Friday, July 31, 2009

More waste and mismanagement at Tweed; when will it end?

In NYC, 2400 teachers remain on Absent Teacher Reserve, with no assignments, getting paid full salaries; while class sizes are expected to swell in the fall. (GothamSchools, Post, Daily News, NY Times)

What a fiasco! Can you imagine the headlines if our schools had still been run by the old Board of Education? These teachers ought to be offered for free of charge by DOE to any principal who wants to put them to work.

Meanwhile, the financial scandals at Tweed continue. Juan Gonzalez reveals that DOE is paying the company Future Technology Associates an average of $250,000 each, for 63 consultants, through a no-bid contract– though the company has no offices, only a mail drop in Brooklyn.

The contract with FTA began in 2005 at $2.5 million -- about when the company was founded -- and has now mushroomed to over $15.7 million per year. Their contract, to align DOE’s finances with the city’s financial reporting system, which is years behind schedule, is expected to be extended for five more years at $95 million. Meanwhile, the cuts to schools next year amount to $400 million.

FTA director Tamer Sevintuna is getting $348,000 for the project, more than any city official including Deputy Mayors, while his second-in-command is getting paid $345,000 – with a portion of their salaries up to now hidden -- drawn from the schools’ capital budget.

But that’s not all. Turns out that FTA’s contract workers, many of them on temporary work visas from India, are only getting paid about $70,000 a year , while the directors are raking off the rest as huge profits:

"None of us made anywhere near $100,000," said a former FTA consultant who claims he quit the company in disgust because of all the money the DOE was "wasting on an archaic system that was always crashing."

"They had all 60 of us working in one room that was hot, dirty and absolutely not what you would expect from such a well-funded business," the former consultant said. …."Most of the 60 people I worked with at FTA were from India," he said.

"Every few months, someone was heading back home temporarily because their visa had expired. A few even got paid while they worked on the project back in India."

Meanwhile, Photeine Anagnostopoulos, the DOE's chief operating officer, told Juan that their sweetheart deal with FTA is “better than competitive".

The growth of private contracting has hugely grown under this administration – a practice ripe with abuse.

See this April testimony from the City Comptroller, showing that one out of every five DOE contracts in 2007 and 2008 went over its maximum allotted amount by 25 percent or more, sometimes by millions of dollars.

An audit from the State Comptroller released in May reported that the DOE awarded 291 no-bid contracts between FY 2005 and FY 2008, for more than $340 million, and in most instances "failed to properly document" the reason why.

And this analysis from the NY Times, showing that despite hundreds of millions of dollars awarded the city from the state and the federal government to reduce class size over the last seven years, the number of classroom teachers has shrunk by more than 1600, while high-paid administrators and out-of-classroom positions have grown by over 10,000. The number of employees making over $100,000 has quadrupled – even after adjusting for inflation.

When are the Mayor and Chancellor going to be held accountable for their huge waste of taxpayer funds; while each year, our children suffer from worsening overcrowding and rising class sizes?

The scariest thing you'll read all year

Check out Daily Politics, entitled Mayor for Life:

Asked today whether there's any guarantee he won't try to seek a fourth term if his current bid for a third works out, Mayor Bloomberg didn't exactly rule out the possibility.

The mayor first simply opted for the old "law does not permit it" response. When a reporter noted the law didn't used to permit more than two, four-year terms, either, Bloomberg said:

"But it does now. It permits only three terms, so I don’t know. Talk to your City Council. Let me point out that I had no intention of running for a (third) term up until near the end, as you know."

Does no one remember that Bloomberg promised Ron Lauder his own charter commission -- to reimpose term limits once he had won a third term? But no one should be surprised if he goes back on his word, once again.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Quinnipiac shiftily changes questions on mayoral control ---- yet again.

The latest Q poll appears to find that voters overwhelmingly approve mayoral control. Here’s an excerpt from today’s NY Post:

“City voters support continuing mayoral control of education by a 2-to-1 margin -- an all-time high, according to a poll released yesterday.”

Here’s an excerpt from the latest Quinnipiac press release:

New York City voters approve 57 - 30 percent of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's handling of public schools and say 56 - 24 percent that the Mayor's takeover of the schools has been a success. These are Bloomberg's highest scores on both questions.

…."The biggest opponents of mayoral control of the schools are state senators from Manhattan and Brooklyn, but two-thirds of Manhattan voters and more than 50 percent of Brooklyn voters say let the Mayor do it," Carroll said.

But actually the difference is insignificant between this month’s and last month’s results, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 or 2.7 percentage points.

                     Jul 29   Jun 17  
                     2009    2009     

Continue 57 56
Stop                 30      32      
DK/NA             12      12      

Moreover, Quinnipiac has altered the questions asked on school governance so many times that it is impossible to judge whether there is any trend towards mayoral control at all.

In fact, whenever voters have been given the chance to opt for a third choice -- that the mayor could share power -- they have resoundingly come out in favor.

For example, the July 2007 and July 2008 Q polls asked voters if the next mayor should retain complete control of the public schools, share control with an independent school board, or give up control. Both years, a solid majority of voters said that the next Mayor should share power with an independent board:

                           Jul 16   Jul 26
                            2008    2007
Retain control          29      28
Share control           55      51
Give up control          8       9
DK/NA                        7     11

In July 2007 the headline was: New York City Voters Tell Quinnipiac University Poll; Most Say Bring Back Board Of Education.”

Then, incomprehensibly, Quinnipiac dropped that choice, even though a majority of voters had consistently supported it.

Instead, in the January 2009 and February 2009 polls, they gave respondents only the choice of whether the Mayor should retain control or give it up. (Give it up to what? They didn’t say.) The results were predictable: voters understandably favored retaining mayoral control over an unnamed and undefined alternative.

Without alerting the press that they had eliminated the voters’ favorite option they reported their findings this way in the January press release: “Mayoral control of the public schools should continue, voters say 56 - 34 percent. Voters with children in public schools support mayoral control 57 - 39 percent. “

Later, when asked why respondents no longer were offered the option of the Mayor sharing control with an independent board, Maurice Carroll of Quinnipiac explained to the NY Times that they had decided that independent” was too positive a word. Hmm.

Then, in March 2009 and June 2009 the next set of Quinnipiac polls offered respondents new choices – not the excessively “positive” one of the Mayor sharing power with an independent board, but instead the possibility of sharing control with the City Council and/or the Borough Presidents. Both times, most voters again favored these power-sharing arrangements.

TREND: Do you think the mayor should share control of the public schools with the city council or not?

                     Jun 17 Mar 24
                     2009    2009
Yes                 52      53
No                   37      37
DK/NA       11   11

TREND: Do you think the mayor should share control of the public schools with the borough presidents or not?

                     Jun 17 Mar 24
Yes                   49      50
No                     41      41
DK/NA              10         8

Then inexplicably, in the latest poll, the Q pollsters again dropped these questions, but merely asked whether the mayor should retain power, or give it up to an undefined authority – knowing full well that every time in the past they offered voters the chance to choose power-sharing, they approved.

Indeed, see this May 2009 Marist poll, in which voters were asked if “the responsibility for running the city's public schools should remain under Mayor Bloomberg or should responsibility be given to an appointed citywide Panel on Education Policy?” 60 percent of voters preferred that the authority be given to an appointed citywide Panel compared to 32% for continued mayoral control.

As most pollsters know, the results you get depend on what questions you choose to ask, and how.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

City Expands “Get Out of Town Free” Program

July 29, 2009 (GBN News): A controversial NY City program that pays for homeless families to leave the city will now be sending away underperforming public school students as well, according to GBN News sources. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein was said to have been so impressed with the city’s “pay to make them go away” program, which passes the responsibility of sheltering families on to other cities, that he has expanded the program to the Department of Education.

The Chancellor reportedly reasoned that if the DOE could shed some of the burden of educating failing students, not only would test scores and graduation rates rise dramatically, but with fewer students, classroom space could be freed up for more charter schools. Mr. Klein has thus negotiated a no-bid contract with the Greyhound Bus Company to transport students who score below “2” on their standardized reading or math tests, along with their families, to the city of their choice.

The new plan has led to a rare disagreement between Chancellor Klein and his protégée, Washington DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Chancellor Rhee was said to have objected that the performance of DC schools could suffer if they must absorb some of the low performing students being sent out of New York. However, Mr. Klein was able to reassure her that by adopting a similar program in DC, she could insure that the students would quickly be sent on to another city.

In a related story, Mayor Bloomberg is reportedly funding, at his own expense, a similar transport program which will send opposition Mayoral candidates to other cities. The Mayor is said to feel badly that his opponents are unable to adequately support themselves running for Mayor of New York City. Mr. Bloomberg will thus be sending his two most likely opponents, Comptroller William Thompson and Councilman Tony Avella, to run for Mayor in the cities of their choice. The Mayor has even offered to buy them as many ballot lines as they need to get established in their new homes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Inez Barron gives it to us, straight

At the rally at City Hall today on school governance, Assemblymember Inez Barron, a former principal, denounces the Senate deal on governance and offers a blistering critique of the Bloomberg/Klein education record. (For more on the outlines of the deal, see GothamSchools, Daily News, Times, Post.)

From class size and "creative confusion" to the NAEPs, Barron tells the real story behind the Bloomberg myth. She even quotes John Dewey and Martin Luther King Jr. on the meaning and purpose of education. Inez Barron for Schools Chancellor!

(video thanks to David B.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

First Day of School, 2009

The first day of school for students will be Wednesday, September 9th.

Click here for the DOE web page with official calendars.

The original calendar had teachers and students reporting together on the 8th. When it was pointed out to the mayor and chancellor how that didn't make much sense, the first day for students was moved back a day. The last day was moved back a day as well. The last day is now Monday, June 28th.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

ARIS Goes National

July 26, 2009 (GBN News): A powerful supercomputer, which has been monitoring school performance in New York City to the tune of $80 million, is slated to make its national debut under Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, GBN News has learned. According to sources at the US Department of Education, ARIS (Achievement Reporting and Innovation System) is being procured by the feds from IBM to provide data for the Education Department’s $4 billion Race to the Top stimulus initiative. The computer’s reported $2 billion cost will cut by half the money actually going the schools under this initiative, but is said to be an essential data collection tool without which the program could not be effectively administered.

ARIS, as anyone involved in the New York City schools knows, keeps track of virtually every aspect of students’ school performance from test scores to rest room visits, and thus has the capacity to evaluate teachers and schools based on students’ progress. The new nationwide ARIS system will be modeled after the one used in New York City, and because of its powerful data capabilities, will give the Education Department unprecedented control over the country’s schools.

Through a unique agreement between IBM and Research In Motion Limited, makers of Blackberry, all ARIS data will be seamlessly channeled directly into Secretary Duncan’s own Blackberry device, allowing the Secretary to monitor all of the nation’s schools in real time. This will enable what the Secretary calls a “dynamic stimulus disbursement process”, whereby with the push of a button Mr. Duncan can give out or take away funding for anything from a single school to an entire state. For example, if a school receives stimulus money one day based on the previous day’s test scores, the same school could lose that money the next day if too many rest room visits waste valuable prep time.

A source close to Secretary Duncan told GBN News that the Secretary was able to win President Obama’s agreement for this unusual level of government control of the nation’s schools by capitalizing on the President’s Blackberry addiction. By selectively passing on information to the President ‘s Blackberry from his own, the Secretary was able to convince him of the efficacy of reforms such as merit pay based on test scores and expansion of charter schools, despite evidence to the contrary.

J. Fredrick Runson, head of the Political Science Department at Manhattan University, warns that ARIS could give Mr. Duncan an unusual level of influence for an Education Secretary. “In fact,” Professor Runson told GBN News, “Duncan could end up being the Dick Cheney of this Administration. With ARIS, he will not only control voluminous amounts of data, he’s already shown that he can use it to dupe a President who, on every other issue, prides himself on being in command of the facts. I’d keep a close eye on that fellow.”

Monday, July 20, 2009

DOE to Ban Parents From Public Schools

July 20, 2009 (GBN News): Declaring that “Schools are for children”, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today that effective this September, parents will be banned from all NY City public school buildings. At a City Hall news conference, the Mayor told reporters that children should be able to learn without distractions, and thus parents will only be allowed to enter the buildings after school hours, and then only in designated areas for PTA functions such as bake sales.

While he justified the new restrictions as essential to children’s learning, sources with knowledge of the Mayor’s thinking told an entirely different story. Mr. Bloomberg, they said, is certain that public school parents are behind the Senate gridlock which has stalled renewal of Mayoral control of the schools. “The Senators who oppose us can’t be that stupid on their own,” the Mayor was said to have told his aides. “They must be listening to those parents. Parents are trying to disrupt the schools. That’s why I said democracy has to stop. We can’t have the voters telling their representatives what to do.”

Some political observers said that the timing of the parent ban could overshadow Mr. Bloomberg’s rumored upcoming announcement that, as a cost saving measure, he will cancel this November’s Mayoral election and declare himself the winner. Others, however, contend that the two measures were intended to go hand in hand, and that by sowing suspicion of the democratic process, the Mayor can blunt much of the potential opposition to the cancellation of the election.

In a related story, a City Hall spokesperson tried to explain that Mayor Bloomberg misspoke when he appeared to compare the State Senate with the Nazis. The Mayor had been strongly criticized after he seemed to indicate that negotiating with the Senate was akin to Neville Chamberlain appeasing Hitler. “The Mayor actually was referring to New York Yankee pitcher Joba Chamberlain, not Neville,” the aide said. “He was merely making the point that you can’t negotiate with the Red Sox.”

What Frank McCourt could teach Joel Klein or Arne Duncan

Frank McCourt died yesterday. He was a wonderful writer, and very unsentimental about the teaching profession. He taught in NYC high schools for thirty years and wrote a book about his experiences called Teacher Man. His insights would be very valuable to Joel Klein or Arne Duncan, if they would have ever listened.

Check out this interview from 2005 on WNYC radio:
Leonard Lopate: “If you were named Schools Chancellor what would you do?”

Frank McCourt: “I’d certainly go to Albany and get more money for the teachers’ salaries…and I’d cut the school day and certainly cut the size of the classes, because they’re monstrous. And I've have a parliament of teachers, no supervisors and certainly no politicians."
He also mentions, heartbreakingly, how the huge teaching loads in NYC schools meant that he had too many students and too little time to develop real relationships with any of them.

When one or two students first asked him to have coffee, at first he said yes, but he soon learned that he just wasn't able to get to know them– with 175 students each semester.

He bemoans the lack of respect for teachers -- how hard they work, how little their opinions and professionalism matter to elected officials; and how their views are never heeded about how schools could be improved.

Indeed, in national surveys, over 90% of teachers regularly respond that the best way to raise the quality of education would be to reduce class size – over every other strategy proposed, including increased salaries, merit pay, professional development, or anything else.

And yet the powers-that-be always criticize this view as somehow merely reflecting self-interest, rather than in the best interest of the children as well. They never make the same attack on merit pay or increased teacher salaries, somehow -- just the one proposal that would directly improve classroom conditions and the ability of children to learn.

If 95% of doctors year after year proposed a certain reform as the best way to improve our medical system, would they be brushed off so easily? Not likely.

I remember a great speech McCourt gave at the UFT spring conference in 2006--- telling a packed audience at the Hilton a hilarious story about how he was once so overwhelmed with all the homework he had to correct that he threw all 175 student papers into a dumpster.

He also went on at some length about how elected officials and top administrators never listen to teachers, but unfortunately by that time, all of those who had been there, including Joel Klein, had left the room.

See also this interview from 2005:

McCourt: ... Teachers here are treated like second-class, third-class, fourth-class citizens. They're told to come in the back door. ....This is all a matter of class and status, and maybe snobbery. And the figures go along with this -- the lousy pay they get and the lack of respect.

When did you last see a teacher on a talk show? Movie stars and athletes and politicians -- criminals! They all get on the talk shows. But not the teachers. They are regarded as dull people. The ones who take care of the children every day. Almost like super babysitters. That's the way they are treated.

And then when you do see something on television, a panel on education, you see someone from the board of education, you see a professor of education, or you see a bureaucrat, someone from a think tank, a politician, but never a teacher. Never. Imagine a panel on medicine without a doctor? The uproar there would be from the medical profession!

But all the politicians think they own education. Just the way the pope and the cardinals think they own the [Roman Catholic] Church. Which they do, of course. We don't get the keys. The politicians have the keys to the educational system, they control the purse strings, and they don't have a clue about what education is. I know they've been to school and all themselves, but what goes on in the classroom is another story.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mike’s Meltdown

July 17, 2009 (GBN News): The hottest day in two months apparently caused a verbal meltdown on the part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg today. The Mayor was quickly hustled into his air conditioned limo, but the damage appeared to have been done. Mr. Bloomberg, said by observers at the scene to have been “practically foaming at the mouth”, lashed out at the State Senate’s failure to pass a Mayoral control bill. The Mayor called Senators out by name, accused legislators of setting up a slush fund to train parents to disrupt the schools, and demanded that Governor Patterson use the State Police to “drag [the legislators] back” in order to approve the bill.

Even his usually sycophantic aides were worried about the Mayor’s bizarre behavior, and one even went so far as to call the Mayor’s 100 year old mother in the hopes that she could calm him down. “The Mayor gets cranky in the heat,” this aide told GBN News on condition of anonymity. “Sometimes it takes Mommy to get him to stop his tantrums.”

The Governor, meanwhile, in an apparent attempt to demonstrate his political strength, said that he would emulate Mr. Bloomberg’s own policing techniques. “I won’t just have the cops drag them in,” Mr. Patterson told reporters. “We’ll set up metal detectors and ban their cell phones.”

Charter School to Share Space with State Senate

July 17, 2009 (GBN News): New York State Senators were shocked this morning to find, just before adjourning for the summer, that they will now be sharing space with a charter school. The seats of many of the Senators were removed overnight and replaced by classroom desks, and a giant blackboard took the place of the podium. Furthermore, in what seemed to be an unusual coincidence, all of the desks that were replaced belonged to Senators who opposed Mayoral control of the NY City schools, while Mayoral control supporters apparently found their seats still intact.

GBN News has learned that former City Council member Eva Moskowitz was behind the abrupt conversion. Emboldened by her success in placing a charter school directly under President Obama’s nose in the White House, Ms. Moskowitz was said to feel that she could further expand her charter school empire, while simultaneously currying the favor of her patron Mayor Bloomberg by undercutting opposition to Mayoral control in the Senate. She reasoned that if she put charter school seats in place of those of the opposition Senators, the remaining Senators would unanimously pass a bill identical to that of the Assembly to renew Mayoral control for another six years. And should any Senators subsequently dare to oppose any of Mr. Bloomberg’s school reforms, they would immediately be replaced by charter school students.

Mayor Bloomberg immediately lauded the arrangement. “The Senate was not doing its job,” the Mayor said in a statement. “But thanks to this new school, we will now add control of the State Senate to Mayoral control of Sheldon Silver, and we can finally turn around these failing institutions.”

While Ms. Moskowitz was said to have originally intended to name the school after Senator Frank Padavan, who sponsored the Senate version of the Mayoral control bill, this plan ran afoul of a law stating that a school cannot be named after a living person. Instead, it will be called “The Albany Success Academy at the Frank Padavan Senate Chamber”.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Senate Stiff-Arms Bloomberg

The Times is reporting the Senate will adjourn for the summer without passing the Republican bill to renew mayoral control on the mayor's terms.

It was another setback for the mayor’s legislative agenda in Albany, where he has been repeatedly thwarted by lawmakers who complain that he employs a my-way-or-the-highway approach....

“The mayor’s people are telling us they will not budge, they will not accept anything that isn’t their version of the bill,” said Senator Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat who is one of several senators from the city calling on the mayor to accept the changes. “We live in a democracy, not a dictatorship.”

While the mayor has pleaded with the governor to keep the Senate in Albany, the Times reports the issue is not likely to be picked up again until September.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Times Mayoral Control Editorial Reveals Deep Ignorance

Today's editorial in the New York Times, called So Much Unfinished Business, urges the State Senate to grant Mike Bloomberg a renewal of his complete authority over public schools. It urges passage of the Republican sponsored bill without amendment. But the editors simply don't have the right facts. They cite how the bill will "create 32 district superintendent jobs designed to focus on parents’ issues". District superintendents have always existed in the law and have significant responsibilities defined there including the supervision of principals. The Bloomberg administration eviscerated their authority by assigning them data coaching responsibilities that take them far from their home districts. For example, one Manhattan superintendent even told me she was expected to spend significant amounts of time at Coney Island school. Another told me he can't even go into schools without getting permission.

Superintendents should have an important role supervising, mentoring our many inexperienced principals, resolving issues unique to communities, planning and advocating for school construction and repair, working with schools on curriculum and teaching practices, etc. But the bill under consideration does little to restore the authority of superintendents. It simply says they should be "predominantly" in their districts and have "sufficient" staff. Nothing in the toothless language of the law will change the role of superintendents, especially with regard to resolving issues of concern to parents and students.

There are certainly insights to be gained from reading the Times editorial. It confirms that those arguing most forcefully for renewal of mayoral control, the wealthy publishers of the city's old media, have no idea what transpires in public schools because they don't send their own children there.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Message to Senators: just say no!

This letter went out this afternoon to the members of the NY State Senate.

Dear Senators:

On behalf of the Parent Commission, we urge you to vote no on the three chapter amendments on school governance; and no on the Padavan/Silver bill.

The original Huntley and Sampson bills recognized the need for checks and balances and a real partnership between parents and the mayor in school governance. The new Huntley and Dilan/Perkins amendments would require a vote by all parents in electing members of Community Education Councils, which is a step forward.

But the amendments contain none of our other recommendations to strengthen the parent voice: no independent parent organization, no commission of stakeholders, no greater authority for CECs or School Leadership Teams. They do not make the Chancellor and the DOE subject to city law, nor do they provide any significant checks and balances by creating a more independent Board of Education.

At the same time, all three amendments take two steps backwards by limiting elected CEC members to only two, two-year terms.

It’s hard enough to find parents willing to run for this office as it is. In our estimation, this provision would make it considerably more difficult, and would lead to excessive attrition and fewer experienced parents in these seats . The collective memory and the historical perspectives embodied in long-time parent leaders are critically important for CECs to function effectively. Stripping these parent leaders of the right to serve by introducing such restrictive term limits is detrimental to parental engagement in the education of their children. If the concern is to allow parent voices to be heard, then the solution is to strengthen the legal authority of the CECs -- which neither the amendments nor the Silver/Padavan bill would achieve.

Meanwhile, the Mayor is running for his third consecutive four-year term, and the Legislature has no term limits at all. It is hard to see any rationale for this provision, except to further weaken parent input and put parents even more at the mercy of the Mayor's unilateral decision-making .

We urge you to vote no on the three amendments and on the Silver/Padavan bill, to demonstrate your recognition that unlimited mayoral control is not the will of most of your constituents nor most public school parents.

In two recent polls, the Quinnipiac and the Marist, voters overwhelmingly said that the mayor should share power with an indendent board, and/or the City Council. Despite the hard work of many parents and some legislators, none of the proposed chapter amendments corrects the most fundamental flaws of the 2002 governance law, effectively continuing the status quo.

One man rule is not only contrary to our entire democratic system of checks and balances, but has led to unwise and destructive policies in our schools, including hundreds of millions of dollars wasted in no-bid contracts, more overcrowding, larger class sizes, a loss of art and music, and our schools becoming test-prep factories.

The current system of Mayoral control has been promoted by those who have no children in the public schools, and no personal stake in the future of our public school system. They do not have the interests of our children at heart.

Thank you for your continued efforts on our behalf, and for a system of school governance that would exemplify partnership rather than dictatorship -- and that would ensure a brighter future for our children and the system as a whole.

Vern Ballard, Ellen Bilofsky, Patricia Connelly, Susan Crawford, Lisa Donlan, John Englert, Rosa Flores, Leonie Haimson, Josh Karan, Benita Lovett-Rivera, Monica Major, Warren Miner, Carla Philip, Charmaine Philip, Ellen Raider, Tamara Rowe and Shino Tanikawa on behalf of the Parent Commission


Organizations which endorsed the recommendations of the Parent Commission:

Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence; Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats; Class Size Matters; Community Board 1 Manhattan; Community Board 3 Manhattan; Community Board 9 Manhattan; Community Board 12 the Bronx; Community Board 12 Manhattan; Community Education Council District 1; Community Education Council District 2; Community Education Council District 6 ; Community Education Council District 11; Community Education Council District 17; Community Education Council District 20; Community Education Council District 22; District 1 Presidents Council; District 2 Presidents Council; Ethical Action Committee of Brooklyn Society of Ethical Culture; Human Rights Project of Urban Justice Center; Independent Commission on Public Education; New York Coalition for Neighborhood School Control ; Right to Read Project; Second Presbyterian Church (6 W. 96th St.); Stuyvesant High School Parent Association;
Time Out From Testing; 3 R's Coalition

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Failing Grade for Mr. Liebman

Several articles appeared today about James Liebman's resignation after serving three years as head of the Tweed's Office of Accountability -- finally returning to Columbia University law school full time: Chief Accountability Officer for City Schools Resigns (NY Times); and New accountability chief says he’ll carry on Liebman’s legacy (Gotham Schools).

Let us remember that this man had no qualifications for the job, and proved this repeatedly over the years. In fact the only person who probably knew less about education and how to nurture conditions for learning was the man who hired him: Chancellor Klein. Columbia University finally woke up to the fact that he had been double-dipping: while holding the office of Chief Accountability Officer at Tweed, he was also supposedly on the full-time law faculty for the last year.

The progress reports he designed were widely derided as unreliable and statistically untenable; the quality reviews were an expensive waste of time and paperwork, and ignored when DOE was deciding which schools to close and which schools to commend; the $80 million supercomputer called ARIS was a super-expensive super-mugging by IBM, according to techies who found it laughable how much DOE was taken for a ride.

The surveys were badly designed, and counted for only a small percentage of school grades. Yet because principals were terrified of bad results, parents were pressured into giving favorable reviews for fear their schools would otherwise be punished. And the top priority of parents on these surveys — class size reduction — was ignored; worse, it was repeatedly derided by Liebman et. al. as a goal not worthy to pursue.

Under his leadership or lack thereof, the Accountability office continued to mushroom with more and more high priced educrats, "Knowledge Managers" and the like, few of whom, like him, had any experience or qualifications for the job, no less an understanding of statistics or the limitations of data.

One would think that a man who had focused professionally on the large error rate in capital punishment cases would have a little humility in terms of recognizing the fallibility of human judgment -- but no such luck. When confronted with the question of why schools should be given single grades, rather than a more nuanced system that might recognize their variety of attributes, he opined that a single grade, from A to F was useful "to concentrate the mind."

The ostensible point of the test score data from the periodic assessments and standardized tests, collected and spewed out by ARIS, to be analyzed by each school's "data inquiry teams” and "Senior Achievement Facilitators" was supposedly to encourage “differentiated instruction” to occur , although this goal was severely hampered by the fact that under Klein's leadership or lack thereof, overcrowding and excessive class sizes have continued.

No matter how much data is available — even assuming it is statistically reliable— the best way to allow differentiated instruction to occur is to lower class size.

And let us not forget Liebman’s cowardly run out the back door of City Hall in order to escape parents and hundreds of petitions collected by Time out from Testing — even though City Council Education Chair Robert Jackson had specifically requested that he leave through the front door of the chambers after he testified so that he could receive the petitions with the respect that they deserved. A perfect emblem of his three years at DOE.

The importance of 19th century skills

Check out Diane Ravitch's post at Common Core -- The Partnership for 19th Century Skills, in which she points some of the important skills that schools should impart to their students, but that are rarely mentioned anymore in the obsession with high test scores. These include:

The love of learning
The pursuit of knowledge
The ability to think for oneself (individualism)
The ability to stand alone against the crowd (courage)
The ability to work persistently at a difficult task until it is finished (industriousness, self-discipline. (and more)

Steve Koss adds: Well said, Diane! Thanks for making us all take a moment to think about what really matters. Such a radical concept, to return to the values of a liberal education and the goal of forming a well-rounded citizenry!

In those regards, despite the Internet and the massive onslaught of technology that serve primarily as distractions rather than educational aids (when was the last time you heard of students actually going to a public library and doing research from -- heaven forbid -- a book rather than copying and pasting from the Internet?), there really is nothing new under the sun.

May I suggest the following additions to your already beautiful list?

· Ability to think logically and draw valid conclusions from evidence (reasoning).

· Ability to anticipate the consequences of one's actions (foresight).

· Ability to view one's self and the world as others view them (other-centeredness).

· Ability to construct an argument and defend one's position through facts and reasoning rather than by ad hominem attacks and other forms of fallacious argumentation. (logical coherence).

· Ability to think and calculate mathematically (mathematical reasoning).

· Understanding the difference between fact and opinion.

· Understanding the difference between faith and reason.

· Appreciation of the value and role of empiricism and the scientific method.

· Appreciation of literature and the arts, especially the lifelong joy and benefits of reading.

· Acceptance of the notion that reasonable individuals can in good faith differ in their views and agree to disagree rather than demonize one another.

· Learning to be a lifelong learner.

Since none of these "skills" can be tested by multiple choice or short answer questions, they are obviously worthless in the eyes of NCLB, the NY State Education Department, and the NYC DOE's School Progress Reports. If it can't be tested and measured (and then touted as proof of political legitimacy by politicians and educational administrators who really couldn't care less), why would anyone want to bother with it? ----Steve Koss

News flash: the Educational Testing Service is adding a new tool to report on the characteristics of students applying to graduate school, including “personal attributes like resilience and creativity, which can't be measured by standardized admission tests. And it's just a matter of time before undergraduate admissions offices have a similar means at their disposal, says the testing company that designed the tool.”

Too bad the NYC DOE and its Accountability office never heard of these qualities, no less imagined that they deserve nurturing in our public schools.