Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Holiday Fantasy (Revised 2009)

Twas the day after Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa/…,when all around Tweed,
Not a creature was stirring, no one to take heed,
No stockings were hung by the chimney this time,
For the schools had been plundered by Bloomberg and Klein,

The city schoolchildren nestled snug in their beds,
Hoping to go back to school without dread,
Of their schools being closed, replaced by charters,
Finding a good place to learn would be harder,

But then on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
That Bloomberg and Klein knew something’s the matter,
Away to the window they flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash,

A host of pale figures, with ghostly shine,
Looked menacingly up at Bloomberg and Klein,
There were ATRs and teachers from rubber rooms,
And children fed up with crowded classrooms,

And angry parents who knew it not for the best,
For their children’s teachers to teach to the test,
With their students’ scores the only way,
They could gain the coveted merit pay,

Oh, Bloomberg and Klein, the fates for you,
Will be in the hands of this ghostly crew,
If you don't care to tend to the stakeholders’ needs,
You'll find it's the end of your control of Tweed,

Bloomberg and Klein just slithered away,
Too frightened to face this another day,
One only can hope that this lesson in dread,
Will not be lost on the Secretary of Ed.

A great holiday present for our kids, and please help us help you!

There’s great news today, and a holiday present for NYC public schoolchildren! Yesterday, the NY State Supreme Court rejected the city’s attempt to lease half of the sports fields on Randall’s Island to twenty private schools for the next twenty years, without first going through the mandated process, including review by the local Community Board and City Council.

Class Size Matters helped organize this lawsuit in 2006, when the city decided to unilaterally grant two thirds of these fields to the private schools, and this is the second time in two years that the court ruled in our favor. Yesterday, we were rewarded with a slam dunk decision, in which Judge Marilyn Shafer said that the city's arguments were “inherently incredible,” and ordered the city to pay court costs and fees to our (pro bono) attorneys, because of their attempt to evade the earlier ruling. (The decision is posted here; see also the Daily News, Times , NY Post and WNYC.)

The court ruling caps an eventful year for Class Size Matters, in which we’ve been busy advocating for all NYC students to be provided with smaller classes and a better opportunity to learn. We led the “Build Schools, not Prisons” campaign to alleviate school overcrowding, and recently the city added 5,000 seats to the capital plan. We co-authored a report on the growing numbers of students discharged from our schools but not counted as dropouts. We published a book on the Bloomberg-Klein educational record that received attention as far away as Australia and Thailand.

We helped form the Parent Commission to advocate for a better school governance law with more real parental input, and together with other public school parents, created NYC Kids Pac, to support candidates who will work for positive change in our schools.

We continue to offer news and information to parents through our two list servs, contribute to and manage the NYC public school parent blog, and also started a column on the Huffington Post. Finally, as mentioned above, we just a won a major case that will hopefully ensure the right of all NYC students to have equal access to the sports fields on Randall’s Island for years to come. Just some of our nearly 100 press clips from the past year are posted on our website.

Please be a part of this effort by contributing what you can. We rely on your financial support. Just click here, or on the link below to give a tax-deductible donation.

Anyone who donates $50 or more will receive a free copy of our acclaimed book, NYC Schools under Bloomberg and Klein, what Parents, Teachers and Policymakers Need to Know, with essays by Diane Ravitch, Debbie Meier, Steve Koss, Patrick Sullivan, and others.

Help us achieve our goal: that the city will finally fulfill its obligation to provide all public school children with smaller classes, a quality education, and a better chance to learn.

Please make a tax-deductible contribution to Class Size Matters now!

Happy holidays and a happy New Year,
Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Patrick Sullivan commands the stage at the PEP

Check out this video of Manhattan member of the Panel for Educational Policy Patrick Sullivan, fearless and brilliant, at the PEP December 20 meeting in the Bronx.

My favorite clip: when Patrick berates DOE officials for their "lack of fiscal discipline" -- their insistence on spending yet even more millions for yet another wasteful piece of software, a teacher training module that is supposed to be integrated into the $80 million super-computer super-mugging that is ARIS; meanwhile, school budgets are being slashed to the bone.

Hurray for Patrick! We are truly lucky to have him.

Gotham Gazette 2010 predictions taps GBN News

Gotham Gazette has included me as part of its "panel of experts" sharing predictions for the coming year. Of course, this means a GBN News article dated April 7, 2010. Here is the full article and it is also copied below.

Gary Babad, a NY City public school parent and writer for NYC Public School Parent

In the spirit of the parodies I write on New York City Public School Parents, here are my predictions:

Klein Closes Department of Education, Fires Self

April 7, 2010 (GBN News): Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, in a bold restructuring move, abruptly closed down the New York City Department of Education today and fired himself. The chancellor's actions came following the release of the city's reading test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), showing that the city's performance has remained flat for the past two years. On top of last fall's report that math scores had not significantly improved since 2007, the revelations gave the chancellor no choice but to take this drastic step.

However, on the heels of this announcement, Mr. Klein dropped another bombshell. He told reporters that he gives more weight to the "steady progress" made since 2003 than the lack of progress in the past two years. Thus, he will be rehiring himself immediately and reconstituting the DOE.

These rapid-fire reorganizations come at a particularly challenging time for the education department. Just last week, Mr. Klein had announced the closing of the last remaining public high school in the city. The DOE had been closing more and more "underperforming" schools, with students from each one flooding the few non-charter schools that were left. It is unclear just where the 253,763 students from Alfred E .Neuman High School in Queens will go next year, but the chancellor had a reassuring message for concerned parents. "The good news," said Mr.Klein, "is that with virtually no schools left, the high school application process has been considerably simplified."

NAEP Math Results -- Detailed Analysis Is Not Good News for Bloomberg and Klein

The recently released Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) results on the 2009 NAEP Math exam provide enough detailed data to explore NYC’s math education performance by ethnic group and family income. In addition, and perhaps most informatively, NYC’s progress can be compared in each category against the nine other cities that have participated in TUDA since 2003 (Austin began in 2005, and seven more cities began just this year). The results go a long way for assessing whether New York’s progress under mayoral control is notably different, for better or worse, than in these other cities.

The bottom line is decidedly mixed – favorable improvement at Grade 4 in total and for White, Black, Hispanic and Free Lunch Eligible breakdowns compared to the other TUDA cities, middling to poor comparative improvement at Grade 8 in all those same categories, and almost exclusively poor comparative performance at both grade levels on Black/White and Hispanic/White achievement gaps. After six years of learning under the Bloomberg/Klein mayoral control regime, Grade 8 students demonstrated almost uniformly poor performance gains on the NAEP math exam compared to other TUDA cities.

Let’s begin with the basics – improvement in average score and percentage of students at Proficient and Advanced. As the abbreviated table below shows, NYC’s comparative performance over six years placed it third out of ten cities for Grade 4 average math score (barely ahead of Atlanta and San Diego) and achievement level, but near the bottom of those same ten cities for Grade 8 average score increase and in the middle of the pack for Grade 8 achievement level increases. The clear overall winners in comparative performance on these measures were Boston and San Diego, with Houston also showing notably well at in both Grade 8 measures.

--------------------------NYC ------Rank -------------------- Other Cities

-------- Grade 4 ----- +11 ------- 3 of 10 ---------- Boston (+16), D.C. (+15)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +7 --------- 8 of 10 --------- Boston (+18), San Diego (+16),
---------------------------------------------------- Atlanta (+15), Houston (+13), LA (+13)

-------- Grade 4 ----- +14 ------- 3 of 10 ---------- Boston (+19), San Diego (+16)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +7 --------- 4* of 10 --------- Boston (+14), San Diego (+14),
------------------------------------------------------------- Houston (+12)
* Three-way tie with D.C. and LA

Breaking things down by racial group, NYC students showed solid increases across racial groups in percentage of students Proficient or Advanced at Grade 4, ranking third out of ten cities for White students (+16) , second for Black students (+9), and fourth for Hispanic students (+11). At Grade 8 level, however, NYC ranked sixth (tied with Cleveland) out of eight (Atlanta and DC did not meet NAEP reporting requirements for Grade 8) for White students, fifth (tied with Chicago and LA) for Black students, and eighth out of eight for Hispanic students. In other words, at Grade 8 level, NYC students’ increases ranked next to last for Whites and Blacks and dead last for Hispanics.

-------- Grade 4 ----- +16 ------- 3 of 10 ---------- Boston (+19), San Diego (+16)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +7 --------- 6* of 8 --------- Boston (+14), San Diego (+14),
------------------------------------------------------------- Houston (+12)
* Tied with Cleveland

-------- Grade 4 ----- +9 ------- 2 of 10 ---------- Boston (+17)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +3 --------- 5* of 8 --------- Boston (+12), San Diego (+9),
------------------------------------------------------------- Houston (+6), Charlotte (+6)
* Three-way tie with Chicago and LA

-------- Grade 4 ----- +11 ------- 4 of 9 ---------- D.C. (+18), Boston (+17), Houston (+13)
-------- Grade 8 ----- (-1) --------- 8 of 8 --------- Boston (+13), Houston (+12,)
------------------------------------------------------------- Chicago (+11), San Diego (+8)

In terms of achievement gaps, the Black/White gap actually grew worse, increasing seven points in Grade 4 (from 30 percentage points in 2003 to 37 in 2009) and four points in Grade 8 (from 31 percentage points in 2003 to 35 in 2009). For Grade 4, this gap increase was eighth worse out of ten cities, while at Grade 8 it was second out of eight cities. The picture was even worse for the
White/Hispanic achievement gap, increasing five points in Grade 4 (from 29 to 34 percentage points) and eight points in Grade 8 (from 25 to 33 percentage points). Thus, in the White/Hispanic achievement gap for both grades, these results placed NYC in ties for second to last out of the cities reported by NAEP.

-------- Grade 4 ----- +7 ------- 8 of 10 ---------- Boston (+19), San Diego (+16)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +4 --------- 2 of 10 --------- Charlotte (-3)

-------- Grade 4 ----- +5 ------- 6* of 9 ---------- Cleveland (-9), D.C. (-8), LA (-6),
------------------------------------------------------------- Houston (-5)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +8 ------- 6** of 8 --------- Boston (+14), San Diego (+14),
------------------------------------------------------------- Houston (+12)
* Three-way tie with Charlotte and Chicago
** Tied with Houston

Looking at average scores instead of proficiency levels, NYC ranked fourth out of ten cities on change from 2003 to 2009 in the White/Black performance gap and third out of eight cities at Grade 8. For the White/Hispanic performance gap, NYC ranked sixth out of ten cities at Grade 4 and dead last, eighth out of eight cities, for Grade 8.

Finally, we can look at changes in average score for Free Lunch Eligible and Free Lunch Ineligible students. By this breakdown, NYC ranked well (second out of ten) for Grade 4 Free Lunch Eligible but poorly in the other three categories (Grade 4 Free Lunch Ineligible – tied for last, Grade 8 Free Lunch Eligible (tied for seventh out of 10 cities), and Grade 8 Free Lunch Ineligible (last, ninth out of nine cities).

-------- Grade 4 ----- +11 ------- 2 of 10 ---------- Boston (+15)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +9 --------- 7* of 10 --------- Boston (+17), San Diego (+16),
---------------------------------------------------- Atlanta (+14), LA (+14)
* Tied with Cleveland

-------- Grade 4 ----- +5 ------- 8* of 9 ---------- Boston (+16), D.C. (+15)
-------- Grade 8 ----- (-10) ---- 9 of 9 --------- LA (+36), D.C. (+22), Houston (+20),
------------------------------------------------ Atlanta (+18), Boston (+17), San Diego (+17)
* Tied with Charlotte

Michael Bloomberg’s campaign for his third mayoral term was predicated in no small part on his claims to be NYC’s “education mayor” as justified and bolstered by NYS exam scores and a host of other self-generated statistics. Comparative analysis of TUDA results shows that those claims as measured by NAEP are suspect at best, and whatever gains are being achieved are coming at what for many is far too high a price.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Charter schools: the new polo ponies of the wealthy

It appears from an article in the Brooklyn Paper that the PAVE charter school board has been put on the defensive by DOE's proposal to give them a five year extension on staying at PS 15 -- and allowing them to take more space from the school each year as they expand, instead of the two year extension they originally requested.

A member of the board revealed that they have already been provided $26 million of city taxpayer funds from the NYC Department of Education for their own facility, and have raised $6.2 million more. Apparently they lack only $6 million to make this new building a reality.

Unmentioned in the article is that Spencer Robertson, the founder of PAVE, is the scion of Julian Robertson -- former hedge fund manager and according to Forbes, the #147 wealthiest person in the US, with an estimated fortune of $2.2 billion.

Julian Robertson is one of many hedge fund operators who have taken up charter schools as their new hobby, according to an article in the Style section of the NY Times. Robertson owns vineyards and golf courses in New Zealand, as well as homes in Locust Valley, the Hamptons and Sun Valley, as well in New York City.

He and other financiers are especially enthusiastic about the cause, because they their contributions are more than matched by hefty subsidies from state and city taxpayers. According to Whitney Tilson, another hedge fund operator and charter school supporter:

“It’s the most important cause in the nation, obviously, and with the state providing so much of the money, outside contributions are insanely well leveraged."

And yet Julian Robertson himself is careful not to pay NYC taxes , by making certain to spend under 183 days in the city. The state recently brought a lawsuit against Mr. Robertson senior for failure to pay taxes, but Robertson won this case, by proving that he had carefully worked out the minimum number of days he would reside in the city and having his scheduler keep records of this:

"...Mr. Robertson designated an assistant, his scheduler Julie Depperschmidt, to keep a careful count of where the Robertsons were from day to day in 2000 and to make sure they did not spend 183 days or more in New York City."

Spencer Robertson's wife Sarah is Director of Talent Recruitment at PAVE , and head of the board of Girls Prep Charter School, which has caused considerable controversy of its own by seeking to expand within a District 1 public school building. See the photo below, courtesy of the NY Times, of a recent District 1 meeting about the expansion of this school.
Another member of the Girls Prep board is Eric Grannis, husband of Eva Moskowitz, who makes more than $300,000 a year, operating another string of charter schools and who herself has been eager to expand her schools even further into the buildings of existing public schools in Harlem.

See this article about a "secret" meeting that took place last May, between Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Julian Robertson and other members of the Billionaire Boy's club, about how to coordinate their charity "efforts".

I suppose that didn't include a measly $6 million for a building for PACE, since DOE has now given them carte blanche to keep squatting in PS 15 for at least five more years-- which presumably would also allow the school to keep collecting interest from the $26 million of taxpayer funds they already had been given for school facilities.
(I wonder what the reaction of these hedge funds operators might be if a charter school was allowed to take up space and expand within the private schools where their own children attend school. )

Finally, everyone must read this brilliant Diane Ravitch piece about how the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" program, with its emphasis on charter school expansion is antithetical to the whole concept of equal opportunity and public responsibility for education. She puts it within a historical context, as only Diane can do:

Having written the history of the New York City public schools, I was reminded of the origins of free schooling in certain northeastern cities in the early 19th Century, when wealthy men decided that it was their civic duty to help civilize the children of the poor. In their view and in their day, they were doing good deeds, but their schools were stigmatized as charity schools for children of paupers and were avoided by children of the middle class. Outside of big cities, public education emerged as a community response to a community's need to school its children, not as a charitable venture.

Today, with the proliferation of charter schools, we may be seeing a resurgence of the historic pattern as public schools are privatized and taken over by very rich men (and women) who see themselves as saviors of the children of the poor. Naturally, you find this a repellent portrait because it undermines the democratic foundations of public education. It means that our society will increasingly rely on the good will of wealthy patrons to educate children of color. It means that education is seen as a private charity rather than as a public responsibility. Let's hope that the new owners who have taken over these schools are able to sustain their interest. After all, having 500 children in your care is not the same as having a stable of polo ponies or a vineyard in Napa Valley. If the children don't produce results that make the sponsors proud, they may pick a different hobby.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Save Columbus High School!

I hope everyone reads Christine Rowland's excellent piece on the unfair and destructive proposal to close Columbus HS at GothamSchools and then joins the Facebook group to Save Columbus.

You can also check out Leo Casey's piece at Edwize about how the DOE's "progress reports" victimize schools with alot of high-needs kids. Then be sure to watch this moving video:

When you are finished, read DOE's totally inadequate "education impact statement" calling for the school's closure, and send in your comments to the DOE. Be sure to email them as well to all the PEP members (their addresses are to the right).

Then come to the PEP meeting where the school's closure will be voted on, along with more than thirty other closings and changes in school utilization, at Brooklyn Tech on Jan. 26, and make your voices heard!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NAEP 2009 Math Results Show Little Progress for NYC Schools

Last week, math scores for 2009 were released for the eighteen cities now participating in the NAEP Grade 4 and 8 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) component, released bi-annually as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Operated under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Education and reported by their National Center for Educational Statistics, the NAEP’s are the only math and reading exams administered across the fifty states (reading test results are expected in Spring 2010). Given on a statistical sampling basis without high stakes consequences, these exams are generally considered the single best measure of national educational progress.

The Math results for 2009 were not the best of news for NYC. Among the eleven large cities who participated in 2007, only Boston and D.C. showed statistically significant gains in Grade 4 and only Austin and San Diego in Grade 8. No city declined, but the rest, including NYC, showed either no gains or gains sufficiently modest that they couldn’t reliably be attributed to real gains (as opposed to random chance). For NYC, these results stand in sharp contrast to the rather sizable gains in Grade 4 and 8 Math reported over the last two years via the NYS Grade 3-8 annual exams (on which School Progress Reports, grade retention, principals’ bonuses, and the Mayor’s political persona are based).

As reported in the local media (Jennifer Medina in the NY Times, Rachel Monohan and Meredith Kolodner in the NY Daily News, Yoav Gonen in the NY Post, and Beth Fertig at, NYC showed a one-point gain in average exam score in Grade 4 (from 236 in 2007 to 237 in 2009) and a three-point gain (from 270 to 273) in Grade 8. In addition, the percentage of Grade 4 students judged Proficient or better on the NAEP exam rose from 34% in 2007 to 35% in 2009; for Grade 8, the numbers were 22% in 2007 to 26% this year. By comparison, the NYS exams showed NYC Grade 4 proficiency or better increasing from 74.1% to 84.9% and Grade 8 moving up an astonishing 25 percentage points, from 45.6% to 71.3%. Comparable numbers since 2003 are shown below.

Grade 4 - % Proficient or Higher (Level 3+4 for NYS exams, Proficient + Advanced for NAEP)

2003 --- NYS 66.7% --- NAEP 21%

2005 --- NYS 77.4% --- NAEP 26%

2007 --- NYS 74.1% --- NAEP 34%

2009 --- NYS 84.9% --- NAEP 35%

Grade 8 - & Proficient or Higher (Level 3+4 for NYS exams, Proficient + Advanced for NAEP)

2003 --- NYS 34.4% --- NAEP 21%

2005 --- NYS 40.8% --- NAEP 21%

2007 --- NYS 45.6% --- NAEP 22%

2009 --- NYS 71.3% --- NAEP 26%

The inflation in all the NYS-based numbers naturally suggests that NYS/NYC students’ mathematical knowledge is nowhere near what is claimed by NYSED and NYCDOE.

This hardly comes as a surprise to most; it largely reflects the inherent fallacy of the NYSED’s testing regime, whose high stakes under NCLB have been substantially amplified under mayoral control of NYC schools until test prep and teaching to a specific test have come to dominate math teaching in the city. Nevertheless, measuring NYC’ students’ mathematical progress against the NAEP’s does suggest that, at least at Grade 4, both sets of scores are moving upward in some degree of encouraging lockstop. The picture in Grade 8 is far different and far more gloomy, particularly viewed within the framework of the huge reported gains in 2008 (14 percentage points, to 59.6%) and 2009 (another 11.7 percentage points, to 71.3% as shown in the table above).

These latest NAEP results offer a highly reliable reality check on the claimed math gains of NYC public school students. At Grade 4, the NAEPs suggest that the NYS test results have a degree of validity with regard to progress, although the 50-percentage-point gap on achievement is a major contradictory indicator of mastery level. At Grade 8, the NAEP’s paint a truly worrisome picture of a 45-percentage-point achievement gap and almost no measured progress in six years on the NAEPs during a period when NYC results on State exams signal gains bordering suspiciously on miraculous.

More disconcerting still is the realization that the 2009-year Grade 8 students who took these latest NAEPs are the first "pre-high-school end products" of the NYC public school system under Joel Klein and mayoral control during the six-year period (2003 - 2009) since the TUDAs and mayoral control both began.

Michael Bloomberg’s campaign for his third mayoral term was predicated in no small part on his claims to be NYC’s “education mayor” as justified by NYS exam scores and a host of other DOE self-generated statistical measures. In my next posting, I will delve much more deeply into the NAEP’s raw data to compare NYC’s progress since 2003 against the nine other large cities who have participated in TUDA since that time and also reveal how many of the DOE’s (and Mayor’s) claims are simply not supported by the only truly independent measure of NYC public school education currently available.

Monday, December 14, 2009

MTA Finance Committe Approves End to Funding NYC Student MetroCards

If the budget proposal stands as approved today by the MTA Finance Committee, NYC public school students will be required to pay half fares for their subway and bus transportation to and from school beginning next September, and even that 50% discount will be eliminated beginning in September, 2011. Elements of the MTA's proposal were presented on NY1 today and are now being reported in both the NY Daily News and the NY Times City Room blog. The Daily News reports tonight:

Approximately 555,000 students have received free or discounted Metro Cards in a longstanding program that had been fully funded by the state and city until 1995, when they slashed subsidies.

The state - which had been contributing $45 million a year to the program - reduced its share to $6 million this year, transit officials said.

MTA spokesman Jermey Soffin said no other transit authority in the country covers the cost of students traveling to or from school, and MTA Chief Financial Officer Gary Dellaverson said the state and city reduced free MetroCard subsidies in the 1990s, leaving the MTA to absorb more and more of the tab.

This year, "the state for all intent and purposes has eliminated its contribution to school fares...," Dellaverson said. An MTA budget document says, "The MTA can no longer afford to subsidize this free service."

Since the mid-1990s, NYC and NYS contributions to the free fare student MetroCard program had remained flat at a combined (and roughly 50/50 split) $90 million, even as fares have risen 80%, from $1.25 through most of 1995 to $2.25 today.

In 2009, NYS radically reduced its contribution to just $6 million (the declining red area), substantially compounding the growing shortfall already being made up by the MTA (the expanding green area) over recent years as can be seen in the graph shown here (covering 2000 - 2009), taken from today's MTA 2010 Budget -- December Financial Plan Presentation. Interestingly, in the same document, another chart projects savings increasing from $31 million in 2010 (students would receive half-fare MetroCards) to $62 million in 2011 (students receive no MetroCards), followed by a jump to $170 million in each of 2012 and 2013.

If things stand as presented, NYC public school parents will be left to fund their children's daily transit to/from school at an approximate cost of $750 per student per year at current fare levels. The burden will obviously fall hardest on those who can least afford it, the many Title I qualifying families in the city. Students will be less likely to choose schools at a commuting distance from their homes, fare-beating incidents and absence/truancy rates will rise, and petty thefts, gang-related activies, and other such problems will increase as more students resort to walking longer distances for lack of train or bus fare.

From the NY Times City Room blog:
Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, sharply denounced the cuts to student discounts. “The fact that you would jeopardize free MetroCards for children to go to school, and put their parents in harm’s way, is something so inexcusable, I had to come here today and tell you, just stop,” Mr. Stringer said in an angry speech before the committee meeting.

Perhaps there's one ray of sunshine in all this: Mayor Bloomberg will no longer have to put up with so many noisy, rowdy schoolchildren on his daily, "See! I really am in touch with the unwashed masses" morning subway ride to City Hall.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Onion Just Flat-Out Nails It!

The latest print issue of The Onion, New York's (and America's) best print/online satire magazine, includes a "Sports Section" article that absolutely nails the state of NYC and NYS education as well as that of the entire U.S. under NCLB.

Titled "Pittsburgh School District Leads Nation in Ability to Spell 'Roethlisberger,'" the article is fall-on-the-floor, laugh-out-loud hilarious, at least until you realize just had sadly true is the underlying reality that it satirizes. Replace the word "Roethlisberger" with NYS Math and ELA exams, Grades 3-8, and you've got the exact voice of the Tweed/DOE P.R. machine. If I hadn't seen it in The Onion newspaper myself, I'd have thought it came from Gary Babad. Enjoy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

From Big School to Big House

December 7, 2009 (GBN News): Mayor Michael Bloomberg today sharply rejected claims that his planned expansion of the Brooklyn House of Detention takes away money that could otherwise be used for education. In fact, the Mayor revealed a new plan through which local public school students would benefit by sharing space in the newly renovated jail facility.

In one stroke, Mr. Bloomberg appears to be trying to defuse two controversies that he has recently been embroiled in: a conflict with Comptroller William Thompson over approval of funding for the jail renovation; and the prospective closing of William H. Maxwell Vocational High School, which would leave many Brooklyn students without a local school.

The Mayor contends that his plan is a “win-win” for both the Departments of Education and Correction. “The jail gets increased capacity, the students get new space just a 10 minute bus ride from their old school,” he told reporters. “There will be great vocational opportunities on-site like license plate making. And best of all, the facility already has metal detectors to keep the students from bringing in their cell phones.”

However, Mr. Bloomberg’s plan is not without risk. If the students at the new facility fail to perform well on their standardized tests, the entire Brooklyn House of Detention could again be closed down, leaving both students and inmates out in the cold.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The case for keeping Maxwell Vocational HS open

A school that has served countless students since 1951 is on the chopping block, as the mayor’s newest round of school closures descends upon New York City. William H. Maxwell V.H.S. – a career and technical school - that houses majors in medical careers, cosmetology, fashion, and graphic design - is the latest casualty.

It is a school that requires more credits from its students than the average city high school, due to the additional credit hours involved in the majors.

Although successfully overcoming the state’s SURR list status in the past – almost immediately – it was filled beyond capacity, to 2000 students – in a building that was listed to serve 900. The influx of students came from other closed schools, such as Jefferson High School, in the first round of closures that the mayor instituted. It is in this context that the school received an F rating by the mayor’s progress report in 2006. The percentage of special-ed students is currently double that of other high schools at 22%. The school also services ELL students, which comprise 5% of the enrollment.

In the following year, the staff and newly appointed principal managed to obtain a D with a rating just shy of 31 (the cutoff score to obtain a C). Small learning communities were instituted, teachers voted for advisory classes, instituted retesting, and increased tutoring hours. This year, a double digit gain was seen as the school amassed a rating of 43.2. However, the DOE increased the cut off score to 44. Therefore, it was categorized as a D school for the second year in a row. If the scale had not been abruptly changed, the school would have been just shy of getting a B on last year’s scale.

The school had been in the headlines as recently as this summer. In an article about credit recovery in the NY Times, teachers in Maxwell exposed the pressure by the mayor’s DOE to offer kids dozens of credits – seemingly for doing holiday packets of worksheets – with no certified teacher in that field present. Although recovery credits are legal according to Bloomberg’s DOE with hardly any guidelines or restrictions, teachers took exception, and many refused to go along in signing off on these packets, contending that it was the mayor’s version of social promotion and a watering down of education for political gains. In addition, many of the hard working students who attended daily, vocalized the unfairness of these credit “give-aways” to those who had not made the same effort.

The recent announcement of proposed closure by Superintendent Cumberbatch to the staff left many sitting in the auditorium confused and angry. Adding to the confusion was the fact that the DOE awarded performance bonuses to the staff for recent academic gains. See, for example, this chart showing rising graduation rates.

Questions were asked about the seeming randomness of the increased cut off point. Teachers angrily pointed out that the school had recent graduates enrolled in Cornell, NYU, SUNY colleges such as Binghamton and Stony Brook, and a multitude of CUNY colleges. In addition, numerous students currently work in the very fields they majored in while attending Maxwell.

Many of the teachers voiced a feeling of betrayal, after years of instituting every suggested change and initiative brought down by DOE representatives - portfolios, individual goals, diagnostic testing, differentiated learning, and a weekly array of meetings to conference on struggling students – often times ignoring the union guidelines of working through lunch periods and after school hours. This hard work produced a Proficient rating from the New York State Education Department’s quality review.

This anger has transformed into determination, as the staff, students, parents, and past graduates now mobilize to demand that the mayor lay his hands off this proud school. It’s evident that the mayor does not want this round of closures to stir up a backlash of community uproar. Several times during the announcement, the superintendent kept reminding the staff that the open forums were merely a formality that existed because of the new governance laws – that the decision is a foregone conclusion.

These warnings, however, seemed to have failed to pacify the school community. As one teacher noted, maybe it’s a relief to finally know where we stand and know who we are fighting. And even after years of stress, being on the brink of closure, the staff feels reaffirmed that the school and its successes are worth this struggle. At the public forum on Tuesday, Jan. 12th,at 6pm in Maxwell’s auditorium, the school promises to show the mayor what happens when the talents of many voices come together – to contrast the decisions of just one single man.

- the Community of W.H. Maxwell Vocational HS.

If you want to support this school staying open, please contact Seung Ok, teacher at Maxwell, at

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Schools slated for closure -- resulting from the failure of the administration's policies

The DOE announced yesterday that they intend to close four schools, with more such announcements expected in the near future. (The Mayor recently announced he would like to close 10% of all NYC schools over the next four years – which would mean more than 35 a year.) Yet the low performance of these schools signals the ongoing failure of the administration's educational policies.

The schools targeted for closure include William H. Maxwell CTE (Vocational) HS; a school that has been flooded with high needs student for many years. Last year Maxwell was at 94% utilization; not long ago it was the most overcrowded high school in NYC. It has target cap of 1055 – which was raised from 722 originally -- so you can see how overcrowded it really is.

From Inside Schools:

An Oct. 4, 2004 Daily News article by Elizabeth Hays details the severe overcrowding at Maxwell. In the article, Ms. Hays refers to Maxwell as "Sardine High" and notes: "the former all-girls technical school in East New York is the most overcrowded high school in the city, the city Independent Budget Office said in a recent study. In the past three years, enrollment at Maxwell has skyrocketed more than 30%, from 1,341 to 1,757. And that's in a building designed for 722 students."

In many ways Maxwell is emblematic of DOE’s failures – as they have overloaded large high schools, including vocational schools, with the students that none of the small schools would accept– including many uninterested in the vocations that the school specialized in.

It always astounded me that the small schools could get away with not admitting any student who didn’t tour the school and apply, but vocational schools, which require students not only to pass Regents, but to pass exams in specific technical/vocational areas, could be sent students with no interest in those careers. The DOE says that part of their reason for closing the school is its low four-year graduation rate, but vocational schools should probably be judged on a different standard, because of all the extra courses and tests that students have to pass.

I met a teacher from Jane Addams HS in the Bronx who told me that the school was until recently the second highest performing school in that borough, after Bronx Science. Yet the new administration had wrecked his school, he said, by barring them from admissions fairs and ensuring that all the best students would enroll in the new small “New Century” high schools, funded by the Gates foundation. As a result, Addams and many other large Bronx high schools got sent all the kids that nobody else wanted.

As for Maxwell, this year the school had classes in at least twelve subjects at the contractual maximum of 34 students per class (Class sizes supposedly averaged 28.2 – though I don’t trust those numbers.) It shows how little effort the DOE has put in trying to improve these schools before closing them down.

Ironic that DOE says they are intent on trying to start new vocational schools yet if this one is closed, we will have fewer students overall in these programs than before.

Moreover, as the large schools are closed, the same sort of high needs population is sent to other large high schools nearby, overcrowding them and bringing down their performance level, like dominoes falling one by one.

See this report from Policy Studies Associates, which New Visions tried to suppress, and our analysis from November 2004, highlighting the increased pressure on the host or neighboring schools, “as a huge influx of transfers, including many "at risk" and special education students excluded from these schools, flooded other schools nearby.”

This “collateral damage” was recently conclusively shown by the recent report from the New School, “The New Marketplace: How Small-School Reforms and School Choice Have Reshaped New York City's High Schools, ” which points out:

As the city closed large troubled high schools and opened small schools in their place, thousands of students, most of whom had low levels of academic achievement were diverted to the remaining large schools in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. Enrollment increased at three-quarters of those schools, while attendance and graduation rates declined at more than 40 percent of the remaining large schools in those three boroughs.

The DOE to this day continues to deny the damaging effects of their school closure policies, and to this day has not yet devised a process to implement it more effectively.

Also, as a recent report on discharges that I co-authored with Jennifer Jennings reveals, discharge rates spike when a school is closed or phased out– meaning hundreds of students are sent elsewhere or “pushed out”, to GED programs or nowhere at all; students who never have a chance to graduate with a diploma but are not counted as dropouts. Click on this chart, for more details

As to the other three schools slated for closure, they are all smaller schools, recently created under this administration.

They include the Academy of Environmental Science Secondary High School in East Harlem, with lots of classes at 30 or above. Also, Frederick Douglass Academy III in the South Bronx, with middle school classes at 33 – while the schools it was modeled after, FDA I and II, in Manhattan have significantly smaller classes.

KAPPA II middle school in East Harlem is also being closed, has had as many as five principals in five years, as well as classes at 30 students or more. I imagine they probably want the space in these three buildings to house charter schools, or perhaps even newer small schools.

The apparently poor performance of FDA III and Kappa II shows how hard it is to replicate successful schools. How many FDA’s have there been created -- eight or more? And there are nine other Kappas.

In reality, DOE is breeding new small schools each year like rabbits, with no thought of quality control, sustainability, or collateral damage on the system as a whole.

For more on this story, see City to Shut 4 Schools for Poor Performance; More Closings Expected (NY Times); City announces plans to shut four “failing” public schools (GothamSchools ); DOE Puts Four Schools On Performance Chopping Block (NY1); City education officials to close three schools least likely to succeed (News).

Update, 12/05: sure enough, according to the EIS (Educational impact statement), DOE wants to close the Academy of Environmental Sciences to put a new charter school in its place. Check out the public notice. Bet you that school won't have any classes at thirty or above. Comments due Jan. 25.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The "21st century schools" swimming in cash

In today's Daily News, Meredith Kolodner describes how DOE is further undermining the supposed fairness of its "fair student funding" system by awarding lots of extra cash to its new pet project -- the high-tech "21st century" schools.

These schools are receiving increases of up to 31% of their budgets to hire more teachers and equipment, while other schools, including those with many more "high needs" students, are having to deal with big budget cuts and are laying off teachers and aides. See for example, this report from WNYC, about what layoffs one school in Brooklyn is facing.

As we earlier pointed out on the NYC education list serv , Tweed is hiring lots of extra staff to oversee the expansion of the highly promoted "School of One", which is part of the 21st century school project. In hiring ads, they say they are "looking to add several new team members to support this expansion" -- despite the supposed administrative hiring freeze. Presumably , the salaries of these "team members" are not even counted in the spending spree described in today's paper.

Like charter schools, which are not subject to "fair student funding" and receive lots of hidden subsidies and extra space, as with the new small schools , DOE likes to provide extra support and privileges to certain schools; and then gleefully point out how much better they are doing. Indeed, despite the PR spin, inequities have flourished under this administration.

Tying tenure to test scores: not ready for prime time

Lots of interesting letters to the Times today, deploring the Mayor's proposal to base tenure decisions on test scores. [see “Mayor to Link Teacher Tenure to Test Scores” ]

In the same vein, Aaron Pallas has a column in Gotham schools, Teacher Education in New York State: A skoolboy’s-Eye View, in which he lucidly explains how the evaluation of teachers based on value-added student test scores is not ready for prime time. Pallas recently appeared on a panel at Teachers College with David Steiner, new NY Commissioner of State Education, (photo to the right), and Merryl Tisch, head of the Board of Regents. (You can see a webcast of this event here.)

In his column, Pallas urges Steiner and Tisch to start working on improving the state exams, which have gotten radically easier over time, before beginning to consider a system that would base decision-making on their results. He also points out how the long-standing practice of having high schools score their own Regents exams is a system ripe for abuse.

As part of the state's "Race to the Top" proposal, Commissioner Steiner recently also proposed that they expand the awarding of teaching degrees -- allowing providers other than institutions of higher learning to offer teacher preparation programs, with the Board of Regents granting Master’s degrees to candidates who "graduate" from these programs.

There is so much lacking in terms of the state's current oversight -- of district spending practices, of cheating, of "credit recovery", of the proper reporting of graduation rates, of whether schools are even providing the minimal services to kids that they are entitled to by law.

Given the awful mess at State Ed which Steiner has not yet begun to clean up, I would hate to see him allow further abuses to occur by deregulating the awarding of teaching degrees -- which could easily make a teaching certificate as meaningless as passing the Regents exam is now.