Saturday, May 29, 2010

Charter CAP Law Drives Mob to Go Non-Profit

May 29, 2010 (GBN News): In an unprecedented step, five major Mafia crime families in New York have joined forces to register with the Federal Government as a 501(c) non-profit corporation, GBN News has learned. The surprise move was reportedly precipitated by yesterday’s NY State Legislature vote raising the charter school cap. The new law doubles the number of charter schools allowed in the state, but precludes any for-profit organizations from running them. Without pursuing non-profit status, the Mafia would have had to abandon plans to move into the lucrative charter school market.

While on the surface the Mafia appears to be abandoning its customary pursuit of huge, illicit profits, its leaders may have actually chosen a wise course of action in a bad economy. “Even the Mafia’s bottom line is down,” said the Dean of the Manhattan School of Criminal Justice, J. Fredrick Runson. “As the great philosopher Al Capone once said, ‘I go where the money is’. Seeing how folks like Eva Moskowitz are making big bucks off ostensibly non-profit charters, the mob chieftains obviously saw a deal they ‘couldn’t refuse’.”

Even with the State Comptroller now being empowered to audit charter schools, the Mafia should still feel comfortable doing business with the NY City DOE, Dr. Runson indicated. “From his flaunting of the Committee for Fiscal Equity lawsuit on class size, to his habitually ignoring City Comptroller audits, Chancellor Joel Klein’s actions should make those mob capos feel right at home.”

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mafia to Run NYC Charter School

May 27, 2010 (GBN News): The Mafia, which has recently taken an interest in funding innovations in education (GBN News report, April 30), will reportedly be opening a new themed charter high school in New York City this fall. The school will specialize in the study of criminology, from a non-traditional perspective.

A Mafia source described the program to GBN News as, “More vocational than academic.” The source went on to say that, “The kids will do a lot of hands-on learning, more ‘how to’ than theoretical. We guarantee that they’ll come out well-prepared for exciting jobs in the field, or else.”

J. Fredrick Runson, Dean of the Manhattan University School of Criminal Justice, is not surprised that the Mafia would want to run a charter school. “All those hedge fund guys are figuratively making a killing on charter schools,” he told GBN News. “The Mafia will do the same thing, only they can do it literally.”

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told GBN News that he could not comment on the reported plans for the school, since “We’re in a delicate phase of plea bargaining – I mean, negotiations.” However, he did say that he is happy to work with any group that can run an effective charter school. “If they get good test scores,” he said, “Like any other charter school, we don’t care how they do it.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Andrew Cuomo: stop listening to the privateers, and start listening to parentse!

Andrew Cuomo announced for governor this weekend; according to news reports, he decided to support raising the cap on charter schools after he met with the hedge fund operators, and got their promise of contributions to his campaign.

He seems to have completely swallowed the line of the charter school lobby, according to his new campaign document, and implies giving parents a say in co-locations ‘a poison pill”:

I believe public education is the new civil rights battle and I support charter schools.

New York must be the leader when it comes to education reform. This starts with the increasing the charter school cap from 200 to 460. But increasing the cap won’t result in more charter schools if we too tightly restrict where they can be located or how they can be approved. We believe that public review and consultation are important—especially when charter schools will be co-located with traditional public schools—but this cannot become a poison pill that prevents opening new charter schools.

It’s unbelievable how bad it’s gotten and how much public education has been undermined by the hedge fund privateers, that its considered a positive sign that Robert Duffy, Mayor of Rochester, pro-charter and pro-mayoral control, who is Cuomo’s pick as lieutenant governor, feels as though he must assure parents that their neighborhood schools will not entirely disappear, according to the Gotham Schools:

We will guarantee a place for elementary school children at their nearest neighborhood school, if that is what the family wants. There will be choices of other schools with special programs and services, but every young child will be able to attend a neighborhood school if their parents choose. That will reduce transportation costs.

Some vision of public education!

If you are on Facebook, please friend Cuomo, and then post a comment on his Facebook page, as I have. Urge him to start listening to parents, for a change; not the hedge fund operators.

Ask him to oppose raising the cap on charters without rigorous protections for parent and student rights. And ask him to start paying attention to improvements for our public schools, where the vast majority of our NY students attend. Public school parents may not have millions to contribute to his campaign, unlike the hedge fund operators, but we vote!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gotham Schools: Why the charter cap bill should not become law

Reportedly, Speaker Silver, the teachers union and Howard Wolfson, the mayor's political operative are right now negotiating the charter school cap.

Where are the parents? Nowheresville as usual.

But we're not keeping quiet.

Mona Davids of the NY Charter Parents Association and I published a piece in Gotham Schools today, exposing the lies and disinformation of the charter school lobby, Why the Charter Cap Bill Should Not Become Law:

As parents and advocates, we are convinced that the bill being promoted by the charter school lobby to raise the cap on charter schools would seriously harm the city’s children who attend both district and charter schools.

Check it out!

Monday, May 24, 2010

More impotent advisory councils in exchange for lifting the charter cap?

According to a NY Post article, Pact to boost charter cap closer, the state, city and teacher union are negotiating to lift the cap on charters.

Rather than granting parents a real voice on whether charter schools should be co-located in public school spaces, by giving this authority to parents at the existing school and/or Community Education Councils, instead the proposal is to create "
an advisory council that would assess the impact of sharing space with traditional public schools. But the task force would not have the power to block a charter school from moving into a building. "

How many advisory councils do we already have? 32 CECs and the Citywide Council on High Schools.

How many times has the Bloomberg administration listened to their "advice"? Never.

How many more impotent "advisory councils" do we need in this city? Zero.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Diane Ravitch’s remarks at the Class Size Matters “Skinny” awards dinner

The Skinny Awards were given to Juan Gonzalez, investigative reporter for the Daily News, for holding the city accountable; Norman Siegel, famed attorney, for protecting parent rights; and Council member Robert Jackson, a tireless fighter for our schools.

Photographs of the honorees are below; more
are posted on the CSM facebook page.

Diane was ill and had lost her voice, so her remarks were given in absentia by Monica Major, Bronx parent leader and CSM board member.

Dear Friends: I am heartsick that I cannot be with you for tonight’s Skinny Awards.

I was in DC all day yesterday, talking to elected officials and trying to persuade them that No Child Left Behind was a disaster and that Duncan's Race to the Top is making matters worse. By the time I got on a train to come home, I started losing my voice. Today, I have none at all, I can't even whisper.

Class Size Matters is a special organization, on the front lines of fighting for our public schools and a quality education, every day. That’s why I joined its board.

The Skinny Awards are equally special. It is harder to get a Skinny Award than it is to get the Broad award. Only the most valiant and courageous friends of public education are considered as recipients. Only those who are willing to speak Truth to Power are eligible.

These awards recognize valor in the face of overwhelming power. The awards go this year to three people of amazing courage and integrity, each of whom has fearlessly fought against powerful vested interests in this city and state.

Juan Gonzalez, Robert Jackson, and Norman Siegel deserve the thanks of every parent, teacher, and friend of public education in New York City.

If I were with you, and if I had a voice, I would urge you never to give up.

Continue to fight the good fight, because the stakes are so very high. Support Class Size Matters and do what you can to speak out in defense of public education. The lives of a million children in this city are at stake, and what happens in New York City resonates throughout the nation and around the world.

Like Leonie, I have been getting emails from teachers and parents in Australia and New Zealand, seeking information about how to resist the New York City model of testing and choice. Other cities are thinking about adopting the New York City model of non-democratic governance.

Whatever the odds, and they are daunting, we can't give up. So much is at stake. Everyone who speaks up, everyone who writes letters to the editor, everyone who supports Class Size Matters and joins our relentless struggle for better schools, everyone who appreciates Patrick Sullivan's independent voice on the PEP, has a part to play. It's not over till it's over.

Some day it will be over, and when it happens we will remember the hard work and tenacity of Juan, Robert, and Norman.

Congratulations to the honorees. May you lead us for many more years, until better times come for our city's schools and students.

­­­­----- Diane Ravitch

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Waiting in the rain for Arne: my day with charter parents

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan came to NYC today, to visit Kings Collegiate Charter School in Brooklyn, one of the chain of Uncommon Schools. He came to pressure our legislators to lift the charter school cap, in return for the possibility of receiving millions in federal Race to the Top funds.

I travelled to Brownsville along with former charter parent Khem Irby of District 13, Leslie-Ann Byfield, a charter parent and advocate, and another charter parent. We wanted to make the point that despite Duncan's claim that he has encountered "zero" opposition to his policies, there are many parents, including charter parents, who feel quite differently.

As I have recently learned, there are many disaffected charter school parents, including those whose children attend Uncommon Schools , who feel that there needs to be far more accountability and protection of parent and student rights before any expansion of charters should be contemplated.

We managed to enter the school easily, along with the mayor's entourage. After going upstairs and waiting for a few minutes outside the classroom where Duncan was supposed to talk to kids, the DOE in the person of David Cantor spotted us and asked us nicely to leave. Though the charter school parents wanted a dialogue with Duncan, Cantor insisted that no questions or discussion would be allowed, even for reporters; and that this visit was only a photo op. We left and waited outside in the rain, patiently, for another half hour or so, until Duncan, along with Klein, Bloomberg, and other top DOE officials exited the school. For what happened next, see our press release below:

Before raising the cap, charter and district parents demand more transparency, accountability, equity and parent input at charter schools

NEW YORK, NY (May 18, 2010) Today, current and former charter school parents protested the appearance of Secretary Duncan’s visit to Kings Collegiate Charter School in Brooklyn, one of the chain of charter schools run by Uncommon Schools. They called attention to the fact that Duncan’s attempt to pressure the Legislature to raise the cap on charters ignores the many flaws in the current system, including the lack of sufficient financial oversight, excessive discipline at charter schools and the suppression of parent and student rights.

According to Leslie-Ann Byfield, a charter school parent who advocates for parents with children experiencing abusive practices at charter schools, “Increasing the number of charter schools without acknowledging the growing list of complaints and concerns, AND without providing remedies, is irresponsible at least, and even more so when supported by the Secretary of Education. Today, I waited in the rain until I could ask Secretary Duncan when he would talk to charter parents to hear their concerns. He politely responded that he does talk to parents and was willing to meet with us. But when I asked how we could arrange this, I immediately became invisible, as he turned his back, walked away and shut his car door. Now I understand how it is that Secretary Duncan says there is zero opposition to his charter school proposals. Today, Secretary Duncan deemed me a zero.”

According to Mona Davids, President of the NY Charter Parents Association, "Uncommon Schools does not allow Parent Associations of any kind. We have been helping a parent at the Kings Collegiate School for several months. We need far more transparency and a voice for parents at all charter schools, to stop their abusive practices. Secretary Duncan should explain what he is going to do to ensure that corporate chicanery, corruption and financial mismanagement does not happen at charter schools, and should have addressed the plight of the parents at Kings Collegiate when he visited that school. That would show he truly cares about our children!"

Samantha Jeffrey, a parent at Kings Collegiate Charter School, says, “I support the charter school system, however I believe they have not reached their potential so that my child can reach his potential as well. I would like to work with them on real solutions that focus on the child’s academic excellence, as opposed to the distractions of the current disciplinary code and policy. I have also been ignored when I asked for essential information that I deserve as a parent. Parents at our school as well as other charter schools need a voice.”

Data from the State Education Department for Kings Collegiate shows that while there are 90 fifth graders, this number shrinks to 53 students in the seventh grade.

Khem Irby, parent leader in District 13 and a former parent at Leadership Prep Charter School, one of the Uncommon Schools chain, said: “It was very disrespectful of Secretary Duncan not to visit K588 today, the public school co-located in the building with Kings Collegiate. He should be reminded that charter schools are NOT the cure-all. We were told by the attorney of Uncommon Schools to cease and desist our efforts to form a Parent Association at the school. The practices at Leadership Prep continue to degrade the self-esteem of children. Many of their students have been suspended for trivial reasons like “yawning too loud”, and they have had a mass exodus of students who have returned to neighborhood schools. They also have used ACS as a tool to suppress parent complaints.”
Lydia Temples, a former parent at Leadership Prep, said: “When I had concerns about the unfairness of the disciplinary procedures at the school, I used all the legal avenues of redress at my disposal. I filed grievances with the school, the board of trustees, the SUNY Charter School Institute, the Board of Regents, and finally, the State Education Commissioner, and none of them responded. Instead, the school called ACS to try to shut down my complaints and they took my daughter away from me for two days. I finally had to take my child out of the school.”

According to Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters: “We object to Duncan’s political pressure to force our state to raise the cap on charters, without any protections in place to prevent financial corruption and abuse of power. He has said that there is “zero” opposition to his policies, and yet more than two thousand people have signed our petition against raising the charter cap in the last two weeks. We also resent the way the charter lobby is spreading disinformation, including the false claim that the “Race to the Top” funding can be used to prevent layoffs at schools. As Kathleen Grimm pointed out at City Council hearings last week, the use of this federal grant program is very restrictive and cannot be used for these purposes.”
Lisa Donlan, President of the Community Education Council in District 1, where bitter battles have occurred over charter schools occupying space in existing public schools, concludes: “The US Dept of Education should be using its leadership to encourage states to adopt real solutions to the problems of our schools, including admissions plans that reduce racial and economic isolation; smaller class sizes; and greater opportunities for early childhood education. Arne Duncan has ignored all these issues in favor of a narrow political agenda to promote privatization.”
Class Size Matters and the NY Charter Parents Association have sponsored a petition to the State Legislature, urging them to adopt protections for parents and students and enhanced accountability for charter schools before lifting the cap. The petition has received more than 2,000 signatures in the last two weeks, and can be viewed here.

The two groups have also formulated a framework of common principles for charter and district schools, demanding more accountability for the spending of taxpayer, including audits from the State Comptroller and barring profit-making charter operators from making money off our children. It also calls for more voice for parents, including the need for every charter school to have a Parents Association and a parent sitting on its board. The framework document can be accessed here.

Journalistic malpractice at the NY Times

The Sunday Times magazine has posted a blatant piece of propaganda, in the form of one of the most inaccurate and biased articles I have ever seen. It is written by Steve Brill, who did an unfair piece for the New Yorker on the rubber rooms. It seems as though one can make a pretty decent career now in hack journalism, as long as you attack the UFT.

The article blames all our educational problems on the union (as usual); doesn’t mention any of the controversial charter co-locations that are squeezing space from our regular public schools; doesn’t mention any of the myriad charter school financial scandals, or their abuse of student and parent rights; omits any reference to the ongoing (and inexcusable) opposition of the charter school industry to audits, and manages to leave out the fact that it is the hedge fund operators who with their millions of dollars in campaign contributions are driving these policies.

Apart for the sole exception Michael Mulgrew, Brill somehow got around to interviewing only members of the pro-privatization crowd.

Most blatantly inaccurate is Brill's claim that the students at PS 149 are the same as the students at the co-located Harlem Success Academy:

P.S. 149 is rated by the city as doing comparatively well in terms of student achievement and has improved since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took over the city’s schools in 2002 and appointed Joel Klein as chancellor. Nonetheless, its students are performing significantly behind the charter kids on the other side of the wall. To take one representative example, 51 percent of the third-grade students in the public school last year were reading at grade level, 49 percent were reading below grade level and none were reading above. In the charter, 72 percent were at grade level, 5 percent were reading below level and 23 percent were reading above level. In math, the charter third graders tied for top performing school in the state, surpassing such high-end public school districts as Scarsdale.

Same building. Same community. Sometimes even the same parents.

Here Brill is parroting Eva Moskowitz, who in the far better NY Magazine article claimed that the children in the other nearby schools “are the same kids we have.”

Really? Twenty percent of the kids at PS 149 are special education students; and 40 percent of these are in self-contained classes, the most severely disabled. Eighty one percent are poor enough to receive free lunch, and 13 percent are English Language Learners. In 2008 (the latest available data) more than 10 percent were homeless.

Compare this with the charter school. Instead of 81% free lunch, 49% of the students at Harlem Success Academy are poor --a difference of 32 percentage points. (CORRECTION: though the data on this are inconsistent, the state report card says that there were 67% free lunch students at PS 149; still a difference of nearly twenty percentage points.)

There are only 2 percent English Language Learners at the charter school; compared to 13 percent at PS 149 --more than six times as many.

HSA claims to have 16.9 percent special education students, compared to 20 percent at PS 149, and even then, few if any of the HSA students are the most severely disabled.

I can't find data on how many students at HSA are homeless, but according to Diane Ravitch, only about 100 of the 50,000 homeless kids in NYC public schools are enrolled in charters.

(UPDATE: I found this overall figure confirmed in this InsideSchools analysis ; as well as a chart showing that HSA had only three homeless students in the 2008-9 school year, less than one percent -- compared to PS 149's 10 percent.)

The Times article also ignores the rampant counseling out of high needs students out at the HSA schools; so common as to be widely reported in the press, including in the New York Magazine article, which included the following statement from a HSA teacher;

At her school alone, the Harlem Success teacher says, at least half a dozen lower-grade children who were eligible for IEPs have been withdrawn this school year. If this account were to reflect a pattern, Moskowitz’s network would be effectively winnowing students before third grade, the year state testing begins. “The easiest and fastest way to improve your test scores,” observes a DoE principal in Brooklyn, “is to get higher-performing students into your school.” And to get the lower-performing students out.

This far superior New York magazine article received over 240 comments, many of them from former teachers and parents at HSA, writing about the overwhelming predominance of test prep and the large number of students pushed out or counseled out of the school.
The fact that Steven Brill and his editors at the Times didn’t attempt to provide any accurate data or a less biased depiction of this issue is not just shocking; it represents journalistic malpractice.

The rapid expansion of charter schools is leading to our public schools becoming more concentrated with high needs students, while taking away valuable funds and space from our public school system, at a time when already their budgets have been slashed to the bone.
Do we need more privatization and more profit making off our students? Should the guys who brought our financial system to the ground also be allowed to undermine our public education system ?

Go leave a comment here, at the Times here or at the Gotham Schools website.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

John Allen Paolos on Tweed's ongoing innumeracy

Check out John Allen Paulos in today’s NY Times, author of "Innumeracy", about how the current obsession with data often gives us the wrong answers; and steers us in the wrong direction:
Unless we know how things are counted, we don’t know if it’s wise to count on the numbers … Consider the plan to evaluate the progress of New York City public schools inaugurated by the city a few years ago. While several criteria were used, much of a school’s grade was determined by whether students’ performance on standardized state tests showed annual improvement. This approach risked putting too much weight on essentially random fluctuations and induced schools to focus primarily on the topics on the tests. It also meant that the better schools could receive mediocre grades because they were already performing well and had little room for improvement. Conversely, poor schools could receive high grades by improving just a bit.
We are now entering the fourth year of the Tweed’s inherently flawed school “progress reports” or grading system.

Each year the formula has been significantly revamped because of the absurdity of the previous year’s grades, including this year’s grade inflation, in which 84% of elementary and middle schools got "A’s". If the authors of this system were to receive a grade themselves, it would be an "F".

The school grades are based 85% on the previous year's state test scores, which themselves have been widely derided as unreliable. The formula used has also been shown to unfairly penalize schools with large number of high-need special education students, despite the DOE's claim to fully control for the student population.

And, as Paulos points out, they are essentially "random" as they are based on only one year's worth of test scores.

Yet, inexplicably, the DOE refuses to conform to reason and alter the formula so that it is based on more than one year’s data; despite the fact that Jim Liebman promised at their inception to base them on three years’ worth of test scores.

Other troubling problems related to the way in which the grades also rely in part on survey results from teachers and parents. Recent articles in the Daily News have shown how several principals have pushed teachers into giving them favorable reviews; with the threat that otherwise, DOE may close their schools based on low grades. Parents also commonly report the same sort of pressure, either externally or internally imposed.

The school grading system also ignores critical but highly variable factors that differ widely among schools and yet are largely outside the their control, such as class size or overcrowding, which can work against increases in achievement.

This omission is unjustifiable, given the fact that DOE’s “teacher data reports” that Klein says should be used in tenure decisions include class size as a key factor, showing that even Tweed educrats recognize that class size is an important contributor to teacher effectiveness, and their claims otherwise are so much hogwash.

Yet the teacher data reports are themselves problematic; and their formula has never been publicly released. I submitted a FOIL for the formula more than a year ago, as well as the identity of the “independent” panel that DOE had claimed had attested to its reliability, and have still not received anything in return.

As the National Academy of Sciences has pointed out, in its comments to Secretary Duncan’s misbegotten grant program “Race to the Top”, no system for evaluating teachers on the basis of test scores has yet been established that is ready for prime time, given all the inherently complex and imponderable factors that go into test scores, particularly at the classroom level. Any attempt to implement such a program, they urged, should be carefully tested and independently vetted, because it could very well have unfair and damaging consequences, not just to teachers but to our kids as well.

We have already seen how art, science and music and untested subjects have been minimized in our children’s schools since the over-emphasis on high-stakes tests has been imposed; with weeks more spent on test prep and less on learning.

All parents should closely watch the evolution of the recent agreement between the New York teachers union and the state, to base 25% of teacher evaluation on state test scores and another 15% on “locally selected measures of achievement that are rigorous and comparable across classrooms."
We must hope that whatever formula is used is independently and publicly vetted, does not result in even more unfair and unreliable measures of performance, and does not lead to more testing that will waste time and money, serving no purpose except to diminish the quality of education that our children receive.
You can comment on the US DOE blog about the fallibility of basing teacher evaluation on test scores here.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jonathan Bing Gets Boost From Hedge Fund Bigs

Assemblyman Jonathan's Bing bill to eliminate seniority rights for teachers has not fared so well. His co-sponsor walked away citing the bill's unconstitutionality and one law maker pronounced the bill "dead on arrival". As a parent in his district, I resented the blatant attempt to sell the bill with faux-empowerment of parents. Principals would make unilateral decisions on layoffs after "consulting" with yet another powerless panel of parents and teachers.

But Bing is seeing deep support from one key constituency -- hedge fund moguls. Education Reform Now, a front for four hedge fund operators paid for the mail piece shown here. Hedge fund moguls are pouring money into public school policy debates despite the fact that they would never send their own kids to public schools. We'll be spending some time here on the blog taking a closer look at the hedge fund money, the motivation of the wealthy men behind it and their influence in public education.

Rave review of Diane's book and Duncan visit to NYC

See the well-deserved rave review in the NY Times by Alan Wolfe of Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

The final, rather discouraging paragraph of Wolfe's review:

I have always relied on Ravitch’s intellectual honesty when battles become intense. And her voice is especially important now. President Obama and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, seem determined to promote reforms relying on testing and choice, despite fresh data calling their benefits into question. I wish we could all share Ravitch’s open-mindedness in seeing what the data really tells us. Somehow, I doubt that’s what will carry the day.

Wolfe is a professor at Boston College and is said to be writing a book on "political evil."

On Tuesday at 12:45 PM, Sec. Arne Duncan will be in at Kings Collegiate Charter School with Joel Klein; 1084 Lenox Road, Brooklyn to push raising the charter cap. Article in NY Post here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Report On The NYC Schools Closing Lawsuit Appeal

Oral arguments in the City's appeal of the State Supreme Court Decision by Judge Joan Lobis -- which blocked the DOE from its threatened closing of 19 schools -- were heard yesterday (5/13) in the State's Appellate Division, at 27 Madison ave., Manhattan. One reason why it was of particular importance to me (neither of my 2 children has attended one of the schools threatened with closure by the DOE) is because I am a graduate of one of those that is -- Christopher Columbus H.S. in the Bronx.

The case is known as Mulgrew vs. Board of Ed.

First up before the 5-judge panel was NYC Corporation Counsel attorney Alan Krams appealing the decision on behalf of the DOE.

Mr. Krams said that in her decision, Judge Lobis -- who had ruled that DOE had provided insufficient notice and impact analysis about its plan to close the schools -- had mistakenly applied the higher standards of environmental statutes (SEQRA, the State Environmental Quality Review Act) rather than education law, which does not require as much in the way of impact analysis.

One of the judges pointed out to him that the extension of Mayoral control of the schools which passed the State Legislature in 2009 was predicated on requirements such as community notification re: school closings.

Mr. Krams acknowledged that DOE had failed to give School Leadership Teams (SLTs) formal notice, but he reiterated that the lower court had treated it like SEQRA and had applied too high a standard for notification. He said that education law gives the school officials the power to make the sole determination about school closings.

A judge pointed out to him that the 2009 education statute requires that educational impact of a decision like this be determined. Various judges expressed skepticism about whether the impact of the closings on students and community was adequately taken into account by the DOE.

Mr. Krams said the process can't work if the DOE must take into account how each student can get the same programs at a new school as he or she had at the school they want to close. He also said that the UFT, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the closings, does not have standing to sue, a claim greeted with skepticism from the bench. The reason, he said, is because the UFT is an unincorporated association, so it would only have standing to sue if ALL of its members were affected.

Now it was the turn of the attorney for the plaintiffs, Charles Moerdler of Stroock and Stroock and Lavan. He said the 2009 statute was negotiated between the DOE and the State Legislature, with the Chancellor having a direct role in the negotiations, and that the DOE was reneging on the agreement in the way they've handled this matter. He said there is no compliance with the requirements of the statute and that the DOE is essentially saying that students and teachers must be held accountable for their behavior and performance, but there is a different standard for us.

Mr. Moerdler said that Judge Lobis had briefly referred to SEQRA in her decision, saying it is instructive in this instance, but that she in no way suggested that its provisions were binding on the process here. He said that the DOE was required to give proper notice to the CECs, and that the CECs and SLTS were supposed to have joint hearings with the DOE on this and they didn't get them.

He said that DOE gave no notice to the Bronx and Manhattan Borough Presidents or the Chair of the City Council Education Committee, all of whom became co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit. He said that of the 19 schools slated for closing, 14 were proficient by the DOE's own measures and 5 of them in every respect. The DOE then, he said, came up with NEW standards to justify the closings.

A judge asked Mr. Moerdler if negotiations between the 2 sides are taking place, and he said they are trying to avoid having to request a contempt motion against DOE (for failure to comply with all aspects of Judge Lobis' order), and are attempting to negotiate an outcome to the suit.

He reiterated that DOE violated a statute they'd jointly negotiated, deliberately failed to comply with it, and had pretty much admitted that they (DOE) had not invited CECs and SLTs to participate in the process because they were afraid that those groups "would thwart the process" of the closings.

Mr. Krams then spoke again, returning to his contention that the UFT had no standing to sue. A judge asked him if he was really saying that a teacher in a school being closed would not be injured by that closing. Mr. Krams said the elected officials did not have standing to sue because they would not be injured themselves by the closings -- only their constituents would. Judges were skeptical of that one as well, as you might expect.

He then said that CECs are not in the picture for the high school closings, because only K-8 schools have CECs. He said high schools are under the sole control of the Chancellor. (This of course leaves out that there are borough-wide high school councils and a citywide council on high schools. I mentioned that to some of the plaintiffs outside the courtroom after the oral arguments were concluded, and they said they were aware of that omission and had mentioned it in their papers.).

Mr. Krams concluded by saying that the public was heard loud and clear in the 19 individual hearings and in the PEP hearing about all 19. (Having attended the December hearing at Columbus for it and a smaller school, Global Academy, which is located in the same building and was also targeted by DOE, and having attended the subsequent P.E.P. meeting, I can say unequivocally that the public may have been heard, but what they said was totally discounted in the decisions, because just about everyone who spoke objected to the closings.)

That was it. It is not known how long it will take for a decision to be announced. For what it's worth, it seemed to me that the judges reacted more positively to the attorney for the plaintiffs than to the attorney for the DOE.

Richard Barr

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Joel Jolts Jerusalem

May 8, 2010 (GBN News): Israelis are in a state of panic today over what many feel could be the greatest existential threat to the country since the Yom Kippur War. Their fears were apparently precipitated by the announcement that NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is planning a visit to Jerusalem next week to introduce his version of school reform. The widespread concern is that if Mr. Klein does to the Israeli school system what he has done to the schools in New York, it could ultimately sap the country of the very creativity and technological savvy that have built and maintained its economy and security.

Meanwhile, in Teheran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reacted to the Klein visit by announcing that his country will immediately terminate its nuclear program. "What do we need nukes for?" he asked rhetorically in a speech translated from the Farsi by GBN News. "He'll wreck their whole system and we won't have to fire a shot."

Mr. Ahmadinejad then seemed to strike a more sympathetic tone, saying, "Actually, I kind of feel bad for the people there. I mean, normally I wouldn't wish that guy on my worst enemy." But back in character, he added, "On the other hand, Israel is my worst enemy. So this could really work for us."

In a related story, Osama Bin Laden, apparently attempting to turn around what he termed, "failing jihadist training facilities", announced a new merit pay plan based on the Klein school reform model. In a video tape aired today on the Al Jezeera network, the Al Qaida leader said that suicide bombers would no longer automatically receive 72 virgins as a reward. The number of virgins will now be based on the "effectiveness" of their terrorist acts.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Who Are Those Guys?

On rare occasions, I put aside the GBN News parodies to do a serious piece like the following, because as much as they try, those DOE types just can’t be funny all the time.

As a NY City public school parent, I frequently find myself pondering the ongoing attacks on public school education and what really lies behind them. I can’t help feeling like we’re Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, relentlessly pursued by a mysterious posse with seemingly limitless resources, only in this case it’s the outlaws who are the posse. But the question we face is the same as the one Butch and Sundance kept asking: “Who are those guys?”

My interest in this question is both personal and professional. In her book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System”, Diane Ravitch does a masterful job covering the political and educational factors behind so-called education reform. But as a clinical social worker, I am interested in the personalities and motivations involved, as much as the politics. Who are these education “reformers”? Why do they do what they do, in the way that they do it? And what are the implications for our children and the entire educational system?

A graduate school professor of mine, a sociologist, used to teach us to look beyond the general roots of deviance, into why people deviate in the particular ways that they do. Well, the Kleins, Rhees and Bloombergs of the world can certainly be considered “educational deviants” – after all, they seem to have thrown away all of the educational field’s established norms of behavior. But why do these people deviate in this particular mean-spirited, arrogant way, compelling people to worship at the shrine of data, and creating a climate of fear and upheaval worthy of a totalitarian state?

Let’s look at some of the personalities of those we’re dealing with. Michelle Rhee, the Washington DC Schools Chancellor, frequently blasts critics who “put the interests of adults over that of children” – as if this is some sort of zero sum game in which one can only benefit if the other loses. But even in a generally laudatory article like last year’s Time Magazine profile, she herself comes across as incapable or uninterested in displaying any social skills with other adults. One has to wonder if her disdain for “adult interests” masks an inability to relate to anyone beyond high school age, a stunted social development.

Then there’s Joel Klein, Rhee’s soul mate in New York, who seems more comfortable commiserating with his Blackberry than with live human beings. Would he or anyone else tolerate a child or teenager who so rudely ignores a speaker by totally absorbing him or herself in an electronic device, as Klein frequently does during meetings? Is the man incapable of normal interpersonal communication?

Of course, too, there’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who went beyond even his own legendary disdain for the common folk, humiliating a disabled reporter whose cell phone accidentally went off during a press conference. And don’t forget his utterly insensitive dismissal of parents’ concern for their children’s safety traveling to and from school, when he famously insisted that parents only want their kids to bring cell phones to school so they can call and ask if they want chicken of fish for dinner.

If these characters were being interviewed for a job caring for young children, their personalities would set off so many alarms that they’d be rejected out of hand. But somehow they’ve managed to end up controlling entire big city educational systems and thereby caring for millions of children.

It seems that anyone so unable to appropriately relate to others should not be managing a system full of human beings, young ones at that. These folks are so much more enamored of data than of people that they can only measure test scores rather than look at the entire rich complexity of children’s education. They reduce our kids to bubbles on a form, and parents and teachers to annoyances that should be seen and not heard. And they try to dominate and control others rather than work respectfully with them.

Over-reliance on data, often of questionable validity, does seem to be permeating much of human services these days. I have been seeing more and more of it in my own field. But the way in which data is misused in education has gone to an extreme. It is ruining the education of our children, the careers of dedicated educators, and the existence of many of our neighborhood schools. It is, in fact, being used to destroy the public education system.

So who are those guys? Are they trying to remake education into a data-driven business and force it down our collective throats because that is all their narrow personalities allow them to do? After all, if the only thing you can manage is widgets, you can either manage a widget factory, or, like them, you can try to turn all of those you do manage into widgets. Or are other forces (hedge fund managers or large foundations with an economic and political agenda, perhaps?) just using these types of people to do their dirty work because it furthers their own aspirations?

Either way, “those guys” are the sort of folks who may succeed in the business world; a world where the likes of Jack Welch can parley “creative destruction” and firing the bottom ten per cent into a reputation for success. But for the good of our children and their future, they do not belong in the schools.

Put the parent voice back in public education now!

Today, eighteen parent activists from across the nation sent a letter to Obama and the Congress, opposing his administration's wrong-headed, pro-privatization version of education reform, and calling for new priorities for our public schools, including more parent involvement and smaller classes.

As we wrote, "So far, the parent voice has been missing from the debate over education and is entirely absent from the top-down and often draconian proposals being put forward by the administration. We strongly believe that the Blueprint’s proposals would undermine rather than strengthen our public school system, particularly in the urban districts whose parents
we represent. "

Read the full letter here, and the press release here. We also point out that Blueprint’s proposals represent large-scale experiments on our kids, and yet lack informed parental consent -- which would never be allowed in the field of medicine.

Incredibly, the only mention of the word "parents" in Duncan's entire "Blueprint" for the reauthorization of ESEA is that parents of American Indian children should have input as to the curriculum in their schools. No wonder that the US Department of Education's approval rating has dropped more sharply than any other government agency, according to the Pew Research Center.

The letter points out that "Education is a public trust and the very foundation of our democracy. We urge you to be wary of the influence of venture philanthropy on our public education system. We are well aware that powerful foundations -- such as those of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton family, and others – are shaping many of our federal and local education policies with dollars rather than evidence-based solutions."

We conclude our message to Congress this way: “You hold a great responsibility in your hands this year in reauthorizing the ESEA. ....We urge you to insist that the next version of the ESEA formally incorporates the views of public school parents as well. As highly knowledgeable primary stakeholders, we must be permitted to have a seat at the decision-making table."

If you agree, send a message to Obama and the Congress by signing on here; also please join our Facebook page and leave a comment.

For an article about our letter, check out Gotham Schools.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Last night, State Senate voted to continue to keep profit in public education, 45-15

Last night, the NY State Senate approved the expansion of the charter school cap last night by a vote of 45 to 15, without any of the necessary accountability and transparency provisions and without protection of parent and student rights. Check out how your Senator voted here.

As the NY Post reported this morning, “Privately, they [the Senators] conceded that passing the measure was an attempt to derail a threatened big-ticket political campaign against them by Mayor Bloomberg and other prominent charter-school supporters that could cost them their razor-thin majority in the November elections.“

As the Daily News reported, “charter school advocates… have threatened to spend $10 million to unseat opponents.”

Now only the Assembly and Speaker Silver are standing in the way of this unprecedented move to privatize our public school system and force more charters into our already overcrowded school buildings. On Monday, Assemblymember Karim Camera of Brooklyn introduced an identical bill in the Assembly.

Sign our petition now, to send a message your elected leaders that they need to stand up for the rights of public school parents, children and taxpayers, rather than the charter school lobby and the hedge-fund managers who appear to have determined the outcome in the Senate.

As of this morning, after less than two days, our petition already has more than 800 signatures, but it needs even more if we are going to get across our message strongly enough to rival the millions that the charter school lobby is willing to spend to achieve their goal of putting more profit and unregulated greed into the running of our schools. The petition is posted here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Vote No! to raising the cap on charter schools

A new bill was introduced in the State Senate on Friday, April 30, which would more than double the number of charter schools, without allowing audits by the State Comptroller, without giving any voice to parents on controversial co-locations, and without barring profit-making enterprises from making money off our kids. This is an open invitation to abuse and fraud and to the further overcrowding of our public school system.

Without more rigorous protections of the rights of all parents, students, and taxpayers, financial corruption and abuse of power will continue to flourish, and the education of our NYC children will suffer grievously as a result.

Please sign our petition now, urging the state legislature to Vote No on bill number S7678. The website will automatically send a message to your legislators, and allows you to make any additional points about the numerous inadequacies of this bill, the full text of which is posted here.

Many parents have reported getting calls over the weekend from representatives of the charter school industry, asking to connect you to legislators so you can express your support for the bill, and saying that if it passed, this would allow NY State to get $700 million in extra federal education funds.

Please be aware that if NY State did get this federal funding, which is not guaranteed, the state would have to use it for specific purposes outlined in the grant, many of them quite questionable, and that it could not be used to plug holes in the education budget, either to prevent increases in class size or the loss of valuable programs.

Please sign our petition now! And if you have a moment, also call your legislators today or tomorrow to doubly make your voices heard. Their contact info is available when you plug in your address here.