Saturday, December 31, 2011

Worst and best education events of 2011

Please add your suggestions for what I've missed in the comment section, and Happy New Year to all!

Worst education news of 2011:

Schools suffer huge budget cuts across the nation & class sizes increase, with the support of billionaires like Bill Gates, Bloomberg and other members of the .0001%,  who send their own kids to expensive private schools and  who claim that resources and class sizes don’t matter.

The child poverty rate grows even higher, with 11 states added to the list of those with rates of twenty percent or more.

Cheating scandals from Atlanta to DC to Philadelphia reveal the pressures of high-stakes testing.

The Gates Foundation continues its hegemony over education policy, providing funding to shady right-wing organization ALEC, responsible for much of the worst anti-union, anti-equity, and anti-kids legislation being passed all over the country.

Hundreds of millions of dollars from the Billionaire Boys Club of Gates,  Broad, the Walton family, and the Koch brothers are funneled into creating and expanding numerous Astroturf organizations like Stand for Children, Students First, Teach Plus, 50Can, etc. all devoted towards spreading their tentacles into  both political parties, to choke off democracy, demonize teachers, mandate more high-stakes testing, and privatize our public schools.

States rush to pass multiple laws in response to Race to the Top bribery, mandating unreliable teacher evaluation systems tied to test scores, alignment with the experimental (and controversial) Common Core standards, and the spread of charter schools; while  the Obama administration holds out the promise of NCLB waivers based on the same damaging pre-conditions.

More districts follow the corporate model of Bloomberg & Co., by awarding useless merit pay schemes, divisive charter co-locations, heart-breaking school closings, and wasteful payments to consultants and private managers, rather than hiring teachers, expanding programs, or investing in the classroom.

The Gates Foundation, along with Rupert Murdoch’s Wireless Generation, creates a new limited corporation, euphemistically called The Learning Collaborative, to collect and crunch confidential teacher & student data, that states have voluntarily (and probably illegally) provided to them without parental consent.

Charters continue to expand rapidly,  with over two million students enrolled, while hedge fund operators buy off politicians, and billionaires like Bloomberg donate big bucks to the campaigns of pro-charter school board members in Louisiana, to ensure their continued spread statewide – even after 70% of New Orleans schools have already been privatized.

The growth of online learning also continues apace, despite the lack of evidence of its efficacy, impelled not by the priorities of parents or what’s good for kids but by the greed of edu-entrepreneurs and profiteers.

Best education news of 2011
The popular uprisings in Wisconsin spark a national wakeup call about the heinous attempts to undermine the rights of public sector workers, galvanizing resistance throughout the country and leading to the repeal of Ohio’s anti-union and anti-teacher legislation, SB 5.
The emergence of Occupy Wall St sparks protests nationwide and impels a sharp awareness about the widening income gap, and the way in which the 1% has perverted  our politics and educational policies, with mic checks taking over school board meetings from NYC to Rochester to Chicago and elsewhere.

The gathering and amplification of opposition voices at the SOS March in DC, and the appearance of Matt Damon as one of the first bonafide celebrities to help us push back against the big money and power of corporate education reform

The parent voice grows in influence, with the emergence of Parents Across America and its affiliates, speaking out about how the current policies are undermining our schools, and propounding an alternative vision of progressive education reform.

Diane Ravitch’s star grows ever brighter, as the inspirational and intellectual leader of the anti-corporate reform movement, as she travels the country, headlines at the SOS march,  appears on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, while her bestselling book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, comes out in paperback.

The National Academy of Sciences and academic experts release multiple reports, attesting  to the invalid, reductionist, and intellectually vapid nature of test based accountability systems, value –added teacher evaluation, and merit pay.  

The revulsion against high stakes testing grows, and a national opt –out movement emerges, energized by the movie Race to Nowhere  and brilliant thinkers like Yong Zhao.

Mayoral control is unmasked as a failure at improving schools or student outcomes in either NYC or Chicago, and most recently, the mayor of Rochester NY  gives up his attempt to take over  the city’s schools.

Cathie Black is fired as NYC chancellor, putting to rest the notion that a successful  business career is good preparation for running a large school system, while Broad-trained superintendents are ousted from their positions due to popular opposition, including Maria Goodloe-Johnson in  Seattle, Arlene Ackerman in Philadelphia,  and Lavonne Sheffield in Rockford, Illinois, (though other Broadies, like Jean Claude Brizard and John Covington , merely move from one district to another, in a dance of the lemons.)

Independent and progressive school board members are elected in Seattle WA, Wake County NC and elsewhere.

Jonah Edelman and Stand for Children are self-outed as corporate reform toadies.

After sleeping through much of the Bloomberg administration, the NY Times finally begins publishing actual investigative education reporting locally,  by  Fernanda Santos and Anna Phillips, publishes trenchant opinion pieces critiquing school “choice”  like this  and this;   features a pivotal piece by Sam Dillon on the overweening influence of the Gates Foundation, runs a terrific series on online learning and gives a platform to the invaluable Michael Winerip, who returns to the scene just in time to rake clueless educrats, charter operators, and oligarchs over the  coals.

The real reformers take center stage in the movie “The Inconvenient Truth behind Waiting for Superman” a documentary made for pennies by NYC teachers, now distributed in all continents and shown in every state, without any promotional budget.

Finally, despite the big bucks and political muscle of the Billionaire Boys Club, the hedge funders, the privatisers, and the other edu-entrepreneurs, actual stakeholders, including parents and teachers, dominate the online debate through tweeting and blogging – and use social media tools (which are free, after all) to spread the truth about #corpreform and #realreform.

I will end with a quote from my mentor and hero, Diane Ravitch:

“"We need to say, again and again, that they may have money and hold the reins of power (for now), but their ideas are failing. And now the public is getting it. And the louder we are, in whatever forums open to us, the more the mask will fall away, and the public will understand that the corporate reformers have hijacked the language of reform to protect the privileges and power of the 1% and we are reaching the public because we are many and they are few."

Thanks to my friends and compadres at Parents Across America for many of these suggestions, and apologies if the list is too NY-centric. And let’s all hope for a better 2012 for parents, our children and public schools everywhere.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Are we winning the online debate over education reform? and an invitation to join the twitter party

There's been a lots of intense tweeting and blogging over last two days about Alexander Russo's post in which he called the good guys, including those of us on the NYC Education list serv and PAA (Parents Across America) "reform critics" and described us as "Goliaths" beating the billionaire "Davids"  in the online debate over education reform. Here’s an excerpt from the post, entitled: "Media: Reform Opponents Are Winning Online (For Now).":
As anyone who reads education sites or goes on Twitter knows, "reform critics" -- they're still working on a better term to describe their views -- have a slew of current teachers and veterans out there talking about their classroom experiences and opinions nearly every day.  Nancy Flanagan, TeacherKen, Anthony Cody, and John Thompson to name just a few. It's not just that they're out there shouting randomly into the wind, either.  At least some of them seem to be coordinated behind the scenes by SOS or PAA or Leonie's listserv, bird-dogging individual sites -- Caroline Grannan seems to have been (self-)assigned to this site -- and converging on a blog post or Twitter comment (as happened to me last week when I first posted on this topic).  If past experience is any guideline, the comments here and Twitter RTs will come from them.
I commented on Russo’s blog that he should not call us "reform critics" but "real reformers" or the 99%.  Clearly, many teachers, parents, and education advocates have been working for better schools longer than the hedge fund operators, oligarchs and other members of the corporate reform crowd. And because we are personally invested in improving public schools, we are determined to outlast all the Astroturf groups financed by Billionaire Boys Club of Gates, Broad, Bloomberg, the Koch brothers and the Walton family, and all others whose hobby it is to privatize and corporatize public education. 

Yet Russo's acknowledgement that we are winning in the online sphere was welcome news to me, in any case.  Others, including some of those mentioned above, had more critical reactions.

Others have joined in, including Miss Katie:  Tides a Turnin' ; Mike Klonsky: A biblical school reform metaphor and Schools Matter: Russo Off by 4 Months (UPDATED).
If those of us who are working for positive, progressive education reform are indeed winning the online debate, it's not necessarily because we are smarter or better organized.  It may be because the corporate reformers & the BBC don't bother to engage in real discussion, since they can use their cold hard cash to impose their damaging policies without any public buy-in, and without any backing in the research. The more secretive their maneuvers, the better.  
See what happened, for example,  when Jonah Edelman spoke frankly at the Aspen Conference about how Stand for Children had won SB7, Illinois legislation eroding teacher rights, by hiring the best lobbyists and donating to certain legislators.  I thought it was admirable that he was honest about his methods, but because of the public uproar, he was forced  to  apologize.  
I’m sure the Gates Foundation would never want to do anything as humiliating as apologize. Better to work behind the scenes if you're going to fund secretive, right-wing organizations like ALEC and form  limited corporations, operated by Murdoch's Wireless Generation, to collect confidential student and teacher data.
Here is what Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch ), early adopter of Twitter, emailed me about Russo's blog: 
“"We need to say, again and again, that they may have money and hold the reins of power (for now), but their ideas are failing. And now the public is getting it. And the louder we are, in whatever forums open to us, the more the mask will fall away, and the public will understand that the corporate reformers have hijacked the language of reform to protect the privileges and power of the 1% and we are reaching the public because we are many and they are few."

Whether we have been effective in using social media, which after all, is free, everyone who is a real education policy junkie should join Twitter.  You can follow the "debate" and help us "reform critics" be even more annoying to the people at the Gates Foundation (@gatesed), Mayor Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) and his assorted minions, including Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson (@howiewolf) , by replying to their inane tweets, providing our critique on their policies, and sometimes even getting responses.  Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) is also very active and gets into extended debates on twitter. Join the party by signing sign up at  

Thanks for making NYC Ed list famous, and have a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Please help us fight for smaller classes in 2012!

Class sizes are increasing throughout the nation, and here in NYC, classes are larger in over a decade in many grades. This fall, there were over seven thousand classrooms which violated the union contractual levels. These sharp increases have occurred despite the fact that New York’s highest court had ruled that our students are deprived of their constitutional right to an adequate education, due in large part to excessive class sizes.

This is a worsening crisis that must be stopped.  Please make a tax-deductible donation today to help us fight this trend.

Adding insult to injury, over the past year, some of the richest and most powerful men in America – including Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg – have come out in favor of increasing class size, claiming that this would be good for our kids, while sending their own children to private schools where classes are capped at 17 or fewer.

More and more these men -- not the 1%, but the .00001% in terms of their wealth -- are controlling education policy and blithely ignoring what parents and teachers know and what research shows to be true: that smaller classes make a significant difference in providing children with the opportunities they need to succeed in school and later in life.

In fact, a new study showed that students who were in smaller classes in Kindergarten were more likely to graduate from college, own their own home and have a 401K3 more than twenty years later.  And yet this fall, as many NYC children are in Kindergarten classes of 26 or more -- violating the union contract -- than in classes of 20 or less -- which Bloomberg promised to achieve when he first ran for mayor.

Class Size Matters is working hard, every day, to counter the distortions and lies being spread by the oligarchs running our schools, and to see that the city does not continue to violate our children’s rights.  Please make a tax-deductible donation today to help us in this fight. We will be filing complaints on behalf of parents and asking for the state to hold hearings on the unconscionable increases in class size that have occurred. You can be sure we will not rest until NYC and the state comply with their moral – and legal – obligations to our children.

This fall, we have made presentations before many community education councils and other  groups, to draw attention to the worsening class size crisis, and to demonstrate the ways in which the city has misused state funds that should have gone towards reducing class size. As a result, six councils so far have passed resolutions protesting the increase in class size, the DOE received over 100 emails as part of the public comment process, and we have engaged countless parents and community members in the conversation about this critical issue.

Here are some of our other activities and accomplishments in 2011:
  • We helped start a new national organization, Parents Across America, to provide parents with critical information about the damaging corporate agenda, including school closings, privatization, and an overemphasis on high-stakes testing, imposed against the will of parents and community members, and to promote positive and progressive change. PAA already has more than 12 chapters and affiliates nationwide.
  • In response to a report we had co-authored, the State Comptroller released an audit in March showing that NYC had significantly underreported its dropout rate,with 15 to 20 percent of students  categorized as  “discharged” instead. As a result, the City Council passed a law that for the first time will require the DOE to release detailed reporting on the thousands of students who disappear off school registers each year without a diploma, but who are not counted as dropouts.
  • In July, we filed a lawsuit against the city’s provision of free space to charter schools inside public school buildings – which causes yet more overcrowding and which we believe violates state law. Though we have not yet received a ruling, we are hopeful that the court will decide to protect the rights of public school children, so that they are no longer squeezed and pushed aside in their own buildings.·
  • We spearheaded a successful campaign to persuade the NY State Comptroller to block a no-bid contract to Rupert Murdoch’s Wireless Generation that could have jeopardized confidential student information.
  • We pushed for a new law, passed by the City Council this fall, that will require improved reporting on school overcrowding, including whether students have access to art rooms, science labs, and space for their mandated services, as well as gymnasiums and auditoriums.·
We continue to operate two of the city’s largest electronic education list services, with more than 4000 subscribers combined. We also post regular news and commentary from parents on the NYC Public School Parents blog, which has received nearly one million hits since 2009.

In 2011, Class Size Matters was quoted more than 100 times, including in the NY Times, Daily News, NY Post, Wall St. Journal, Education Week, metro, AM-NY, El Diario, Los Angeles Times, DNA-info, Daily Kos, Business Week, Gotham Gazette, and GothamSchools, as well as interviewed on CNN, Fox-News, MSNBC, NY1, WCBS-TV , Channel 7 News, WPIX-TV, China Radio International, and numerous national and local public radio shows.

But continuing to fight for smaller classes remains our primary mission and focus. While the NY State Legislature passed a law in 2007 requiring the city to reduce class size in all grades in return for receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in additional state aid, the city has ignored its commitments to our children.

Please join our campaign for smaller classes, to help ensure that NYC children someday soon receive the help and attention that they deserve.

Just click here, to make a tax-deductible donation. For a contribution of $100 or more, enjoy a complimentary 11-oz Class Size Matters mug.  Happy New Year and thanks!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Regents agree to give NY student data to limited corporation run by Gates and operated by Murdoch's Wireless Gen

This week, the Wall St Journal reported that the NY Board of Regents approved the state's sharing of student and teacher information with a new national data base, to be funded by the Gates  Foundation, and designed by News Corp's Wireless Generation.
All this confidential student and teacher data will be held by a private limited corporation, called the Shared Learning Collaborative LLC, with even less accountability,  which in July was awarded $76.5 million   by the Gates Foundation, to be spent over 7 months.  According to an earlier NYT story,  $44 million of this funding will go straight into the pockets of Wireless Generation, owned by Murdoch's News Corp and run by Joel Klein.
The Regents approved this project, despite the NY State Comptroller’s veto this summer of the State Education Department’s proposed no-bid contract to Wireless to build a state-wide data system, apparently because the state is not paying money to participate.  According to sources who were present, while several Regents expressed concerns, Betty Rosa of the Bronx was the only member to abstain.  The others apparently thought that even though the Comptroller-- and the public as well—had opposed this contract in large part because of the privacy issue and the involvement of Murdoch’s company,  which is still embroiled in a major phone-hacking scandal in the UK, these issues were not important enough to ask for more information or to delay the state from going forward with the deal.
Here is what SED writes, in explanation of their intent to share this confidential data: 
The cost of the development of the SLC will be the responsibility of the SLC, not New York State. Consistent with the Comptroller's concerns regarding Wireless Generation, no New York State funds will be paid directly or indirectly to Wireless Generation or any of its subsidiaries for the development of these SLC services. As mentioned above, each state and school/district will retain sole ownership of its data. Only anonymous data will be used for SLC system development. As in any system development project, a limited number of authorized vendors will need to access actual educational data for system operation and improvements.

Including Wireless, one must assume. But this is not all. Here is more from the SED document: 

The Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC) is a consortium of states organized to help increase the benefits and long-term sustainability of data, curriculum, and instructional improvement initiatives. The SLC is facilitated by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and has received initial funding from the Carnegie Corporation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Participating states include Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Massachusetts.
 A primary purpose of the SLC is to help promote the efficient expenditure of taxpayer funds by coordinating the efforts of multiple states to provide for the common needs of all participating states, including shared infrastructure and services that integrate, deliver, and display educational data and curriculum resources for educators, students, and families. Legally binding agreements will ensure that each state’s data remain separate and distinct from the data of all other states…”

Along with  Wireless, some of the other companies involved will be two consulting companies: Alvarez and Marsal, who were behind the disastrous reorganization of NYC school bus routes in the winter of 2007, and McKinsey, which led the first reorganization of Children’s First in 2003, which included dissolving the district structure (contrary to law) and totally writing off parent input.
Here is an excerpt from a Gates’ fact sheet about this project:

In addition to making instructional data more manageable and useful, this open-license technology, provisionally called the Shared Learning Infrastructure (SLI), will also support a large market for vendors of learning materials and application developers to deliver content and tools that meet the Common Core State Standards and are interoperable with each other and the most popular student information systems.”

In other words, companies will be making more money off our kids’ test scores. 
Meanwhile, it is not reassuring that the Gates document says that “the long-term governance model” of this national data base “is still in development.” 
They add a standard disclaimer, that “Designing protections for student privacy will be addressed throughout the development of the system, and data access and usage models will be designed to support compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and other privacy laws” without any assurances of how this will be achieved.
SED adds:

The SLC is making plans for its long-term governance, including the protection of data privacy and security; the development of a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization structure; and the articulation of a business model for long-term fiscal sustainability. This work will be guided by participating states and informed by input from a panel of expert advisors, including Cheryl Vedoe, President and CEO of Apex Learning; David Riley, President of the Alembic Foundation and an open source technology expert; Dr. Michael Lomax, President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund; Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers; Michael Horn, Co-founder and Executive Director for Education at Innosight Institute; and Andrew Rotherham, Co-founder and Partner of Bellwether Education Partners.

I wonder how many of those organizations receive funding from Gates. 
Where are the independent experts on privacy, and even more importantly, the input of parents, who really should be allowed to opt out of this national database? 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Last night's PEP meeting approving a further expansion of the DOE (Department of Eva) and Walcott's falling poll numbers

As expected, the Panel for Educational Policy (otherwise known as the Panel of Eight Puppets) rubberstamped two new, very controversial charter co-locations of Eva Moskowitz’s expanding chain of Success Academy last night, despite huge community opposition, and hundreds of raucous and vociferous parents and teachers who turned out.  Perhaps DOE should be renamed Department of Eva.
Before the meeting began, the audience voted no-confidence in the PEP, with a show of hands; and the public comment period featured a very funny interview of “Eva” played by Gloria Brandman.  (Here are some news clips:  Times, NY1, Daily News.) There was even more police presence than usual and signs up everywhere that people disrupting the meeting would be ejected; clearly DOE is very spooked by the growing militancy of protesters.
GothamSchools reported that the pro-charter parents (who were relatively few) were brought by a new organization called Families for Excellent Schools.  This is the third or fourth organization that the privateers have started up in their attempt to organize charter parents.  Is it  so difficult to pull this off, or do they figure that with Bloomberg in charge they get their way anyway, without any pretense of widespread grassroots public support?
At the conclusion, Patrick Sullivan of Manhattan was the only one to vote no;  Queens & Bronx appointees abstained &  the Brooklyn rep, Gbubemi Okotieuro, voted yes, along with all of the eight mayoral appointees and Staten Island.  Okotieuro said that Brooklyn BP Marty Markowitz’ position favoring the charter co-locations was “well-known.”   (Did everyone know this but me?  Did Markowitz ever put out a statement explaining why?)
Credit goes to the hundreds of people who made the trek out to a fairly remote part of Queens, including three elected officials from Brooklyn, who all spoke in opposition: AM Jim Brennan and CMs Lander and Levin.
Just as contentious as the charter school co-locations was the proposal to expand Esperanza Prep Academy inside a building where the kids in the TAG school are already pressed for space. TAG is the only diverse Gifted and Talented school in Manhattan, with more than half black and Hispanic kids.  The school is already overcrowded at 108% utilization and the kids already eat lunch at 10 AM;  with the Esperanza expansion, it is slated to lose additional rooms.   The parents are justifiably concerned about increased overcrowding as well as safety issues, with Kindergarten students potentially sharing bathrooms with HS students.  The parents and teachers at Esperanza, one of the few dual language middle schools,  also came out, understandably, to support expanding their school into the upper grades. 
You would think that if there’s any group Walcott would be interested in nurturing it would be the city’s high-achieving minority kids, given the DOE’s sorry record with diminishing numbers of minority students enrolled in gifted programs and  at the selective high schools, but if so, that was not evident last night. He apparently lets his incompetent Portfolio office make all their decisions on their own. 
Marc Sternberg, head of Portfolio, was as unimpressive as usual, with poor command over any of the facts or figures,  and could not even promise that the TAG kids would not be forced to share bathrooms and the lunchroom with HS students.  He justified the moving of Brooklyn Success to Cobble Hill because of Kindergarten overcrowding…on that basis, you could see charters in nearly every part of the city, since one quarter of all schools had waiting lists for K last year. 
Of course, the DOE’s ultimate failure to deal with this overcrowding crisis that seems to be neatly falling into the hands of the privateers & charter operators. 
I made a short and probably futile speech about how all the DOE has done over the last nine years is undermine our public schools, anger parents, and  tear apart communities, with a regimen of school closings, charter expansion, worse overcrowding and increased class size.  And the results are dismal: NYC’s uniformly poor results on the NAEP scores, which were released last week, revealing how our black, Hispanic and white students have all fallen further behind their peers in the other large cities since 2003 in all categories tested, and no significant narrowing of the racial achievement gap.  I urged Walcott and the other PEP members to reconsider, learn from the past, and take another course.  Did they really want to sit through two more years of protest and harangues from furious parents?
If I’d known, I would have mentioned how badly his poll numbers have slipped, as indicated in yesterday’s Quinnipiac poll .  The survey shows Walcott's approval ratings falling from 39% to 33% since October, with 33% of voters having no opinion.  His overall disapproval rate is at 34% and among public school parents he fares even worse, with 45% having a negative view of his performance.   
I don’t know who  the mayor or Walcott talk to or get advice about school policy, aside from (probably) Eva Moskowitz and the hedge fund crowd, but they need to wake up,  because at this point their education legacy looks dismal.   (For more on these poll numbers, see GothamSchools and Daily News.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Overwhelming Opposition to DOE Agenda for PEP

This week's agenda has some highly controversial items. Emails sent to me ran overwhelmingly against the co-location of Success Academy in Cobble Hill. There were 540 opposed and 5 emails in favor. I wrote back to four of the supporters. Their primary issue was simply overcrowding and are looking for more good schools. There was no preference for a charter.

For a good preview of the meeting and deep dive into the issues at stake, be sure to check out Liza Featherstone's Brooklyn Rail column Here Comes Success. Here's an excerpt:
At Success Academies, by contrast, the 1% runs the schools for the 99%. But public schools are not supposed to be charities. In fact, in the 19th century, the move away from charity schools, toward a publicly funded, publicly controlled system, was a significant step toward a more democratic society. That’s progress we’re rushing to undo in our own century. A public school is not supposed to use the generously donated largesse of the rich to benefit a handful at the expense of the many; rather, the public school system is supposed to use our resources as a body politic to educate everyone.
Meanwhile in Manhattan, the DOE is committing an awful injustice by forcing an expanded Esperanza Prep Academy into the same building with the TAG Young Scholars. The building utilization will go to 111%, squeezing both schools. The TAG program is the only citywide gifted and talented program that has succeeded in attracting a large number of children of color. The DOE has a dismal record in extending gifted and talented programs to all races and income levels. While the NEST+M and Anderson programs have been sheltered from similar encroachments, DOE has refused to support this highly successful program.

Finally, in the interest of transparency, I'm sharing my note to PEP Chair Tino Hernandez regarding the rules of order for our meetings:

As we've discussed, you as the Chair are designated by the Panel for Educational Policy bylaws as person responsible for rules of order. Given that the latest news reports suggest there may be protest activity at upcoming meetings, I am writing to strongly suggest the PEP adhere to some basic guidelines in the conduct of our meeting:
  • The Open Meetings Law should be followed at all times.
  • The PEP Chair, or Vice Chair in your absence, and not the Chancellor should decide rules of order.
  • Press activity should not be restricted in any way.
  • The audience should be free to stand or sit as they see fit. I have received complaints from people who were ordered to remain seated.
  • The School Safety division of the NYPD should maintain jurisdiction over matters of law enforcement. Even at our most contentious meetings we've had very strong leadership from Chief Coogan and the men and women under his command. I would be concerned if jurisdiction were to be turned over to one of the special branch units of the NYPD responsible for heavy handed tactics with recent protests.
  • Further to this last point, for the safety of all, especially the children in attendance we should ask the minimum force be used in any required law enforcement actions. And certainly no mace or sound cannons should be fired in the auditorium.
I would appreciate if you could review these requests with the Chancellor and School Safety. It is important the the Board of Education set an example in conducting a public meeting and that we maintain a safe environment for all.

Shino Tanikawa on NYC DOE's attitude towards parent engagement then -- and now

Honorable Robert Jackson
Chair, Education Committee,NYC Council
Dear Councilmember Jackson,
Thank you for this opportunity to submit my comments on the Department of Education’s Division of Family and Community Engagement.
I am a public school parent of a junior in high school and a fourth grader.  I have served as an officer of the PTAs and on the School Leadership Teams of my daughters’ schools as well as on the District 2 PTA Presidents’ Council.  I was a member of the Parent Commission on School Governance in 2009.  I currently serve as the President of the Community Education Council District 2.  I submit my comments as an activist parent who has participated in various levels of parental engagement.
I have come to realize parental engagement means different things to different people.  The DOE appears only willing to accept a very rudimentary definition: parents help with their children’s homework.  I have written to the Chancellor a few times with my view on this issue: parental engagement is a spectrum.
I began my “parental involvement career” with reading to my children at home but quickly moved up to face painting and cleaning up at a fundraiser.  From there, I branched out to teaching as a volunteer environmental educator in my daughters’ schools, serving on the PTA as Treasurer then as Co-President, and participating on the SLT.  From this school level involvement, I became interested in district-wide issues and got involved with the District 2 PTA Presidents’ Council.  I even went further and worked on overhauling the Mayoral control law with the Parent Commission on School Governance.  While I am currently focused on District 2 issues through the Community Education Council District 2, I am interested in larger issues at the city, state and federal levels.
It is my experience that the Mayor’s administration has no interest in anything but the individual-level involvement (i.e., homework help).  His policy on bake sale has dampened even the most benign of the school-level involvement.
Since Mr. Mojica has been appointed, the only change I see is the way in which the DOE interacts with parents.  Gone are the arrogance and the contempt of the former Chancellor (I am not counting the one without due qualifications).   We are treated with respect and with a little more responsiveness.  This is a welcome change.
As an example, one year ago, the CECD2 hosted a Town Hall with the then Chancellor.  The Chancellor’s office dictated the format of the Town Hall (no open microphone, questions to be submitted on index cards).  The CECD2 had to fight to allow parents to speak directly with the Chancellor.  In contrast, at this year’s Town Hall, which took place last week, the Chancellor’s office was open to suggestions and the CECD2 ran the Town Hall as we felt appropriate.  The staff from DFACE was most helpful and communicated frequently with me on this matter.  
While it may be more pleasant to interact with the DOE when they do not openly disdain parents, unfortunately I have not seen signs of any truly meaningful change.  Cell phones are still banned in schools despite the fact so many parents spoke out against the ban.  I have not seen any responses from the Chancellor on the CEC & Citywide Council Task Force report titled A Vote for Change: A Blueprint for Reforming Community and Citywide Education Councils in New York City and The Department of Education’s Approach to Engaging Parent Leaders or announcements on implementing any of the recommendations from the report.  School phase-outs continue to be planned without input from the affected communities.  The public hearing process on school utilization changes still makes a mockery out of public input. 
I believe Mr. Mojica believes in the same things I do.  I believe he understands the spectrum of parental involvement.  However, I am not so sure if he will be allowed to make any significant changes within the system.  Unless the Mayor and the Chancellor have a change of heart, I do not expect parental engagement to move beyond homework help regardless of how capable Mr. Mojica is.
As a colleague aptly put it, the DOE is still telling parents to get out of the way but now with a polite “please.”
Respectfully submitted,  Shino Tanikawa,

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cindy Black on how "choice" leads to more segregated schools

Much controversy has been aroused and much ink has been expended about the way in which Eva Moskowitz is now defying the original stated purpose of charter schools, and marketing her chain of Success Academies to white middle class families in Brooklyn and on the Upper West Side.  Her glossy flyers, sent to households by the truckload, with many families having already received five or six, increasingly feature the faces of little white children. There has also been much debate about the problems of NYC's demanding school "choice" process -- but not much said about how school choice may further segregate  our public schools, especially in many areas of Brownstone Brooklyn, where the last ten years or more of gradual gentrification have led to more diversity in neighborhood schools.  While the UCLA Civil Rights project has shown how charter schools contributes to more segregation nationwide, here are the observations of one Brooklyn parent who is also a high school teacher, Cindy Black, about what happened when a new elementary school of "choice" -- though not a charter -- opened up  in her community:

From what I've seen, "choice" segregates schools. People are just attracted to communities that feel familiar. It is frustrating.

This is at the elementary level, but when a "school of choice" opened in our district this year, virtually every white student in my daughter's grade left to go to that school, which billed itself as a progressive alternative to zoned schools. Now Brooklyn New School might open a new school in district 13, which will definitely impede the integration of local zoned schools which have already lost many white, biracial, and affluent families to BNS.

I'm fond of progressive pedagogy, but I'm not comfortable with a scenario where one demographic consistently chooses one extreme while another demographic chooses the other extreme. "Teaching to the middle" is now synonymous with bad teaching, but I actually think that if we are to have truly integrated schools, parents are going to have to compromise. I might like to see my child in the least constrictive environment, but another parent sees that as chaotic and distracting and wants their child to learn discipline. "Choice" allows each parent to write the other off, and ensures that their children won't meet. There is this attitude that every child is different and you have to find the right "fit" for your child, but part of being a citizen is putting aside what is easiest for you in order to think about what will be best for the community as a whole.

I think schools should be integrated. Really integrated. I was reviewing capitalization rules with my high school students recently and discovered that they didn't know that England is a country. I came home and asked my five-year-old and she did know, but only because two kids in her Kindergarten class had traveled to England over winter break. Both of those kids transferred to the new, progressive, "school of choice." Most of my students never went to school with kids who travel overseas for winter break. And obviously it isn't just my students who suffer. The kids who travel overseas, they're missing out too. Everybody loses, I think, when our search for the "right fit" allows us to opt out of sending our children to school with children whose experiences have been very different from their own.

  -- Cindy Black

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Brooklyn parent reports on the WNYC/Schoolbook forum on "school choice"

See also NY Times/Schoolbook and GothamSchools on this forum. Here is the account from a Brooklyn parent who wishes to remain anonymous:
Last night I attended the WNYC/Schoolbook forum on “school choice” which turned out to be mostly about promoting Schoolbook--no surprise. Jodi Rudoren of the Times kicked off the evening by telling us all to go on Schoolbook and add comments on our children's schools. 
The Walcott conversation with Brian Lehrer was about what you'd expect. Some gentle probing, but they filtered out any slightly difficult questions by having the audience submit them on index cards or via Twitter. I didn't hear any Twitter questions answered. An OWS person tried to disrupt things and was hauled away after a while. Walcott just kept hammering away on the world as he sees it, where choice and small schools are all that matter.  A 12-year old who attended summed him up nicely: "He just keeps talking about how hard his job is." 
Walcott left and was followed by the panel discussion, led jointly by Beth Fertig and Brian Lehrer. This was a lot more interesting, and I came away impressed by several of the panelists. Kelvin Diamond, the Dist. 13 CEC member, struck me as a decent guy, very committed to building schools and community. His daughter attends Philippa Schuyler, a good middle school in Brooklyn, and he's been in the thick of the high school search. He spoke about how frustrating it was for parents to try to get sense out of the DOE, either about their children's situation or in a more activist role, i.e. through the CEC.
 The 8th grade teacher, Laura Klein, and the principal, Rashid Davis, both of whom have been blogging on Schoolbook, were terrific, actually, and seem like professionals who are very aware of their students and what they can and can't do for them. They both mentioned the fact that by the time kids get to high school, they've had ten years in the system already, and there are limits on what they can achieve. The charter school operator, Miriam Raccah of Achievement First, formerly of Girls Prep, said very little. The parent, Carla Trujillo, is a Mexican immigrant who spoke via a translator. She spoke about the difficulties of negotiating the process without knowing English, of the limitations of having one's child translate at school fairs, and so forth. They also ran a video that showed kids who'd been through the process talking about what had happened: honest and engaging teens.
Lots of bloggers and journalists were there, in addition to parents, quiet a few of whom were from the neighborhood.  But not enough to fill the auditorium, which was quite large and I wondered if they'd expected more of a crowd.  [Note from LH: Despite the frequent announcements on WNYC about how this event would help parents navigate the choice process, the event occurred the week after the high school applications were due.]  
They had perhaps a couple of hundred people, a mix of middle-class parents and those who looked as if they might be school employees. Walcott came in with Tish James, *the neighborhood's* city council rep, who has been dedicated to fighting for local schools. Anyway, I attended mostly because I have a 7th grader, and because it was a few blocks from where I live. It didn't tell us much about the high school process that we did not already know, but it was interesting to see Walcott as the face of mayoral control, with no acknowledgement of what real parents and children face every day.
And we all came away thinking a lot about the difference in choices--and likely outcomes--for our middle-class, high-achieving children and for those young people who have been born with very different opportunities.

Manhattan & Brooklyn parents fight back vs. Success charter invasion

video by Darren Marelli; Manhattan and Brooklyn parents fight back against the spreading invasion of Eva Moskowitz' Success charter schools in their public school buildings.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Leonie Haimson on CNN this morning

Carol Costello interviewing me today on CNN's American Morning.  Here's an accompanying article from the CNN blog.

After the show, I looked up Forest Hill HS; only 38% of their graduates are college ready, meaning they will need remediation.  I'm sure that even this relatively successful school could do better by its students if it provided them with smaller classes.

Monday, December 5, 2011

free movie screening Thurs. Dec. 8, at 6 PM!

Parents, Educators and Community Members You Are Invited To a Free Movie Screening and 
 Learn The Truth About Charter Schools

The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting For Superman
    When: Thursday, December 8th at 6pm
Where: Emily Dickinson School, PS 75
735 West End Avenue (enter on 96th St) NY, NY 10025

Q & A Panel Discussion After Screening


With:  Brian Jones and Julie Cavanagh, Teacher Activists;
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters;
                               Noah Gotbaum, CEC3 Charter/Overcrowding Committee Chair  

Four of the city’s most dynamic education activists discuss the current direction of DOE policies, the truth about charter schools, and what our children really need to succeed.

Sponsors, P.S.75 PTA, CEC 3 and Class Size Matters