Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Kindergarten waiting lists, and more disasters just waiting to happen

Yesterday, the DOE announced that there are over 3,000 children on waiting lists for Kindergarten next year; 42 percent more than last year.

About a quarter of the city's elementary schools, or 157, have kindergarten wait lists.
An excel file with school by school data was posted by

We warned them and warned them and warned them again, but they ignored all our pleas to think about the future.

In 2006, for PlanNYC, the Mayor’s taskforce was asked to come up with recommendations to prepare every area of the city’s infrastructure for 2030, when they projected there would be a million more New Yorkers, including the need for more water supply, transportation, sewage treatment, police, libraries, etc. etc. But the much-praised plan did not have a single word to say about schools. In fact, the only mention of schools in the plan was a proposal to convert school buildings to more housing.

In October 2008, we released a report, predicting that there would soon be sharp increases in enrollment citywide, due to the rising birth rate, rampant residential development, the closings of parochial schools, and the growing perception that NYC was a more family-friendly city. The MPB and the City comptroller did their own studies, showing the failure of the DOE to build enough seats to accommodate the population explosion to come.

We urged them to expand their new five year capital plan, and nearly fifty elected officials from the city, state and federal levels signed onto our recommendations.

Instead, they cut the seats in the capital plan by 60%, since their consultants claimed there would be no citywide increase in enrollment till at least 2016! Sure enough, citywide enrollment started to increase in 2009, just as we had warned.

This has been a slow-moving disaster waiting to happen and they paid no attention, and now the disaster is here.

To the contrary, every DOE policy has made overcrowding worse, including co-locations, where they have continued on their reckless course of squeezing more and more schools into existing, overcrowded school buildings, each of them eating up classrooms to create more cluster rooms and administrative spaces.

Rather than focus on creating enough new seats, the DOE plans to spend more than $500 million next year in the capital plan on new technology, to expand online learning and enable new computer-based tests.

This is yet another disaster waiting to happen, given the city's deplorable cost overruns with technology projects. See my comments in Gotham Gazette, this NYT article , and a recent Times post breaking down the millions of dollars in online learning contracts that have already been approved by the PEP– including half a million for a technology consultant, to consolidate the use of technology consultants!

Clearly, the DOE is hoping for the day when they do not have to provide any new teachers or classrooms, because all the “learning” will take place online. We cannot let this go forward without a fight.

Update on rally, news from Albany, and video of my encounter with the mayor

Yesterday’s press conference/rally was terrific; here is my account with some photos; more photos are available on our Facebook page. NY1 ran some video of the rally last night, and to my surprise, captured at least part of my unexpected debate with the mayor; I have also now posted that video below.

Erin Einhorn wrote a piece on the Daily News blog about our encounter, which the mayor’s spokesperson responded to, as did I; you can see we went back and forth several times.

Thanks again to all who came; and soon we will have petitions you can download from our website to get signatures at your school for your Councilmembers, urging them to oppose the mayor's plan to eliminate 6,000 teaching positions.

One small but important piece of good news: the Legislature did not approve a reduction or cap in building aid for NYC, so the mayor has no excuse to cut back on the number of new seats, as threatened.

Mayor Booed On Bathroom Visit

March 31, 2011 (GBN News): With his approval ratings tanking, Mayor Bloomberg has been facing increasing displays of public displeasure at his policies. While he has tried to shake off such incidents as being booed at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Mayor was unable to ignore a protest that came much closer to home.

GBN News has learned that at about 3 AM last night, while walking down the hall on his way to the bathroom, the Mayor was booed by his entire household staff. Mr. Bloomberg was said to have been taken completely aback when the servants then blocked his way to the bathroom door, chanting, “Hell no, you won’t go!”

When reached by GBN News, a Mayoral spokesperson vehemently denied that any such incident took place. “Nothing happened,” said the aide. “The Mayor just had a bad dream. He had some warm milk and cookies, and went back to sleep.”

But his employees begged to differ. “He was pissin’ in his pants,” Fred Runson, one of the Mayor’s chauffeurs, told GBN News. “Maybe he thinks he can ignore public opinion. But we’re the public too. A lot of us have kids in the public schools. And until he restores his budget cuts, lowers class size, and stops bashing the teachers, he’ll just have to ask our permission every time he needs to go to the bathroom.”

Sources in Albany say that the protests may spread to the Governor’s mansion. But Governor Cuomo has already taken steps to head off any trouble. He is said to have broken up with his long time companion, Food Network star Sandra Lee, reasoning that if she is not there to make him bedtime snacks, he can avoid nocturnal bathroom visits.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

UPDATED: Rally at City Hall and close encounters of the heated kind with Mayor Mike

We had a great rally this morning at City Hall to protest the budget cuts to schools. About fifty parents turned up, some with their children, with signs pasted to their jackets saying, “Do not balance the budget on our backs.”

Joining us were Council Members Robert Jackson and Margaret Chin of Manhattan, Mark Weprin of Queens, Jumaane Williams and Matthieu Eugene of Brooklyn, and Diana Reyna of Brooklyn and Queens, as well as Leroy Barr, staff director of the UFT and Donovan Richards, CM Sanders chief of staff.

At the end of the rally we had an unexpected encounter with Bloomberg himself. Pictures from the rally and our encounter with Mayor Mike are now up on the CSM Facebook page .

At the press conference, I showed charts revealing the sharp increases in class size that have already occurred, as well as a chart with the worsening distribution of income in NYC and NY state.

Eliminating 6,000 teaching positions would be an absolute disaster for our children, and would lead to even further increases in class size, probably the sharpest in over 30 years. I concluded that though the mayor may want to roll over the city’s $3 billion surplus, we as parents will not roll over when it comes to our children.

All of the elected officials were eloquent in their defense of our children’s right to a quality education, and pledged that they would fight hard to make sure that there would be no further increases in class size or any cuts to the classroom in the city’s education budget. I handed CM Jackson our petition with over 1,000 signatures and asked him to give it to Speaker Quinn, who will have to protect our children in the budget negotiations.

He emphasized that there was no need for any cuts with the city’s $3 billion surplus; Mark Weprin pointed out that there were plenty other areas that were expendable in the DOE spending policies, including wasteful testing, technology enhancements, consultants and private contracts. CM Chin said as a former teacher and married to a teacher, she knew full well how important class size is and that we cannot afford to let class sizes grow any more. Both Jumaane Williams and Matthieu Eugent pointed out that focusing on improving education is the best investment the city can make.

Sue Dietrich, Staten Island parent and head of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, representing all the PTAs in the city, said her son’s class was already at 34 students; and that it can’t possibly go any higher. She pointed out that the city’s arts programs, like the great chorus at PS 22 that sang at the Oscars, could be lost if there were any more budget cuts to schools.

Noah Gotbaum, President of CEC D3, said the Governor and the Mayor should be ashamed of themselves for favoring millionaires over our kids, and that though Cuomo talked about “shared sacrifice” it was hard to see what if anything the wealthy had sacrificed in this budget.

Lisa Donlan, parent leader and member of the Grassroots Education Movement led us in a chant, “Whose schools? Our schools! Whose taxes? Our taxes? Whose priorities? Our priorities!” Sarah Porter, parent activist from PS132K in Williamsburg, wrapped up by pointing out the mayor’s math was defective and that he needed remedial lessons, since there was no need to cut 6,000 teachers with such a large surplus.

After the rally was over, some of us remained talking on the plaza in front of City Hall, including Sarah, Tina Schiller of PS 234, and Benita Rivera of the Mother’s Agenda, when I noticed the Mayor walking down the steps.

I waved to him and shouted, “Please, Mr. Mayor, do not balance the budget on our children’s backs” and that “Millionaires should pay more, including you!”

To my surprise, he briskly walked over to us. He asked if we were teachers, and we said, no, parents. I showed him the class size charts, and asked him if he would want to have his child in such large classes; how could he consider letting them increase even more?

He countered by saying that city had been subjected to big cuts from the feds and the state and we should criticize them, not him. I followed up by pointing out that the city’s had a $3 billion surplus, but he claimed that there was no surplus; when we disputed that, he added that he needed to save the surplus for the year after.

I told him that I knew he wanted to roll over the surplus, but our kids cannot have their education further damaged. We said he should use the surplus now to fill holes in this year’s budget, and if he needed more money, he should raise city taxes on the wealthy. He said, go tell Albany; and that he’s been up there arguing with them.

We pointed out that he didn’t go to Albany to support the surtax on the wealthy but that he had instead opposed this. Several times he said, “Listen to me! I won’t talk unless you listen to me!” After about five minutes, he got tired of the discussion, and walked off.

Luckily, Benita Rivera was snapping photos with her cell phone; these are on the CSM Facebook page along with earlier ones from the rally, taken by Michelle Faljean of the SI Federation of PTAs:

Thanks Benita, Michelle, and everyone who came today!

After our exchange with the mayor, Erin Einhorn, City Hall Daily News reporter ran over, along with Samantha Gross of the AP, to ask us about it. She has already posted an account of our debate on the DN blog, entitled Mayor Bloomberg Listens! (But Does He Hear?)

UPDATED: The mayor's press spokesman has responded and so have I. several times on the DN blog. Go check it out!

Go check it out and leave a comment! And please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Statement on DiNapoli's discharge rate audit

We would like to thank the Comptroller Di Napoli and the Office of the State Comptroller for their hard work on today’s discharge rate audit, which was done in response to a request on April 30, 2009 from Betsy Gotbaum, then-NYC Public Advocate, following a report that we wrote with Jennifer Jennings on the continued high number of students reported as discharged from NYC public schools. (Our 2009 report is posted here)

Even after the OSC office allowed the DOE to provide “additional information and documentation” for randomly selected students who did not have sufficient evidence in their files, 15% of the general education students in the graduating class of 2008 who were reported as discharged, and 20% of those from the special education cohort did not have the required proof to show that they were not actually dropouts. Thus, all these students were improperly removed from the cohort, inflating DOE’s reported graduation rates.

The audit’s findings of an error rate of between 15-20% in reported discharge rates are cause for grave concern that the DOE is not providing sufficient oversight to ensure accurate graduation and discharge figures.

According to the OSC, this means that between 2000-3000 of the general education discharges and between 266 and 539 special education students were “probably incorrect and should instead have been classified as dropouts.”

That fully 20% of the special education sample was incorrectly identified as discharged would lower this groups abysmal graduation rate even further to between 8.9 and 9.3 percent, compared to 9.7 percent reported by DoE.

The OSC concludes: “When we statistically projected the results of our sample to the entire [general education] cohort, we found that the correct graduation rate for the cohort was probably between 62.9 and 63.6 percent, rather than the 65.5 percent reported by DoE. “

Yet as the DOE itself notes; the official overall graduation rate for the class of 2008, according to SED guidelines , was really 56.4%, not 65.5%, so it would have been better for the OSC to provide an estimate of how much lower the actual graduation rate would have likely been, with all students included.

The OSC statement that since the city’s graduation rate was likely less than 5 percentage points lower than originally claimed means that the reported graduation rate was “generally accurate” and that errors “would not negate the upward trends in graduation rates in recent years” is puzzling, since reported increases have only been about 2-3% per year, for general education students, and among special education students much less, so an error rate of 2-3%, as the OSC found, would be about the same as the reported increases.

In any event, a 15-20% error rate in discharges remains very high. This high rate of errors reflects DOE’s lack of proper oversight or any accountability mechanisms to verify that discharges are properly reported at the school level. In addition, as the audit pointed out, some of these errors are related to the DOE’s failure to align its discharge guidelines to those of the state, by counting students who have transferred to non-approved GED programs (outside DOE) as discharges instead of dropouts.

Some important questions remain unanswered:

There remains no explanation as to why the discharge rate of students in their first year of high school has doubled under this administration, as our report noted. There also is no explanation as to why so many of the students reported as discharged are the most at-risk students, including those who are male, ELL, Hispanic and/or African-American, if these figures are more or less accurate.

I urge the DOE to agree to clear up some of these mysteries, by regularly reporting discharges, disaggregated by age, code, special education status, and demographic background, as a recently introduced City Council bill would require, though the DOE has expressed its opposition to such reporting at Council hearings. If they have nothing to hide they will agree to report all this data on a regular basis.

The DOE should also release full graduation and discharge figures in their annual graduation reports, including data for special education students, which they have failed to do since we released our discharge report in April 2009, despite repeated requests.

The NYC Department of Education should report an annual graduation rate that includes all students, rather than continuing to report as its “official” rate just the general education cohort.

I remain concerned that students who have transferred to GED programs within the DOE system but do not receive GEDs should not be classified as discharges, because this artificially raises school graduation rates. Also that students who receive GEDs should not be reported as a regular graduates, because a GED is not a high school diploma, whether or not that conforms to state guidelines. Otherwise, with the pressure on schools to inflate their graduation rates, they will continue to have an incentive to push at-risk students into GED programs and the like.

Finally, the DOE should revise its excessively harsh and punitive accountability system, so as to minimize the incentive of schools to inflate their graduation rates either through increased discharges to GED programs and/or falsifying their reporting. Unless this occurs, schools will remain motivated to shade the truth, and “push out” or exclude our neediest students, because of fears that they will be closed down or have half their teachers fired if their graduation rates do not improve.

Here is one example, from the audit, of a student whom the DOE claimed was a legitimate discharge, because an attendance teacher said that he had confirmed with a neighbor that she had moved to the Dominican Republic, and that this “was later confirmed by the student directly.” (p.31) Yet as the OSC responded:

School officials discharged this student in January 2008 without proper documentation to support their discharge determination. School officials stated they made a home visit in January 2008 and were told by a neighbor that the family had moved to the Dominican Republic (DR). DoE officials provided a memo, dated May 1, 2010, in which the student confirmed having travelled to the DR on December 18, 2007. However, when we spoke to the student, she told us that she and her family had lived at the same address for many years and she had not been visited by any attendance teachers in January 2008. She did acknowledge that a DoE employee had visited her in May 2010 [presumably after the audit began]. She also told us she had traveled to the DR on December 18, 2007, to spend Christmas with her family. She said when she tried to attend school after her return to the USA, she was refused admittance because the school had already listed her as being discharged. Since school officials did not have the appropriate documentation required by SED, this student should have been classified as a dropout or should have remained on the school’s register and included in the calculation of the graduation rate for her cohort. (p. 47)

As long as schools continue to be punished for low graduation rates with the threat of closure, instead of provided with help to improve outcomes, they will continue to exclude students like this one. It is students like these who will suffer the most.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rally on Wed. at City Hall to protest budget cuts to schools!

Join parents at a rally/press conference opposing the mayor’s devastating budget cuts to our schools!

Where: the steps of City Hall

When: Wednesday, March 30 at 9:30 AM

Here is a flyer you can post or distribute in your schools.

The Mayor plans to eliminate 6,000 teaching positions, which would lead to huge increases in class size.

The savings from these cuts would be only about $350 million; far less than the city’s expected budget surplus of $3 billion.

Class sizes in the early grades are already the largest in more than a decade; come make your voices heard that these cuts are unfair and immoral!

Following this press conference, the City Council will hold hearings to consider these education cuts.

Sponsored by Class Size Matters, Parents Across America, the Public School Political Action Committee, the NY Charter Parents Association, Concerned Advocates for Public Education, the Grassroots Education Movement, and other parent groups (in formation)