Sunday, April 29, 2012

The bungled "turnaround" strategy of Long Island City HS: Who really is responsible for this mess?

Panel for Educational Policy meeting, April 26, 2012
Last Thursday, April 26, in another long, highly emotional meeting that stretched late into the evening, the Panel for Educational Policy voted to close 24 schools and put them in “turnaround” mode, one of the federal models  for school “improvement” in which the entire teaching staff is fired and is forced to reapply for their jobs. The city is doing this, despite the fact that the state may deny them the federal funds that are supposed to be the “reward” for this model.
 In defending his decision to close these schools in general, and in particular to close Long Island City, as compared to Grover Cleveland HS, which was taken off the “turnaround” list at the last minute, Chief Academic Officer Shael Suransky explained:
… that the schools post some very different data points. At Long Island City, for example, only 11 percent of parents responding to a city survey said the school is doing well, he said. (Long Island City had a massive scheduling debacle earlier this year, and the department is replacing the principal it installed just last year.) 
Long Island City students, arriving at school
He didn’t mention that Grover Cleveland HS is also the alma mater of NYS Assembly Education Chair of Cathy Nolan, a fierce critic of these proposals. 
But let’s provide a little history and context here:
 Long Island City HS is a very overcrowded school, with a large number of English Language Learners (14%) and students with disabilities (14%) ;  41% of the latter group in segregated classes. 
In addition, in Oct. 2010, the school was on a list of struggling schools with very high class sizes in which DOE promised the state to reduce class size, as part of their Contract for Excellence plan.  
Here is what InsideSchools said about the school in 2010:  when it first landed on the DOE’s list of “transformation” schools:
In an effort to boost academic performance, the Department of Education named Long Island City High School a transformation school in 2010. Under the terms of the $1.8 million federal grant, which requires new leadership at transformation schools, the 17-year-principal, Williams Bassell, stepped aside and Maria Mamo-Vacacela, formerly an assistant principal for math, was named interim acting principal. Basell was named as a “mentor” to the new principal and continues to work full-time in the school. …
To accommodate the huge enrollment, students come to school in four shifts, some beginning as early as 7:00 a.m. The lockers are not used: Because there aren’t enough to go around, nobody is assigned to one.  To help the transition to high school, 9th graders are placed in groups of 130 students and four teachers. In 10th grade, students are placed in one of eight theme-based Small Learning Communities (SLC), which have replaced the ability-based Personal Learning Environments. One student acts as a “leadership liaison” to each SLC.
What else were the plans to improve the learning environment? According to the Comprehensive Education Plan for 2011-2012, students with disabilities and ELLS were to be assigned a commercial online learning program called Castle Learning.
Here is what the school was supposed to do to boost parent involvement: “Parent Coordinator will designate time in the Parent-Teacher Association Meetings for APs to discuss the format and importance of Regents Exams. APs will use the periodic assessments to generate a mail merged letters giving parents and students detailed feedback on student performance on the assessments.”
Here is what their "Strategies for attracting Highly Qualified Teachers" consisted of:
o Administrative staff regularly attends hiring fairs to identify and recruit highly-qualified Math teachers.
o The pupil personnel secretary will work closely with the network HR point person to ensure that non-HQT meet all required documentation and assessment deadlines.
o Mentors and/or master teachers are assigned to support struggling and non-highly qualified teachers.
They also intended to offer extended day – one of the prescribed “transformation” strategies, although there is very little research showing this strategy works for at-risk students.  Even the CEP admits the school has had little success with these programs in the past.
Historically, after school programs for ELLs at LICHS have been very sparsely attended and ELL attendance to the school's general Saturday Academy has also been low. Saturday academies run six Saturdays at the end of each semester from 8:00am to 11:00am. By creating a special ELL section of the Saturday Academy focused on Regents Prepartion [sic] and College Readiness the intent is to create a welcoming environment that intentionally uses instructional techniques proven to work with ELLs, including the MEAL paragraph for scaffolding writing.
[Apparently, the MEAL paragraph means: “To help writers understand how to craft clear and effective paragraphs, writers should remember this formula: MEAL. This stands for Main idea, Evidence, Analysis, and Link.]
The CEP also mentions in passing “smaller learning communities”: “The teachers of the ninth grade advisory classes are provided with a curriculum and have weekly meetings in their small learning community teams.”
Now, as mentioned above, the DOE decided to replace the 17-year principal with an inexperienced principal in the fall of 2011. 
What else happened?  The year before, in 2010-11, Long Island City had 3300 students, despite a school target cap of 2100 students.  That means the school exceeded the target cap by 1200 students, with a utilization rate of 157%.
In 2011, the educrats at Tweed sent 208 more students than the year before, meaning the school this year has a population of 3508 students – exceeding its cap by 1398 students, and with utilization rate of 166%!  
So DOE took this severely overcrowded and struggling school, replaced the experienced principal with a new principal,  sent the school more than 200 additional  students.
Not surprisingly, instead of reducing class sizes, as DOE had  promised the state, class sizes rose sharply. 
According to the DOE class size reports, class sizes surged from an average of 26.8 in the fall of 2010 to 31 in the fall of 2011.  (We believe that both these figures probably underestimate the actual class sizes, as a result of systematic errors in DOE’s reporting method, but never mind.) 
Here is a chart showing what class sizes have been in core academic subjects at the school over the last few years, according to the DOE official figures, compared with state averages.  
What else happened? The school switched around students' schedules in November!  See Lindsey Christ's excellent reporting on this: NY1 Exclusive: Long Island City High School Community In Uproar Over Scheduling Debacle and her follow up story, Federal Program Blamed For Long Island City High School Scheduling Chaos:
Last week, 120 class sections were cut out of the schedule. Four course offerings were canceled entirely, meaning 900 students attended two months of classes in courses that no longer exist. All 3,500 students were given new class schedules with different teachers. The school blames the transformation program...
A "small learning community" at DeWitt Clinton HS
“There were a lot of things that weren't broke that they wanted fixed, and sometimes that causes more problems that really have to be fixed. And it's been a difficult time dealing with people from Washington feeling that they know better than the people on the ground,” said teacher Ken Achiron.
The grant required replacing the school’s longtime principal, who teachers say dealt well with the complicated scheduling, and also called for the school to be divided into smaller "learning communities."
Then, early in April, the DOE took the school out of “transformation” mode, put it in “turnaround” mode, and replaced the new principal, this time with the network leader:
The city’s choice to take over is Vivian Selenikas, Long Island City’s current network leader…. Selenikas led the High School for Arts and Business in Queens from 2003 to 2007 and will replace Maria Mamo-Vacacela, who does not actually have to be removed under turnaround rules. 
So to “transform” a school the principal needs to be removed, but not to “turn” it around?  One also wonders why the network leader was chosen to lead this school, given that it had remained in chaos throughout the fall; clearly her support had proven insufficient to prevent its severe problems.  (Selenikas was also involved in a controversial move in 2007 to fire the respected director of an anti-domestic violence program in East Harlem, a move that was questioned by the Councilmember Melissa Viverito, as well as community activists.)
LIC HS students at school closure hearing; credit GothamSchools
Here is a description of the recent closure hearings at Long Island City HS in Gotham Schools:
As a Queens network leader, Selenikas is no stranger to the large high school on Broadway, which required help from her and other Department of Education officials last year to resolve massive scheduling problems….But many parents say they are worried that the city is not planning adequately for turnaround. Some say they are wary of the abrupt leadership change, which would be the third in less than four years….
Selenikas said she would lead the creation of several new Small Learning Communities, including an academy for freshmen, and possibly an arts-focused community and a sports-focused community that would integrate the school’s many electives and clubs. She also wants to add more Advanced Placement classes to the 18 already on offer…Selenikas was more vague about her plans for the more nearly 100 LICHS teachers whose jobs would be placed in jeopardy this summer if the turnaround begins. …. The hiring committee will include Selenikas, two members picked by the teachers union and two members picked by the city.
So here the supposed "fix" for next year is even more Small Learning Communities, or are they supposedly redoing them all over again?  And what do small learning communities mean, in a vastly overcrowded school with large class sizes?
1. Facilitative & distributive leadership
 2. Dedicated teaching, learning, & support teams
3. A data driven system of accountability
4. Rigorous curriculum & instruction for all students, centered on a unifying focus 
What that means aside from a lot of buzzwords, I have no idea, but it certainly does not mean smaller classes.  Indeed, as apparently happened at Long Island City HS this year, creating Learning Communities can lead to even larger classes, because one of the assigned periods for each teacher became an “advisory,” rather than an academic class.  

Now remember, at the PEP meeting last week, Suransky explained his decision to close the school was based upon the fact that 11% of parents didn’t believe the school was doing well.  Of course the parents are angry and dissatisfied! Wouldn’t you be if your child had been rescheduled into new classes in November?  But whose fault is this, the teachers, or DOE and the network leader?
Rally for Long Island City HS Credit: GothamSchools
If Suransky and/or Selenikas had been doing their jobs, why did they allow the school to devolve into chaos in the first place?  Who is really responsible for this sorry mess, the teachers who are now being fired, or DOE for sending even more students into a vastly overcrowded school, imposing a model that led to larger classes, and failing to provide the support that an inexperienced principal needed to properly devise student schedules? 
And is it possible for anyone to believe that replacing up to half the staff at the school over the summer will help solve these problems, instead of making them worse?  The whole theory behind this is unbelievably absurd.
Note: similar stories could be told most of the other NYC “turnaround” schools as well.  See my testimony before the Assembly Education Committee here.  In nearly every case, the DOE is directly responsible for the fact that these schools are struggling; and has demonstrably failed in their duty to deliver a quality education to NYC children.  Truly, if there were any justice in the world, it would be the educrasts at Tweed who should be fired, and a committee of parents and educators established to decide which ones might be rehired, instead of the staff at these schools.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Please endorse and ask your CEC to approve the National Resolution against High-stakes Testing

The following resolution is modeled on a resolution that as of April 25 had been approved by 405 Texas school boards , by Palm Beach and St. Lucie school boards in Florida, and Community Education Council in D 30 in Queens. UPDATE: It has now also been approved by CEC 14, 20 and 21 in Brooklyn, and CEC 3 in Manhattan. 
The resolution was written by Parents Across America, in collaboration with the Advancement Project; Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund; FairTest; Forum for Education and Democracy; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; National Education Association; Race to Nowhere; Time Out From TestingUnited Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries and other organizations.  Diane Ravitch has written about it here; and Valerie Straus of the Washington Post here. As of today, just one day after it was publicly released, the national resolution has already been endorsed by more than 100 organizations and more than 2000 individuals.

We encourage organizations and individuals to publicly endorse the resolution ; and especially, to urge your Community Education Council to approve it, as adapted below. We have added two clauses, including urging the state to give parents the  right to opt their children out of standardized testing, which exists in many other states, as well as the public’s right to examine these exams after they are given, which the state has now decided to disallow. If your CEC or other organization does pass it, please let us know by emailing with resolution in the subject line; thanks!

WHEREAS, our nation's future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship and lifelong learning, and strengthens the nation's social and economic well-being; and

WHEREAS, our nation's school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money and energy on high-stakes standardized testing, in which student performance on standardized tests is used to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators and schools; and

WHEREAS, the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public schools by hampering educators' efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy; and

WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and

WHEREAS, the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in too many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate; and

WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the culture and structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that promote joy in learning, depth of thought and breadth of knowledge for students; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that [your organization name] calls on Governor Cuomo, the State legislature, Board of Regents, and the State Education Commissioner to reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and to develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools; and

RESOLVED, that that [your organization name] urges the Governor and the State Legislature to approve legislation giving parents the right to opt their children out of standardized testing, a right that parents have  in many other states, including California;

RESOLVED, that the Governor and the State Legislature approve legislation giving the public the right to examine the state standardized exams after they are given, as existed in NY state before this year and is still required by the “Truth in Testing” law that pertains to other exams, such as the SATs; 

RESOLVED, that [your organization name] calls on the U.S. Congress and Administration to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as the "No Child Left Behind Act," reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Noah Gotbaum on the SUNY charter committee's decision to table the hike in fees of Success Academy charter today

The SUNY committee decided to table the motion to hike the fees of Eva Moskowitz's controversial charter network by 50%, probably because of a dynamite column by Juan Gonzalez today.  Here is the account of what happened by Noah Gotbaum, chair of the Overcrowding and Charter Committee of Community Education Council in District 3. 
There was no discussion before the Committee decided to table the motion to double the management fees of Success Academy network.  Ken O’Brien (SUNY Charter Committee Chair) just came in, called the meeting to order and then said that the Committee was “tabling” the fee portion of the merger resolution and that the rest would be discussed and voted on later in the meeting.   
In addition to the Committee and Charter Schools Institute reps Ralph Rossi and Susan Baker-Miller, about 30 others in the room in the room included a half dozen from Success (Jenny Sedlis , legal counsel from Paul Weiss, usual parents), Lindsay Christ (NY1) and Ben Chapman (Daily News), and two dozen from our side, including Jim Devor and many from New York Communities for Change, complete with great signage.  All in this mahogany lined board room.  Surreal. 
Some discussion about what would be on the agenda, prior resolutions, ground rules with O’Brien alternately praising CSI’s “great work” while repeatedly saying there would be no public discussion or comments.  After about 15 minutes, he called for an Executive Session and asked us all to leave, to which a number in our group asked “what are you hiding?” and “why are you shutting out the public?”  O’Brien then called the guards in while the counsel explained that they were discussing privileged and confidential lawyer/client information regarding the charter replication process. 
We were then pushed out to wait downstairs for about 45 minutes after which we trudged back up to hear Baker-Miller and Rossi provide the Committee with a powerpoint presentation on the replication process and then the Success merger, the latter which had never been undertaken previously in NY.  Much self-important talk of “accountability,” “financial and academic performance,” “streamlining,” and nuts and bolts of all.   
After about 20 minutes O’Brien called for a discussion of the Success Merger resolution.  There was none.  Zero.  Not a word.  Resolution wasn’t even read.  He then called for a vote at which point I call out: “where is the public comment?!”  Silence.  I then called out again and asked what happened to the comments from Friday’s public hearing?  O’Brien:  “there will be no public comments!”   
I asked again: “I understand that you are not taking public comments at this meeting but we want to know what happened to the comments made at the hearing and via email to SUNY and the DOE?  What happened to those?  Did you see them?”  More Silence.   
O’Brien gets up and motions to guards who enter the room.  “Why hold a public hearing if you aren’t even considering what was said by the public?”  O’Brien then motions for a vote, awkward five second silence while he waits for a second to his proposal which finally comes, and then the unanimous voice vote – no roll-call, boom.  Then immediately “meeting adjourned” after which O’Brien and Committee members flee into an ante room leaving Rossi, Baker-Miller a stray member, three or four guards and angry community members.    
A bunch of us then stand across the table from Rossi and push him on why hold a public hearing if the comments are not discussed by the Committee or even given to them? “Not required” he tells us.   
“What?” we ask.   
Rossi continues: “The only comments we are required to consider are those submitted by the District, who in this case is represented by the Chancellor - and he didn’t submit any.”   
“So again, why hold a public hearing if you only are obligated to consider the Chancellor’s opinions?” we ask.  “The hearing was publicized – terribly – for the public, not for Walcott” we add. 
“If Walcott wants to consider what is said at the hearing and incorporate it he can, but he didn’t,” we are told.   
“So what happened to our comments?” we ask.   
“They were recorded and given to the Chancellor and to us” he says.   
“No they weren’t,” we say.  “They weren’t even written down by the DOE.”   
“Well, we get a summary of them,” he says.   
“Really?” we ask. “Have you received them?”    
“I will have to check…” says Rossi.  Conversation and meeting over.
Obviously Juan Gonzalez’s article embarrassed SUNY into tabling Eva’s management fee increase.  In short, they were “caught” and didn’t want to deal with the uproar today.  But am sure they will figure out a way to get Eva her extra millions, we just won’t hear about it.   
And Eva obviously needs the extra cash since she now has a more streamlined and efficient structure.  Although when I worked in the business world, increased efficiency led to lower costs not higher.  What am I missing?  Maybe the funds are going to increased services like self-contained classes?  But wasn’t she required to provide those previously?   
Oh this is all so confusing.  Maybe that’s why the SUNY Trustees just leave all these difficult decisions up to their staff at the Charter Schools Institute.  They, like Eva, Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee and her hedge fun financiers at Students First, know far better than we parents do what’s best for our kids.  Thank goodness for them…

Letter to SUNY board about Success Academy's proposed increase in management fees

Eva Moskowitz credit: NY Post
UPDATE: Just heard that today, the SUNY committee tabled the proposed hike in fees.

April 24, 2012
Dear Chairman McCall, SUNY board of trustees and members of the SUNY charter committee:

I hope you have seen Juan Gonzalez’ article in today’s Daily News; “Public kept in dark about sweet deals for Success Charter Network schools.”

If not, it is reprinted in full below.  I urge you to disallow the proposed egregious hikes in the management fees of Success charters, and the abuse of public process involved in this rushed and secretive deal.

A 15% management fee is twice the average for a NYC CMO (7%) and close to the average of a for-profit Educational Management Organization (17%).  New charters run by EMOS are now banned, as I’m sure you are aware. Some CMOs, including the Harlem Children Zone, charge no management fees at all. The independent study that shows this is posted here:

Since Ms. Moskowitz receives free space and services from DOE, as well as raises millions from private sources, there is no reason for her to reap more fees from taxpayers in order to expand her already extensive bureaucracy, resources that should be spent instead on the schoolchildren of New York City.

As the Success chain of charters grows, despite intense community opposition, her management fees should be lowered rather than increased, due to efficiencies of scale.  If more revenue is needed, let Ms. Moskowitz cut her own exorbitant salary of more than $400,000 per year, eliminate her personal film crew, moderate her spending on political activities, or restrict the many millions of dollars she devotes to advertising and promotion. 

Whatever the possible justification for the hike in management fees, there is no excuse for approving it in such a rushed and secretive matter. If this proposal has been before the Charter Institute since February, as the document entitled “Success Academy Charter Schools 1-5 Merger Summary”, dated 4.17.12 attests, why hold the hearing on a Friday night in April, after parents had only been informed about it three days before?  Why deny parents the right to see the actual proposal?  And why vote on this proposal now?
The very manner in which the notification and scheduling of this hearing and vote are taking place appears to violate the public process required by law. 
As Juan Gonzalez writes, So you have this mockery of the democratic process where parents are asked to comment on a document they have never seen, and even before they’ve done so, the bureaucracy schedules a vote.”

I hope that you will carefully scrutinize all the issues involved in this decision, and vote accordingly.  Here in NYC, we have tired of rubberstamp boards that approve whatever wasteful and damaging proposal that is put before them.

The full article by Juan Gonzalez is below. [Click on the link to see the article.]

Yours sincerely,

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters

More errors on the Pearson's NYS math exams this week

Given reports today of more errors in this week's 4th grade and 8th grade NYS math exams (see below), added to the absurd passage and questions on the 8th grade ELA exam, now known as Pineapplegate, we say three strikes and you’re out.  Pearson should be made to forfeit their $32 million contract.   
If our children make errors on these high-stakes exams, this will have negative consequences for them, as well as for their teachers and schools.  So why should Pearson, which had nearly $2 billion in profits last year, be left off the hook for their sloppy mistakes? Where's the accountability for them?   Leave a comment about what you think about this.
Message from NYSED to NYS principals last night:
Re 4th grade math: “Question 58 on all test forms has two correct answers. If during this test any student asks about Question 58, proctors may advise the student that there are two correct answers to this question.”
And re 8th grade math: “Due to a typographical error, there is no correct answer to Question 13 on this test form. Proctors may tell students before the test begins that there is no correct answer for this question and students should mark any answer to this question on their answer sheets. Because it is an embedded field test question, Question 13 does not count toward students’ scores.”

Monday, April 23, 2012

The past week has been a nightmare for New York students, their teachers and their principals

An Open Letter to the Board of Regents Regarding High-Stakes Testing and the School Reform Agenda of New York State


The past week has been a nightmare for New York students in Grades 3 through 8, their teachers and their principals. Not only were the New York State ELA exams too long and exhausting for young students, (three exams of 90 minutes each), they contained ambiguous questions that cannot be answered with assurance, problems with test booklet instructions, inadequate space for students to write essays, and reading comprehension passages that defy commonsense. In addition, the press reported a passage that relied on knowledge of sounds and music which hearing-impaired students could not answer and Newsday reported that students were mechanically ‘filling in bubbles’ due to exhaustion []. Certainly the most egregious example of problems with the tests is the now infamous passage about the Hare and the Pineapple.
On Friday, Commissioner King offered no apologies in what appeared to be a hastily written press release regarding the Hare and the Pineapple passage. In that release, Commissioner King faults the media for not printing the complete passage (many did), and passes the buck by noting that a committee of teachers reviewed the passage. In short, he distances the State Education Department from its responsibility to get the tests right. Considering the rigor and length of the exams, as well as their use in the evaluation of educators and schools, one might have hoped that the State Education Department and Pearson would have reviewed the tests with more care.
For many of us, however, this is but the latest bungle in the so-called school reform movement in New York State. More than 1400 New York State principals have repeatedly begged the department to slow down, pilot thoughtful change and avoid using student test scores as high-stakes measures. The recent ELA test debacle was foreseeable to those of us who lead schools and know from experience that you cannot make so many drastic changes to curriculum, assessment and educator evaluation in a short period of time, especially without listening to those who lead schools.  The literature on leadership is clear. Effective leadership is about the development of followership. If truth be told, however, there are fewer and fewer followers of this State Education Department every day.  The Pineapple, like the ‘plane being built in the air’, is now a symbol of the careless implementation of a reform agenda that will cost billions of dollars, without yielding the promised school improvement.
There are many who disparage our public schools in New York State.  Although we acknowledge that improvements are needed, there is also much of which we are proud. We are proud of our tradition of New York State Regents examinations.  We are proud that New York State students are second in the nation in taking Advanced Placement exams. We are proud of our Intel winners and the number of New York high schools on national lists of excellence. We are proud that our schools are second in the nation according to a comprehensive analysis of policy and performance conducted by the research group, Quality Counts.
We also know that too many of our schools are racially and socio-economically isolated with overwhelming numbers of students who receive little opportunity and support in their communities as well as in their schools. We cannot ignore deep-seated social problems while blindly believing that new tests, data warehousing systems and unproven evaluation systems are the answer. That view, in our opinion, is irresponsible and unethical.
This ill-conceived Race to the Top, recently critiqued by the National School Boards Association, is no more sensible than the race of the Hare and the Pineapple.  Yet the New York State Education Department continues to enthusiastically push its agenda. Our schools are faced with contradictory and incomplete directives regarding high-stakes testing and evaluation, our teachers are humiliated by the thought of publicized evaluation numbers and our students are stressed by the unnecessary testing that has consumed precious learning time.
We understand that change is important for school revitalization. We have years of collective experience successfully leading educational improvement in our schools, often as partners with the State Education Department. Unfortunately, our voices have been ignored and marginalized during the past year. Nevertheless, we believe that we have an ethical obligation to speak out. It is often said about educational change that it is a pendulum that swings. We are now watching the pendulum of school reform swing dangerously, and we fear that this time it is a wrecking ball aimed at the public schools we so cherish.
The following principals respectfully submit this open letter to the New York State Board of Regents:

Anna Allanbrook, Brooklyn New School, New York City Public Schools

Carol Burris,South Side High School, Rockville Centre School District

Gail Casciano,Nassakeag Elementary School, Three Village Central School District

Carol Conklin-Spillane,Sleepy Hollow High School, Tarrytowns School District

Sean Feeney,The Wheatley School, East Williston School District

Sharon Fougner,Elizabeth Mellick Baker School, Great Neck School District

Andrew Greene,Candlewood Middle School, Half Hollow Hills Central School District

Bernard Kaplan,Great Neck North High School, Great Neck School District

Harry Leonardatos,Clarkstown High School, Clarkstown Central School District

Michael McDermott, Scarsdale Middle School, Scarsdale School District

Shelagh McGinn,South Side Middle School, Rockville Centre School District

Sandra Pensak, Hewlett Elementary School, Hewlett-Woodmere School District

Elizabeth Phillips,PS 321 William Penn, New York City Public Schools

Donald Sternberg, Wantagh Elementary School, Wantagh Public Schools

Katie Zahedi, Linden Avenue Middle School, Red Hook Central Schools

Pineapplegate and the media storm that has ensued

Credit: Bramhall Cartoons, Daily News

Here is a rather breathless account of what is now being called Pineapplegate.  I had no idea what a media storm would erupt as a result of Thursday’s blog post.  Please also be sure to fill out this short parent survey about the testing regime in NY State.  If you are a teacher, fill this one out, and if a principal fill this one.  These surveys were developed by the NYS principals who wrote the protest letter to the Commissioner, opposing the new teacher evaluation system.
On Thursday morning, on the train to Washington DC, I posted my piece revealing the absurd Pineapple reading passage and questions on the 8th grade ELA exam. By the time I returned to NYC Friday night, NYS Education Commissioner John King had already released the full passage and its associated questions, and put out a statement, saying the section would not be scored because of their ambiguous nature of the questions.
Ever since, I haven’t had time to catch my breath about the plethora of articles being published about what is now being called Pineapplegate.   There are nearly seventy stories about the issue listed on Google News. 
The first media outlets to jump on the scandal late Thursday night were the Daily News (which credited this blog) and NY1.  By Friday afternoon, the Washington Post and Time magazine had blogged about it, and the Wall St. Journal interviewed Daniel Pinkwater, author of the original story from which the passage on the exam was based.
The NY Times reported on the story on Saturday, and though the reporter credited the Daily News rather than our blog with breaking the story, at least she had the good sense to quote Diane Ravitch and Debbie Meier.  Also on Saturday, the highly conservative Daily News ran an editorial blasting Commissioner King and Regent Merryl Tisch:
Allowing nonsense like “The Pineapple and the Hare” to be placed before New York students, many of whom found it absurd, gave testing foes powerful ammunition to argue that standardized exams cannot be trusted.
Tisch and King must a) get their acts together, b) recognize that they have no margin for error, c) build a consensus that their testing program is excellent, d) all of the above. The right answer is unambiguous and obvious.
The Fordham Institute, right wing home of many of the worst corporate reform ideas, carried a strong critique of the carelessness of NYS and the testing companies for including these indefensible questions, and strengthening the arguments of “anti-testing” advocates like me:
But the real outrage among those of us who care deeply about accountability is why these problems aren’t being caught earlier. For too long we have been focusing our attention on expanding the use of tests to more grades and more subject areas and increasing the consequences tied to the results of these tests without taking a hard look at the uneven quality of the tests themselves….’m sure this story will only add fuel to the anti-testing fire, and frankly, it would be very hard to argue that it shouldn’t. After all, how can we possibly hold students accountable to such poorly written questions aligned to such poorly written prose?
The NY Post reporter chimed in, adding new revelations about complaints rolling in about other passages on other ELA exams this year, including from teachers of deaf kids.
On Sunday, Daniel Pinkwater, the author of the original story, had an oped in the Daily News, calling these world’s dumbest test questions, and saying he got “dirty money” from “sleazy people” in return for allowing them use his story in their tests.
A teacher/blogger put out a clever parody, called The Fruitcake and the Big Banana, about Race to the Top and the damaging policies of the Obama administration.
Newsday reported that because the exams were so long and grueling this year, many students had trouble completing them, and some were so tired that they began to fill in answer sheets at random, a phenomenon known as “bubbling.”
About the only organization not to speak out is Pearson itself, which created these tests, using the same confusing reading passage about the Pineapple and the Hare, and ridiculous, unanswerable questions in at least six other states over SEVEN long years.  And to whose benefit, the NY State Education Department has decided to refuse to disclose their exams, even after students have taken them.
But never fear.  Pearson was paid $32 million for these tests, and the company’s pre-tax profits surged last year by 72%, totaling nearly $1.8 billion.  Meanwhile our school budgets are cut to the bone, class sizes are increasing each year, and our children are subjected to baffling high-stakes and expensive exams, with NO oversight and NO quality control.   Pearson is also spending more on lobbying to further expand their market and ensure that the government encourages even more absurd and unreliable high-stakes tests for years to come.
Oh, and the trip to DC?  I was with a group of Parents Across America representatives from throughout the country, who attended a parent meeting at t the US Department of Education. We also met with Congressional staffers.  Nearly all of these inside-the-beltway officials were absolutely clueless about how outraged parents have become about the expansion of high-stakes testing in their children’s schools, and the hugely negative effect it has had.
Clearly, a revolution is brewing, but whether the corporate reformers will have the sense to realize and step back before it is too late is still uncertain.  Perhaps only the Pineapple knows for sure, and he’s not talking.  As one teacher tweeted over the weekend, Pearson has moved it to an undisclosed location.
See also video from WABC news below.  And don’t forget to take these parent and teacher surveys!

Why are classroom teachers being pulled out of schools to grade ELA exams, right before the math exams?

From a Brooklyn parent who prefers to remain nameless:
This past weekend my daughter and I spent several hours going over math problems, preparing for her 5th grade state math exams which will take place Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week. I was very surprised this morning on our way to school when my daughter mentioned to me that she would have a sub, both for today and tomorrow, as her teacher would be out to grade last week's ELA exams at another school location.
I called the school to verify if this reason was accurate and the parent coordinator confirmed it was.  The reality is that the DOE now demands that each school send a certain number of classroom teachers based on enrollment to score these exams, during the school day, or the school must pay into a fund to hire scorers in their place.    It is up to each school to come up with a coverage strategy. Until recently, the DOE paid teachers overtime to do this, but now places the entire burden on the school.
Like many things about the standardized testing movement, removing classroom teachers the days before one of the two biggest exams of the year defies common sense.  Of the many idiotic things about standardized testing in this state, this has to rank up there beyond the "Pineapplegate" of last week.  Several obvious questions come to mind:
1.  Why are teachers being pulled the two days before the state math exams?  How does this help students? teachers? schools? NYSED? 
2.  If these tests are so important how does the state require schools to put substitutes in classes the two days before the most important tests of the year?  Yes, the math has been taught and learned all year and the two days shouldn't matter as if they were any two days of the year. But I am concerned about these particular two days, about providing continuity and structure to a class in the days leading up to an important exam.  Substitutes almost never provide that structure and everyone knows that.  Student performance will suffer as a result.
3.  If teachers, schools and principals are being judged by these test scores (their jobs are at stake), how is the state factoring in the fact that their teachers have been pulled from these classes in the days leading up to these tests?  
4.  Why couldn't the state wait one week before requiring teachers for grading?  Is that too much common sense?
Education politicians and bureaucrats who emphasize standardized testing as a means to determine all things about education and then set up structures that assist in ensuring student low performance should be removed from office. 
--5th grade parent, PS 261K

Sunday, April 22, 2012

NYC principal opting her own children out of testing

Here is a letter from a NYC principal who spoke out against standardized testing and corporate education reform on WNYC radio, when Brian Lehrer had Michelle Rhee as his guest.   She sent the below letter, about opting her children out of testing in the Ridgewood NJ public schools,  to their principals, teachers, the superintendent, the NCLB administrator, guidance counselors, Special Education supervisor, etc. The official response so far has been from the superintendent, who made a veiled threat that she could be reported for truancy for keeping her children out of school on these days. The letter has been slightly revised to omit the names of her children and their schools.
Good afternoon.
 Please be advised that I do not permit my children, to participate in the NJ ASK or any other standardized testing for state report cards and NCLB/RTTT accountability. I believe that this kind of testing is, at best, counter-productive and perhaps even harmful to my children’s education and development. My position is based on my conscientious objection to the State of New Jersey and the U.S. Department of Education employing an early 20th Century assessment model, which reflects the goals, aspirations and knowledge of that time, in order to make high-stakes decisions about the effectiveness of teaching, learning, and schooling today.  This kind of high-stakes testing is not based on what we know about teaching and learning in 2012, nor can it prepare our children for the demands of the 21st Century. The State of New Jersey and the USDOE overstep their bounds and do a disservice to the public when they ignore professionals in local schools by arbitrarily making high-stakes educational decisions based on standardized tests.  Finally, this absurd emphasis on standardized testing depletes valuable tax dollars that could otherwise be spent on improving and supporting teaching and learning.
 As a parent and a 26-year veteran NYC public school educator, children’s development as life-long learners is a top priority.  Educators know that assessment is either for learning or assessment is of learning. Assessments (or “testing”) should always generate feedback that students can apply to their future learning. Professionally, we know that assessment for accountability is wrong.  The NJ ASK gives the Ridgewood Public Schools no information that they don’t already have.  Ridgewood parents and residents insist on excellent public schools. Our local government and our democratic electoral process ensure that we consistently have high performing schools. 
 In urban areas such as Newark, Jersey City, Camden, Paterson, and New York City, high stakes testing for the purpose of school and school district accountability dooms the most needy students to months of intellectually bankrupt classroom experience.  The curriculum narrows in order to ensure that students can respond correctly to multiple-choice questions or formulaic short answer and essay questions.  Timed, one-chance tests subject all children to the perceived possibility of humiliation and failure. This pressure to perform scars children and robs them of their natural curiosity and innate desire to learn.  In fact, our current understanding of the neuroscience of learning indicates strongly that the environment created by high-stakes testing actually inhibits learning.  No Child Left Behind, including New Jersey’s current waiver from the sanctions of that legislation, fails to improve educational outcomes for students.  Ironically, it leaves increased numbers of “minority” subgroups and economically disadvantaged students even further behind. 
My children have had a wonderful experience at [their public schools] in Ridgewood. In fact, I too, am a product of the Ridgewood Public Schools.  As a result of the strong educational foundation established here in Ridgewood, I was able to attend two of our nation’s finest post-secondary institutions in order to pursue my dreams.  Personally and professionally, I must stand with the thousands of courageous parents, schoolteachers and administrators across our nation, who are boycotting high stakes testing.  By opting out of standardized testing, we will deny the USDOE the data that supports its ill-conceived agenda for education reform.  Together we will work to improve public education for all students based on current educational and scientific research. As citizens, it is our responsibility to save our public schools. 
Sincerely, Jean McTavish