Sunday, July 31, 2011

Maggie Moroff on how parents need a voice in teacher evaluation

Several months ago, Class Size Matters sponsored an online petition to the Governor and the Regents, asking that public school parents be appointed to their 57-member taskforce on teacher evaluation, which had not a single parent on it.  They ignored us, and instead came up with a new unfair and unreliable system, based 40% on standardized test scores, and that will lead to even more high-stakes testing.  Check out the letter from Maggie Moroff of Advocates for Children below, and let's work together to make sure that parents are not let completely out in the cold when it comes to evaluating their children's teachers. 

New York State is changing the way teachers are evaluated. If things happen on schedule, teachers of grades 4 – 8 ELA and math will be evaluated under the new system beginning this fall, and it will be rolled out to all teachers by the 2012-2013 school year. Importantly, the state law requires the agreement of the teachers union before the new system takes effect.
Once in place, the new evaluation system will affect how teachers are trained, promoted, paid, given tenure, and fired.  It will affect who teaches our children, and it could impact how our children are taught.
Under the new system, 40% of teacher evaluations will be based on student outcomes, as measured by performance on statewide standardized tests and by other methods of assessing student progress chosen or developed by local school districts. The remaining 60% of teacher evaluations will be based on locally determined measurements of how teachers prepare, plan, and conduct lessons, develop their own skills, and create learning environments for their students. For more information about the new evaluation system, see Advocates for Children of New York’s (AFC) fact sheet.
This past spring, staff at AFC talked to fourteen focus groups – comprised of students with disabilities and English Language Learners, their parents, and teachers – about what makes a good teacher. We discussed a number of methods of teacher evaluation, including the use of standardized tests, classroom observation, review of portfolios of student work, and surveys of students, parents, and the teachers themselves.
We heard loud and clear that parents want a voice in evaluation – for themselves, and for their children as well. Parents are eager to complete surveys on their interactions with teachers and also to collaborate in the development of those surveys. Parents also want at least a part of the evaluations of teachers – and principals, too – to be based on their ability to work with parents and diverse communities. One parent told us, “If [the principal] doesn’t care what the parents say, it is as if they don’t exist. But they do exist; that is why our children are there.”
In addition, our focus group participants worried that standardized tests are not always the best measures of what students – particularly those with disabilities and English Language Learners – know and learn. The new evaluation system, so heavily reliant on standardized tests, may act as a disincentive for new teachers to work with these populations. One parent of a child on the autism spectrum asked, “When the principal asks the teachers who will take [my son] into their classroom, who will raise their hand?”
Do you share these parents’ concerns? AFC is now developing recommendations for the New York City Department of Education as it moves forward to change evaluation of our teachers and principals. We want to hear from more of you! If you’d like to add your voice, call (212) 822-9523 or email
It is not too late for parents and students to affect the development of the new evaluation system. Although its basic framework is set by State law, the details are a work in progress.
- Maggie Moroff, Special Education Policy Coordinator, Advocates for Children of New York

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Noah Gotbaum on the announcement of new head for OFIA

Today it was announced that Ojeda Hall was leaving as head of DOE's Office of Family Information and Action, to be replaced with Jesse Mojica, former education aide to the Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.  Jesse is a good guy and let's hope he was given real assurances that this is not a merely a PR move, but that Walcott really intends to start listening to parents when it comes to the DOE's wrongheaded priorities and policies.  As public school parent and District 3 CEC member Noah Gotbaum says below, we all wish Jesse good luck.  More on this appointment, and the DOE's dismal attitude and treatment of parents over the last eight years, see Gotham Gazette.
Well, after telling us in April and then again in June that he had “100% confidence in Ojeda” and that OFIA was “doing a great job” Walcott has woken up and smelled the coffee of a department in shambles.  Community Education Council elections were a complete disaster and being challenged, CEC members walking out of OFIA’s training in protest, the politicization of Parent Coordinators, and CPAC and dozens of CEC members across the City calling for an independent parent run organization to replace OFIA and the DOE in the oversight, administration, training and elections of CEC’s, Councils and other elected parent organizations.
Despite Walcott’s charm offensive, relations between the DOE and parents are at an all time low.  Surely OFIA has something to do with this, but it’s also because four out of five parents simply don’t support the Mayor’s policies of high stakes testing, class size increases, pushing charters while letting our district schools fight over scraps, accountability for everyone except the DOE, and balancing the budget on the back of our kids.
Good luck Jesse!
--Noah Gotbaum

Monday, July 25, 2011

Our new lawsuit on charter school co-locations filed today!

UPDATE: news of our lawsuit was covered in GothamSchoolsNY Times blog, Daily News,
NY Post,  and NY1.

The press release below is pretty self-explanatory; we should have video soon.  Here is the verified complaint ; here is a fact sheet showing where we got our estimates of the nearly $100 million in space and services that the co-located charter schools should be paying the NYC per year -- which could prevent most of the budget cuts and class size increases at schools expected next year.
After DOE found out about our press conference at Tweed at 1 PM, they programmed their own at a KIPP co-located charter at the exact same time to draw the media away; pretty sneaky!  But we hope for good coverage anyway.  The case was filed this afternoon in the State Supreme Court, Index no. 108538-2011.
July 25, 2011
Mona Davids, NYC Parents Union, (917) 340-8987
Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters (917) 435-9329
Arthur Z. Schwartz, Esq., Advocates for Justice, (917) 923-8136

New York City Parents File Lawsuit Against Separate and Unequal Charter Co-locations and Illegal Free Rent and Services to Charter Schools
The New York City Parents Union, Class Size Matters and public school parents today filed a lawsuit charging the New York City Department of Education with creating a "separate and unequal" education system through the co-locations of charter schools in public school buildings.
In New York City, charter schools are private non-profit education corporations which have contracts called "charters" with an authorizer such as the New York State Education Department or State University of New York to provide educational services.  Charter schools are publicly funded but, to date, have usually been managed either by a for-profit corporation or by a non-profit corporation who has hired a for-profit corporation to assist with management.  In these cases, a private entity is deriving a profit -- a profit that is not necessarily benefiting our children.  The NYC Department of Education provides space and services to charter schools for $1 per year that according to state law should be charged “at cost”.  Next year the amount of space and services provided by the city to co-located charters will be nearly $100 million per year.  These are funds desperately needed by our public schools at a time of scarce resources and sharp budget cuts.  (see attached fact sheet).
Arthur Z. Schwartz of Advocates for Justice, lead attorney in this litigation says:  "For several years now the NYC Department of Education has done all that it can to promote charter schools, acting not only to bring them into existence, but providing them with resources far in excess of what children in non-charter schools receive.  The most odious circumstances arise where schools are co-located.  Today we are filing and serving a lawsuit which addresses the unlawful nature of the DOE's program.  We are going far beyond a procedural challenge, alleging far more than that the DOE didn't follow the steps in the statutory process correctly. Today we raise three substantive challenges.
First, we are challenging to provision of free space and services to charter schools.  There is no question that this action violates state law, providing an unlawful subsidy to co-located charter schools.  It is a policy which allows them to spend their money on staff, supplies and equipment rather than rent and  creates gross inequities between the charter schools and their building-mates, and between charter schools in their own facilities and co-located schools.   We are also challenging the DOE on the impact of co-location on the education of the public school students in the building asserting that the co-locations will increase class size and undermine children's constitutional right to a sound and adequate education. Finally, we are challenging the co-location process, which is supposed to be a "meaningful public process" as being nothing of the sort:  dominated by boilerplate documents, difficult for parents to understand, not properly translated, and issued beyond statutorily mandated deadlines.  Parents’ views are solicited but ignored, and  in the impact statements, inadequate attention is paid to children with disabilities and English language learners.
This is not an attack on charter schools. Our plaintiffs include charter school parents. It is an effort to force the NYC Department of Education to pay attention to the impact of its actions on public school students, and provide them with the education they have a right to."
Muba Yarofulani, Vice-President of New York City Parents Union and a parent plaintiff in the lawsuit, says: "Our public school children continue to be served in an educational system where quality and equal opportunity are not the norm. We will continue to fight to the end for equal access to a quality education for our public schoolchildren."
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, a citywide parent advocacy group which is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, says: "The New York charter school law clearly states that if a district chooses to provide space and services to charter schools, it must do so at cost; and yet the NYC Department of Education provides this to charters for $1 per year.  Using figures from the Independent Budget Office, we estimate that the space and services DOE will provide to charters next year are worth nearly $96 million.  These are funds that our public schools desperately need and could be used to prevent devastating budget cuts, the loss of teachers and sharply increased class sizes next year.  As it is, each student in a co-located charter receives nearly $1000 more in public funding on average compared to a district public school student, a situation that is highly inequitable and needs to stop."
She adds: "We also believe that the co-location policy pursued by DOE and imposed on our public schools is deeply wrongheaded; as educrats use every available inch of space to jam a new school into a building; without any regard to how this will increase class size or prevent schools from being able to reduce class size in the future, which the state’s highest court said is necessary for NYC public schoolchildren to receive their constitutional right to an adequate education.  And yet these damaging effects are nowhere reflected in the DOE’s Educational Impact Statements – a critical and potentially illegal flaw."
Faye Hodge, a parent plaintiff of a child who attends a charter school in private space says: "It is not fair that charter schools located in private space receive nearly $1,000 less than co-located charter schools.  My charter school does not have enough books, does not provide academic intervention services, and cannot renovate our cafeteria or gym because we have to pay for rent, utilities, insurance, food service and cleaning services, while co-located charters are illegally subsidized by the New York City Department of Education. That is not fair. "
Mona Davids, the President of the New York City Parents Union, the President of the NY Charter Parents Association and a charter parent says, “We believe all children must have equal access to a quality public education. We respect the choice a few families made in removing their children from the public education system and enrolling them in publicly funded, but privately managed charter schools. However, public education is a cornerstone of our democracy and will always serve all children including children with disabilities, English Language Learners, homeless children, low performing students, and new immigrants. We must ensure all these children receive a quality public education and their rights are not violated by a separate and unequal system created by the New York City Department of Education.”


Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Likely Demise of News Corp's Education Division

The NY Times coverage of Joel Klein's involvement at News Corp focuses on human interest. We learn, for instance, that Klein dropped his notorious Blackberry brick-breaker habit, often on display at Panel for Educational Policy meetings, because his stress levels had fallen. We're more interested here in the fate of Klein and Murdoch's efforts to make big profits off of public education. On that note, here's why News Corp's education division is likely doomed:

The "Education Division" can't be one company and acquisitions will be impossible.

Wireless Generation is the only entity within News Corp's Education Division, which itself sits off in an area with the unimpressive title of "Other Assets". News Corp stock is down, making acquisitions harder to finance and the management is preoccupied with legal challenges and stabilizing ad revenues. Potential acquisition targets will take one look at News Corp's problems and find them quite an unattractive suitor. The division is not about to get bigger anytime soon.

Costs are high

The Education Division has gotten very top-heavy with the addition of an expensive layer of executive management. Klein's package is reported by the NY Time to be potentially $4.5 million or more. He's hired two executives, Kristen Kane, a former NYC DOE educrat and Peter Gorman, the former head of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC, schools. With only one company in the division, it seems Kane and Gorman will have little to do but keep an eye on Wireless Generation.

Profits are likely slim to none.

News Corp paid $360 million for its stake in Wireless Generation. In a column at Fortune, Rafael Corrales says WG wasn't profitable in 2007 with 250 employees. It's now up to 400. With revenues under pressure due to the scandal and costs escalating, it is unlikely the Education Division is a star in the News Corp portfolio. For more insights on how poorly WG fits within News Corp see the Fortune column News Corp deal for Wireless Generation Is Great But It Doesn't Make Sense.

New business will be a challenge.

Much of the Wireless Generation's work is currently data systems and consulting. District superintendents and the school boards above them will likely blanch at the prospect of handing over student data to a News Corp subsidiary. The NY State Comptroller has made clear News Corp's business ethics are fair game in considering whether to accept the State Education Department's proposed $27 million no-bid contract to build a student data repository. Wireless Generation has some tough sledding ahead as a News Corp subsidiary.

What happens next?

Look for News Corp to eventually get around to realizing education is not "core" to its journalistic mission and give up on Education Division and its ambitions in for making money off public education. Meanwhile, Wireless Generation's two founders will chafe under News Corp and look to exit, with our without their company.

Friday, July 22, 2011

DOE's "happy hour" celebrating school closures and charter co-locations

Video of Deputy Marc Sternberg at the DOE "happy hour" at Tribeca Tavern this evening, being asked why the court's decision that will allow the DOE to close 22 struggling public schools and squeeze charter schools into 15 more schools is a cause for celebration.  For more on this "happy hour," see GothamSchools.

Though Sternberg phrased it as “an important moment for New York City’s public school families!" it was instead yet another way in which arrogant and heedless Tweed educrats have been able to exert their irrational authority over thousands of NYC parents, teachers, and students who begged them not to close or co-locate these schools.

See also the photo below the video of General Counsel Michael Best, celebrating while surrounded by other DOE staff members.

Say it Ain't So, Hakeem! Jeffries flip-flops on charters and school closings

Below is a press release from Mona Davids of the NYC Parents Union.  Just a few months ago, Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries from Brooklyn sponsored legislation in Albany that would require a one year moratorium on closing schools in NYC; he also opposed a charter co-location in his district.  Today, just hours after the Judge Feinman ruled that the school closings and co-locations could go forward, Jeffries co-authored an oped for the Daily News, along with AM Karim Camera, attacking the NAACP for suing to stop these same closings and co-locations. 
What happened? As the press release notes, Jeffries has recently been put on the candidate "hot-list"  by Democrats for Education Reform, a pro-charter group run by deep-pocketed hedge-fund operators, soliciting donations for his run for Congress.  As DFER puts it, Jeffries "has the potential to be a solid education reform vote in Washington. ...but he'll need to show a strong fundraising filing in order to make that decision."

Contact: Mona Davids, (917) 340-898
NYC Parents Union Sounds Off Against Charter School Industry's Political Influence Through Money
                            Hakeem Jeffries:  Another politician, another flip-flop
The New York City Parents Union is sounding the alarm against ambitious politicians seeking money from the charter school industry.  A few days ago, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio decided that co-locating charter schools with public schools was acceptable -- after standing with parents to oppose a co-location.  It is rumored that Mr. de Blasio wants to live in Gracie Mansion.
Now, a Daily News opinion piece has been co-authored by New York State Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries regarding the co-location of charter schools and it has left the New York City Parents Union and parents in Mr. Jeffries' 57th Assembly District puzzled and very concerned.  It is rumored that Mr. Jeffries would like to go to Washington.
Mr. Jeffries' support of the charter industry's attacks on the public school parents, NAACP and the United Federation of Teachers lawsuit for challenging school closures and charter co-locations comes as a surprise, since Mr. Jeffries recently made impassioned remarks against a school closing and a co-location just this past February.
At a meeting of the Department of Education's Panel for Education Policy (PEP) on February 3, 2011, Assemblymember Jeffries opposed the closing of Middle School 571 and the co-location of a charter school within Public School 9 -- where MS 571 was already located.  Mr. Jeffries testified:   "Many of our schools remain separate and unequal".  At that time, parents and community members were impressed and grateful.
Specifically, in calling for a "time-out" for the Department of Education, Mr. Jeffries said:    "The Department of Education needs to be put on time out...They have refused to hear our voices, the school closure policy of the Department of Education is out of control.
 In a March NY Daily News interview, Mr. Jeffries said:  "The Department of Education has been on a school closure binge for the last several years without any meaningful evidence that this policy benefits students."
The NYC Parents Union and local parents are wondering what has happened to Mr. Jeffries and to Mr. de Blasio.  Mr. de Blasio is clearly desperate for campaign funds in pursuit of the Mayoralty and is hoping to hook big donors in the charter school field.  It would be most unfortunate if Mr. Jeffries thinks that his road to Congress needs to be paved with gold from the charter school money players hotlist  rather than with votes from the people in his Assembly District.
The NYC Parents Union is keeping score of politicians' behaviors and positions.  All elected officials will be held accountable if they choose to abandon their previous commitment to quality public education for all children.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Support Aniya's law by Sam Pirozzolo

Dear Friends and Neighbors:
I would like to give you a brief update on the pending NYS bill to compel the Dept. of Education to restore yellow school bus service to 7th and 8th grade students (Bill #A2988A).  CEC member Mike Reilly and I were present at a meeting in the office of NYS Assemblyman Michael Cusick this week.  At that meeting, ALL of the NYS & NYC legislators from Staten Island (Assembly members, Senators and CityCouncil members) were present or represented.
First I am compelled to share a few thoughts of my own.  Since the day of Aniya’s death, I - like many of you - have thought about what I would do or how I would act if one of my children were suddenly taken from me.  If you have had these thoughts too then you realize that there is no way to imagine the loss of a child. I don’t know if I would become totally unhinged, I don’t know if I would be brave, I don’t know if I would be strong.  At the meeting, the legislators met Mrs. Elizabeth Favors, the mother of Aniya Williams.  As requested by CEC 31, Mrs. Favors gave permission for NY State Bill #A2988A to be named ANIYA’S LAW in honor of her deceased daughter.  
Elizabeth is a very strong, very brave and very powerful person.  It has given me strength to watch her agree to lend Aniya’s name to this bill in the hopes of regaining our longstanding school bus service.  She does this not just for our public school students but also for our private school students.  She does this not just for Staten Island students but also for every student in every district throughout the city who must traverse dangerous and hazardous conditions to travel to and from school.  We owe a debt to her that can never be repaid.
Next I must say that I am very impressed with Assemblyman Mike Cusick. There is no doubt in my mind that Assemblyman Cusick is sincere, knowledgeable and has the experience to handle this task.  Let me remind you that we face an uphill battle against very difficult obstacles to restore school bus entitlement.  I would also like to thank all of our other Staten Island legislators as they each champion in support for this school bus law.
Currently Aniya’s bill is in the Education Committee of the Assembly.  After the Education Committee the bill will be sent to the Ways & Means Committee to determine costs and funding.  Unfortunately, the earliest opportunity for the NYS Assembly to vote on this bill may be January 2012, UNLESS there is a large ground-swell of letters indicating support for this new law. 
Your help is needed again!  You may have already sent the attached letter to the NYS Assembly EDUCATION Committee members, but now we ask you to send it to the Assembly WAYS & MEANS Committee members as well.  The 2nd and 3rd pages of the attached letter contain the contact information for the members of these two important committees.  If you haven’t already sent it to the Education Committee members, please do that now, in addition to sending it to the Ways & Means Committee members.  Just complete your name, address and contact information on the bottom of page 1 of the attached letter, and then mail or e-mail your letter directly to each of the elected officials listed on pages 2 & 3.   
(NOTE: The e-mail addresses for all the Assembly  Ways and Means and Education Committee Members are also here, grouped for easier use.  Just highlight and paste their e-mails into the "TO" field of your e-mail program and send them the attached letter after you have filled out your name and contact information on the bottom and saved the changes.)  
If the legislators see an outpouring of support for passage of Aniya’s Law, it is possible that it might be brought up for a vote earlier than January – perhaps as early as this autumn. 
Thank you for your continued support.  It is appreciated, it is needed and your help can make the difference in our efforts to restore school bus service for Staten Island’s students under Aniya’s Law. 
Sincerely, Sam Pirozzolo, President, CEC 31

Class sizes to rise to thirty in elementary schools next year?

I have heard from several sources that elementary school principals have been told by their network leaders to plan for average class size of thirty in grades K-5 next year.  (see letter below from the School Leadership Team at PS 3.)
This would represent an increase of 6.4 children per class compared to last year; or an increase of 27%, and would represent the largest class sizes in these grades in at least twenty years or more.  
When Dennis Walcott was testifying before the NYC Council, he said that even with 4100 teacher layoffs, he did not expect class sizes to increase any more than 1.5 students per class. The layoffs were averted, but because budget cuts to schools are still so large, principals are being told to that the increase may be more than four times as large.  See the letter in protest from the PS 3 SLT below.
This is despite the fact that class size reduction is the top priority of parents again in the DOE learning environment survey, for the third year in a row, and a law was passed by the state legislature in 2007, requiring that NYC reduce class size in all grades..
If you have heard anything about your school’s class sizes next year, please contact me at
July 20, 2011
Dear Chancellor Walcott,
One of the phrases that we hear all too frequently is, “Class size is not important. Teacher quality is.” This argument rings hollow.
We are graced with high quality teachers; however when they have too many students whose needs they are trying to address, their effectiveness declines. The image that comes to mind is that of the juggling troupe, The Flying Karamazov Brothers, who juggle odd assortments of objects, even soliciting some from the audience. However, no matter how skilled the juggler, if s/he attempts to manage too many objects at once, some fall. In our instance, unfortunately, what falls is children.
The Department of Education is considering a budget premised on increasing class sizes for grades 1-5 to 30 students per class.  We are writing to urge you not to adopt a budget that requires such an increase.
While we are sympathetic that budget cuts must be made and priorities must be shifted, increasing class size will fundamentally hinder learning. The simple fact is that teachers cannot provide optimal, differentiated instruction for 25 young children as well as they can for 20, let alone for 32. Even excellent teachers have limits to their energy, time, patience, and ability to solve the infinite array of problems that facilitating learning involves.  At PS 3, we have seen firsthand how increase in class size can negatively impact teachers’ energy and students’ ability to learn.
The timing of this proposed class size increase is particularly unfortunate, as our school community has been enthusiastic about incorporating instruction and assessments that address the new Common Core Standards, an initiative that New York City and State are supporting with great vigor.   Larger class sizes are likely to be highly discouraging to instructional staff.  This has nothing to do with teacher attitudes, which are positive and inclusive, but rather the difficulty of implementing so many changes at once.
 We urge you not to move forward with a budget that requires increased class size.  It would be a major step backward for closing the gap in providing quality education for all.
 Sincerely, PS 3 SLT
Denise Collins, Chairperson                         
Dana Abraham                                               Patricia Laraia
Liz Craig                                                         Kirsty Mogensen
Nick  Gottlieb                                                 Jackie Peters
Jean Hale                                                       Amie Schindel
Kimberly Jensen                                             Cassidy Sehgal
Stephanie Kim                                                Lisa Siegman
Susan Korn                                                     Susan Soler