan Borough President Stringer, who has appointed me to the Panel can be found here.

Like most people, I don't think we should push unprepared kids into high school. I don't support social promotion. Yet the proposal that Chancellor Klein put forward for approval had no plan to provide services to the retained children, let alone deal with the pervasive problems of middle schools. Panel members were asked to put faith in the "forthcoming" plan that DOE is developing to turn around middle schools. The end of the administration strikes me as an odd time to start working on a plan for the weakest part of the system, especially when federal NAEP tests have shown no progress in 8th grade under the current administration.

I've looked closely at all the research on these programs to hold kids back based on test scores and pretty much across the board the research says they don't work. A very comprehensive study in the Chicago school system showed that the retained children had higher drop out rates and overall the program did not help despite costing hundreds of millions to fund another year of school.

The DOE has contracted with a research and consulting firm, RAND, to study the implementation and success of its program yet no findings have been released to the public. I have been fighting over the last two months to have results released to Panel for Educational Policy members but we were only given the 479 pages of reports late Saturday, without sufficient time to review them prior to the vote. The DOE will not release any findings until August 2009 despite the fact that much of the information is complete and would be highly valuable to the various efforts focused on improving the middle schools.

As I've come to expect, the Chancellor's plan lacks any semblance of implementation planning. DOE believes somewhere between 5,000 - 18,000 additional kids will repeat 8th grade. Tweed has not explained where they'll put these kids in middle schools that are already overcrowded. We have severe overcrowding in many parts of Manhattan, especially in Districts 6 and 2 and increasingly 3. Class sizes of 29 or higher are already typical in 8th grade in contrast to 20-22 in the rest of the state.

Like many debates about school policy, the administration has framed it in terms of false choices: social promotion vs. retention. But social promotion is not the only alternative to the Chancellor's policy of test-driven retention. What we've been saying is to instead find these kids early and provide the remediation instead of waiting for them to fail. DOE has an $80 million dollar student achievement database and the most extensively tested student body in the free world yet they can't figure out which kids need help and give it to them?

Instead of paying to simply repeat 8th grade, we should invest in creating middle school environments that are more attractive for both students and teachers -- small classes, enrichment programs, the arts, sports, after-school programs and proactive interventions for struggling students.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Last night at Tweed

Monday night at the meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, members voted on the new proposal to hold 8th graders back on the basis of their test scores. It was standing room only. About 50-70 parents and kids were locked out at Tweed ’s front door. We chanted from the steps, ”Let us in.” but they never did. Inside, more parents cried out “shame”, but to no avail. The Mayor, the Chancellor and their political appointees on the PEP have no shame.

From all reports, Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan PEP member and fellow blogger here, was the hero of the night, aggressively questioning the rationality of this proposal. Read his account here. Patrick ended up being the sole vote in opposition, when the Bronx rep switched positions half way through. The proposal passed even though DOE admits to having no plan to improve the opportunities of low-achieving 8th graders– which they say they’ll come up with sometime in the indeterminate future.

Several years ago, the research group RAND was commissioned to do a longitudinal study of the results of the administration’s promotional policies – the result of pressure from a previous PEP vote. Yet RAND's findings, including surveys of principals and others about whether holding back 3rd and 5th graders on the basis of their scores on two standardized exams is fair or productive, are not going to be released to the public until late in 2009. After some protest, PEP members were allowed to see the interim results, and at least one reporter was also allowed to view them – on the condition that they not disclose what they read.

This study is being paid for by our tax money, and it’s a disgrace that the public cannot have full access to its findings.

The results of our independent parent survey prove that Klein’s repeated claims that this policy has widespread support among parents are false. In our survey, a majority of parents opposed making the decision about a student’s promotion primarily on the basis of standardized tests. Here’s a typical comment from a Brooklyn parent: “No single test should ever determine a child’s future.” A Queens mom: “I graduated from sixth grade with a fourth grade reading level…I eventually caught up with my peers and now have a Master’s degree…under mayoral control I would have been left back.”

Grade retention based on test scores is a policy that has no backing in research, has been shown to increase dropout rates, and is a form of educational malpractice. The proposal being pushed through by this administration is yet another instance in which pure political muscle, ideology and PR spin wins out against research and sound educational practices.

It is truly a shame that this administration repeatedly shows its lack of regard for our kids’ futures, as well as expert opinion by putting in place policies that have repeatedly been shown to fail, instead of those, like reducing class size, that have been proven to work.

Here are news stories about last nightNY Times, NY Post, Daily News , NY Sun , NY1 and WNBC news.

Monday, March 17, 2008

DOE Busts School Pizza Party

March 17, 2008 (GBN News): School security officers today broke up what NY City Department Of Education officials termed an “illegal pizza ring” and confiscated 160 pizza pies from a group of stunned elementary school students in Brooklyn. The raid on PS 445 was part of a renewed effort by the DOE to enforce a little known Chancellor’s regulation that bans serving any food not approved by the DOE’s “Chief Nutrition Officer”.

The children were gathered in the cafeteria for the school’s annual “Pizza Day”, a tradition which brings in hundreds of dollars for the PTA. According to furious parents who witnessed the scene, the students had barely begun sinking their teeth into their pizza when dozens of school security agents burst into the room, confiscated the pizza boxes, and even snatched slices of pizza right out of the children’s hands. The Principal tried to reason with the officers, and was immediately arrested for “interfering with police business”.

When reached for comment, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein defended the regulations and the response. “We have a Chief Nutrition Officer for good reason,” he told GBN News. “If a food interferes with children’s learning, it should be banned in school. Parents and teachers should be thanking those brave security agents, not complaining about them.”

GBN News was unable to reach the DOE Chief Nutrition Officer directly for comment as to how children’s learning can be affected by eating pizza. However, the Department of Education's Office of School Food and Nutritional Services responded with the following statement: “Pizza can give children gas, which hinders their concentration on tests and lowers test scores. Also, the grease gets on their fingers and can cause the pencil to slip out of their hands.”

Friday, March 14, 2008

On the fourth anniversary of the Monday night massacre; what have they learned?

On Monday, the Panel on Educational Policy will vote on a proposal to hold back 8th graders on the basis of their test scores. Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer, and his appointee to the Panel, Patrick Sullivan, just announced their opposition to this proposal, and Sullivan is expected to vote against it. Instead, Stringer recommends policies that have been shown to work to raise student achievement, such as lower class sizes and earlier intervention.

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of the Monday night massacre, when Bloomberg fired two of his own appointees to the Panel right before the vote on the third grade retention policy. In their stead, the Mayor appointed two high level officials of the Health and Hospitals agency and the Housing Authority, who sit on the Panel to this day, neither one saying a word except to vote yes for every single administration proposal.

See this NY Times account the day after the Monday night massacre, in which Klein said: ''I think it is a legitimate vote,'' he said, adding: ''I don't think it was rigged.''

And he insisted the school system had proper checks and balances. ''The mayor has said when he runs for re-election that he should be held accountable,'' Mr. Klein said. ''That is the democratic way.''

Since then, test-based grade retention has been extended to fifth and seventh graders, and now is being proposed for 8th graders as well. According to the News, “only 1,300 out of 77,000 eighth-graders were held back last year, but nearly 18,000 would be in danger of failing under the new proposal.”

The News article also describes how yesterday, a group of parents stormed Tweed, demanding to speak to Klein about the policy: "About 50 members of the Coalition for Educational Justice rushed the front door of education headquarters and chanted "Let us in!" and "We want Klein!"

Grade retention is a policy that has absolutely no backing in research, and is commonly believed to be educational malpractice. Over one hundred academics, heads of organizations, and experts on testing from throughout the nation signed our letter protesting the grade retention proposal in 2004. It’s as though the Mayor and Klein had commanded all the city's public hospitals to prescribe some quack medicine for cancer -- it is really that bad.

Since then, there have been two authoritative studies, both conclusively showing that holding back kids hurts rather than helps them . See the Chicago Consortium report called Ending Social Promotion: The Effects of Retention, which shows that third graders who were held back did no better than those who were promoted; and that sixth graders who were held back did even worse.

Even more pointedly, check out Ending Social Promotion: Dropout Rates in Chicago after Implementation of the Eighth-Grade Promotion Gate which concludes that eighth grade students who were retained increased their likelihood of dropping out by 29%.

But by the time next year’s eighth graders drop out of school, Bloomberg and Klein will be safely out of office. What have they learned in four years? Apparently nothing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spitzer Named to DOE Post

March 12, 2008 (GBN News): In yet another stunning development, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today that he is naming Eliot Spitzer to be Deputy Chancellor of the NY City schools, effective upon his official resignation as Governor on Monday. Mr. Bloomberg said that he expected Mr. Spitzer to bring his strong sense of personal and financial ethics to the Department, which has come under what the Mayor termed “frequent and unfair criticism” for lack of transparency and accountability. The Mayor made only an oblique reference to the scandal that caused the Governor’s resignation when he referred to Mr. Spitzer’s “vast experience with the world’s two oldest professions.”

A DOE official told GBN News, on condition of anonymity, that the Mayor feels that despite the recent scandal, Mr. Spitzer brings with him the ability to push through additional major changes to the DOE. “Klein may be a bulldozer, but Spitzer is a self described ‘steamroller’”, the official said. “The Mayor and Chancellor seem to think that, with so little time left before the end of their terms and possibly of Mayoral control as well, now is the time to move ahead with further reorganization. They figure that if Spitzer and the DOE can do to the 'defenders of the status quo' what he did to the women from the Emperor’s Club VIP, there will be no going back to the previous system.”

Whatever the effect on the educational system, many political observers agree that the DOE should be a safe place for Mr. Spitzer to re-establish his good name. It is an agency in which Mr. Spitzer is unlikely to get into further trouble, since it is free of the oversights that most government entities must answer to.

In other education news, a source at Bloomberg LP told GBN News that rumors of merger talks between the company, owned by Mayor Bloomberg, and the NY City Department of Education are “totally false”. “There’s no reason for talks,” the source said. “He’s just going to buy the Department outright.”

Friday, March 7, 2008

DOE "Creates" New Arts Position

March 7, 2008 (GBN News): The NY City Department of Education, as part of its effort to expand arts education in the schools, announced today the creation of a new administrative position, a “Chief Creativity Officer”. The $1.9 million a year position will be filled by billionaire philanthropist Smellington Worthington III.

At a Tweed Courthouse news conference, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told reporters, “The advent of this new position should demonstrate once and for all the importance we place on arts education. Mr. Worthington has a great deal of experience not only as a patron of the arts, but as one with a passion for educational reform, which has long been a hobby of his.”

The Chancellor went on to outline some of the ways in which the DOE plans to increase the role of the arts in the curriculum. Foremost among them will be the integration of the arts into standardized testing. “At a time of tight budgets, it is essential that we avoid waste and duplication. Therefore, we have devised an innovative way not only to teach the arts, but to test it in tandem with academic subjects so that we can assess it efficiently and maintain accountability.”

Mr. Klein explained that the DOE is partnering with McGraw Hill to modify its standardized tests to include the four major creative arts. Students will now be expected to be more creative in their answers. For example a question on an ELA test might require that a student sing the answer instead of filling in a bubble. Such a question would be graded not only on the basis of accuracy, but on tonality and artistic impression. Or, a math question requiring an answer in graph form would expect the graph to meet certain artistic standards such as color coordination and straightness of lines, and might require the student to draw a background picture for embellishment.

The Chancellor, anticipating critics who will undoubtedly contend that such a program is not practical, said, “If you can measure it, it can be successful. We expect every student will graduate with enough proficiency in the arts to compete on American Idol. And if they get voted off, the teachers and the principals will be held accountable – and we will vote them off as well.”

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Mayoral Control, Not Mayoral Dictatorship

Once again, the Daily News editorial board has come to the defense of Mayor Bloomberg’s control of the public school system. In a March 4, 2008 editorial titled, “Keep mayoral control,” the perpetually fawning Daily News editors present a defense of the present authoritarian system that is either willfully obtuse or breathtakingly ignorant in its perceptions.

The editorial opens by arguing that even to begin discussing “curtailing … mayoral control” is an “epochally bad idea,” an anti-democratic assertion that reinforces freezing out the public while simultaneously recalling Ari Fleischer’s infamous post-9/11 comment that “people need to watch what they say.” By the Daily News’s argument, neither the State Assembly, City Council, Borough Presidents, Public Advocate, UFT, educational advocacy groups, nor parents themselves have any right to question mayoral control of schools or explore fine-tuning of the current arrangement. Now that public school parents have effectively been shut out of the entire DOE decision-making process and left with no way to defend their schools or their children's interests, the Daily News would have it kept that way in perpetuity (except, of course, for their own editorial voice and corporatist leanings).

Far more egregious, this latest editorial seeks to establish a false dichotomy with regard to this issue. The public can opt either for “accountability” that answers to no one, or have as the alternative, chaos (their own words!!). Curiously, the identical argument has been proffered by the Chinese Communist Party for over fifty years to justify an iron-fisted control that marginalizes citizen participation and brooks no opposition. Perhaps that explains why the New York City public school system increasingly mirrors the mainland Chinese educational system, with its single-minded and educationally stultifying focus on high stakes testing at every level from elementary school to college admission.

While the last five years of mayoral control have arguably brought benefits, the costs have been enormous – organizational chaos, management of education via a series of factory-like measurements, overemphasis on standardized tests, decisions handed down like papal fiats without warning or community discussion, criminalization of the classroom, and removal of the public from public education. Mayoral control of the public schools was never intended to create the mayoral dictatorship that has resulted.

The Daily News editorial closes by stating, “To substantially weaken the mayor would be to let the schools run out of control.” More properly, failing to establish reasonable checks and balances or regenerate public involvement and a parental voice would be simply to let the Mayor and Chancellor run out of control.

Please help! we are trapped in a system called Mayoral control

On Monday the City Council held hearings on Mayoral control; most of those who testified said that the current system was not working -- that the administration wields dictatorial powers with no checks and balances, exhibits an overwhelmingly arrogant and dismissive attitude towards parents and other stakeholders, and repeatedly introduces misconceived and badly executed policies.

Several speakers suggested that the Department of Education should at least be subject to city law, as are other city agencies. This would also allow the City Council to overturn the worst and most abusive policies. Others spoke of the need to reinvigorate district control and strengthen the authority of District Community Education Councils.

Much of the testimony was incisive.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer argued that the Panel on Educational Policy, now basically a rubber stamp for the administration, should be reformed to ensure more independence and actual input into policies; in his oral comments, he also pointed that
he had never seen a bureaucracy that so enjoyed ignoring and refusing to meet with elected officials and parents. Other city agencies respond -- but not the DOE.

George Sweeting of the Independent Budget Office pointed out that the DOE routinely evades the sort of financial transparency required of all other agencies, making their job of providing adequate oversight nearly impossible -- and that Tweed's lack of disclosure had worsened over the last year. He also pointed out that rather than breaking down its budget by program as do other city agencies, "under the DOE’s current approach, a single unit of appropriation covers all of the $6.2 billion budgeted for general education purposes in the city’s schools."

Many parents expressed their frustration with the powerless they felt under the current system -- and stated that the unchecked imperial powers implicit in the current incarnation of Mayoral control is contrary to our entire system of government. As quoted on WNYC radio, retired teacher and gadfly Norm Scott pointed out that no one in power at Tweed has any experience in education:

What would you think if Bloomberg suddenly called me up and said, "Hey Norm, I know you never dealt with money, but I'd like you to manage my hedge fund." This is basically what people are doing by turning the systems over to people who have never worked in the system."

See also testimony from Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, and a powerpoint from Chancellor Klein.

Susan Shiroma, president of the Citywide Council on High Schools, Lisa Donlan, president of Community Education Council in District 1, and Josh Karan, CEC member in District 6.

Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, Diane Ravitch, educational historian, Randi Weingarten, President of the UFT and David Bloomfield of Brooklyn College and the CCHS.

Eugenia Simmons-Taylor, parent leader from Manhattan, David Quintana and Elizabeth Crowley, parent leaders from Queens, and Dorothy Giglio, parent leader from Brooklyn.

Ann Kjellberg, D2 parent and Political Action Committee, Dave Palmer of NY Lawyers for the Public Interest, and Cecilia Blewer of ICOPE.

Send us yours at

Stop the budget cuts: rally on March 19!

Yesterday the Mayor announced further cuts to our schools of another 3% next year, over the 5% already proposed, amounting to more than $1 billion altogether.

He is trying to blame the Governor, who has proposed his own far smaller reductions. Yet Bloomberg is still intent on going through with property tax cuts and rebates amounting to $1.25 billion – without which there would be no need to cut education at all. From the
NY Post:

Department spokeswoman Debra Wexler said, "No one wants to cut money from schools' budget, but the economy is struggling, revenues are down and we can't afford to spend more money than we have."…"How can we afford to give a property-tax rebate and reduction when we're cutting education $1 billion?" asked Councilman Robert Jackson (D-Manhattan). "How can the education mayor cut education?"

Meanwhile, a survey finds that the mid-year cuts already imposed have had devastating effects on many schools, including the elimination of after-school programs, weekend classes and tutoring services, textbooks, and instructional supplies. And we’re going ahead with a program to pay kids and their teachers for good test scores? What’s wrong with our priorities as a city?

Join us on Wed., March 19, at 4 PM for a big rally opposite City Hall to protest the budget cuts to school; cosponsored by lots of education groups, including Class Size Matters. Here is a flyer to post or distribute in your school.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

letter from teachers at Bergtraum HS re Chancellor's "jihad" against large schools

Read this article about Murry Bergtraum HS from the Downtown Express. The article explains how many of the school’s problems with overcrowding, safety and low achievement have been been made worse by the small schools initiative, which has caused Bergtraum to be overwhelmed with a huge influx of extremely needy students who were excluded from the new small schools in the area. Yet the staff at Bergtraum has been denied any tools to deal with their academic needs and and social problems of these students, most especially no way to reduce the horrendously large classes. Below is a letter from teachers at the school.

To The Editor:
Murry Bergtraum High School has had an excellent relationship with the surrounding community for many years and continues to do so with the exception of complaints about students “hanging out” in the general area of the Seaport.

Very often these groups of students come from several different schools. However, since Schools Chancellor Klein started his school restructuring program, the city’s large, academic schools, like Bergtraum, have become dumping grounds for students whose needs are not being addressed by the Department of Education.

The large high schools, including Bergtraum, are dangerously overcrowded, not allowed to screen incoming students, and unable to force dangerous students to transfer.

The community board would be well advised to consider whether or not mayoral control of the schools should be reauthorized, and should understand that the chancellor’s jihad against large schools is the problem — not the solution.

If, and when, the Department of Education decides to close down Bergtraum and replace the school with several smaller schools, the community can expect the situation to get worse, as it has in neighborhoods where large schools have been broken up. The real solution is in significantly reducing class sizes, thereby solving the over-crowding issue, and providing the school with the supports necessary to address the needs of these students.

John Elfrank-Dana and David Gordon
The writers are respectively Murry Bergtraum’s United Federation of Teachers chapter leader and School Leadership Team chairperson.