Tuesday, April 29, 2008

City fails to reduce class size with $153 million; Comptroller to investigate

See the new report, produced by an independent consultant for the UFT, showing that based on DOE’s own data, the city has utterly failed to reduce class size with the $153 million in state funds targeted for this purpose -- and that in one third of schools receiving class size reduction funds, class sizes actually increased. Comptroller Thompson said he would audit the use of these funds to see how they were actually spent.

The city’s utter failure to reduce class size is a direct result of a lack of leadership, commitment and accountability on the part of the DOE.

At the current glacial rate of decline, it will be 10 to 30 years before the city reaches its state-mandated targets of 20 on average in grades K-3 and 23 in other grades. More findings from the report:

  • At 43 percent of all K-8 schools citywide, class sizes increased.
  • In large high schools with 1,500-plus students, there were four more students per class on average than in small schools with fewer than 1,500 students.
  • Little progress was made even in the city’s low-performing city elementary and middle schools (SINI/SRAP), which need smaller classes most desperately; 51 percent saw some decreases in class size but 42 percent saw larger classes.
  • In the city’s failing middle schools, class sizes remain larger than the citywide averages.
  • Among the 309 K-8 schools that were given class size funds, the more money that was allocated for this purpose, the more likely it was that class sizes increased rather than decreased.
  • Districts 10, 20, 24 and 25 had among the largest classes yet all were in the bottom half for reducing class size this year. Conversely, the top five districts for reducing class size (18, 6, 19, 5 and 17) all had smaller than average class sizes to begin with.

See the coverage in the Daily News: 153M can't uncram classes; NY Post : FAILING TO 'CUT' CLASS; NY Sun: Comptroller To Probe City's Class-Size Reduction Effort; and NY1; Advocates Argue Schools Are Not Reducing Class Sizes.

In the NY Times, the findings were buried in a longer piece about the fact that another $80 million has been wasted in the ATR system devised by Joel Klein – in which teachers who were “excessed” through no fault of their own because of school closings and the like would no longer be automatically reassigned to other schools but would be held in an “absent reserve” at full pay until they could find new jobs.

In the new “open market” system, principals have to pay out of their school budget for every teacher they hire, and the more experienced the teacher, the more he or she costs -- so there’s a built-in disincentive against doing so. In the past, principals were given budgets that automatically covered the cost of their staff, no matter what their experience level, but this is no longer the case.

I filed a Freedom of Information request for the data on the ATRs and as of October, there were 800 of these teachers. Many of them are highly skilled, and should instead have been assigned to classes at no cost to principals to reduce class size. The city, of course, would rather have them sit around doing nothing so they can eventually lay them off.

The teachers on absent reserve, along with another 800, sitting idle for years in the rubber rooms, many of them without ever being formally charged with misconduct, as well as the explosion of out of classroom positions such as “data coaches” and “senior achievement facilitators” have led to huge inefficiencies in the system, that Klein et al should be held accountable for.

The city’s response to the new findings? The DOE doesn’t deny that class sizes may have gone up in one third of schools receiving class size reduction funding -- but insist that “schoolwide averages mask targeted class size reductions in key courses like math.” So a school could lower class size in math, but raise class sizes in English, Social Studies and Science? What do you think: is this what our kids need? Is this what the State intended when they ordered NYC to reduce class size?

A School by Any Other Name

Following quickly on the heels of his Monday morning proclamation that the Glen Oaks school campus will be renamed in honor of sitting Republican State Senator/Assemblyman Frank Padavan, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein today announced several further objectively non-political school renamings:

-- Louis Brandeis High School, named after the renowned Supreme Court Justice, will be called the Joseph Bruno School of Government

-- Lehman High School in the Bronx will be renamed Giuliani Partners School of Yankee Baseball Studies.

-- Manhattan’s High School of Economics and Finance will be relocated to Bloomberg L.P.’s midtown headquarters in Bloomberg Tower and known as (what else?) Bloomberg High School.

-- Martin Luther King High School will be referred to only as the Pastor Jeremiah Wright Campus until November 5, 2008.

-- Nancy Reagan High School will constitute the new name of what was formerly Eleanor Roosevelt High School.

-- Stuyvesant High School, Bronx School of Science, and Brooklyn Tech will hereinafter be collectively referred to as the Intelligent Design Cooperative.

-- P.S. 9 in Brooklyn, formerly the Teunis G. Bergen school, will be renamed the Eliot Spitzer Client #9 Memorial School.

-- Forest Hills High School will now be known as John and Cindy McCain Straight Talk High School.

-- Tottenville High School on Staten Island will henceforth be known as Guy and Susan Molinari High School.

-- The name of P.S. 14 in Staten Island, Cornelius Vanderbilt, will be updated as the Oddo-Ignizio School in recognition of James Oddo and Vincent Ignizio as the only two sitting Republicans on the 51-member NY City Council.

-- P.S. 17 in Queens, now known as the Henry David Thoreau School, will be christened the Mortimer Zuckerman Elementary School in honor of the NY Daily News’s persistent blind championing of every Mayoral effort to corporatize the City’s public school system and in recognition of the level of its prose.

-- Finally, in what was certainly the day's most unusual bipartisan announcement, both P.S. 166 on Manhattan's heavily Democratic Upper West Side (Richard Rogers School) and P.S. 57 in hevily Republican Staten Island (the Hubert Humphrey School) will temporarily be renamed the Bloomberg for Vice President School until the completion of both parties' nominating conventions. Both schools will return to their former names as of November 5, 2008, the day after Election Day.

Mr. Klein noted in closing that, should any private citizen be interested in having a school named after himself or herself, all that was necessary was to make a seven-figure donation to the New York State Republican Party or to one’s particular New York State Republican State Senator or Assemblyman of choice.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


April 23, 2008 (GBN News): Fresh on the heels of an appellate court ruling upholding the City Department of Education ban on possession of cell phones in schools, Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced today that effective immediately, the DOE will now prohibit the use and possession of common sense in the schools. In announcing the new ban, the Mayor contended that common sense is “overrated”, and can actually interfere with children’s education.

“Defenders of the status quo always say we should use common sense,” the Chancellor added. “But if they had their way we never could have reformed the schools the way we did. We’d have less testing, smaller classes, more school buildings, fewer consultants and no-bid contracts, parents would be sticking their noses into school business. Who’d even want to send their kids to charter schools if all that happened? Why, I probably wouldn’t even be here because people might actually insist that the Chancellor have some education experience.”

The common sense ban drew immediate criticism from parent groups and City Council members. “What sort of message does this send to children whose parents are actually trying to instill some common sense in them?” one parent demanded. When asked for comment, the Mayor said simply, “Nothing in the ruling says parents can’t use common sense at home or on the way to and from school. It just can’t come into the school building.”

Despite the criticism, the practical effects of the new ban may not be as dramatic as some might fear. As one DOE staffer told GBN News on condition of anonymity, “Actually, there’s been no common sense in the school system since Bloomberg and Klein took over. So really, I wouldn’t expect much to change.”

Crowded out: report on city's failure to plan for new schools

Read Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s important new report on school overcrowding, “Crowded Out.

Here in NYC we are in the midst of an unprecedented development boom. In four Manhattan neighborhoods alone, the city has approved enough new buildings to add up to 2,300 new public school students in grades K-8, while increasing total school capacity by only 143 seats.

Every day, we fall further behind. Kindergarten classes are already 28 students in some schools, high rises continue to spring up around us, and rate of new residential construction is not likely to let up anytime soon.

As more and more schools become overcrowded, there are few prospects for alleviating these conditions, no less reducing class size. In all, this administration’s record on school construction and planning for the future has been an abject failure.

The recommendations of this report? The city needs to improve its planning to make sure that enough schools are built along with new housing, and adopt a transparent process for projecting population growth; they must plan for new schools at the neighborhood level where the overcrowding is most intense, rather than at the school district level; and the next capital plan must be far more aggressive if there are going to be enough schools to eliminate overcrowding and reduce class size.

See also this letter from elected officials, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney, to Joel Klein about the administration's failure to site and build enough schools.

Check out the media coverage of this report on NY1, WCBS, and the NY Daily News.

Finally, the Bush administration does something right!

Yesterday, the US Dept. of Education proposed changes to the regulations governing NCLB, to require a uniform definition of the four year graduation rate to be adopted by all states by 2012-13. If this definition were adopted now, NYC graduation rates would markedly drop – far below the 60% now claimed by the city, and even below the 50% rate as calculated by the state.

In the future, officials must include in the cohort all students who transfer (or are“discharged”) into programs that do not offer regular high school diplomas, such as alternative schools and/or GED programs. Right now, thousands of these students are excluded by the state and the city from the cohort for purposes of calculating the graduation rate. See, for example, the chart above for how the number of students "discharged" from the system and not counted as dropouts by NYC has risen over time.

The feds will allow only actual four year graduates to be counted (instead of August grads, as DOE does currently.) Also, it would be forbidden to exclude any special ed students and/or count GEDs as regular HS diplomas, as the city does as well.

Finally, states would have to adopt as goals higher graduation rates (such as 90%) to be achieved at all schools over a limited time period. Very few high schools in NYC would achieve these goals today or are likely to in the near future without drastic improvements to class size and the rest of the learning environment.

See article from USA Today and the announcement from the US Dept. of Education. For more on the deceptive methods used by the city to inflate its graduation rate, check out this power point I presented at the dropout summit in February. See this report from Advocates for Children, about how NYC students are still being illegally pushed out of school.

Though it sure would be nice to get some honest numbers before Bloomberg/Klein leave office....

Monday, April 21, 2008

First steps to end the School to Prison Pipeline

In January, school safety agents at Queens’ P.S. 81 handcuffed Denis Rivera, a 5-year-old special education student, for acting out in his kindergarten class. As if this weren’t bad enough, they took him to Elmhurst Hospital Center’s psychiatric emergency ward. Several months later, he is still sitting at home, waiting for an appropriate placement. (photo at left; credit: Daily News.)

In December, 17-year-old Porsha Newman, a student at Queens’ Information and Technology High School spent three weeks in Rikers when she refused to close her book in class.

In October, Mark Federman, principal of Manhattan’s East Side Community High School, was arrested by school safety agents after he asked them not to humiliate a student in front of her classmates and teachers. Fortunately, charges against this respected principal were recently dropped.

Though we know these problems are systemic, we only hear about specific incidents when they erupt in newspaper headlines, The Student Safety Coalition, a coalition of advocacy, academic and community based organizations, is working for the passage of the Student Safety Act, which would require quarterly reporting by the Department of Education and NYPD to the City Council on safety issues, including incidents involving the arrest, expulsion or suspension of students. It would provide the public with data to study the impact of current disciplinary and security practices, and encourage the crafting of more effective procedures.

The act also would extend the jurisdiction of the Civilian Complaint Review Board to investigate complaints of misconduct levied against school safety agents, who are police department personnel assigned to provide security in the schools. More than 5,000 school safety agents are assigned to the city’s schools, but there is currently no meaningful mechanism for students and their families to report incidents of serious misconduct.

In March, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) urged the United States to take action to end the School to Prison Pipeline, the policies and practices that funnel children of color out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

The committee recommended that our government “encourage school districts to review their ‘zero tolerance’ discipline policies, with a view to limiting the imposition of suspension or expulsion to the most serious cases of school misconduct, and to provide training opportunities for police officers deployed to patrol school hallways.”

Here in New York City, there is a clear need for such reform given the overwhelming police presence in many of our schools, as well as the use of overly harsh discipline methods that lead thousands of students each year to be suspended, drop out, and end up in the prison system.

The City Council must take this opportunity to take the first step in ending the School to Prison Pipeline by passing the Student Safety Act. For more information on joining this campaign, please email cdugger@nyclu.org

New York City, the home of the UN, should be a model for the rest of the world to follow, not a global embarrassment. Our children deserve better.

Chloe Dugger
Coordinator, School to Prison Pipeline Project
New York Civil Liberties Union

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Charter School Frenzy in Harlem

Imagine you’re a parent whose child will be entering first grade next September. Imagine as well that your town’s Board of Education has announced three public school closings in your area in just the last year and has graded seven or eight others as failing, a sure sign of more closures. Let’s take it one step further – your Board of Education has announced that 30 public elementary and middle schools in your area will likely forfeit roughly $10,250,000 from their current budgets by the 2009/2010 school year, while just 13 other public elementary schools will be adding about $1,851,000 (a net loss of $8.4 million that surely constitutes a statement of non-support to your community).

Finally, add to this cocktail of despair one ray of hope. Your Superintendent of Schools has established 18 new small schools in your area, with promises of still more to follow. Furthermore, that same Superintendent positively beams with pride over these new schools, clearly his favored children and his vision of the future. Where the vision is, of course, you know the money and effort will follow.

So, as the parent of a soon-to-be first grader, what do you do? What does a person dying of thirst in the desert do when offered a glass of water? What does a drowning person do when a life raft is tossed his or her way? You rush like a day-after-Thanksgiving shopper to enlist for the newest small school as soon as it is begins taking applications.

Where does this community exist? Right here in Manhattan, specifically in Harlem and East Harlem (Districts 4 and 5). All the numbers above are taken from DOE and NY Charter School Association data: school closures, schools with Progress Report grades of D or F, budget reductions under the paradoxically named Fair Student Funding formulas, and the number of charter schools in the Harlem area.

Before the local newspapers calm down from their orgiastic heavy breathing over Thursday night’s lottery at Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy (see NY Daily News article, NY Daily News editorial, NY Post article, and NY Post guest editorial), a single slow, deep breath might be in order. To begin with, the DOE under Mayor Bloomberg effectuated an Orwellian triumph with last night’s scene, demonstrating its policy that “Failure Is Success.” Since when can 3,600 applications for 600 non-public school seats be viewed as a measure of the Mayor’s and Chancellor’s successful shepherding of the public schools? To the contrary, Thursday night’s frenzy only emphasized the desperation of NYC parents to escape a system the Mayor was charged with improving. Like parents anywhere else, those in Harlem are only doing the intelligent thing -- putting their children’s interests first based on what they see going on around them. In all likelihood, they aren't looking so much for charter schools per se as they are looking for any public school that works and that's being supported by the City. The DOE has made that choice crystal clear in Districts 4 and 5.

After five years of misrule and depressing lack of progress, the DOE is now end-running itself to convert Harlem into a veritable charter school educational district. Two entire school districts are effectively being privatized by stigmatizing their public schools with D and F letter grades (creating a self-fulfilling prophecy) and withdrawing budgetary funds to hasten their failure.

Joel Klein reportedly attended last night’s event, apparently anxious to see (gloat over?) the results of his handiwork at close range. Rather than expressing concern over Harlem parents’ panicked flight from public schools as a vote of “no confidence” in his stewardship, he waxed positively transformational about the proceedings. This event will “go down in the history of school reform,” he asserted. Don’t worry, Mr. Chancellor; it already has, and -- in the corporatized fashion of current American democracy -- with nary a vote.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Audacity of Hubris (and Money)

It all seems so innocent, so generously charming. A young woman named Jessica Tisch, doubtless a hardworking, upwardly-striving, small town coed identified only as “a law and business student,” is granted the honor of a guest editorial in the New York Post. In her opinion piece, ever-so-colloquially titled “Mike and Term Limits” (we all smile at the unabashed forwardness of youth), young Ms. Tisch argues enthusiastically in favor of allowing NYC voters to decide if they want to overturn the current term limit rules in the City Charter so our beloved Mayor Bloomberg can run for a third term.

Who is this honoree, the recipient of such public opinion largesse from a major metropolitan newspaper? Just fifteen seconds’ worth of Google search and reading reveals the likely answer almost immediately: Jessica Sarah Tisch, Harvard graduate and (as of November, 2006) a student at Harvard Business School and Harvard Law, daughter of Merryl and James S. Tisch. Yes, the same James Tisch who is president of Loews Corporation (passed down to him by his father Laurence A. Tisch, and uncle, Preston Tisch). The same James Tisch who can be found listed as a member of the Rudy Giuliani Presidential Committee, Romney for President, and John McCain 2008 (Mr. Tisch is clearly a man of abiding political convictions.) The same James Tisch who serves as a Director of the unreservedly Mayor Mike-supporting Partnership for New York City, the organization that provides private (corporate) funding for DOE initiatives that would never past muster in the City Council or with voters were they ever actually voted upon as expenditures of public funds.

Ms. Tisch fille offers as her main argument for NYC voters re-deciding the term limits legislation that this particular charter revision is now all of twelve years old. “Much, after all, has happened since then,” she posits with the compelling argumentative force of a Harvard Law School student/graduate. Maybe the voters feel differently now, she suggests.

Is Ms. Tisch only concerned about Mayoral term limits, and if so, why just the Mayor? Should her sense of unrestricted public service not include the City Comptroller, the Public Advocate, and the City Council? If not, why not? While we’re at it, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution (universal suffrage) was adopted in 1920. Certainly, much has changed since then. Is it not time for voters to re-assess this as well? How about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, or the Title IX legislation of 1972 equalizing federal expenditures for educational programs and activities between men and women? If a decade is enough for a do-over, what should we say to 50-100 year old legislation?

Another of Ms. Tisch’s arguments concerns Mayor Bloomberg’s unarguable success at, among other things, having “improved schools.” Doubtless Ms. Tisch never came closer to a NYC public school than being chauffeured past one (although her mother, Merryl, is a member of the NYS Board of Regents), so it is difficult to imagine her bona fides for taking an informed position on Mayor Bloomberg's efforts with respect to the City's public schools.

Whether expressing opinions of her own or not, Ms. Tisch’s presence as an editorialist certainly gives the impression of shilling for her father’s business interests if not those of the corporate collective that comprises the New York City Partnership. The Post’s patently disingenuous effort to present Ms. Tisch as just some random, average student expressing a young person’s idealistic worldview only compounds the offensiveness of the conflict of interest they are abetting. Forget about political term limits – are there no limits to “shameful?”

An honest disclosure of Ms. Tisch’s family connections would have at least allowed readers to make their own fully-informed judgments about both the merits and the motivations of her message. Then again, perhaps full and accurate information is exactly what the NY Post editors most do not want their readers to have. There wouldn’t be anything new in that now, would there?

Would that the Post (or the Daily News or Times) ever give equal time and space to an actual student or recent graduate of a NYC public school who could speak from the heart - and from first-hand experience - about how Mayor Bloomberg's eight years has changed his or her life. It would be nice to hear from a young, non-white, non-upper class person writing about "life under Mike," rather than reading the opinions of someone who doubtless aspires mostly to “be like Mike.” And I don’t mean Jordan, either.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Gifted and Talented Admissions Revised

At an emergency 8:00 AM meeting Thursday morning, the Panel for Educational Policy voted to expand G&T admissions to all kids meeting the 90th percentile on the two standardized tests required for entrance. The Panel had previously approved the 95th percentile as the standard in the fall.

Contrary to some reports that notifications will be mailed on April 18th, the DOE explained that parents will be told how their children score starting at the end of the month. Originally, notifications were to be mailed at the end of March. The G&T admissions process has become notorious for confusion and delay under the current administration.

For Manhattan districts, here are the number of children who passed the 90th percentile cutoff and will be guaranteed a seat: D1: 51, D2: 371, D3: 370, D4: 8, D5: 37, D6: 50. In D6 the current number of children enrolled in the entry Kindergarten class is 80 compared with 50 who qualify for next year suggesting the number of seats may shrink there. Otherwise, all Manhattan districts had more children who qualify than seats filled this year.

The low number of children qualifying in lower income districts suggests the DOE has not met its goal of expanding the reach of G&T programs. While the expansion of the cutoff is welcome, all of the criticisms leveled when Manhattan Borough President Stringer and I voted to oppose the new policy remain. This is the fourth or fifth year the Bloomberg administration has changed the admission process. Its efforts would clearly be better spent working on building programs and outreach in historically underserved communities.

See news reports from NY1 here , the NY Times here, NY Post here and Daily News here.

Update: Admissions stats by district here in Excel.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Use test scores for tenure? Not a good idea, with these bumblers

So the NY State budget finally was decided, with all the proposed cuts to NYC schools restored, and the promise of CFE maintained, yet all the newspaper editorial boards and bloggers can do is to blather about a provision in the budget that prohibits the use of student test score data in making teacher tenure decisions.

Eduwonkette provides some of the links to the bloggers who are so outraged as to contend that this is the end of the civilized world.

Actually, the final language in the budget bill was a reasonable compromise, in which it was agreed that there will be a two year moratorium while a commission considers how best this information can be utilized to inform tenure decisions.

Evaluating a teacher’s competence on standardized test scores alone is not sufficient, since the gains or losses that any class achieves in scores is often highly erratic from year to year, is partly based on factors such as class size which is quite variable across NYC schools, and the background of students in each class.

Actually, research shows that its not just the current class size that helps determine the rate of learning, but a student's past class sizes, which can change the entire trajectory of his or her academic career.

And what are they going to do about the fact that many of the tests are given in the middle of the year? The DOE's proposed solution is to give last year's teacher half the credit, but that assumes equal effectiveness of all teachers -- which is contrary to the whole point of this exercise - that some teachers are more effective than others.

Moreover, test scores do not tell the whole story. Other evidence of a teacher's skills and value are equally if not more important, including her ability to motivate students, keep them engaged, and guide them in their writing, their projects and all other types of creative learning that cannot be assessed by test scores alone.

Most importantly, it is by now abundantly clear that this statistically illiterate administration cannot be trusted to use this data carefully and intelligently, with a grain of salt and in relation to other critical factors, given their record on merit pay and school grades.

In both cases, they chose to base the results primarily (85%) on test scores, with more than half based upon the essentially unreliable gains or losses in scores over one year alone.

Tying tenure to test scores could have very destructive effects, discouraging teachers from taking on classes of struggling or special ed students, and lead to a further loss of morale, with even more test prep replacing real learning.

A hiatus of two years is a terrific idea since whatever is decided will be implemented by a new administration that will hopefully be more trustworthy with the use of such data. We know that the bunch of bumbling amateurs in charge of our schools now would never be able to figure out how to balance all these factors in an intelligent, humane and constructive fashion.

For more on this issue, including comments from Chancellor Klein, Randi Weingarten and me, see the Channel 2 report here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

More on how the Mayor's bullying didn't work, this time

An article in today’s Times about how the congestion pricing plan wasn’t helped by the Mayor's arrogance and threats to finance the campaigns of potential opponents. Even those legislators who supported the proposal were turned off by his heavy-handed tactics:

"Indeed, many opponents said they resented the pressure and threats that they said emanated from Mr. Bloomberg’s side, including hints that the mayor would back primary candidates to run against politicians who opposed congestion pricing. The mayor’s allies recently formed a political action committee to finance those campaigns.

Those efforts, supporters and opponents agreed, illustrated the gulf between Mr. Bloomberg and lawmakers in Albany, where the mayor sometimes seemed to miscalculate how far his power and prestige could carry him.

Many Democrats in the Legislature felt that the mayor’s demeanor in private meetings was condescending. Some opponents wondered at Mr. Bloomberg’s political strategy, noting that they hardly expected to be punished by their constituents for siding with them.

This is the kind of reporting we need and we rarely seem to get from the NY Times when it comes to the imperious tactics that Bloomberg, Klein and Co. employ with our schools.

See also this article on the resentment produced by the high-handed, and ultimately unsuccessful tactics of the Mayor’s office:

Indeed, several lawmakers, already offended by what they saw as the mayor’s past highhandedness, said that the hardball tactics employed by Mr. Bloomberg and his surrogates simply made a bad situation worse. ….“I imagine that’s how one becomes a multibillionaire, by being a strong-arm individual,” said Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, a Westchester Democrat who opposed the plan. “He’s not going to push us around, though. We are the immovable body at this point.”….“People don’t appreciate threats,” said Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, a Democrat from the Upper West Side, who said she would have voted for the plan. “Members who might have been on the fence reacted negatively to the specter of a campaign from the mayor if they didn’t go along with his plan.”

Clearly the Mayor is a very powerful, very wealthy man who is used to getting his way by throwing his money around. But it didn’t work this time. Perhaps it won’t with the renewal of Mayoral control either.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Bloomberg compares himself to Martin Luther King

See the article in today’s NY Sun in which Bloomberg and Klein complain about the lack of hearings and public process as regards the proposed change in the state law on teacher tenure.

Their outrage is a bit hard to stomach, when not a single one of their flawed educational policies has had any real public input, whether it be the constant reorganizations, the continual forcing of charter schools into regular public schools, the evisceration of districts, the disempowering of parents and school leadership teams, the overemphasis on standardized tests including paying students for high scores, the unfair “fair student funding” scheme, or the highly unreliable school grading system.

Even more astonishing is that at the same time as he is proposing indefensible budget cuts to our schools, the Mayor would dare to compare himself to Martin Luther King on the anniversary of his assassination.

On Sunday, while visiting a church in Crown Heights, Bloomberg said: "We are doing the things, I think, that if Dr. Martin Luther King was running the NYC school system, he would have done. And I think that if you were running the New York City school system, you would have done."


Bloomberg and Klein continually portray themselves as great civil rights heroes at the same time that they refuse to make the sort of fundamental changes that would dramatically improve opportunities for NYC children – for example, by reducing class size, which is one of very few reforms that has been shown to narrow the achievement gap.

See these responses from State Sen. Bill Perkins from Harlem and Council member Leticia James from Brooklyn:

Mr. Perkins, who said he received phone calls yesterday from constituents concerned by the remarks, called the comparison to King "arrogant" and "an insult." He said the claim was insulting "especially when you realize that, within the community, there's a great deal of anger and disappointment at how the schools have been functioning under this administration."

Mr. Perkins added: "Parents have felt left out of the process, and they've felt that the schools are not measuring up. ..."

As Letitia James concluded, "To invoke Dr. Martin Luther King's name, given that a significant number of the schools in Crown Heights do not have computers, do not have science labs and math labs, is really an affront to the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King."

Dan Brown on the proposed budget cuts; how our schools will suffer

Great commentary by Dan Brown re the proposed budget cuts to our schools in the Huffington Post, which the Mayor touts as inevitable, but in reality are anything but:

“…Mayor Bloomberg took a blasé attitude towards the mid-year cuts, saying the disappeared funds would have "no impact whatsoever," adding, "I know of no organization where you couldn't squeeze out 1.7 percent, or even a lot more."

The CEO mayor's logic may work in terms keeping a company's stock price afloat despite "belt-tightening" or lay-offs, but it doesn't fit one bit for schools. Erasing vital programs and personnel will incontrovertibly have an effect, and a terrible one at that -- especially for our most vulnerable, at-risk students. Meanwhile, the city is giving a 9% raise to its high-priced international consultants and maintaining an excessive, expensive regime of standardized testing….

Among the likely effects he highlights:

“…working in poorly resourced schools will disillusion new teachers even faster and thus keep increasing New York City's absurdly high and costly teacher attrition rate. With budget cuts pushing class sizes to the maximum (34), nearly every middle- and high-school teacher will have an astounding 170 students per semester -- a recipe for accelerated burnout. With more and more fledgling teachers running under-funded, overcrowded classes, students will suffer.

The defeat of congestion pricing: a harbinger of the fate of Mayoral control?

Whatever your views on congestion pricing, the refusal of the Assembly to hold a vote on it today -- the deadline for federal funding -- might be seen as a negative harbinger for next year’s decision on Mayoral control of our schools.

The NYC Partnership , representing the business community, and the Mayor’s office pushed very hard and despite the potential loss of $345 million, and the somewhat unexpected approval of the City Council, came up dry. The Partnership and the Mayor will likely be the two strongest proponents of Mayoral control next year as well.

I’m sure it didn’t help that Bloomberg is not well regarded up in Albany, particularly among the Democrats in the Assembly, for the arrogance with which he treats them, his unconscionable budget cuts to schools, and his huge contributions to the GOP to help them keep control of the NY State Senate.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bloomberg Expands Congestion Pricing Plan to Schools

April 4, 2008 (GBN News): With his congestion pricing plan facing an uncertain future in the State Legislature, Mayor Bloomberg today introduced a proposal to tie the embattled traffic plan to a new scheme which he said would also satisfy critics who have been demanding a reduction of congestion in the city’s public school classrooms. Under the Mayor’s plan, students who enter classrooms in the city’s most overcrowded schools will be charged a daily fee of $8. This will give students an incentive to attend less crowded private schools in order to avoid the extra charge, and thus reduce class size in the public schools. Revenue raised through this fee, Mr. Bloomberg said, will benefit the city’s public school children through the development of four additional interim assessments per year as well as a $16 million upgrade to the Education Department’s ARIS computer system.

A source at the DOE told GBN News that the Mayor feels many of the critics of his traffic plan are what he terms “the very same malcontents” who persistently criticize overcrowding in the city schools. Mr. Bloomberg is said to have concluded that if he can mollify these detractors by reducing class size through classroom congestion pricing, they will in return drop their objections to the Mayor’s traffic plan.

The new proposal came under immediate attack from Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who called the plan a “mockery of the concept of free public education.” Mayor Bloomberg responded by saying, “The education is still free. We’re just charging them to get into the classroom.”

Friday, April 4, 2008

Gifted and Talented Admissions -- Confusion and Delay?

UPDATE (April 9th): As reported, the PEP will hold an emergency vote on April 10th to lower the cutoff to 90% for district G&T programs. Notification letters to be mailed "sometime this month".

In today's Daily News, Erin Einhorn reports DOE is rethinking where to set the cutoff for G&T admissions. The policy to set the bar at 95% cutoff on the two standardized tests , the OLSAT and BSRA was set in November.

At the time, many parents tried to convince the DOE that they were making a mistake. The District 3 CEC passed a resolution in opposition to the revised policy. In our letter to Manhattan parents explaining our vote against the G&T policy when presented to the Panel for Educational Policy, Manhattan Borough President Stringer and I raised the concern: "this higher cutoff score for admissions raises the very real possibility that a number of current programs will not be filled to capacity and will therefore be closed, leaving parents with fewer programming options".

Let's hope the DOE refrains from shuttering successful programs. Meanwhile, notifications have not been sent out, putting the whole process behind schedule, which was already pushed too far out into the spring.