Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Post and the Daily News editorial boards: designated hit men for Joel Klein

On Friday morning, the NY Post published a picture of Judge Lobis, assigned the case of the lawsuit filed against Klein's arbitrary closing of 19 schools; and wrote an editorial implicitly threatening her if she ruled the wrong way.

After she decided in favor of the plaintiffs later that same day, finding that Klein had clearly violated the mandated procedures established in the governance law, the Post vicioiusly attacked her in another editorial on Saturday morning, accusing of basing her judgment solely to benefit the UFT.

This, by the way, is the Post’s standard attack one anyone who dares to oppose the administration’s flawed and increasingly lawless policies.
On Sunday, the Daily News piled on, in an editorial that sounds like it was written by Klein himself.
Let’s hope that Judge Lobis is not intimidated by these thugs, bought and sold by Rupert Murdoch and Mort Zuckerman, close allies of the Mayor and Klein and members of the Billionaire’s Boys Club.
All of these men, of course, send their kids to elite private schools, and would never stand for arrogant abuse perpetrated by Bloomberg and Klein on students who attend the city's public schools.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Gig is Up

March 27, 2010 (GBN News): Tiger Woods was not the only public figure to recently lose a lucrative celebrity endorsement contract due to embarrassing legal trouble. GBN News has learned that Joel Klein, the NY City schools chancellor, had apparently been paid “in the high six figures” by Research in Motion to prominently display his Blackberry at public events. But the company is reportedly dropping Mr. Klein due to a recent lawsuit.

According to a ruling by state supreme Court Judge Joan Lobis, the closure of 19 schools by the NY City Department of Education under Mr. Klein violated state law. And Mr. Klein may even be defying the court ruling itself by effectively preventing children from enrolling in the schools, which are now supposed to remain open.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better pitchman for our product,” a source at Research in Motion told GBN News. “He’s shown off that Blackberry every chance he gets. He never takes his eyes - or his fingers - off of it at PEP meetings, press conferences, even social events. He clearly prefers his Blackberry to human beings. But we’re a reputable company, and we can’t be associated with people who don’t show respect for the rule of law. So we had to let him go.”

There was apparently some good news for the Chancellor, however. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Mr. Klein broke the record for longest game of “Brickbreaker” when he managed to make the game last the entire length of the marathon January 26 PEP meeting.

The court decision on the closing schools, and Klein's ongoing defiance of the law

Yesterday, Judge Joan Lobis of the State Supreme Court ruled that Chancellor Klein's actions to close 19 schools were illegal and should be blocked.
The decision to close these schools has been met with tremendous protest from parents and teachers alike, because of the devastating effect on their children, their communities, and the public school system as a whole.
Neverthless, the Department of Education sent out a message late Friday that the high school admissions letters would go out anyway this weekend, excluding all the schools originally slated for closure.
That is, none of these schools would accept students, even those 8500 students who had listed these schools as one of their choices. Instead, they would receive another letter, "stating that, should the schools remain open, they may select one of them."
Clearly, Klein is trying to ignore the court decision and as a fait accompli, close these schools down no matter what the court says, by starving them of students.
This is similar stratagem to what he did when he lost the court case to close zoned neighborhood schools and replace them with charter schools , because he refused to ask for the mandated approval of the local Community Education Councils--- and then sent letters to all the parents at these schools anyway, recommending that they take their kids out of these schools.
If Klein goes ahead with this plan to send out acceptance letters without the schools he had proposed to close among them, he should be held in contempt of court and thrown in jail; not to mention disbarred.

The arrogance and hubris of those who run our schools never ceases to amaze, and their utter disregard for the views of parents, the law and the truth itself. They have gotten so used to having their way, no matter how arbitrary and irrational , that they act as though immune from all external limits.
The court decision is based on three, clear findings of fact:

1. The Educational Impact Statements required by law were cursory and inadequate. Specifically, they "failed to provide any meaningful information regarding the impacts on the students or the ability of the schools in the affected community to accommodate those students" shut out of these schools.

For example, they did not show where students enrolled in LYFE centers for students who are pregnant or those with small children might find similar programs targetted to their needs elsewhere.

2. Lack of public notice: the DOE failed to provide hard copies of these proposals to CECs, Community boards, Community superintendents, and SLTs. Simply posting them on the DOE website was insufficient.

3. Lack of community involvement: The DOE failed to hold joint hearings with the School Leadership Teams and Community Education Councils of the affected schools, as required by law. Some members of these groups were invited to participate in hearings after the fact; but even then, had no role in running the hearings or devising the way in which they would be held.
Unmentioned in any of the articles so far is that the court decision should nullify all the co-locations of charter schools and other schools approved by the Panel on Educational Policy over the last three months, because of similar deficiencies in the process.
Here is the statement we sent out yesterday, after the court decision was released:
Today’s court decision is an important step forward for the rule of law. It is also a confirmation of the necessity for a genuine public process to inform and improve arbitrary and rash decision-making at the Department of Education.

So far, the process has been a mockery; with no attempt to involve the parents in a meaningful way, or to provide the sort of careful analysis that should precede these critical decisions.

In January, Class Size Matters submitted detailed comments on the school closings, pointing out the utter inadequacy of the educational impact statements, here.

Department officials should take another look, perform the careful scrutiny required by law, and for once, involve the public in the process of decision-making, before taking such ill-considered and illegal actions.

If they did so, they would find that in many cases, it would be far better to support and improve these schools, rather than close them down.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

To add insult to injury: more co-locations and charter school funding tonight at the PEP

The Panel for Educational Policy will vote in Staten Island tonight on the co-locations of another ten schools.

As Joel Klein said at the last PEP meeting, “I wish we had much more space so that each school could have all the space it needs, but we have the space that’s provided to us in our capital budget and by the city. And our obligation is to ensure that that space is shared equally by all 1.1 million students.”

Yet the more co-locations he orders, the more overcrowding is created for all 1.1 million public school students. As John White admitted at a recent City Council hearing, small schools and charters are an inefficient use of space. Moreover, these co-locations will create further inequities across the system.

The Daily News has an article in today’s paper about how the co-locations are pushing out special education students, who in many cases are receiving their services in locker rooms, closets and staircases: Parents say special-ed kids falling victim in charter battle for space inside city schools .

In our principal survey, more than one fourth of principals (27 percent) said that the co-location of new schools or programs in their buildings had worsened the level of overcrowding in their schools, leading in many cases to lunch times before 11 AM, and slightly more than half said that overcrowding sometimes leads to unsafe conditions for students or staff.

Moreover, some of the schools that will be forced to give up additional space are on the city, state and/or federal accountability lists, and yet still have excessive class sizes.

For example, Washington Irving HS, according to the DOE, has a graduation rate of 38.3 percent. It is quite likely that next year, the school will be on the chopping block unless its results radically improve. And yet the average reported class size is over 28 students per class.; and in many subjects, classes are as large as 34, and one CTT class has a class size of 41.

These class sizes are far too large and much higher than the other schools in the building, some of which are more selective with higher achieving students.

If there is room to put a new school into the building in which Washington Irving HS is located, there is also be room to reduce class size to at least the state mandated level of 25, or even better, to the state average class size for high schools, which is twenty students per class.

The failure of DOE to reduce class size at Washington Irving, full of struggling students, is not only inequitable; it calls into question whether the administration intends to allow this school to improve results or would rather see the school, along with its students, fail.

For other examples of the negative impacts of these co-locations, see our full comments here.
To add insult to injury, also on the PEP agenda tonight is the DOE's proposal (see pp.12-13) to spend more than $2.08 million per year, totaling more than $10.4 million over five years, to train “non-public school principals” (read charter school principals) to become “school building” leaders.

Though the administration has apparently claimed that these are just “federal funds passing through the DOE,” they are actually redirecting Title II funds that could be used for many other purposes, including keeping class sizes as low as possible in the public schools, in the midst of potentially massive cuts to the teaching force. Or even to train public school teachers or principals.

Instead, DOE wants to use these precious funds to teach the principals of charter school how to run the buildings and boss the public schools whose space they have occupied.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The tangled web of money and political influence of the charter school lobby

Today, Meredith Kolodner and a crack investigative team at Daily News begin to untangle the tangled web of money, connections, and political influence that lies behind the story of Peninsula Prep charter school, which is still sitting in trailers on a developer's land, despite the promise of $31 million from DOE to help build a facility.

Still, many unanswered questions remain, including what was behind the city’s promise to donate millions in taxpayer funds for a facility for this charter school, considering its shaky history?

Also, if private developers realize that providing schools give them an advantage in selling their properties, why doesn’t the city recognize the economic value of building more regular public schools, to sustain and strengthen the city’s economic future?

See also the today's Crain's NY, about how many of the financiers who are backing the charter school lobby are pouring millions into the campaigns of certain State Senators, while targeting the elimination of others:

In addition to targeting state Sen. Bill Perkins, the legislator who is
most outspoken against charters, they'll likely set their sights on state Sen.
Shirley Huntley. Proponents hope to hire former Bloomberg campaign manager
Bradley Tusk to coordinate.

Senators Perkins and Huntley were also two of the more vociferous opponents to the renewal of mayoral control last summer. No doubt the mayor will be inveighing on billionaire buddies to contribute funds to defeat them, and will likely put forward a pretty penny of his own.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The bake sale ban and the hypocrisy of the DOE

Why does the DOE get itself into these messes, like banning PTA bake sales?

Because they never bother to consult with anyone, least of all parents, before making these harebrained decisions.
Excerpt from today's NY Times:
The education department is trying to persuade parents and students to hold food-free fund-raising events, perhaps selling T-shirts, pencils, notebooks, shoelaces or handmade beaded jewelry instead. One option it suggests is selling exercise: the buyer pays for the student to run a certain number of laps around a park or track.

That’ll be a big seller for sure.

What hypocrisy! When it comes to important educational decisions like class size, they say they don’t care and they will leave it up to the principal to decide. When it comes to banning home-made goods from our schools, all of a sudden they have to have the final word.
Check out info about the bake sale protest tomorrow, Thursday March 18 at City Hall at 4 pm; more info at

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Save the date! Citywide parent conference on April 10

On Saturday, April 10, Class Size Matters will be sponsoring a citywide parent conference, with workshops on running effective Parent Associations and School Leadership Teams; toxic schools; how to reach out to the media; how to advocate for your special needs child, the rights and responsibilities of Community Education Councils, Title one issues, and more.
Click on the image to the left or here for a flyer you can post in your school.
The theme of the conference is "Building Bridges with Charter School parents" and one of the panels will be dedicated towards this goal. More on this soon.
The conference will be held at School of the Future on 127 E. 22 St; please come!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

An even more punitive approach for our poorest schools, but with a nicer name?

Today’s article in the NY Times on Obama’s plan to revamp NCLB might fool the uninitiated that the administration’s proposals will help solve the myriad problems that NCLB helped create – too many schools labeled as failing, too much emphasis on standardized testing, and the use of harsh accountability measures that hurt rather than helped improve learning conditions at our public schools:

The proposals would require states to use annual tests and other indicators to divide the nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools into several groups: some 10,000 to 15,000 high-performing schools that could receive rewards or recognition; some 10,000 failing or struggling schools requiring varying degrees of vigorous state intervention; about 5,000 schools that would be required to narrow unacceptably wide achievement gaps; and perhaps 70,000 or so schools in the middle that would be encouraged to figure out on their own how to improve.

That clears it up. The Washington Post and AP stories are a bit more understandable.

Rather than 100% student proficiency, the new proposal would have as its goal “college readiness” (as taken from the current emphasis of the Gates Foundation.) Schools and teachers would be evaluated on the basis of test score gains rather than absolute standards.

Here, from the AP story is the “spin” from the administration, of a supposedly less punitive approach:

In the proposed dismantling of the No Child Left Behind law, education officials would move away from punishing schools that don't meet benchmarks and focus on rewarding schools for progress, particularly with poor and minority students.

Yet what the administration is really proposing is even more punitive, to expand the pro-privatization and destabilizing policies represented in its "Race to the Top" slush fund, including school closures, charter takeovers, and/or supposed “turnaround models”, where at least half the staff would be fired, to all of the nation’s lowest performing schools, or else risk having their Title one funds being withheld:

…the bottom 5 percent of schools would be forced to use the department’s four turnaround models that now govern the Title I School Improvement Grant program. The next-lowest 5 percent would be on a “warning” list and be required to take action using research-based interventions, although the department would not mandate one of the four turnaround models.

The Title one program was originally created to try to equalize funding for poor schools. But these proposals, if adopted, would apparently be provided only to those schools that put into place the administration’s heavy-handed “reforms”. Again, here is the AP summary:

…. for the first time in 45 years, the White House is proposing a $4 billion increase in federal education spending, most of which would go to increase the competition among states for grant money and move away from formula-based funding.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post accurately portrays the proposed changes this way:

The lowest achieving 5 percent of schools in every state will be punished even harder than under NCLB, according to my colleague Nick Anderson, who reported about the Obama plan today….. Obama today promised to treat teachers “like the professionals they are.” What Obama and Duncan have in store for teachers makes one wonder just how they think professional teachers should actually be treated.

….. standardized test scores of students [would be linked] to teacher performance evaluations and pay. That means that all of the other factors that might go into a student’s test score — whether they are tired, or hungry, or can’t see well, or have a toothache, or were distracted in class, or have test anxiety, etc. — don’t actually matter.

None of the distorting effects of basing teacher or school evaluation on standardized test scores alone will diminish under this system, even if they are now “value-added” measures, and in fact, would likely grow even more extreme, especially for our neediest schools.

Ignored are the significant methodological problems of fairly basing evaluations on value-added test scores, as pointed out by the National Academy of Sciences and other experts, who have warned of the unreliability of such measures, and their potentially damaging consequences.

In apparent response to complaints that the overemphasis on scores in reading and math in NCLB has driven out other parts of the curriculum, according to the Times,“the administration says it will allow states to test subjects other than math and reading and use scores on those tests to rate their schools, though it will not require states to do so.”

That’s generous of them.

Nothing here is likely to achieve the goals that the administration supposedly has to attract experienced, quality teachers to work in our lowest performing schools; in fact, they would be likely to leave in droves, given the increased risks of being judged on unreliable test score gains and/or losing their jobs.

What else? Oh, yes, Duncan will change the name of the program:

“Duncan has said the name No Child Left Behind will be dropped because it is associated with a harsh law that punishes schools for not reaching benchmarks even if they've made big gains. He said the administration will work with Congress to come up with a new name.”

Any nominations for a new name, folks?

The saturation mailings and advertising of Harlem Success Academy

See this message from a friend who lives on the Upper West side, who has a child entering Kindergarten next year, about the multiple mailings he has received from Harlem Success Academy:

Today we received the 3d or 4th mailing in the last week from the Harlem
Success Academy, looking to enroll [his son’s name].

This really surprises me:
A. How do they get the $ to do direct mail & find out what kids are going to start kindergarten?
B. Why are they direct mailing to White couples on 102nd?

Really curious if you have any thoughts or insight - -

The infamous Eva Moskowitz/Joel Klein emails, FOILed by Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News and posted here, revealed how Klein overturned long-standing policy to provide her with names and addresses of prospective parents through mailing houses; and allowed her to make repeated mailings to promote her chain of charter schools.

Juan’s column in which he showed how she picked out the space she wanted for her schools in existing zoned public schools, which Klein then tried to illegally close for her benefit, is here.
His earlier column about the preferential treatment she received from Klein, including his help in securing a $1 million grant from the Broad Foundation to build an army of parents to promote their political agenda, is here.

In her emails to Klein, Eva confides her desire to engage in saturation mailings, supposedly to promote “choice”, but really to build up her waiting list; which then she uses as a political weapon in their battle to lift the charter cap.

This may be one reason DOE is making parents register for Kindergartens earlier at public schools, so they can capture their addresses and make them available to charter schools in time for their lotteries.

Though Eva told the NY Times she spends $325,000 on recruitment, a cursory examination of the school’s financial statements shows that her spending on recruitment is actually much more.
She has run ads in buses and is now also advertising on NY1. The actual expense must be near a million dollars or more. Harlem Children’s Zone was featured on American Express ads during the Oscars.

Of course, no district public school could afford this sort of marketing campaign; and if they did, they would be accused of wasteful spending.

To the left is Eva’s message to Klein, dated Dec. 21, 2007, in which she complains about the fact that DOE only allows “one mailing to elementary and pre-K families” and that she wants to be able to mail promotional materials 10-12 times to each family.

As in all things between Klein and Eva, she quickly gets her way. Her choices are clearly maximized! Soon thereafter, she is provided with unlimited mailings through a third party mailing house to prospective public school parents.

To the right and below is the response from Michael Duffy, the head of the DOE charter school office, written the day after Xmas, in which he pledges cooperation and tells her she can always call him, day or night, on his cell.

Eva has now extended the reach of her mailings into large swathes of Manhattan and the Bronx. As one astute observer pointed out, this not only allows her to build up her charter school waiting list, but also to gather names for future battles over the charter school cap, funding, or her own future candidacy.

Her mailings and advertising, financed through contributions from her hedge-fund supporters and billionaires like Broad, resemble the saturation mailings and domination of the air waves that New Yorkers have been subjected to by our billionaire mayor, each time he runs for re-election, sparing no expense.

Just as he has bought his way into a third term, the hostile takeover of public education by charter schools has nearly unlimited financing to back it up. No one could argue that this is an equal contest, when all the advantages are being provided to the charters; not to mention Klein’s relentless promotion of charter schools, which is priceless.

Is this the future we really want for our public schools?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Broad inside game

Check out this posting on “The Broad Effect” , about how the Broad Foundation influences educational policy by inserting graduates of his Broad Superintendents Academy into top positions at urban districts from throughout the country, to pursue its privatization agenda, sometimes provoking controversy in the process.

Just as the Gates Foundation plays the "outside game" by putting its people inside the US Dept. of Education, where they can use the Race to the Top funds to bribe states to adopt their policies, Broad plays the inside game.

The Rhode Island State Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, who recently ordered the firing of the entire teaching force of Central Falls HS, is a Broad graduate.

Here in NYC we have much experience with the grads of this fabled institution. The first was Chris Cerf, Class of 2004, formerly head of Edison charter schools, who became Deputy Chancellor for “Strategy and Innovation” at DOE, then moved over to the Bloomberg campaign, and is now is selling science curricula in Brazil. (See the inspired illustration above, thanks to David Bellel; sadly Cerf now seems to be excised from the “featured” alumni on the Broad website.) Also:
  • Marcia Lyles, class of 2006, former Deputy Chancellor of Instruction, now Superintendent of the Christina School District in Wilmington Del.
  • Jean-Claude Brizard, class of 2007, former DOE “senior executive for policy and sustainability” and now superintendent in Rochester, NY.
  • Shael Polakow-Suransky, class of 2008, (currently Chief Accountability Officer at DOE).
  • Garth Harries, class of 2009, former head of Office of Portfolio Development and now asst. Superintendent in New Haven.

  • Currently, John White is in the Broad class of 2010, now Cerf’s successor as “Deputy Chancellor for Strategy” (he now apparently leaves off “Innovation” from his title)
Broad doesn’t stop there. He also gives out his award each year to the top urban school district; conveniently awarded NYC in 2007, despite stagnant gains on the NAEPs, shortly before Bloomberg embarked on his campaign to renew mayoral control. And Broad is a generous donor to charter schools in NYC and elsewhere.

Chancellor Klein persuaded Dan Katzir, the head of the Broad Foundation, to give a million dollars to Eva Moskowitz's chain of charter schools, so she could create an army of parents who would support their initiatives, writing: “she’s done more to organize parents and get them aligned with what our reforms than anyone else on the outside.”

The Times ran a recent rather unflattering profile of Broad . In it, Roland Fryer, whose “institute” at Harvard and large scale experiments in student bribery are funded by Broad: For me there has been no downside....But I think if you’re not on your game, Eli will crush you." (For more on Fryer's Broad-funded experiments, see here, here, here, and here.)

Bribery seems to come naturally to these guys. More recently, Katzir has admitted that they use an unusual method to "place" their superintendents -- promising cash-strapped districts that in exchange, they will cover part of their salaries.

The Detroit Public School Board has just unanimously voted to file a lawsuit against Robert Bobb, the "emergency" manager of their schools and a Broad graduate, saying the extra $145,000 he receives from the Broad foundation and other "unidentified philanthropic organizations" represents a conflict of interest.

"Because Bobb has sole and virtually unreviewable control over the $1.4 billion DPS budget, it is especially dangerous to allow the Broad Foundation and similar 'venture philanthropists' to fund one-third of his salary," according to the complaint.

In Los Angeles, Broad is paying the salaries of top school officials including Matt Hill, who is “overseeing the district's high-profile effort through which groups inside or outside L.A. Unified could take over new and low-performing schools."

Responds Dan Katzir: "It's common for the foundation to match people it has trained with districts, and initially to help pay for it."

Can you imagine if the people running our public hospitals were trained by the drug companies and had their salaries supplemented by them? There would be justified outrage. But when it comes to our public education system, anything goes, and conflict of interest is the name of the game.

Bob Hughes, announced as member of NY's "Race to the Top" team and criticized by the EEOC the same day

According to Gotham Schools, Bob Hughes of New Visions will be part of the NY State team to appear before the panel of judges to determine the federal “Race to the Top” awards.

As EdWeek puts it, "How a state’s delegation performs in a 30-minute presentation and a 60-minute question-and-answer session with a panel of judges could make or break its chances in round one of the competition.”

This dog and pony show, which might be likened to “American Idol”, is a function of the politicization of these grants, which should be honestly won or lost on the basis of substance alone.

Unmentioned in the Gotham Schools are Hughes’ close ties to the Gates Foundation, which financed many of the small schools in NYC through his organization as an intermediary.
Some have said that the Gates Foundation is really the power behind the throne in determining who wins these awards – as well as many of the pro-privatization policies being pushed by the US Dept. of Education; the foundation also helped states write their RTTT applications.

The woman who head’s the RTTT program at the US Dept of Ed, Joanne Weiss, is former COO of New Schools Venture fund, which finances charter school expansion with large infusions of Gates money; accordingly, states can win “points” on their applications depending on how charter-friendly they are.
Other members of the NY State RTTT team are Laura Smith, formerly chief of staff under former deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf, and before that, an employee of the NYC Charter School Center, and deputy Commissioner John King, formerly head of the Uncommon Schools charter chain.
According to Gotham Schools, New Visions has a financial interest in NY State’s winning the funds:

Hughes has also said that New Visions would be a likely applicant for a program, proposed by the Regents, to allow alternative organizations to bypass education schools to certify teachers. [Merryl] Tisch also cited Hughes as an expert on how schools can effectively use data to guide their work with students and on launching high schools, an area that will become key as the state attempts to replace its lowest-performing schools. “Bob has a track record on this, and he is respected in every corner on this subject,” Tisch said. “I trust him, I trust his judgment.”

Hughes was also cited in the just-issued decision of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about the discriminatory dismissal of Debbie Almontaser as the principal of Khalil Gibran school: New Visions "concurred in DOE's judgment that she should resign and acted as agent in advising her to do so . . . . In the course of its advisory services to the Community Superintendent in the selection process, it concurred in DOE's conclusion that the circumstances of her resignation were such that continuing her candidacy was not desirable." (The EEOC decision is here.)

Hughes tried to get Almontaser to resign, but she refused until she could meet with the Chancellor, who was conveniently"unavailable." Instead, Deputy mayor Walcott acted as the designated hit-man, and threatened her that the school might be cancelled if she did not resign.

As David Bloomfield, expert on education law, pointed out, “Thus, while New Visions was found not liable since it was not in an employment relationship with Almontaser, it served as willing handmaiden to her illegal discriminatory dismissal 'on account of her race, religion, and national origin.'”

Diane Ravitch on the politicization of the charter school movement

According to Crain’s Insider, the charter school industry is discussing whether to finance an opponent to Harlem’s State Senator Bill Perkins, a fervent opponent of further charter school expansion in his district. (See this article in the NY Times and this interview with Perkins on Democracy Now.)

Remember how Klein raised $1 million from the Broad foundation for Eva Moskowitz’ chain of charter schools, telling the head of the foundation that “she’s done more to organize parents and get them aligned with what our reforms than anyone else on the outside”?

Here is a comment from Diane Ravitch on the latest news:

Imagine the outrage in the tabloids if a public school principal or a group of public school principals announced that they planned to launch a political campaign to eliminate an elected official whom they didn't like!
The use of charter students and parents as political shock-troops should be considered a stain on the reputation of the charter school movement. It reveals that their interest is political power and money, not education.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

God save us from these national standards!

See the front page story in the Times today about how the National Governor’s Association took a year to develop national standards, which now the Obama administration intends to pressure all states to adopt.

Chester Finn grandiloquently pronounces, "this is one of the most important events of the last several years in American education.... This is a big deal.”

A year to develop, and they now intend to give the public only three weeks to comment before forcing them down our throats?

As Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, pointed out: “When was the last time you saw a national effort that was rammed through in three weeks?”

How about this standard, that 11th-12th graders are supposed to master; it's one of the most incomprehensible pieces of badly written verbiage I’ve read in a long time.

Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed.)

Maybe they're worried if anyone really had more time to examine and analyze these standards, we might just figure out how bad they really are.

You can read and/or comment on the standards until April 4 at

What does the closings of Kansas City schools say about our own?

Check out my posting on the Times blog about the plan to close half of Kansas City's public schools, and what warning this poses for our schools here in NYC. And please leave a comment!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

There We Go Again--At the Bottom of the Educational Ladder

Today's New York Times (Many Nations Passing U.S. in Education, Expert Says) reports on the testimony given before the Senate education committee by Andreas Schleicher, who heads the Indicators and Analysis Division of the Directorate for Education within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Schleicher, reportedly one of the world’s foremost education experts, told the committee that students in many OECD countries are outperforming their U.S. counterparts as measured both by high school graduation rates and educational achievement tests; Canadian 15-year-olds, for example, are more than one full school year ahead of American 15-year olds.

In what must count as the understatement of the year given the overwhelming educational advantage once enjoyed by Americans, Mr. Schleicher lamented that
“[i]n one way, international education benchmarks make disappointing reading for the U.S.”

This is an old story, and with each new iteration the U.S. sinks ever lower. Although dysfunctional families and even "over-entertained and distracted” students were blamed at the Senate hearings, “bad teaching” is conventionally the sole villain in the Decline and Fall of the Great American School System drama.

Pundits and politicians alike are peddling the notion that, if one great teacher can change a kid’s life (something most of us know to be true), then hiring only great teachers will change the school system (a non sequitur). What I would like to see discussed somewhere, however briefly, is how certain differences between the U.S. and other industrialized countries contribute to the stunningly low educational achievement of U.S. students compared to their peers in those countries.

I am not an education expert, but here's what I know, from personal experience growing up in Italy and Switzerland, from the experiences of relatives and friends, and from traveling extensively and from not limiting my news intake to U.S. media. My observations are pretty much limited to continental Europe (i.e., not the U.K., which in some ways resembles the U.S., notably in fostering private schools as a desirable alternative to public schools).

I would add that, notwithstanding the media's and the public's fascination with the high test scores of Japanese, Korean or Chinese children, the United States should be compared to European rather than Asian countries both because the attitudes towards education are more broadly similar (less emphasis on regimented learning than in Asia) and because they share the experience of substantial numbers of immigrants in public schools.

For starters, most other countries do not dump their social problems onto the public schools. Schools are not expected to take full responsibility for the educational outcomes of children who are ill-fed or hungry and ill-housed or homeless; in poor health; in dysfunctional families or in families of recently- arrived immigrants without adequate language or job skills. It's not that these problems don't exist anywhere else; however, other countries-- including those with far lower per capita GDP-- generally have a better safety net and/or deal with these issues through other government agencies and programs.

Second, few other countries indulge in the fiction that every 18-year-old should get the same degree. When experts discuss “high school” graduation rates or assessments given to “high school students,” most people assume kids in other countries attend some variation on the American high school. In reality, most European countries have differentiated secondary schools, only some of which lead to university. Americans view this as a denial of opportunity, which they believe is coterminous with a college degree, obtainable by anyone at any age.

Few will admit that the American system is hugely inefficient (serving primarily to create tens of thousands of jobs in the educational - industrial complex and a massive educational loan burden), tends to dumb down the high school diploma, and does little to ensure equitable outcomes since ostensibly identical degrees from different schools/colleges represent vastly different educational experiences and have vastly different value in the marketplace.

Third, most countries do not fund their schools through property taxes or other local schemes that lead to gross inequities among schools. And then there is the uniquely American attitude towards taxation--people in the rest of the world don't like to pay taxes either, but they understand that some things, notably schools and basic healthcare, must be paid for. When I tell my family and friends overseas that Americans consider it acceptable to shorten the school year or close half a city’s schools to avoid raising taxes, I am met with stunned silence and utter disbelief.

Fourth, although private schools exist and in some countries are even funded on a par with public schools, most people send their children to the local public school (up to and including university). People have an investment in working public schools because, regardless of socio-economic status, they don't view putting their children into a parallel private school system as a real option (nor would they think of moving to get to a better school since US-style economically segregated suburbs are few and far between).

I'm not suggesting European schools are perfect, or that the U.S. should adopt the European system of differentiated secondary education wholesale. But before blaming schools, teachers and the kids themselves, before focusing on curriculum, standards and assessments, shouldn’t we ask: “what are countries with better educational outcomes doing differently from us?”

Higher standards are a laudable goal, but the single-minded focus on and vast sums spent in pursuit of higher standards over the past few years have resulted in the dumbing down and narrowing of education, school officials and teachers gaming the system in every conceivable way, and
no real results when our students are compared to the rest of the world.

We cannot just will our students to do better, nor will changes at the margin -- a charter school here, an innovative program there-- lead to the kind of transformation necessary to keep up with the rest of the world, let alone lead it.


There was once a time when evolution and refinement of one's thinking, even the changing of one's views, was considered the mark of a cultivated mind. Ongoing observation, collection and synthesis of information, formulation of new (or revised), experience-based theories and conclusions -- all were respected as the rightful path to truth for the well-trained mind. In more recent years, particularly in today's hyper-partisan America, such intellectually commendable behavior as come to be considered a sign of weakness, of a craven caving-in to "the other side," sometimes viciously castigated as cowardly, traitorous, or just "selling out." It was Billy Joel, however, who wrote (in "Shades of Grey") that "...the only people I fear are those who never have doubts."

Given this current state of affairs, Diane Ravitch opens her latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System (link to with a defense (bordering on apology) of her evolved thinking on the subject of public education in America. An education historian of national repute with a deep background in the Bush/Clinton/Bush era of school reform, Ms. Ravitch freely confesses that many of the reforms she had enthusiastically espoused and supported in the 1980s and 1990s -- "testing, accountability, choice, and markets" -- are simply not working. Her present assessment is actually rather worse than that, as evidenced by her book's subtitle: "How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education."

The Death and Life of the Great American School System is a simply masterful work: articulate but highly readable, addressing complex subject matter with depth and clarity, authoritative but not dryly academic. Ms. Ravitch combines historical perspective with the results of numerous foundation studies and judiciously constrained use of statistics to argue her case that American public education has gone seriously off-track since roughly the time of the first Bush Presidency in 1989. She faults both Democrats and Republicans for this situation, relegating much of their behavior to political posturing around quick fixes coupled with an under-informed infatuation with corporate business models and free market thinking as the answer to the country's education issues. As a result, the ideal of a liberal education, encompassing not just multiple subject areas (science, math, history, geography, English writing and literature, foreign language, art and music) but also such traits as curiosity, passion, persistence, risk-taking, self-learning, empathy, and tolerance, has been supplanted by "measurables," especially test scores in math and reading/English.

Ms. Ravitch's book follows a loosely chronological arc from NYC's District 2 and San Diego in the 1990s to NCLB and the NYC business model for education implemented under Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the early 2000s. She retraces her temporal steps somewhat to address school choice and its transformation from a Friedmanian espousal of vouchers to support for charter schools. In the latter third of her book, she addresses three other, important points of contention: the problems introduced by slavish devotion to quantifiable accountability as the only measure of school success, the definition of "great teachers" and how they are measured under current systems, and the role of publicly unanswerable major foundations (Walton, Gates, and Broad) and how they are almost single-handedly dictating the path of public education reform in the U.S. For this reader, the chapter on these foundations (aptly titled "The Billionaire Boys' Club") was the most revealing and disturbing one in the entire book.

In her final chapter, "Lessons Learned," Ms. Ravitch makes her case for what needs to be done at this point. She begins this exercise with the absolutely correct question, the very one that punches an enormous hole in NCLB: "What does it mean to have (i.e., offer to children) a good education?" She then proceeds to argue for a national curriculum (or alternatively, strong, state-defined curricula), assessments that are "as good as the curriculum," multiple measures of school quality, support for rather than closure of struggling schools, well-educated and well-paid teachers, increased family involvement, and increased expectation of civility in schools. Unfortunately, these prescriptions come across as vague and rather idealistic, not nearly forceful or specific enough to stem the current tides against which she herself has turned.

No matter one's political or educational persuasion, The Death and Life of the Great American School System is essential reading. Those who agree will find in this book a reasoned, history- and evidence-based justification of their views (and rejection of many current education reform initiatives). Those who disagree should, at the very least, consider the case being made and reevaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their own positions.

Hopefully, Diane Ravitch's book will give a few moments' pause for reflection to national leaders who seem swept up by the lavish promises of reform via data analysis, accountability, and free market (read, privatization) of our public education system. For anyone who wants to understand what has happened to American public education in the past two decades, The Death and Life of the Great American School System is an indispensable read.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Toyota Taps Ed Guru

March 9, 2010 (GBN News): Two days after being featured in a NY Times Magazine cover story, noted education consultant Doug Lemov has been hired by embattled Toyota to head up a cutting edge project aimed at re-establishing the company’s reputation. While the project has been cloaked in secrecy, sources at the company told GBN News that Mr. Lemov, who has no automotive experience, has come up with a process aimed at training factory workers to “recreate Toyota vehicles from the ground up”.

The new, retooled Toyotas will reportedly be built around a unique Lemov innovation, which insiders say will “revolutionize” the auto industry. While no name has yet been given to this invention, Mr. Lemov is said to be leaning towards calling it, “the wheel”.

In a move reportedly urged by Mr. Lemov, Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda also announced today that, effective immediately, the company is firing all of its technicians and production workers. Mr. Lemov is said to have cited research studies to convince Mr. Toyoda that the quality of a car depends solely on “good workers”, while factors such as the integrity of the materials, technology and working conditions are largely irrelevant. Mr. Lemov will be training the replacement workers based on the same 49 point taxonomy with which he trains new teachers.

J. Fredrick Runson, professor of automotive education at Manhattan Technical College, thinks that Mr. Lemov may prove to be the perfect man for the job. “He’s already shown a genius for repackaging as his own innovations a bunch of techniques that teachers have used for years,” he told GBN News. “He was even able to convince a very smart education writer, Elizabeth Green, that he’s on to something new. So I have no doubt that he can convince the automobile consumer that Toyota’s 'wheel' is a must-have.”

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Diane Ravitch: No Child Left Behind Has Left US Schools with Legacy of “Institutionalized Fraud”

Check out this segment from "Democracy Now" for a great, extended interview of Diane Ravitch, education scholar and former Asst. Secretary of Education, by Juan Gonzalez, two of our favorite people here in NYC; here is a transcript.

Diane provides the most incisive critique of No Children Left Behind, and its even more destructive incarnation in the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" program, in her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. In this interview, she explains why the administration's emphasis on charter school expansion and test-based accountability threatens to undermine public education and is an invitation to institutionalized fraud.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sullivan Responds to Village Voice and Pedro Noguera

School co-locations may be the most controversial topic in public education in NYC right now. The same day the Village Voice article “Inside a Divided Upper East Side School” appeared, I was asked as a member of the city’s central school board, the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), to approve the co-location of fifteen schools in Board of Education facilities throughout the City.

Unfortunately, the Voice squandered an opportunity to responsibly examine this issue, instead providing an appallingly inaccurate portrayal of the co-location of two schools, the Isador and Ida Straus School (PS 198) and the Lower Lab School (PS 77). And as a parent of two students at Lower Lab, I especially question the cited criticism from Pedro Noguera, the NYU professor and SUNY trustee.

First, I certainly agree with the Voice that Chancellor Klein’s policy for admissions to gifted and talented (G&T) programs, including Lower Lab, has been a disaster. Standardized tests introduced ostensibly for purposes of equity have resulted in less diverse classrooms and the shuttering of programs in low income neighborhoods. I voted against this policy change when the Chancellor sought PEP approval. G&T admissions decisions should have more holistic criteria and allow children to enter at higher grades by creating different entry points.

But the Voice proceeds to ignore the facts in attempting to portray Lab as a school favored with superior resources and facilities. Some of the more egregious misrepresentations:

The article is subtitled: “Whites in the front door, blacks in the back door”

The entrance intended to be the primary student entrance is used by PS 198. It opens onto Seabury Park and connects directly to the main floor with classrooms and administrative offices. The back door connects 3rd avenue with the basement. Lower Lab students enter here and climb two or three floors to their classrooms. Both schools previously used the same door but at some point the administrations thought that was too crowded and Lower Lab, as the smaller school, began using the 3rd Avenue door for the safety of the children at both schools.

“Throughout Straus, the biggest challenge of having almost 30 kids in a room seems to be controlling the chaos.” … “But the teachers in Lower Lab have a major advantage: They have an adult-to-student ratio half that of Straus's.”

Classes at PS 198 average 23 with lows of 17 and 18 in Kindergarten. There are actually only a few “close to 30”. Class sizes are dramatically smaller at PS 198 than Lower Lab. All Lab classes are at 28 except 5th grade at 25. The statistics are readily available on the DOE web site had the Voice cared to check its facts.

The DOE reports the pupil to teacher ratio at PS 198 as 12 to 1 and Lab at 18 to 1. While Lower Lab has fourteen teacher’s aides funded by the PTA, they don’t reverse the pupil teacher ratio. Teacher’s aides are no substitute for small classes. Controlling an elementary school class of 28 kids is hard and the dynamics in the classroom the Voice observed can and do happen at any school with large class sizes regardless of the race, income or ability of the students within. PS 198, by keeping its early grade class sizes small is providing an environment for learning that research has repeatedly shown is more effective and beneficial to students.

The Voice makes numerous references to inequity of resources between the two schools. One parent at PS 198 is quoted: "We know they get better stuff and more money in Lower Lab".

The per capita spending is much higher at PS 198, $2,700 more per child, reflecting the fact that city, state and federal funding formulae provide higher funding to lower income students. PTA fundraising for teaching assistants comes nowhere near to closing this gap.

Finally, the Voice trots out NYU’s Pedro Noguera to deliver the final rebuke that the Lower Lab School violates the constitution: “What we have here is really Plessy at work: separate, without even being equal—but very much separate."

Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme Court ruling overturned in Brown vs. Board of Ed, permitted racially segregated schools. Noguera blithely asserts racial discrimination is perpetuated by the DOE in 2010. But let’s look at the facts. The PS 198 zone has enough students to fill roughly a third of the building. Any magnet, G&T or District 2 program placed in the remainder of the building is likely to reflect the demographics of the wider Upper East Side in contrast to the demographics of the immediate zone.

Noguera cries foul but doesn't offer solutions. How would he use this space were Lower Lab actually to close or move out? He heads the SUNY committee that authorizes charter schools, including the six granted to Eva Moskowitz's chain, the Harlem Success Academies. Perhaps that's his solution. I find it puzzling that Noguera would condemn the practice of middle class parents raising funds for their schools while championing charter schools sustained by massive unrestricted donations from hedge fund moguls and conservative foundations. It does seem an interesting coincidence that the Voice published his criticisms the same day I voted to oppose the co-location of two of his SUNY charters in Board of Ed buildings.

Ultimately school buildings belong to the people. Communities, and the Community Education Councils that represent them, should decide which education models best serve their children. Magnet schools, G&T programs and charter schools can all be options for public school families. Issues of equity and access must be examined with real evidence and focused on achieving real solutions, not with the intention to inflame and divide as the Voice has done.

Patrick J. Sullivan
March 5th, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Our day of rage at City Hall

Today, NYC's education "day of rage" was observed by angry parents, teachers, students, elected officials and community members at a rally organized by the Coalition for Public Education at City Hall.

All of those present expressed fury and disgust at how are schools are being closed, dismantled, privatized and destroyed. Joel Shatzky reports on the event at the Huffington Post.
This photo shows Muba Yarofulani, parent leader, speaking to reporters representing media outlets from throughout the world, from Harlem to Russia.
While I was speaking to the crowd about the recklessness of the men who who are shuttering our schools to put charter schools in their place, and who say they want to expand parent choice but who are taking away the most basic choice of all, the right to send our children to a high quality neighborhood public school, Chancellor Klein scurried past us into City Hall, and the crowd started to jeer and boo him.
This incident is also described on the Daily News blog, which relates how Bloomberg is using the fact that NY State made the finalist list for the Arne Duncan slush fund known as "Race to the Top" to complain once again that the cap on charters must be raised.
Yet the administration blocked a bill that would do that earlier this year, because it would allow the state comptroller to audit the charter school managers use of public funds, and would give parents a voice as to where those charters would be sited.
As many of us observed today, the tide is turning and it is time to take our schools back!
More photos of the rally here.

Arne’s “Bring Your Kids to Work” Day

March 4, 2010 (GBN News): Two young children of an air traffic controller were not the only ones who caused a stir last week by coming to work with their dad. The children were caught on tape giving instructions over the air to pilots in flight. But now GBN News has learned that Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s 9 year old daughter, spending time in her father’s office during winter break, was actually responsible for determining which states would qualify for “Race to the Top” Federal stimulus funding. The winning states have not yet been publicly disclosed, but Mr. Duncan’s daughter reportedly has informed the Governors of those states by text message.

In addition, sources at the Education Department told GBN News that the Secretary’s son, age 6, may have gotten his own school into hot water. The name of the school is not being disclosed to protect the privacy of the Secretary’s family, but sources said that a call was made to the district Superintendent, purportedly from the Secretary, demanding that the “failing school” be closed immediately and all of the teachers be fired. While caller ID was said to show that the call indeed came from Mr. Duncan’s office, the receptionist became suspicious at the “squeaky” sound of the caller’s voice. Sources in the Secretary’s office then confirmed that it was indeed Mr. Duncan’s son that made the call.

While the air controller has been suspended from his job, no such fate will befall Mr. Duncan. President Obama defended the Secretary’s allowing his children to make such monumental decisions. “It’s just school choice in action,” the President told GBN News. “It shows how empowered our families are to make these decisions about where they go to school.”

While some critics called on Mr. Obama to immediately fire Mr. Duncan for what they termed a “major transgression”, others were more supportive. J. Fredrick Runson, an education professor at Manhattan University, said he doubts that the decisions made by the two youngsters would be very different from what the Secretary himself would have done. “It’s all arbitrary and capricious anyhow," he told GBN News. "There’s no rhyme or reason to any of these school closings or to the whole Race to the Top process. So it may as well be decided by a couple of kids. Maybe they’d even do a better job.”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Michael Duffy and Tweed: we don't listen and we don't care

Michael Duffy, head of the charter school office at DOE, in an interview said that he learned nothing from speakers at the hearings about the controversial expansion of Girls Prep Charter school:

"… I think, for my part, in a couple of hours of comments, I didn’t hear anything new from the public that wasn’t already known prior to the start of the hearing. I know it’s important that people have a chance to speak their mind, but I don’t think there’s anything that wasn’t known to the Department prior to the proposal for the expansion of Girls Prep."
Obviously he wasn't listening and doesn't care what parents or members of the community think. He is not alone.
Here is an excerpt from DOE's "amended" Educational Impact Statement for the proposed closing of Alfred E. Smith HS, summarizing the public comment so far:
Thirty-eight oral comments and 315 written comments regarding this proposal were received between December 3, 2009, and January 25, 2010. The comments came from current students at Alfred E. Smith, alumni from the school, teachers, community members, and companies that employ Alfred E. Smith alumni. All comments opposed the closure of Alfred E. Smith. At the January 11, 2010, joint public hearing on the original proposal, 100 members of the public noted their opposition.....One oral comment and sixty-one written comments were received between January 26 and February 23; all of these comments also opposed the DOE’s revised proposal.

More than four hundred people sent in comments opposed to the closing and not one in favor.
So did the DOE change its proposal in any way to close Alfred E. Smith?

No. So much for public process.

The arrogance of Bloomberg and Klein, according to Matt Bromme

At the City Council hearings yesterday, Ernie Logan, head of the principal’s union, said that according to principals, the first time their superintendent had ever visited their schools this year was to tell them that their schools were being closed.

This is despite two lawsuits, two consent decrees, and strengthened language in the new governance law, all supposed to make superintendents the manager and the head support officer for districts once again.
See these observations from Matt Bromme, former superintendent of District 27 in Queens:

In a system of over 1 million children, there will always be dysfunction.

What is the tragedy is that instead of looking into improving school boards the Mayor chose to look at every school board member as a potential criminal and someone whose mental capabilities were below his and the Chancellor's. In their desire to improve education, they took the stand that "we rich and influential people," will take care of education because you the parent are not able to help your school improve.

There were a number of school boards and members who were dedicated to making their district a better school community. There were another group of school board members were interested in only themselves and most of them became members of the City Council or the legislature in Albany.

Superintendents, who had districts that were manageable were removed and replaced by Regional Superintendents who did not have manageable regions. Therefore the Chancellor created a second reorganization, and then a third and now a fourth. Bill Thompson stated that as a City Comptroller, he would never invest city funds in an organization that went through so many reorganizations in such a short period of time.

So now, we have superintendents without staff or power. We have principals who do not look at education as a lifetime position but a stepping stone to another career. We have the Tweedites who stay a year or maybe two and then disappear, none of whom even know the outer boroughs.

We have schools who have abandoned the arts, history and science in order to test drill students until they are bored and turned off to learning. We do not allow trips to museums or the theater until after testing is completed.

We can sell Doritos, but we will not allow parents to sell brownies.

Diane Ravitch is right. We need to educate the "whole" child and not just focus on two subject areas via test prep. Children no longer read for enjoyment. Children no longer study math for long term use. They read and answer math problems solely to pass two exams that make or break their school's future.

-- Matt Bromme

Race Till They Drop

March 3, 2010 (GBN News): In a last ditch effort to help their states qualify for “Race to the Top” funding, a growing number of school districts around the country have begun summarily firing all of their teachers. The strong public support by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama for the recent Central Falls, Rhode Island school board decision to fire every one of the district’s 100 teachers has apparently spurred a nationwide effort to do likewise in order to secure Federal stimulus funds.

At last count, GBN News estimates that over 253,000 teachers have already been fired in 34 states, and the number continues to grow by the hour. This is causing parents to begin to wonder just who will be teaching their children. But Utah State Senator Chris Buttars says not to worry. The Senator, who recently proposed eliminating the senior year of high school, has a simple solution. “Just use high school seniors to teach the younger kids,” he said to reporters in Salt Lake City. “They’re doing nothing but playing around anyhow.”

Secretary Duncan, for one, thinks the Senator is onto something. “That’s the type of creative thinking we need to turn around schools in this country,” he told GBN News in an exclusive interview. “They’ll be new, fresh faces that won’t be wedded to the status quo. They won’t cost a cent, since it would be like an internship. And they won’t even demand tenure, because it would only keep them from going on to college.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Stop the "Stop and Frisk" Database of Innocent People

Just last week, I found myself blasting NY Times columnist Bob Herbert for his one-sided, factually deficient article hailing the Harlem Village Academy charter school and its exceedingly well-paid CEO, Deborah Kenny. In today's Times, Mr. Herbert redeemed himself on a different but not wholly unrelated topic, and I am compelled to praise him for that.

Mr. Herbert's latest column describes the NYPD's stop and frisk policy, a "crime prevention" program under which police stop, check out, and frisk any NYC citizens they wish for any reason they wish. There need be no probable cause, although being a young black or Hispanic male is apparently considered cause enough. One need only imagine being man-handled up against the nearest wall, spread-eagled in public, or forced to lie face down on the street to contemplate how jarring and humiliating this must be.

According to Mr. Herbert, nearly three million such stops have been made in the past six years, with a record 575,000 made last year. Given that the Mayor's accountability notions extend to NYPD and its incident database, increasing numbers of such stops should not be surprising -- even precinct commanders want to get A's on their report cards.

I leave up to the Civil Liberties Union, the courts, and sociologists to figure out whether such stop-and-frisks are legal, whether they are effective in crime control, what impact they create in the communities where they occur (particularly among younger people), and how they affect police/community relations. Even Mr. Herbert is vague on some of this, suggesting for example that in some way nearly twelve percent of those stopped had done something wrong (maybe an outstanding bench warrant, or perhaps having a joint in their possession?).

At least as disconcerting as the stops themselves, however, is what happens afterward. Reports of each stop are apparently fed into an NYPD database, including personal data of the individuals who were stopped. So in the last six years, NYPD has compiled a database of nearly 2.8 million people (51.6% Black, 30.2% Hispanic, 10.3% White). That's 2.8 million people (at least) on NYPD "suspect" databases, equal to 33.5% of NYC's 8.36 million population (as estimated by the US Census Bureau at the end of 2008). That's equal to one-third of all NYC residents. Worse still, some 2.5 of the 2.8 million were not only not committing a crime at the time, they had never done anything wrong other than being deemed "frisk-worthy" by some beat cops.

According to Mr. Herbert, the resulting database is considered by NYPD Commissioner Kelly to be a permanent tool in the city's crime-fighting repertoire. In other words, if your name goes in for whatever reason, it stays there, even if you have been a completely innocent, law-abiding system your entire life (eerily reminiscent to me of the Tom Cruise movie, "Minority Report"). A spokesperson for Commissioner Kelly apparently justified all this with the stupendously goofy argument that the information might help determine if a person under suspicion in a criminal investigation was at "a certain place at a certain time." The odds against this database being relevant in that manner in a criminal investigation are so astronomically high as to defy the imagination, but the NYPD must indeed relish having a database of names and addresses of (otherwise innocent) "locally suspicious characters." On the flip side, of course, if a bank robbery happens to occur somewhere in NYC at the very moment you are fortunate enough to be being frisked, the NYPD will have proof in their database that you are innocent. Nice to know that our innocence is being so well-protected.

Thankfully, the NYCLU is fighting the NYPD over both the stop and frisk program as well as the permanent retention of the data on people who are innocent. As NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman states, “This is a massive database of innocent, overwhelmingly black and Latino people.” While it is heartening to see the NYCLU involved, it would be good to hear Public Advocate Bill deBlasio speak out loudly and forcefully on this issue and express support for the NYCLU's efforts.

Since young black and Hispanics are no doubt key targets for these stops, the NYPD database likely contains the names of any number of completely innocent high-school-age children. At the absolute very least, data on any stopped individual under age eighteen who has done nothing wrong should be prohibited from entering the NYPD database. Through its control of School Safety, NYPD is already doing enough to criminalize "typical teen" behavior that teachers and school administrators have long dealt with in much better ways. Adding the names of school-aged children to a permanent NYPD "stop-and-frisk" database, with its inherent implication for life of suspected wrong-doing (Why else would a police officer have stopped and frisked you?), is simply intolerable.

Thanks again to Bob Herbert for shining more light on another officially condoned, post-9/11 intrusion into citizens' privacy rights adopted in the name of protecting us from harm.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Obama joins the blame brigade

Last week, when Arne Duncan said that he applauded the superintendent's decision to fire the entire staff of Central Falls high school in Rhode Island, the poorest school district in the state, with high rates of immigrant and transient students, I thought he might get in trouble, just as he did earlier when he said that Hurricane Katrina was "the best thing" that ever happened to New Orleans schools.

Duncan explained that the superintendent was "showing courage and doing the right thing for kids."

No such luck. President Obama has now seconded the opinion. Perhaps it is not surprising, since it is the federal government that is essentially blackmailing cash-strapped states and districts into imposing such arbitrary "solutions" to the problem of failing schools.

To be eligible for the "Race to the Top" grants, states have to impose one of the following four options for their lowest-performing schools: school closure; takeover by a charter management organization; requiring that the entire teaching staff be fired and no more than 50 percent rehired , or school "transformation" which requires a longer school day or school year; with only a small number of failing schools able to try the last of these.

These drastic, punitive strategies, along with removing caps on charter expansion and tying teacher evaluation to test scores, are the prerequisites for states to be eligible for grants that the US Dept of Education is holding out, like crumbs to a starving child.

None of these options have been validated by research, by the way -- as the National Academy of Sciences has pointed out about many of its elements -- and some of them, as the NAS warned, may have unanticipated and damaging consequences.
Moreover, according to a recent analysis by Bruce Baker, educational finance expert at Rutgers University, Central Falls High school does no worse and a bit better than other schools in the state, when the poverty of its students and its relative level of funding is taken into account:

"As it turns out, the relative efficiency of Central Falls HS stacks up pretty well with other Rhode Island High Schools. That is, the actual spending per pupil in Central Falls is not far off from the predicted amount to achieve their current outcomes, with their current population.... Central Falls is doing as well with what it has as any other Rhode Island High School, after accounting for student needs.."

Indeed, the idea that teachers are at fault with the poor performance of our schools with poor students, crowded classes, and low funding, would be like blaming the results of our inequitable access to health care on the medical profession.

Not to mention the question of what firing all the teachers at this school is supposed to accomplish. What experienced, qualified teachers in their right mind would consider applying for a job now at a high poverty school-- when the entire staff might face dismissal? Or as Valerie Strauss, columnist for the Washington Post writes about the administration at Central Falls:
"Now, all they have to do is find 93 excellent professionals to take their places. Recruiting the best educators should be easy, especially when you can offer them life in a very poor town and a job with no security."

Can you imagine if the US Dept. of Health and Human Services demanded that before receiving Medicaid funds, all the physicians in urban hospitals be terminated because of the poor health of their patients? It would never happen.
Doctors are not considered responsible for the irrationally inequitable distribution of health care in this country -- though it is the fashion to blame teachers for everything that goes wrong with urban education in this country.

The NEA and AFT have posted a petition in support of the Central Falls teaching staff; go sign it!