Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Radio show on Al Sharpton's involvement in corporate ed reform and overturning term limits

Gary Glennell Toms, known as "The G-Man", interviewed Leonie Haimson last week for his radio show about the involvement of Al Sharpton in school reform, when Sharpton allied himself with Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg by supporting charter schools, attacking teacher unions, and keeping quiet when Bloomberg successfully overturned term limits.  He was apparently influenced by large contributions from Bloomberg and hedge-funders to his organization, funneled through the political arm of Democrats for Education Reform, and Joel Klein's Education Equality Project, money which helped keep him out of jail when he was indicted for tax evasion.  We wrote about this previously here and here.  You can find Gary's other radio shows on YouTube here.  The interview is below.  Enjoy!

EVENT: Join the Movement Against a Test-Obsessed System: A Working Strategy Session with Diane Ravitch

Join the movement against a test-obsessed system and come to a working strategy session with a presentation by Diane Ravitch followed by Breakout Action Groups. The event will be held on Wednesday, January 21st, 2015, 6:00-9:00pm at PS3 Auditorium, 490 Hudson Street. See the flyer below for more details.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Public Advocate and Class Size Matters legally challenge DOE on authority and transparency of School Leadership Teams

 UPDATE: Court hearing just scheduled for Wed. January 14 at 2:30. Justice Peter Moulton’s courtroom is located at 111 Centre Street, Room 623 (Part 57 on the 6th floor of the building).

More on this here, including a link to our legal papers:

Yesterday, Public Advocate Letitia James and Class Size Matters filed papers in court, requesting to intervene in a lawsuit in which the Department of Education is arguing that School Leadership Teams are not subject to Open Meetings Law because they have only advisory powers. 

In April of 2014, Michael P. Thomas, a retired teacher,  tried to attend a School Leadership Team at a middle school on Staten Island,  and was prevented from doing so.  In an earlier case, teacher Francesco Portelos, was also prevented from attending his school’s SLT meeting.  In that case, a Judge wrongly found on the side of the DOE that SLTs are not public bodies because they are only advisory.  

Yet the DOE's position is wrong for at least three reasons.  First of all, School Leadership Teams, made up of half parents and half school staff,  have more than advisory powers, and they make critical decisions for each school, as clearly delineated in Chancellor’s regulations and in New York State law. In 2008, when then-Chancellor Klein rewrote the regulation on SLTs and tried to strip them of their powers, Class Size Matters helped Marie Pollicino, then a member of the Community Education Council in District 26, file a complaint with the State Education Commissioner. (Here's a Daily News article and our blog about this complaint.) Marie's complaint was later joined by Mel Meer, an active Queens parent and Community Board member, and the UFT.

In his decision, Education Commissioner Mills ordered the Chancellor to rewrite the regulation, because it “strips the SLT of this basic, statutorily mandated authority” to develop the school’s Comprehensive Education Plan, which contains the fundamental goals of each school and the roadmap for achieving them.  Principals must align the school-based budget with the CEP, and if they do not, SLT members have the right to issue a formal complaint.  (Here's an article about this decision from our blog, and Chalkbeat, then called GothamSchools.) The SLT’s ultimate authority over the CEP was subsequently reinserted not only in Chancellor’s regulations but also in the 2010 state law pertaining to New York City school governance.

Secondly, the DOE errs in its definition of a “public body.” There are many public bodies that are subject to Open Meetings law, such as Community Boards, Commissions and other official bodies that may have only advisory powers but have a mandated role in governance.  Public bodies perform a governmental function for the state, an agency or department, must follow certain set procedures and require a quorum to operate.  This is also the case with SLTs, which according to state law, must meet monthly, have a quorum to make decisions, and  must “provide notice of monthly meetings that is consistent with the open meetings law.”   Even a DOE powerpoint during Walcott's chancellorship about the roles and responsibilities of SLTs clearly states that "SLT meetings are open to the public.  Teams may find that observers from within the school community or beyond wish to attend SLT meetings."  (This powerpoint is still online at the DOE website here and the slide is posted above.)

Finally, because SLT meetings are held in school buildings, they must be open to the general public under a different state law. Recently, the Mayor was found to have violated this law by the Special Commissioner of Investigation, when he held a closed meeting with union groups at a Brooklyn public school.

On December 16, Public Advocate James, joined by Class Size Matters, several public interest attorneys and  Community Education Council Presidents, strongly urged Chancellor Farina to reverse the DOE’s legal position in a letter posted here On December 19, Courtenaye Jackson-Chase, General Counsel of the DOE, refused to do so; her letter is here This led to the decision of the Public Advocate and Class Size Matters to request to intervene in this case. 

It is particularly distressing to have to re-fight old battles to ensure DOE recognizes parent input into school-level decision-making.  Somehow it feels like Groundhog Day, with the DOE showing blatant disrespect for parents, over and over again. One might have expected this under Joel Klein, who didn't pretend to have any regard for parent views, and little for the law. But for an administration that claims to want to collaborate with parents it is disgraceful.   

Thanks to PA James, for standing up for full transparency and the rights of parents and community members once again. The case is due to be heard next Wed. January 14, by Judge Peter Moulton of the NY Supreme Court.  The full press release is below. 

Letitia James
For Immediate Release: January 8, 2015           Press Release
Contact: Aja Worthy-Davis, (212) 669-4813, adavis@pubadvocate.nyc.gov
Leonie Haimson, (917) 435-9329, leonie@classsizematters.org

Public Advocate Letitia James and Class Size Matters Seek Transparency Regarding School Leadership Team Meetings

James: SLTs Critical To School Governance

(New York, NY)— On Wednesday, January 7, 2015, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and Class Size Matters filed papers in New York County Supreme Court, requesting to intervene in a lawsuit to challenge the Department of Education’s (DOE) position that School Leadership Teams (SLTs) are not subject to Open Meetings Law because they have only advisory powers. The petition argues that SLT meetings should be subject to the Open Meetings Law (N.Y. Pub. Off. Law § 100).

Although the DOE regulations acknowledge that SLTs— comprised of parents and school staff, and including the PTA President, the UFT Chapter Leader, and the Principal— must abide by most of the provisions of the Open Meetings Law (including providing adequate public notice before any SLT meeting is held), the DOE currently does not require these meetings to be open.

SLTs are the primary vehicle for shared decision-making for each school; they have sole authority for establishing a school’s Comprehensive Educational Plan, which sets the goals and educational strategies for the coming school year. SLTs also heklp ensure that the school principal’s budget aligns with that plan.

The underlying lawsuit was filed by Michael P. Thomas, a retired teacher, who unsuccessfully attempted to attend a SLT meeting at a middle school located in Staten Island in April 2014. In an earlier case, another educator Francesco Portelos, was also stopped from attending his school’s SLT meeting. In that case, a Judge found that SLTs are not public bodies because they are only advisory

“School Leadership Teams are more than advisory— they are critical to the school governance structure, though the Department of Education asserts that they are not subject to our State’s Open Meetings Law. I am proud to be joined by Class Size Matters in this legal effort to increase transparency in educational planning, and encourage participation in school governance through publicizing these vital meetings. Through these measures, we can increase parental input in important school decisions,” said New York City Public Advocate Letitia James.

“It is very disheartening to learn that the DOE is once again is trying to argue that parents, through their School Leadership Teams, have no real authority to make decisions for their children’s schools.  We fought the DOE when Joel Klein tried to strip SLTs of their powers in 2008, and won. The Commissioner forced the Chancellor to rewrite the regulations to recognize the SLT’s power to create the school’s Comprehensive Education Plan, and this authority was clearly established in the 2010 state governance law. To undermine the legal status of SLTs once again is quite shocking,” said Executive Director of Class Size Matters Leonie Haimson.

“The public has the right to observe the decision-making process in our schools and to hear first-hand the issues affecting our children,” said Michael P. Thomas, plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“Community participation is critical to the success of New York City’s public schools– just as strong public schools are critical to the success of our communities. NYLPI is proud to help protect the public’s right to know about decisions made at School Leadership Team meetings, and to ensure that the Department of Education fully complies with New York’s open government laws,” said Mark Ladov, staff attorney for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

In the court proceedings, the Public Advocate is represented pro bono by attorney Laura D. Barbieri of Advocates for Justice; Class Size Matters is represented by Ms. Barbieri and Mark Ladov of NY Lawyers for Public Interest. 

The Memorandum of Law is posted here: http://tinyurl.com/ox8yubs
The verified petition is here:  http://tinyurl.com/p66lweu

Preliminary arguments in the Thomas case are expected to be heard by Judge Peter Moulton of the NY Supreme Court on Wednesday, January 14, 2015.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

What the NY Post left out: how Sharpton was persuaded to ally himself with Joel Klein & stay mum on term limits

Today, the NY Post ran a story about how Al Sharpton accepts money from corporations in exchange for shielding them of accusations of racism.  It contained nothing very new to report, except for Sharpton having met with Amy Pascal of Sony after the company's embarrassing email breach – though the article offered no evidence Sony has paid him a dime.  

Presumably the Post is targeting Sharpton because of his association with the Mayor: “Sharpton, who now boasts a close relationship with Obama and Mayor de Blasio, is in a stronger negotiating position than ever.”  Yet the main example cited in the article happened years ago, during the Bloomberg administration:

In 2008, Plainfield Asset Management, a Greenwich, Conn.-based hedge fund, made a $500,000 contribution to New York nonprofit Education Reform Now. That money was immediately funneled to the National Action Network [Sharpton’s organization].

The donation raised eyebrows. Although the money was ostensibly to support NAN’s efforts to bring “educational equality,” it also came at a time that Plainfield was trying to get a lucrative gambling deal in New York.

Plainfield had a $250 million stake in Capital Play, a group trying to secure a license to run the coming racino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. Capital Play employed a lobbyist named Charlie King, who also was the acting executive director of NAN.

Left out of this account is the most interesting part of the story.  It's not just that the money for Sharpton was ostensibly for “equity” and funneled through Education Reform Now, the non-profit arm of Joe William’s pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform. The larger context is that ERN was merely a pass-through, and the money was directed to Sharpton through the Education Equity Project, founded by then-Chancellor Joel Klein, in exchange for Sharpton agreeing  to co-chair the group and adopt Klein’s aggressive anti-teacher, pro-charter stance.  Juan Gonzalez extensively reported the tangled story of how these funds went to benefit Sharpton in 2009, and how they helped him stay out of jail when he owed millions in taxes to the IRS.  

Also left out of the Post article is how Bloomberg, the Gates and Broad Foundations also put big money into EEP to Sharpton's benefit, though the DOE flack, David Cantor denied any involvement of either Bloomberg or Gates in emails he sent to our NYC Ed list serv, when I speculated about the involvement of both.  Perhaps he was lied to as well.  See my timeline of events here. In fact, Sharpton’s organization directly received a big portion of the $250,000 donation Mayor Bloomberg gave EEP, the day Bloomberg announced he would try to overturn term limits.  As a result, Sharpton never said a word against Bloomberg’s successful coup. 

Despite big infusions of cash and the coupling of Klein and Sharpton, EEP didn’t last long.  It held a  rally in DC on MLK day in January of 2009, at which Sharpton spoke.  After joining forces with Newt Gingrich, he and Klein met with President Obama.  The organization folded in 2011 when it merged with the similar corporate reform group, Stand For Children.  Sharpton had already left EEP by then, replaced by two Gates grantees, United Negro College Fund President Michael Lomax, and Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza. 

Perhaps the Post reporter's omissions are understandable, given that Klein now works for the Post’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, who is also a member of the Billionaire’s Boys Club, pushing for more charters along with his old friend and ally Bloomberg.  But the story should have been told nonetheless. In his new memoir, I highly doubt  Klein explains the full circumstances surrounding his cynical and mutually exploitative partnership with Sharpton.  I certainly didn't read this mentioned in any of the reviews.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The best and worst education events of 2014

It’s been a very eventful year for those of us who advocate for better schools – across the country, but especially here in New York.  Below I focus on some of the best and worst education developments from the perspective of someone who believes that the  corporate reform agenda of privatization, high-stakes testing, data collection and online learning ignores research, disrespects parents’ priorities about the kind of education they want for their kids, and treats children not as the complex, many faceted individuals they are, but as interchangeable widgets to be assessed, ranked and controlled.

Best of 2014

    1.  InBloom closed its doors.  

I     I started  blogging about this $100 million datapalooza project of the Gates Foundation in August 2011, when it was still called the Shared Learning Collaborative. Though neither the Gates Foundation nor NY state were willing to “share” much information about their plans with parents, the more I learned the more distressed I became at the huge risks to student privacy and   security this project represented.  With the help of Diane Ravitch’s blog, and Stephanie Simon, then a reporter at Reuters and now at Politico, parent activists throughout the nation whose children's most sensitive data was to be shared with inBloom and had been told nothing about this were alerted.  Their protests in turn persuaded every state participating to pull out, one by one. (Here’s a  timeline of events.) Here in New York, the battle was fiercest – and it took a law passed by the Legislature at the end of March to block Commissioner King from disclosing the highly sensitive information of the entire state’s public school population to inBloom, and via inBloom with three data dashboard companies. 

New York was the last of the corporation’s customers to pull out, and the company closed its doors in April.  Yet as a result of the inBloom controversy, parents were made aware of the way schools, districts and states were already sharing personal student data with a wide variety of contractors, vendors and other third parties, with little or no oversight.  In a way, the arrogance of the Gates Foundation and their refusal to listen to our concerns did us a favor by helping to kickstart  a national debate on student privacy that has not yet abated.  

credit: Politico
    After inBloom’s demise, we joined with many of the activists who had fought inBloom in their own states to form a new national organization called the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, to provide information to parents on the rights they still have to protect their children’s privacy– many of which are being ignored by schools and districts, as well as what questions they should be asking their schools and vendors.  We are also dedicated towards closing the loopholes in the federal law known as FERPA.  Our website is at www.studentprivacymatters.org, our FB page is here, our twitter handle is @parents4privacy, and we encourage you to take a look and join us.

  2. A national revolt against the defective Common Core standards and the expansion of high-stakes testing erupted, with 60,000 students opting out of state exams in NY last spring alone.  Because of fierce public pushback, many Governors have begun to question their support for the flawed standards and several have withdrawn from the multi-state testing consortia,  designed to collect and share personal data in much the same way that inBloom intended.  This grassroots rebellion has been led by advocates from the right and the left, but mostly by parents who have no particular political affiliation at all -- but are alarmed at how their children are being stressed and their education undermined by excessive test prep, deficient curricula and flawed exams.  National polls also show rapidly growing opposition to the Common Core and high stakes testing – which along with data collection and online learning are the centerpieces of the Gates-funded corporate-backed agenda.

3. NY Education Commissioner John King resigned.  
As I observed at the time, King is the most
unpopular commissioner in the history of NY State and showed little or no respect for parents, teachers or student privacy.  King’s departure capped a year in which many other controversial corporate reformers announced their departure, including NJ Commissioner Chris Cerf, Oklahoma’s education chief Janet Barresi (who lost re-election), Idaho’s Tom Luna,  Tennessee Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy. Starting January 1, there will be more than twice as many “emeritus” former education state heads as members of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change (nine) than current office holders (four.) In addition, Michelle Rhee announced she was quitting as CEO of StudentsFirst, the organization she started in 2010; at the same time, her organization was forced to radically retrench and close chapters around the country.  Similarly, Teach for America eliminated its NY office and revealed it is finding it more difficult to recruit candidates, because of the controversies around its role in school reform.

credit: Rob Tornoe
4. Even corporate reformers admitted that the growing charter sector is a vampire with little accountability, draining resources and the higher-achieving students from our public schools.  One  report after another was released, showing massive charter corruption and mismanagement.   Macke Raymond, the head of the pro-privatization research group CREDO that is funded by the Walton Family Foundation, admitted that market-based competition in the form of charters does not lead to improvements in the public schools: “I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And (education) is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work.” 

Kaya Henderson, Michelle Rhee’s chosen successor as DC Chancellor, said about charter schools, “Either we want neighborhood schools or we want cannibalism, but you can’t have both.”  Cami Anderson,  the Superintendent who designed the disastrous “One Newark” plan to close neighborhood public schools and open charters in their stead, explained why  test scores have dropped during her administration: “We’re losing the higher-performing students to charters, and the needs [in district schools] have gotten larger….[there are public schools] where there are 35 percent of students with special needs…I’m not saying they are out there intentionally skimming, but all of these things are leading to a higher concentration of the neediest kids in fewer [public] schools.”

5. New organizations have sprung up and others have grown stronger in opposition to the corporate reform
status quo agenda – including Network for Public Education (founded by Diane Ravitch and on whose board I sit) which had our first national conference last spring and will have our next one in Chicago April 25 – 26  (proposals for workshops accepted now.)  Other groups advocating for progressive and evidence-based school reforms include the fearless Badass Teachers Association, Save our Schools, United Opt out, Parents Across America , and our state coalition, NY State Allies for Public Education.   All these groups are working together – with authentic grassroots support as opposed to the astroturf organizations bankrolled by billionaires -- to counter the corporate attempt to dismantle public education and instead to strengthen our public schools, by means of evidence-based reforms.

Worst of 2014

   1. In NY, the hegemony of the hedge funders continues unabated.  They provided millions in donations to Governor Cuomo, who won re-election, though the election was closer than had been anticipated and his vote total was the lowest for Governor in at least forty years.   The hedge-fund pro-charter lobby was also the biggest contributors to the State Senate elections, and their money helped  elect a majority of GOP members.  Though these billionaires’ main issue is pushing for the further expansion of charter schools and the hostile takeover of public education, the words “charter schools” were never mentioned in the ads they ran, as their candidates campaigned in swing districts where charters are a vehemently opposed.  These privateers also persuaded our Governor to push through a new law as part of the state budget that undermines mayoral control – which they supported when Bloomberg was in office but not when NYC voters elected a mayor who did not support the push towards privatization and favoring charters over public schools.  The new law requires the city to provide free space to any new or expanded charter school going forward – which will further overcrowd our exceedingly overcrowded schools or force city taxpayers to spend millions leasing them private space.   

2.   2. The new administration of Bill de Blasio did little to oppose this new law, and
his appointed Chancellor just approved the co-location of 12 new charter schools in existing school buildings, which will further deprive NYC students of their right to be provided with a well-rounded education with reasonable class sizes.  Despite numerous promises when he ran for Mayor, neither de Blasio nor Chancellor Farina have shown any interest in reducing class size, the number one priority of NYC parents.  The union contract they negotiated eliminated the only chance for struggling students to be taught in small groups, and did not address class size – despite the fact that union contractual limits in NYC schools have not been lowered in forty years. The administration also ignored a letter signed by 73 professors of education and psychology, urging the reduction in class sizes lest the benefits of their initiatives for expanded preK, community schools and special education inclusion be undermined.   Every time the need to reduce class size was brought up in town hall meetings – as it was by parents at least six times – the Chancellor dismissed their concerns.

      3. The de Blasio administration and Chancellor Farina also showed little interest in tackling the worsening crisis of school overcrowding -- made worse by the new charter law.  There are many communities in NYC that have waited for a decade for a new public school in their neighborhood, and thousands of city students continue to sit in trailers, on waiting lists for Kindergarten, and in overcrowded public schools with huge class sizes. Yet the  capital plan for school construction the city introduced in February and re-submitted last month with only minor changes would build less than one third of the additional seats needed to alleviate existing overcrowding and address future enrollment growth.  This is yet another area in which the administration has made no improvement from the last one – despite our report, Space Crunch, and another from the NYC Comptroller showing a crisis in school overcrowding that is steadily getting worse.   And the DOE officials continue to put out fake data, under counting the number of high school students sitting in trailers by many thousands.

4.    4. The Vergara decision in California and a copycat lawsuit in New York grabbed the media’s attention and sucked up all the oxygen in the room, focusing on the red herring of eliminating teacher tenure as the solution to struggling schools, rather than proven reforms like class size reduction, which could help lower the high levels of teacher attrition in these schools.  Campbell Brown stepped into the spotlight, replacing Michelle Rhee as the media spokesperson for the “blame teachers first” crowd.  Time magazine with an incendiary cover jumped on the bandwagon – though the story inside was not nearly as bad – and together, these high-profile cases managed to divert attention from the issues that really matter.

credit: Data Quality Campaign
5.    The barrage of technobabble and digital learning bilge continued unabated – despite ANY evidence that it works to help kids learn.  Even the US Department of Education – which despite being a huge booster of technology, asking superintendents to sign a “future ready” pledge that they will devote funds to online learning,  found in its meta-analysis that for grades K-12 , policymakers “lack scientific evidence of [its] effectiveness.” 

Credit: Lindamarie @Linda1746

Each online program or gizmo is hyped as magically effective by the ed tech scam artists-- until research unmasks it as fatally flawed.  First DreamBox and Rocketship charters' version of blended learning were praised to the skies, until both were shown   to be mirages. The Year of the MOOC is followed by the reality of huge MOOC drop-out rates.  Despite the Amplify fiasco in North Carolina and the continuing Ipad scandal in LA (which contributed to John Deasy's departure, see above), kids continue to be hooked up to devices with data-mining software of doubtful value - with no attention paid to the fact that this is entirely antithetical to the critical thinking and creativity that corp reformers are supposed to support.  The trend towards massive amounts of personal data collection, data tracking and data sharing continues –- as encouraged by the US Department of Education and the Gates Foundation  -- with no proven benefits, but huge risks to privacy (check out the long string of hacking disasters this year  too numerous to recount).  Though amassing all this data is repeatedly plugged as "empowering teachers"  by the likes of Joel Klein of Amplify and Gates-funded organizations such as the Data Quality Campaign, teachers themselves say they are overwhelmed by all useless data, as in this eloquent post by teacher Susan DuFresne:
The corporate reformers have sucked the life out of teaching and learning. The real purpose of education is lost in a blizzard of data – numbers entered onto a rubric to become bits of data – trillions of 0’s and 1’s about each child are flying at high speed, tracked and collecting in data banks like so many feet of snow to be mined for corporate profits – icy cold they create systems of punishment as dangerous crevices – an abyss of corporate created failure – a place devoid of all humanity for children and teachers to try to traverse.

Of course, the real motivation  of these edupreneurs is to further inflate the  eight billion dollar ed tech market -  which continues to expand every year, taking resources away from schools and the kids who need authentic learning the most in the form of human feedback from their teachers in small classes, but are denied their right so that companies can make profits off imposing an inhumane system of mechanized depersonalized learning instead.