Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Parent Responds to Learn NY's Spokesman

In this earlier post, we identified how "anonymous" comments pitching the renewal of mayoral control left on this and other blogs were actually being made by a paid operative for MASS / Learn NY, an organization chaired by Geoff Canada. The operative's return visit, this time as Brian Keeler, drew a strong comment in response from one anonymous parent. I've given it space here as a separate post so more people will see it:

Hey BK!

Just want to know how your kids fair in our public schools? If they attend high school in any number of our poverty stricken (read ghetto) neighborhoods, do they tell you how it feels to be searched and wanded before entering their school buildings? Do they speak on the daily humiliation of being verbally assaulted by security staff and teachers for minor infractions like talking to their friends? Have they spoken to you about being yelled at constantly while contained in overcrowded classes that offer no meaningful instruction relevant to their cultures, interests or futures, or feel patronized by over-wrought, inexperienced newbie teachers who liken their classroom experiences in any of NYC’s over 900 Title 1 schools to being Peace Corps workers in Third world countries?

Oh, that's right-- you aren't a NYC public school parent! Nor did you grow up here or attend our highly segregated school system. As an out-of-towner, can we safely assume your children (if you indeed have any), aren’t participating in the Mayor's great social experiment?

Let’s be very clear about the PR spin at Learning NY. You don’t represent students and their concerned parents’ needs or interests-- just the Mayor's and Chancellor's. In fact, you really have NO CLUE about what really goes on inside the majority of NYC’s very out dated, overcrowded, shabby buildings located all over the five boroughs---you'd be scared to park your car down the street from most of them. None of you have the faintest intention of responding to the Y.R.N.E.S. (Youth Researchers for a New Education System) report sponsored by the Independent Commission on Public Education (iCOPE) and presented to the Department of Education by our high school students who overwhelmingly claim race, class, income and gender bias against them. Nor is there a plan to address the Girls Gender Equity Inc. survey of over 1,400 middle and high school boys and girls who report that 80% of them have been sexually harassed inside their schools.

Still, in all your wisdom and experience with bureaucratic BS, maybe you can give me a quick solution to this nagging school environment concern. My son’s high school has 525 students, is located on one and ½ floors in a shared building with three other schools and it has no lockers. Last year, my son had to divert his learning attention to act quickly in order to remove his jacket from his seat back and zip up his book bag so the mouse scurrying around in his English class wouldn’t climb in. When he saw this, the novice teacher laughed and said the school's mice and other assorted roaches and rodents are just trying to get taken back to where they came from: my home.


As soon as you and all the other upper income, Caucasian honchos at the DoE integrate the schools by enrolling your own children in them, we parents will believe you really care and will do meaningful, innovative work that provides a high quality, equitable education to all children of this city. Only then will we know that our concerns are yours.

Until then-- as the kids say, "stop frontin'" which loosely translated means, just shut up.

Plutocrats fighting for petty privileges over the needs of our kids

According to the new proposed school capital plan, only about 21,000 new school seats out of 63,000 will be finished when the current capital plan ends in June 2009.

Meanwhile, over the same time period, more than four times as many seats will have been created in the new Yankee and Mets stadiums alone – projects which the city has directly subsidized to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The city also pressured the IRS in giving the Yankees the use of more than $1 billion in tax-free bonds to build the stadium, just as the city is starving for tax revenue.

While the administration wants to cut way back on school construction, it also plans to spend $3 billion in capital funds to redevelop contaminated land in Willet’s point, $440 million to reopen and expand the Brooklyn house of detention, and $1 billion to build a 35-acre police academy in Queens.

The cost of the latter two projects alone if invested in schools instead could double the number of new seats in the proposed new capital plan to 50,000.

So what has the Bloomberg administration focused on instead of schools? The city has been busy negotiating itself free food and a free suite at Yankee stadium: According to the Daily News:

The Yankees got the city to write a letter to the IRS so they could obtain $942 million in tax-free bonds. The team plans to request $366 million more, saving them a total of $247 million in lower borrowing costs. In return, Bloomberg's team wanted a free luxury suite and the right to buy at cost 180 of the best seats to all home games, including post-season, the e-mails show.

The NY Times puts it this way:

The Bloomberg administration was so intent on obtaining a free luxury suite for its own use at the new Yankee Stadium, newly released e-mail messages show, that the mayor’s aides pushed for a larger suite and free food, and eventually gave the Yankees 250 additional parking spaces in exchange.

The parking spaces were given to the team for the private use of Yankees officials, players and others; the spaces were originally planned for public parking. The city also turned over the rights to three new billboards along the Major Deegan Expressway, and whatever revenue they generate, as part of the deal.

The e-mail messages between the aides to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Yankees executives were obtained and released by Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, Democrat of Westchester, who questions whether taxpayers were adequately protected in the city’s deal with the team.

Mr. Brodsky said what emerges from the e-mail correspondence is a sense of entitlement ingrained in Bloomberg officials. He said that the city appeared to be pushing for use of the suite for not just regular-season games, but for the playoffs and the World Series, and for special events like concerts, too.

“There’s this ‘Alice in Wonderland’ quality to the question of, what is the public interest here and who’s protecting it?” said Mr. Brodsky, who conducted a hearing on the issue of public financing of sports stadiums this summer. “We can’t find the money for the M.T.A., or schools, or hospitals, and these folks are used to the perks and good things of life, and expect them.”

This represents the reign of Bloomberg at its finest – plutocrats who fight for their own privileges, over the interests of the taxpayer – and public school children.

The administration's noblesse oblige is typical, as NYC Educator points out:

“It's kinda like when Bloomberg announced some pretty draconian job and program cuts earlier this month but refused to make the same kinds of cuts in his own office and doled out raises to some of his high-level cronies in the Transportation Department.

Or like when Bloomberg said it is very important that Wall Street executives at AIG, Citigroup, and other companies that have received hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailout money continue to receive their end-of-the-year bonuses despite driving their companies to near bankruptcy and ruin.

Friday, November 28, 2008

All is not well with the admissions practices of the specialized high schools.

Josh Feinman, a NYC public school parent, recently published a study showing that the admissions practices at the specialized science high schools -- Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech --violate generally-accepted educational standards and practices, and may be invalid, unreliable, and unfair. While state law mandates that an exam be the sole criterion for admissions for these three high schools, Chancellor Klein extended its use to other schools across the city, including Staten Island Tech, which previously had a more holistic admissions process, as well as other new selective schools, such as the HS for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at City College, the HS of American Studies at Lehman College, the Queens HS for the Sciences at York College and Brooklyn Latin. Feinman's summary follows:

My wife and I are graduates of the specialized high schools, and our daughter currently attends one. We are supporters of public schools, and would not want to see these schools weakened. But every student – regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity -- deserves a properly vetted system for determining who is admitted to these schools. And that’s not what the NYC Department of Education currently provides.

I recently published a study -- High Stakes, but Low Validity? A Case Study of Standardized Tests and Admissions into New York City Specialized High Schools, that raises serious concerns about the admissions practices at these schools. These concerns transcend the issues of race and gender that were the focus of the recent New York Times article which revealed declining rates of admissions among minority students. In fact, the DOE’s failure to investigate whether the admissions test suffers from prediction bias along racial or gender lines is only one of many problems with current practices.

Using test results from the 2005 and 2006 specialized high schools test (SHSAT), which is the sole determinant of admissions, I found a number of glaring violations of widely-accepted educational testing standards and practices.

For example, thousands of students of all backgrounds are rejected with scores that are statistically indistinguishable from those who are admitted. And the NYC Department of Education fails to provide estimates of how well the SHSAT is able to differentiate among students who score close to the admission/rejection line, or whether other criteria could be used to reduce these uncertainties. I made several requests for this information to senior officials at the NYCDOE, to no avail.

Different test versions are used, but no details are provided about how these versions are statistically equated and how accurate that equating is (again, despite requests, and in violation of testing standards and practices). The scaled scores vary across different versions more than the chance distribution would suggest is plausible, suggesting that the equating system may not be leveling the playing field across test versions of varying difficulty – so that students who received certain versions may be more likely to gain admission than those who received other versions.

The SHSAT exhibits an unusual scoring feature that is not widely known, and may give an edge to those who have access to expensive tutors. Someone with a very high score in math and a relatively poor score in English, or vice versa, has a better chance of admission than someone with relatively strong performances in both. Alternative scoring systems would yield far different results, and no evidence is offered to support the current system.

No predictive validity studies have ever been done– not only to see if the test suffers from prediction bias across genders and ethnic groups, but to see if the test is linked to any desired outcomes. In fact, the NYCDOE has never established what specific, measurable objectives the SHSAT is supposed to achieve. Without well-specified objectives and carefully constructed validity studies, there’s no way to know if these admissions criteria are serving their purpose, or if an alternative system would be more reliable.

The SHSAT is widely assumed to produce clear-cut, valid, and equitable results. But for many students who are rejected, they might have been admitted if they’d been assigned a different test version, if the winds of random variation had blown a bit differently, if a slightly different scoring system had been used, or if they’d been made aware in advance of how the scoring was done.

Of course, no admissions criteria is “perfect.” Uncertainty and imprecision are inherent in all decisions, whether they be based on test scores, grades, portfolios, or a combination of the above. Standard psychometric practice is to choose criteria that minimize uncertainties and enable students to demonstrate the skills needed to succeed in ways other than captured on a single standardized test.

The only systematic, objective way to do this is by conducting predictive validity studies, as are regularly carried out for tests like the SAT to help refine the test, and help colleges decide how much weight to put on SAT scores, grades, and other factors in their admission decisions. Overwhelmingly, studies have found that multiple criteria, used in tandem, provide a better guide to future student performance than a single one. Indeed, it’s partly because of such validity studies that psychometric standards caution strenuously against using any single metric as the sole criterion for admission, and virtually all educational institutions use multiple criteria to determine admissions decisions.

The DOE violates accepted psychometric standards, by refusing to provide detailed information about these exams, refusing to carry out any validity studies for them, or even reveal what the tests are designed to accomplish.

We should press the DOE for answers, and more importantly, to reform the system. Formal predictive validity studies need to be carried out. Based on the results of these studies, a determination should be made as to what admissions process is most likely to achieve a specific, quantifiable admissions goal in a transparent, equitable way.

If these studies conclude that it is best to use additional criteria along with a standardized test, the New York State law—which says that admissions to these schools must be based solely on a test—would need to be changed. Whatever admissions procedures are established, all applicants should know their implications.

As parents, we should bring these issues to the attention of our elected representatives, on the City Council and in the State Legislature. I sent a copy of my study to my City Council member Jessica Lappin, my State Senator Liz Krueger, and State Senator Kenneth LaValle -- but have yet to hear back from any of them. This is unacceptable. --Josh Feinman

You can contact Josh for more information at

Joel Klein gets mixed reviews down-under

The Australian media continue their refreshingly skeptical coverage of Joel Klein’s promotion of his educational policies during his visit down-under.

Expose bad schools, says US educator (Sydney Morning Herald)

The Education Minister, Julia Gillard, is pushing for states and territories to adopt a similar system of transparency in Australia. On Monday she softened the blow for disadvantaged schools by announcing $500 million in funding to help them to entice good teachers.

But the woman Mr Klein described today as "a bold and fearless leader" should be warned. The US model has come under attack for its narrow measure of what made a school good.

A 2006 study by the US Centre on Education Policy showed that so much emphasis was being put on reading and maths that it caused a decline in teaching of history, science and the arts.

A similar model in Australia could leave little incentive for schools to improve teaching in subjects other than the "basics" measured. Sport, music, art and foreign languages could suffer as schools sweat to meet indicators.

Big business dominates educational planning (Sydney Morning Herald)

Joel Klein is in Australia to "spruik" his business-friendly school reforms courtesy of the giant Swiss bank UBS, the recipient of a multibillion-dollar bail-out from Swiss taxpayers, and dubbed the "world's biggest subprime loser" by The Age.

The federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard, "welcomes the active involvement of UBS" in education reform. Since her recent US visit, she has been championing the "remarkable outcomes" she claims Klein has achieved in New York, where he is the chancellor of the city's education department.

Klein, who was previously chief executive of the international media company Bertelsmann (and who had an article on this page on Monday), believes schools should be run more like businesses, and is an enthusiastic promoter of "charter" schools, some of which are operated for profit. He told Fortune magazine, "We're converting the role of the principal into a CEO role."

On occasion, according to The Nation magazine, Klein has referred to children as cars in a shop, a collection of malfunctions to be adjusted. Teachers, he said, needed "to look under the hood" to figure out the origins of the pings. In the US, as much as a quarter of the school year can be devoted to test preparation. The assessments are supposed to show where the students have gaps in their knowledge so lessons can be adjusted. For the first few years of any testing regime, as students get used to sitting standardised tests, as teachers learn how to teach to the tests and as schools narrow their curriculums, test scores tend to improve. So it is not surprising that New York students are getting better scores in the national standardised tests.

This enables Klein to claim great educational improvements even though a national study released earlier this year using 2004 data found that New York has one of the worst graduation rates in the US, 43rd out of 50 large cities. Gillard is preparing to adopt key elements of Klein's business approach for use in Australian schools on the basis of Klein's ability to improve student test results, without examination of what those test results really represent. Will she unquestioningly adopt the business mantra of "standards, assessment and accountability" in the face of opposition from education experts?

Education is not a business and corporations that have made such bad judgments with regard to their core business, like banks, shouldn't be poking their gnomic noses into our schools.

US educationist talks tough on schools The Age (Melbourne)

In his speech, Mr Klein said his controversial methods, including standardised testing, had transformed the culture of his city's schools from one of excuses to one of performance.

But Australians are divided over Mr Klein's approach. Vicki Froomes, one Melbourne educator who worked with the New York schools Mr Klein threatened to close, said teachers would "teach to the test".

Ratings scheme for schools fails the test for improving them The Age (Melbourne)

EARLIER this week on ABC2, Virginia Trioli asked federal Education Minister Julia Gillard if she agreed with Rupert Murdoch, who, in his Boyer Lectures, called Australia's public education a disgrace. Murdoch had said: "The failure of these schools is more than a waste of human promise and a drain on our future workforce, it's a moral scandal."

"I'd have to say I think Rupert Murdoch is making a lot of sense," Gillard said. The only qualification that Murdoch has to judge our schools is that he owns about 70 per cent of capital city daily newspaper circulation. When billionaire media magnates speak, the rest of us listen.

The same cannot be said for the other American citizen, New York schools chancellor Joel Klein, who Gillard has brought to Australia, "impressed" by his education reforms, especially school league tables, which had produced "remarkable outcomes".

Rubbish. Internet comments on the test results show the improvement in school performance measurement comes from manipulating the tests by prepping students. Klein also makes claims about the results that cannot be supported by any fair analysis. Statisticians who have examined the results say they can be explained by random error.

Klein, a corporate lawyer and political apparatchik, is here to spruik the virtues of Gillard's wacky plan to publish a rating system for schools. Critics point out that the system, based on experience in Britain and the US, "names and shames" poorly performing schools whose output is predictable based on socio-economic background and lack of funding.

The schemes' great political virtue is that it allows governments without any real commitment to raising the standard of poorer schools to appear to be doing something.

The NY Times blog also reports on Klein’s trip.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Learn, NY parents -- about Learn NY!

The NY Times blog and Gotham schools ran stories about the new organization founded by Bloomberg to keep control over our schools – formerly called MASS, but now renamed Learn NY.

"... the group unveiled a Web site dedicated to spreading the Bloomberg school-reform gospel, a hub filled with fact sheets, carefully culled news clips and grassroots platitudes. (“We will listen. And we will be heard.”) One section, promoting the “real results” of mayoral control, takes a page from the global-warming-is-real play book. “It’s not just a feeling,” it declares. “It’s really happening.”

In interviews with reporters, the group’s director, Peter Hatch, offered what he called “opportunities for improvement” (he rebuked the term “criticisms”)—among them, finding ways to give parents more input, make city finances more transparent and nurture independent analyses of school data.

I expressed skepticism to the Times reporter that Hatch would propose ways to give parents more actual input – rather than simply suggest more public hearings. As any NYC parent knows by now, we’ve been subjected to hundreds of hearings, and never once has this administration really listened to anything we’ve said. If Bloomberg or Klein had been had been interested in our views, after all, they would have included questions in the parent survey about whether we agreed with their policies, but this they refused to do.

“Leonie Haimson, a critic of Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts and executive director of the nonprofit Class Size Matters, said she saw the group’s efforts as an attempt to preempt an onslaught of criticism from parent groups. She said she was skeptical of the group’s proposed changes to the mayoral control law. “What we want is real input, giving us some actual say in school policy,” she said. “Hearings are meaningless.”

While Hatch denied to reporters the organization has received funding from Bloomberg himself, he refused to disclose his contributors, though he admits to having “millions” to work with. His refusal to disclose the sources of his funding make his protestations that DOE’s own spending should be “more transparent” rather unconvincing, to say the least.

And the way in which Brian Keeler, the group’s media consultant, whom we had dubbed "the Mayoral control troll" left anonymous comments on our blog promoting Mayoral control, without disclosing his identity, does not bode well for this group’s sincerity about the need for more transparency.

From Gotham Schools:

“Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters has already done impressive digging into the group’s media strategy. A spokesperson for the group confirmed to me today that the blog commenter Haimson noticed voicing his passion for mayoral control is indeed on the payroll of Learn NY. Brian Keeler, an online-media specialist who ran unsuccessfully for state senate in 2006 with the help of a following he built at Daily Kos, has been posting positive comments on this blog, Leonie’s, and others. He is also an employee of the Web design firm that built Learn NY’s Web site and will write a regular blog on the site, the spokesperson, Julie Wood, said.”

The Times article confirms that the MirRam group has been hired as one of the lobbying firms that will try to push Mayoral control through the legislature. As noted previously, MirRam’s chief lobbyists are Roberto Ramirez, formerly chief political boss of the Bronx, and Luis Miranda, who is also head of CFE’s board. The other lobbying group that will work on this campaign is Brown, McMahon and Weinraub, one of whose principals, Tom McMahon, is the brother of CM Michael McMahon of Staten Island, who is now running for Congress.

The Mayor and the DOE won't stop there, of course. Along with the nakedly political campaign of saturation subway ads, etc. being pursued by the Fund for Public Schools, Elizabeth Green of Gotham Schools in a separate article has the goods on how Garth Harries, head of DOE’s portfolio office, used a retreat paid for by the Gates Foundation to persuade charter school and small school operators to help proselytize for continued Mayoral control;

There was also a lot of worrying about what is probably a bigger potential obstacle: The possibility that, come 2009, when the state Legislature votes on whether to keep, abolish, or alter mayoral control of the public schools, the system could be organized in a completely different way. There was no question on which side the Department of Education stood. At the end of the first day, a group that is fighting for the preservation of mayoral control of the public schools, but which has said it has no formal ties to the Bloomberg administration, spoke about its political plans. Chancellor Joel Klein also gave a speech passionately declaring that the successes that have happened would endangered if mayoral control was abolished.

Our tax dollars hard at work.

Bill and Melinda Gates go back to school

Amazing how these guys can spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and miss the boat every time.

DOE Names Chief Gullibility Officer

November 26, 2008 (GBN News): Saying that education is “all about second chances”, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced that one of the turkeys being pardoned today by President Bush in a White House ceremony has been named “Chief Gullibility Officer” for the Department of Education. While the specific responsibilities of the $150,000 a year position were not publicly spelled out, a source at the DOE told GBN News that the turkey will likely be a DOE liason with MASS (Mayoral Accountability for School Success), an organization established by Mayor Bloomberg to maintain control of the city schools. MASS, through the website “LearnNY”, uses a massive public relations campaign to create the illusion of success for DOE policies. Mr. Klein was said to feel that a “gullibility officer” is needed to insure the credibility of this PR campaign with the public and the press.

GBN News asked J. Fredrick Runson, head of the Political Science department at Manhattan University, if a turkey can possibly manage such a challenging responsibility. “I don’t see why not”, said Professor Runson. “If a monkey can predict school progress as well as the DOE does, a turkey can certainly do as well with the Department’s credibility.”

In what would be a “lateral move”, the Obama transition office announced today that Chancellor Klein is being seriously considered as one of the turkeys for next year’s White House pardoning ceremony.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mayoral control in Chicago, DC and elsewhere

Check out the first hour of our terrific forum about Mayoral control elsewhere in the country, with Mary Levy, director of the Public Education Reform Project at the Washington DC Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, Julie Woestehoff director of Parents United for Responsible Education in Chicago, and Prof. Stefanie Chambers of Trinity College.

Video of part two of the forum, including questions from the audience is posted here; and part three is here.

Here are biographies of the three speakers; more information on the effects of Mayoral control in Chicago is topic is available through Julie's summary; Mary prepared a fact sheet on DC; and also a useful one-page chart about patterns of Mayoral control around the country.

Australians agree: Joel Klein is a fraud!

Media clips from Joel Klein’s visit to Australia.

From the Melbourne Age: [In NYC] Students are required to sit standardised tests, schools get an annual report card grading them from A-D and F ...Schools that need help get resources to improve but if they fail to lift their game, they are closed or restructured — and more than 70 have been shut.

His critics argue that the measures are too punitive, that he relies too heavily on standardised testing and that the improvements to his students' results are not significant.

"The only independent check on student achievement in New York City shows a completely different picture from that claimed by Klein," said Save our Schools convener Trevor Cobbold. "The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress administered by the US Department of Education shows that student achievement in New York City has stagnated since 2003. The achievement gaps between blacks and whites, between Hispanics and whites and between low and high-income students are as large as they were when Klein began to overhaul the system."

Sydney Morning Herald : While Mr Klein says student scores have vastly improved under his watch, analysis by Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Brookings Institution in Washington, shows the scores have been mainly flat or declining.

A former Productivity Commission economist, Trevor Cobbold, the convener of Save Our Schools, said reported improvements in New York schools had been artificially inflated and lacked credibility. "The results of the national assessment of education progress administered by the US Department of Education show the student achievement in New York City has stagnated since 2003," he said. "Adopting such a model in Australia would lead to inaccurate and misleading comparisons of school performance."

An Australian education authority, Brian Caldwell, professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne, said: "If we were looking for international examples, we should be looking at countries like Finland that has no national testing scheme. Their schools operate with a high degree of autonomy and they focus on making sure their teachers are well trained."

Angelo Gavrielatos, of the Australian Education Union, said the US performed 29th in science and 35th in mathematics in OECD assessments. "The New York model is not one Australia should emulate."

ABC News: AEU (Australian teacher union) president Angelo Gavrielatos says it would be counter-productive to take New York as an example. "We shouldn't be looking at importing flawed ideas from overseas. Let's look at importing successful ideas from overseas," he said.
"Australia getting advice from the US on how to do education is like Ian Thorpe getting advice from Eric the Eel." He was referring to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, when a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea took almost two minutes to swim the 100-metres freestyle.

Canberra Times : The federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard, claims that reforms such as reporting individual school results are ''working'' and have produced ''remarkable outcomes''. She says that there has been continual improvement in student achievement in New York City under Klein.

These assertions are refuted by test results in reading and mathematics. National tests show that average student achievement in New York City schools has stagnated while state tests show a mixture of increases and declines, with no consistent pattern of improvement.

The National Assessment of Education Progress tests conducted by the US Department of Education show no statistically significant change in average student scores for reading in grades 4 and 8 between 2003 and 2007 in New York City. They show a small improvement in Grade 4 mathematics but no improvement in Grade 8.

They also show that there was no improvement in average reading scores for low income, black and hispanic students in either Grade 4 or 8. There were small improvements in average mathematics scores in Grade 4 for low income, black and hispanic students. In Grade 8 mathematics, there was no improvement for black and hispanic students, but a slight improvement for low income students.

The Australian : During Mr Klein's week-long visit in Australia, sponsored by global financial firm UBS, he will promote the tools underpinning the accountability system adopted in in New York.

He addressed a forum in Melbourne yesterday on leading transformational change in schools, will address the National Press Club in Canberra today, and tomorrow will speak at a corporate dinner hosted by UBS on strengthening the links between business and schools.
Mr Klein's visit comes ahead of a looming showdown between the commonwealth and states and territories at the meeting of the Council of Australian Governments on Saturday over the reporting of school performance.

Addressing the forum yesterday, Mr Klein was effusive in his praise for Education Minister Julia Gillard, and described her speech outlining the Government's commitment to transparency in schools as one of the "greatest" on education reform he had heard. "The level of courage in a public official isn't as rare as I sometimes thought," he said….

Mr Klein received a mixed response from the 100-strong group of educators and policymakers at the Melbourne forum. While teachers generally supported boosting accountability and empowering parents, president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association Andrew Blair was concerned that tests for ranking schools were simplistic. Mr Blair said measurements of performance should cover multiple methodologies, beyond "raw grabs" of test data.

Mr Klein said multiple measurements risked covering up underperformance. "The more we have multiple measures the risk is we dilute the power of accountability," he said.

The Mayoral control troll introduces himself!

One of our brilliant readers suggested the name of “the Mayoral control troll” for the Anonymous blogger who left pro-Bloomberg talking points all over our blog and throughout cyberspace in support of the Mayor keeping his iron grip on our schools.

Unfortunately, Anonymous outed himself before we could write about him – in the comment section on our blog below.

He is Brian Keeler, VP of Politics and Advocacy for VShift – a media consulting company, and as we guessed, he is working for MASS, and its new website,, the organization Bloomberg established to retain control over our schools. VShift is conveniently located at 895 Broadway, along with MASS, and its consultants, the Global Strategy Group, NY’s most influential political consulting firm. On the same floor is the “MirRam Group” run by lobbyists Roberto Ramirez, former chief political boss of the Bronx, and Luis Miranda, also chair of the board of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

Elizabeth Green of Gotham Schools writes about Brian and the launching of MASS’s new campaign. Another article quotes Brian about how to work online “social media” to market a product:

Brian Keeler, a vice president at media consultancy VShift, said the key to social media is credibility and enlisting consumers in the act of marketing itself. But if you upset your audience, it can mean trouble. “With the online media, things can go viral and spin out of control really fast,” he said.


Here are excerpts from the VShift website, which reminds their clients:

It is important to remember that competitors will respond in some way to your actions in the market so it is useful to consider what they may do and prepare for it. We help you respond to the competition and determine the best course of action.

This is a good lesson for us all to keep in mind, as we work to succeed in the competitive marketplace of ideas. Of course, Bloomberg will be able to spend his millions on consultants, ads, websites, and glossy pamphlets in the interest of retaining control, with the editorial boards of all three dailies in his thrall as well, while we poor public school parents only have this blog – which thankfully, Google supplies for free.

Here is the message I sent Brian today:

Dear Brian:

Nice to meet you, and thanks for introducing yourself on our blog.

A question: are you a NYC public school parent? Do you live here in NYC? Are these webpages about you, or another Brian Keeler? or [They are apparently about him.]

In any case, to give you some background, we’ve been living the last six years under the nightmare of an administration that is both incompetent and that doesn’t give a damn about how parents feel about how their kids should be educated; and that openly and continually dismisses the issues we care about, like class size, even though Bloomberg and Klein themselves sent their own kids to schools where no classes were larger than 15.

Though you may have millions of dollars to spend try to convince less involved and aware NYers otherwise, it will be a hard slog to convince us that this administration has been accountable to parents, or to anyone else for that matter, aside perhaps from the “real” stakeholders in this system, which as Gary Babad has pointed out, have been the Gates and Broad foundations, as well as the sons and daughters of Bloomberg’s billionaire buddies, who’d like to set up their own charter schools inside our already overcrowded school system.

But hey, we’re open to listening to what substantive proposals your organization may have to ensure that parents have more input in the future, that there is more transparency, and even perhaps, that in the future, the administration may intend to comply with state and city laws. Indeed, accountability in our democratic system surely does not equal dictatorship.

And though you claim that you “are advocating for the renewal of the law regardless of who the mayor will be”, it is well known that Mayor Bloomberg intends to spend up to $100 million of his private fortune to get re-elected, as well as countless millions more retaining his iron grip on our schools.

How about having a public discussion about some of these matters? You or anyone of your choosing? I’ll even bring the snacks.

Thanks, by the way, for you or whoever corrected the misspellings and at least some of the statistics on your website, after I’d pointed out these errors on our listserv late last night. Perhaps Bloomberg could pay me a salary to copy-edit your site?

Please keep in touch,

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters

The Mayor's campaign to keep control over our schools has begun

The organization funded by Bloomberg to keep his absolute power over our schools intact, awkwardly called MASS (for Mayoral Accountability for School Success), just launched its website called LearnNY.

It features the embarrassing picture
to the right, as well as a glossy and detailed brochure full of misleading but reassuring statements, like there are “Multiple checks and balances” in the current system, and that increases in spending have helped “to pay for smaller class sizes.”

More false information is featured on its website, like the following: “The percentage of elementary schools that exceed capacity went from 38 percent in 2002 to 13 percent in 2007.”

Actually, according to the capital plan, 27% of elementary school buildings are over capacity, and according to DOE’s official capacity report, the “Blue Book”, 47% of elementary grade students are in overcrowded schools.

(Along with the inaccuracies, the LearnNY website is also full of misspellings. Check out little widget entitled “For parents” that misspells “Mayoral Control”.)[addendum: after I posted this message, they corrected the spelling and deleted the particular misstatement about elementary schools.]

It’s not only MASS’s website that has started in earnest.

In today’s Daily News, Geoffrey Canada who runs charter schools and is the chair of MASS, has an oped entitled Accountability = achievement.

The piece is full of the same PR spin we’ve heard so many times before, and will surely become even more familiar over the next few months, but features one rather interesting new tweak:

Is the law perfect? Of course not. As we go about renewing the legislation, we should improve it. That starts by increasing transparency. There is more data available now than ever before, but parents and citizens deserve to have full confidence in its accuracy. An independent organization should be formed to analyze school performance and policy effectiveness. There should also be increased fiscal transparency, with audits to ensure that money is going toward children and learning.

The Department of Education has not done nearly enough to engage parents. Parents should have more notice before major decisions, like school closings or the cell phone ban, are made. And they should be given forums to voice their opinions - not merely free-for-all complaint sessions, but substantive discussions that are taken seriously. The DOE should establish community engagement benchmarks to monitor progress toward greater involvement of parents.

I would guess that this new “independent organization” to analyze school performance will be identified in coming days as … the Research Alliance – finally getting off the ground after three years, with Joel Klein and Kathy Wylde, the head of the NYC Partnership and Bloomberg’s biggest booster, both conveniently on its governing board.

And what about these forums mentioned above, to give those pesky parents an ability to “voice their opinions”? I predict what they mean is just more public hearings. This is the last thing parents need; hearings in which DOE hears nothing we say and wastes our precious time. With four more years of pointless hearings, soon no one will bother to show up, except those paid to agree with the administration.

Indeed, Canada (or whatever hired PR gun who actually wrote this piece) ends with the following:

What I believe we must not accept, for the sake of our children, is the undermining of accountability. For instance, some have suggested, in the name of parent involvement, that the citywide Panel for Education Policy be made independent from the mayor - or that the 32 local school district offices should be reinstated.

Both moves would be misguided. The key to the success of the new system has been holding officials truly accountable. It is not about any one mayor, but about having an elected official whose job description includes a clear mandate to improve schools… We can't have it both ways: either one person is in charge, or no one is.

In other words, the Mayor must continue to have complete and dictatorial power over our schools, with no one else, including parents, having any say.

(What’s funny is that whoever wrote this oped didn’t seem to realize that there still are 32 local school district offices – which were officially reinstated after State legislators and the CSA sued the administration and won a consent decree, as state law inconveniently requires community school districts to remain. The district offices were reinstated, but in name only –now nearly empty of staff or function, with the superintendents now ordered to spend 90% of their time, traveling from one borough to the next, coaching schools outside their districts on how to pump up test scores.)

Another sign that the MASS operation has started spreading its disinformation campaign wide and far is the fact that on Friday afternoon, someone was very busy in cyberspace between 4 and 5 PM, offering a series of happy little talking points:

At 4:16 pm , after an article in Gotham schools showing that test scores of the schools receiving merit pay increased little more than schools throughout the city, “BK” posted this comment:

“With 89% of teachers voting to keep their schools in the bonus program, it’s clear that teachers at participating schools were happy with the program’s first year. Good things happen when someone sets a clear direction, as the mayor has done, and gives motivation to succeed. Good news is always welcome.”

Good news indeed! Four minutes later, at 4:20 PM, now on our blog at "Joel Klein as a tone-deaf Oedipus?", the same little elf, now renamed “Anonymous,” left this dropping:

I hope we don't lose Joel Klein, since schools have made real progress under his watch. I like that we've had stable leadership and accountability at DOE, for the first time in a long time.”

Nine minutes later, Anonymous skipped over to the Huffington Post, where we had linked to Benjamin Barber’s accurate description of Joel Klein as
“completely tone-deaf to the communities he supposedly serves.” Now renamed LHK, s/he added plaintively: “I hope we don't lose Joel Klein in NYC. He has infused accountability in the Public Schools.”

Then this busy little cyber-elf flitted back to our blog, and at 4:31 PM, resuming the moniker “Anonymous” at Performance bonuses: DOE throws away money to benefit adults rather than our kids, pointed out:

“I can't imagine how happier, more fulfilled teachers wouldn't have an effect on their students. A set direction, a set of standards, builds a culture of accountability and responsibility, something our schools used to lack. We're facing tough times and tough decisions in NY, but I'd think that we want invest and support those we trust with our children's education.”

Six minutes later, at 4:37 PM, at "Why does the NY Times feature the voices of LA public school parents but not ours, Anonymous offered up this little gem:

Mayoral control has delivered results. We cannot go back to the bad old days, where we had 32 local boards and a board and a chancellor and a mayor, but one who could be held responsible.”

Finally, Anonymous finished up a busy afternoon at 4:52 PM at Patrick’s post about the PEP meeting last week, "
Klein Stiffs Parents of Children Receiving Special Education Services" concluding:

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

So who does this prove? That all of you real NYC parents should be sure to add your thoughts in the comments section of our blog; regularly and often; so that readers will know that the views of this paid employee of the Mayor’s operation are neither accurate nor typical.

And who is running MASS, the organization the Mayor founded to keep his iron grip over our schools? Clearly, Canada is too busy running his charter schools; the DOE press office is occupied putting out fires as well as publicizing Klein’s frequent trips to other cities and abroad, and the Mayor’s staff has lots of other things to worry about– like trying to solve the budget crisis with an increasingly unruly City Council, who apparently didn’t understand that giving Bloomberg unlimited term extensions meant they should shut up and let him do whatever he wants.

On its website, the organization is listed as located at 895 Broadway, 5th floor. Two politically-wired groups share this address and floor. One is the Global Strategy Group, NY’s most influential political consulting firm, according to Wikipedia, on retainer to Paterson and the State Democratic Party as well as “the premier Democratic political polling firm."

The address and floor is also home to the “MirRam Group” run by lobbyists Roberto Ramirez, former chief political boss of the Bronx, and Luis Miranda, who also happens to be the chair of the board of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. When you’re Mayor Bloomberg, after all, you can afford to hire the very best.


Announcing a contest: the next person to spot comments in cyberspace from the MASS staffer, please send us the links; you will be awarded the distinguished decoration for discerning disinformation.

Also, please post nominations in our comments section for what we should call this unknown staffer – whoever he or she may be – the MASS elf or Anonymous or BK or LHK or whatever name s/he happens to have adopted on a particular day is not good enough.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A warning to Australians: don't let your kids suffer, as have ours!

This week, Joel Klein is visiting Australia to promote his educational policies and perspective. To alert Aussies to the disinformation campaign he will likely be spreading, we have deconstructed a recent interview on Australian TV with Klein, carried out by journalist Kerry O'Brian, and aired last month on Australian TV.

[The full video of the Klein interview is here and the transcript here.]

Question: "You can't have a system corrupted or distorted by a principal under pressure or a principal that wants to boost his or her status by encouraging teachers at the school to go soft on the students in tests to help them cheat in effect?"

JOEL KLEIN: "It's happened on a handful of occasions since I’ve been here and we’ve terminated principals, terminated a couple of teachers at one point, but I don't think systematically that's a powerful explanation.

And even before our system there was a Federal system here in the US under "no child left behind." So schools are under a certain amount of pressure, but I don't think somebody is going to imperil their livelihood by taking the risk of trying to have students cheat on exams."

In reality, there is now rampant test prep in NYC schools – as well as many serious allegations of cheatingfew of which are ever followed up by this administration, even when the allegations are based on reliable evidence from people on the ground. In fact, many principals have been promoted and given bonuses whose schools have seen large and unexplained boosts in test scores. See for example this article, detailing allegations about cheating at one school, where test scores jumped 30 points in one year, where Chancellor Joel Klein spoke at the school's graduation while wearing a "Best School in the Universe" T-shirt.

In fact, Klein doesn’t appear to care what’s causing test scores to rise, as long as they do. And as pointed out by independent experts like Diane Ravitch, as well as in the NY Times and elsewhere, test scores on state exams have not been matched by NYC's results on the more reliable national assessments called the NAEPs. Indeed, an analysis of NAEP scores between 2003-2007 reveals that NYC came in 10th out of 11 urban school districts across the nation in changes in test score changes over the course of this administration.

JOEL KLEIN: "The class sizes have reduced…”

Actually, Joel Klein has stubbornly refused to reduce class size, the top priority of NYC parents, even when it means ignoring the law. As a result, our class sizes remain the largest in the state and among the largest in the nation, despite hundreds of millions of dollars allocated by the state to reduce class size.

In a 2006 audit, the State Comptroller found that only 20 additional classes were formed in NYC schools over the baseline figure, despite $89 million in annual state funds specifically allocated to reduce class size. The audit concluded that “while the [NYC] DoE was receiving State funding it was reducing its own support for early grade class size reduction and using it for other purposes.” The NY State Comptroller proposed a number of recommendations to improve compliance with the law– all of which the Chancellor rejected.

Then again, this past September, the NY State Education Department found that despite commitments by the city to use millions of dollars in new state aid to reduce class size, instead “53.9% of New York City schools reported that either class size or pupil-to-teacher ratio increased in 2007-08.”

Accordingly, over 80% of NYC parents say that there has been no improvement in class size under this administration, and 86% of NYC principals say that they are unable to provide a quality education to their students because of excessive class sizes at their schools.

JOEL KLEIN: "The President of our [teachers] union, who's also the President of the National Union, she said on the first day of school this year in September that she had been traveling around the US and no place, in any urban area, was comparable to the work that we're doing. In fact he word she used was that New York City had become a beacon."

Among NYC teachers, there has been overwhelming disapproval of the leadership and policies of Joel Klein. Last year, the NYC teacher’s union released its own survey, showing that 85% of its members believe that Klein has refused to provide the support and resources they need to succeed; 85% disagreed with his emphasis on high-stakes testing; and 83% said that he had put other interests above the learning needs of the children.

According to Klein’s top spokesperson, only two out of twenty of the top administrators at the Department of Education are long-term educators; instead, he has largely staffed the Department with corporate consultants and attorneys.

In the past few weeks, thousands of teachers in NYC and elsewhere have signed petitions, warning President-elect Obama not to appoint Joel Klein to his administration, because of his misguided policies.

Check out this petition, which has been signed by nearly 4200 educators in NYC and nationwide:

"The NYC Department of Education under Joel Klein has been run like a ruthless dictatorship -- with no input from parents or educations. Teachers have not been respected, consulted, nor listened to. And little thought has been devoted to how the policies he has imposed on our schools have been destructive to the children and their futures...While focusing on test scores, he has consistently ignored the crisis of overcrowding in NY schools. Thousands of children are being given special services in hallways or in closets."

See also this petition, signed by more than 3600 teachers and academic experts nationwide, in opposition to Joel Klein's "vision of privatized, corporatized, and anti-democratic schools."

QUESTION: "How do you answer the critics who say your school statistics are flawed because of wild statistical fluctuations or results from year to year, which suggest fundamental flaws?"

JOEL KLEIN: "I don't think that's a fair criticism. I've actually studied the statistics. There are some year to year fluctuations that are significant, but that's because schools that weren't making progress refocused and decided that the risk to them was they were gonna close.

"And so they decided that they would focus much more effectively on promoting student performance. But all of these things will come out over the years, meaning this is not a one year or two year experiment.”

Some year-to-year fluctuations? School grades have widely varied between one year to the next, which is not surprising considering they are primarily based on one year's worth of test score gains or losses, which experts have shown to be 30-80% random.

See this analysis by Daniel Koretz, an expert on testing and statistics from Harvard, pointing out that three quarters of NYC schools that received an “F” last year received an “A’” or “B” this year. As Koretz writes:

“It strains credulity to believe that if these schools were really “failing” last year, three-fourths of them improved so markedly in a mere 12 months that they deserve grades of A or B ...This instability is sampling error and measurement error at work. It does not make sense for parents to choose schools, or for policymakers to praise or berate schools, for a rating that is so strongly influenced by error.”

Aaron Pallas and Jennifer Jennings of Columbia University have concluded that The progress measure…is a fruitless exercise in measuring error rather than the value that schools themselves add to students.”

As another of their summaries suggest, “a Monkey [could] Do a Better Job of Predicting Which Schools Show Student Progress in English Skills than the New York City Department of Education."

In short, NYC parents and teachers have this advice for Australians: Do not be fooled by either Klein or his claims.

Achievement has not significantly improved under his leadership. Instead, his administration has consistently misused millions of dollars meant to reduce class size that would have provided children with a better chance to learn, while spending millions more in taxpayer funds on expanding the bureaucracy with high-paid corporate consultants, no-bid contracts, and more testing in our schools.

Along the way, he has stubbornly refused to listen to parents, teachers and academic experts who have pointed out the destructive impact of his policies.

Take heed -- and reject these policies that will cause your kids to needlessly suffer -- as have ours.