Friday, October 31, 2008

Racial gap in gifted and talented grows larger

In today's Daily News, an article explores the way in which Tweed completely botched gifted and talented admissions this year, by centralizing the process and basing admissions entirely on the results of high stakes tests – with the effect that less than half as many students qualified this year, and far fewer children of color ended up being admitted.

While Bloomberg promised to create more programs in “historically underserved districts’, in these districts, many fewer of these classes were the result, with some primarily minority districts having no gifted classes at all, and racial and economic disparities widening.

A NY Times article from yesterday has even more details, pointing out that in six districts there is not a single gifted class this year: Districts 7,8,9 in the Bronx, and 16, 19 and 23 in Brooklyn. Moreover, in many schools, gifted and talented classes are only half-filled, with the effect that some G and T Kindergarten classes have 16 children or less, while the other regular kindergarten classes are crammed with as many as 28 students - a situation that Lisa B. Donlan, president of the Community Education Council in District 1 is quoted as saying “unfair to the entire school community.”

It’s a pretty good article except for the following misstatement:

“Problems with the new admissions policy surfaced in June, when an analysis by The New York Times showed that children from the city’s poorest districts were offered a smaller percentage of gifted slots than in the previous year, while children in the city’s wealthiest districts captured a greater share.”

Actually last November, Deborah Meier commented on our blog how any admissions policy based on test scores alone with lead to inequitable outcomes. After all, the National Academy of Sciences has pointed out that high stakes testing for such purposes can be viewed as inherently racially discriminatory. Following Tweed’s announcement of the results, in early April, Patrick Sullivan pointed out how the policy had clearly led to fewer kids accepted into gifted classes in the poorer districts:

“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…. 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.”

Finally, Eduwonkette offered a detailed analysis in mid-April, With New Gifted and Talented Rules, Who Wins and Loses?, showing the huge gap between the wealthy districts and those with more free-lunch students.

Problems with the new admissions policy surfaced in June due to NY Times reporting? Hardly.

How many policies of this administration have led to more racial disparities widening, rather than narrowing?

Here are just a few examples: We have far fewer students of color in our gifted classes now, there have been fewer admitted to our selective, specialized high schools, and our teaching force has become significantly whiter over the course of the last six years.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

We got the story that Tweed tried to kill!

We got a copy of the Daily News story that got axed late last night. according to Gotham Schools. The original article, by Meredith Kolodner, about the personal wealth of some top Tweed officials, disappeared after a brief appearance on the web, after an angry call from DOE.

After a slew of negative revelations about the way Tweed botched the Gifted and talented admissions process so that it became much less diverse, schools have remained hugely overcrowded, they are paying through the nose for personal couriers and consultants, and the $80 million supercomputer ARIS that is a massive failure and waste of money, one wonders why the extreme sensitivity on this particular issue?

In any case, a very enterprising techie got the whole story somehow off the web and delivered into our inbox.

The funniest part of the article is this: "[David] Cantor also noted that other top DOE officials were not multimillionaires and that two of the chancellor's roughly 20 senior advisers were life-long educators." Wow! that's impressive indeed. Two out of twenty; wonder how they survive.

Parents slam fat cat lives of Joel Klein, other Education Department officials

Smith for News

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's building on Manhattan's upper East Side.

Klein with Garth Harries, who oversees creation of new schools and boasts investments of up to $6 million. Also pictured with Klein is former aide Kristen Kane.Rosier/News

Klein with Garth Harries, who oversees creation of new schools and boasts investments of up to $6 million. Also pictured with Klein is former aide Kristen Kane.

City schoolkids and their families may be feeling the pinch of hard times, but some top Education Department officials are rolling in dough.

While family income for most kids attending public school is well under six figures, at least five senior DOE advisers had salaries and investments that totaled between $1.7 and $6 million each last year, financial disclosure records show.

That's in addition to multimillion-dollar homes and the odd BMW and boat.

Some parents are concerned.

"It exposes a degree of insularity in this administration," said David Bloomfield, a parent member of the Chancellor's Citywide Council on High Schools. "It lends credence to the charge that the most powerful people in the school system are out of touch with average parents."

"You can't really run a school system if you don't understand how the people are living and if your kids don't have to go to the schools," said Theresa Diamond, whose son Tony is in the 10th grade at Benjamin Banneker Academy in Fort Greene.

Sascha Alper, whose son Jack is in first grade at Public School 107 in Brooklyn, agreed.

"Having that kind of money, it's hard not to be out of touch, because you don't have to deal with the same kinds of things as everyone else," she said.

The department's chief operating officer, Photeine Anagnostopoulos, was sitting on stocks and bonds worth anywhere from $2.2million to $4.8 million. Her home in leafy Bedford Hills in Westchester County was assessed at about $2.6 million.

Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf, who once ran the controversial for-profit education company Edison Schools, had between $1.8 million and $3.3 million in mutual funds and bonds, including a private retirement package worth more than $500,000.

Klein lives in a snazzy rental on Park Ave. and listed between $1.7 million and 3.2 million in investments.

Garth Harries, who oversees the creation of new schools, has investments that total between $3.9 million and $6 million.

The head of the agency's technology unit, Theodore Brodheim, reported stocks and partnership investments totaling between about $2 million and $4 million.

Supporters point out that Klein, who makes $250,000 a year, took a big pay cut to work for the city.

"We're proud that people who can and did make more money in the private sector would choose instead to devote their talents and energies to improving the education of the students of New York City," DOE press secretary David Cantor said in an e-mail.

Cantor also noted that other top DOE officials were not multimillionaires and that two of the chancellor's roughly 20 senior advisers were life-long educators.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How to create A Better Capital Plan

A new report released today by the Campaign for A Better Capital Plan, the Manhattan Taskforce on School Overcrowding, Class Size Matters, the United Federation of Teachers, and The Center for Arts Education concludes that the new five-year capital plan for schools, due to be proposed next week, should aim to eliminate existing overcrowding and reduce class size to the levels in the city’s state-mandated class size plan, be proactive in planning for growth, and create enough space for arts, science and other activities needed for a well-rounded education.

The DOE and School Construction Authority (“SCA”) should be able to explain, in detail, how a fully funded capital plan would be able to achieve all of these objectives, phased in over a reasonable amount of time– not just as citywide or district averages, but in every neighborhood in the city.

Among the findings of the report, “A Better Capital Plan”:

  • Based on the DOE’s own data, approximately 167,842 new school seats would be necessary to eliminate trailers and other temporary spaces, relieve overcrowding and reduce class size to the goals in the city’s state-mandated class size reduction plan. The cost of creating these seats would raise the estimated share of the city’s capital spending on schools to 20% -- still significantly below the 23% average during the period 2000-2007. The report includes a breakdown of the need for seats by school type, borough and district.
  • The capital plan should prepare for growth by incorporating a neighborhood analysis of housing starts, birth data, pre-K enrollment and other information to more accurately project future enrollment and capacity needs. Already, there are signs that enrollment citywide will not continue to decline indefinitely. Kindergarten enrollment has risen two out of the last four years, the DOE’s budget projections show no drop in the number of Kindergarten students, elementary schools grew more overcrowded last year, and City Planning predicts an increase in the number of 5-9 year olds over the next ten years.

  • The methodology for calculating school utilization should be completely revised, by aligning it to the city’s class size goals and by more accurately assessing the need for dedicated spaces for art, science, libraries, cafeterias and gyms and special services. This will require a new reporting process that involves administrators, educators and parents at the school level.

So can we afford to build enough schools, in the midst of this economic meltdown? As Patrick Sullivan, representative to the Panel on Educational Policy and co-chair of the Manhattan Taskforce on School Overcrowding said:

In his recently published letter to the president-elect, Mayor Bloomberg asserts that ‘a bold infrastructure plan will help put Americans back to work.’ Before we urge others to take action, we need to lead by example and make the most important infrastructure investment there is -- schools to educate our children. For too long school construction in New York City has taken a back seat to stadiums, office towers and endless residential development. A crisis born of poor planning is upon us. Already we see children turned away from neighborhood schools. We urge the mayor and chancellor to listen to the concerns and suggestions in this report. Only with a transparent, thorough, and open system of planning can we hope to provide the schools necessary for a sound basic education for every child. The future of our children is at stake and public school parents will hold the administration accountable.”

Here is an article in today’s Daily News about the report’s findings: City classrooms packed, expansion slows in Mayor Bloomberg era ...

According to Gotham Schools, Joel Klein’s response to the report today was to claim (inaccurately) once more that this was “the most robust capital plan the city has ever seen.”

No Test Left Behind--Courier it!

Thanks to Juan Gonzales’ sleuthing, we learn that DOE has become a client of private courier services to the tune of $5 million a year (see today's Daily News). What needs to be transported so urgently and securely? The periodic assessments mandated by Klein, for one. The Office of Accountability will be spending $2 million or so this year alone to pick up the tests from schools and deliver them to DOE for processing.

One of those tests was delivered to Stuyvesant High School, where yesterday students took an assessment of their “readiness” to take the Integrated Algebra Regents (successor to Math A). The Office of Accountability deemed this necessary even though Stuyvesant's New York State School Report Card shows not a single one of the 2756 Stuyvesant students who took Math A during the reported 3-year period got below 65; indeed, depending on the year, 98%, 99% and 100% of students got 85 or better. This kind of performance, basically repeated for all Regents, had spared Stuyvesant students from the mindless Tweed assessment machine. No more—it seems they will now be taking “readiness assessments” for all the required Regents.

Absolutely no educational purpose is achieved by measuring Stuyvesant students’ readiness to take any Regents test. Even if they were sent by pack mule, tests cost the system real money and this utter waste at a time of fiscal emergency is unconscionable. Ironically, as the kids were dutifully taking the superfluous assessment, Stuyvesant's Principal was informing the School Leadership team that next year’s budget will not have enough money to allow students to register for the 8 or 9 classes they traditionally take.

What are Klein’s priorities? Educating our kids or lining the pockets of private contractors?

Paola de Kock

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

ARIS Computer Tied to Bloomberg Third Term Bid

October 28, 2008 (GBN News): More than a few eyebrows were raised when the NY City Department of Education took its much ballyhooed $80 million ARIS computer system off line recently. ARIS, an acronym for “Achievement Reporting and Information System”, was procured from IBM in a no-bid contract to gather an ambitious array of data ranging from children’s test scores to bathroom visits. However, many users have contended that the system has been a spectacular failure.

The DOE claims that the system was taken down in July for what it termed an “upgrade” and will be back on line in November. However, the timing has struck some as suspicious, and GBN News has learned that the time off line may be a smokescreen for what some may feel is a more nefarious purpose. A source in the DOE accountability office has told GBN News that contrary to news reports, ARIS has actually worked even better than expected. So much better, in fact, that Mayor Bloomberg commandeered the entire system to further his successful effort to end term limits so that he could run again for a third term as Mayor.

According to this source, the Mayor paid IBM an undisclosed sum, likely in the tens of millions, to reprogram ARIS to track down and catalogue the past school records of every member of the City Council. The computer then reportedly emailed Council Members who opposed the Mayor on the term limit resolution, and threatened to publicly reveal embarrassing past information such as failing grades and disciplinary incidents. If those Council members continued to insist on opposing the Mayor, they were threatened with being labeled by ARIS as “failing members”, and would lose their seats under a little known rule called NCLB (Non-cooperative Council Left Behind).

When reached by GBN News for comment, a spokesperson for the Mayor flatly denied any impropriety in Mr. Bloomberg’s use of the ARIS computer, contending that, “He just borrowed it for the weekend to play solitaire.”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Our forum on Mayoral control; check it out!

Here is the first part of our Oct. 17 forum on Mayoral control, with Steven Sanders, former chair of the State Assembly Education Committee, who helped created the changes in the governance law. Steve explains why these changes were made and is very frank in just what went wrong.

Part 2 has presentations from Esmeralda Simmons, former appointee to the Board of Education under Mayor Dinkins, explaining how Dinkins gave her complete independence (unlike the current Mayor who expects his appointees to be rubberstamps) and Dorothy Giglio, long time parent leader from District 22 in Brooklyn who relates how parents have now been completely cut out from having any input or even information under the current system.

Part 3, Council member Robert Jackson joins us, and they all agree that the Mayor and his minions ignore the intent and language of the state law in how the schools are run, and field questions from the audience.

Part 4 features more questions and discussion with the audience.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What A Bloomberg Third Term Will Mean For The Public Schools

Writing over at Gotham Schools, Elizabeth Green has outlined her view of what a third term means for the public schools. Here are my ten predictions of what we'll see if the mayor does get elected again:
  1. More Charter Schools -- First on Elizabeth's list, this one is a no-brainer. The mayor and chancellor's preference for charters over public schools is well known. But look for large swaths of some districts to be given over the charters.
  2. Cuts in School Construction -- The administration has suggested the next capital plan will be smaller. Bloomberg cut school construction after 9/11. He'll return to that playbook. Pushing school construction out or canceling it will not affect the people who urged the mayor to run again. Their kids all go to private school.
  3. End of Community School Districts -- These exist mostly in name only. Superintendents have all been assigned data coaching duties which take them far from their district and make it impossible to do their jobs. In a third term the administration would achieve their goal of eliminating what's left of districts. (We might see District 31 / Staten Island hold out the longest due to their geographic isolation.)
  4. More Testing -- Another no-brainer. Chief Accountability Officer Jim Liebman has made no secret of his desire to push high stakes testing to younger and younger kids. Test scores will be used to justify or rate everything and those activities that don't contribute to improving scores will see cuts. Which leads to...
  5. Less of the Arts and Enrichment -- Budget cuts and the narrow focus on driving test scores will cause an impoverishment of the curriculum.
  6. More Push-outs and Drop-outs -- Another consequence of the testing mania. Texas was an early adopter of aggressive use of high stakes testing. Studies have shown the sinister underside -- struggling lower income kids pushed out of the system to keep them from dragging down test scores. Look for the same here, especially with the test-based retention programs now in grades 3,5,7,8.
  7. Continued De-professionalization of Teaching -- The traditional concept that a teacher is a highly respected professional is under assault in too many ways to list here. Rather than seeking to create an environment where teachers and students can be successful, the DOE will employ carrots and sticks to manage a workforce made up increasingly of short termers with alternative credentials.
  8. Exodus of Competent Administrators -- Many have been holding out thinking they could wait out Klein and Bloomberg. The prospect of four more years will cause them to buckle and flee.
  9. Repression and Retaliation -- Deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf has bragged about forming "Truth Squads" to comb through blogs and listservs ferreting out the bad things said about DOE. He admitted to sending communication office staffers to tape lectures of Diane Ravitch, the distinguished academic who has been critical of the Bloomberg education record. With no re-election or governance debate in the third term, expect those who don't toe the line to see consequences.
  10. Reign of the Foundations -- Educational policy in this city is really set by the unaccountable and faceless foundations -- Gates Foundation, Broad Foundation, Dell Foundation, etc. These are the true "special interests". Experimentation with the education of urban children is a hobby for billionaires. Look for the rich guys to have free reign with our kids.
A grim picture but clearly possible. This year's decision in Albany on mayoral control and the next mayoral election will determine how much comes to pass.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The debate over term limits and the billionaire bully who is pulling the strings

See today’s NY Times, which reports how members of the Bloomberg administration, including Linda Gibbs, Deputy mayor for Health and Human services, are urging the beneficiaries of city contracts and his private fortune to lobby the City Council to overturn term limits so he can run for a third term.

The article mentions the involvement of several organizations in giving testimony this week on behalf of the Mayor during the City council hearings on term limits that have received substantial city contracts and private donations from the Mayor. Most prominent among them are the Doe Fund, an organization for the homeless, which has received either $150,000 from the Mayor’s own pockets, according to the Times, or more than $2 million, according to the Daily News (anonymously donated by the Mayor’s accountant after the organization honored Bloomberg at a fundraising dinner in 2005.)

According to the Times, not only did the head of the Doe Fund testify at City Hall in support of overturning term limits, but at least 11 Doe Fund staff members as well, most of whom did not identify their employer, but instead described themselves as ordinary citizens.

See also the Daily News blog, which further details how the organization bused nearly 50 homeless men from shelters in support to City Hall in support of the Mayor, a fact which the organization first denied and then finally admitted. The group’s spokesman later claimed that these men were all volunteers who simply wanted to support the mayor.

One wonders whether how legal this all this – pushing nonprofit groups to literally campaign in favor of the mayor’s ability to run for office again.

Geoffrey Canada is also mentioned as one of the individuals who testified to overturn term limits; Canada is also co-chair of the Mayor’s effort to retain Mayoral control of the schools, and who has received at least $500,000 for his charter school from Bloomberg in recent years.

The Mayor’s bullying tactics have long been clear to many of us in the educational advocacy world – and those organizations that have had the nerve to speak up against his policies have had their city contracts and donations from Bloomberg drastically cut – in some instances, to the tune of nearly one million dollars.

It is about time that the rest of the world finally woke up to the ruthlessness of this Mayor – and his determination to use his personal fortune and political power to ensure that non-profit groups comply with his every whim and keep silent if they disagree with his policies.

List of cuts to Tweed proposed by education advocates, UFT and Speaker Quinn

Elizabeth Green of Gotham Schools reports that the UFT has signed onto a letter, drafted by Time out from Testing and the Center for Immigrant Families, calling for a hiring freeze at Tweed, and cuts to the Leadership Academy and the Accountability office to save about $60 million a year -- before any of the millions in proposed mid-year cuts to school budgets should be contemplated.

This letter was also signed onto by Class Size Matters, the Working Families Party and others. As she notes,

On the chopping board would be the annual letter-grade progress reports for schools; the quality reviews that
supplement the test-driven progress reports with observed details; all standardized tests for children between kindergarten and second grade; the Leadership Academy, the nonprofit organization that trains principals; the periodic assessments that are supposed to help teachers prepare students for state tests; and ARIS, the data warehousing program contracted to IBM that has so far been a flop.

That’s not the entire Joel Klein agenda. But it’s a lot.

In a speech to the Citizens Budget Commission, City Council Speaker Quinn proposed yet another list of non-classroom savings of $150 million, including $13 million from cutting the Data Inquiry Teams in every school:

"Thus far, we’ve identified at least $150 million in specific, non-classroom cuts to the Department of Education budget. These include a range of cuts from slowing the pace of school restructuring, to scaling back employee recruitment contracts.

There are scores of pilots, new initiatives, and program expansions in the Department that may be well intentioned -- but -- that in this climate, are luxuries that we just can’t afford.

Just one example is the $13 million “Data Inquiry Teams.” Let me read you the DOE’s official description of this program: “The Inquiry Team process is geared to assist schools in data-driven decision-making by integrating the components of the Accountability Initiative into the life of the school.” DOE gives every school eight to ten thousand dollars a year for this.

We think that this is asking principals and their teams to review and analyze student progress and class-work, isn’t that what a school and its staff is supposed to do anyway.

That’s $13 million annually that we could cut -- to keep $13 million in the classroom.

Add your suggestions for cuts in the comments section!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Diane on the debate

Diane Ravitch on last night's Presidential debate – from

On the issue with which I am best informed--education--I thought that Senator McCain was pathetic. He claimed that vouchers were the answer to our nation's school problems, but the evidence does not support him, nor do practical politics. There are only three cities in the United States with public voucher programs--D.C., Cleveland, and Milwaukee. The results to date do not bear out Senator McCain's optimistic appraisal. Since vouchers are in fact not only unavailable but unconstitutional in most of the country, this is a false promise on the part of the candidate.

Senator Obama was right, in my estimation, in supporting a strengthening of early childhood education, but I was surprised to see his enthusiastic endorsement of charter schools and pay-for-performance. The evidence on both these initiatives is just as weak as for vouchers.

Neither candidate showed a deep understanding of the needs of our public schools.

Earlier, Diane had been asked by the NY Times what question she would ask of them – unfortunately, Bob Schaeffer did not take her advice.

Term limits: new poll and new entrant to the fray

A new NY 1 poll asks "Who do you think should decide whether term limits should be changed?”

A vast majority of NYers - 75 percent -said the voters should decide in a referendum. Only 10 percent said the city council should decide and 14 percent said it doesn't make a difference

By nearly 2 to 1 margin (62%-33%) city voters favor term limits for city elected officials.

Yet today, “Bloomberg insisted most New Yorkers support his plan for changing limits now without a public vote, saying a city charter review commission could revisit it in 2010.

"The opposition we're seeing is a handful of people who are very strident and are working very hard. They write 1,000 letters to one City Council person, and then the City Council person says, oh, everybody is against it," Bloomberg said. "The public is in favor of doing it this time, and then having a referendum down the road."

Quite a scene today at City Hall –it was standing room only. Most people were vehemently opposed, and occasionally hooted and booed. But the most important opponent—in this battle of the billionaires – is not back in the country….yet.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's our decision: new TV ad on term limits

Check out this ad from the Working Families Party; its supposed to air tonight during the debate on NY1, MSNBC, CNN, News 12 and Fox News.

See also this: Arriving in mailboxes today are 100,000 mailings, urging voters to contact 7 City Councilmembers who are yet to take a position on extending term limits without asking the voters.

The mail urges calls to Councilmembers to remind them that voters have twice backed term limits and that any extension should only be up to the public.

The targeted council districts are:

-Alan Gerson
-Melinda Katz
-James Sanders
-David Yassky
-Sara Gonzalez
-Jessica Lappin
-Peter Vallone

DOE gives information to the military that it denies to Parent Associations

According to today’s New York Post, the NYC Department of Education has now decided to give the military unfettered access to the contact information of all high school juniors and seniors, including their names, addresses and telephone numbers, instead of having them canvass each high school separately. Students have only until Friday to opt out of this process.

This is apparently the DOE’s response to a report released last year, from the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Manhattan Borough President’s office, detailing the abusive and disruptive presence of military recruiters in many NYC public high schools.

See also today’s press release from the NYCLU:

On Sept. 16, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein issued a policy directive to principals that streamlined the process for providing military recruiters the personal information of all 11th and 12th grade students at the city’s public high schools. The policy changes were made unilaterally and without any public input, despite the enormous implications to children’s privacy. Under the new policy, students have until Friday to submit opt-out forms to have their information withheld from military recruiters.

Yet at the same time that the DOE officials appear willing to hand over student contact information to the military, they deny this same information to any and all Parent Associations who would like to get in touch with other parents at their children’s schools, to invite them to PA meetings or fundraisers, or provide other information to encourage parent involvement in schoolwide events.

Strangely, both policies are based on the tortured interpretation of the same federal law by Michael Best, the DOE’s chief attorney --the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA.

In general, this law provides that schools must have written permission from a parent or student in order to release any information from a student's education record. However, according to the official FERPA website of the U.S. Department of Education:

Schools may disclose, without consent, "directory" information such as a student's name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them.

The DOE apparently claims this law allows them the right to hand over our kids’ contact information to the military, which would like to ship them off to Iraq.

But even as the DOE is making it easier for the military to recruit our children for war, Best has interpreted this same provision to mean that giving parents the opportunity to opt out of releasing their contact information to a Parents’ Association is not sufficient.

Instead, he has ruled that PAs must get prior written consent from their members to possess their contact information. (Kind of a Catch 22, don’t you think?) In other words, the opt-out provision that is good enough for the military is not good enough for PAs. Only an affirmative opt-in will do. This is how the DOE "encourages" parental involvement!

As a high school parent, I haven’t received any opt out forms, and yet the deadline is supposedly Friday. The NYCLU has asked the DOE to extend the deadline by a month and to begin a 30-day public comment period before implementing the Sept. 16 directive:

“The DOE is giving military recruiters a direct line to New York City’s children. This new policy gives the military access to students that colleges, trade schools and prospective employers never had…To make these changes in secret without parent or public input shows a startling disregard for open government and the privacy rights of parents and children.”

The DOE opt-out forms are available here.

For more information on how students and parents can be informed of their right to opt out of the military recruitment process, check out the Brooklyn Parents for Peace and the War Resisters League

--Ellen Bilofsky

Correction: Release of information to the military is mandated by this provision of (surprise!) No Child Left Behind, not FERPA. This doesn't change the fact that the DOE is making it easier for the military to obtain our children's contact information, and harder for the PAs to get in touch with their parents

The city will not disclose financial information for the Fund for Public Schools

See this article in the NY Times about how the city is claiming that the Fund for Public Schools – set up by the DOE and headed by Chancellor Klein -- does not have to disclose the finances of its board members, despite a new state law that requires such disclosure for all nonprofits affiliated or sponsored by city agencies.

As usual, the DOE’s chief lawyer, Michael Best, argues that the DOE even under Mayoral control is not a city agency but a state agency. It is this tortured reasoning that has been used by the DOE to openly flout one law after another passed by the City Council – including the law allowing students to bring cell phones to schools.

The Fund for Public Schools is the vehicle that was established to raise private funds to improve our schools, but is being used by the DOE to finance multi-million dollar, nakedly political ad campaigns, with flawed statistics to try to convince New Yorkers that our schools are just hunky-dory and we should “keep the progress going.” Expect to see a lot more of these ads in the future as the debate on Mayoral control heats up.

[Michael Best] said the fund’s affiliation is to a school district, empowered by state law, and not to a “county, city, town or village” as referenced in the authorities law. That sort of hairsplitting, though, has drawn the attention of state lawmakers who had hoped to shine a light on civic groups that operate in quasi-governmental capacities.

“That kind of wiggling around is not acceptable,” said Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat who is chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, which had a hand in developing the law. On Friday, Mr. Brodsky announced that he would hold a hearing on compliance with the law in coming weeks. …

Mr. Best, the counsel for the Education Department, said that he had spoken with the city’s Law Department about the filing issue not long after the bill passed in January 2006. “I had consulted with corporation counsel’s office when the issue arose, and I am confident that the state law does not apply to the fund or its board members, as it is written,” he said, referring to the Fund for Public Schools. Lara Holliday, a spokeswoman for the fund, said, “That’s my understanding of the situation as well.”

Assemblyman Brodsky called the Department of Education’s argument “nonsense,” especially in light of the mayor’s increased powers over the department since 2002. “The law is written broadly,” he said. “What we said was if you’re acting in the place of government, you should be treated like government.”

“The Department of Education of the City of New York ,” he said, “is an agency of the City of New York and not of the State of New York .”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Broad Prize: Politics and PR or actual achievement?

The Broad Prize will be awarded on Tuesday, which NYC won last year, despite protests from parents and others that this award was undeserved.

See, for example, the statement from Dave Quintana last year. Dave was one of four parents selected by DOE to give input to representatives from the Broad foundation beforehand:

As one of the four (4) parent participants in a focus group held at Tweed for researchers from the Broad Foundation, I am disappointed in the fact that NYC received the Broad Foundation prize today.

This group of parents, handpicked by Martine Guerrier of the Department of Education (DOE), expressed uniform disappointment with the various changes put into place by DOE, the lack of transparency and accountability, and the lack of consideration given the views of parents about what their children really need to succeed.

Clearly the Broad Foundation did not take parents views into consideration when awarding this prize to NYC today.

See also the letter of protest signed by fifty one parents and teachers, sent to the Broad Foundation before the award was announced.

Since that time, Steve Koss has analyzed NAEP scores between 2003-2007 showing that NYC came in 11th out of 12 urban school districts in terms of gains.

There was also no closing of the achievement gap in NYC in the NAEP scores over this period, either in math or in ELA, for any grade level tested.

The NAEPs are considered the “gold standard” of assessments in terms of reliability.

As for the NY state scores, there was no narrowing of the achievement gap if scale scores are considered.

According to its website, the Broad Prize is awarded each year "to honor urban school districts that demonstrate the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement while reducing achievement gaps among low-income and minority students."

How can anyone be assured that the decision to award the Broad Prize is not determined more by politics and PR than actual improvements, and that this year’s winner deserves it more than NYC did last year?

Update: Brownsville won the Broad award, though it has been on the NCLB failing list for two years. Of course, NYC is on the NCLB failing list as well, as are most of the urban school district in the nation. Yet another reason to get rid of NCLB -- and the Broad awards as well.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

NYC standardized tests -- formative or not?

See Test Industry Split Over 'Formative' Assessment, in Education Week, about how standardized testing companies are selling their products as “formative” assessments, even though, according to most experts, formative assessments are diagnostic tools that are supposed to be classroom-based and designed by teachers themselves.

The Princeton Review described their much-derided NYC interim assessments as “formative” --the tests that DOE paid millions for and later rejected. See this Princeton Review presentation:

“Interim Assessment with Instructional Impact: How to use the formative, low-stakes testing system to support teaching and learning in New York City. …. We have a 20+ year history of using formative testing to support teaching and learning.

The subsequently renamed “periodic assessments” that the Accountability office under James Liebman contracted out to McGraw-Hill at $22 million annually, also known as “Acuity,” are commonly characterized as “formative” by Liebman et. al. See this recent pdf document from the DOE Accountability office:

Periodic Assessments support schools by providing …. formative, instructionally valuable feedback to support differentiation of instruction, determination of professional development needs, and selection of instructional resources.”

See the long list of periodic assessments now required in all NYC public schools in the chart above.

The EdWeek article quotes James Popham, professor emeritus at UCLA and former President of the American Educational Research Association: “When test companies sell things and call them formative...these vendors are being disingenuous—we used to call it lying.”

Unfortunately, they appear to be lying to a very eager clientele at the DOE.

Forewarned, Australia is ready for Joel Klein!

According to the Age, the Australian teachers union and parent advocates are already rising up in protest against the highly unreliable NYC school grading system, which Joel Klein intends to promote on a visit down under next month, after being invited by Julia Gillard, their Education Secretary:

The federal president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, said the Australian Government should not be importing "flawed" approaches from the US, a nation that was consistently outperformed by countries such as Finland which did not publicly rank schools.

Canberra-based public education advocacy group Save Our Schools last week called on Ms Gillard to release the details of her performance reporting plan to ensure it did not reproduce the problems of the New York system, which it said had led to league tables and dissimilar schools being compared with each other.

See also the following postings from Save our Schools – which has studied the analyses of the NYC school grades by Diane Ravitch, Eduwonkette, and heard from the parents on our NYC education listserv about the numerous problems with the priorities of the Bloomberg/Klein administration.

The comments of NYC public school parent Ann Kjellberg are featured on Testimony From New York on Klein’s School Reforms:

Pretty much anyone in New York who has a kid in the system or who works in the system outside of “central office” hates these policies. It’s a triumph of public relations. There are so many things to get enraged about it’s hard to know where to begin.

See also: Gillard Should Come Clean on School Reports

Secrecy and avoidance of public debate are characteristic of how Klein has implemented change in New York’s schools. There too, teacher and parent organisations were excluded from the process.

Gillard Should Repudiate Klein’s Skulduggery

Gillard should know that Klein is widely derided by educationalists, teachers and parents in New York. She should also know that Klein’s response to their criticisms involves much skulduggery which she should repudiate.

School Accountability Discredited in New York

Conservative educationalist, Diane Ravitch, is at it again – highlighting the failures of the New York City school accountability model which Julia Gillard wants to emulate in Australia.

More Questions Raised About the New York School Reporting Model

More questions are being raised about the validity and reliability of the New York system of reporting school performance, which Julia Gillard wants to introduce in Australian schools.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ethics violations charged in term limits run-around the voters

Yesterday, NYPIRG and Common Cause filed complaints with the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board about the Mayor's promise to put billionaire Ron Lauder on a Charter Commission that would reimpose term limits after he wins re-election to a third term. See Groups See Ethics Violation in Mayor’s Pledge to Lauder (NY Times):

Two civic groups said on Thursday that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg violated the city’s ethics laws when he pledged to put Ronald S. Lauder on a charter revision commission in exchange for his support for the mayor’s third-term effort.

The civic groups contend that the deal violates a provision of the City Charter, which says that a mayor cannot “use or attempt to use his or her position as a public servant to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant.”

In their complaint, the groups said that “we believe that Mayor Bloomberg has used his position in a prohibited manner to obtain personal advantage in a quid pro quo deal with Ronald Lauder.”

According to Allies Say Mayor Would Spend $80 Million on 3rd-Term Bid (NY Times), insiders in the Mayor’s circle say he is prepared to spend as much as it takes --$80 million, even $100 million, to win re-election:

Already, there are calls for Mr. Bloomberg, a billionaire who has financed his own previous campaigns, to abide by the strict spending restrictions in the city’s public finance system. Mr. Bloomberg is not bound by such restriction as long as he spends his own money.

But his advisers, in interviews this week, said the mayor had no intention of limiting his spending. Indeed, they said he would spend whatever was necessary to proclaim his credentials and experience — especially in a time of financial unrest — and undo any damage his reputation suffered as a result of undoing the term limits restrictions.

One person involved in the discussions said: “There is no cap. There is no price tag.”

According to Anger grows at New York 'King' Bloomberg (AFP),

“Council member John Liu says he will certainly vote against. But he concedes that the Bloomberg machine may be unstoppable."This is a game of billionaires," Liu told AFP, "and as much as I can object, I am several digits short of being allowed to play."

Ron Rosenbaum discusses how “The New York mayor's power grab is a symptom of a national problem” in “The Bloomberg Syndrome” (Slate):

“… Anti-globalization writer Naomi Klein called such power grabs "shock doctrine" tactics. The shock doctrine argues that it is the pattern of the übercapitalist plutocrat class to create—or at least take advantage of—economic crises and crashes by using them as excuses to suspend and violate democratic and constitutional principles, getting a panicked populace to cede power to the plutocrats. Or by simply taking power from weakened democratic institutions…. I actually believe that in a democracy, those in the majority on a referendum win. And not just until some mediocre self-congratulatory mayor stomps his foot like a petulant child and says he wants more.”

Finally, Newsday is the only metropolitan daily whose editors have the independence to oppose the Mayor’s naked power grab in Not like that, Mr. Mayor:

It's been said before that we are a country of laws, not men. It's time to stand down, Mr. Mayor.”

(Daily News mock up thanks to Gothamist.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Meeting in Queens: Mayoral Control is flawed

Check out this excerpt from an article in the Queens Courier, about the recent Town hall meeting in Howard Beach, with Council member Joe Addabbo, Assemblymember Cathy Nolan and other elected officials. (photo by David Quintana)

"The mayor’s control over the city’s public schools has a number of flaws, most notably too much power centered at the top, which has discouraged parental input. This is the main thing that educators and community members from Howard Beach and the vicinity expressed during a forum on mayoral school control….

“The almost seven-year experimentation with mayoral control is a failure,” said David Quintana, a member of the city group Class Size Matters and of Community Board 10’s education committee….

“To me, it’s almost like a dictatorship. The windows to the Department of Education are black; you can’t see through them,” said Andrew Baumann, president of Community Education Council District 27.

NYPD illegally arresting children in school

More than 300 New York City public school students were illegally arrested on school grounds between 2005 and 2007, according to NYPD data the New York Civil Liberties Union and American Civil Liberties Union obtained in a Freedom of Information Law request.

New York State law prohibits children 15 and younger from being arrested for minor, non-criminal violations like loitering. A child who commits a minor infraction at school may be disciplined, but the Family Court Act prohibits police from arresting the child.

The NYCLU and ACLU have sent Police Commissioner Ray Kelly a letter urging him to immediately end the practice of illegally arresting schoolchildren.

As appalling as these illegal arrests are, a look at school discipline practices in New York City public schools makes it clear how they were allowed to occur. Since 1998, mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg have assigned more than 5,000 school safety agents and at least 200 armed police officers to the city’s schools, making the NYPD’s school safety division larger than all but four of the nation’s police forces – larger than Washington DC, Detroit, Boston or Las Vegas.

The aggressive policing of New York City’s schools reflects a national trend that pushes students – overwhelmingly youth of color and students with special needs – from the education system into the criminal justice system. Arresting, handcuffing and hauling children out of their classes for minor infractions at school - in front of their teachers and peers - only stigmatizes and humiliates them.

Read about this story in The New York Times and the Daily News. Then read about the Student Safety Act – a commonsense first step to end the use of these overly aggressive police tactics in our schools. The act – Intro. 816 – is currently before the New York City Council.

-Jennifer Carnig, New York Civil Liberties Union