Friday, February 27, 2009
The Mayor is reportedly hedging his bets due to his concern over the fate of Mayoral control of the school system. Legislative hearings have not been going well for Mr. Bloomberg, and he could lose at least some measure of the total control that he has been exercising over the public schools for the past seven years.
Mr. Bloomberg has bristled over the prospect of ceding some of his authority to stakeholders like parents and their elected representatives, who he feels are “annoying”. He is said to feel that it is preferable to have total control over one school than to have to share control over the entire system.
However, GBN News has also learned that the Mayor does not plan to stop at just the one charter school. Once the school gets large enough, the Mayor plans to break it up into an increasing number of small charter schools, all housed under his own roof. Moreover, the Mayor is said to be negotiating with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to direct billions in Federal stimulus money to his charter schools, so that Mr. Bloomberg does not have to tap into his own dwindling billions.
J. Fredrick Runson, chair of the political science department at Manhattan University and an expert on education politics, says he is not surprised at the Mayor’s plans. “He hates giving up control and he’s really competitive,” Dr. Runford said. “He may be trying to create his own charter school empire here, and if it gets big enough - with the billions in stimulus money he can buy up all the adjacent property from river to river if need be - he may just be able to put the public schools out of business. At the very least, he certainly won’t stop until he has more charter schools than Eva Moskowitz.”
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Bijou Miller on DOE's illegal intention to eliminate a zoned school -- and give the building to a charter
Lots of people have disputed the utility of these reports -- despite the comments in Gotham Schools from a DOE contractor. As Skoolboy points out here, even if the model is correct, "the Teacher Data Report provides no evidence whatsoever about why a teacher is successful--the many daily practices that promote student learning."
But I'd like to point out another problem. The model used to evaluate teacher effectiveness, as pointed out on our blog here, includes class size at the school and classroom level, meaning that DOE indeed recognizes that teachers should be expected to produce smaller gains the larger their classes. In fact, this is the only external factor included in the model that is assumed to increase teacher effectiveness policies – the rest are teacher and student characteristics.
That's fine and reasonable of course -- far more fair than the school progress reports -- and the teacher bonuses that are based on them, that judge all schools as though they had an equal chance to succeed, despite the fact that some may have classes of under 20 and other at 30 or more.
The problem is that the reported class size data in NYC middle schools and especially at the high school levels is extremely unreliable – so much so that these evaluation reports are likely to be wrong.
Most CTT (inclusion) classes in high school are still misreported as two classes, years after we have pointed out this problem to DOE. In middle school, the reported class size in most cases is actually the homeroom or advisory, not academic classes. Many high school classes, including quite frequently, two different levels of a subject taught by a teacher at the same time to the same group of students are counted as two separate classes. This means that some teachers may be judged as if they had class sizes of 20 or less, when their real class sizes are up to 34 or more.
I’d like to hear how useful these reports are from teachers who have received them – and also if they are sufficiently transparent as to the data they assume, especially when it comes to class size. Otherwise, it would be impossible to check it for accuracy. Please leave a comment.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Monday's Panel for Educational Policy meeting covered three topics. Presentations are available here:
English Language Learners Update
The ELL Performance Report for 2007-2008 is still not available although some statistics are provided here.
Federal Stimulus Bill
The DOE has looked closely at what funds will be available and intends to compete aggresively for discretionary funds, including the $650 million in "Innovation Funds". Given the apparent education priorities of the Obama administration, the focus for grants will likely include technology, testing, teacher merit pay and charter schools.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
The Daily News carried an article this morning, showing that despite the budget cuts, and the increasing class sizes in our schools, and the fact that there is supposed to be a “hiring freeze” at Central, Tweed continues to hire more educrats – with nearly a hundred new ones since last February: Bureaucrats and class sizes are up sharply
Here is where you can see the headcount as of November 2008 (the latest available data)-with Central at 2422 full time employees; as of February 2008, there were only 2342. In October 2004, the earliest data I could find, there were only 1984 – which means the bureaucracy has increased by 22% since then.
In October 2004, the Department of Assessment and Accountability had 19 employees. As of Nov. 2008, this number has grown to 89 – an increase of 421%. Enough to create more useless and misleading test score data.
The Chancellor’s office had seven positions, while now he has16 underlings, a growth of 129%. Enough to help him run around the country and brag about his non-achievements here in NYC.
Office of School Enrollment Planning and Operations (OSEPO) had 19 employees, and now has 35 – an increase of 84% --enough to screw up preK admissions royally!
The Office of Public Affairs had 13 employees as of 2004; now Communications, Communications, Media Relations & Community Affairs is up to 23 – an increase of 77% -- enough to spread disinformation far and wide.
But not all offices of
For example, the Office of the Deputy Chancellor for Teaching & Learning had 133 positions in October 2004. Now it is down pitifully to 23 – a reduction of 83%. This is symbolic of the actual interest in teaching and learning at DOE.
The teaching staff has also shrunk since last year. According to a DOE spokesperson, there are “440 fewer teachers working directly with students than … the year before.”
Check out Diane's latest on her Ed Week blog.
... based on what I have seen to date, I conclude that Obama has given President George W. Bush a third term in education policy and that Arne Duncan is the male version of Margaret Spellings. Maybe he really is Margaret Spellings without the glasses and wearing very high heels.....
At the charter school,
(for the picture, thanks as always to our resident Photoshop genius, David Bellel).
Sunday, February 22, 2009
I hereby nominate the best blog posts of the month so far to be two by Diane Ravitch in EdWeek and one by Skoolboy (Aaron Pallas) in Gotham Schools. These two brilliant critics dissect and hopefully put to sleep for once and for all the great teacher myth, as propounded in a recent Nicholas Kristof column in the New York Times.
Kristof writes, “It turns out that having a great teacher is far more important than being in a small class, or going to a good school with a mediocre teacher.” Okay, so what does that mean? Especially as we don't know how to identify a great teacher, or to produce one.
The corollary of the great teacher myth is that the main thing wrong with our educational system – particularly in urban, high needs schools -- are lousy teachers, and the true evil resides in the teacher unions that protect them.
It amazes me that anyone could actually believe this -- but this is the standard argument in DC think tanks and mainstream foundations. No one would seriously argue that the main problem with our inequitable health care system is that there are too many lousy and incompetent doctors serving the poor– or that the best way to address this problem would be to fire more and more of these doctors, and in their place hire new college-graduates from Ivy League schools– but this is the accepted ideology in education policy circles.
As Diane Ravitch writes in her column, Why Are People So Gullible About Miracle Cures in Education?:
Teacher-bashing has become the motif of the day. It is usually cloaked in some high-minded rhetoric that pretends to praise teachers. Say the bashers: We need great teachers; great teachers can solve all our problems; great teachers can close the achievement gap; if you don't have great teachers, you are doomed; blah, blah, blah. What they really mean—read between the lines—is that they think most of the teachers we now have are no good. We have to start firing the stragglers, the ones whose kids don't get high test scores. The theory is that—emulating Jack Welch at GE—we should fire the bottom 10 percent every year, and over time we will have a staff of "great" teachers because all the bums will be gone.
Recently, I attended a conference where a well-known scholar actually proposed this as the way school systems should function. Just keep firing the "weak" and replacing them with newbies. That way, the teaching force will get continually better. …
The great mystery is why so many people are so gullible about miracle cures when it comes to education. They certainly don't expect miracles in any other part of their life. But the schools just can't seem to shake this belief that all children will learn to the highest standards when: 1) all teachers are great teachers; 2) every school has a brilliant leader as principal; 3) every superintendent has an M.B.A.; 4) every school is run by entrepreneurs; 5) every school is organized around a theme; 6) every school is small; 7) all schools are charters.
In a subsequent column, The Miracle Teacher, Revisited, she directly addresses the weaknesses in Kristof’s argument:
If I read Kristof correctly, a "great" teacher is one who can produce higher test scores. We know that this can happen through relentless test-prepping. Is that what a great teacher does?
But if that is the definition of a great teacher, then we can't possibly identify them until they have had at least three, or better yet, five years in the classroom, so there is sufficient data showing that they produced dramatic gains in their classroom. So, that means that no new teacher—certainly no Teach for
Let's suppose that a district uses its data to identify the teachers who consistently produce big gains. What happens next? Do these teachers get assigned to the lowest-performing schools? Which children in those schools are assigned to these teachers? What happens to these teachers if they don't get the big gains in the next years? No one has tried to explain how this would be implemented, whether successful teachers would be willing to go wherever they are assigned, and how their services would be parceled out among many needy students.
Isn't it wonderful that we have economists with tons of data (but no practical experience) to tell us how to find and reward great teachers?
In support of his claim in the pre-eminent value of a great teacher, Kristof cites findings from “A Los Angeles study [that] suggested that four consecutive years of having a teacher from the top 25 percent of the pool would erase the black-white testing gap.” Yet in Gotham Schools, Skoolboy points out that this oft-repeated statistic is an urban legend, originally propounded by Gordon, Kane, and Staiger in a study of LA schools that has since proven to be wrong.
“As eduwonkette pointed out last summer, Brian Jacob and his colleagues have shown that these effects do not cumulate. Only about 20% of the effect remains after a single year, and only about 12% after two years. After two years, then, the 10 percentage point swing is down to about 1 percentage point.”
The LA study was written by three men, the first of whom, Robert Gordon, was hired by Klein to perform the “fair student funding” hit job on NYC schools and write nasty opeds in the Daily news, attacking public school parents for their “obsession” with class size. Gordon now works in the White House (alas!). The second author, Tom Kane, is now employed by the Gates foundation, undoubtedly propounding more myths, such as the key to improving our schools is better data collection and teacher performance pay.
Skoolboy further explains that “the vaunted value-added methods show that a teacher who is great’ one year may not be so hot the following year.” A recent report from the National Center on Performance Incentives reveals the substantial volatility of teacher performance.
In fact, one study from
Oh well. I don’t suppose anyone at the New York Times, the DOE, the White House, or the Gates Foundation is listening – that would be too lucky.
See the article in today’s NY Times, Class Size in New York City Schools Rises, but the Impact is Debated, a follow up to the article on Wednesday, Class Size Makes Biggest Jump of Bloomberg Tenure.
Though it is one of those typical “on the one hand this, on the other hand that” pieces– citing research that is either outmoded or easily refuted -- it is important because it is the first in-depth article in our paper of record to have dealt with the issue of class size in at least five years.
Indeed, the Times has had a “black out” on class size through most of the Bloomberg administration – as the former education editor admitted in June of 2006 – though at that point, she promised “to explore the class size issue” soon after -- which has not occurred until now, almost three years later.
This omission has persisted, despite the fact that our public school students continue to suffer from the largest class sizes in the state, smaller classes have consistently been the top priority of NYC parents, and in subway and TV ads, the administration has claimed to be reducing class size while being repeatedly cited for misusing hundreds of millions of dollars of state aid meant for this purpose.
In today’s article, the administration once again tries to evade its own responsibility for failing to reduce class size, despite a state mandate passed in 2007. In the previous Times article, Garth Harries of DOE attempted to blame the economy– even though the state provided an additional $400 million this fall, with $150 million of that targeted for class size reduction. He also attempted to shift the blame onto principals, which Chris Cerf tries again in today’s article, without acknowledging that it is the DOE’s duty to see that these funds are spent appropriately.
But now, even more outrageously, they are trying to blame parents – with Harries actually arguing that large classes are the result of popular schools where parents insist on sending their kids.
As I pointed out to the reporter, the vast majority of children attend their neighborhood zoned elementary and middle schools– and DOE entirely controls the admissions for high schools, so blaming parents for the systemic problem of large classes is entirely unwarranted. Who will they blame next – our kids?
Indeed, at the same time that the administration goes around claiming that mayoral control means accountability, they are quick to shift the blame on everyone else when they fail to create more adequate and equitable learning conditions for our children.
The article also repeats the administration’s canard that there is a trade-off between teacher quality and class size, when the two factors are actually complimentary. Indeed, the main reason we have such a high teacher turnover rate here in NYC is that our teachers so often leave for a new profession or to work in suburban or private schools -- because their excessive class sizes do not provide them with a fair chance to succeed.
In a recent national poll, 97% of teachers responded that reducing class size would be an effective way to improve teacher quality – far above any other strategy, including raising salaries, instituting teacher performance pay, or providing more professional development. Indeed, the only way we will ever obtain a more experienced and effective teaching force here in NYC is by reducing class size.
But the most ridiculous part of the article is the “evidence” offered by the administration that smaller classes don’t matter, by referring to an unpublished (and probably unpublishable) internal DOE study that purported to show that the grades schools received on the “Progress reports” weren’t correlated with smaller classes. No mention is made of the fact that most experts have found that the grades schools receive are mostly random – with almost no correlation from one year to the next -- as an article by the same reporter in the Times pointed out last year.
In contrast, the
In fact, the DOE has devised another formula – a “value added” model to evaluate teacher effectiveness, in which class size is included as a “predictor”, the ONLY factor included in the model under the school system’s control. This is an admission that the larger the class, the less a teacher is expected to raise student achievement. All the other factors in the model pertain to characteristics of the students themselves, such as economic status, prior test scores, absences, etc.
See the model here – which includes average class size at both the classroom and school level, showing that both should be taken into account when assessing a teacher’s performance. The DOE also states that the model used “draws on 10 years of city-wide data (test scores, student, teacher, and school characteristics) to predict individual student gains.”
Check out the accompanying FAQ:
Is the DOE’s Value-Added model reliable and valid? A: A panel of technical experts has approved the DOE’s value-added methodology. The DOE’s model has met recognized standards for demonstrating validity and reliability. Teachers’ value-added scores from the model are positively correlated with both School Progress Report scores and principals’ perceptions of teachers’ effectiveness, as measured by a research study conducted during the pilot of this initiative.
Anyway, please send a letter to the Times at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, address and phone number. Let them know what you think – and whether it’s fair to blame parents for the fact that NYC classes have remained the largest in the state, with no significant improvement under this administration.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
On Friday, a new Marist poll was released, showing Bloomberg’s approval rating has dropped seven percent -- to its lowest level in nearly four years.
Though most New Yorkers still approve of his performance overall, the majority of voters disapprove of his handling of the public schools – 52% to 40% -- despite the millions of dollars spent to convince New Yorkers otherwise.
This disinformation campaign is being carried out through subway and TV ads sponsored by the Fund for Public Schools (a nonprofit headed by Joel Klein that was ostensibly established to improve programs for public school students); Learn NY (which is funneling cash to community groups so they will back the continuation of Mayoral control); the editorial boards of the NY Post and Daily News (which are controlled by Bloomberg’s buddies, Rupert Murdoch and Mort Zuckerman); and the DOE’s own considerable PR staff of 23– larger than that of any other city agency by far.
For more on the results of the Marist poll, see Gotham Schools: Poll: Majority of voters disapprove of mayor’s handling of schools.
The good news: Arne Duncan came to NYC, and appeared at a press conference with the mayor and Chancellor Klein. He promised about $535 million from the federal stimulus package for NYC public schools in each of the next two years, as well as $300 million for Title I, approximately $100 million for special education, and more than $25 million in educational technology funds. (For more details, see Wonkster, GothamSchools, NY Times City Room, and the NY Post.)
Bad news: Though this infusion of cash will help fill the gap in the city education budget, it will not address the cuts in state aid to our schools, which are estimated to be $700 million or more.
More bad news: The press conference was held at yet another charter school,
Unmentioned is the fact that this school also has class sizes of 16, according to Gotham Schools.
By relentlessly promoting the success of NYC charter schools -- that is, those schools that are not under their total control -- the administration appears to forget that they have denied the vast majority of our students who attend regular public schools the same advantages. In fact, at our regular public schools, class sizes greatly exceed state and national averages and grew even larger in nearly every grade this year – as a direct result of the DOE's obstinate failure to comply with state law, .
Even more bad news: At the press conference, Duncan gave lavish praise to the myriad "reforms" of the administration, and pledged to disperse lots of cash from his new $5 billion slush fund for all those programs pushed by the Klein administration – such as encouraging more teacher performance pay based on test scores, dysfunctional "data systems", and similar initiatives that, unlike smaller classes, do not benefit our kids.
For more on this, see Diane Ravitch in Politico:
…along comes Arne Duncan, our new Secretary of Education, and everything he has said to date might have just as well been said by Bush's Secretary Margaret Spellings.
It looks like Obama's education policy will be a third term for President George W. Bush. This is not change I can believe in.
Earlier this week, Erin Einhorn, the fearless City Hall reporter for the Daily News, tried to ask Mayor Bloomberg about whether he should have allowed the public to vote on extending term limits, as did Hugo Chavez, the president of
Q: Mayor, it’s hard to compare
A: I don’t understand your question. What on Earth do we have to do with Hugo Chavez?
Q: Well, like you, he wanted to extend his term.
A: if you wanted to ask Hugo Chavez, call him up! Maybe he’ll take your call. My suspicion is he doesn’t have press conferences and let people ask questions or if they ask questions, he probably throws them, I don’t know he does with them...Who knows? (Laughs). I still fail to see a connection.
While saying that
For more on the contrast between Chavez or Bloomberg, and who acted as though he believed in democracy more, see Clyde Haberman's column in today's Times:
The people voted a while back to impose term limits on their political leadership. That was a nuisance for the man in charge. He was in his second term and prohibited by law from running again. But he sorely wanted to try for a third term.
Here’s what he did. He went back to the people to ask if they’d had a change of heart.
Obviously, he was not from
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
It wasn’t enough that Chip Saltsman, a candidate to chair the defeated Republican Party, sent as a Christmas present (!!!) to fellow Party officials a CD featuring a parody song entitled “Barack the Magic Negro.” That same CD, compiled by a so-called “conservative satirist” named Paul Shanklin, contained 41 songs, among them “The Stay-Spanglish Banner,” “Mister Tan Marine Man,” “Wright Place, Wrong Pastor,” and “Bank of Amigo.”
Today, the New York Post elected to top that disgrace, hands down, by printing the following editorial cartoon by Sean Delonas.
The cartoon draws from the recent police shooting in Stamford, Connecticut of Travis, an out-of-control chimpanzee, with the two befuddled (and apparently Conservative Republican) cops lamenting that the country will have to find someone else to write the next economic stimulus bill now that the monkey is dead. The overtones are appalling, not just racist in the most disgusting and retrograde of ways but also not-so-subtly promoting violence directed at America’s first black President. This from an editorial board that routinely and slavishly supports its corporate soulmate, Mayor Bloomberg, particularly when it comes to the Mayor’s dictatorial control over the City’s public schools.
This cartoon, sad as it is, needs to be subject matter in every NYC high school history and government classroom when school resumes next Monday. Anyone who believes that racism, whether personal or institutional, is no longer tolerated, or is something whose vestiges remain only in the Deep South, needs only look at this pathetic attempt at political “humor” to disabuse themselves of this notion. Our children in the city’s public schools need to see that it’s still right here in their back yard, in one of their local daily (I shudder to dignify Murdoch's fish wrap with the word) newspapers.
An apology will not be enough. Nothing less than two firings will do - one for Mr. Delonas, the other for the editor who let this go to print. Boycott, anyone?
FOLLOW-UP ON FEBRUARY 19:
The Post issued an apology this evening for Wednesday's "dead chimpanzee" editorial cartoon. The apology, to be printed in tomorrow's edition, reads in part as follows:
It [the cartoon] was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill. Period. But it has been taken as something else - as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism. This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize.
However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past - and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback. To them, no apology is due. Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon - even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.
This statement makes Alex Rodriguez's recent steroid non-confessional look like the hair-tearing, breast-beating, crying jag mother of all apologies. Sorry, Col [Editor Col Allen]. Sorry, Rup [Rupert Murdoch]. Not nearly good enough. If it weren't for the truth-telling likes of Al Sharpton and Keith Olberman, you would never even have gone this far.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
I’ve been preparing my fifth grade class for the up coming New York State Math Test. This is the pass or fail exam that parents, students and administrators alike are romanced into thinking will determine each and every child’s fate in the world. We were reviewing factors, multiples, primes and composites: The factors of 9 are 1, 9 and 3. The factors of 16 are 1,16, 2,8,and 4. Out of the blue one of my students, who regularly naps through math, perked up and asked the following:
“What are the factors of 14,000?”
I responded, “That’s kind of a big number. Any reason you chose 14,000?”
“Because that’s the number of teachers that are going to be fired by the mayor.”
He was right.
So, we went on to a much more interesting math problem.
If they’re about 1,100,000 students in the NYC school system, and approximately 79,000 teachers, what is the teacher to student ratio? We found it was about 13, well below what we know it to be. Then we figured that about 25% of those “teachers” were support teachers and specialists, so we did our math again. 60,000 teachers and 1,100,000 students, and the teacher to student ratio came about to about 1:18, still low as we looked around our classroom of 26 kids. We added 10 students to make it a more realistic average of 28 per class, which is congruent with our experience.
But then we fired 14,000 teachers.
And then we did the math.
Now the average was 23 students per teacher. We then estimated that this average was still low, so we added 10 students and got 33.
Then a student raised the question that left me stumped: Why?
Why not cut something else? Why not cut pay of administrators who work at city hall? Why doesn’t the city pave one less street per day to pay for more teachers? Why don’t we have one less bus stop fixed? Why can’t we figure this out?
I looked at my kids and said, “There are many things in this world that I can help you explore, find answers and sometimes simply more questions to research, but this is one area in which I am learning along with you.
Back to our math lesson and factors, multiples, primes and composites. But the mood had changed. The kids had learned a sobering lesson: That some numbers and equations just don’t add up, and never will.
Written by Otis Kriegel, Teacher in District 2 and founder of The K5: Elementary Education for Parents, a parent-advice website (www.TheK5.com)