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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is DOE's Turnaround Fair Play? The NYS Assembly doesn't think so

Assemblymembers Cathy Nolan of Queens and Jim Brennan of Brooklyn
Yesterday, the NY State Assembly Education Committee held a rare hearing in NYC on the state and city's implementation of the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, the so-called “turnaround” schools, and how the entire program is in complete disarray.   
The big news is that the city is determined to go ahead with turnaround model for 26 Persistently Low Achieving schools even if they do NOT receive any federal funds to do so. Turnaround  is an euphemism for closing these schools, firing much of the staff and reopening them in the fall with new names  There is massive confusion and no public input about the plans for these schools, and yet the city seems determined to close and reconstitute them, like lemmings going over a cliff, even at the city's taxpayers' expense.  Why?  Because they can. See Two Years In, Federal Grant Program To Improve Struggling City Schools Has Derailed (NY1); Plans to Close 26 Schools Will Proceed Regardless of Financing, City Says (Schoolbook) and Chancellor: Plan to Close, Reopen Schools Was Not Act of 'Revenge' (WNYC) and Walcott: Turnaround will happen even without federal funding (GothamSchools).  My testimony is here on how many these schools and their students have been systematically disadvantaged by overcrowding and extremely large class sizes; with no plans by the city or the state to do anything to address these deplorable conditions. 
 Walcott repeatedly claimed to the skeptical legislators that the turnaround plan is a “good model” with a track record of success—though he didn’t cite any specifics.  The DOE is also determined to keep paying the EPO’s [Educational Partnership Organizations] like New Visions,  Southern Regional Educational  Board etc., millions of dollars of city funds, even though the state will not be providing these funds because the DOE switched to the turnaround model rather than restart for these schools in mid-year.
Assembly Education members O'Donnell, Brennan, Chair Nolan, and Millman
Assemblymembers Cathy Nolan, Jim Brennan, Daniel O’Donnell and Michael Benedetto were especially insistent pointing out how the DOE’s plans would hurt students, and that the state was not providing adequate oversight in allowing DOE to carry this out, though Commissioner King said no final decision would be made about whether to approve the plans until June.
The legislators were also very critical of the State’s persistent secrecy.  Nolan found it “shocking” that King would not release DOE’s applications for the “turnaround schools” even if FOILed; he said he considers them “inter-agency communications.” O’Donnell was scathing about how SED had  just recently told him that charters are not fully subject to the DASA [Dignity for All Students Act] anti-bullying law he had sponsored, because of the way the bill was written – but never informed him there was anything wrong with the language during the ten years it took to get it passed.  The following is my blow-by-blow account of the hearings, imperfect as it is.
NYS Education Commissioner John B. King
Commissioner King was the first up to testify.  He claimed that federal guidelines required that the PLA [Persistently Low Achieving schools] that are subject to the four federal “improvement” models of closure, restart, transformation or turnaround, and their identification was  based solely on their graduation rates & student test scores in ELA and math (rather than taking account student “growth”  or their high-needs student populations.)  He did admit that school districts can pull back schools from PLA list for “extraordinary” circumstances. Ira Schwartz of SED said that all schools with four year grad rates below 60% for three years and which had the lowest test scores were on the list; there are 95 schools throughout state in category.  No schools have yet come off list yet; and it’s up to districts to petition for their removal.  No other NYS district has received funding for one of the four “school improvement” models, and then changed its model subsequently as NYC has.  Does NYSED have the oversight to reject NYC’s plans? Yes.
AM Nolan asked if they could review DOE’s applications to do so; King said no, they treat them as “inter-agency” and thus cannot be FOILED or released to the public until approved. [Interagency? I thought the State was supposed to provide independent oversight to the city, not act as they were part of the same agency! ]
Nolan: It is shocking that this is not available when teacher data reports released to public.  These funds were supposed to be school improvement programs; not used to close schools.  It's disturbing to us how the DOE switched mid-stream. We are concerned with NYSED’s oversight role here.  We don’t want change for change's sake; NYSED has been insular for too long.  We all have to start talking to each other; and make documents available to the committee.  What else is SED planning to do; any role in the EPO’s? [Educational Partnership Organizations that were contracted to run these schools as “Restart” schools, before they were put in turnaround mode.]
King: we helped provide districts with the definition of EPO's and reviewed template for contract. The funding for the EPOs was suspended in December; but the city is revisiting this.  [Using city taxpayer money!]  We are ensuring that the socio-emotional needs of students at struggling schools are supported. [How by closing their schools?]
Nolan: Abyssinian, Southern Regional Education Board, New Visions, etc; all are receiving millions of dollars.  Yet none of these organizations wanted to testify at our hearings!  What do you think these wunderkinds will do for us?
 King: NYC is the only district that contracted with EPOs.  Many of these organizations have track records in NYC. Partner organizaitons can help capacity to improve.  SREB has worked across country on career & technical preparation.   Nolan: Did anyone consult parents about this at these schools?  SREB seems to be an organization focuses on WWII- era vocational education – all that money to bring shop class back? What roles did parents play in this process?
King: The district has to show that they consulted with the school community; mayoral control law requires public hearings.  But nothing in federal guidelines require hearings or specific public comment.  State requires that the LEA will share their proposals with key stakeholders, seek meaningful input into development of proposals.  Nolan: Who determines what meaningful means?  Ira Schwartz: Generally what we look for is whether LEA has submitted plan to the School Leadership Team.  We look for signatures of rep of parents and union reps; if we do not receive them, then we ask for documentation of efforts by district that they reached out to parents.
Nolan: CSA [principal’s union] sent NYSED letter in January 31, concerned about the spending on EPOs; I was copied but never got a response from SED. They asked for an audit of expenditure of SIG funds.  King:  we have an audit process and a regular cycle. SIG districts will be audited. 
King insists that a Federal study  shows generally positive results of SIG programs; Nolan corrects him; the study did not show that any turnaround model with the same students in these revamped schools had improved outcomes. 
AM O’Donnell: What have you done to look further at 95 PLA schools to see what causes their underperformance? King: we send out a Joint Intervention Team [JIT] to review what’s happening in those schools; their reports are available online.  JITs are teams of educators who spend time at schools; we review their findings and that inform our determination. O’Donnell: What characteristics do these schools share? King: NYC PLA schools tend to have higher concentrations of students with disabilities, English Language Learners and students who enter HS scoring level  1 or 2  Part of that are enrollment policies, but I don’t believe that the mere presence of these factors is determinative. Some schools make progress despite these factors.
O’Donnell: What are the class sizes in the 95 PLA schools, vs. statewide or citywide averages?  Do you analyze this factor? King: As part of Contract for Excellence process, we do an analysis to focus on lowest performing schools [But even when DOE promised to reduce class size in these same schools, the state has not acted to enforce the law; see my testimony showing many of these PLA schools on the city’s priority list for class size reduction still have extremely large classes, far about the city and state averages.]  Class sizes tend to be variable in PLA schools; as a general matter, I don’t think that class size is a determinant of outcome; not the most significant challenge in most cases.  
O’Donnell:  One of my most difficult votes was to approve this program.  There is nothing in the School Improvement plans about class size.    Instead, you are blaming principals and teachers, when maybe it’s the size of classes, or the number of English Language Learners. You blame the principals; you blame the teachers, you determine that the problem is entirely about who is in the building, when that may not in fact be the problem at all.
King: The high concentration of at-risk students does not mean by definition that it will be a low-achieving school.   Class size is not determinative. Deputy Chancellor Suransky when he was a principal ran a school that was very successful [Bronx international HS that had and still has very small classes.] O’Donnell: Class size may not be determinative, but is a factor nonetheless. You shouldn’t just rely on the city's version; the state should do more work to look at why the school falls into PLA category. 
O’Donnell: [changes gear] I was the main sponsor of the Dignity for all Students Act [DASA]; I worked on this for ten years. NYSED never said a word about how the bill was drafted even though they were involved in a working group.  Didn’t say a word until they recently approved regulations that exclude charter schools from the rules.  This is the most comprehensive anti- harassment/ discrimination law in country; we agreed to delay implementation for 18 months for you to write the regs.  Between now and July 1, I expect this to be fixed.  If you or your employees thought there was a problem during the decade-long struggle to pass it, you should have said something to me about it before.    
Nolan: This is SED Standard operating procedure; we share our bills w/ 50,000 people, and yet no one from your office says a word.  Then after we pass a bill, you say, if you had only done this, it would be fine.  We’re looking for an open dialogue here. 
AM Millman: why no parents on JIT teams?  [King doesn’t answer.]
AM Benedetto: In terms of graduation rates, do you take into account students w/ disabilities?  Ira Schwartz: No.  Based on cohort, measured in 9th grade, how many graduate 4 years later with a standard diploma.  Benedetto: What about if a child takes 4 ½ years?  Schwartz: Under original provisions from US DOE, based on 4 year rate; we have now received permission to look at 5 yr. rate and can take this into account. moving forward.
Benedetto: If you have 20% IEP students; isn’t the school penalized?  King: When you have single standard, this creates “differentiated challenges.”
Nolan: The school can’t win then!   King: US DOE doesn’t want to give an incentive to over-identify students with disabilities; with our NCLB waiver application, we are now looking at growth.  But difficult question about how to disaggregate categories of SDs, to not give incentives to schools to push them into a more serious category. 
AM Brennan: RTT gave the state about $700 M over four years; total about $174 M per year.  School districts have total budgets of $55B per year total; RTTT funds represent about 1/3 of 1%.  SED distributes one half to districts. The other half goes to SED.  How are you spending it?   King: we’re spending $210 M for projects including Common Core, teacher evaluation tools, data system etc.  
Brennan: So this whole fight is about .2 -.3 % of school districts’ funding statewide?  All this is the result of schools getting pennies over four years?
King: No, this is really an issue of what’s in the best interest of students.   Teacher and principal evaluation system important, also required for NCLB waiver.  Common Core standards.   Other states realized this is the right thing for students.
Brennan: I’m concerned about driving radical change for so limited money.  Also, if you have a system opening hundreds of new schools and closing dozens of schools, churning student populations with domino effects, concentrating low performing students in some schools; causing huge disruption, with specific schools becoming the last resort, their low performance will be guaranteed because students are already so far behind.
King: the answer to give supports and opportunities for students.  HS Suransky ran had good outcomes for at-risk students.   [Again!]
Brennan: This churning of the student population so constantly, causing constant pressure – shell game. Where is district in terms of enrollment policies to ensure better opportunities for low performing schools?
King: Problem if only theory of improvement is the choice system; but there is also a strategy to drive  improved performance.  When student shows up, do the programs and the principal and teachers have skill set to meet their needs? Unfortunately, in too many schools the answer is no.  
[King leaves after Nolan thanking him for his participation. Chancellor Walcott shows up, with the famed Suransky and Marc Sternberg in tow.]
Nolan: You are closing 11 schools in Queens with bilingual programs; only 4 will remain.  What’s going to happen to these students?  Sternberg: We hope that the schools replacing them will offer similar programs.  Later he “clarifies”: We will not lose any bilingual programs; the new schools will continue them.  [NYC is under a “consent decree” with state for non-provision of bilingual services.]
Nolan: how many students are we hurting? Many of them will not able to graduate from school with same name.  Walcott: 26 schools will be in turnaround; but this will improve outcomes for students. 
Nolan:  I’m trying to keep open mind; very ill-advised and upsetting to students that have no voice and no choice. It's a harsh model.  Walcott: We factor in emotions of students into decision-making; but we believe that these plans will improve outcomes. Shael cites highly flawed MRDC study to claim that students do better in small schools.
Nolan counters Walcott; says not parents on staffing committees; why? Model hasn't been done before. Walcott denies; turnaround is sound educational model that will work to benefit students and has worked in no. of cases.
Millman: what are we doing to keep teachers doing best job or help them do better job?  Suransky: I’m surprised and excited by this question.  We are training teachers around support language development and literacy.  State leader on Common Core standards; teachable moment.  We have teachers and kids working on “deep” assignments.  Not just giving opinion but using evidence. More schools we can create w/ collaborative environment. Over two thirds of teachers working w/ colleagues and looking at student work. 
AM Simanowitz: What about the size of new schools?  Many of these schools severely overcrowded:  Walcott:  Marc Sternberg closely monitors trends in enrollment. Sternberg: Lehman is less overcrowded now; we talk about this a lot w/ school communities. 
AM Simanowitz: Richmond built for 1200, now has over 3500 kids? [actually at about 2500 with 132% utilization] . Walcott claims that they have reduced no. of trailers; [untrue! Now more TCU units citywide than 2005-6; 623 classrooms with the capacity of 12,773 students; more are actually being educated in trailers]. 
Nolan: so will Richmond Hill be less overcrowded next year? Walcott: we don't want students pushed out of schools. Sternberg: We hope new schools will attract families across city.  We’re working with Lehman [at 127% utilization] to think about how to stage reduction enrollment; academies, small learning communities, accommodate large population more efficiently with better results.
Benedetto: I believe you and the mayor think you are doing right; but you are misguided. Turnarounds why? Bloomberg made announcement at State of city address; I was there.  He’s doing it out of frustration w/ UFT and acting out of revenge, not what’s good for students. DOE changed principal of Lehman, it hurt the school; actions by DOE created this problem and now punishing Lehman by not giving the new principal a chance.  Walcott denies; turnaround is a “sound educational model “that will work to benefit students and has worked in a number of cases.
Nolan: This model has not been tried before.  Why no parents on the school based staffing committees? Parents and students are not happy about this.  Sternberg suggests parents can move their children out in 11th or 12th grade.
Nolan: What?  This is the first time I have heard this.  You say that I have other options as a parent to move my child as an 11th grader; is that what you’re saying?    I’ve listened to you for months, first time I’ve heard this.  Where in writing are parents given that option?    You’re saying these students can apply to InfoTech or Stuyvesant?
Sternberg: The new schools will draw on strengths of existing schools; and build on them with new programs and new staff.  Nolan: Can I see a list of schools that admit students in 11th and 12th grades?  And I don’t want just a copy of that huge HS directory.
AM Clark: what are you doing w/ enrollment to make sure that all the low-achieving students are not steered to particular schools?  Sternberg: students will be drawn to good schools. Walcott: we will train enrollment staff.   
O’Donnell: 95 schools under PLA; how many in NYC? Sternberg: 54.  O’Donnell: Big battle in my district about closing an elementary school, you wanted to give the school to Eva [Moskowitz].  Ironic because this public school had an “A”.  What letter grades did the 54 schools receive?  What class size averages?  What special Ed/ELL percentages in these schools?  Walcott: we will provide you with data.
O’Donnell:   You are doing something very damaging by closing these schools; students at these schools and graduates have an emotional connection to these schools. You should have fixed them. Goals? I don’t hear anything that makes me think you will achieve the goals or improving these schools in any way between April and Sept. of next year. I’m very depressed. 
Suransky: Lehman was at 55% graduation rate and now 51% rate; it’s been struggling for a long time; our responsibility to take more aggressive action.  We ask for your support. 
O’Donnell:  That’s fine; but you never listen to us when we or our communities cry out for changes.  When do you listen to our concerns?
Nolan: If the PLA schools aren’t based on the grades in the progress reports what’s the point?  Feds didn’t use your model.  For parents, this is very confusing.   Not consistent.
Walcott: I’m a big believer of letter grades; great benefit to schools.  [How?] We should make it more parent-friendly.  Suransky: Process underway; state submitted waiver under NCLB attempts to incorporate growth into accountability system, to bring it closer to NYC system.  Feds are learning from us. Letter grades guide other decision-making in city.
Nolan:  Cleveland HS never had glory days; a lot of challenges always; but it did provide a wide range of services to wide range of students w/ wide range of abilities.  We may be causing unintended consequences.  Why do we think SREB will help?   $1.5M to bring back shop at Cleveland?  Who are these six groups; a lot of taxpayer dollars to do what?
Sternberg: Principal of Cleveland HS did great work at Queens Vocational; she knew people at SREB.  When she moved to Cleveland she wanted to move SREB to bring w/ her, and resources. Additional programming, etc.  Small percentage of the funds go to EPO. Vast majority to staff and sub-contractors to support principal and do her bidding.
Nolan: the EPO did no outreach into community; was not present at hearing.  Who’s paying for their services if state doesn’t?  Walcott: We’re absorbing the costs; thru variety of funding sources. State will not provide any more [since they switched to turnaround model.]  [Walcott and the other DOE functionaries leave the scene.]
Ernie Logan of CSA, Leo Casey of UFT, and Santos Crespo of Local 372
Ernie Logan of CSA: DOE’s practices are NOT educationally sound; abandon one model in mid-strategy before we know what worked.  Nothing about what’s best for kids.  CSA always about accountability; but where’s the accountability for those at the top? Turnaround model doesn’t need teacher evaluation system.  Where is the oversight on NYC DOE Bd of Ed, to make sure they’re following the rules?  We asked for audit. No transparency.  Commissioner said he’d make a decision in June; but DOE plans to vote to close these schools in April!
Leo Casey: DOE’s most disastrous policy; incalculable damage by abandoning and closing schools. DOE closed over 140 pub schools under this administration, including many new schools they had created.  Misuse of SIG process, now administration to close additional 26, plus 23 already voted to phase out or close this year.  Bloomberg and DOE are bereft of solid ideas for school improvement.   Seven of these schools now have grad rates above threshold of 60%; three, including August Martin, LIC and Dewey – have four year grad rates above citywide average.
Cathy Nolan: Not just DOE, others also accountable like Obama administration for these policies.
Casey:  Agree we have criticisms also at US DOE, but here in NYC DOE made choice; and though these schools have a capacity to improve, they chose political retaliation instead.  LIC HS was in good shape, but since put in program, they have had different principals and such chaotic state not until mid- November students not given programs. Half of fall term was lost.  Where was DOE? [Or network?  The LIC network leader just appt. the new principal.]
State Commissioner must act to overturn decision to close schools that do not meet criteria for closure.  Albany must act to stop to enact two year moratorium.  Committee should examine NYC’s use of SIG funds, now being diverted into central DOE admin.  You need to get to bottom of this.
Parent panel: Leonie Haimson, Paola DeKock and Natasha Capers
Santos Crespo; Local 372:  I’m frustrated by hearing DOE’s testimony. Why changing name of school & claiming brand new school.  Changing name of Titanic, will that make it not sink?  School budgets keep on being cut, class sizes increasing, support staff laid off. Students have strong emotional attachment to their schools; I went to Samuel Gompers.  Why take that away just to call school something else. 
Logan: EPO’s.  Why as taxpayers are we giving away our schools for others to run?  Principals were given 48 hours to choose one of six EPOs selected by DOE. How did they come up with these six groups? And why do we still have them running our schools?  Not what law says.  We still haven’t seen these contracts.  They are in now providing input on whether principal stays.   We are not holding people accountable.  Commissioner is not doing proper oversight.   Somebody should say to Mayor, you have to answer to the people.  King spoke a lot about Joint Intervention Teams; but no one ever tells city to follow their recommendations. No enforcement. 
My testimony followed, along with that from Paola de Kock, President of the Citywide Council on HS, Natasha Capers, PA VP from PS/IS 298 in Brownsville (which is facing the loss of its middle school) and Daniela Rodriguez, students leader at Grover Cleveland HS.  Ms. Rodriguez testified that when Walcott visited the school, he said he was "impressed" with it, and promised to support it before later deciding to close it down. My testimony, focused on the large class sizes and overcrowding at these schools, as well as the mystery as to why NYSED does not allow the SIG funds to be used for class size reduction, follows.
CSM Testimony PLA 4.11.12


Pogue said...

King and the NYC DOE are very good at propagandizing, witholding detrimental information, and lying, hoping that facts won't be revealed till after they've left these proceedings.

What Bloomberg shills!

And all at the expense of NYC's children.

verninino said...

Thank you Leonie. I wanted badly to come to this hearing but work...

What're the chances the Committee will do anything constructive and significant with its collective outrage?

Anonymous said...

Also Tweett ordered to rate a certain quota of teachers U to justify their agenda, It Is shameful.

Sandi Lusk said...

More destruction from DOE. Testified at the hearing at Lehman High School which is a "Turnaround" school. 3 hours of kids and teachers and parents begging the Deputy Chancellor and PEP not to close the school. I blasted them about privatization and Bloomberg's revenge on the UFT.
I know it will make no difference, but it felt good anyway. Our Assemblyman Mike Benedetto is an ex special ed teacher, so he knows how the dominoes fall, we're very proud of him. Keep up the good work!!!