“Look, I’m a graduate of the school system, and I’m a parent,” Nolan said. “I intend to be as involved as I can be in every aspect of this bill: behind the scenes, in front of the scenes. The person that’s been the treasure for me has been Leonie Haimson.”For the full article click here.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
In the past, the ELA tests were scored by teachers over winter recess (and spring recess for math tests). Teachers were paid "per session¨ (as in over time pay) for the hours they spent scoring. Per session money for test scoring came out of the central administration budget. With this new initiative, each individual school is responsible for paying for the substitute teachers needed to cover the teachers who are pulled away to score the tests. In a grand scheme of things, DoE does save money because paying for a substitute teacher is cheaper than paying a teacher per session fees. However, this change will shift the financial responsibilities from DoE Central to individual schools, whose budget has already been cut this year.
To make matters even more absurd, in middle schools only teachers licensed in ELA and Social Studies are allowed to score while in elementary schools all grade level teachers are eligible to score. This creates a particular hardship to small middle schools with small faculty. However, this license requirement does not seem to make sense since it appears that an elementary school teacher may be assigned to score an 8th grade test while a middle school teacher may be grading a 3rd grade test.
It is bad enough we divert so much of our teaching and learning to test prep, now adding insult to injury our children will have a musical chair of teachers for three weeks (at least it needs not be the same two teachers for three weeks). So, if your child comes home and tells you about various substitute teachers in her classroom for the next three weeks, most likely it is not because your child¡¦s teacher quit (although who can blame the teacher if she did!).
Many principals are up in arms about this new requirement - which comes on top of weeks in which they have been forced to take teachers out of their classrooms for many hours, to test students for DoE's expanded Gifted and Talented Program. More testing, less learning, indeed.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Check out the article in the Village Voice, "The Campaign for Fiscal Equity Lawsuit Was the Best Hope for City Schools. It Failed."
The article describes how a stunning lack of accountability on the part of the city and flawed state oversight has led to a situation in which we will never know how more than $1 billion in additional state aid that our schools received as a result of the CFE case was spent.
These funds were supposed to improve what the state's highest court found were constitutionally inadequate classroom conditions -- including excessive class sizes -- and yet last year, the NYC failed to make any of its class size reduction targets . Which is not entirely surprising as the DOE and Joel Klein have never made a secret of their disdain for our students' need for smaller classes.
Indeed, in September, the State Education Department criticized NYC for misusing hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid. The State ordered NYC to improve its compliance this year.
Yet according to the figures released by the DOE in December, class sizes increased in all grades but one -- for the first time in ten years. Where does this leave our children, who continue to suffer with the largest class sizes in the state? and how much worse will it likely be next year, with all the proposed state and city budget cuts?
Today, Council member
"...I am writing to lodge a vigorous complaint about the failure of the New York City Department of Education [DOE] to meet required standards for class size reduction established by the State of New York in the historic “Contract for Excellence” [C4E] funding agreement that arose from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity [CFE] lawsuit.
Through thirteen years of litigation, CFE sought to compel the state to relieve over-crowding and reduce class size. As the lead plaintiff in that lawsuit, I have an abiding personal interest in that objective. Yet I am seeing current kindergarten registers with numbers like 24, 26, and 27 students in my local school district. More than 40% of NYC students are in schools that are officially overcrowded citywide; and 62-87% of students, depending on the grade level, are crowded in classes that exceed the goals of the city’s state-mandated class size reduction plan and averages in the rest of the state.
...The language in the “Contract for Excellence” gives the Department of Education a clear directive regarding class size....You and I have a shared obligation to the citizens and residents of
Who is at fault? Clearly, the DOE, under the mis-leadership of Joel Klein, has failed our students. As he runs around the country with Al Sharpton, proclaiming loudly about the need for educational equality and for the nation to address the achievement gap, he is violating law and all ethical standards by allowing the inequitable conditions in NYC schools to remain - and refusing to enact one of the few reforms -- class size reduction-- that research shows actually narrows this gap.
As I argue in the Village Voice article, the attorneys in the CFE case were also remiss, by not insisting in court that NYC schools not merely receive more funding, but that the unconstitutional conditions that triggered the lawsuit -- including overcrowding and excessive class sizes -- were actually addressed.
Check out the State's excoriating letter and report, released in September, showing that NYC misused last year's funding for smaller classes; and this letter sent by Class Size Matters, the UFT and Hispanic Federation to Commissioner Mills in December, pointing out that this year, the situation has worsened -- with class sizes increasing in all grades for the first time in ten years, and with increases in grades K-3 so drastic that they wiped out five years of improvement.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Intel Science Talent Search – NYC Schools’ Collapse Continues, and the Silence at the Times, Daily News, and NY Post Is Deafening
Now for the bad news. Once again, as has been the case every year since 2003 when Chancellor Joel Klein effectively began his “save the public schools” regime, the numbers for NYC are abysmal by the standards of the six years immediately preceding Mr. Klein and mayoral control. The six-year average number of NYC public school Intel Semifinalists from 1997-2002 was 45.83 students; for the six years from 2003-2008, just 24.33, a drop of 46.9%. If we look at just the last five years, from 2004-2008 (considering that Intel participants in 2003 had already started their projects before the Klein-inspired ravaging of our high schools), our “Education Mayor’s” policies have resulted in a five-year average of just 21.8 Semifinalists, a decline of 51.1% from the average of the preceding seven years.
The numbers are down everywhere you look. Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, and Staten Island Tech in the last six years are each substantially below their prior six-year averages. Combined, their Semifinalist numbers are off by 34.9% in 2003-2008 compared to 1997-2002, and by 39.2% if only the period 2004-2008 is included in Chancellor Klein’s database of shame.
Even more shameful is the impact Klein/Bloomberg have had on the balance of the city’s high schools, those not classified as science high schools. From 1997-2002, an average of 5.67 different schools per year chalked up an average of 18.2 Intel Semifinalists. From 2003-2008, an average of 3.3 different schools have claimed just 6.3 Semifinalists, a horrendous (and truly tragic) drop of 65.1% in the number of such award winners that constitutes nothing less than the virtual abandonment of high-level science research work outside of Stuyvesant and Bronx Science (the drop is 69.9% if 2003 is shifted into the pre-Klein column). In the last three years, non-science high schools have claimed 16,7%, 15.0%, and now just 12.5% of the City’s public high school Intel Semifinalist pool; in no year before that, back at least to 1997, was their share ever less than 25%.
One might think that all this bad news might be worthy of note in our local press, but one would apparently be thinking wrong. The NY Times barely bothered to write anything about Intel beyond a generic release (in its Business section, from a press release obtained over Business Wire!) that failed even to mention NYC schools or students, the Daily News took a complete pass on the Intel announcement, and the NY Post offered a miniscule article under the too-cute (and misleadingly feel good) title "Kids Are All Bright" that simply cited the NYC total number of Semifinalists (incorrectly stating 26 instead of 27) and the numbers from Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, as if those numbers standing alone, independent of their downward trend, were nevertheless some sort of DOE triumph. One year ago, a reporter at the Times actually expressed interest in a posting on this blog site about the “de-Klein” in the City’s Intel numbers, but no story resulted. This year, Intel Semifinalists in NYC were apparently not even worthy of mention in our “newspaper of record.”
Lest anyone think that the NYC Intel “de-Klein” is reflective of a Statewide phenomenon, think again. The six-year average number of Intel Semifinalists in NYS went from 155.8 (1997-2002) to 133.5 (2003-2008), a drop of 22.3 that almost exactly matches the 21.5 average Intel Semifinalist drop in NYC public high schools across those same two time periods.
How is it that a 50% decline in the number of Intel Semifinalists in NYC public schools, corresponding precisely to the effective impact years of the Bloomberg/Klein DOE, does not attract both news reporting and alarm? Where are our missing media on this story? Lacking another “happy news” press releases emanating from the DOE P.R. machine, did they simply fail to notice? Or is another DOE performance failure simply too hot to touch in this decision year for mayoral control? Whatever the case, it seems that our local MSM (mainstream media) have once again failed to inform the NYC public as to what mayoral control (and NCLB) has really meant to their schools.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The Assembly Education committee will hold hearings on School Governance and the future of Mayoral control, beginning in
The hearings in each borough will begin at 10 AM, but if working parents reserve a slot after 5 PM, by phone or email, you can be sure that you can speak at that time – but you must reserve the slot in advance. It is important that as many parents as possible come, but if you cannot attend, you can email your testimony as well.
To reserve a speaking slot, just email storellicastron@
As the law is set to sunset on June 30th of this year, the Assembly Committee on Education is interested in hearing about the impact of mayoral control on the City's school system and how modifications to the law could address concerns and improve the current governance structure. For example, questions have been raised regarding the development and execution of a five-year capital plan that still leaves many schools overcrowded and
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Queens Borough Hall
Meeting Room 213
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Friday, February 6, 2009
250 Broadway, Room 1923
Friday, March 13, 2009
First Floor Speech and
Friday, March 20, 2009
A moment to take pause and appreciate the history we are living through.
Here is the video from Sunday’s inaugural concert of Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, performing the song that, in my opinion, should be our national anthem – “This Land is Your Land”.
The song was written by Woody Guthrie in 1940, towards the end of the Great Depression. The version on this occasion contained all its verses, including those rarely sung. They are below.
"In the squares of the city - By the shadow of the steeple
By the relief office - I saw my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there wonderin
If this land's still made for you and me."
"There was a big high wall there - that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted - it said private property;
But on the other side - it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me."
"Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking - that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me."
Let’s cross our fingers and hope that we all take strength from these ideas of self-empowerment, and that this historic moment marks a major positive transformation for our country -- and for our public schools.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Check out Diane Ravitch’s succinct advice to Arne Duncan, the soon-to-be Secretary of Education, in yesterday’s Washington Post, recommending that he scrap NCLB. Here is an excerpt:
“The law's remedies don't work. The law's sanctions don't work. The goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 is ludicrous; no nation or state has ever reached it. Achievement gains have been meager. Test scores improved more on federal tests in the five years preceding NCLB than in the years since it was implemented. What
On the other hand, Margaret Spellings, current Secretary of Education and a big supporter of NCLB, writes
“Congratulations. I don't want to hurt you, but I think you're a great choice. You're the right guy at the right time. I look forward to working with you and know you to be compatible, tough-minded and someone who does what's right on behalf of kids. You'll need those characteristics as secretary.”
Check out either of the above pages for links to advice from The Critic, The Early Education Advocate, The University Chancellor, The Student, The Teacher, The Astronomer, The Bioethicist, The School Superintendent, The Author, and The Thinker (as the Post describes them.)
Unfortunately, no one mentions the importance of class size. But then they also didn’t bother to ask any parent.
Even though on the very same day, Jay Mathews of the Post had a column, saying that sometimes, parents actually have good ideas when it comes to our children’s schools.
Clearly we are swimming against the tide.
If you'd like to know what some real-life parents from NYC and Chicago would recommend, check out the Common-sense reforms for our schools, from Class Size Matters and Parents United for Responsible Education.
Check out the new website, www.openbooknewyork.com, where you can search spending information on state and local agencies. This includes broad categories of NYC DOE expenditures, but more interestingly, specific State Education contracts.
One of the largest SED contracts is listed as $20,518,160 for McGraw Hill/CTB to “DEVELOP GRADE 3-8 ASSESSMENTS IN MATHEMATICS” from 2004 -2011.
Another $17.8 million is again for CTB McGraw Hill, to “DEVELOP GRADE 3-8 ASSESSMENTS IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS” over the same period. Wonder why math exams are more expensive than the ELA?'
Lots of charter school grants as well, including a $175,000 “planning” grant last June to the
Many of member items listed as well, though the list doesn’t identify which legislators were the sponsors. Check it out, and please share anything interesting you find in the comments section.
In today's Daily News, it is revealed that schools will be forced to pull teachers out of their classrooms for up to three days next month to score the state exams.
This will even affect students in grades, like Kindergarten, who do not have to take these tests. Why?
"[Some principals] said they were reluctant to pull teachers in older grades out of the classrooms so close to the state math exams, which are given in March."
In the past, DOE hired teachers to score these standardized tests during the February break. Now, schools will have to pay substitutes to take their place.
Yet in a budget presentation to the PEP, DOE officials falsely described the revision in the “scoring of state assessments in Math and ELA” as a major part of its “$40 million cut to Central and Field.”
In another budget document circulated by
Instead, this represents yet another major budget cut to our schools. Not to mention its damaging effects on the classroom.
More testing, less learning. And more evidence of how the DOE’s claims to be making major cuts to administration cannot be trusted.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
"Informing the Debate," is a new study that finds that charter schools in
As Eduwonkette points out, only one quarter of
Nevertheless, this looks to me a good study, though it doesn't begin to analyze why these particular
1- Class Size -- an examination of the descriptions of a random selection of the charter schools included in the study, either from reports by the Massachusetts state education dept. or self-reported by the school itself, shows that classes tend to be much smaller in these schools than in the regular BPS system, and in some schools, as small as 15 (as in the Boston Collegiate Charter School). In most, classes are about 18-22 students; while the regular BPS system has class sizes ranging from 25-28. In fact, many of the charter schools studied openly proclaim that their small classes are critical to their success. In general, it is easier for charter schools to reduce class size because they are able to cap enrollment, unlike traditional public schools.
2- Peer effects. Though the study finds that the randomly selected students who attend charter schools do better than those who remained in the BPS system, it also states that "Charter Schools ... serve a smaller proportion of special education students, free- and reduced-price lunch students, and English learners than do the traditional BPS schools. In addition, high school Charter students tend to come in with substantially better math and ELA performance on the MCAS..."
So to the degree that the "winners" of the lottery would tend to surrounded by higher performing and more advantaged students, this in itself could boost their achievement levels.
Tom Kane , one of the authors of this study, has been quoted as saying that "The next step is to identify what's working in charter schools that can be transferred back into the traditional public schools to improve student achievement." Let's hope they manage to achieve this. I am aware of few such studies that have honestly attempted to do this in the past.
Friday, January 9, 2009
A year ago, Queens public school parent Marie Pollicino refused to accept Mike Bloomberg's attempt to marginalize public school parents. She filed a formal complaint with the state education commissioner to reverse the Chancellor's changes in regulation A-655 specifying the role of school leadership teams (SLTs). Her action was joined by Queens parent Melvyn Meer, the District 26 Community District Education Council and the UFT.
This week, State Education Commissioner Richard Mills ruled that the Bloomberg administration's attempt to revise Regulation A-655, shifting all decision making power on SLTs to principals was a violation of state education law. The law grants school-based management teams specific powers and duties:
Develop an annual school comprehensive educational plan that is aligned with the school based budget. Such plans shall be submitted to the district superintendent and be made available for public inspection.... (Ed Law 2590 - h(15) (b-1))In his decision Mills says "The A-655, as revised, strips the SLT of this basic, statutorily mandated authority". The state ordered the city to revise the regulation.
Commissioner Mills also ruled that the method by which the Bloomberg Administration changed the policy was unlawful. State law requires the changes to be developed by the superintendent of each community school district in conjunction with committees "composed of administrators, teachers and parents". The current changes were developed without this input.
A copy of the legal decision can be found here.
For background on the case, see this earlier Daily News article and update here. Gotham Schools has the story here.
Oddly, the NY Post didn't have news coverage but that didn't stop the editorial board from braying about the decision. The Post apparently could not pass on the opportunity to simultaneously take a swipe at two favorite targets: public school parents and Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
All the previous reorganizations (how many have their been? four? Five? Who can count them?) have caused nothing but chaos, confusion, and a massive waste of money. Each of them was supposed to cut the bureaucracy.
Now, there’s yet another reorganization on the way .... but when
reported this story about the latest reorganization (oh, I meant “reshuffling”) in the morning, she filed again in the afternoon, after Eric Nadelstern, the new "Chief School Officer" called back, to try to reorganize the spin on the reorganization. Elizabeth Green
If Nadelstern and all the other bumblers at Tweed really believe their own PR about giving principals the choice so they can be the CEO’s of their own buildings, they should privatize
Tweed, set it up as a consulting company, and see if any of these CEOs would bother to hire them. I doubt they would – even those zombies trained at the . Leadership Academy
I was at a CPAC meeting this morning, and guess when Santi Taveras said that the vaunted $80 million supercomputer ARIS and its data would be accessible to parents? Not until May. How many months has this been delayed?
Here is an excerpt from the Oct. 24 NY Times:
James S. Liebman, the Education Department’s chief accountability officer, said on Thursday that the project was “proceeding in an appropriate manner” and “in the way we anticipated.” He said that parents would begin gaining access to the system in December, and noted that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in his State of the City speech in January, said that ARIS would be online by the fall, not September specifically.
Well, no way you can redefine May as in the fall. Except perhaps in Australia, which perhaps is the last place in the world that Joel Klein is still popular.
About the only reorganization led by
Howard Dodson, Chief of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Cutlure, the event sponsor, made a passionate plea for an urgent action calling the current educational state of affairs the direst of all crises.
Asked what the biggest contributing factor to the achievement gap was, Klein’s answer was to empower and engage families. Yep. You read that right. Empower and engage families. Evidently, he has not noticed the hundreds of parents who have been sacrificing their precious time to make their voices heard, only to have their efforts entirely ignored.
He went on to list two more factors: the low expectations placed on disadvantaged students and unequal allocation of resources, both financial and human. Sharpton’s replies (which came before Klein’s) were pretty similar – special interests , underlying inequalities, and lack of familial involvement.
On the latter two points, Sharpton went on to say we needed to change the “culture of kids” by involving the community beyond the school. There is too much glorifying of “being nothing” and too much defeatist attitude. He talked about his college experience where an African American man told him if he could write and read, then he was trying to be a white man. But the only way to change that is by involving everyone – not just teachers, administrators, parents, but kids themselves and the community at large. He further suggested parental involvement should be tailored to each community.
Klein offered his thoughts on how to close the achievement gap. He proposed longer school days and school year. He wants schools to start at an earlier age. He suggested bringing in the community. He wants to offer families more choices. He talked about how choice will lead to competition which will improve the system. Especially now with the funding tied to students, he believes that schools that can attract more students will excel but the competition will also drive low performing schools to do better. He also mentioned the word, accountability, several times and said that Mayoral control provides accountability because the Mayor can be voted out.
It was painfully clear that Klein has never spent a day in a classroom. While I am not opposed to longer school days or school year, I cannot in good conscience ask even the most veteran teacher to teach until 5PM or well into July (not to mention do both) with so many students in a cramped classroom with so few resources and so many constraints. If Klein had any first-hand experience with a real classroom, he may have thought twice about making this suggestion.
It is ironic that some schools in District 2 had to eliminate pre-K classes to accommodate ever increasing kindergarten enrollment, while he preaches the importance of early childhood education.
As for his comments on bringing in community, judging from the way he has treated parents willing to work with the DoE on various issues, I can only presume he means businesses and consultants when he says bring in the community. He has certainly brought in many consultants to do the job that used to be done by DoE employees. And, remember Caroline Kennedy who was hired to specifically to reach out to and bring in resources from the private sector (i.e., businesses)?
Klein also firmly believes that running the system on a business model of competition will improve our schools. He talked about giving families choice several times during the night, even while Sharpton cautioned that limitation and narrowness of choices will make the system too competitive. Klein does not seem to understand that when you have a competition, someone always loses. Why not base our system on collaboration? Collaborate with stakeholders – parents, guardians, community based organizations, education experts, policy makers. Foster collaboration among schools and replicate successes. Competition is inherently the wrong model for education where we want to lift everyone up.
Naturally of all the times he mentioned accountability, he was not talking about himself or the Mayor. True, the Mayor can be voted out, but the election happens only every four years and there are many voters who do not vote based on the Mayor’s performance on education. I wondered why the Chancellor couldn’t be elected or booted out every two years. After all, Chancellor can do whatever he wants so long as the Mayor approves it, but he can blame the Mayor if anything goes wrong. That’s not accountability.
As an example of how his strategy has worked, Klein mentioned how an all-African-American boys school in Bedford Stuyvesant was able to have 100% of its students reading at grade level. Marcia Lyles, his own Deputy in Division of Teaching and Learning, later set the record straight by saying that the school is a charter school – hardly a good example of how his policy works.
The cluelessness of Klein became apparent when an audience member made a plea to re-evaluate our pedagogical model and foster creative learning. She very eloquently explained how children learn best in a creative environment. His response was that first and foremost children needed to know how to read and write. He missed the whole point of her comment. Dodson, Sharpton and most of the audience understood what she was asking for (to be fair there seemed to be many educators in the audience, including a NYS regent), yet, Klein, the man in charge of educating our children, was clueless as to the significance of her comment.
Some education experts have said that the Chancellor need not be an educator. Perhaps that is true. However, I expect the Chancellor to at least understand how children learn and what it is like to teach in our schools. So, I left the lecture hall feeling we had a longer way to go to close the achievement gap than I thought.