Questionable contract?

If you want to volunteer for our Citizens Contract Oversight Committee, or have a tip to share, please email us at NYCschoolcontractwatch@gmail.com

Friday, May 25, 2012

Deception by NYSED about the state field tests?

There's lots of controversy about next month's NY state field tests, and due to be given next month in all public schools statewide, in certain grades and subjects.
Most parents still do not know about these exams, but those who do are fighting back and some are planning to have their children boycott them.  See the resolution in support of a boycott, passed by CEC 20, and articles in GothamSchools, WSJ, NYT SchoolBook.

To the right is a copy of a memo (click to enlarge) recently sent to high schools by Candace Shyer, head of the NY State Education's Office of State Assessment, which says:

“Students should not be informed of the connection between these fields tests and State assessments.  The field tests should be described as brief test of achievement in the subject.”




Thursday, May 24, 2012

The potential impact of mandatory Kindergarten triggers the need for an accelerated capital plan

Speaker Quinn’s push for mandatory Kindergarten in NYC, now being considered in the NY State Legislature,  is likely to send thousands of new children into a schools system that is already struggling with Kindergarten waiting lists, overcrowding, and increased class sizes.
Our analysis here and below suggests what the impact may be, and proposes that the city speed up the capital plan to ensure that there is  space added in our elementary schools at the same time.

Kindergarten Proposal Briefing City Council 5.24.12

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

CEC 20 resolution supporting boycott of the field tests!


The Community Education Council in District 20 in Brooklyn called a special meeting and unanimously passed a resolution in support of the boycott of the field tests.  Here are articles about this growing movement: GothamSchools, WSJ, SchoolBook. Bravo!

Resolution:  In Support of Parents Boycott of Stand-Alone Field Tests

WHEREAS, our children have just spent six days in April taking New York State standardized tests in English and Math, which was nearly double the time compared to last year, and

Whereas, this April's exams included up to 30% field test questions, which were embedded to try out for future tests and do not count in children's scores; however, they make the tests substantially longer, so that most children spent up to nine hours testing and children with IEPs up to eighteen hours testing over the six day period, and

Whereas, Pearson Publishing and NYSED [NY State Education Department] have not asked parents' permission to utilize our children as research subjects for Pearson's financial benefit as a for-profit company, and

Whereas, eighth grade students will be preparing for Regents exams in June and will be losing valuable instructional time to stand-alone field tests. 

Therefore, be it resolved, that Community Education Council District 20 finds it unacceptable that even more valuable classroom time be allocated to the administering of test questions and

Further resolved, that Community Education Council District 20 supports the parents' boycott of the field tests, as there are no negative consequences for our schools or our children if they do not take these stand-alone tests.                          

                   

Passed Unanimously on May 23, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

Change the Stakes demands full disclosure of testing program, including field tests in June


Unbeknownst to most parents, the state is imposing yet another round of standardized testing in June. You can check to see what grade your child's elementary or middle school is field testing here.  High schools are also field testing the Regents; more more information here and here.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                     Contact: changethestakes@gmail.com                                                               
May 21, 2012                                                                         
                                                
CTS Demands Full Disclosure of School Testing Program
Calls Pearson’s June Field Tests a Waste of Time and Money


 New York City – Change the Stakes, a coalition of parents and educators in New York City, announces its opposition to the latest round of standardized testing, the stand-alone field tests that are scheduled to be given in June.  Over a thousand (1,029) public elementary and middle schools in the city are scheduled to participate in this additional statewide testing.  Last week, science field testing took place in 116 other New York City schools.

The price tag for this extra developmental testing is conservatively estimated to be $3 million. It comes on top of the six days (540 minutes) of regularly scheduled English Language Arts (ELA) and math exams administered just last month, when the items being field tested were embedded within the state-mandated tests.  This doubled the amount of time needed to complete the exams.

The New York State Education Department (SED) and test publisher, NCS Pearson, Inc., have not provided advance notice to the public about the June field tests nor sufficiently explained why they are necessary. Moreover, testing experts regard stand-alone testing as a dubious practice at best, and virtually useless when conducted so very late in the school year.

“June is a terrible time of year to test children—be it operational or field testing,” asserts Fred Smith, a test specialist formerly with the city Department of Education (DOE). “The expectation that children will be motivated to perform at their best near the end of the year doesn’t even rise to the level of wishful thinking,” stated Mr. Smith.  He also points out that stand-alone field testing by SED was discredited for yielding misleading data on which to develop new tests. “In 2009, SED’s test advisers acknowledged this approach was problematic because students who took the exams knew they were experimental.”

SED’s elementary and intermediate school field tests will be administered between June 5th and 15th.  Most schools will test only one grade between 3rd through 8th; however, 259 (23%) of the schools are being asked to give the experimental exams on two grade levels.  (Change the Stakes is providing user-friendly information about all field test school and grade assignments broken down by borough at changethestakes.org. Parents can visit the website to find out what tests are due to be given this June in their children’s schools.)

The primary purpose of the June stand-alone testing period is to allow Pearson, the State’s education testing contractor, to perform research for operational exams it will then sell to the SED.  The State is on record as stating participation in field testing is “not mandatory,” yet schools and parents in New York City have been kept in the dark and not advised that they have a choice about whether or not their children should participate.

“Our kids are being used as guinea pigs for the financial benefit of Pearson, to the detriment of their own educational experience,” said Deyanira Ruiz, who has a daughter in a grade that has been selected for field testing.  “They’ve already lost untold hours to test prep and the April math and literacy exams, reducing the amount of time devoted to art, physical education, social studies, and languages,” she added. 

Some teachers are questioning the use of valuable class time for field testing. Lauren Cohen, a teacher in Manhattan, is fed up. “Far too many of us teach in schools that already face enormous pressure to dedicate an excessive amount of classroom time to test preparation between September and April.  My school received a notice, on Pearson letterhead, informing us that we must also give an ELA field test to 3rd graders in June,” she said.  “Field tests supply no useful information to teachers or educational benefits to children. My students are burnt out on testing, and this meaningless drudgery will take away valuable learning time,” stated Ms. Cohen. 

Fueling a rebellion among parents against the upcoming field tests is the disclosure to date of roughly 30 errors, along with some questionable content, on the tests administered in April. The state forbids the disclosure of test items, further undermining parent confidence in the exams themselves. Diana Zavala, parent of a 3rd grader in Manhattan, contends, “Transparency and accountability should also apply to the corporations making the tests. If we are to believe these tests are worthwhile and that the company is making ‘better tests,’ we should be able to examine them.” She added, “but what we really want is more teaching, less testing, and assessment that is more connected to the actual learning that takes place in the classroom.”

Change the Stakes is Calling for the Following Regarding June Field Testing:
        
  1. The DOE should immediately disclose specific information about the stand-alone field tests, explaining their nature and purpose and notifying parents of children in the 1,029 field test schools about the dates the tests are scheduled to be given.
  2. Pearson and the SED should address the claim by independent testing experts that the timing and format of these tests make it unlikely they will generate reliable data needed to develop valid operational exams.
  1. SED and DOE should allow parents and entire schools to opt out of participating and only administer field tests to students in schools/grades for whom explicit parental consent has been granted.  The need to obtain authorization to test their children from parents or guardians should extend to all testing when the main objective is to support research and development for commercial testing products.
  2. Non-participating students in schools and grades undergoing testing should have a meaningful educational alternative activity during the testing period.

To schedule interviews with parents or teachers, please contact Andrea Mata @ changethestakes@gmail.com. Testing expert Fred Smith can be reached at fjstats@aol.com

###

Change the Stakes, a committee of the Grassroots Education Movement, was formed to expose the damaging effects of high-stakes standardized tests. We are a group of parents and teachers working to build and unite opposition to high stakes testing in New York City. Our membership includes a group of parents who refused to have their children tested during the regular State exam period in April 2012.  We believe high-stakes testing must be replaced by more educationally-sound and balanced forms of student, teacher, and school assessment. 

See our online petition demanding that New York State develop a non-punitive process by which parents concerned about the impacts of high-stakes testing on student learning can opt their children out of standardized tests.

Change the Stakes collaborates with other groups working to challenge high-stakes testing in New York, including Parent Voices NY and Time Out From Testing.

Comments on the applications of two more Success Charter schools


Dear SUNY board and SUNY Charter Institute:
I urge you to reject the application of Success Academy to open two charter schools in District 2 on the following grounds:
1.    Attrition and push-out rates: This charter chain has a very high student and teacher attrition rate, as referenced in news articles  and its NYS report cards [annual teacher attrition rates of 38%, 56%, 19%, 50% and 26%.]  It also has a documented history of pushing out high-needs students.   And yet the new charter law explicitly says that charter schools should demonstrate an effort to recruit and retain at –risk children.  This is not a model which deserves replication elsewhere in the city. 
2.  Evidence of excessive compensation and proposed charter management fees: Ms. Moskowitz receives an annual salary in excess of $379,478, in addition to benefits worth more than $24,000, amounting to a total compensation package of $403,660, according to the latest available (2009) submission to the IRS by the Success Charter Network.  
Governor Cuomo has inveighed against excessive salaries for district superintendents who receive far lower salaries, and has proposed capping superintendents’ salaries at $175,000 a year in districts with fewer than 10,000 students. According to the SUNY charter website, the Success chain of charters has fewer than 3,000 students.
The Governor has also created a task force to investigate excessive compensation levels at not-for-profits that receive taxpayer support from the state, and in January, signed an executive order to limit spending for executive pay at state-funded service providers, including a $199,000 salary cap.
In addition, Ms. Moskowitz has applied for an increase in her management fees to 15%. These fees are twice the average for a NYC CMO (7%) and close to the average of for-profit NYC EMOs (17%). New charters run by EMOS are now banned by law, as I’m sure you are aware. Her excessive compensation and proposed hike in fees reveals a lack of fiscal prudence with taxpayer funds, and she should not be rewarded with permission to expand her network until these other matters are fully resolved.
3. Overwhelming parent and community opposition: At District 2 hearings about this application, scores of local parents and community members spoke out and have signed petitions opposing these applications.  To my knowledge, not a single elected official representing the district supports these proposals and many have submitted comments against them.  The Community Education Council in District 2 passed a resolution in opposition to these applications, as well as Manhattan Community Boards 5,6, and 8.  
The new charter law was written expressly so that authorizers would have to take community input into consideration when making a decision.  According to SUNY Charter Institute’s own RFP Guidance Handbook
SUNY’s proposal review process must generally ‘consider the demand for charter schools by the community,’ per Education Law § 2852(9-a)(b)applicants will also be required to show evidence of community interest in and support for the school.”   
Approving this charter would appear to violate the intent of the law. 
4.Likely impact on overcrowding, class size and the city’s C4E commitments: The co-location of two more charter schools in D 2 would likely lead to more overcrowding in a district that is already extremely overcrowded, and would prevent the district’s schools from reducing class sizes to optimal levels as set out in the city’s legally-mandated Contracts for Excellence plan.  The DOE’s utilization rates assumes class sizes of 28 in grades 4-8, rather than its C4E goal of 23 students per class in these grades, in the plan that was submitted by the city and approved by the State Education Department in 2007.   
Already, average class sizes in the district have risen above the goals in the plan, and are likely to increase even more if additional co-locations are approved in the district. See the charts below:


And yet class size reduction is one of very few reforms that have been shown to narrow the achievement gap, and one of only four cited by the Institute ofEducation Sciences that have been proven to work through rigorous evidence to improve learning for all students, no matter their background. 
4.       Potential impact on disabled students: As NY State Senator Liz Krueger points out, two of the schools that are officially “underutilized” on the DOE’s list of possible co-locations for Success Academy house disabled students:   the School for the Deaf on E. 23 St, and the middle school for students with autism wthin the Julia Richman complex.  And yet the DOE’s utilization formula does not take into account the special needs of this populations, widely recognized by  state and city regulations and guidelines pertaining to space.
5.       Safety :  I also want to echo the concerns of Sen. Krueger about the inability of SUNY to ensure proper safety without knowing in advance where this school will likely be sited.  As she writes:
New York State Education Law Section 2853(3) states that in New York City "all charters authorized...shall be obliged to comply with the department's health, safety and sanitary requirements applicable to facilities to the same extent as non-charter public schools in each such city school district."  It is simply impossible to ensure that these requirements are met if siting information is not included in the charter application for authorization.  Moreover, since there is no mechanism at the state level to address any negative impacts on children's safety, sanitation, or health after a charter has been approved, it is absolutely imperative that these issues be thoroughly examined and addressed during the authorization process.
Conclusion:  In the interests of good governance, fiscal prudence, educational equity, and safety, I urge you to reject the applications of to establish two new Success Academy charter schools in District 2.

Sincerely, Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters

Comments on the applications of Citizens of the World charters


See also the far more detailed comments of WAGPOPs [Williamsburg and Greenpoint Parents: Our Public Schools]  here.
Dear SUNY board and SUNY Charter Institute:
I urge you to reject the application of Citizens of the World to open two charter schools in D14, on the following grounds:
1.       Tangled governance: Kristean Dragon is identified on Oct. 2011 as the Founding Board Chair of Citizens of the World in a formal application to the state of California to open two new charter schools,  and is still  listed as board chair on the website of the chain’s charter schoolsYet on a different website of Citizens of the World,  she is now also identified as the Chief Executive Officer of the charter chain.

2.       Evidence of possible corruption: Kristean Dragon was also, at least until recently, also the Executive Director of The Wonder of Reading, an organization which raises funds to equip Los Angeles public schools with libraries.  This organization still shares an address with the national network of Citizens of the World.  In 2011, the Los Angeles NBC affiliate ran an investigative series, alleging that the Wonder of Reading program raised funds to pay companies that engaged in kickbacks, leading to huge cost overruns.   Unfortunately, the website of Wonder of Reading appears to be defunct and seems to have lapsed sometime in 2010.

3.       Self-dealing and potential excessive compensation: Posted online on the Citizens of the World website is a service contract between the charter school and Wonders of Reading, for the latter organization to provide services to the charter school, extending into the 2014-2015 school year.  Even if never executed, this proposed contract is evidence of self-dealing and questionable ethics on the part of Ms. Dragon and the charter board that should disqualify her from running charter schools in our state or any other.  In addition, in 2010, Ms. Dragon, is listed as working full time for Wonder of Reading in its 990 IRS form, and receiving a salary of $197, 731 from the latter organization, plus $14,493 in benefits.  Because Citizens of the World has not submitted its IRS 2010-2011 form to Guidestar, it is impossible to see what salary, if any, she may have also been receiving from Citizens of the World.

4.   Fiscal instability: On March 23, 2012, Citizens of the World Hollywood, the single existing CWCS charter school, took out a $250,000 loan from the state of California. Their board minutes from February 16, 2012 point to the need for this loan to cover their cash flow problems and state that they are looking towards additional fundraising by parents to sustain themselves. In board minutes dated January 19, 2012, Samira Estilai from ExED, provider of business management services for the charter is quoted as follows: 
      ”Additionally, she noted that with the deferrals and if the revolving loan doesn’t come through CWC would have a negative ending balance of approximately $15-20k. Strategies to address this include working to move up the schedule of donations from CWC Founder Mark Gordon to ensure a positive ending balance.”  
 This points to poor financial management of the organization; and the potential risk that NY state taxpayer funds may be used to cover the shortfall of the CMO’s operations in California.

5.      Confusing and ambiguous management structure:  The applications posted on the SUNY website for the two proposed Citizens of the World Schools list no name for the CMO, and instead says: “Not applicable”, even as this is clearly supposed to be part of a national chain of charters.  This is pointed out in the same minutes of their Hollywood charter school as cited above: 
     “Amy Held updated the board that CWC Schools is working throughout the country in similarly naturally diverse communities exploring the possibility of opening charters that share the same mission and model as CWCH. These include NY, Minnesota and the South.”  
      In the forms filled out by the proposed board of trustees of these NY schools, the same answer is given when the question is asked if the board member or his or her spouse know anyone connected to the CMO: “not applicable because the school does not contact [sic] with a management company or charter management organization.” And yet the application also says that these NYC charters “will be part of the national network of Citizens of the World Charter Schools.”  What will the legal and financial relationship between the charter schools in Southern California and those in New York City, if there is no CMO?  This is a troubling question.  The fact that the applications of both charter schools also appear to list identical proposed board members is yet another concern.

6.      Overwhelming community opposition: At District 14 hearings about this application, hundreds of local parents and community members spoke in opposition to the granting of this charter.  Not one member of the community stood up in support. Every elected official speaking on the record opposed the proposal, from the federal level (US Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez) to the state (Assemblyman Joe Lentol) to the borough president (Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz) and City Council members (CM Diana Reyna and Stephen Levin).  The Community Education Council in D 14 also passed a resolution in opposition to these charters. The new charter law was written expressly so that authorizers would have to take community input into consideration when making a decision.  According to SUNY Charter Institute’s own RFP Guidance Handbook:

     “SUNY’s proposal review process must generally ‘consider the demand for charter schools by the community,’ per Education Law § 2852(9-a)(b).”  And: “…applicants will also be required to show evidence of community interest in and support for the school.”  

 Approving this charter would appear to violate the intent of the law.

7.       Segregating effect: As pointed out by Brooke Parker on our NYC Parent blog,  Citizens of the World charters imply in their applications that they are seeking to be composed of students with a much different racial composition than most of the other public schools in the district, with a far greater number of white students and a smaller proportion of black and Hispanic students.   Nationally, charters have been shown to have a segregating effect, and these charters would interfere with the gradual integration of neighborhood schools that is occurring because of gentrification and as a result of federal magnet grants. In addition, the new charter law says that charter schools should show an intention to enroll and retain comparable numbers of high-needs students as the communities in which they are located.

8.       Likely impact on equity, class size and the city’s C4E commitments: The co-location of two more charter schools in D 14 would likely lead to more overcrowding and prevent the district’s schools from reducing class sizes to optimal levels and those set out in the city’s legally-mandated Contracts for Excellence plan.  The DOE’s utilization rates assumes class sizes of 28 in grades 4-8, rather than its C4E goal of 23 for these grades, in the plan that was adopted and approved by the state in 2007. 

Already, average class sizes in the district have risen above the goals in the plan, and are likely to increase even higher if additional co-locations are approved in the district. See the charts below:


.
 And yet class size reduction is one of very few reforms that have been shown to narrow the achievement gap, and one of only four cited by the Institute of Education Sciences that have been proven to work through rigorous evidence to improve learning for all students, no matter their background.
Conclusion: In the interests of good governance, fiscal prudence, racial integration, and educational equity, I urge you to reject the applications of Citizens of the World charter schools in D14.
Sincerely, Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters

Friday, May 18, 2012

Crowd-sourcing the up-till-now secret DOE/charter lobby emails


Have you ever wondered how what Joel Klein was busy writing on his Blackberry during meetings?   
Or how closely he worked with the charter lobby to get the charter cap lifted and on other issues? 
Now’s your chance to find out.  The UFT FOILed emails between DOE and the charter lobbyists and got a large bunch of messages after long delay and obstructionism from DOE.  Apparently more emails are coming. 
Reporters received pages of these emails as well as the UFT, and some wrote stories; Diane Ravitch blogged about them.   
But until today, no one had posted them all online.  
The ones I’ve seen make it appear that Klein, and others at Tweed, including the DOE lobbyist, Micah Lasher, were working for the privateers and the hedge-funders more than they were working for our  kids.
Here are all the emails released so far (in PDF form).  Please take a look, and leave any observations and/or especially revealing exchanges in the comments section.  The most interesting finds I will add to the blog post itself. The emails are in eleven parts:
Part 9. Part 10. Part 11.

Here's a fun email from Bradley Tusk, the political consultant who worked with Lasher to raise the cap, to Maura Keaney of DOE, which was included in Part 10: