Monday, May 30, 2011

Honor a teacher-warrior on Memorial Day as well!

As much as there are military conflicts going on in Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere, there is also a war happening right in this country, with one side armed with billions of dollars, and the other being carried out by ordinary teachers, parents, advocates and some forthright academics, the outcome of which will determine whether public education in this country will improve or will be further undermined.

We have posted a Facebook page to honor four NYC teacher warriors and winners of this year’s Class Size Matters “Skinny” awards, who have given us the real “skinny” on what is going on in our schools:  Jackie Bennett of Edwize, Julie Cavanagh of PS 15K and GEM, James Eterno of Jamaica HS, and Christine Rowland of Columbus HS.
Each of these teachers have compellingly marshaled facts and evidence in the battle to save NYC public schools.
Please contribute your own comments and/or photos about these four terrific teachers, or any others who you wish to honor. Shutterfly is going to make a book about this year’s awards, so the more comments and photos we get the better!

Past winners of the “Skinny” award, which will be given on June 15 at our annual benefit dinner, are Diane Ravitch (who is also co-hosting this year's event), Jennifer Jennings, Gary Babad, Robert Jackson, Juan Gonzalez and Norman Siegel.
Please also consider buying a ticket for the event; for more info, please click here.  Thanks!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Kindergarten cut-off dates and lifelong success

See this NY Times article which talks about how the increased academic pressure on Kindergarten students is leading many states to move their cut off dates earlier in the year. NYC public schools continue to have among the latest cut offs for Kindergarten, December 31, according to the allied chart.
New York City private school cut off dates are much earlier; and it is very common when a child is applying to a private school, especially boys, that they suggest that they reapply the next year for Kindergarten again.
Though the red-shirt issue is mentioned only in passing in the article, the research is clear that kids who are old for their age group are far more likely to excel.  The number of professional athletes is significantly linked to their month of birth.  
Here’s a good explanation of how this accumulated advantage works in sports. For example, see this article , which reveals how elite Canadian youth hockey teams are more likely to have players born early in the calendar year, a phenomenon also found among professional hockey players.  

This “accumulated advantage” over time was named the Matthew effect by sociologist Robert Merton, from the Biblical quotation in Matthew: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”  The Matthew effect has also been shown in soccer, swimming, tennis, and major league baseball .   

Yet relative age advantage is not only seen in sports; but in many other areas as well.  A recent study reveals how the youngest children in their grades are more likely to be diagnosed as having ADHD and to be prescribed medications such as Ritalin than their older classmates:
“From his analysis, Elder found that the youngest kindergarten kids were 60 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest in the same grade, and also, by the time those groups reached the fifth and eighth grades, the youngest were more than twice as likely to be on prescription stimulants. Elder estimated that overall in the US, the misdiagnosis rate is about 1 in 5, that is around 900,000 of the 4.5 million children currently diagnosed with ADHD have been misdiagnosed.”
Here’s another study that shows that younger students by grade are more likely to be diagnosed with psychiatric disorders.  At age 15, they also tend to have lower test scores, are more likely to have low esteem and commit suicide in their teens, and less likely to become CEO’s as adults.
These studies collectively reveal the life-long damaging effects of the way we arbitrarily group children by age – and put excessive pressures on them to succeed .  The damage has been obviously exacerbated by the high-stakes accountability systems being imposed in schools around the country.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ed Reform Meets the Mets

May 26, 2011 (GBN News): Long suffering Mets fans may finally have found their knight in shining armor, when it was announced today that that hedge fund manager David Einhorn will be buying a substantial minority stake in the team. Mr. Einhorn, a member of the Board of Advisors for Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), told reporters that he will use his leverage to “turn around” the team using the same reform model his organization champions in the nation’s schools.

While Mr. Einhorn did not give any hint as to precisely what changes he will push for, GBN News has obtained a copy of the proposal he had presented to the Mets’ principal owner, Fred Wilpon. Highlights of Mr. Einhorn’s reform ideas, as gleaned from the proposal, are:

Given that the “traditional baseball manager” simply maintains the “status quo” in the sport, the team will lobby Major League Baseball to partner with philanthropist Eli Broad in setting up a “Managers’ Academy”. Based on the premise that “a good manager can manage anything”, the Academy will train managers from the business and legal fields to transfer their skills to directing a big league club.

In what one might think would be the most popular reform with fans, the Mets will immediately release half the team. However, the players slated to be fired will be the most experienced team members. To replace them, new players will be recruited through another initiative, “Play for New York”. Top high school and college graduates, whether or not they have ever played baseball, will be recruited from around the city, and after a six week training period, will join the major league club.

Most of the new players are not expected to last more than a year or two, but their sports experience will be a great resume builder for graduate school or positions in business, law, and other top fields. And, the team will save a substantial amount of money by keeping the payroll down to the big league minimum. The Mets will also save by dispensing with most of their farm system, since players will no longer need the years of training that the traditional minor leagues had provided.

Arguably the most important reform proposed would be the “value added” method of evaluating the success of the players and the manager. Through a grant from the Gates Foundation, a rating scale will quickly be developed so that by July 1, players would be expected to make what is termed “adequate daily progress”. If a player’s statistics do not improve over a three day period, the player will be released. Injuries or other factors such as not being in the lineup that day will be no excuse; players will be expected to perform.

The manager, too, will be held to a strict “value added” standard. If the team does not make “adequate daily progress”, the manager will be fired. However, if he is a “Managers Academy” graduate, he will be given a raise and moved into an administrative position.

When reached for comment by GBN News, Mr. Einhorn would not publicly confirm or deny any of the above plans. But in response to a question as to whether the Players Association would accept the new reforms, he said, “If the union doesn’t accept what we do, we’ll just threaten to move the team to New Jersey, where Chris Christie can just ‘take the bat out’ on them.”

Monday, May 23, 2011

No Child Left Behind From the Rapture

May 23, 2011 (GBN News): The world did not end last Saturday, but the US Department of Education was prepared just in case it did. GBN News has learned that a whopping $100 billion of the Department’s Race to the Top money was secretly put aside to restructure the nation’s schools in the event of the apocalypse.

The plan was said to have been modeled after the way the New Orleans schools were turned around after Hurricane Katrina. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was poised to take full advantage of the fact that most public school buildings would be destroyed by earthquakes, and that with the world ending, the issue of teacher tenure would be rendered all but moot.

Unlike New Orleans after Katrina, however, the best students would probably be admitted to heaven instead of to charter schools. Mr. Duncan would thus have to reassure hedge fund managers and other important stakeholders that they could nevertheless make huge profits on education in the period between the Rapture and the final destruction of the world in October. So to oversee the restructuring, the Secretary lined up someone they would trust, one whom he could be certain would never have ascended to heaven: former Washington DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

According to sources at the DOE, Secretary Duncan seemed disappointed this morning that the world had not ended as promised. But his dour mood did not last long. By afternoon, he had already put on the President’s desk a new plan to bring the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under the control of the Education Department. With the new plan, FEMA would respond to disasters such as floods, hurricanes, or terrorist attacks by immediately swooping in and privatizing the local school system.

While there was reportedly some objection from FEMA officials over the fact that the agency would no longer be able to provide disaster relief, emergency loans, or other assistance beyond school privatization, the Secretary stood by the plan. “It’s not about the adults,” he insisted. “It’s about the kids.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The five year capital plan: hi definition video but no seats for our kids

Nearly half a million children currently attend overcrowded schools, one quarter of all elementary schools have waiting lists for Kindergarten, and due to residential development, the DOE admits that they will need at least 58,000 more seats over the next five years.  


The state pays for half of all funds spent on new school construction.  And yet DOE intends to build only 28,000 new seats, and Deputy Chancellor Grimm announced that they NEVER intend to replace the trailers that are already years past their lifetime and are rotting away.  


But they do intend to spend a billion dollars on high speed internet and high definition video! 


For more on this, check out  these charts, and the NY1.

Lawsuit to block the closing of schools and charter co-locations!

Stop the presses!  Today, UFT, NAACP and parent groups filed suit to stop the school closings and charter co-locations.  Lawsuit papers posted here; here is a NY1 story, about how "outraged" Dennis Walcott is;  here is the UFT press release.

But the best statement is from Ernie Logan, head of the principals union, who represents the people supposedly "empowered" by DOE.  Let's cross our fingers this lawsuit wins.  But too bad Logan isn't the person empowered to make the decisions when it comes to closing schools!
“Chancellor Walcott is understandably outraged because students in our lowest-performing schools don’t have better options. But the underlying outrage should be, not that the UFT has filed suit to keep 20 schools open, rather that the DOE long ago chose to close schools  rather than fix them. Over the last nine years, the city has systematically neglected many schools, usually in financially disadvantaged neighborhoods, offering them little supervision and support, then encouraging the Office of Student Enrollment to dump formerly incarcerated students, English Language Learners, special education youngsters and temporary housing children into those schools as if they had given up on them like some preordained underclass. 
“The new Chancellor should focus his considerable talents and attention on changing the DOE’s approach towards the lowest achieving schools and find a way to make them work. One of the reasons CSA has called for legislation on assessing any school identified as persistently failing is to ensure that no school close unnecessarily. It is a tragedy when a city admits failure so easily.”

Premiere of an important new movie May 19!

Thursday, May 19th at 6 PM is the premiere of The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman at Riverside Church.  This movie busts the myth that privatization is the key to improving our public schools.  

There are still some seats available; join Dr. Diane Ravitch and parents, educators, community members and children from across the city for the film and discussion afterward!  RSVP here.  

If you cannot make the premiere on Thursday, there is also a screening on Saturday, May 21st at 7:00 PM at the 6th Street Community Center in Manhattan.  

For more information If you want a copy of the film to hold a showing in your community, email For more information, click here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Andy Tightens the Screws

May 16, 2011 (GBN News): Emboldened by the NY State Board of Regents’ approval of a strict new teacher evaluation system, Governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to tighten the screws even further. In his second letter to Chancellor Meryl Tisch in as many days, the Governor thanked the Regents for their vote, but “strongly suggested” that they now consider upgrading to an even more draconian set of sanctions.

According to the letter, leaked to GBN News, firing teachers whose test scores do not measure up will be only the first step. If, after losing their jobs, their students’ scores do not improve, teachers will now be publicly humiliated by being tarred and feathered in public squares. Sources told GBN News that the Governor had actually considered having these low performing teachers run out of town on a rail, but was told that recent transit cutbacks would render that all but impossible.

One potential flaw in the plan was reportedly pointed out to Mr. Cuomo – that teachers cannot be held responsible for improving students’ test scores after they are fired. But the Governor was said to have termed this, “just another excuse by defenders of the status quo”, and pointed out the historical precedent of debtors’ prisons.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Will the Regents allow ideology to trump research and good sense?

UPDATE: see the May 15 letter to the Regents strongly opposing the proposed reg that would allow up to 40% of a teacher's evaluation to be based upon state test scores, written by noted experts on education and testing. 

UPDATE 2:  Despite all the research and all the warnings from experts, the Regents approved this proposal today.

The NY State Regents are voting tomorrow on whether to allow student scores on state tests, filtered through value-added formulas, to account for 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. The new law – rushed through the Legislature to get Race to the Top funds - said that the state tests would account for only 20 percent, with another 20 percent to be devised by districts using locally agreed upon assessments –  not necessarily standardized tests.
According to the NY Times, “The new system is scheduled to be used in the coming school year for English and math teachers in Grades 4 through 8, and then for all teachers the following year.” The article also says there will be  new “state tests by 2012-13, for middle school science and social studies, and ninth- and 10th-grade English, where none exist now. “
And then we are supposed to get a whole new raft of standardized tests for the Common Core by 2014? 
All this will be hugely expensive, at a time of rampant budget cuts, when parents are already up in arms because of their children’s steady diet of standardized tests and test prep, all to evaluate teacher performance by means of a dysfunctional method that few experts believe in.
Governor Cuomo has entered into the controversy, signing a letter supporting this notion, as well as the even more draconian proposition that a teacher who receives an outstanding evaluation from his or her principal but might have a one year drop in student test scores should be ranked as inadequate.  He is also planning to using the “Race to the Top” trick, to try to bribe districts in adopting this system by next fall, and only those districts “that put the evaluation system into effect would be eligible for money from $500 million set aside in the state budget to reward school performance.” How did the legislature let this Cuomo slush fund go through – at the same time cutting aid to schools by nearly a billion dollars?
On NY1, Regents head Merryl Tisch claimed that parents were included in the 63 member teacher evaluation task force.  This is untrue, as there was not a single parent on the taskforce, though we posted a petition asking them to do so, that garnered more than four hundred signatures.
She also argued that using test score-based teacher evaluation is more ‘objective” and thus even if rated highly on other measures, having low test scores for one year should lead to a teacher’s dismissal.  This ignores the fact that the state tests were never designed for this purpose – and are technically unable to make accurate assessments on student “progress.” 
There has also been a wealth of evidence in recent weeks about the unreliability of value added models, their unfairness and their potentially damaging effects on the teaching profession and kids. 
Here are some of these studies:  
Eva L. Baker, Paul E. Barton, Linda Darling-hammond, Edward Haertel, Helen F. Ladd, Robert L. Linn, Diane Ravitch, Richard Rothstein, Richard J. Shavelson, and Lorrie A. Shepard,  Problems with the use of student test scoresto evaluate teachers, Aug. 2010; Economic Policy Institute. 
“If new laws or policies specifically require that teachers be fired if their students’ test scores do not rise by a certain amount, then more teachers might well be terminated than is now the case. But there is not strong evidence to indicate either that the departing teachers would actually be the weakest teachers, or that the departing teachers would be replaced by more effective ones….. there is broad agreement among statisticians, psychometricians, and economists that student test scores alone are not sufficiently reliable and valid indicators of teacher effectiveness to be used in high-stakes personnel decisions, even when the most sophisticated statistical applications such as value-added modeling are employed.
VAM estimates have proven to be unstable across statistical models, years, and classes that teachers teach. One study found that across five large urban districts, among teachers who were ranked in the top 20% of effectiveness in the first year, fewer than a third were in that top group the next year, and another third moved all the way down to the bottom 40%.   Another found that teachers’ effectiveness ratings in one year could only predict from 4% to 16% of the variation in such ratings in the following year. Thus, a teacher who appears to be very ineffective in one year might have a dramatically different result the following year. …This raises questions about whether what is measured is largely a “teacher effect” or the effect of a wide variety of other factors.”
Henry Braun, Naomi Chudowsky, and Judith Koenig, eds., Getting Value Out of Value-Added: Report of a Workshop, National Research Council, Washington, DC, 2010.
“Value-added methods involve complex statistical models applied to test data of varying quality. Accordingly, there are many technical challenges to ascertaining the degree to which the output of these models provides the desired estimates. Despite a substantial amount of research over the last decade and a half, overcoming these challenges has proven to be very difficult, and many questions remain unanswered…”
“Given one year of test score gains, it is impossible to distinguish between teacher effects and lassroom-level factors. In a given year, a class of students may perform particularly well or particularly poorly for reasons that have nothing to do with instruction.”
As expected, the level of uncertainty is higher when only one year of test results are used …as against three years of data…But in both cases, the average range of value-added estimates is very wide. …For all teachers and years, the average confidence interval width is 44 points…..schools with high levels of mobility, test exemption, and absenteeism tend to have fewer students contributing to value-added estimates. And fewer student observations introduce a greater level of uncertainty associated with these estimates.….. For example, the widest confidence intervals are found in the Bronx – whose schools serve many disadvantaged students – at 37 percentile points in math and 47 points in ELA (both based on up to three years of data)…”
“...value-added measurement[s] … are simply too narrow to be relied upon as a meaningful representation of the range of skills, knowledge, and habits we expect teachers and schools to cultivate in their students.”
Sean P. Corcoran, Jennifer L. Jennings, Andrew A. Beveridge, Teacher effectiveness on high- and low-stakes tests, April 10, 2011.
“To summarize, were teachers to be rewarded for their classroom's performance on the state test or alternatively, sanctioned for low performance many of these teachers would have demonstrated quite different results on a low-stakes test of the same subject.  Importantly, these differences need not be due to real differences in long-run skill acquisition…
That is, teachers deemed top performers on the high-stakes test are quite frequently average or even low performers on the low-stakes test. Only in a minority of cases are teachers consistently high or low performers across all metrics… Our results …. highlight the need for additional research on the impact that high-stakes accountability has on the validity of inferences about teacher quality.”
John Ewing, Mathematical Intimidation: Driven by the Data, May, 2011.    
Ewing, the former executive director of the American Mathematical Society, points out that value-added evaluations are highly unreliable and that using such measures will corrupt the educational process:
 ““…making policy decisions on the basis of value added models has the potential to do even more harm than browbeating teachers…we almost surely will end up making bad decisions that affect education for decades to come …Of course we should hold teachers accountable, but this does not mean we have to pretend that mathematical models can do something they cannot….
Shouldn’t we focus on how well students are prepared to learn in the future, not merely what they learned in the past year? Shouldn’t we try to distinguish teachers who inspire their students, not merely the ones who are competent? When we accept value-added as an “imperfect” substitute for all these things because it is conveniently at hand, we are not raising our expectations of teachers, we are lowering them….Why must we use value-added even with its imperfections? … the only apparent reason for its superiority is that value-added is based on data. Here is mathematical intimidation in its purest form—in this case, in the hands of economists, sociologists, and education policy experts.

And if we drive away the best teachers by using a flawed process, are we really putting our students first?”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Letter to the Board of Regents about the need for parent input in the search for a new Commissioner

Public school parents, the most important stakeholders of our educational system, have been completely left out of the discussion when it comes to policy making at the state level.  We believe that for the sake of our children, this must change, and that the search for new Education Commissioner is the time to begin.  See letter below sent today to the NYS Board of Regents, along with more than one hundred parent leaders and organizations that signed on in support.  A pdf of the letter with the full set of signers is  here.

May 8, 2011

Dear New York State Board of Regents:
We, the undersigned parent and community leaders, urge that there be an open and transparent search for the new Commissioner of Education, and that you appoint a significant number of public school parents to the search committee, to ensure that parents have input into the final choice.
Over the next few months and years, the State Education Department will likely make critical decisions about the future direction of our children’s schools, relating to school closings, charter schools, testing, graduation requirements, Contracts for Excellence and school funding, the possible elimination of seat time, and the expansion of computer-based testing and online learning.
The State Education Department is the primary government agency whose responsibility is to hold districts accountable throughout the state. Parents are the most important stakeholders in the school system, and yet, too often, the Department has not been accountable to parents, has not been transparent in its decision making, and has rarely consulted parents as to our views or priorities for our schools. 
For example, the Department appointed a sixty-three member task-force to come up with a new system of principal and teacher evaluation, but failed to put a single public school parent on the taskforce.
It is critical that the next Commissioner of Education should be receptive to parent input, transparent in his or her decision-making, and hold all the school districts accountable to the law and equitable policies.
To ensure that this occurs, we believe that public school parents should be an integral part of the selection and appointment process.
Yours sincerely,
Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters
Sue Dietrich and Ben Greene, co-chairs, Chancellor Parent Advisory Council, NYC
Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, President, President of the NAACP New York State Conference
NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ)
Alliance for Quality Education
Margaret Chin, NYC Council Member
Mark Mishler, Albany, Parents Across America -NY State
Mark Friedman, Mary B. Adams, Howard Eagle, Rochester Community Education Task Force
Patrick J. Sullivan, Manhattan member of the Panel for Educational Policy, NYC Board of Education
Susan Polos, SOS Katonah-Lewisboro, Parents Across America – Westchester NY
Michele Faljean, President, Staten Federation of PTAs, NYC  (and about 80 others)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Please Join us May 12 at City Hall to protest horrific cuts to our schools!

1.     The mayor announced his proposed budget on Friday.  It is a horror show.  It would lead to the elimination of over 6,000 teaching positions, while leaving the central and mid-level bureaucracy intact and continuing to increase spending on private consultants and contracts. 
It is a budget that puts kids LAST; and would cause the sharpest increases in class size in at least 30 years.  I have blogged about this here and here, and here is a NY1 clip about the proposed cuts. 
Please join us, other parents and education advocacy groups to protest Bloomberg’s inhumane budget this Thursday, May 12 at 4 PM in the City Hall area, on the Brooklyn Bridge side of City Hall park. 
We will meet with other organizations as we march to Water Street, urging the mayor and the City Council to ask wealthy New Yorkers and the banks to pay their fair share instead.
When: Thursday, May 12 at 4 PM.
Where: City Hall area, on the Brooklyn Bridge side. (4, 5, 6 to Brooklyn Bridge; 2, 3 to Park Pl; R, W to City Hall, A, C, E, 1, 2 to Chambers St.)
What: Rally and march to protest the mayor’s horrific budget cuts to schools and other vital services.
Class Size Matters will be leading  “teach-ins” at Water St. at the march's end about the budget’s cuts likely effects on class size and other funding options.  Please also  CLICK HERE TO RSVP on the FACEBOOK PAGE, and check back frequently for updates.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A disaster in the making: what will happen to class size if the mayor's cuts go through?

There's a good quote from Ann Kjellberg in today's NY Times about the mayor's proposed slash and burn budget cuts to schools:  "We feel like pawns in his political struggles,” said Ann Kjellberg, a schools advocate and the mother of a fourth grader. “He said he needs $300 million to save these jobs, and $300 million seems like an amount you could find if you looked hard.”

However, we should keep in mind that the goal must be to avert the elimination of 6,000 plus teaching positions  --not merely to prevent 4,000  layoffs; as it is this larger figure, eight percent of the teaching force, that has a direct effect on class size.  Preventing the elimination of 6,000 teachers would cost an estimated $377 million.

Also, Walcott now says class size will be raised by about two students per class – considerably more than his previous testimony before the city council of an increase of one to one a half students.  The UFT has predicted that these cuts would lead to an increase of  about three students per class.  To be conservative, I have prepared charts, showing what Walcott's prediction would mean in terms of average class size, compared to the goals the city made a commitment to achieve after the CFE/C4E  legislation was passed in 2007.  

Ironically, the 2011-2012 school year was supposed to be the final year in DOE's state-approved C4E class size reduction plan; in which they promised to reduce average class sizes in grades K-3 to no more than 19.9 students per class;  22.9 in grades 4-8; and 24.5 in high school core classes. 

We will be further from those goals than anyone could have possibly imagined when the CFE case was settled, and far above what class sizes were in 2003, when the state's highest court concluded that NYC children were deprived of their constitutional right to an adequate education because of excessive class sizes. (In 2003, average class size in grades K-3 was about 21.6; and in grades 4-8 at 26.7; we had no reliable  data for high school).

Yet these charts are highly uncertain, and likely to reflect the minimum of what the actual effect may be. Remember that the distribution of class sizes across the city is very uneven, and more than half of all middle school classes and more than 60 percent of high school classes are larger than 28 students already.  

Enrollment and classroom overcrowding is also increasing at the same time, the latter due to co-locations and school closings as well as growing enrollment.  All these factors also have a significantly negative impact on class size. 

Already nearly one third of all Kindergarten students are in classes of 25 or more (at or above the contractual level); this percentage will likely rise next year no matter what happens to the budget, as evidenced by the fact that there are Kindergarten waiting lists at one fourth of all elementary schools.  

Though I have no crystal ball and insufficient statistical skills to be able to model all these factors, I imagine than many if not most NYC schools will be forced to increase their class sizes  to the UFT contractual levels next year if these cuts go through:

• 25 in kindergarten
• 32 in 1-3 grades (for many years, the DOE and the UFT had a “side” agreement to keep class sizes to 28 in these grades, which they are no longer honoring)
• 32 in 4-6th grades
• 30 in Title I middle schools
• 33 in non-Title I middle schools
• 34 in academic classes in high school  
50 for PE and music in middle schools and HS
The struggle for principals to keep class sizes reasonably small is is also complicated by the so-called “fair student funding” scheme, which DOE imposed in 2007.  Among its many flaws, it forces principals to cover the the entire cost of their staffing, does not ensure that there are enough teachers to meet even contractual levels, and has itself been severely eroded by repeated city budget cuts over recent years.
Walcott concluded this way: ““All schools will feel this one way or the other,” he said. “We have to manage this, and manage this very well.”    

What does this mean?  How can a school "manage" class increases this large?  Whatever the particular increases turn out to be, these cuts would likely be a disaster for NYC children and their opportunity to learn, and must be prevented at all costs.

Also see the NY1 coverage.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The mayor's choice: a budget which puts children last

With his budget proposal this morning, the mayor tried to pass the buck today to the state and the federal government, blaming them for his proposal to eliminate over 6,000 teaching positions -- one twelfth of the teaching force ---larger layoffs than have occurred in more than thirty years.  What happened to mayoral accountability?
And yet he added that if the state provided extra funding or mandate relief, he would not necessarily restore teaching positions, but he might spend the money on the police or fire department instead.
Bloomberg said he was “very sympathetic” to Gov. Cuomo, but he mentioned no sympathy for NYC children, who will have to bear the brunt of these cuts in the form of the largest increases in class size in at least thirty years.  While he commented that he would not put city's fiscal "future at risk," he seems all too willing to put our kids' futures at risk instead.  
At the same time he is slashing 6,000 teaching positions and doing irreparable harm to our kids, he is adding to the budget in other ways: 
The Bloomberg administration plans to announce that it will open 10 new senior centers, each serving 250 to 300 people.
Already in the last three years, students in grades K-3 have experienced  class size increases of 10%; leading to the largest class sizes in over a decade.  More than a third of all Kindergarten students are now squeezed into classes of 25 or larger. Why should they have to suffer any more?  This is not a budget which puts children first.
He offered not a single proposal to control the rapid growth in DOE contracts and consultants, amounting to  $4.5 billion for next year, an increase of more than $600 million from this year.  This $600 million increase  would save all our teaching positions and more.  (see chart to the right)
The rapid growth of these contracts and the DOE’s lax oversight has led to repeated allegations of waste, mismanagement and corruption, including more than $3 million in stolen funds from one DOE tech contract, and another tech contract that has gone tens of millions of dollars over budget, with reports that a high-level DOE supervisor had a personal relationship with the consultant
Nor does he have any plans to cut  the growing headcount of the central and mid level DOE bureaucracies, but instead targets  all reductions to the classroom. 
In the next year alone, the DOE plans to spend more than half a billion dollars on technology in its capital plan, with $350 million to buy computers to implement more online learning and testing. 
Their ultimate goal seems to be depriving our students any contact with a real live teacher, but to put them all on machines instead.
The Mayor claims he has no choice, but this is yet another excuse for lack of leadership.  He has many choices which he refuses to acknowledge:
  • He could choose to make the cuts elsewhere in the overall city budget, or DOE spending, including the many billions of dollars on central, contracts, consultants and computers.
  • He could choose to draw from the $2 billion still remaining in the city’s health care reserve.
  • He could choose to support the retention of the millionaire’s tax, either on the state or city level.
The wealth and share of income of the city’s richest one percent is still expanding rapidly, but the mayor chooses not to ask that they contribute their fair share. Though a millionaire’s tax on city residents would also need Albany’s assent, it would be a far better choice  than continuing to push the elimination of teacher seniority protections, which has little chance of being approved.  

Instead, has chosen to make our children pay the price.

Did Bin Laden Doc Dupe DOE?

May 6, 2011 (GBN News): An alarming document recovered during the Sunday night raid on Osama Bin Laden’s hideout suggests that the terrorist leader might have been planning to undermine the NY City educational system. According to GBN News sources, the document detailed a set of plans which included exposing children to environmental hazards, precipitously closing down schools, fostering corruption, and subjecting schoolchildren to a mind-numbing regimen of assessments and test prep. The centerpiece of the Bin Laden plan was said to be the layoffs of over 4000 teachers along with the elimination of seniority protection, which together would lead to untenably overcrowded classes taught by novices.

A crack CIA team has been working furiously to decipher more of the recovered documents to see if these plans have as yet become operational. A top priority is said to be translating a document entitled, “NY City Executive Budget”. And anti terror experts are also concerned about another document that appears to target school systems nationwide, labeled “Race to the Top”.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

20 Questions that should be asked of DOE about Fair student funding & the education budget

The mayor is due to announce his education budget tomorrow, Friday.  For the DOE fair student funding formula, see here.  The next PEP meeting (May 18 at 6:00PM at Long Island City HS at 14-30 Broadway in Queens) will apparently vote on it, but CEC's are also being provided with briefings in the meantime and allowed to ask questions.

1-    What is the base funding per student that schools receive, and how does that compare to last year and the year before?

2-    Why are elementary grade students funded at lower levels than middle and HS students,  especially when the class sizes  in these grades are supposed to be kept smaller?

3-    How is poverty defined – free or reduced lunch students or both?  And why isn’t there a separate standard for each, given their widely different income levels and challenges?

4-    Why are the selective specialized schools given more funding per student?  Doesn’t this lead to further inequities, given their lack of racial diversity?

5-    Why is there so much extra funding given to schools to push sped students into Collaborative Team teaching  classes, that often are far too large to meet their needs?  Is there any independent evaluation of NYC’s expanding CTT program to show that it is working?

6-    Is the DOE continuing to fund the cost of unfilled CTT and self-contained classes, or has this been option now phased out, forcing schools to implement maximum class sizes in these classes?

7-    Why is a good idea  through FSF to force schools with stretched budgets to choose between having experienced teachers and reasonable size classes – when these are the only two observable factors that  research has found so far to be  correlated with better student outcomes?

8-Why should schools be forced to pay the full cost for their staffing  at all, knowing that it gives them an disincentive to hire and retain experienced teachers? 

9- If this is such a good system, why is it that police precincts or firehouses  aren’t forced to cover the full cost of their personnel, which would disincentivize them to hold onto experienced staff?

10. Is it true, as Randy Herman of the CSA recently testified before the City council, that because of budget cuts, schools are only being funded at 86% of what the formula requires, and DOE has  not fully funded FSF in years? If so, what does the DOE plan to do about this?

Budget cuts in general:

1-    Why are all the proposed major cuts coming out of school budgets, with few or none planned for the central or the expanding middle level bureaucracy, and none for the growing cost of contracts, technology and consultants?  What is  the headcount at central and at the CFNs, this year and last?  (according to the City Council, the projected central headcount for Fiscal 2012 is 2,097, 73 positions above the Fiscal 2011 level).

2-    Why is it okay to give a $4.5M contract to Joel Klein’s company, Wireless Generation?  Was this a no-bid contract and what is its purpose?

3-    How do you recommend that schools prevent further sharp increases in class size , given enrollment growth and repeated budget cuts,  even if this protecting class size is the top priority of their principals?  What is the administration’s goal as relates to class size reduction?

4-    How much are the Common core standards, PD, curriculum materials, and associated assessments going to cost the city, next year and in the years thereafter, in both operating and capital costs?

5-    What are the costs associated with the 16 new contracts being bid out for local standardized assessments, to be given four times a year, and out of which budget line is that coming out of?  And why are you contracting these out, if the UFT has not yet agreed to them? 

6-    What is the $1.2 M contract for six months to “Infusion”, described as “Technology services in improving the web-based development tool "iPlan" that schools use to develop their Comprehensive Educational Plans?”  Was this a no-bid contract?

7.  What are the costs associated with expanding the Izone for next year and the year beyond? 

8.  What is the total amount being spent on teacher recruitment, through the New Teacher Project, and otherwise, and why is this needed at a time of threatened layoffs?

9.  How much is being spent on outside contracts, consultants, and computer consultants, this year and planned for next?

10.  What is the city's Contract for Excellence plan for next year?