Saturday, July 31, 2010

Diane Ravitch and Leonie Haimson on Democracy Now

Interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on June 30, we discuss NY State's admission of test score inflation over the past five years, and how the lack of progress in NYC schools reveals the failure of test-based accountability policies to improve schools, even as these policies are being forced on the country as a whole by the Obama administration.

For the full segment on this issue, including clips of the Obama's speech before the Urban League, see the Democracy Now website.

Er-r-r, Um-m-m, Well, Hm-m-m: Mayor Dissembles in Blagojevichian Style

Attempting to respond to the recent, politically cataclysmic decline in the academic proficiency measurements whose "gains" he has insistently touted for the past six years, Mayor Bloomberg resorted in his news conference last week to the sort of double-talk dissembling we have come to associate with Rod Blagojevich. In so doing, he managed at one and the same time to refute the validity of the very measurement system upon which he has built his claimed education record, disparage those who aspire to a college education, and assert that it doesn't really matter what you measure or how you're measuring it as long as the numbers get better.

As reported by Maura Walz in "Going Gaga" at Gotham Schools (in far greater depth and detail than any of the missing-in-action local mainstream media), the Mayor first sought to defend himself using an "it's all relative, anyway" argument.

"Everybody can have their definition of what it [proficiency] means," the Mayor argued lamely. Later in the press conference, he even took the audacious step of asking reporters to stop referring to students who score a 3 or 4 on the NYS standardized (3 - 8) exams as "proficient"! Chancellor Klein, parroting the new party line of relativism, chimed in that "Level 3 is simply a single line," conveniently ignoring the thousands of press releases and millions of dollars the DOE has spent under his watch jerking schools over that "line in the sand" under threat of student retentions, teacher and principal dismissals, and school closures.

No doubt sensing that the relativism argument was not sufficiently convincing, the Mayor tried the Alfred E. Neumann, "What, me worry?" defense by suggesting that academic success (i.e., proficiency) was really not all that it was cracked up to be anyway. "The last time I checked, Lady Gaga is doing fine with just a year of college." Mr. Mayor, you might have noted that LeBron James is doing even "finer" with no years of college. Why should parents worry about education and college when they can aspire to the likes of Lady Gaga and LeBron James? With inspiration like that from their mayor, NYC kids should be taking to the city park basketball courts and music clubs in droves! Perhaps it's time to start creating report cards based on hoops talent and on-stage performance audacity.

Finally, the Mayor fell back on what might be called the "longitudinal data" defense, declaring along with Chancellor Klein that what has really mattered all along was improvement over time. In other words, the validity of the measurements are irrelevant as long as the numbers get better every year. Putting aside for the moment the data-corrupting impact of the Mayor/Chancellor's relentless mix of incentivizing principals and teachers while threatening job loss and school closure over those very measures, the sheer illogical senselessness of this argument is intellectually breathtaking. It's as if we spent eight years teaching students how to empty the ocean with teaspoons, finally realized that it wasn't working, but argued for continuing on the grounds that we've gotten better at it each year and our students are now spooning out 21.47% more water (ever so precisely measured to create more credibility) than they were eight years ago.

Of course, every bit of this is founded on the demonstrably false premise that being a "3" or a "4" in math and reading at any and all points between Grades 3 and 8 somehow defines one as being educated. All it actually appears to signify so far is that one is adequately proficient at taking the NYS standardized Math and/or ELA exams. No known positive correlation exists between being a "low 3" and being successful on the NAEPs, the SATs, high school graduation, college acceptance, or anything else. To the contrary, recent data on required freshman remediation of incoming NYC public school students from SUNY/CUNY suggest that the correlation, if it exists, could just as well be negative, that focusing so intently on a single pair of exams and a single pair of success measures deprives students, as one might reasonably expect, of a genuine education.

The bottom line from last week's news conference? Don't expect to see any changes forthcoming. In true George W. Bush style, today's politician never questions him/herself, never rethinks his/her approach, and never admits he/she might have made a mistake. Dissemble, obfuscate, and rationalize -- no matter the continuing cost and damage done to the city's children. After all, one of them could just be (ugh!) the next Lady Gaga.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Klein's confidential email blasting the Times

In an email received by accident today, and sent me by a friendly source, Joel Klein blasts the NY Times coverage of the test score scandal this way: “NYT is outrageous.“

Interesting how he says the Times article is “outrageo
us.” I thought today’s article was relatively mild myself. Or perhaps he meant yesterday’s piece?

In any case, Klein then adds: “There will be pushback (in addition to today’s DN edit) ahead but the oppos are trying to move their agenda with this.” You bet we are!

When the entire Bloom/Klein agenda has been revealed to be a failure, we’d be fools not to point that out.

The Daily News editorial that he is referring to is even more ridiculous than

ever. These guys have lost all sense of reality. Entitled Way to Go, Kids! it still maintains the fiction, with a straight face, that the progress under Bloom/Klein has been terrific, while ignoring how their house of cards has completely fallen apart.

Klein's email message is

addressed to Whitney Tilson. Tilson is a charter school/ hedgefund privateer, founder of the

pro-charter group Democrats for Education Reform, and writes one of the silliest blogs on the planet (amusingly lampooned by Billionaires for Educational Reform).

Here is their entire exchange.


JK wrote:

Put together stuff for him re scale score re ros, big 4 from 02, etc, s-chart stuff, the chart

showing whichever cut scores we moved up, and the naep stuff. Let me see.

From: Whitney Tilson []
Sent: Friday, July 30, 2010 4:57 PM
To: Klein Joel I.
Subject: RE: test data

Thx for the heads up on the Daily News editorial – I’ll include it in my next email.

Please send me whatever you have on the results.


From: Klein Joel I. []
Sent: Friday, July 30, 2010 4:43 PM
To: Whitney Tilson
Subject: RE: YPO dinner on March 8, 9 or 10th?

Btw, thanks for the shout out today. NYT is outrageous. There will be pushback (in addition to today’s DN edit) ahead but the oppos are trying to move their agenda with this. If you ever want details regarding the results, including strong results in 3 or 4 naeps, i can get to you. Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A "teachable" moment for us all

For parents who are understandably agonized about the steep drop in state test scores at their children’s schools, as reported by the NY State Ed Dept. and various news outlets today, this is what they should keep in mind:

  • Since the city experienced a 34-39% decline in the percent of students scoring at proficiency; any school that saw a drop smaller than that is doing okay.
  • However bad a school’s test scores, it is not the fault of teachers, principals, parents or the kids themselves; it is the fault of the people running the system. Their names are Bloomberg and Klein, and they should hang their heads in shame. For years, they have insisted that the state exams were more reliable than the NAEPs, and refused to make the real reforms that would improve our children’s opportunity to learn, like reducing class size. And since their value-added achievements which they insist should determine teacher pay and tenure are next to nil; they should be forced to resign.
  • The state is also at fault by colluding in the fiction of improving test results for the past five years, all to make it seem as though their high-stakes accountability policies were producing results.
More than anything else, as Steve Koss writes below, today's revelations (which are not revelations to people who have been reading this blog) should teach us all that TEST SCORES ARE NOT EVERYTHING.

Our kids – and our schools –should excel in all areas, not just on standardized tests, and the more policymakers focus on test scores to the exclusion of all else, as has happened in recent years, the less real learning will occur in our schools and the more our children will suffer.

It's as though a doctor only weighed his patients, and decided on that basis alone whether they were healthy. Not only could the scale be defective, as occurred in this case; but even if not, the patient could be slowly dying, and he would never know.


Over the last ten days, at least a portion of the long-known truth about the ineffectualness of the State's Grade 3 - 8 standardized Math and ELA exams and high school Regents exams has finally being acknowledged by the NYS Board of Regents and the local print media (New York Times and Daily News and NY Post). By way of validation, newspaper reports today indicate that the re-measured proficiency rate of NYS and NYC students is far, far lower than has been repeatedly claimed and ostentatiously touted by state and local politicians, particularly in NYC.

Calls for "new and improved" examinations with realistic cut scores that more honestly assess proficiency as a measure of academic readiness for higher level study are certainly not unwelcome. After all, if testing is a devil we have to live with, at least it can be a devil with a little more integrity, one that serves educators as well as students and their parents as a more accurate gauge of academic progress and readiness. It is difficult to oppose a movement toward more honest and realistic assessment; this writer for one is not opposed in principle.

Be that as it may, this ostensibly good news must be tempered with reminders of a harsh reality: the real issue has never been about the test scores, but how they are now (mis)used at every level of the educational and political hierarchy. From NCLB and Race to the Top to state-level departments of education to local school districts, from mayors (cough, cough) to school superintendents (cough, cough again) to principals, from assessing principals and teachers to closing schools, from drill and kill and teaching to the test to shorting other curricular areas, and from incentivized, institutionalized manipulation to outright fraud and cheating, the abuse of standardized testing has reached such epidemic proportions throughout the country that public school education in many places is hardly recognizable any more.

Standardized test scores have become the scourge of the American education system. In New York, simply reconstructing the exams and raising the cut scores will do nothing more than address a symptom, one reflected in overly generous assessment of students' academic progress and readiness.
While the change is needed, it will also conveniently eliminate a major structural criticism of the current education reform movement that those "reformers" will be happy to see removed; it's not for nothing that the New York Times, NY Daily News, and NY Post editorial boards jumped on the "revise the NYS standardized exam bandwagon" so quickly and enthusiastically. That alone should warn everyone of the underlying reality of this situation and their agenda. To wit: test, test, and test some more; measure, measure, and measure some more; incentivize and otherwise hold teachers, principals, and entire schools accountable based on those results.

The yardstick may end up being different, but schools will still be driven toward all the ills of score inflation. As long as people like Joel Klein insist that a single, annual exam (or any number or combination of exams) can determine everything from a child's readiness to a teacher's worthiness to a principal's evaluation to whether a school should be closed, the institutionalized response will inevitably lead to the same place we're at today: score inflation, teaching to the test, altering curricula and classroom time allotments to what is being measured and to the detriment of everything else, favoring repetition and drill over exploration and creativity, systemic cheating, manipulation of data, etc.

Perversely enough, under the current "test, measure, incentivize, and hold accountable" regime, revising the NYS exams and making them more honest but more difficult may damage public education even more than the current system has done. Why? When the tests were easier and more predictable, teachers at schools with higher percentages of on-track students could accommodate the state exams while largely pursuing the curricular and instructional approaches they felt best motivated and engaged their students. The more difficult the exams, ceteris paribus (all other things held equal), the more time and effort teachers may feel required to devote to teaching to the test.

The Times, Daily News, and Post will welcome revised, more academically honest standardized exams with open arms; these cheers represent little more than a classic example of "audience misdirection." Mayor Bloomberg will shuffle and dissemble over the collapse of his educational house of cards built on exam scores now acknowledged as meaningless while likely belittling those who dare question him. Chancellor Klein will do a rationalizing dance by claiming that even though the exams were worthless, NYC still did better on them than Rochester, Buffalo, or Syracuse. Change for the better will be promised and touted, but all the upbeat focus on the superficial (the content, form, structure, difficulty, and cut scores of the exams) will merely mask the deeper, more fundamental issues, the ones the education reform crowd would rather not talk about.

Just remember -- it's not, and never was, about the exams, but about they are used. Or more accurately phrased, misused. Since that shows no current prospect of changing, little else among the many ills being inflicted on American public education by the misnamed "education reform movement" is likely to be addressed.

After all, consider that the Times today quotes NYS Education Chancellor Merryl Tisch as stating: "Now that we are facing the hard truth that not all of the gains were as advertised [providing significant evidence that she must have spent the last five years living in the Antarctic], we have to take a look at what we can do differently. These results will finally provide real unimpeachable evidence about to be used for accountability (italics mine)." Not diagnosis of students strengths and weaknesses, not teacher self-assessment, not revision of time allocation to address areas of widespread, persistent weakness, not quality of curriculum, not readiness for high school or college. Just accountability, and more of the same!!!

Monday, July 26, 2010

New Afghan Leaks: School Reform Could “Turn Around” Failing War

July 26, 2010 (GBN News): While controversy continues to swirl around recently revealed leaks calling into question the effectiveness of the war effort in Afghanistan, new documents leaked to GBN News could prove to be an even bigger bombshell. A secret US plan reportedly aims to undermine the public education system in areas controlled by the Taliban through a new “turnaround” program, thus ultimately depriving the Taliban of capable recruits. But unlike the previous reports, this new plan paints a more encouraging picture in which success seems far more likely.

According to sources, a CIA operative has already been able to infiltrate the Taliban and gain control of their education ministry. This agent quickly acted to introduce a system called NJLB (No Jihadist Left Behind), which entails strict accountability based on test scores, as well as serious consequences for teachers and schools whose students do not measure up. Turnaround options for schools can range from kidnapping the principal and shooting 50% of the staff, to replacing entire schools with charter schools secretly funded by the Gates, Broad or Walton Foundations and run by private, for profit local warlords.

The potential of this new Afghan educational policy was not lost on at least one prominent education leader in this country. When told that the Taliban will shoot the lowest performing teachers, Washington DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s eyes widened. “You can do that?” she asked, and then turned to an aide and whispered, “Get me Randi on the phone. I’m sure she’ll agree to a little change in the contract.”

But one noted expert, J. Fredrick Runson, Professor of International Law at Manhattan University, has a word of caution. “Targeting civilian populations is considered a war crime under international law. If I were someone like Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, or Arne Duncan, I’d tread carefully. Destroying a public education system could bring about some serious legal consequences.”

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Teachers at PS 193K; Budget cuttin', it's got to stop!

We've tried petitions, phone calls and protests. What's left? See how teachers from PS 193 in Brooklyn are making their voices heard:

....your child's class will grow till you sob;
Growing larger until it's a mob...
In September, wait till you see

how the budget affects you and me;
Don't expect to see the school you once knew.
Hey Chancellor Klein; we're talking to you!"

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bloomberg's Education Gains "Illusory" -- Harvard Researchers

State Ed Commisioner Steiner is making the rounds with analysis prepared by Harvard researchers Daniel Koretz and Jennifer Jennings showing the state tests are simply getting easier. From the Times coverage:

New York State education officials acknowledged on Monday that their standardized exams had become easier to pass over the last four years and said they would recalibrate the scoring for tests taken this spring, which is almost certain to mean thousands more students will fail.

While scores spiked significantly across the state at every grade level, there were no similar gains on other measurements, including national exams, they said.

“The only possible conclusion is that something strange has happened to our test,” David M. Steiner, the education commissioner, said during a Board of Regents meeting in Albany. “The word ‘proficient’ should tell you something, and right now that is not the case on our state tests.”

Large jumps in the passing rates, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg trumpeted in his re-election campaign last year, led to criticism that the tests had become too easy.

Click here for a pdf of Steiner's presentation.

Announcing "Race to the Top": the reality show

Inspired by a recent news account of the firing of a popular principal, the US Department of Education has announced a new reality show, to be co-produced by the Gates Foundation and aired this fall on MSNBC, called “Race to the Top.”

Each week will feature three inner-city public schools, with large numbers of immigrant, poor, homeless and/or special education students.

These three schools will then compete before a panel of judges, who will decide whether the principal should be fired and the school forced to launch a radical "transformation" involving experimental reform strategies; or the principal and half the teaching staff will be fired; or the entire staff will be fired and the building turned over to a charter school.

The winners will receive a share of funding from the federal program called “School Improvement Grants.”

The panel of judges will include Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, former GE CEO Jack Welch, a representative from the charter school industry, and, to add some star power, model Heidi Klum, host of “Project Runway,” and Simon Cowell, who left “American Idol” this year.

The TV audience will also have a chance to vote on who they would like to win, although the judges will make the final decision.

There was a bidding war among media companies to win the rights to broadcast the show, and in an amazing coincidence, MSNBC was the highest bidder. MSNBC is partly owned by Microsoft, which was founded by Bill Gates. In another complete coincidence, the US Department of Education has largely adopted the education agenda of the Gates Foundation.

As Secretary Duncan explained, “It’s time that we engaged the public in the discussion of education reform, as our critics have pointed out, and this is the best way to do it!”

Said Bill Gates, co-chair of the board of the Gates Foundation along with his wife Melinda, and the nation’s wealthiest man, “As always, innovation has been the driving force behind our efforts at Microsoft and our foundation. We will take that innovation forward in co-producing this new TV show, and we expect it to have great ratings.”

No One Safe From the “Race”

July 19, 2010 (GBN News): A snag has developed in the efforts of education reformers to dismiss ineffective principals and teachers. Apparently, there are not enough of them to go around, so the reformers are now going after successful ones as well.

A shortage of poor educators is seen as the only possible explanation for the recent firing of a popular Vermont principal, Joyce Irvine. Ms. Irvine was universally admired for her effectiveness and vision in running the Wheeler Elementary School in Burlington. But she was dismissed in order to comply with Race to the Top rules stating that “failing schools” can only be “turned around” by firing the principals, regardless of their abilities and accomplishments. So with no ineffective principal available to fire, Ms. Irvine was let go instead.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan had high praise for the district’s actions. “Anyone can fire an incompetent principal,” the Secretary told GBN News in an interview. “But it takes a great deal of courage to fire someone who’s really good.”

While many educational administrators are now concerned that their jobs could be on the line, reformers such as Mr. Duncan and Chancellor Joel Klein of New York should have no such worries about their own positions. The only people now in jeopardy will be those who are competent.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Harsh lessons for the editors of the Daily News and NY Times

The Daily News editorial board finally gave up today, and admitted that the city’s big gains in state test scores over the Bloomberg era have been a vast mirage, in an editorial called Harsh lesson for N.Y.

They were apparently briefed by NY Commissioner Steiner on the findings of Harvard's Daniel Koretz, which, according to this editorial and numerous news reports, has found that almost half of NYC 8th graders who score as proficient on the state exams will never graduate from high school; and three-quarters of those who do graduate need remedial courses before entering CUNY community colleges.

Yet the editors of the News have up to now been very willing victims of this deception – and a lapdog of every single false or exaggerated claim from the Bloomberg/Klein administration.

This, despite the warnings of many testing experts like Bob Tobias, Diane Ravitch, Jennifer Jennings, and Fred Smith that the standards had been lowered, and their own terrific reporting staff of Erin Einhorn, Meredith Kolodner, Rachel Monahan, and Juan Gonzalez, who, for at least three years, have revealed the numerous ways in which the state test scores have been systematically inflated over time.

Those of us at the NYC parent blog have also written about this extensively; see this entry from Steve Koss, analyzing an Erin Einhorn story from Sept. 4, 2007. Einhorn did an ingenious experiment with middle school students, showing how the math exams had gotten easier, and how SED and the DOE should have and probably were aware of this fact (I can’t find the original article online anymore.)

Let’s hope that the News editors will finally learn something from this “harsh lesson” and start showing some independence.

The NY Times also bears some of the blame. I have never seen an editorial in the Times that even mentioned the possibility of state test score inflation; and the paper hasn't yet reported on the Koretz' findings.

In August 2009, when Bloomberg was pressing for extension of mayoral control of the schools and his own re-election, the Times published a credulous story that recounted the steep increase in state test scores without directly quoting any of the skeptics; and also incorrectly used the DOE’s preferred date of 2002 instead of 2003 to claim improvements on the national exams called the NAEPs.

The article omitted any of the abundant evidence that the state exams and their scoring had become easier over time. (See my critique of their August 2009 article, NY Times falls in line with the Bloomberg PR spin control; and the response from Times editor, Ian Trontz: The NY Times response, and my reply. See also Wayne Barrett's take on our critique of the Times.)

What are the chances that now that Bloomberg has successfully won his battle to retain nearly unlimited control over our schools, and is in the midst of his third term, the editors of the News and the Times will apologize to their readers, and admit that the smell they’ve told us was roses was really an artificial chemical, successfully concocted to fool them? Don't hold your breath.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Call Senators Schumer and Gillibrand now!

The US Senate is back in session, and is considering a bill that would save thousands of teacher jobs and prevent class size increases, by cutting $100 million for charter school expansion and $100 million from teacher merit pay.

PLEASE call your Senators today!

Thanks to the NEA, you can call toll-free at 1-866-608-6355. You will hear some talking points about the need to save teacher jobs, and then you will be connected to the United States Capitol Switchboard – just ask for Sen. Schumer or Gillibrand. Remember to call back to speak with the other Senator.

Message: As a public school parent, to prevent increases in class size, I urge you to vote for $10 billion to save teachers jobs, and to support cutting funds for charter schools and teacher merit pay.

Then ask them repeat the message back to you, to ensure they got it right. (Last time I called Schumer’s office, the person answering the phone garbled the message to make it appear that I supported more money for charter schools and teacher merit pay.)

After you’ve called, you can read the editorial from the Wall St. Journal, one of the most right wing editorial pages in the nation, which openly supports privatizing public education. It praises Obama for having threatened to veto any bill that threatens charter school expansion.

One thing is true about the editorial; NYC could economize and trim the bureaucracy without having to lay off as many teachers as planned. Bloomberg and Klein have added 10,000 out of classroom positions and cut more than 1600 general education teachers since they came into office, despite a legal requirement to reduce class size. The budget for charter schools will grow to more than $545 million this year alone.

Unfortunately, they have no plans to reverse this trend, and have projected a loss of 2,000 teaching positions next fall. With growing enrollment, this could prove disastrous in terms of NYC’s public school class sizes, which are already the largest in the state and some of the largest in the nation.

Call now, for the sake of your children, and thanks!

Gary Babad breaks his contract and is demoted to DOE's press office

In a violation of his exclusive contract with the NYC Public School Parent blog, Gary Babad has published a exclusive report on the Washington Post blog about the appointment of a new Superintendent of DC schools.

We dragged Gary out of obscurity and propelled him to fame and fortune, and this is how he repays us? (Okay, there was no pay involved, but still!)

Gary's photo is at right, at the Class Size Matters fundraiser in May, talking to famed attorney Norman Siegel and to me; an occasion in which he never even hinted at his future betrayal.

As punishment, we are sending Gary to the bowels of the Tweed building to head their PR department, otherwise known as the NYC Department of Education press office.

This department is short-handed because of much turnover in recent months; and it's obvious they need help with their spin control. (The new hires haven't even managed to subscribe to our NYC education news list yet, the first step in any genuine attempt to control the news.)

For example, last week, when a press spokesperson tried to explain the lack of action for five years in a DOE investigation into the misconduct of a principal, recently shown to have misused funds in an audit from the State Comptroller's office, the excuse was that "Our lawyers are very thorough."

More recently, a DOE press spokesperson fed the absurd line to an Ed Week reporter that the DOE "is poised to introduce online credit-recovery options for students this coming school year in 10 schools" and then, only when a teacher is present.

Meanwhile, we know from numerous news articles that credit recovery is pervasive throughout the city, and credits are being handed out like candy to students, through cut-and-paste online programs, even when they failed to attend their classes and had flunked their courses.

We also know through DOE's own job postings and RFPs that online "learning", as they call it, is being used in at least 42 schools this year, with a plan to spread the discredited practice more widely next year, through "multi-million dollar online learning technology development projects" to be utilized during and beyond the school day - from home, library, or anywhere students have access to online resources.""

And in today's Daily News, this is how the DOE press office explained their decision to grant tenure to a principal, two days after a girl had drowned on a field trip at his school, a trip which had occurred without adequate supervision and permission slips:

"In the heartbreaking days following Nicole's death our primary focus was not on the tenure status of Columbia Secondary School officials," said Education Department spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz..

As Steve Koss, contributor to this blog pointed out, "such a statement is ridiculous and belied by their own actions, since it certainly didn't take them long to focus on the employment status of the teacher (now fired) and the AP (now demoted from administration back to being "just" a teacher.)"

We're sorry, Gary, that we have to demote you to heading the press office at Tweed, but at least at DOE, you can be assured that poor performance and/or misconduct are not punished, but are rewarded with a higher salary and assurances of lifetime employment.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Victory for parents and kids in stage one of class size lawsuit!

Judge Barone of the NY Supreme Court issued decision (in pdf) this afternoon and denied the city's attempt to dismiss our class size lawsuit. brought in January by the UFT, Class Size Matters, the NAACP, and other parents and community groups.

The city had claimed that only the State Education Commissioner could rule on whether they violated the law when it came to class size. Inserted in the language of the law was a clause asserting that the “sole and exclusive remedy for any violation” was a petition to commissioner, and “the decision of the commissioner on such petition shall be final and unreviewable.

This language was most likely the DOE’s sneaky attempt to ensure that they would never have to comply with the law, as they were convinced that the commissioner, then Richard Mills, would get them off the hook, as he had in many cases before.

Yet the judge found the attempt to box out the court was likely unconstitutional, and that the legislature must have meant that the commissioner had the final right of review over the details of the class size plan, not the city’s legal compliance, especially as this entire matter flowed out of the court’s decision in CFE.

The city’s other main argument was that our petition should have gone to the Commissioner first in any case.

The judge agreed with our attorneys that this would cause unnecessary delay and would "irreparably damage the children who will during the course of these proceedings be relegated to learning in the overcrowded conditions which the legislature sought to alleviate.”

Yet another victory for NYC parents and their children's right to have a quality education, and another slap in the face of DOE’s outlaw mentality.

The Judge wrote they will see the attorneys in court on July 26 for a pre-hearing conference to start determining the facts of the case, i.e. whether the DOE has actually complied with its plan and reduced class size.

The facts on this issue are clear; they have not.

Check out Class Size Matters summary of the facts in the case here; here is the legal petition; here is my affidavit with some nifty charts.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mona Davids to Joel Klein: comply with the new charter school law, now!

From: Mona Davids []
Sent: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 2:18 PM

Subject: Revised Charter Schools Act
Importance: High

RE: Implementation of Reforms in the Revised Charter Schools Act

Dear Chancellor Klein,

I am writing to formally request that the New York City Dept. of Education implement the provisions in the new Charter Schools Act effective immediately. More specifically:

1. Parent Associations or Parent-Teacher Associations should be immediately established in every charter school in New York City. Charter Schools Act, Paragraph (a) of subdivision 15 of section 2590-h of the education law, as amended by chapter 345 of the laws of 2009 now reads as follows:

32(a) establishing a parents' association or a parent-teachers' associ-
33 ation in each PUBLIC school under the chancellor's jurisdiction; and
34 ensuring that the districts AND CHARTER SCHOOLS LOCATED WITHIN THE CITY
35 DISTRICT do the same; the chancellor shall ensure that meetings of such
36 parents' associations or parent-teachers' associations shall comply with
37 section four hundred fourteen of this chapter;

2. Building Councils should be instituted in every co-located charter school, including parents and teachers.

The Charter Schools Act, Section 9, Paragraph A-4 now reads as follows:


Require monthly board meetings at every charter school that the DOE has authorized. The Charter Schools Act, Section 1, Paragraph 2, Sub-paragraph C now reads as follows:

22 (c)The proposed governance structure of the school, including a list
23 of members of the initial board of trustees, a description of the quali-
24 fications, terms and method of appointment or election of trustees,the
25 organizational structure of the school, A PROCEDURE FOR CONDUCTING AND

As the authorizer, it is your responsibility to provide proper oversight and ensure that these requirements are fulfilled without delay.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Mona Davids, President of the New York Charter Parents Association

Equality Charter School Parent

CC:Sheldon Silver, Speaker, NYS Assembly; John Sampson, Democratic Conference Leader, NYS Senate; Cathy Nolan, NYS Senate, Chair-Education Committee;
Suzi Oppenheimer, NYS Assembly, Chair-Education Committee; Bill Perkins, NYS Senate, Chair-Corporations, Commissions & Authorities Committee; Ruth Hassel-Thompson, NYS Senate; Michael Bennedetto, NYS Assembly; Merryl Tisch, Board of Regents; Jonas Chartock, SUNY CSI; Michael Duffy, Office of Charter Schools


Online learning; no more teachers necessary!

See Education As We Know It Is Finished, by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn in Forbes:
“… others are seeing the hardship of the moment as an opportunity to transform what they do with the implementation of online learning. Pressured by not only widespread cuts but also increasing demands for accountability, these innovative leaders recognize that online learning is a key reform for doing more with less.

For example, the people who run many schools realize that they can save considerably by cutting back on traditional classroom versions of non-core courses--advanced placement, foreign language, economics and so forth--and instead offer them online, thereby aggregating demand across many school districts. Likewise they can cut back on the number of periods during which they offer certain classroom courses and still affordably meet student demand by offering those courses online.

In addition, school districts everywhere from Boston to Wichita, Kan., are seizing the flexibility of online learning to provide affordable credit recovery options for students who fail a course they need to pass in order to graduate.”

Good to hear how online learning will make real-life teachers unnecessary; and yet this guy Christensen is on the advisory board of the AFT innovation fund!

One of the new grants offered by the fund will support more online learning in Boston; as if districts needed any more encouragement to downsize their teaching force. Already, the Bloomberg administration intends to spread virtual instruction to 81 schools this year.

That's innovation, alright.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Eleventh Agent

July 12, 2010 (GBN News): Ten Russians recently deported from the US for spying were apparently not the only such agents living here undercover. GBN News has learned that at least one more Russian plant remains in this country but was not publicly exposed.

According to Russian intelligence sources, the eleventh agent is a high profile American billionaire philanthropist. The sources, who go by the pseudonyms Boris and Natasha, told GBN News that this individual had been secretly placed in the US during the Soviet era. His mission was to amass an immense fortune, then use it to undermine the American way of life. Even after the fall of the Soviets, he continued to fulfill that role, using billions from his charitable foundation to destroy the US public education system by promoting unproven, radical educational “reforms” like replacing public schools with charter schools, and sabotaging the careers of experienced teachers by basing their evaluations on questionable data such as students’ test scores.

The individual had reportedly been on the verge of exposure last week along with the ten others, but got a last minute reprieve through the intervention of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The Secretary was able to convince President Obama that exposing the plot could derail Mr. Duncan’s signature “Race to the Top” program, which has relied largely on funding and support from philanthropists like this one. Mr. Duncan argued successfully that just as RTTT is more important than saving thousands of teachers’ jobs, as Mr. Obama has indicated, it should certainly take precedence over a matter as trivial as international espionage.

While the Administration is proceeding with the attitude of “no harm done”, others see cause for concern. J. Fredrick Runson, head of the International Affairs department at Manhattan University and an expert on educational espionage, told GBN News, “If he remains on the loose, this guy could be the most dangerous man in America.”

GBN News has thus far been unable to learn the identity of the individual or which foundation he heads. A spokesperson for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, when asked by GBN News if Mr. Gates has any knowledge of the Russian plot, said simply, “Nyet”.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Last Minute Pitch for LeBron

July 8, 2010 (GBN News): The LeBron James saga took an unexpected turn today when, in a desperate attempt to bounce back from a mediocre season, the New York City Department of Education made a last minute push to lure the free agent star to the DOE. GBN News has learned that Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg hosted Mr. James last night at the Mayor’s posh East Side home. In an hour long Powerpoint presentation prepared by the DOE publicity department, he was shown how by playing ball with the DOE, he can realize his dream of making a billion dollars far faster than by merely playing for an NBA team.

Mr. James was reportedly wowed by the Powerpoint, which went through the myriad of ways that big money can be made through an association with the DOE. While he found possibilities such as no bid computer consulting contracts and vending machine deals very appealing, he was said to have been particularly impressed by the fortune that can be made in charter schools alone. And lest he worry about conflict of interest, Mr. James was assured that working for the DOE would in no way disqualify him from running his own chain of charter schools in New York.

In addition to lending star quality to the DOE, a James signing could significantly enhance New York’s chances of winning Race to the Top money. Chancellor Klein is said to believe that Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a rabid basketball fan, would look favorably upon a school system that boasted a star such as Mr. James.

Mr. James’ decision will be announced tonight on ESPN. Sources close to the free agent told GBN News not to read anything into the fact that the announcement will be made from the steps of Tweed Courthouse, the DOE headquarters.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Diane Ravitch rocks the NEA convention!

For more on Diane's rock star appearance and award at the National Education Association conference in New Orleans, see here; a transcript of her full speech is here. Video with clips below. Excerpt:

“Public education is the backbone of this democracy, and we cannot turn it over to privateers....The current so-called reform movement is pushing bad ideas. No high-performing nation in the world is privatizing its schools, closing its schools, and inflicting high-stakes testing on every subject on its children. The current reform movement wants to end tenure and seniority, to weaken the teaching profession, to silence teachers’ unions, to privatize large sectors of public education. Don’t let it happen!

....Do not support any political figure who opposes public education. Stand up to the attacks on public education. Don’t give them half a loaf, because they will be back the next day for another slice, and the day after that for another slice.
Don’t compromise. Stand up for teachers. Stand up public education, and say “No mas, no mas."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bloomberg's Criticism of Court Damaging to Any Future in Politics - Wall St. Journal

Mike Bloomberg's bitterness at the unanimous NY State Appellate Court decision finding he broke the law in closing 19 schools is hardly surprising. But further coverage by the Wall Street Journal coverage explains how Bloomberg's extremist argument is damaging the reputation of the man who once sought the White House:

The mayor's remarks—denouncing a unanimous appellate court ruling that prevents his administration from closing the schools—offer a provocative glimpse at Mr. Bloomberg's perspective on the role of the judiciary and would undoubtedly be a lightning rod if he launched a bid for president.

Mr. Bloomberg, 68 years old, contemplated a White House bid in 2008 and there is widespread speculation that he still harbors such ambitions.

On his weekly radio show, the mayor conceded it's "probably true" that his administration "didn't comply" with the procedures required under law to close the schools, but he suggested the five-judge panel on the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court should have looked at the bigger picture.

"We're playing with children's lives, not whether the I's are dotted and the T's are crossed," Mr. Bloomberg said. "They should look at the context of it, and for them to think, 'Well, you know, I'm just here to interpret the law,' that's not true. They are part of society."

The Journal cites criticism from several sources:

Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank based in Virginia, called the mayor's remarks "disturbing."

And Baruch College's Doug Muzzio:

"He's telling the judges that 'I am so right on the issue that your interpretation of the law doesn't matter. It's Bloomberg law. I am the philosopher king. I know best,'" Mr. Muzzio said. "It's outrageous, but characteristic of the mayor and his attitude."

The full article here in the Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Do we all really serve the Chancellor, and do the buildings belong to him?

On June 23, 2010, the Office of Portfolio Planning (OPP) from the NYC Department of Education attended a Community Education Council meeting in District 1 on the Lower East Side. This was in response to an invitation from our CEC to hold an initial needs assessment, before deciding how space should be used in our neighborhood’s schools.

When a CEC member asked, “What happens if there is a conflict between what the community wants and what the Chancellor wants for our district?” Elizabeth Rose, the OPP representative, responded, “We all serve the Chancellor, the buildings belong to him.” You could see the entire room full of parents bristle.

As a parent from a local elementary school who went to the hearing in a furious panic because word had gotten around that new charter schools were opening up and they might be shoved (given space constraints this is the only verb that is appropriate) into some of our public schools, I had a deeply mixed reaction to this statement.

Not surprisingly, I think most of us, including myself, took deep offense at what could only be described as a despotic message that utterly disregarded any value that a genuine democratic process would afford. Yet, there was something so deeply honest and clear about that answer, and so different from all the other vague and evasive answers given when hard questions were posed, that I almost wanted the thank her for at least stating things as they are.

So there it is, if the Chancellor’s buddy wants to start a pet project in the form of a charter school, parents beware and children be damned. Your art classroom, your class sizes, and your principal’s office are all up for grabs.

I was told by CEC members that OPP had agreed to come because parents and the community as a whole had strongly opposed inserting a charter school at the expense of the high need schools in our district, without even a needs assessment being undertaken. Given this context, the community input required as a trade-off for mayoral control was practically a farce.

The underlying bone of contention at this meeting was the formula for how space in measured in our schools. In my son’s school, our principal isn't even quite sure whether the space where he sits is considered “underutilized” (which also demonstrates how confusing the formula is). Right now, he shares an open space with eight administrators, the PTA was relegated to a what feels like a dungeon in the basement because as enrollment increased from 250 to 320 we have had to give away the parents room to create a new art room (a good trade, as the kids come first).

When our principal needs to meet with anyone, he has to wander the halls looking for any empty room because he has no office, and some classes (physical education for example) are held in the back of the large lobby due to space constraints. I have no idea whether the DOE thinks our library even counts.

In light of all this, when I look at the DOE latest "blue book" (or annual utilization report) that claims to show how much capacity each school has in terms of space, it appears that our school has room for a hundred more children! I have images of classes being held in the bathroom and our principal, wandering the hallways with a push-cart carrying all the school files.

One parent who also attended the meeting described this as the “fire code” approach to defining how much space a school has. So long as it doesn’t violate the fire code, they will keep shoving children into increasingly crowded spaces. But clearly we need a learning approach to counting space, and until we have one, none of the conversations with the Office of Portfolio Planning or any other DOE official will be in any way constructive.

The foundation is rotten, and so conflict, disaffection, and deprived children are the result. Until we have a formula that is based on what kind of space a child needs to actually learn, a “learning-based formula,” we won’t be able to say that “we all serve the children, and the buildings belong to them.”

-- Cathy Albisa, public school parent