Saturday, October 30, 2010

NYC Kids PAC endorsement of Tony Avella for State Senate

For Immediate Release: October 29, 2010

Contact: Shino Tanikawa: (917) 770-8438

Mel Meer: (718) 428-3659

Today, NYC Kids PAC endorsed Tony Avella for election as State Senator for District 11, Northeast Queens. NYC Kids PAC was formed by public school parents in 2009 to support candidates who work for the issues that matter to parents and their kids, including smaller classes; less reliance on test prep and standardized testing; more provision of art, music, science and physical education; greater parental input into decision-making at the school, district and citywide levels; and full transparency and accountability to ensure that resources are invested in these priorities.

As Shino Tanikawa of the Parent Commission on School Governance and NYC Kids PAC says, “Throughout his career, Tony Avella has stood up for our kids, so now we are standing up for him. He has been a strong supporter of reducing class size, equipping our schools with the latest technology, and providing our kids with new and uncrowded facilities. He has opposed the insertion of charter schools into public school buildings, which merely makes overcrowding worse. As Councilmember, he voted against Chancellor Joel Klein’s capital plan for school construction because it was inadequate to alleviate the extreme overcrowding in Queens , as well as citywide. He is against 'teaching to the test' and for providing a rich and varied curriculum to our kids. And as State Senator, he will work to ensure that our schools do not suffer even worse budget cuts in these tough economic times.”

Gary Babad of the NYC Public School Parent blog and resident of NE Queens says, “Tony Avella warrants the support of parents, teachers, and anyone else who values public education. He has been a fierce critic of Chancellor Klein’s and Mayor Bloomberg’s dictatorial control. He has called for the firing of the Chancellor, the hiring of a real educator for the position, and for the re-establishment of true parent involvement in the schools. Tony is sincere in his support for parents and children, with a keen grasp of the issues; beyond that, he is that rare creature, an honest politician who takes the time to listen. I urge everyone in Senate District 11 to get out and vote for Tony Avella on November 2. He will be a true friend in Albany .”

Mel Meer, school parent in Bayside and founding chair of Community Board 11's Education Committee: “ Community School District 26 in NE Queens used to be a shining example of excellence; it exists now in name only. Parents having a problem at their local schools now have to grovel in downtown Manhattan to get relief. And our local high schools, including Bayside, Francis Lewis and Cardozo are bursting at the seams. Yet when it came time to vote to change the system to restore the voices of parents and teachers, Senator Padavan sponsored the legislation that did little more than continue the present system unaltered. He has also consistently voted with the Republicans for funding formulas favoring the suburbs. Clearly it's time for a change.”

As one of the characters in Frank Capra’s classic film “State of the Union ” said: “You’ve got an honest man. You don’t know how lucky you are.” That man is Tony Avella. At every moment in the City Council he has delivered integrity and honesty. He has voted for his constituents even as he resisted enormous pressures to "go along". He has not accepted a lulu for his committee chairmanship and he has delivered real positive change for our neighborhoods. He will be a great state senator.


Comptroller Di Napoli and Harry Wilson: where do they stand on fiscal oversight of charter schools and DOE?

New York State Comptroller Thomas Di Napoli has done several highly revealing audits of charter schools, showing their flagrant misuse of public funds. One of his audits revealed that KIPP Academy charter school in the Bronx had spent nearly $68,000 on "staff development" retreats in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. His office also released audits of the Western New York Maritime Charter School, showing that big-screen televisions, computer equipment and security devices purchased with public funds were delivered to the homes of school employees; and the Enterprise Charter School, which had a two-year, $60,000 consulting contract with its former CEO.

In 2007, DiNapoli released an audit showing the NYC Department of Education’s lax oversight of charter schools. According to the NY Post,

“The audit, which focused on the 2004-05 school year, found that the DOE doesn't ensure that charter schools provide it with required performance data, and that it lacks a formal process for reviewing the information. It also noted that the DOE doesn't generally require schools that aren't making adequate progress to take corrective measures, although meeting academic targets is essential to charter renewal.”

Di Napoli also did an absolutely scathing audit of the NYC DOE’s use of no-bid contracts, amounting to 291 no-bid contracts in three years. The audit revealed how “vendors often won the no-bid contracts without any proof that avoiding the regular process would save the city money. In some cases, school officials actually destroyed records about the contracting process…” (See this GothamSchools story.)

The charter lobby sued Di Napoli, to block all further audits in a lawsuit financed by the New York Charter Schools Association and the NYC Center for Charter School Excellence, on whose board Joel Klein sits. The Court of Appeals decided that he did not have the authority to audit charter schools. (The home page of DOE’s charter school office still features links to a press release by the charter school lobby, praising the court decision.)

In response, the recent state legislation that lifted the charter cap last spring specifically gave the State Comptroller authority to audit the use of public funds by charter schools – though the charter school lobby has said that will continue to try to block any more audits in court, despite the new law.

Yet this may not be necessary if the GOP candidate for Comptroller wins. His name is Harry Wilson, and he is a former hedge fund operator, who has accused di Napoli of launching “politically motivated” charter audits, and has pledged not to “harass” charter schools by auditing their use of public funds, no matter what the new law says.

Not surprisingly, Harry Wilson is the favored candidate of Mayor Bloomberg, as well as Bryan Lawrence, co-founder of Girls Prep charter, and Whitney Tilson of DFER fame, all of whom have contributed to his campaign. Here is Tilson’s endorsement of Wilson:

Harry is personally close to many in the charter school movement and was considering starting a charter school when he decided to serve in the Obama Administration instead….. DiNapoli engaged in a number of nuisance audits designed to harass charter schools in his early tenure as Comptroller. His attacks were so over the top, that the NY Charter Schools Assoc. sued him and the court agreed, finding that DiNapoli overstepped the bounds of his audit power …However, with the recent passage of legislation to race the charter school cap in the state, one of the provisions that was snuck in grants the Comptroller this same audit power over charter schools.

Want more? Harry Wilson is a close colleague of Steve Rattner, the Mayor’s personal financial adviser. Wilson served with Rattner on Obama’s auto task force, and is portrayed as the “hero” in Rattner’s new book about saving GM. In turn, Steve Rattner is the best friend of NY Times’ publisher, Arthur Sulzberger; and was one of the power brokers who convinced Bloomberg to run for a third term.

A couple of weeks ago, Bloomberg and Sulzberger were the two co-hosts of Rattner’s book party, which was attended by the financial and power elite of NYC, including the head of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Joel Klein etc. This very public celebration of Rattner and his accomplishments occurred just as Rattner was pleading guilty to a “pay to play” kick-back scheme of bribing the former State Comptroller to grant Quadrangle, Rattner’s investment company, millions in state pension funds to invest in 2004 when Hevesi was Comptroller.

Rattner paid $1.1 million in finder fees to Henry “Hank” Morris, Hevesi’s former chief political consultant, and he also agreed that Quadrangle would help finance a B-movie made by the brother of the pension fund manager. Rattner first claimed he had nothing to do with this B-movie deal, but emails apparently reveal that he helped put it together. As a result, he has agreed to pay a fine of $5 million and accept a ban from the securities industry for at least five years. He could also face perjury charges for lying about his involvement in the bribery scheme.

Yet despite this, the mayor not only hosted his book party, but has pledged to keep Rattner on as his top financial adviser, helping to run Willett Advisors, the group set up to invest the mayor’s personal fortune. (The company is named after Thomas Willett, NYC’s first mayor.) As Bloomberg told reporters, “Steve Rattner's my friend, of course I'd keep him on. Why would you not? If he can do anything to help, I value his advice and he's a close friend of mine and you stick by your friends.” (More on the Bloomberg/Rattner connection at Gotham Gazette.)

Here is an excerpt of the NY Times’ endorsement of Wilson for Comptroller:

It is rare for someone of Mr. Wilson’s talents and expertise to compete for one of the most important and least glamorous jobs in state politics. Mr. Wilson went to Harvard Business School and worked for Goldman Sachs, the Blackstone Group and Silver Point Capital. Mr. DiNapoli tries to make that résumé sound tainted, but the investment and management skills exhibited with General Motors are just what are needed for New York’s financial and ethical blight.”

Unmentioned in Times’ endorsement, of course, is the fact that Wilson’s friend and former colleague, Steve Rattner, had bribed the previous holder of the office that Wilson is now campaigning to fill, and who surely participated in that “financial and ethical blight” which the editorial claimed to decry.

Meanwhile, Di Napoli has banned all “pay to play schemes” by prohibiting the pension fund from doing business with any investment adviser who has made a political contribution to the State Comptroller, and has appointed an independent Inspector General to safeguard all the comptroller’s investment decisions. And he has never been accused of financial corruption, even by the same three editorial boards that endorsed his opponent.

Not coincidentally, all three papers are owned by men personally close to Bloomberg, and all three papers also supported the elimination of term limits as well as the renewal of mayoral control.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Gates-funded project leaves parents off the list of key stakeholders, once again

The research organization AIR was funded by the Gates Foundation to commission a series of papers on the Bloomberg/Klein education reforms, and to “convene a working conference….to inform future educational improvement efforts in the city.”

Reportedly, the papers will be published in a collection by Harvard University Press.

On November 10, they are holding an “invitation-only” forum at the downtown Hyatt hotel to discuss the results of their findings in what has been described as “an opportunity for dialogue and conversation among NYC stakeholders, DOE staff, and researchers…” (see invitation below.)

Yet the only NYC public school parents who have been invited to participate in this “dialogue and conversation” of stakeholders are the five borough-appointed members of the Panel for Educational Policy.

This exclusion of parents is reminiscent of the definition of stakeholders put forward by Secretary Arne Duncan and Joanne Weiss, when she ran the federal “Race to the Top” program (both of them former Gates grantees as well).

In their list of “key stakeholders”, they included education administrators, the teachers union, the business community and charter school operators, but not public school parents, as those groups that states were supposed to elicit support for their proposals. (They put in parents in afterwards, and only pro forma, after receiving negative feedback.)

Here is what Patrick Sullivan wrote in his comments to the US Education Department at the time:

One factor considered in awarding the grants to each state is the extent to which support and commitment of key stakeholders is enlisted (Overall Selection Criteria E3). While the administration has a long list of stakeholders, parents are not on it. Charter schools, teachers unions and foundations are deemed to be important stakeholders but not parents.

For this conference, once again, the concept of stakeholders appears to exclude public school parents and their children, who have been most affected and disenfranchised by the policies of this administration.

Parents aren’t even at the bottom of the list. In fact, they don’t exist at all.

On Oct 26, 2010, at 4:00 PM, nycretrospective <> wrote:

Dear all,

I just wanted to remind you of the conference invitation attached. The meeting will take place in two weeks (November 10th) and will be an opportunity for dialogue and conversation among NYC stakeholders, DOE staff, and researchers from inside and outside NYC about the findings of the NYC Education Reform Retrospective project. This is an invitation only conference and has been designed to offer an intimate venue for sharing ideas and considering implications for reform efforts in NYC and elsewhere. You have been invited based on your involvement in the NYC education reforms or your relevant research or practical experience. We hope that you will be able to join us and contribute to this discussion.

We have extended the RSVP and registration date to November 1st.

If you plan to attend, please fill out the attached registration form and e-mail it back to by November 1st.

If you are unable to join us, please reply to by November 1st to say you will not be attending.

We look forward to seeing you in NYC on the 10th!

Jennifer O'Day, Project Director for the New York City Education Reform Retrospective

Fix failing charter schools, but don't bother with our district public schools?

Stunning juxtaposition at the Gotham Schools links today:

· SUNY wants to try fixing failing charter schools instead of shutting them down. (Post)

· The city says it is considering closing up to 47 schools this year. (GS, Times, Post, WSJ, NY1)

Why doesn’t this administration try helping our regular public schools, instead of closing them down? Is it because they would rather replace them with charter schools?

Joel Klein came to District 2 and told lies

Chancellor Joel Klein came to PS 33 in District 2 on Wednesday night. He told a number of outright lies to the assembled parents, assuming (I suppose) that we didn't know better. This is on top of all the misrepresentations and obfuscations.

- Klein said there are no for-profit charters in New York City. This is patently untrue. There are currently nine for-profit charters in operation in the city and more being considered.

- Klein said Contract for Excellence money is "fungible" in school budgets and this is why class sizes rose, despite billions more in state C4E funding. This is untrue. Contract for Excellence money is supposed to be targeted to specified purposes by state law and it is illegal to use it otherwise.

- Klein said he "wished we had more resources" for meeting the needs of special education students. Special ed services are also mandated by state law, and it has been well documented, by the Public Advocate's office among others, that under this administration, students with IEPs have not received the services and funds to which they are legally entitled.

- Klein also said that 5000 seats had been added to District 2. Where? The 2004-2009 and 2010-2014 capital plans funded about 7,000 seats, but most of these seats have not yet been built, and many are replacements. By my count there are under a thousand new D2 K-8 seats now in operation, and Manhattan has lost 1,000 high school seats in the last year alone to lapsed leases, but I would welcome a more detailed reckoning by the DOE.

- Klein said that enrollment projections are available on-line. The DOE has never made its full enrollment projection analysis available to the public or the CECs responsible for zoning. Only partial data and the discredited reports of a few expensive contractors are available on-line.

- Furthermore, Klein said repeatedly that charter schools would add seats to District 2. There is no way this is possible. School real estate in D2 is a zero-sum game, as he pointed out himself several times. Every new school that is added within an existing building removes seats to make space for additional administration and duplication of cluster rooms, and every new program that draws students from outside the district (as charters do) bumps out district students.

Unless charters can obtain their own space--which doesn't happen much in NYC--they can only subtract from the number of seats available to district students.

He also kept saying no sites are available in D2 and it is hard to find more, without commenting on the large number of sites put forward by parents (including most of those that have been developed under the last two capital plans). Parents have been pushing hard on various sites and the DOE refuses to put its weight behind these efforts.

---Ann Kjellberg, Public School Action Committee

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The 47 proposed school closings: it turns your stomach and breaks your heart

It is appalling to look at the list of 47 schools targeted for possible closure, as well as to think of those already closed in the last few years by this regime.

When you attend a closing "hearing" for one of them as I did for my alma mater, Christopher Columbus H.S., or if you attended the P.E.P. "hearing" at Brooklyn Tech. for 19 at once, and you see every person who works at one of these schools, or attends one, or sends their kid or kids to one, get up and say "don't close this school" and you see the bureaucrats who have unfortunately been given power over this public school system remain unmoved, unpersuaded, acting like they could care less about what the people they are supposed to be serving, or managing, want, or say, or think, it can turn your stomach and break your heart.

When you think of people who have been made temporary custodians of an enormous public school system which is, I believe, in its third century, acting like they have the right to just do away with so many of that system's pillars, with no obligation to maintaining them, it makes your blood boil. People who said "put us in charge and hold us accountable" -- when faced with parts of that system which need some assistance --stand aside with their arms folded saying "tsk, tsk, you're dead meat" rather than rolling up their sleeves and wading in (if they even have the skills to do so) with an all-out effort to bring with them the resources to help lift these schools up. Naturally, the immediate injury is done to those now in those school communities threatened with closure, and then to those who would be coming in after them. But there is a historical component to this as well, and some looking backward is justified.

For example: When I heard that my alma mater (which has been around for 72 years) was threatened, one of the things that crossed my mind was that if that happened, and I was asked in the future what high school I went to, I'd have to say "It doesn't exist any more". I thought that Joel Klein went to Bryant H.S., and I didn't see him talking about closing HIS school. I called Robert Abrams, former NYS Attorney General, for whom I'd worked in that office, because I knew he'd gone to Columbus as well, and told him about the threat. He immediately wanted to know how he might get involved in the situation.

I thought of the school's 50th anniversary celebration, which I'd attended at the Glen Island Casino, where alums came, all dressed up, carrying their senior yearbooks, showing classmates they might not have seen in years their photos and autographs. I learned that yet-to-be-disgraced State Senator Guy Velella was an alum by standing in back of him on the sign-in line. And journalist Robert Scheer. (I already knew about Anna Maria Italiano, who later changed her name to Anne Bancroft).

The 60th, in 1998, was at the school itself, where there was more renewal of acquaintances and the discovery of facts you never knew before.


I heard attorney Norman Siegel say at an education forum after the 19 intended closings were announced last year that he'd gone to New Utrecht, and if they ever tried to close his alma mater, that he'd be in the streets.

This bunch that has unfortunately been put in charge of the old, historic NYC Board of Education (still it's legal name, whatever they claim) has no respect for its history, and its traditions, which, even if there have been failures, have also included enough things to be proud of, to be boasting about, to be trumpeting, from the more than 150 years of its existence. Where is the historical perspective, the pride that should come with having taken over an institution with such a rich history? Is there a NYC public schools museum? An archive? Do they encourage historical research, make records and documents available? Keep them in a central, advertised, accessible place for historians to mine?

Can we organize alums at threatened schools into an effective force to push back against the threats? Can we organize a demonstration at Bryant with the message that we're glad that the school (where Joel Klein went) still exists, and we want all the others to have the same security?

Any thoughts? -- Richard Barr

An NYC Teacher's Diary - in 2015

October 2, 2015 (Friday)

Dear Diary,

Well, here I am again, back for the 2015/2016 school year with my fifth graders at P.S. 912. That’s P.S. for Public School, dearest diary. Maybe only half of NYC’s primary schools are still public, but those of us who are left are holding the fort pretty well, thank you. No thanks to our “shadow chancellor” Eva Moskowitz, though; I hear she’ll be up to fifty-two Apple Success charters before the year’s out. Look out, Newark!

Speaking of thank you’s! I met with Principal X two weeks before school started (on the sly, heh heh) to talk about the coming year. Now that President Obama’s 2011 Readiness for College and Work (RCW) Act has provided the cover for Mayor Bloomberg (geez, four terms now – hasn’t that guy gotten tired of City Hall’s crappy bathrooms yet?) and Chancellor-in-Perpetuity Klein to implement pay-for-performance and annual teacher evaluations based on EPMs (that's "Educational Progress Measurables to you, dear diary), I had to make sure my back was covered, and there’s only one way to do that any more. And she came through!

“I met with the Grade 4 teachers last year and went over their roll books,” I told Principal X. “I’ll take my fair share of weak ones, but there’s no way you’re giving me Brian Hawkins or Anthony Parker. I’m not watching my evaluation and salary get trashed over a couple of misfits. If I get them, I’ll just keep bouncing them out of my room for suspension until their parents finally put them somewhere else!” I know what you’re thinking, dear diary, but hey, it’s a freakin’ war out here now – dog eat dog, kill or be killed – and I ain’t gonnna be one of the ones left lying on the battlefield. No sir-eee!

“Also,” I continued with Principal X, “I don’t want too many kids from that first-year teacher last year, that Mr. Jonas guy who quit last June. His kids are going to be a mess to handle this year.” They have so little clue how to take these state exams, I feel a little sorry for the teacher who has to carry that load. Sure as hell it won’t be me, though. Not letting somebody else’s bad work drag me down.

I asked her for four or five hand-picked the ELL kids. Pick ‘em right, and your EPMs get a nice bounce. How do I know which ones? My little secret. (Hint, hint: I don’t sit in back at all those PTA meetings for nothing. Just watch for the parent regulars with fourth graders—they keep their kids noses to the grindstone.) As for the IEP kids, I said to please give me students, not the behavioral cases. Then again, I can always just bounce the bad ones if I really have to. After being called into the school eight or ten times, parents usually give up and look for another school.

Three weeks into the school year now, and things look like they’re working out okay . Principal X came through for me, as usual. Guess I just have to keep greasing those skids, huh? Well, whatever it takes. Just thank goodness for seniority and a long, “mutually supportive” relationship with my boss.

Hawkins and Parker and a few of the other hard cases are all together in Ms. Lamont’s class. Tough being the newbie, but those of us who’ve been around have families to worry about and mortgages to pay. That’s life – LOL. I hear Lamont’s already sent Hawkins to see X three times in two weeks, and now she’s got Parker’s folks coming in for a chat. Hmmm – maybe this Lamont girl is sharp enough to figure out how to play the system.

Perhaps it’s already time to see if she can use a little guidance. The good guy newbies can always use a little advice about how to “arrange things” when test time comes – how to seat the weaker kids next to the good ones, how to leave a few helpful posters up on the classroom walls, how to “cough” kids to the right answers or tell them to double-check a few questions with wrong answers, that sort of thing. Don’t smirk, dear diary. Hey, it’s the DOE or me, and it ain’t goin’ to be me! X knows it goes on, but the high-rated principals are smart enough not to see it. After all, what’s good for the sheep is good for the shepherd.

I heard yesterday that Ms. Andrevsky had gotten stuck with a handful of slow learners in her fourth grade class. Principal X explained to her that she was our last shot at getting them in some kind of shape for the following year’s Grade 5 exit exams. I like getting Andrevsky’s kids, but I guess she finally blew a gasket with X. I heard she said she was tired of being penalized for being a good teacher, tired of cleaning up everybody else’s messes and having to scramble to get her EPMs high enough to keep her job. Not only that, but she said it’s costing her like five thousand a year in lost bonuses. I heard she threatened to move to a charter school next year if it happens again. Oh well, she’d hardly be the first, not by a long shot.

This year, the fifth graders have state science exams in addition to the math and ELA, so I’ve already been busy big time trying to figure out how to prep my kids for that one. I heard that some PTA parents are already complaining about time taken away from recess, art, music, and social studies, and they still haven’t let up on the French program we killed two years ago. Well, boo hoo! Try working someplace where your job depends on three test scores of a bunch of kids whose home lives and nutrition and TV/video-game time limits and dental health you have no control over and see how long you keep your damned lefty ideas about liberal education, whatever the hell that is!

Gotta go now, diary. Time to get my fifth graders’ first practice exams ready for tomorrow! No such thing as too many practice tests, you know. Well, not for me and my EPMs, at least.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tony Avella for State Senate

I usually write parody for the NYC Parent Blog, but this is not parody. I usually don’t make political endorsements on the blog, but this is a political endorsement. Why? Because so much hangs in the balance in NY State Senate District 11 (Northeast Queens), and Tony Avella warrants the support of parents, teachers, and anyone else who values public education in NY State.

Tony’s positions on education are long standing and unequivocal. He has been a fierce critic of Chancellor Klein’s and Mayor Bloomberg’s dictatorial control. He has called for the firing of the Chancellor, the hiring of a real educator for the position, and for the re-establishment true parent involvement in the schools.

Tony’s opponent, incumbent Senator Frank Padavan, was instrumental in the renewal of Mayoral control. And lest anyone wonder about Padavan’s relationship with the Mayor and Chancellor, during a hotly contested 2008 race, the DOE renamed the Glen Oaks school campus for Mr. Padavan – jumping the gun by a good number of years, judging by the Senator’s apparent good health, given that one is supposed to be deceased to have a school named after him.

I have dealt with Tony Avella, through my work, since he was elected to the City Council in 2001. I have had a number of conversations with him over the years about education, and have found him to be consistent and sincere in his support for parents and children, with a keen grasp of the issues.

But beyond that, I have found him to be that rare creature, an honest politician. One example: He declined to serve on the advisory board of the program I direct – not because there was anything wrong with doing so (other politicians serve on such boards), but because, since he obtained discretionary Council funding for the program, he wanted to avoid even the slightest hint of conflict of interest.

Tony is also that rare politician who actually takes the time to listen, and would never run out from our events after just a speech and a few minutes of shaking hands. I’ll never forget our annual barbecue, or our program’s gala anniversary dinner last year, when he and his wife hung out, schmoozing, enjoying the company and the entertainment, and comfortably fitting in like the members of the community that they are.

I urge everyone in Senate District 11 to get out and vote for Tony Avella on November 2. He will be a true friend in Albany.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Five big lies of Joel Klein

Klein sent a letter to principals, reprinted on Gotham Schools, about the unreliable and invalid teacher data reports, as even his own consultants have said. The letter contains five big lies.

One: that he's doing this for parents, and really cares what we think:

On one hand, for too long, parents have been left out of the equation…

Yes, by his administration consistently ignoring their top priorities, like reducing class size, year after year. Instead, under his reign, class sizes have risen at unprecedented rates.

Two: But this is also about teachers. They take on the hardest work there is, and they deserve our respect. If anyone sees these data as an opportunity to scapegoat public servants, that is a mistake.”

Over and over Klein has scapegoated teachers, and releasing these reports to target them is yet another example of his attempt to do so.

Three: “We’ve made huge strides for our kids over the last eight years. “

Actually, NYC kids have fallen further behind their peers in achievement compared to other large cities during his regime, in nearly every category.

Four and five: “That’s because we’ve been willing to face hard facts. It’s also because we have made kids’ best interests our shared priority. “

Klein has consistently distorted the facts, to promote himself and to make his flawed policies look good. It’s never been about the kids.

See also the Daily News and Post about the letter.

Friday, October 22, 2010

FOILed documents show how the DOE dissembled regarding their Teacher Data reports

Several years ago, Chancellor Klein determined to use value-added methods to measure the achievement gains of teachers of English and math teachers in grades 4-8, by comparing the standardized test scores of their students to these students' test scores previous year.
Since then, numerous studies have shown how inherently unreliable this value-added approach is in estimating teacher effectiveness, including an analysis by Mathematica for the US Department of Education, showing that there is a 25-35% chance of misidentifying the worst teachers as the best; as well as a recent study by Sean Corcoran of NYU demonstrating that the NYC teacher data reports have an average margin of error of 34-61 percentage points out of 100.
Critiques from the National Academy of Sciences in their comments on "Race to the Top" program, and noted academics assembled by the Economic Policy Institute have also warned of the potentially damaging consequences of implementing these unfair and inherently unreliable evaluation systems.
Yet in 2007, Klein hired a consultant from Battelle to develop a mathematical model that took a few school and classroom factors into account, including aspects of student background, as well as the class size and the experience level of the teacher. (Smaller classes and greater teaching experience are the only two observable factors that consistently lead to more learning, and yet DOE officials consistently devalues both of them. They are included in the model nevertheless, apparently because the research is so clear on this. )
Battelle then devised a formula that the DOE then used to produce "teacher data reports" which would ostensibly measure the effectiveness of these teachers (See here, for a sample version of these reports.)
In October 2008, Chancellor Klein made an agreement with the UFT that the teacher data reports would not be used to evaluate teachers, but only to help them improve their instruction:
“…as a tool for schools and teachers to use for instructional improvement. They are not be used to evaluate teachers…. Principals have been and will continue to be explicitly instructed not to use Teacher Data Reports to evaluate their teachers…”
Klein later went back on this promise, and in February 2010, he instructed principals to consider these reports when deciding whether to give teachers tenure :
“Principals and superintendents will consider the performance of each teacher who is up for tenure more carefully than ever, weighing multiple factors including Teacher Data Reports, where available and appropriate.”
As Gotham Schools reported at the time: “Those teachers who fall into the bottom or top 25 percent of the rankings will be red-flagged, alerting principals that the DOE recommends giving them tenure or cutting them lose [sic] . In total, about 160 teachers will fall into that bottom percentile. “
Though Klein also originally agreed with the UFT to keep the individual reports confidential, as are most performance ratings , and to resist releasing them to the public even if FOILed, he has gone back on this promise as well.
Yet even back in the fall of 2008, when the reports were first provided to principals, it was clear to me and many others that DOE would eventually use them to evaluate teachers, as by nearly all accounts, they have little or no value to helping teachers improve.
I also thought (and believe to this day) it is critical that any model used to determine a teacher’s effectiveness and professional future should be made publicly available, and independently vetted by experts in statistics and testing.
After spending months of unproductive requests to former chief press officer David Cantor and Amy McIntosh, the head of the DOE “talent office”, asking for more information about the model used and evidence of its reliability, I decided to FOIL this information.
Here is an excerpt from my original FOIL request, dated Feb. 23, 2009, along with the partial DOE response that finally came in May 24, 2010, more than fifteen months later:
Dear FOIL Officer:
This is a request for records pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law ("FOIL"), Article 6 of the Public Officers Law. We hereby request disclosure of the following information concerning the Teacher Performance Data Reports:
1) The model specification used in the report to produce estimates of teacher effectiveness;
2) The sources of the data for class size at the classroom and school level over the last ten years;
After many months of delay, here is an excerpt from the DOE response, dated May 24, 2010:
"With respect to items one and two of your request, while certain records being released today may be responsive to these items…The model was not designed to ascertain the impact of class size or other classroom or school level variables…"
Nevertheless, the “draft” technical report from the Battelle consultant indicated a very substantial impact of class size on achievement in math:
In math...the characteristics that had a negative impact were percent free or reduced price lunch and class size.” (see also Table 5.2 in the analysis.)
Teacher experience level also had a significant effect, in both math and ELA.
In December 2008, more than a year before I filed my FOIL, in a document supposed to allay teachers’ fears, entitled: “Teacher Data Initiative: Support for Schools; Frequently Asked Questions, DOE had claimed that an independent panel of experts had attested to the model's validity and reliability, writing:
“A panel of technical experts has approved the DOE’s value-added methodology. The DOE’s model has met recognized standards for demonstrating validity and reliability.”
.So in my FOIL I asked for more information about this panel, including:
3) The identity of the members of the "panel of technical experts" who approved the model and/or methodology of these Reports, as well as the times and locations in which these experts met to discuss these issues with DOE staff;
Yet in 2010, in response to my FOIL, the DOE contradicted their earlier claim:
" With respect to item three of your request, I have been informed that approval of the model and methodology rested with the DOE, and not with any “panel of technical experts.” As a consequence, I have been informed that there are no responsive records that will answer this aspect of item three."
Instead, DOE sent a list of names on a document entitled “Technical Expert Panel: Value-added Data for Teachers Initiative”, dated Sept. 25, 2007 with representatives from the various groups, including the UFT, academia etc.
They also sent a report from a subset of these individuals, entitled Statement on the New York City Teacher Value-Added Modeldated August 29, 2008, written many months after the teacher data reports were first released, and months after the DOE had claimed that an independent panel had validated their reports.
This statement was written by Tom Kane, then at Harvard and now at the Gates Foundation; Jon Fullerton of Harvard; Jonah Rockoff of the Columbia Business School, and Douglas Staiger of Dartmouth College. Far from validating the reliability of DOE’s methodology, these men expressed numerous reservations and caveats about value-added approaches in general, and made the following points, among others:
"1) Test scores capture only one dimension of teacher effectiveness, and they are not intended to serve as a summary measure of teacher performance…
2) If high stakes are attached, there will be potential to game these measures by teaching to the test, selecting students, altering difficult-to-audit student characteristics, or outright cheating. …
3) To calculate expected test scores…there are likely to be additional factors not yet considered that influence student achievement. etc. "
In the FOIL, I also asked:"Whether the members of this panel were paid for their services and if so, the source of these funds..."
DOE responded: "With respect to item four of your request, the DOE did not pay any members of the panel for their services. It is my understanding that some members of the panel were paid by the Fund for Public Schools (the Fund) for related research work. Consequently there are no responsive record to provide."
Even though Klein runs the Fund for Public Schools out of Tweed, the DOE claims that it is not a public agency and does not have to release its financial records to the public.
In its 2007 FAQ, DOE had also claimed that there was another document that potentially confirmed the accuracy of their approach:
Teachers’ Value-Added scores from the model are positively correlated with both School Progress Report scores and principals’ perceptions of teachers’ effectiveness, as measured by a research study conducted during the pilot of this initiative.”
So I also asked for a copy of this "research study", as well as a few other items, none of which have been provided to this day.
I last heard from the DOE on August 12 and again on September 10, 2010, saying that the above "research study" is still not complete, nearly three years after the DOE had claimed it existed.
In any event, the DOE has now commissioned researchers at the University of Wisconsin to "update" their teacher data reports, apparently not satisfied with the earlier versions produced by Battelle.

For copies of all these FOILed documents, see the Class Size Matters website ; for more on the problems with the teacher data reports, see today's column by Juan Gonzalez, as well as articles in the Daily News, the NY Times, GothamSchools and the Christian Science Monitor

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Community District Education Council 3 on the potential co-location of a new Success Charter Network School

See also Class Size Matters' Comments to SUNY board on the application of Success Academy charter in District 3 (pdf) and Comments to SUNY board on the application of the Bronx Success Academy charter in District 7 (pdf)

Firstly, elementary school overcrowding has become endemic to District 3 and there is no room for the co-location of Success Charter school without increasing this already dire situation. Overcrowding predominates in the Southern portion of the district and given the level of new development in Harlem, such overcrowding is moving uptown. Unfortunately, SCA and DOE projections have continually underestimated this enrollment growth - and overestimated existing capacity - leading to increased overcrowding.

Yet even if we use the SCA's own projections for 2012 showing a capacity of 4,043 middle school and elementary school seats and projected enrollment of 3,745 students in Harlem, the 298 available seats the DOE show will not suffice for the proposed new school planned by Harlem Success. And these numbers assume that all the students in the new HSA school would come from District 3, which - unlike the strict in-district policy being imposed by the DOE on all of our D3 elementary and middle schools - is not even the case for Harlem Success who will be drawing students from a number of districts.

Additionally, a fair percentage of these students will in no event be able to matriculate at Success Charter since they likely will require self-contained and other Special Ed services which none of the Success Charter schools cares to or is able to provide. Which begs the question why the favoritism toward Success Charter and why have they been promised a place within our district if instead of meeting the explicit needs of our children then are exacerbating existing problems?

Additionally, the New York State Legislature has made it clear that any impact of co-locations must be assessed in advance and reviewed with the community including the CEC, as well as with the affected schools. Yet SUNY and Harlem Success's application provides no specific information for location of the proposed new school. Without a specific proposed location for Harlem Success, how are we supposed to assess its impact on the community and the schools with which it is co-locating? Where is the transparency and accountability that the legislature demands, and that SUNY repeatedly has promised?

If, however, Success Charter indeed will be co-located within PS 145 as we understand has been planned, once again the issue of capacity and realism is at question. Specifically how will a school slated to grow to 689 students within 5 years fit within a building that by most optimistic estimates only contains 320 additional spaces? Surely SUNY and the DOE should be required to answer this critical question prior to approving a school of this size?

District 3 recently has been awarded an $11 million federal magnet grant to improve racial integration within the district by supporting increased enrollment at the district’s very few under enrolled schools. Unfortunately, the Success Charter application puts this entire grant at very real risk since all 8 magnet schools must have adequate space in which to grow their programs as per the grant application. Currently, however, there is not a single building with the spare capacity to accommodate Success Charter at steady state. Thus the likelihood is great that Success Charter’s co-location will lead to non-compliance for one and thus all of the 8 magnet schools.

Sadly, even without the ability to measure the probable impact of the new Harlem Success co-location, we in District 3 would likely reject a new HSA branch out of hand based on our previous negative experiences with Harlem Success co-locations within our District schools, PS 149 and PS 241. In fact, unlike our experience with other charter schools co-located within District 3 buildings, relations between Harlem Success and their District 3 host schools are uniformly terrible with our District school children being made to feel as second class citizens within the own buildings. This comes down to a lack of cooperation by Harlem Success's management team, who fail to share resources, segregate their classrooms and hallways from their District school neighbors, and routinely and falsely demonize those co-located district schools as "failures." It is also due to the DOE favoring Harlem Success's growth at the expense of our District Schools - as they once again are proposing to do.

Witness PS 241 where Harlem Success IV - which originally was authorized to grow by 125 students next year - now is slated to expand by 175 without any public discussion or review. And to make room for this unauthorized expansion of HSA IV in an already overcrowded building, PS 241 students are being moved out of their three ground floor classrooms into the school’s basement, including an as yet to be converted food service room. Additionally, Harlem Success is being authorized to provide Pre-K services in the new school, whereas over the past 24 months the DOE has summarily cut fully enrolled pre-k sections at District 3 schools PS 185 and PS 241.

The sad message of Harlem Success's proposed expansion at the expense of District 3 schools is and has been that our D3 public school kids are less worthy than their charter counterparts. It says that it's ok to cut district school programs and shove more and more of our kids - many of whom are English Language learners or have significant special needs which Harlem Success and most other charters don't even pretend to address - into our increasingly overcrowded public school buildings.

Overcrowding, favoritism toward a small minority of kids, poor relations among schools, a risk to a critical magnet grant program designated to improve education across the district, and a lack of responsibility to educate all of our District 3 students are only a few of the reasons why District 3's CEC urges you to reject the Harlem Success application.

Yours sincerely,

Noah E Gotbaum, President, for and on behalf of Community District Education Council 3

Monday, October 18, 2010

No Busing for Overflow Kindergarteners in Queens

See email exchange between Marge Kolb, head of the Presidents council in D24 in Queens, and Kathleen Grimm of DOE below.

To this day, DOE has refused to put the placement of G and T classes through any public process for community input, leading to flawed decision-making and the awful outcome described below, with parents having to spend hours transporting their Kindergarten children to schools miles away from their zoned schools – with no busing provided.

As Marge says, "DOE cannot pretend to be 'well-managed' and continue to perpetrate these kind of harms upon parents and children."


From: []
Sent: Monday, October 18, 2010 10:48 AM
To: Klein Joel I.
Cc: Fighetti Gabriela; Sternberg Marc; ; Roseann Darche; ; Chan Madelene
Subject: No Busing for Overflow Kindergarteners?

Dear Chancellor Klein:

I recently called the District 24 office to inquire about the schools in our district with capped kindergartens (which I believe, currently number 6 or 7 schools). I was shocked to learn that busing has still NOT been arranged for 10-12 Kindergarten students from PS 12 in northern Woodside who were offered seats LAST MAY at PS 128 in Middle Village. I was told that one parent may be walking the 4.5 mile round trip to get her child to school each day (twice! in the morning and afternoon) and another parent may be close to losing her job because of the time involved in delivering and picking up her child from school . Parents were initially (and kindly) given metrocards by the PS 128 principal so they could make their way by public bus with their children, but he has since had to stop providing these due to the expense, so now parents are expected to pay their own way (and take two buses) to get their children to school each day. Please note that PS 12 has a free lunch rate of 74% and Limited English Proficiency of 34% - this is primarily an immigrant population being served.

At the September 28 D24 CEC meeting, Gabby Fighetti from the Portfolio division stated that she had just learned of this situation and would immediately take action. Now, weeks later I am told by the D24 office that these students will not be able to be offered busing. This is unacceptable!

I find it absolutely appalling that instead of offering PS 12 students seats at PS 229, which is the next school zone to the south, the DOE instead placed a brand-new 1st grade G&T class at PS 229 which could have instead been placed at the new PS 330 (at IS 73) which opened this year with a Kindergarten G&T. The class at PS 229 draws most of its students from outside the school zone, and thus, had it not been opened, PS 229 might very well have been able to take the overflow from PS 12 (as it took overflow from PS 143 last year).

This is just another example of why the centralization of decisions such as this is detrimental to districts. The right hand at Central does not know what the left hand is doing. You have CEC and Presidents’ Council leadership who have years of experience in the district and a perfectly competent District Superintendent on the ground, yet were any of us consulted in advance about these issues? No!

I would like an immediate report as to what is being done to get transportation for the affected students. In the meantime I will alert the local elected officials to this situation.

Marge Kolb

President, D24 Presidents’ Council


From: Grimm Kathleen []
Sent: Monday, October 18, 2010 4:11 PM
Cc: Fighetti Gabriela; Sternberg Marc; Chan Madelene; Shear Jeffrey; Goldstein Eric
Subject: FW: No Busing for Overflow Kindergarteners?


I am sorry for any frustration here, but PS 12 is a school that does not have busing. Children who are eligible can continue to receive MetroCards, but we cannot provide them to parents. I wish that I could be more help here.



From: []
Sent: Monday, October 18, 2010 5:01 PM
Subject: Re: FW: No Busing for Overflow Kindergarteners?

Dear Ms. Grimm:

Your information is incorrect. PS 12 HAS busing, it is PS 128 that does not, and inasmuch as DOE has offered seats to overflow students from PS 12 to attend PS 128 (AS LONG AGO AS LAST MAY!!!) it is incumbent upon the DOE to provide transportation to those students.

How come your reply to me does not address the fact that PS 12 parents were led to believe that they would receive busing or that seats at PS 229 (much closer to PS 12 than PS 128 is) were not offered but were instead slotted for a NEW G&T 1st grade class which could just as easily have been located at the new PS 330 which was already getting a NEW G&T kindergarten class?

DOE cannot pretend to be "well-managed" and continue to perpetrate these kinds of harms upon parents and children.

I already have The Daily News interested in this story and the local City Councilmember, Jimmy Van Bramer has been apprised, so I expect a better answer from you.

Marge Kolb

President, D24 Presidents' Council