Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Brooklyn Journalists Offer Smart Education Coverage

In an encouraging trend, two Brooklyn publications are covering public education with smart, well-researched articles that go well beyond what's provided by the mainstream media.

At the popular blog and newsletter Brooklyn Based, editor Nicole Davis has launched her education coverage with both an update on the PS9 situation and an in-depth primer on co-locations. Let's hope Davis continues to focus her considerable skills on education.

Writing the Report Card column at the Brooklyn Rail, Liza Featherstone has become a must-read for parents and policy-makers alike. See her articles on technology in education here and the surprisingly poor reviews DOE has given charters here.

For the latter article, Featherstone unearthed a DOE document that dropped some bombshells about Democracy Prep's review, including the finding that “few lessons required higher-order thinking skills or deep analysis of concepts.” When I asked Chancellor Walcott and Deputy Chancellor Sternberg at the PEP why we were clearing Board of Ed space to expand a school that can't teach critical thinking they were speechless. Eventually Sternberg responded with an offer to visit Democracy Prep.

Visit Brooklyn Rail and Brooklyn Based.

Two important education laws requiring more transparency from DOE passed today!

Today, along with the budget, the City Council approved two new important bills requiring more transparent reporting from the DOE.
According to the first bill, 354-A, the DOE will now be required to report each year by June 30 on the number of students discharged by individual schools and systemwide, as well as by discharge code, so we will know better what is happening to the thousands of students that continue to leave NYC high schools each year before graduation but are not counted as dropouts. 
Some students move out of state or transfer to parochial and private schools, but many transfer to GED programs or alternative schools where they do not have a chance to graduate with a real diploma, and currently we have no idea how many are in each category.  Moreover, the percent of 9th graders who are discharged from high school has doubled under this administration, without any explanation. 
I am particularly proud of this bill because the work of Class Size Matters helped bring more prominence to this issue.  See the discharge rate report  that we released in 2009 by lead author Jennifer Jennings, this story in the NY Times which covered our findings, and our testimony in support of this bill in January.  An audit we asked for from the State Comptroller’s office, along with then-Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum released in March found that 15-20% of the students reported as discharges by DOE should really have been reported as dropouts.
The other bill, 364-A,  just passed by the Council, will report on the fate of students at the closing schools; whether they are discharged, drop out, or are given credit recovery to graduate before the school closes its doors.  For more on this issue, see our blog posting about the hearings.  If students are behind credits at the closing schools – which many are – they have not been allowed by DOE to transfer to other degree-bearing regular high schools, and there have been sky-high discharge and dropout rates at many of these schools. Hopefully this bill will provide DOE more incentive to ensure that students are not left behind when their school phases out.
At the hearings in January, DOE officials made the absurd claim that these two bills violated FERPA, or federal privacy protections, and  threatened that they would not comply with the laws as written  even though they contain language that specifically gives them a pass if the number of students in any category is so small that individuals might be able to be identified. I hope they have changed their mind and will report this critical information responsibly and accurately.

Good news; the DOE says they will comply with these two laws, according to this report in GothamSchools:  Bills will hold DOE’s feet to fire on discharge, graduation rates

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ellen McHugh on last night's meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy

Last night............My apologies to Billy Joel as well.

It was 6 o'clock on a Tuesday and there were plenty of police to watch  as the irregular crowed hustled into the auditorium at Prospect Heights High School.  Here were the charter school folks in yellow hats, being herded over to the front left of the auditorium.  Here, on the right side of the auditorium, were the card waving public school parents.  Competing signs read "Stop Privatization" or "My Child has Rights Too".  In the front, seated on the aisle was Hazel Dukes of the NAACP, ready for all comers, amid others wearing yellow coats and hats emblazoned with NAACP.  

In the back, pacing and seemingly alone was Eva Moskowitz.  Scattered throughout the  auditorium were various CEC members, camera men and reporters, interested observers from the Comptroller's office, City Council and Borough Presidents offices and others, returning for the expected debacle.  On the side, in the back, under an overhead light was the new guy from Gotham Schools.  Lindsey Christ from NY 1, ran up and down the aisles in a bright yellow dress.  Another night in NYC at yet another PEP meeting.

From my point of view, the PEP members weren't in any rush to get on the stage.  In fact the meeting started late.  It was closer to 6:20 when the panel began to sit.  Hours later, I would understand their reluctance to begin the long night.  No matter how well padded  you are, and I am, it hurts to sit for that long.  As the role call began, various members of the DOE staff took their seats and then the Chancellor descended from the stage to talk in the well of the auditorium. He had a little mike trouble but overcame that quickly.  He gave his report with high lights about the new date for the start of the school year in September and a few remarks about the positive affects of seeing so many graduations and being so proud of the schools he is working for every day in this great honor of the Chancellor-ship.

A questioner on the PEP [Patrick Sullivan] asked about the recent CEC elections and inquired about new run offs.  The Chancellor deferred to Ms Hall, who gave an answer..I think.  It was hard to hear her over the snickers and snorts of audience and it had been announced that she did have laryngitis.  But, it is my understanding that there will be run offs on Tuesday and Wednesday June 28 and 29 and results will be announced on or before Friday, July 1, the date the CECs officially take office.  

On we went to the reading of the proposed co-locations.  It seemed to be a chore for Best; he seemed bored and exasperated by the long and detailed list of schools.  Then the floor was opened up to comments.  Speakers were directed to one of two mikes on the floor, one with green tape and one with yellow tape around the stem, and called up by number.  The first speaker began the evening by asking why these co-locations were being re-introduced when there had already been votes.  Didn't that violate the law?  Others got up and protested the co-locations, decrying the squeeze on the public schools.  Parents and teachers and CEC members  were passionate in their dismay at the number and type of co-locations.  Schools were loosing libraries and play-yards.  A few, such as the co-location of P 188 m and Girls Prep, were praised for the work put in by the entire community surrounding the school.  It was, for a while, a crowd without controversy.  
Then came  Hurricane Hazel.  As the honored representative of the NAACP and a member of the law suit opposing the co-locations proposed, she was adamant that the issue was equality in education for all students, not some, not the 4% of students who attend charter schools but the 96% of students who attend the other, forgotten, public schools.  We were to educate all children, not some of the children.  The place erupted. ...with applause and with cat calls.  In the back of the auditorium, someone started  yelling at Hazel and there was a brief moment of hustle, bustle and confusion.

As the evening wore on, more and more people were asking the PEP to vote NO on these proposals.  Students from one alternative school were eloquent in their requests to keep the school untouched by charter school controversy.  A principal of another school asked why her school had been chosen when a year ago they were denied the right to expand because there was no room....and by the very same Office of Portfolio Development
A few folks from charters got up and talked about the NAACP again.  Hazel tracked them down to the back of the auditorium.  Eva, in the meantime, had disappeared from sight.  Police came into the audience and threatened to remove one young man who had called out.  All of sudden, the Chancellor called for a 5 minute break.  Folks drifted around the auditorium and eventually out the doors.  Many never came back and the crowd was noticeably thinner. 

Having been at other co-location hearings, the night was beginning to seem odd to me.  At 9:20 PM there were, as yet, no rush of pro-charter school parents or staff at the mikes.  One CEC member had accused the UFT of manipulation in the lawsuit against charters.  Another person had supported the proposals, but this was totally unlike any other charter/public school location hearing I had ever been to before.  Then, at close to 9:30, three hours into the meeting, I realized what was happening.   All of a sudden parents from the charter schools began to appear at the mikes.  The strategy became oh so clear:  talk last and leave the PEP with the sounds of  support for co-locations ringing in their ears.  But a few of the more resilient public school supporters also realized the strategy and began to speak out at the mikes.  

Once the PEP members reappeared on the stage, more speakers were called to the mikes.  Some speakers had their mikes cut off at two minutes, no matter where they were in their comments.  There were a few tense moments when a parent from one of the charters starting yelling..."How dare you? How dare you?"  She called out a few times but her objections were drowned in cat calls.  Finally, after six hours the vote was called.  But, wait, there were questions from the panel members.  An exasperated sigh from  the Chair of the meeting was heard by all.    
He grumpily permitted questions: why are you crowding out the library in one school?  why can't another expand to 8th grade if there is room for a charter school?  why are we voting on amended proposals when they were in violation of the time lines set by law?  Mark Sternberg, Deputy Chancellor for Portfolio Planning , 6th grade teacher for three years and principal of a high school for one year, thought every question was a good question, but never  gave a good answer.  He rambled, he quoted regs, he obfuscated and then he wanted to talk off line (what is it with these catch phrases:  let's talk off line, what's the ask? beginning any answer with So...)  

The vote proceeded: 8 for, 4 against; 8 for, 2 against, 2 abstentions; 8 for, 4 against; 8 for, 2 against, 2 abstentions....monotony began to set in, some folks began to yell Puppet!  Puppet!....and then Michael Best announced, in a tired but triumphant voice, the resolutions pass.  It was anticlimactic.It was also late, my backside was sore, my legs were trembly, my head hurt.  Had I developed diabetes while I was there?  
Then I realized that they were about to discuss the budget and play the power point.  I never left any place so fast!

Good night Prospect Heights.  Good night police men.  Good night PEP.  Good night reporters.  Good night Hazel.  Good night guys and gals.  I'm outta here. ---
Ellen Mc Hugh, Citywide Council on Special Education

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A sample of 311 acknowledgements of parents' calls on the budget cuts

Before the city budget cut deal was announced yesterday, I asked parents to call 311 to oppose the Mayor's proposed cuts that would eliminate 6100 teaching positions, and to send me the record of the comments that 311 operators email them. (In the end, the deal announced last night means we will have no layoffs but probably lose about 2600 teachers through attrition.)  Here are a sample:

What the city budget deal means for our kids

Though the worst was averted, the city budget deal as announced last night is still only a very partial victory for our kids.

In essence, the deal came about because the city finally acknowledged what the many have long warned:  Bloomberg's failed policies and the worsening conditions in our schools have persuaded even more teachers to leave voluntarily than usual, which mitigated the need for layoffs.

Nearly half of the 6,100 teaching positions that the budget cuts would eliminate will still be lost -- an estimated 2,600 -- through attrition, and these teachers will not be replaced, despite rising enrollment.  This will certainly lead to the fourth year in a row of increased class sizes in our schools and probably even sharper increases than have occurred in more than a decade.

Children in the early grades will experience the worst of it, as Kindergarten enrollment is rising especially fast.  Grades K-3 will suffer the largest class sizes in twelve years--with an even larger class size equity gap between NYC children and those in the rest of the state.

All this, despite Bloomberg’s original campaign promise to reduce class sizes in grades K-3, a court decision in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case and state law passed in 2007 requiring that the city lower class size in all grades, several audits showing DOE misusing millions of dollars of state class size funds,  and a growing body of research indicating that smaller classes lead to more learning, narrow the achievement gap, and are a significant determinant of success later in life.

Another problem with this deal is it sets the stage for yet another budget battle next year; in which the interests of children will again be pitted against those of powerful millionaires as well as Tweed bureaucrats with flawed priorities.

As parents, we need to redouble our efforts to pressure our political leaders, including the Governor, the Mayor and the Speaker of the City Council, to adequately fund our schools and provide NYC children with their right to smaller classes and an equitable chance to learn.

More on the budget deal at NYT, NY1, Daily News, GothamSchools and DNA info.  The last includes a quote from me.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ivan Smalley, third grader, and his letter to Mayor Bloomberg

Jaye Bea Smalley, public school parent, is a member of the Citywide Council on Special Education and a great parent advocate.  Here is a letter her third-grade son wrote to Bloomberg.  Sad but true when a third-grader understands the impacts of these proposed budget cuts better than Bloomberg seems to.

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

I don't think firing all the teachers will help save money.  When you fire teachers it disapproves education and learning. 

My mom told me that you are firing 5 teachers in my school and I hope that one of the teachers that is getting fired is not my next year teacher. What happened?  I didn't get my neo 2 [classroom laptop] until the end of the school year.  I hope you change your mind about firing the teachers.       

Sincerely, Ivan Smalley

The last act of a potentially tragic drama: for your kids, make three calls today!

So far there is no budget deal apparent; the  Mayor’s office reportedly rejected an offer by union leaders to provide funds from their reserve fund to prevent layoffs because he thought the conditions were too onerous, including limiting the expansion of consultants:
At issue is preventing the reduction of the municipal work force; they said the Bloomberg administration was using consultants to replace city workers who left or retired as a way to gradually eliminate positions from its payroll. “ (Times
Bloomberg news cites the last time in 1988 when the Council voted their own budget over the mayor’s veto, and  Giuliani impounded the funds for almost six months.   
Daily News  says that “Council members say they need a budget deal by Monday – Tuesday at the latest – in order to have time to print bills and take care of procedural matters ahead of the June 30th budget deadline.”
This now looks really bad.  If teachers are laid off this will be the first time in the city’s history at a time of rising city revenues.  Council insiders say that phone calls from parents could really make the difference between massive layoffs and none at all.
So this is the time to make your voice heard, before its too late:
1 – Call 311: tell them you will never forgive Bloomberg if he eliminates 6,000 teaching positions, and you will hold him personally responsible for hurting NYC kids.
2-call your Council member; number by clicking here: The message is the same same, or tailor it, but make it clear that s/he must be sure to restore these positions, for the sake of our kids.
3-call Speaker Quinn’s office: ditto.  Her phone numbers are here:
(212) 564-7757 (if you are her constituent) or (212) 788-7210 (if you are not.)
We have now  reached the last scene of the last act of a potentially tragic drama that will determine the future of our schools and our children for years to come.  Class sizes, especially in the early grades, have been shown to have a significant effect on their likely success later in life.  See this and this study.
See also this report from the Public Advocate’s office, which shows that in the 1970’s, the last time teachers were laid off, it took a decade or more for schools to recover in terms of their teacher/student ratio.
Even if you have called before, do it again.  Do it for your kids and do it now!
And please forward this message to others who care.
Here is the email I got after I called 311, acknowledging my complaint; feel free to post yours in the comments section, but make the call now!

From: []
Sent: Friday, June 24, 2011 12:41 PM
Subject: City of New York Auto Acknowledgment Correspondence # 1-1-662625007

Thank you for contacting the City of New York. Your message has been forwarded to the appropriate agency for review and handling.

For future reference, your service request number is 1-1-662625007.


The City of New York

This is an auto-generated system message. Please do not reply to this message. Messages received through this address are not processed. Thank you.

The information you have provided is as follows:
Form: Customer Comment
Topic: ED
Street Address: 124 WAVERLY PLACE
City, State Zip: NEW YORK, NY 10011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yesterday's court hearings in the school closure/co-location lawsuit

Yesterday afternoon, oral arguments were heard in the UFT/NAACP school closing/co-location lawsuit. State Supreme Court Judge Paul Feinman’s courtroom was packed, mostly with attorneys and reporters, so crowded that initially the guards let in only about five unaffiliated observers (including me.) The cadre of charter school lawyers was especially immense; about 25 of them, all apparently pro-bono. The city sent a handful of lawyers, including Michael Best, and the UFT/NAACP had a small contingent from Stroock, Stroock and Lavan.

Chuck Moerdler, Stroock’s senior litigator, started by saying he had only three main points: One, that the case could be streamlined, because DOE agrees that they need approval from the State Education Department before they can close 12 out of the 19 schools; and yet they have not even filed any applications to do so, as the State Education Commissioner confirmed just that morning.

Second, last year, there was an signed agreement between the UFT and DOE to provide extra help to these schools, as part of settling the previous lawsuit, including an “education plan” that would provide them with more teachers in the ATR pool (absent teacher reserve) and support in myriad ways.

Whether or not that agreement was a binding contract, there was an “obligation of good faith” that DOE had utterly failed to live up to. At Beach Channel HS, for example, the DOE agreed to send 11 ATR teachers , but two never showed up, and another was “illegally” asked to teach special needs students. At Columbus HS, twenty five classes in the fall did not have a single teacher, and the single ATR teacher they sent was only qualified to teach typing and stenography (!) which the school does not offer. At Jamaica HS, where they were supposed to provide a Teacher Center,  the principal received an email about this on June 10, only a few weeks ago, following nearly a full school year of non-action.

Third, as to the charter co-locations: DOE put boilerplate language into the Building Utilizations Plans, they were empty of content until the UFT/NAACP lawsuit was filed; they are still rewriting the BUPS and redoing all the hearings to try to repair the deficiencies, but they are still not adequate.

In any case, these BUPs are “ wholesale revisions,” and according to state law, any “significant” revision of a building plan requires a new six-month waiting period before the start of the next school year when the co-location can occur. It is now far too late in the year. Moerdler went through a litany of some of the unfair and inequitable co-locations that are still being contemplated, with children at the district schools losing equitable access to  bathrooms, libraries, gyms, etc. He argued that the “city of NY which has betrayed” these schools by their failed promises, and that the NYC DOE has one goal only: “the destruction of free public education in New York City.”

The city’s attorney, Chlarens Orsland, was up next. He said that the DOE was “working with State Education Department” to ensure they would get approval to close these 12 schools and that they expected a decision by July 31. The other seven schools (ironically those not on the state’s failing list) can be closed without the state’s approval. He denied that there was any agreement with set timelines to provide extra support to these schools; and cited an affidavit from former Chancellor Joel Klein, who disputed the UFT’s interpretation of this agreement.

( Klein’s affidavit says that the “agreement was never intended to be a mechanism to limit or forestall any of the DOE’s determinations as to the necessity of closing or co-locating schools. Rather, the portion of the letter agreement providing for the Education Plan was a mechanism to ensure that the 19 schools, which had a history of poor performance and student outcomes, received additional resources to enrich the students’ educational experience.”)

As Orsland put it, the Chancellor wanted to make the educational plans for these schools as “robust as possible,” but there were no start dates or milestones attached, and thus the DOE is in “compliance.” Could the DOE have gone quicker? Perhaps; but their failure to do so should not stop them from closing these schools anyway. (Subsequently, Moerdler contradicted the attorney’s claim that there was no timetable, by reading aloud from the document, which said these steps would occur during the 2010-2011 school year.)

As to the co-location issue, the UFT is “misreading” the education law; the state legislature clearly wanted the DOE to be able to revise BUP’s and EIS’s in response to public input; and not to delay these co-locations from taking place.It simply “doesn’t make sense” to expect them to “wait another six months” if they rewrote the plans according to the comments they received at hearings. The Chancellor believes that charter school should be encouraged in any building that there is available space, and they have found appropriate buildings where they can be “accommodated.”

Last, Andrew Dunlap, from Kirkland & Ellis argued on behalf of the charter schools. Dunlap said that the new BUPs addressed the concerns cited in the original UFT complaint, but they had just received new affidavits citing problems with the new BUPs, and hadn’t had time to rebut them. The Judge gently rebuked him, pointing out that by continually revising these plans, it was the DOE’s fault for creating a “moving target,” and when do you stop the clock?

Dunlap soldiered on, saying that many of the allegations in the new affidavits were incorrect, and the fact that the DOE had dropped three charters from the lawsuit (the two Promise Academies and Girls Prep) showed that they had no case in these other instances as well. In any case, the lawsuit should have been filed earlier in February, which would have given them more time to revise the BUPs; now if the plaintiffs win their case, these charter schools won’t be able to open their doors in the fall, and this would risk their “survival.”

He complained that some of the schools had offered employment to teachers who are moving across the country to take these jobs. (What about our 4100 NYC teachers, who are threatened with losing their jobs?) Dunlap then went on about the unfortunate fate of the Kindergarten and 1st graders who have applied to attend the “Teaching Firms of America” charter in Bed Stuy, at PS/IS 308 where there is lots of room to accommodate them. (Apparently the parents at that school do not agree.)

Judge Feinman responded sternly that if these charter schools do not open, “the fault lies with the DOE or the city,” and it is not his job "to say that charters are good or bad, if co-locations are good or bad” but to make sure that the law is followed.

There was a short round of rebuttal from both sides, but that was basically it. Then a different attorney got up to argue against the Brandeis HS co-location; he seemed to want the judge to stop last night's Brandeis co-location hearings  from occurring, and/or the PEP vote next week, which the judge refused to do.   Feinman did order that any construction to accommodate the charter, Upper West Success, should not occur  until July 1, by which time presumably the judge will decide the outcome of these cases.

For more newsclips on the hearings, see GothamSchools, Post, Times, NY1, WNYC.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Julie Cavanagh and Khem Irby on the new film, An Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman

Speaking out about the myths behind charter schools, unions, and the importance of parent rights.

Fact-checking Beth Fertig on the charter co-location issue

See Beth Fertig’s story today on WNYC about the UFT/NAACP co-location lawsuit.  Here are some problematic assertions in her piece:
Success Academy is a chain of charters run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. Recently, her organization used city data to conduct its own study of 81 charters that share space with regular schools. It found average class sizes in the district schools only went up by about one student over four years, which was no more than the citywide average.
This is the wrong comparison to use; charter co-locations tend to occur in the least crowded schools and neighborhoods.  For example,  in Queens, where the overcrowding is intense, and class sizes are increasing fast, there are very few co-locations.  The comparison in class size should NOT be to schools citywide, but with a similar set of schools nearby.   Class sizes should not be increasing in any school, but particularly not in struggling schools in  communities like Harlem which otherwise would have the space to keep class sizes small.
Genevieve Foster, who has a daughter attending Harlem Success Academy 1 in the same building as PS 149... " If you look at our classrooms we have more children," she said. We have less space, and we're also receiving less money to really provide the resources necessary for our children. ... We can also say we have issues with space.  "

First of all, co-located charters like Harlem Success are getting more public funding per student than regular public schools; see the recent IBO study on this.  This doesn’t even count the millions of dollars that they privately raise.  It’s astonishing to me that charter advocates are still proclaiming this myth, no less reporters letting them repeat it without any rebuttal.

If you count the lower need level of the students enrolled in charters, as this report did, the disproportion in public funding is even greater, since charter schools have smaller proportions of ELL and poor students.
Secondly, if HSA charters feel squeezed, why not get their own space?  With the millions Eva has raised, she could afford it.  Finally, there are many claims about the larger class sizes at HSA charters.  What’s rarely mentioned is  that Eva ensures that there are at least two teachers in every classroom.

There's no doubt sharing isn't always easy, but charter parents accuse the teachers union and the NAACP of inflaming the situation. They note that the Success Academy renovated the playground for everyone at PS 149.

No one who has been paying attention to the fierce battles over co-locations in recent years would believe that the UFT or the NAACP could possible “inflame” the situation.  All the lawsuit has done is to provide parents in the co-located schools a weapon to fight for the rights of their children not to be unfairly deprived of adequate space to learn.  And the playground is a huge issue for the parents and kids at PS 149 – HSA came in, and without their consent, tore up the playground and installed an Astroturf soccer field which deprived the 149 kids of their baseball playing area.  See Juan Gonzalez on this.

More broadly, why is it that this article and others like it do not mention the prospective loss of the PS 149 art room, the fact that there is no space for special needs students to get their services, that their counseling room has to share space with the PTA room separated only by a curtain, or that the D75 school is now forced to have gym on the auditorium stage?

If you have other observations about the effects of this or other co-locations, you can email Fertig at

Monday, June 20, 2011

CityTime, heckuva job, Bloomie! Some quotes from Mayor Mike

Today, federal prosecutors said that  nearly all the $600 million taxpayers shelled out for the disastrous CityTime project was stolen; and that the fraud goes back to 2003, shortly after Bloomberg's election. (See NYT story
They concluded that the "corruption on the CityTime project was epic in duration, magnitude and scope," (NBC New York) and that the scandal represents "one of largest frauds ever committed against NYC." (NY1).
Yet here are some quotes from our mayor, even after the scandal started to break:

For all the problems with Citytime, “ it will save us money once it gets going." (Dec 2010).
"We actually dida pretty good job here, in retrospect," the mayor said on his weekly WOR radio show.  (May 27, 2011) 
The scandal-plagued CityTime payroll project is now "way ahead of schedule," Mayor Bloomberg boasted Monday. (March 1, 2011)
The story of Bloomberg reign: consultants win big & kids lose.  The $600 million stolen in taxpayer funds would pay for the threatened loss of the six thousand teaching positions, nearly twice over.
Shouldn't he have to pay us back?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Twenty thousand parents beg Bloomberg: restore the cuts!

Yesterday was a great event,  organized by AQE and CEJ, with over 20,000 signatures from parents, scrolling down the steps of City Hall, 5,000 feet long. 

How can Bloomberg ignore our pleas to restore these devastating cuts to our schools? Does he really want to go down in history as the mayor who put kids last? He claims to care about parent choice when it comes to charters,  but then ignores the DOE's own surveys that show that the top priority of parents is for smaller classes, and instead threatens to impose the largest increases in class size in over thirty years.

 Is he acting in the interest of 1.1 million school children; or does he care more about protecting the wallets of NYC's estimated 700,000 millionaires? Watch the NY1 report!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Yelena Siwinski confronts Walcott on class size

Yelena Siwinski, teacher at PS 193 in Brooklyn showed up for a meeting in District 22.  Here is her account, which shows that still, even after being asked at two different consecutive City Council hearings what the class size limits are, Chancellor Walcott still has no idea.  

What a travesty!  I include the real caps below, contrasted with the CFE goals in the city's class size reduction plan.
I walked into a moderately attended CEC 22 meeting where Walcott spoke for a few minutes with the usual rhetoric which I couldn't even write down because it was so meaningless.  Then came time for questions and answers.  The first woman asked about charter schools and how could we give public schools equal money.  Walcott said that he was trying to calm down the divisiveness between charter schools and public schools and that he believed parents should have a choice and charter could be  more flexible since many of them weren't unionized, etc. etc.  He said that the UFT law suit just brought all that up again. 
Walcott talks bupkis
He also mentioned that charters shared the building equitably and that they used the BUP (Building Utilization Plan) to decide where the charters could go. There was another person before me and then it was my turn.  First I mentioned that I had been to the CDEC meeting last week and had shown a portion of the film "The Inconvenient..." and that I would be back in September to show the film in its entirety. 

I said that it was produced by the Grassroots Education Movement and that it would be good for the chancellor to view it because he wasn't telling all the facts such as the BUP doesn't take into account all the services the children are mandated and that kids were receiving them in hallways, closets, and stairwells.  Also equity might seem like 50-50 between the charter and the public school but there might be 300 kids in the charter and 600 kids in the public school.  I told the audience to find out the facts that went beyond the smooth rhetoric they were being told.
Then I mentioned that I had 2 college educated daughters and that the chancellor had mentioned that we need to get our kids "college ready".  I said that one of the main questions that are asked when looking at college was how big the class sizes were.  At a good college it is usually 1:16 or 1:18 but definitely less than 1:20.  By now I was really addressing the audience.  Then I stressed that this was for an 18, 19 20 year old and that we have 5 year olds with bigger class sizes!  Then I mentioned that Walcott was recently asked the class size limits and that he didn't know them.  I asked if he could tell them to us now.  He proceeded to harp on when he had been asked the question. I actually forgot but knew that I had read it recently and that the point was what was his answer today. He then struggled and said that the class size limit for kindergarten was 23.  I told him he was wrong and sat down.

Another super-mugging? NY State Education Department to award $27 no-bid contract to Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch

From Rachel Monahan of the Daily News comes the startling announcement that the NY State Education Department is about to award a $27 million no-bid contract to Wireless Generation to develop a statewide student data system, and has apparently been granted a waiver by the NY state Comptroller to do so.  

Wireless, which received several no-bid contracts from DOE, is now run by ex-Chancellor Joel Klein and owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. 
Why did the state argue for this contract?  On the basis of Wireless’ record in developing ARIS, NYC’s much criticized $80 million data system.
Recently, Lindsey Christ of NY1 in an award-winning three-part series pointed out the glaring deficiencies of ARIS and the far superior data system developed by NYC teachers for relative pennies.  
Last  fall, Gotham Schools did a similar expose;  we featured critical observations from a teacher about the inadequacies of the system back in 2008.
The hi-tech community recognized  it a huge boondoggle and a “super mugging” when the no-bid contract was first announced in 2007.
Already, the state’s intention to grant this contract to Klein et. al. has been criticized by Susan Lerner of Common Cause: "It just smacks of an old-boys club, where large amounts of public money are spent based not on 'is this the best product?'  E.D. Kain  of Forbes writes that the decisionreeks of cronyism.”
In support of their request, SED claims that Wireless has received “national recognition from Arne Duncan.”  Of course, Duncan has also called Joel Klein, who stands to benefit financially from the deal, “a good, good friend of mine.”
The letter also reveals that the Gates Foundation, which pushed data systems and testing as part of "Race to the Top", has also selected Wireless to “build its national Shared Learning Infrastructure,”  in what is likely to prove a generous windfall for Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch.
The SED letter requesting the waiver claims that Wireless has invested “significant time and resources in end-user research with NYC DOE educators to determine the ideal ways to display information for educators to engage in data-driven instruction…[including] focus groups of educators and administrators.” 
If so, they obviously learned nothing from any of these focus groups, as most teachers report the system is nearly worthless.  The SED letter also claims that parent find ARIS useful, while  I’ve heard mostly complaints that the system contains little more than their children’s test scores and attendance.
SED adds: “Wireless has “developed the vocabulary used throughout NY for student classification and demographic information” and, for example, understands what ‘ELL’ (English Language Learner) means.. Wow! That should be worth a cool million there.
Finally, “New York is well aware of the risks of large-scale technology projects that to [sic] tend to run over budget, behind schedule and be under-whelming when delivered.”  Which is a perfect description of ARIS.
It is surprising that NY State Comptroller Di Napoli would provide this waiver after his 2009 audit, exposing DOE’s abuse of the no-bid contract process.  These are precious funds that should be used to benefit children, rather than line the pockets of Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch.

Sign the petition in support of the NAACP, and MSBNC video

Check out the General Counsel of the NAACP Kim Keenan  on MSNBC on June 6th, explaining the inequities in NYC public schools and why the NAACP has filed a lawsuit against the unfair charter school co-locations. 

Then sign the petition supporting the NAACP and their insistence that all children be provided with an equitable chance to learn.  The way the co-locations have been handled in NYC is shocking; with charter kids receiving preferential treatment at every turn. 

In general, the co-locations have been a disaster, given our chronic overcrowding, with class sizes rising and children losing access to art rooms, libraries and gyms.  Our special needs students have been treated the worst, often pushed into hallways and closets.  Go sign the petition now!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

We're not giving up on our kids' future!

1.    Many important rallies and protests are happening starting tomorrow afternoon; please come and make your voice heard:
·         Thursday, June 9, at 12:00 noon at City Hall: an emergency rally with advocates and parents to demand that arts education be properly funded. For more information email 
·         Thursday, June 9, 6-9 pm, in Lower Manhattan: emergency meeting re the budget cuts: YMCA/University Settlement, 273 Bowery (@ SE Corner of Houston St.) Contact:
·         Friday, June 10 at 4 pm at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn: Rally featuring CMs Lander, Levin, James, parents and kids, followed by march up Prospect Park West to the bandshell entrance. Contact or for more information. 
·         Saturday, June 11, 2-4 pm, Brooklyn: emergency meeting re the budget cuts at Bedford Library, 496 Franklin Avenue.  Contact: 
·         Tuesday, June 14 at 4:30 at City Hall: Rally against budget cuts a endorsed by DC 37, UFT, TWU 100 and more; followed by Bloombergville: Sleep Out, Speak Up and Fight Back against Budget Cuts at Centre Street between Chambers St. and Spruce St. (east side of City Hall) after rally. For more information, email or check out and 
·         Tuesday, June 14, 7-9 pm on Staten Island: Bernikow/Mid-Island JCC, 1466 Manor Road
Sponsored by Staten Islanders for Real Budget Solutions & Against Budget Cuts, contact:

The mayor's unconscionable cuts and where more than $1 billion could be found

Check our NYC Council testimony about the unconscionable budget cuts that the mayor has proposed that would led to the elimination of 6,000 teaching positions and the sharpest increases in class size in over thirty years.

Also see our proposals below where more than $1 billion in funds could be found to prevent these devastating cuts, assembled from suggestions from the Independent Budget Office, the City Council, parents and other advocacy groups, as well as my own.  Here they are as a handy pdf.


Options for reducing DoE’s budget without touching the classroom

·         $23 million: cancel (or do not renew) contracts w/ McGraw Hill and Scantron for Acuity, or interim assessments.  These contracts end in Aug. 2011 and most parents, teachers and even principals think they are worthless. 
·         $4 million: cut contracts with TFA and New Teacher Project and instead retrain current teachers for licenses in shortage areas.
·         $400 million: cut the projected increase in spending on private contracts and consultants by two thirds
·         $2 million: cut back on the growth in Children First Network and cluster staff
·         $15 million: moratorium on opening new schools.
·         $15 million: freeze spending for central administration
·         $21 million: freeze spending on technology
·         $9 million:  reduce contract spending on professional development by using in house staff
·         $100 million: Charge co-located charter schools for the space and services that the city now provides in DOE buildings for free.  (note: some of these are overlapping)

Total: up to $600 M dollars in savings.

Tap into City Reserve Funds
·         $200 million:  The proposed 2012 budget has a general reserve fund of $300 million ($200 million more than the legal minimum.).
·         $200 million:  $2 billion is currently in the health care reserve fund; $200 to $300 million more could be withdrawn from this optional fund.

Total: At least $400 million.

Revenue increases
·         $450 million: Do not let state’s millionaire tax lapse, and/or impose one in NYC (needs state approval)
·         $65 million: Extend the Mortgage Recording Tax to coop apartments (needs state approval but even the Mayor supports this one)
·         $100 million in FY 12; $275 million to $400 million in subsequent years: Gradually raise Cap on Property Tax Assessment Increases (requires state approval)
·         $300 million: Extend the General Corporation Tax to Insurance Company Business Income (requires state approval)
·         $200 million:  End the Unincorporated Business Tax exemption for hedge fund profit (requires state approval)
·         $120 million: Big Six banks have over $600 million in current contracts with NYC for services – these could be cut back by 20% when students are facing the loss of so many teachers and programs.

Total: At least $1.2 billion, but most would need state approval; more realistic options for next year.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Comments urging the state to reject the application of Flex charter school

For an article from last fall pointing out other conflict of interest issues with this charter school proposal, check out Helen Zelon's piece for City Limits, Pedagogy and Profits.  You can also check out my longer comments, complete with links and citations here.  

UPDATE: See this article at DNA info about growing opposition from parents and elected officials to Flex charter school, and how the NY State Education Dept,. responsible for deciding whether to approve it, did not even show up at the mandated hearings.

Cliff Chuang, Director,Charter School Office, NYS Education Department
by email at
Dear Mr. Chuang:  I was unable to attend the “Flex” charter authorization hearings yesterday as there were important budget hearings at the City Council that lasted well into the evening.  My comments on the application are below and attached.
As you can see, I strongly urge the NYS Education Department and the Regents not to authorize this charter school, based upon the following five points:
  • Flex intends to contract with K12 Inc. for curriculum, instruction, assessments and other services.  K12 Inc. is the largest for-profit online charter chain in the nation, and has a poor record of results, as evidenced in a national study from respected researchers, and also in a major expose published in Business Week last week.  In general, online learning for grades K-12 has little or no backing in the research.
  • It is clear from their disclosure forms that prospective Flex board members were handpicked by K12 Inc. executives, a practice frowned upon by experts who promote greater charter accountability, including Greg Richmond, head of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
  •  There are additional potential conflicts of interest in this application that cannot be ignored.  The prospective board members claim that the school will have no contractual relationship with K12 Inc., apparently to evade the new state law that bans new charters managed by for-profit operations.  At the same time, they write in their disclosure forms that for this reason, they do not have to reveal any financial interest in K12 Inc. or personal or financial relationship with the company and its employees. 
This claim is hard to justify, since at the same time, they admit that the school will pay K12 Inc. an annual per student fee of more than $1000 per year.  If this application was approved, it could open the door to any for-profit operation opening a charter in NY State, with a hand-picked board whose members could receive substantial funds in return for funneling public funds to the for-profit operation, while disclaiming any responsibility to disclose their financial relationships.
  •   Unresolved problems related to the digital divide are also evident in the charter school’s application, and students who attend Flex will be severely disadvantaged if they have no access to the internet or computers to access their homework or lessons from home.
  •  The Flex application shows little or no outreach to the community and no evidence of community support, which is required by the new state law.
Finally, please let me know what the timeline is for public comment and for the authorization process.  There is no information on the NYSED website that I can find about the timeline and no explicit outreach to parents and other community members soliciting their views on this or any other particular charter school application.
I urge you to post such information on your website as soon as possible.
Thanks for your consideration,
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters

Sunday, June 5, 2011

NAACP and their supporters fight back for all our kids!

See video below of Hazel Dukes of the NAACP  and their supporters, parents, elected officials, and union leaders, fighting back against the vicious attack against them by the charter school industry , because they dared to sue the city against abusive school closings and charter school co-locations.  In these co-locations, children were being driven out of their classrooms, their art, intervention, and science rooms, their lunch rooms and their gyms, for the benefit of charter school children who are given preferential treatment by DOE.

Shame on Eva Moskowitz, who closed her charter chain of Success Academy charters for the morning, forcing parents to attend the anti-NAACP rally along with their children.  This fact was never mentioned in the mainstream media, including in the NY Times .  Meanwhile, privately-run charter schools also get more public funding from the city, including free space and services, from the city than our public schools.

The NAACP Strikes Back from Grassroots Education Movement on Vimeo.

Obama Reelection Effort & Duncan Education Agenda Will Clash in Charlotte

Today's NY Times covers the rebuilding of Obama's election campaign machine. The campaign has its sights set on important swing states like North Carolina:
The campaign sees possibilities for gains, for example, around Charlotte, N.C., which is where Mr. Obama chose to hold his party’s nominating convention next year, a decision that aides said signaled how serious they are about competing in North Carolina.
The problem Obama faces is that Charlotte is already a battleground for education policy, with local grassroots group, and Parents Across America affiliate, Mecklenburg ACTS (Area Coming Together for Schools) fighting Arne Duncan-style "reforms" including increased high stakes testing and pay for performance.

In the Charlotte Observer, public school parents Pamela Grundy and Carol Sawyer blast wasteful and destructive high stakes tests:

The corporate and government leaders who are driving the national movement to transform American education have decided - despite a lack of supporting evidence - that one way to "fix" our education system is to upend the way that teachers are promoted and paid, with a heavy emphasis on how students perform on standardized tests.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools is at the forefront of this effort, working in conjunction with the Gates Foundation and the federal government to develop a systemwide pay-for-performance plan. CMS has already spent millions on this system, including almost $2 million to design more than 50 new standardized tests. In next year's budget, which calls for laying off almost 600 teachers, CMS has set aside $2.9 million for pay for performance - money that would save 50 of those jobs.

Duncan drew new criticism this week when he lashed out at Diane Ravitch in a shameless attack piece from Mike Bloomberg's new media operation. The nomination convention should prove only to highlight how the policies of the education secretary, and the man himself, have become anathema to public school parents and teachers.

K. Webster on the undue influence of businessmen on our public schools

Kathleen Webster engages with Jonathan Alter on his attack on Diane Ravitch and his praise of Bill Gates and the other Billionaire Boys Club for their involvement in  public education. For earlier critiques of Alter's attack , see here and here.  Kathleen points out that at the same time Gates and other corporate mavens are seeking to impose their favorite policies on our schools, they are contributing to hugebudget cuts here in NYC and throughout the country, by not paying their fair share of taxes. Thus their irresponsible behavior is causing a double whammy to our public schools. Microsoft, Gates' company, is one of the nation's prime experts in tax evasion; for more on this, see here and here.

To Mr. Alter: I leave it to others to debunk the absurdities of the rest of this article. But, Re: "what’s wrong with business executives ... devoting time and money to public schools? " If businesses executives would shoulder their share of the tax burden instead of milking this country for all its worth we would not need their "largesse" to fund our schools. And public schools could get back to the business of supporting the minds of our children to handle the complexities of this world.

So, "what's wrong with it"?  We don't want business executives in charge of the ethos of our education system by buying their way into positions of influence.  Because, speaking of your ironic comment, "That went well for this country...," I think we all know how that ethos has played out for everyone else.  K Webster
On Jun 5, 2011, at 11:23 AM, wrote: In your view, What's the motive of business in this context?

K's response: Thanks. Fair question.  But whether the motives are sinister or utterly based on good intentions, has no bearing on the prospect of undue influence of an outside interest in a public school. Everyone comes to this issue with a perspective honed by their life and outlook. I do too.

For example, those of us who are white and/or those of you who come from moneyed backgrounds will have an ethos (spoken, acknowledged, known, aware - or not) out of which decisions get made that  impact those who are, for example: not white, not moneyed. And frankly, we are not smart enough to be making those decisions. Business has a vested interest and a belief that their method, their ethos is the way forward. I understand that - of course they would! I fiercely disagree with that ethos for many reasons. 

The number one reason is that it doesn't work. It is not even working in the business world - except for the very very few. I think that no single influence should hold sway in schools, and certainly no influence without a thorough, ongoing and transparent vetting by the communities and teaching staff that a school intends to serve or employ. 

We've seen over and over again the presumption of "rightness" of a dominant and dominating culture/class/race/gender that gets proven so wrong in the light of progress.  But probably more insidious in all of this, is the gutting of public funding for education, which leaves parents and those who would fight for children (especially children who have been targeted by racism or economic depravation) hunting for the "goodies" that corporate sponsorship has in abundance. How do you turn down that offer? Even if you don't understand it or have time to investigate the long-range consequences of it?

Many small businesses in my community have stepped up and do step up to share their wealth because they believe in the principals who work hard to make the local schools excellent. They give her the money and assume she will know how to spend it. Of course businesses large and small should donate funds to schools!  
But not as a substitute for the paying of a fair share of their taxes so that WE the public and those who run our schools get to determine what gets spent where and for what.  The destruction of the infrastructure needed to create schools that are truly open and public is in no one's best interests. Everyone's ethos ends up being too narrow to be allowed to determine a school in any way. That takes a collaborative effort with all minds engaged, but particularly those who are most impacted by the end results.

Thanks for asking. Yours, K Webster