Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cheating scandal at Lehman: DOE's response and echoes of the past

Everyone needs to check out this terrific investigative report by GothamSchools about the growing scandal at Lehman high school, in which the principal allegedly invented credits and increased student grades by changing their transcripts after the fact.

Janet Saraceno was appointed to Lehman in the fall of 2008, and given a $25,000 bonus as the city's second "super principal," a program supposed to be reserved for principals who agreed to take on the challenge of a low-performing school -- despite the fact that, as noted at the time, Lehman was already one of the city's higher performing high schools. She was due to receive another $25,000 bonus if she managed to raise graduation rates at the school.

The sort of manipulation that appears to have occurred at Lehman is predicted by Campbell's Law, and is just the tip of the iceberg, considering how widespread these practices have become in recent years among NYC public schools. (See for example, numerous comments from teachers on the NY Times blog about the scandal, and our book, NYC Schools under Bloomberg and Klein: What Parents, Teachers and Policymakers Need to Know.)

Increased teaching to the test, cheating, and grade tampering are all expected results of the DOE accountability system , in which test scores and graduation rates determine a school's grade, whether the staff will receive hefty bonuses, and if the school will be closed-- which in turn determines whether its staff will keep their jobs or be placed on absent teacher reserve.

Regents scores, credit accumulation and graduation rates largely determine a high school's grade in the DOE accountability system. These figures are even easier to manipulate than the state test scores that determine the grades of elementary and middle schools. Why?

Because, incredibly, Regents exams are graded by teachers at their own schools, and principals are allowed to raise both Regents scores and student grades, as long as they inform teachers in writing about these changes.
In this case, the principal of Lehman apparently stepped over this very flexible line, by failing to inform the teachers about the changes made in student transcripts, and not merely raising test scores but also adding credits for courses never taken .
(Graduation rates are also easy to manipulate also by "discharging" or "pushing out" students -- transferring them to GED programs or the like. This raises the graduation rate because all discharged students are excluded from the cohort and never counted as dropouts. A recent report found that the number of NYC students who have been discharged in their first year of high school has doubled in recent years.)

None of this is particularly surprising, but what is is especially disconcerting is the ham-handed response of the administration to these revelations, both initially and since the scandal broke.

According to a message sent by chief press officer David Cantor to our NYC education list serv, Joel Klein learned about these allegations as far back as March of 2009. Yet instead of immediately suspending the principal pending the outcome of investigations, Cantor reports that Klein met with the teachers, referred the case to chief counsel Michael Best, and then:

"Within a few days, I believe--I can get you the dates--Best met with teachers from the school, after which he referred their allegations to the Special Commissioner of Investigation (who in turn referred them to the Office of Special Investigation). "
How aggressively the DOE's Office of Special Investigations pursued this case since that time cannot be known, of course, but the principal cannot have been seriously concerned as she was still changing student transcripts throughout the summer of 2009, according to the records obtained by GothamSchools.

When the story broke this week, Chris Cerf, formerly Deputy Chancellor of DOE and now working for the Bloomberg campaign, responded:

"We cannot comment on any aspects of this, but we certainly do not condone the kinds of things that are alleged. But at the same time, we believe that accountability for student outcomes is a central driver of positive reform and we believe it is critical to hold everybody in the system accountable for student results.”

In other words, accountability has nothing to do with either honesty or transparency, but simply raising test scores. Message to principals: lie, cheat or steal, it hardly matters as long as test scores and graduation rates go up.

Then, DOE announced they would launch an investigation of the teachers who provided GothamSchools with the evidence of grade-tampering. Why? Because, as Cantor wrote, “The privacy of student records is protected by federal law. School staff are not permitted to provide their students’ transcripts to reporters."

As GothamSchools reporter Anna Phillips points out, FERPA, the federal law Cantor was referring to, says that providing transcripts is only forbidden if "personally identifiable information” is transmitted. In this case, student names were all crossed out.

“All I can say is we are going to investigate the release of the student records publicly to the press,” Cantor said.
This scandal is eerily similar to the allegations made by nine veteran teachers in 2004, in which they accused a principal of another large high school in the Bronx, Anthony Rotunno of Kennedy High school, of hiking the Regents scores of 16 students. Two years later, after an extended investigation by DOE's Office of Special Investigations, no report was ever written, not because the allegations were found to be incorrect, but because DOE concluded that Rotunno had the right to change these Regents scores.
Despite articles and columns in the NY Times as elsewhere about the allegations, the only person who ended up punished was Maria Colon, the school's UFT chapter leader, who was charged with faxing student transcripts to a reporter to show that tampering had occurred. Colon was consigned to the rubber room for a year and half for this supposed transgression, before a state hearing officer exonerated her of all charges.

Colon was later "excessed" from the school. According to Randi Weingarten's testimony on before the City Council in 2007, "... the principal excessed every single bilingual social studies teacher in the school in order to get at her."
Meanwhile, Rotunno is still principal at the school.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Public Schools Better than Charters Says DOE Progress Report Data

A DOE study shows traditional public schools outperform charter schools when compared using Progress Report data. Public schools had larger improvements in state test scores, the measure DOE views as paramount. The Bloomberg administration seems to have been caught in a bind: either they admit charters don't measure up or that the Progress Reports are garbage. So the report was buried on the DOE web site.

The study also shows large gaps in the enrollment of English language learners and students receiving special education services with charters taking far fewer of these students.

State Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch has been making her list of public high schools to close and replace with charters. She ought to pause and figure out what's really going on with charter schools first.

Daily News has the story here.

Actual report (pdf) here.

UPDATE: The charter school community responds.

In a lengthy defensive statement posted to the web site of the New York Charter Schools Association, NYCSA Policy and Communications Director Peter Murphy attacks the DOE Progress Report study. In the DOE study, charters were compared to traditional public schools using the same controversial approach public school parents have criticized for two years. Year to year changes on state test scores constitute 60% of the A through F letter grade, an approach Murphy dismisses as "woefully lopsided".

Murphy then goes on to criticize the Daily News and me:

...we are presented with a hodgepodge compilation of numbers cherry-picked for an article resulting in a false and misleading comparison between the academic performance of charter and district schools with zero context added. And, all of this comes less than a week before a Mayoral election, no less, enabling one Patrick Sullivan of the City's education policy board his embellished anti-charter talking-point. What a coincidence.

Let's get the facts straight. The report was prepared solely by DOE staff headed by Michael Duffy, the Executive Director of the charter school office. No one "cherry picked" any measures: the measures are exactly those incorporated in the city-wide Progress Reports. And my point was not anti-charter. I was simply pointing out the administration can't say charters are better while the DOE accountability framework says they're worse.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NYC parents: the best and the wisest, but utterly ignored

See Diane Ravitch’s latest and superb column in EdWeek:

John Dewey wrote that what the best and wisest parent wants for his own child is what the community should want for all its children. That's a good starting point. What does the best and wisest parent want for his or her own child? Certainly, that parent would want a school with small classes, which guarantees that her child would get personal attention.
Class size is a pretty good indicator of what most people mean by quality. If you visit the most elite private schools, you can bet that they don't have 32 students in a class. On the Web sites of such schools, one learns that classes are typically 12 to 15 students to a teacher. Such luxury is unheard of in most public schools, with the possible exception of schools in tony suburbs. Many of those who pronounce that class size doesn't matter send their own children to schools with small classes.Another indicator of quality is the presence of the arts. The best and wisest parent would not want his child to go to a school with no teachers of music, art, dance, or other arts. Yet we know that in most of our public schools today, the arts have been sacrificed to make more time for test-prepping.

In this case, the majority of NYC parents are “the best and the wisest.” Over and over again, in the DOE own annual surveys, public school parents say their top priority for their children’s schools is smaller classes, followed by more enrichment. And yet they are completely ignored by an administration whose own children attend schools with just these attributes.

One might add, what private school has merit pay tied to standardized test scores? Or spends millions to create teams of teachers and bureaucrats to engage in “data analysis” supposedly to help “differentiate” instruction, while doing nothing to reduce class size?

What private school has adopted what is likely to be the next priority of the administration, according to Chris Cerf, which is to further “individualize” learning through online computer instruction, rather than give students an opportunity to receive more feedback from actual human beings? As Joel Klein has said, if he gets his way, he will cut the teaching force by another 30 percent.

Not a single private school that I know of would stand for such priorities, and certainly none of the elite schools where the officials determining educational policy for our public schools sent their own children to school.

Mayor Bloomberg: Spence (average class size: 16-18); Chancellor Klein: Miss Porter’s (average class size: 11); Photo Agnostopoulos (DOE’s Chief Operating Officer) Dalton (average class size: 15)

Obama: Sidwell Friends (average class size: 15).

Instead of taking heed of the DOE's own parent surveys, the mayor continually tells parents to butt out when it comes to issues like school overcrowding, and only involve themselves "in the micro issues of their child’s education, like the child’s attendance, behavior and grades."
While supposedly favoring parental "choice" he also has said that parents should have no say in "setting educational policy."
This paternalism also imbues the US Department of Education under Obama, as Diane points out:

Are these the priorities of President Obama's Race to the Top Fund? Absolutely not! The president's Department of Education will dispense nearly $5 billion, not to reduce class sizes, not to expand access to the arts, and not to improve the beauty and functionality of our public schools, but to incentivize the workforce with merit pay; to increase the privatization of struggling schools; and to compel teachers to teach to admittedly poor tests by tying teacher pay to students' test scores. Let's get back to the new federal education agenda. Seeing how little has changed from Bush to Obama in education policy, I want my share of that $5 billion back.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The fantasy world of Michael Bloomberg

Bloomberg’s campaign speech today at NYU, in full here, reveal how he must be living in a complete fantasy world – insulated from reality, even more than most politicians:

By 2013, we will have created – far and away – the best public school system of any big city in the country. Not only will more middle class families be staying in the City and sending their kids to school here, I believe we will start to see an entirely new phenomenon: Families from around the nation and the region will be moving into the City for the schools. That was unthinkable just a few years ago! Families will come because more and more neighborhoods will be offering top-quality schools that are as good as – or better than – some of the suburban schools. They'll come because our schools will be performing at higher levels than schools in Boston… or San Francisco… or Phoenix… or any other big city in the country. And they'll come because they want more quality school choices – and they'll have more choices here than just about anywhere else in the country.

I won't even mention the delusional aspect to his concept of how good our schools will be; indeed, there is no evidence of improved results if you look at the most reliable measures, the national assessments known as the NAEPs.

No, what is astonishing is how this speech ignores the obvious reality: that these families, if they could indeed afford to move to NYC, would soon find that there is no room for their children to attend school.

Already, nearly half of NYC kids attend overcrowded schools, class sizes increased last year by the largest amount in ten years, thousands of students are sitting in rotting trailers; and last spring, hundreds of kids were put on waiting lists for Kindergarten.

Special education students are being given services in hallways and in closets, many schools have lost their art and music rooms, and 86% of principals say they are unable to provide a quality education because of excessive class sizes. Today, school nurses complained to the Daily News that there's no room to isolate children who have come down with the swine flu because of the extreme overcrowding at their schools.

Bloomberg has cut school construction way back, and the new five year capital plan has only 25,000 seats, which will provide less than one third of the space necessary to eliminate existing overcrowding – not to mention a rapidly increasing school population expected in the near future, caused by overdevelopment and a rising birth rate.

Where will all these additional kids flocking to the city in the future attend classes? Bloomberg doesn’t say. He recently told Downtown Express that parents should stay out of siting new schools, since any such schools would not be finished until their children were in graduate school.

And NYC public schools will never be as good as schools in the suburbs or even in Boston or San Francisco until and unless class sizes are reduced.

In either case, it’s a lousy deal for our kids.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Is NYC for sale? CWA says no.

Here is one of the anti-Mayor Bloomberg TV ads financed by
CWA Local 1180’s $500,000 campaign : "When parents wanted more participation in our kids' education, Michael Bloomberg said no!"

Meanwhile, the Times in its endorsement today wimpily admonishes, "But in a third term, the mayor and his team should still work harder to listen to those who hand over their children each morning to his educators."

Yeah, I'm sure Bloomberg will take this to heart.

And I'm sure principals and teachers will be happy to know that, according to the Times, they are "his educators." I guess the Times believes that he really does own this city after all.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Klein and Gutmann see competition as the answer to all our problems

Check out this "discussion" sponsored by the Wall Street Journal between Christopher Edley, dean of UC Berkeley School of Law, Amy Gutmann, President of the University of Pennsylvania, and Joel Klein about education reform.

Gutmann and Klein express faith that competition and the proliferation of charter schools will lead to fundamental improvements in our public schools -- which seems awfully naive, given the recent worldwide economic crash caused by unmitigated competition in our financial sector.

Indeed, by siphoning off the most motivated students (and parents), and providing them with superior conditions, including smaller classes and more resources, the expansion of charter schools is leading to widening inequities and a two-tier educational system.

In NYC in particular, because of the privileged status of charter schools, and their ability to raise trunkloads of private money and to cap enrollment and class size at any level they prefer, while being given precious space within our overcrowded public schools, there is no real level playing field. Indeed, more and more it appears that there is zero-sum game here: tails they win, heads we lose.

Only Edley expresses mild disagreement with this notion that the proliferation of charter schools will lift all boats. Gutmann agrees with Klein, arguing that the high quality of our institutions of higher education are due to competitive forces. (She doesn't mention teacher tenure, a particular bugaboo of Klein's and the other free marketeers.) Perhaps her faith in the business model has been reinforced by her annual salary, recently reported at $1,225,103, nearly twice as high as the salaries of the presidents of Harvard and Princeton.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bloomberg's original campaign promises: how'd he do?

Bloomberg recently claimed to have fulfilled nearly all of his original campaign promises when it comes to education.

But guess what? There are some promises he left out. Here are some he made when he first ran for mayor in 2001:

Better Teachers, Smaller Class Sizes and More Accountable Schools

Studies confirm that one of the greatest detriments to learning is an overcrowded classroom. ... For students, a loud, packed classroom means a greater chance of falling behind. For teachers, class overcrowding means a tougher time teaching and giving students the attention they need. Here are a few new ideas to improve schools and standards, and to reduce class sizes:

Hire more certified teachers to reduce class sizes — especially in the K-3rd grades.

This clearly hasn't happened. Numerous audits from the state and city comptroller have shown the administration’s misuse of hundreds of millions of dollars meant to reduce class size. According to the Times, there are 1600 fewer classroom teachers and more than 10,000 additional administrators, secretaries, and out of classroom personnel since Bloomberg took office. Last year, class sizes increased by the greatest amount in ten years.

Take full advantage of federally-funded class size reduction programs.

This hasn’t happened either; only God and perhaps Brian Fleischer, the DOE auditor, knows how the city has spent millions in federal class size reduction funds. I take that back; probably Fleischer has no idea either.

Free up more space for students in overcrowded schools by moving bureaucrats out.

Actually, the Department of Education did move some district offices out of school buildings the first year of Bloomberg's administration, but with the creation of all the new small schools and charters in recent years, more and more administrative offices have eaten up classroom space and contributed to the worsening overcrowding crisis in our schools. Now it is common to see special education and intervention services given in hallways, closets and stairwells.

Here are even more unfulfilled campaign promises from Bloomberg’s first campaign:

“Promise: Integrate and coordinate early child care and education system to foster the healthy development of all children, especially those children who are low-income and disadvantaged.”

Actually, this year the city eliminated 3,000 daycare slots, throwing thousands of new students into already overcrowded Kindergarten classes.

““We should build a major high school and university complex on Governors Island in partnership with one or more of our great private universities. The room is there for athletic facilities, laboratories, workshops, classrooms, etc. This would also free up many existing buildings in all boroughs for junior high school, elementary school and special education uses.”
One small high school is due to open next fall on Governors island, eight years later, and far smaller than the major high school complex originally promised.

“Have the Transitional Finance Authority sell bonds backed by the sales tax revenues currently committed to paying of the Municipal Assistance Corporation debt that ends in 2007 and use that money to build new schools.”

Never happened. Instead, the share of city's capital spending going to school construction is at a ten year low.

“Assemble city-owned land for private development to build large-scale housing developments, schools and hospitals.

Never happened.

And how about this statement made by Bloomberg , regarding the use of city funds to build stadiums instead of schools, as quoted in the Times shortly after he was elected?

“I think everybody understands we have to modernize our facilities,” [Bloomberg] said at a news conference, separate from one held by Mr. Giuliani. “We have to have the best facilities for sports, for entertainment. We have to have housing, we have to have schools, and there are conflicting needs.”

Mr. Bloomberg added: “I don’t yet know the numbers, whether you could justify stadiums at this time. Clearly we’re going into very difficult economic times, and we’re going to have to make some choices.”

About 50,000 seats have been created in schools over the last seven years, with more than twice that number in the heavily subsidized Yankees and Mets stadiums. I guess he made his choices after all.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

French Foreign Legion Recruits NYC School Kids

October 21, 2009 (GBN News): The knighting of four NY City school principals yesterday by the French ambassador to the US may have more to it than meets the eye. Purportedly a recognition of the dual French-English language programs at the principals’ schools, the titles are actually being conferred to reward the principals for their role in recruiting students for the French Foreign Legion, sources told GBN News.

The dual language programs were reportedly designed to give students the communication skills needed to function in the Foreign Legion environment, and would facilitate the ability of the Legion to recruit them once they reach the required age. Legion service will be considered “seat time” for credit recovery purposes, and will enable any student who joins to automatically graduate.

J. Fredrick Runson, Professor of Military Linguistics at Manhattan University, is not surprised that the Foreign Legion is behind the awards. “The Order of Academic Palms”, Dr. Runson told GBN News, “was founded by Napoleon, so it already has a military tradition to it. And I’m sure it’s no coincidence that one of the principals had worked in military intelligence. But it’s a ‘win-win’ for both the DOE and the Legion. The Legion gets fresh young recruits, while the DOE can report a higher graduation rate.”

At the same ceremony, the ambassador also conferred the Order of Academic Palms on comedian Jerry Lewis, who is greatly revered in France for his wacky, madcap characters. “It is a tribute to the enduring legacy of Monsieur Lewis,” the Ambassador stated, “that the characters he portrayed could so inspire the school reforms of Monsieur Joel Klein and your Mayor, Monsieur Bloomberg.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NYC Kids PAC Endorses Bill Thompson

Over 200 public school parents and educators from all over the city braved icy rain on Sunday to cheer as NYC Kids PAC endorsed Bill Thompson for mayor. Kids PAC president Ann Kjellberg, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, and parent leaders Monica Major from the Bronx and Rich Wisniewski from Staten Island spoke about the real record of this administration—flat national test scores, overcrowded classrooms, and dictatorial policies that don't work—and our support for Thompson's policies and values. Alev Dervich, a teacher from PS 15 in Red Hook spoke about the administration's divisive policy of forcing privileged charter schools into neighborhood schools, and Luis Reyes spoke of their failure to improve outcomes for ELL and Special Ed students.

NYC Kids PAC was proud to have this opportunity to join hands with parents from the across the city and demand real improvements for our schools. Eight years of destructive, dictatorial educational policies are enough!

Visit to read our endorsement and Thompson's proposals for education, to join NYC Kids PAC, and to request materials to distribute in your neighborhood. There are only two weeks remaining in this election and parents must be heard!

NYC Kids PAC is a grassroots organization of parents working together to support elected officials who support our schools, with particular attention to their actual legislative and policy record in office. We are proud to endorse Bill Thompson for mayor and to call on NYC parents to vote Bloomberg out on the basis of his dismal record while reigning over our schools: his disdain for public school parents and his indifference to the issues that concern us the most.

See our press release about yesterday's event and this Daily News article.

NY Times contradicts itself; but after all, why not when Bloomberg owns this town?

I hope everyone remembers that NY Times was a great cheerleader for continued mayoral control – including his authority to appoint a supermajority of members to the Board of Education (which Bloomberg likes to call the Panel for Educational Policy, to make clear it has no real power to overrule him.) The paper also supported his overturning of term limits, without a peep of dissent.

Well, yesterday the Times came out with an editorial lambasting Albany, with a bunch of proposals , including that no one man should decide over state pension investments, as the State Comptroller currently does. Along with the State Attorney General, the editors agreed that there should be a thirteen member oversight board, with appointments made by various different state leaders and state employees:

New York’s comptroller is the sole trustee watching over $116.5 billion in pension investments. This should not be happening anywhere, but especially not in Albany.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has proposed a 13-member commission to manage pensions. The idea is a good one, requiring appointments to the board by state leaders and employees with pensions. But this new board should not become another parking place for political hacks. While we need a better system than one person controlling so much money, it must be done right — with a board picked for its financial expertise with fiduciary duties to protect the pension.

What about accountability for the spending of billions of dollars in tax funds for our public schools, and the policies that will doom our children either to success or failure? Funny, instead in the mind of the NY Times, this meant that one man alone, namely Bloomberg, should have total control.

In their endorsement of the Silver bill that continued mayoral control, the editors wrote in praise: “It would preserve the mayor’s right to appoint a majority of the members of the board that advises him on school matters.”

In the editorial, they also implicitly supported the mayor’s right to fire any of his appointees at will, at any time, for any reason – which ensured that the board would continue to act as a rubberstamp , no matter how destructive and/or irrational the mayor's decisions might be.
Yet somehow, on something really important, like state pensions, the Times editors realize that for the sake of true accountability, we should have an independent oversight board with members appointed by a variety of different elected leaders and state employees.

Why the apparent contradiction? Could it have anything to do with the fact that, according to this week’s New York magazine, Bloomberg has used his political power and personal fortune to buy the support of opinionmakers, and effectively owns this town, lock, stock, and barrel, including the publishers of the three major dailies?

The article starts off with a description of a dinner party Bloomberg recently gave for the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson:

Johnson is in New York to promote U.K.-U.S. tourism. Bloomberg is a longtime Anglophile, and his company’s second-largest office is in London. The clearest sign that this Sunday evening holds special resonance for Bloomberg is the presence of Rupert Murdoch, Mort Zuckerman, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publishers of New York’s three daily newspapers. They’re here because Bloomberg asked them to be. Those three are at anything that really matters to Mike, a dinner-party veteran says.

Indeed, in contrast with the past, when the business and media establishment were allowed to have different views from the mayor, this no longer occurs. Instead they all seem willing to serve as his lackeys.

The article describes how when Randi Weingarten tried to woo certain establishment figures to her side in her battle with Joel Klein, the mayor made it clear that “for business leaders, stepping forward and trying to become a civic leader would be at some risk to your relationship with the mayor, a corporate insider says. Only a crazy person would step out without Bloomberg’s say-so.”

So instead of a circle of wealthy and influential people who make policy in this town, there is one man alone, a billionaire who holds a monopoly on power. As the reporter writes:

…. there is a one-man Establishment: Michael Bloomberg. Certainly there are other figures with real power. But in a way that wasn’t true two decades ago, their influence is circumscribed, confined to their narrow categories: real estate, culture, health care, banking. And, in terms of civic life, little of their power exists independent of their relationships with Bloomberg. The mogul-class push for the mayor’s term-limits extension felt like the last gasp of what’s left of the city’s old-line ruling class….Bloomberg gets what he wants more than any mayor in modern memory. The foundation of Bloomberg’s imperial mayoralty is, obviously, money.

So much for checks and balances and the public having any say when it comes to our schools. Democracy in NYC: RIP.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What's the key to success of the Icahn charter schools?

The Icahn charter schools are among the best in the nation; with over 90% of their students in grades K-8 at grade level on standardized tests. What is the key to their success, according to principal Daniel Garcia in today’s NY Post?

Class sizes that are capped at 18 students and an enriched curriculum known as Core Knowledge.

Another very successful group of NYC charter schools run by the Harlem Children’s Zone has similarly small classes.

How simple, and yet so apparently elusive to the non-educators running our school system.
Because of Joel Klein’s obstinate (and illegal) resistance to reducing class size, the NYC students who attend our regular public schools are denied their chance to benefit from similarly favorable learning conditions.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hearings on the city's failure to abide by its moral and legal obligations as regards class size

See NY1 on the City Council's hearings about the failure of the Department of Education to spend the state's Contracts for Excellence (C4E) funds according to law. Instead of reducing class size, as mandated, with hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds, class sizes rose last year by the greatest amount in ten years.

DOE has provided lots of excuses for this malfeasance, but no real explanations. This program was created as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, and was supposed to ensure our children would finally be provided with their constitutional right to an adequate education, including smaller classes and more accountability and transparency in spending, but none of this has been achieved. The DOE's chief auditor admitted at the hearings that the audit required by law for the spending of these funds has still not been completed for the 2007-8 school year, no less last year.

Check out my testimony, along with a letter signed by nearly two hundred parent leaders, elected officials and the UFT, urging the State Commissioner to hold off granting the city any more C4E funds until the Department of Education demonstrates that the state funds have been properly used this year -- and that class sizes have actually been reduced.

The DOE's Chief Operating Officer, Photeine Anagnostopoulos, said that given flat funding they intend to renegotiate their class size reduction targets with the state -- of no more than twenty in K-3, 23 in 4-8 and 25 in core academic subjects in high school by the 2011-2012 school year.

See also the Gotham Schools article here. See also this letter that the Community Education Council from District 2 sent to the DOE and Commissioner Steiner about the problems with the DOE's Contracts for Excellence, and the flawed public process this year.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Nick Kristof Strikes Again, and Gets It Wrong Again

I can think of few journalistic practices more damaging and wrongheaded than the reporter who helicopters into a complex problem for a few days, sniffs around a bit without really understanding the context in which he or she is observing, and then drops an "expert opinion" editorial on the matter. No one in my recent memory appears more prone to this, and more badly misled, than the NY Times's periodic editorial contributor, Nick Kristof, particularly with regard to education.

Back in 2002, Mr. Kristof dropped himself in on some schools in Shanghai and then wrote a ridiculous column on China's "super kids" whose schooling and intelligence were apparently going to bury the U.S. competitively in the future. He could not have gotten the Chinese education system more wrong in 750 words than he did at that time; reading his 2002 column today is still an embarrassment for anyone who really understands what's going on in the Chinese education system.

Now, Mr. Kristof has inserted himself into education once again, and just as foolishly, with his latest contribution to the NY Times. In an October 15th piece oddly entitled "Democrats and Education" , Mr. Kristof elects to beat on that favorite old dead horse of education critics, that the problem with US education is bad teachers and their unions who simply won't let schools get rid of them.

In his article, he talks about NYC's system where "failed teachers" are sent at full pay to "rubber rooms," clearly not understanding that the purpose of such centers is to hold teachers against whom potentially serious allegations of misconduct (such as, for example, sexual misconduct or verbal or physical abuse of students) have been made while their cases are being investigated. Whatever one may think of rubber rooms, they are not holding pens for teachers who have merely been judged incompetent.

Of course, Mr. Kristof trots out a couple horror stories about bad teachers to "prove" his point, and there's certainly no argument here that abusive teachers who degrade their students or show up drunk do not belong in classrooms. As his column progresses, he slyly manages to conflate the clearly unacceptable behavior of his "horror stories" with the term "ineffective teachers," as though the U.S. education system is suffering from an epidemic of school-based child abuse. Ineffective and drunk (or telling a failed suicide that next time the student should cut his wrists more deeply) are not equal.

Anyway, these horror stories are old news, and Mr. Kristof writes as though he just discovered this issue. Beyond making it easier to remove such "ineffective" teachers, what are his solutions? Two of them are more charter schools and "objective measurement to see who is effective." Of course, while calling for better teachers with better compensation, he conveniently ignores the fact that under NCLB, teachers of all stripes and levels of ability are being hamstrung by precisely those types of measurement systems, all of which begin with state-defined standardized exams which place enormous pressure on school administrators and teachers to show ever-improving results.

The damage these exams are doing to real education is incalculable, since they distort both teaching and curricula by narrowing content, detracting from coverage of other subject areas, and focusing on test-taking rather than education as an exploration and learning experience.

In his closing, Mr. Kristof writes, "I’m hoping the unions will come round and cooperate with evidence-based reforms, using their political clout to push to raise teachers’ salaries rather than to protect ineffective teachers," as if this is the essential either/or choice. It's merely another false dichotomy -- the two items have nothing to do with one another.

More charter schools, more "objective" measurement of teachers' value added based on standardized exams, less intrusion from the teachers' unions -- this is what Mr. Kristof wants the Democrats to be doing. Sadly, President Obama (through his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan) appears to be working from Mr. Kristof's playbook, acting more like a conservative Republican than the Democratic reformer for whom we thought we had voted. --Steve Koss

See also the letters to the editor in today's Times, in response to Kristof's column here.

Bloomberg to parents: butt out!

See the recent Bloomberg interview in The Villager:

Bloomberg said parents need only be involved in the micro issues of their child’s education, like the child’s attendance, behavior and grades. It does not make sense for parents to be involved in larger issues like overcrowding, because those issues take years to resolve, Bloomberg said.

“When you’re talking about siting schools, you’re not talking about parental involvement,” he said, “because the process from deciding you want to build a school, siting it and building it and moving your kid in, your kid’s going to be through graduate school by that time.

Surely they would be in graduate school if we left it up to the Department of Education.

"These things don’t happen overnight. You’re talking about a different group of people who want to have some input: community activists. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not parents.”

No, actually it has been parents who have been forced to work and to work hard, finding sites, pushing the DOE, and lobbying their elected officials over and over again to ensure that there is enough space so that their kids can have decent class sizes, art and music, and can attend neighborhood public schools.

Parents have been forced to site every new school in Manhattan over the past eight years, and many schools throughout the city, because of the incompetence and disinterest of the Mayor and his appointees at the DOE. We’ve had to do our own enrollment projections as well, since the high priced consultants hired by the DOE seem unable to figure out that the rising birth rate and the development boom throughout the city, unleashed by the Mayor's policies, might actually lead to more children needing a seat in a public school.

He continued, “Parent involvement should not be parent control. We have professional principals, administrators and teachers — experts. They should design the classroom.”

That’s why there are few if any educators in control at DOE?

Bloomberg then described the improvements he has made in sharing information with parents about their children’s performance and their children’s schools, including parent coordinators, school report cards and surveys.

But what’s the point of those surveys, if they have no effect on what goes on in the classroom? Every single year, parents say in the DOE surveys that their top priority is smaller classes, yet every year the Mayor and the Chancellor violate state law by refusing to reduce class size.

This is not new. The Mayor has repeatedly expressed his disdain for the views of parents and their right to have a voice in how their children's schools are run. See this story from the NY Post in May : “Bloomie to school parents: back off!”

“Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday that parents should butt out of trying to dictate educational policy as the debate over mayoral control of the schools intensifies. "You do not want parents setting educational policy. You do not want parents telling teachers how to teach. Teachers would not be happy about that," Bloomberg said on his WOR radio program. "That's what you have professionals for," he added. …”

Why? Perhaps because he knows that despite all his billions, he cannot buy our silence, or our support.

See also letters in response to Bloomberg's comments from parent activists Tina Schiller and Tricia Joyce in the Downtown Express.

Amidst the NAEP findings, hypocritical Joel Klein proves he still doesn't get it

In Jennifer Medina's NY Times story --"No Gains by New York Students on U.S. Math Tests, Unlike State Scores" -- she quotes Joel Klein as saying that, as she puts it, "the city has no choice other than to use the state exam to reward and penalize schools, because it is the only test that measures all city students."

Of course he has always had another choice, and that was not to "reward or penalize schools" based on a narrow, standardized, and predictable exam in which the bar for passing is being consistently lowered year after year.
To argue otherwise is no different than a street thug who murders an old lady for her handbag and defends his actions on the grounds that there was no one else around at the time for him to rob and there were no gas stations handy. It's the same sort of false dichotomy that Klein and Bloomberg have been practicing for eight years, the type first inspired by George Bush with his infamous, "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists." We're not talking terrorists any more, but Klein's policies have been, in their own way, nearly as devastating for our schools and children as terrorism.

Ms. Medina's article goes on to quote Mr. Klein's self-defense in light of the extraordinary embarrassment of the just-released NAEP results, the ones that show the world just what the emperor's new clothes have really been all along. “I have said many, many times that we should raise the bar,” Mr. Klein said. “The state’s definition of proficiency needs to be tethered to a more demanding standard.”

In these two sentences, the chancellor of over one million children in NYC's public schools proved just how badly he doesn't get it. Let's just leave aside for the moment the fact that over the past six years, Klein and Bloomberg have positively crowed over the grade 3-8 NY state exam results, preening like peacocks over the numbers without ever suggesting in those moments that they found fault with the standards or the exams or worried that NYC schools' extraordinary results might be overstating students' real gains.
Instead, they and their crony owners of the NY Daily News and NY Post have consistently used the results in furtherance of their own political careers and/or agendas at the expense of NYC's children and their families.

What Klein's statement above shows, most significantly, is that even at the height of his regime's biggest embarrassment to date, he's not calling for a rethinking of his strategy. Instead, he's essentially asking for more of the same, and simultaneously blaming unidentifiable others for his failure! "We just need to change the tests," he's implying. "Make them more demanding."

Never mind that his policies have subverted the educational process, converting classrooms into test prep mills and teachers into Kaplan-style advisors on test-taking-strategy, demotivating students and removing exploration and creativity from the classroom, narrowing the curriculum, shoving aside other subject areas like science or social studies (and art and gym) because schools are not measured on them and principals and teachers are not incentivized with bonuses on them, and threatening principals and schools with closure if they did not "get on board" with their exam scores.
No, if only the NY State exams were made a little more difficult, then all would be well and NY students would be champions on the NAEP and truly well-versed in their understanding and use of mathematics. Yes, that's it, it must be the tests that are at fault.

Clearly, this man does not, and never will, get it. Nor will he ever admit that, just maybe, he has been wrong.

If someone wanted to devise a strategy for destroying the efficacy of America's public education system, they could not have developed anything more devious than the one Chancellor Klein has imposed on NYC schools with Michael Bloomberg's blessing and the encouragement of many others who should have known better (and probably did). --- Steve Koss

Editor's Note: the line that Joel Klein used here, as echoed by Chris Cerf, Merryl Tisch and so many others in their pack is that the state exams should be made more demanding. But not once have any of them admitted what it is obvious -- that the state tests have gotten embarassingly watered down over the last eight years; so easy that now, a student can pass them through random guessing. Why? Because to do so would essentially destroy their claim to have improved student achievement during their administration -- which even now they continue to claim, based on non-existent evidence.

Balloon Bursts for Bloomberg and Klein

October 17, 2009 (GBN News): Questions continue to linger over the recent balloon incident involving NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. The Chancellor had seemingly floated away in an experimental balloon developed by a group of eccentric scientists at the Department of Education. But Mr. Klein was later found to be hiding out in the attic of the DOE headquarters at Tweed Courthouse.

The purpose of the balloon remains unclear, though sources at the DOE indicated that it may have been some sort of “trial balloon” involving a new reorganization of the city schools. But suspicions have grown that the entire incident may have been a publicity stunt. The suspicions were fed by a statement made by the Chancellor at a news conference with Mayor Bloomberg. The Mayor had asked Mr. Klein why he hid out in the Tweed attic, to which the Chancellor replied, “You said we did this for a show.”

J. Fredrick Runson, professor of Educational Aerodynamics at Manhattan University, thinks that this was all an elaborate hoax to divert the public’s attention from the recently released NAEP math scores. The NY State scores on this respected national test, which showed no significant gains, are thought by many to cast doubt on the Mayor's and Chancellor’s claims of huge improvement in the city schools. Dr. Runson, in a telephone interview with GBN News, said “The NAEP has to be a huge embarrassment for Bloomberg and Klein. Their whole concept of school reform got deflated, just like that balloon. I guess either they thought this stunt would generate sympathy for them, or Klein was just trying to skip town. But unlike that family in Colorado, the voters will get to pass their own judgment on this one in November.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

El Diario's Blistering Attack on Bloomberg

El Diario's endorsement in the mayoral race is a courageous and eloquent clarion call for democracy. It's so rare to see an editorial these days that doesn't simply parrot the administration's positions. This one is a must read. Excerpt:

Twice, New Yorkers had voted to limit the service of local elected officials to two terms. Instead of respecting that, Bloomberg and his associates peddled the idea of overturning term limits to the editorial boards of local newspapers; pressured the heads of nonprofit organizations that rely on private donors and city funding to speak before the City Council in support of undoing term limits; and contrived to run out the clock on a referendum.

All of this is not simply slick scheming—it is a gross abuse of power. Even Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez conducted a plebiscite on his extended stay in power. New Yorkers were not even given that chance.

With city government already tipped to favor the executive branch, Bloomberg’s power grab delivers a clear message: the ability of constituents to challenge power and shape decisions at the top is seriously in danger. The prospect of a mayor with an emperor-esque approach to New Yorkers bodes poorly for our city.

Read the full text here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bloomberg and Klein's personal credit recovery program

See the presentation given by Klein to business leaders yesterday. Some news accounts here: Times, GothamSchools, NY1, Post, Daily News.

As usual, the Chancellor tried to take credit where no credit is due -- for big increases in test scores that occurred in the winter and spring of 2003, despite the fact that his policies were not implemented until the following fall. Perhaps these retroactive claims are Klein and Bloomberg’s personal credit recovery program.

In fact, DOE officials and the mayor were quite subdued when there were big test score gains in 2003. For more on this, see our blog here.

As the Times pointed out when the state ELA scores were first reported on May 21, 2003:

The city's positive results come at a time when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, are trying to overhaul the public school system and impose a uniform reading and math curriculum at all but the highest performing schools.

…Experts said the sharp increase in test scores could prove problematic for Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein, since it is too early for them to take credit and sets a benchmark for next year that may be hard to match….

The higher scores, particularly at schools that have showed sustained increases since 1999, also gave new ammunition to critics of Mr. Bloomberg's changes, who said that they might do more harm than good by disrupting existing programs….

This is how the state math gains were reported when they were released on October 22, 2003:

Fourth graders across the state made stunning gains in their math scores last spring, with even sharper increases in New York City…In the city, news of the gains, which were particularly pronounced in the Bronx and in some of the poorest-performing districts, elicited cheers among teachers and principals. But not everyone greeted the news so enthusiastically:

The suggestion that city schools were on the upswing put Chancellor Joel I. Klein, who is overhauling them, in a tricky position. While the chancellor’s critics pounced upon the higher scores as evidence that the school system did not need such an overhaul, some of his allies acknowledged that he would now be under even more pressure to show gains next spring.

A more accurate and fair analysis would look at data only from 2003-2008; instead of claiming credit for gains that occurred before the Bloomberg/Klein policies were put into place.

2.. None of these gains is meaningful given the evidence of the NAEPs, which shows no significant progress in NYC since 2003 in any grade or subject except for 4th grade math. We know that the state tests have been inflated, and there’s been terrific amount of test prep in NYC and teaching to the test, unrelated to any real gains in learning.

3. See slide 13: as of 2004, still only 55% of NYC eighth graders who make a 700 --level 3 – graduate in four years. (not even counting the discharge rates which would bring their actual graduation rate even lower. ) This is a huge repudiation of the quality of our high schools. Even the fact that only 87% of 8th grade students who hit level four, the highest level, graduate on time is pretty awful.

4.No info is offered on the results of the science and social studies exams – which are low-stakes tests, like NAEPs, and thus more reliable. Unlike math and ELA scores, for which the DOE offers financial rewards to teachers, schools, and kids, with little or no protections against cheating, these are the exams where we could expect less distortion in results.

NYC continues to have some of the lowest scores in the state in those subjects, even in the largely middle class districts. 28 of 32 districts in NYC were in the bottom 10% in the state in Science; 26 of 32 districts were at the bottom 10% in the state in Social Studies.

I’m sure there’s more deception and spin in these slides; please take a look and leave a comment on the comment page!

The decimation of parent involvement in District 22

Presidents Councils are the collection of all PTA Presidents or their reps in each school district in the city. A little history: since the beginning of Presidents Councils, back in the 1990's and even before, when districts had PA President councils under various names, District 22 in Brooklyn has had an unbroken series of these councils. For those not aware, D22 was considered a leader in parent involvement, and not only by our own parents, but by parents throughout the city. Wherever we went if we said we were district 22 parents, we represented a high level of parent involvement.

We were one of the pilot districts for School Based Budgeting and for the Special Ed Inclusion program. Our district started School Leadership Teams when they were first rolled out under C100.11 under Chancellor Rudy Crew as School-based management and Shared decision making. The District went so far as to send a team including administrators, teachers and parents to Edmonton, Canada to learn more about it.

We met with our Superintendent on a monthly basis where no question, whether about budgets, curriculum, zoning, etc., ever went unanswered. When budgets had to be revised and/or cut in the middle of the summer, not only Principals but PA Presidents and UFT chapter leaders were called in, to meet with the Superintendent to decide collectively where those cuts would do the least harm to the students.

PA Presidents were included in every memo that went out to principals and UFT. Was it perfect? Not by a long shot, but parents knew they were in a cooperative effort and had a very real voice as well as the opportunity to have an impact.

I was involved from 1986 thru 2004, when my youngest went on to High School, but kept in touch with the parents in the district.

I have now heard that for the first time in all the years of active parent involvement, District 22 is now without a Presidents Council. Parents have been so disenfranchised, ignored, and frustrated in their attempts to have genuine input that they have basically just given up.

Let's hear it for this administration, for being able to decimate a quarter century or more of parent involvement in 7 short years. -- Dorothy Giglio

Cupcakes or carcinogens: is DOE really interested in protecting student health?

Last week, the members of the Panel for Educational Policy unanimously rubberstamped hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts in about twenty minutes, including two contracts that will give exclusive right to sell snacks and beverages to two commercial companies, effectively banning student bake sales during the school day, under the guise of protecting their health. Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan rep, was away on business and thus the lone voice of sanity on the PEP was sadly absent. Actually, the ban appears to be an attempt to maximize the revenue stream for these two companies, now able to market their commercial products through email ads to students and their families and test new products on students and staff.

Meanwhile, most NYC public schools still fail to provide the state minimum of hours of physical education, nearly one quarter of the schools in the Bronx have no gyms, and school lunches continue to offer many unhealthy items. An oped in the Daily News pointed out that the ban on student bake sales will seriously hamper their ability to raise money to support sports teams, further detracting from the opportunities to promote physical activity in our schools. You can also join a group on Facebook, organized by NYC students to protest the bake sale ban.
Here is an update from Steve Koss, addressing the DOE’s claim to be motivated by an interest in protecting student health:

When I was PTA President at Manhattan Center for Science and Math high school, we parents learned (from an October 30, 2007 FOX NEWS report) that our school building was sitting directly atop a toxic site, a buried, oozing tank of coal tar left over from the days when our site was home to a coal gassification plant (known as an MGP, or manufactured gas plant). This fact was known by school administration and the DOE who purchased the property in the late 1930s but was never conveyed to current or prospective parents.

At the same time that the School Construction Authority (SCA) was doing major, major renovation to our building, including digging a huge, deep trench on the grounds, we parents were learning that highly carcinogenic coal tars had been leaching under the school yard and FDR Drive and beneath the Harlem River riverbed. We further learned that no substantive indoor air quality testing had been done by the DOE or anyone else in the previous four years, and none for over five years during the winter heating season when windows are closed and the heating system creates negative pressure that draws vapors inward or upward into the building from below that would then be trapped inside and allowed to accumulate.

Our PTA Board immediately sent a letter addressed to Chancellor Klein and others expressing our concerns as well as our call for immediate, updated air quality and soil testing. What response did we receive from the DOE regarding our children's wellness? None -- just silence. No reassurances or expressions of concern, no offers to meet with persons who could address or allay our concerns, no offers of assistance in how to proceed or whom to contact, no offers to fund an independent air quality assessment, nothing. When we arranged, entirely on our own, to have Con Edison representatives (they were responsible for the site under a Voluntary Cleanup Agreement with NY State Department of Environmental Conservation) come to our next PTA meeting just two weeks later, some guy from SCA showed up and dozed through the entire meeting without saying a word. It wasn't until we got NY Lawyers for the Public Interest involved that anyone from DOE would even begin speaking with us -- I'm sure it was the threat of bad publicity or a lawsuit that prompted their response, not a concern over students' health being potentially endangered.

We're not talking about cupcakes here; we're talking about cancer-causing coal tars known to have been leaching from a tank buried inside and under our school basement. So when the DOE claims to be concerned about student wellness, I have to take those concerns with some rather large grains of salt.

I'd be curious to know how many parents and/or teachers have expressed such outrage over the horrendous health effects of cupcakes and brownies in their children's schools that the DOE found itself with no recourse but to take swift and decisive action. Apparently, in the DOE mindset, calories are more dangerous than carcinogens to children's health.

I see this bake sale prohibition policy as nothing more than another way for the DOE to take away parent and student initiative and weaken their ability to raise funds over which they can have some modicum of control. No matter how you slice it, this attempt to remove a classic, long-standing school tradition is another step in kneecapping parent/student influence and involvement, hiding behind the veneer of a supposed concern over student "wellness."

---Steve Koss

Saturday, October 10, 2009

GBN News Editorial: A Lasting Peace Prize?

The Nobel Peace Prize came as a surprise to practically everyone, not the least of whom was this year’s recipient, President Obama. After all, critics protested, what has he really done so far? But the prize was purportedly given to Mr. Obama as much for the potential of his initial peacemaking steps as for any tangible accomplishments.

The President has indeed managed to bring together, in the same room, adversaries who until now have been unwilling to even speak to each other. To get mortal enemies to share a handshake is no mean accomplishment, and the President certainly deserves credit for trying. But what good can really come from bringing together antagonists who have practically nothing in common besides huge egos and their own cynical agendas?

Therefore, while GBN News congratulates Mr. Obama, if the peace agreement between Newt Gingrich and the Reverend Al Sharpton does not reap any meaningful benefits, the Nobel Prize will be a hollow victory indeed for the President.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

DOE Takes the Cake

October 7, 2009 (GBN News): In the wake of the NY City Department of Education’s much publicized ban on bake sales, the Department is planning to show parents and schoolchildren that it truly means business. Over the next few weeks, the DOE will begin supplementing its school metal detectors with mobile cupcake detectors. The new hi-tech devices are to deployed randomly around the school system, and will be set to sense the excessive sugar content of bake sale items. When found, such prohibited substances will be immediately confiscated by school safely officers.

It is unclear how most of the confiscated items will be disposed of. However, a source at the DOE told GBN News that Mayor Bloomberg ordered all confiscated Twinkies to be sent directly to his office “for safekeeping”.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Banning bake sales: another way Bloomberg is trying to kneecap our public schools

It isn't enough that budgets keep getting cut, superintendents are banned from visiting schools in their own districts, and classrooms practically have kids hanging out of the windows, they're so crowded. Now it's banning bake sales as student fundraisers during the school day; while requiring that all student stores buy from a particular vendor chosen by DOE, no doubt at inflated prices. How about no hot dog and cotton candy eating on July 4th, and no pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving while we're at it? This is just adding another nail in the public school coffin, hiding behind a phony argument about "wellness."

The implication that school bake sales are a major contributing factor to child obesity is beyond laughable. If the DOE was truly concerned about children's health, they'd make a real effort to ensure that schools had adequate budgets and time for recess and gym classes instead of worrying about the Chess Club selling cupcakes to raise money for transportation so they can compete in a tournament somewhere. [Editor's note: most NYC schools violate the minimum hours for physical education required by the state, and many lack gyms altogether; see this Public Advocate's report and this from the Bronx Borough President.]
Having been involved in multiple bake sales as a teacher/club advisor and as a PTA officer, this latest diktat just sickens my stomach.

There's just no end to the ways this administration keeps trying to kneecap the public schools. Now they want to kneecap athletic teams, cheerleaders, student governments, senior trips, after-school clubs, and pretty much any other activity that relies on funds not granted by the DOE. To say nothing of the student camaraderie and initiative that comes out of these fundraising events. Yeah, YOU go out and try to sell trail mix and key chains as a school fundraiser -- good luck!

When I became involved as PTA President at Manhattan Center for Science and Math high school in East Harlem, we took over a parent association that was dormant to the point of comatose, with about $300 in the bank and virtually no parent involvement. We used coffee and donuts (donated gratis by a local Dunkin Donuts shop) to help bring parents to our PTA table set up on Parent/Teacher Conference evening and days, and we used a cheesecake sale through Ashley Farms as one of our first halfway decent fundraisers. On those same parent conference nights, we'd see the cheerleaders with a table set up with homemade cakes/cupcakes, and the Advanced Science Research kids were doing the same thing upstairs on the building's third floor. Not to mention the various candy and other bake sales sponsored by the freshman class, the seniors, and various clubs.

These fundraisers not only bring in needed funds, they get kids involved working toward a common goal, and they usually end up integrating the parents into the activity in some way (if only by baking something at home). This is just one more way for the DOE under Klein to assert control -- by removing it from parents and students -- under the absurd guise that they actually care about students' health. This is more than just government as overreaching Mommy, it's a way to reduce local initiatives and parent involvement. It also perversely undercuts the various clubs and student activities that help make schools more than just educational factories and test prep mills, the things that differentiate schools from one another and make them attractive to parents.

Why would we want public schools to look attractive when we have the choice of all these wonderful new, privately-operated charter schools? So at the same time Joel Klein is attending the 2009 grand opening celebration for the Harlem Success Academy charter schools at the Roseland Ballroom (not exactly the school gym), he’s telling regular public school parents and students that they can’t sell homemade cookies or cupcakes in their school lobbies or cafeterias to raise a couple of extra dollars. The day will come when New Yorkers will look back and wonder where their public school system went. By that time, we'll have McDonald's Elementary School and Nike High School. --Steve Koss

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bake Sale Ban Leaves Thompson Without Dough

October 4, 2009 (GBN News): A provision in the NY City Department of Education’s recent ban on bake sales in schools may adversely affect Mayoral candidate William Thompson’s ability to compete financially with Mayor Bloomberg. The prohibition on this traditional form of fund raising purportedly seeks to limit the availability of unhealthy foods in schools. But the ban does not just affect PA’s and PTA’s. According to a fine print provision of Chancellor’s Regulation A-812, “All current and former employees of the Department of Education are prohibited from selling non-approved food items.” As a former Board of Education President, Mr. Thompson would presumably fall under this stipulation.

Mr. Thompson already faces a huge gap between Mayor Bloomberg’s spending, already over $60 million, and his own, which so far totals just under $4 million. With many expected Thompson donors sitting on the sidelines in the face of the billionaire Mayor’s huge resources and consequent political power, the Democratic candidate had begun resorting to bake sales to raise badly needed funds. But the DOE ban could leave him, like the school parent organizations, starved for funds.

J. Fredrick Runson, head of the Political Science Department at the Manhattan Culinary Institute, says that the bake sale ban could backfire on the Mayor. “Clearly, the ban seeks to stifle both parent groups and political opponents of the Mayor,” Dr. Runson told GBN News. “But look at the bright side. His opponents will now get healthier, while he himself continues to indulge in all of the stuff he bans for everyone else. They’ll eventually outlast him.”

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Truth meter of Bloomberg's education campaign claims at zero

The NY Times revealed today that Mayor Bloomberg has spent $65 million so far on his re-election campaign-- on his way to spend around $120 million, which would break all records, including his own. In contrast, his opponent Bill Thompson has spent less than $4 million. Bloomberg has spent $22 million on TV ads, and $10 million on mailings -- including at least five copious large postcards filling the mailboxes of every New Yorker, trumpeting his achievements in the field of public education. Let's a take a careful look at these claims.

Claim: Reading Scores UP 27.5 percentage points.

the most reliable assessments, the federal exams known as the NAEPs, show no improvement in reading scores since the Bloomberg/Klein policies were put in place. Meanwhile, the state tests have become so easy over time that a student can pass simply by random guessing.

Claim: School Crime DOWN 44%.

Reports from the Public Advocate's office and an audit from the Comptroller's office find the practice of underreporting of school crime in NYC schools is widespread. Because of the unreliability of such statistics, the DOE does not even incorporate this data into their school grading system.

Claim: Dropout rates DOWN 6.5 percentage points.

While graduation rates are up, so are the number of students discharged from our schools without diplomas, but not counted as dropouts. More than 21 percent of NYC students were discharged from high schools without graduating in 2007, the latest year we have data, and the those discharged in their first year of high school has doubled, for unexplained reasons. The higher the discharge rate, the higher the graduation rate, since all these students are removed from the cohort, as explained in this report.

It has also become easier for students to graduate from high school without completing their course work or attending classes through the discredited practice of credit recovery, in which they can gain credits for courses that they would ordinarily have failed by attending a few weekend sessions or doing an independent project.

Claim: Cut $350 million from the bureaucracy and put it in the classroom.

This is one of the most repeated claims of this administration, with no independent evidence to back it up. In 2003, the DOE claimed cuts to the bureaucracy of $250 million, mostly from dissolving the school districts, but the Independent Budget Office and the City Comptroller found little evidence of these savings, nor how such funds had been redirected. See also NY Times, “On How Much City Schools Cut Bureaucracy, a Rebuttal”, and NY Daily News, “Ed Dept. savings called shell game.”

What has happened since then? The claim of $250 million in savings has now mysteriously been inflated to $350 million, while the cost of over-paid consultants and educrats at Tweed has grown, as have the no-bid contracts, with more than $340 million awarded by DOE between FY 2005 and FY 2008 alone.

This NY Times analysis shows that over the course of the Bloomberg’s reign, the number of administrators, data coaches, school secretaries, and other out-of-classroom positions has increased by an astonishing 10,000, while the number of classroom teachers has fallen by more than 1600 . Those employees making over $100,000 has quadrupled – even after adjusting for inflation. Joel Klein has said he would like to continue this damaging trend of disinvesting in the classroom by further shrinking the number of teachers by 30 percent.

Sign a letter to Commissioner Steiner now!

The deadline for comments on the city's Contracts for Excellence is October 8; please lend your support by signing onto the below letter to the newState Commissioner of Education, David Steiner, urging him to make NYC comply with the law and start reducing class size now.

We are now at the mid-point of the city's mandated five year class size reduction plan, yet class sizes continue to rise, our schools are growing more overcrowded every day, and the city continues to ignore its moral and legal obligations to our children.

To sign this letter, composed by me and Robert Jackson, the chair of the NYC Council education committee, just email me and let me know your name school, district, office, or other affiliation, and whether you'd like an asterisk (affiliation for identification purpose only.)

If you're interested in more information on this issue, as well as chartsand citations to back up our statements in the letter, you can check out our C4E fact sheet. You can also send comments to DOE by emailing

To Commissioner Steiner:

We urge you to require the city to start reducing class size now, according to the terms of its Contracts for Excellence (C4E). Smaller classes remain the top priority of NYC parents, according to the Department of Education's own surveys, and the state's highest court said that our children were deprived of their constitutional right to an adequate education in large part because of excessive class sizes.

In return for receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in additional state funds, the city promised that class sizes would be lowered each year until the citywide average would be no more than 20 students per class in grades K-3 and 23 in all other grades by the fall of 2011.

Class size reduction is now a state mandate, and yet last year class sizes increased last year bythe largest amount in ten years; and there are widespread reports of further increases this year.

In addition, the C4E process for public participation has been deeply flawed, as the city failed to hold any public hearings this past June, as recommended by the state, and has refused to hold any borough hearings, as required by law. Instead, a power point is being presented to CommunityEducation Councils which omits any mention of the city's five year class size reduction plan, as well as the DOE's failure to meet its class size targets for two years in a row.

In its official C4E submission, the city pledged to the state that the "the Department continues to be committed to reducing class size in early gradesvia the Early Grade Class Size Reduction program." Yet when an audit was released in September, revealing the misuse of millions of dollars of thesefunds, the DOE claimed that the program "no longer exists." Please see attached fact sheet for more information on these findings.

Clearly, the city has reneged on its promise to reduce class size. It is time that the state utilizes its full oversight authority, and requires the city comply with the law.

We recommend that a corrective action plan be imposed with the following provisions:

1-The city's plan should be revised to include specific class size reduction goals by school, district, and citywide -- sufficient to achieve its annual and five year goals.

2-The city should be obligated to assign whatever teachers remain on absent teacher reserve (ATR) to regular classrooms in their respective districts, so that class sizes can be reduced from current levels.

3-The city should be forbidden from further pursuing any policies thatconflict with its class size goals, including placing new schools in buildings before smaller classes have been achieved in the existing schools. DOE continues to insert new schools into buildings where the existing school is "underutilized" according to a formula which assumes near maximum classsizes.

4. The state should require that the city revise its capital plan so that it can provide enough space necessary for its class size goals to be achieved,as the C4E regulations require.

5. The state should hold back all C4E funds before the city has reported to the state in detail what reductions have been achieved by school, district and citywide, reporting that is now mandated by the state to occur by November 17.

This year will be the mid-point in the city's five year class size reduction plan, instituted by the Legislature so that our children could eventually be assured of an adequate education. There is no time to waste.

If the State Education Department does not require these basic steps to demand accountability and credibility on the part of the city, it will have failed in its responsibilities to our children, to the Legislature, and to New York taxpayers.


Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters
Council Member Robert Jackson, chair, City Council Education Committee and Campaign for Fiscal Equity plaintiff

(See here for more signers.)