Sunday, September 23, 2018

Busing fiasco followed by swift and decisive action by Chancellor Carranza

The first week of school was dominated by stories about a major busing fiasco, with 67,075 hotline complaints from parents during the first four days, and many kids left on the sidewalk waiting for school buses which never came, as first reported by Ben Chapman of the NY Daily News.

Ben also broke the story that many bus drivers with criminal records had been allowed to slip through the cracks via faulty background checks, and that a retired police investigator had been let go by DOE for blocking too many hires with questionable records, while his signature was forged to the hiring documents.

As a result,  Chancellor Carranza fired Eric Goldstein, CEO of School Support Services.  Goldstein had led this massive fiefdom for more than a decade, where he controlled the spending of billions of dollars in vendor contracts for transportation, food and athletics.

This was a dramatic move by the Chancellor, as no one at that level has been fired at DOE in many years, at least in my memory.  Carranza also promised that from now on, the method for vetting bus drivers would be handled by the department's Division of Human Capital, with the same careful screening that DOE employees are subject to.

After the firing, Marcia Kramer of CBS News reported that Goldstein was already under investigation for questionable decisions regarding school food contracts: "The probe is said to focus on trips around the world taken by a number of school food executives that were paid for by food manufacturers."

Then Elizabeth Rose, who had already demoted from Deputy Chancellor to a new position called CEO of School Operations, was further demoted and re-assigned to become “senior contracts adviser for transportation," presumably to advise the new transportation head, Kevin Moran.  In April, Rose was said to have improperly overturned firings and suspensions of bus driver and attendants guilty of abusing children or leaving them unattended.  Rose will  keep her salary, however, of nearly $200,000 per year.

Rose was also responsible for making a secret agreement with Eva Moskowitz that she could move a new Success Academy charter school into PS 25 in Brooklyn - until a court order stopped the closure of PS 15.  If this move had occurred, it would have been illegal, as any change in school utilization has to be announced six months ahead of the next school year, and approved by the Panel for Educational Policy according to state law-- neither of which occurred.

Rose was also very dismissive of the importance of class size and school overcrowding, as typical of many educrats who were originally  hired by Joel Klein.  This was especially unfortunate as she oversaw school co-locations and the School Construction Authority.  Rose testified in April in response to a question from City Council Education Chair Mark Treyger that school overcrowding had no negative impacts on students, a claim that was subsequently contradicted by Chancellor Carranza in testimony one month later.
Today, Sue Edelman in the NY Post revealed that 24 staffers at the DOE Office of Pupil Transportation were provided with cars at city expense – including several employees who do little but drive their cars to and from their office each day. Included among them is a Rabbi, a “liaison to yeshivas” who has both a car and a personal driver paid for by the DOE: 

Rabbi Morris Ausfresser, a liaison to yeshivas, who lives in Brooklyn. Another OPT employee serves as his personal assistant and chauffeur. “I can’t answer any questions,” he said Friday

According to the website See Through NY, Ausfresser has been working at DOE as an “Administrative Quality Assurance Specialist” for at least 11 years, and  received a salary of $101,873 in 2017.  (Since Sue didn't report the name of his “personal assistant and chauffeur” I'm unable to look up his salary.)

On twitter, I asked how many yeshiva kids get busing at city expense to schools that deny them a minimally adequate education.  According to Naftuli Moster of Yaffed, "The answer to your questions is: almost all boys attending Hasidic Yeshivas, especially boys. So around 30,000-60,000." (He later amended this to "almost all children, especially boys.")

In 2012, I published a blog post with a link to a spreadsheet obtained by CEC 31 President Mike Reilly through a Freedom of Information request, showing that a higher percent of private school students who request school busing for safety reasons had their waivers approved by OPT than public school kids. 

Reilly's FOIL followed the elimination by DOE of middle-school busing in many areas of Queens and Staten Island that have no public transportation,  which may have contributed to the death of at least one public school student. (Reilly recently won the Republican primary for an Assembly seat for the South Shore of Staten Island, and is certain to be elected, as he's unopposed by any Democrat.)

After Mike received the data from DOE, then Queens PEP member Dmytro Fedkowskyj proposed a resolution to create an  advisory committee of stakeholders to oversee the process of granting safety variances to students, a committee that would include parent several CEC members.  The resolution was tabled after a contentious meeting by the mayoral majority of appointees on the PEP. 

One of the DOE staff who has been provided with a private car is the OPT safety director, Paul Weydig,  who oversaw the faulty and likely legally defective vetting of bus drivers.  Weydig made a salary of $110,131  in 2017 - also as an “Administrative Quality Assurance Specialist” – a little more than Ausfresser.  Weydig’s wife also reportedly works at OPT, “Lisa D’Amato, a contract compliance officer whose unit rubber-stamped the questionable bus-driver applications," according to the NY Post article.

Weydig was cited in a Daily News article for questioning a decision to de-certify a driver with ten prior criminal convictions, including grand larceny, identity theft forgery and fraud.  He emailed the investigator who rejected the drive, emailing, "“What are you trying to prove here?”  This investigator, Eric Phillips, was removed by DOE, apparently for flagging too many bus drivers with questionable records.

Busing has been a perennial problem at DOE.  One recalls how Joel Klein switched bus routes in the middle of winter at the behest of the consulting company Alvarez and Marsal, leaving kids shivering on corners and provoking huge outrage in one of the biggest blunders of his extremely bumpy record.  He actually apologized afterwards, an extremely rare move for him.

Carmen Farina was not adept in dealing with corruption or incompetence.  She pushed through a contract worth as much as a billion dollars with a vendor found to have engaged in a corrupt kickback scheme just a few years before , and refused to act for many months even when confronted with clear evidence of cheating or abusive educrats. (See the Governance section of the NYC Kids PAC report card for a summary.)

At this point, Chancellor Carranza seems to have handled the busing controversy with decisive swiftness,  at least compared to past administrations. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Victories in Tuesday’s primaries, upcoming elections and save the date for our Parent Action Conference!

We at NYC Kids PAC are thrilled with the primary results from Tuesday night.  Seven of our endorsed candidates as pictured above won their primaries and will likely go on to win in November.

All of them have exceptional records and stances on supporting our public schools, keeping the cap on charters, putting checks and balances on Mayoral control, and taking progressive positions on the other issues that matter.

Public school parents and advocates will have new, energetic and influential friends in Albany who will help lead to real change.

We understand that there are many who were disappointed that Zephyr Teachout wasn’t elected Attorney General.  Both Zephyr and Tish James were terrific candidates, and both deserved to win, but  only one could.  Kids PAC is the only NYC-based PAC that focuses solely on education, and our executive board is made up of  parent activists who make endorsements through consensus.

As a NYC Councilmember and Public Advocate, Tish earned our endorsement because of her exceptional record in fighting to keep the public in our public schools, whether it be for budget transparency, the rights of kids with special needs, suing the DOE to prevent school closures and charter co-locations, and ensuring that School Leadership team meetings remain open to the public.

Given Tish’s record, we are confident that she will continue to battle against corruption and the private interests that would like to undermine our public schools and for the right of parents to be full partners in improving them.  We also hope and expect that Zephyr will remain involved in public life, because hers is a voice that needs to be heard.

But the election season is far from over.  We will soon announce endorsements for the November general elections,  which are right around the corner.  We’ll also reach out to the candidates running for Public Advocate to replace Tish James as soon as they are announced, to urge them to complete our survey.  As usual, we will then decide through consensus who to endorse, after evaluating their responses and their records on public education. Keep tuned.

Finally, we are now planning our fourth annual Parent Action Conference to be held on January 19, co-sponsored with Class Size Matters; please save the date!  If you have ideas for workshops or speakers, please send them to us at with your thoughts.  We will  update you with more information soon.

Yours sincerely,

Shino, Isaac, Gloria, Fatima, Leonie, Eduardo, Margaret, Andy, Brooke, Jiin, Naila, Karen and Tesa

Join us next month in Indy to discuss privacy & online learning!

Next month in Indianapolis, the Network for Public Education will be holding our annual conference on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 20-21. More info and how to register here.

I will be participating in two amazing panels focused on how protect students and teachers from the growing threat to data privacy and resist the the expansion of online learning which is undermining the quality of public education.
The first workshop, to be held on Saturday Oct. 20 morning at 10:50 AM is entitled Outsourcing the classroom to ed tech and machine-learning: why parents & teachers should resist . Presenting with me are two brilliant bloggers and thinkers whose work I never fail to learn from, Audrey Watters and Peter Greene.
Audrey has single-handedly and fiercely taken on the ed tech industry for many years and critiques their claims on her essential blog, Hack Education. If you haven't subscribed to her newsletter, you absolutely should do so. She is currently writing a book to be published by MIT Press called Teaching Machines.
Peter is a Pennsylvania teacher who retired last year, but even while teaching was among the most prolific and incisive education bloggers at Curmudjucation. He also now writes a regular column for Forbes. In his writings, he deconstructs and eviscerates the agenda of the corporate reformers and faux philanthropists, whether it be the promotion of online education, Common Core, high-stakes testing or any of the other snake oil disseminated by private interests bent on disrupting public education. He shows how they are based neither on research, common sense, or the experience of teachers or parents.
During the second workshop, held later the same day, our panel will present A Teacher Data Privacy Toolkit: How to protect your students’ privacy and your own. Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson of the Badass Teachers Association, Rachael Stickland co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and I will offer some of the highlights and practical tips of our yet-to-be released Toolkit, the product of a year-long collaboration between the PCSP and the BATs, with support from the Rose Foundation, the NEA and the AFT.

From responses to an online survey and focus groups of teachers, administrators and other school staff, we heard loud and strong how educators were deeply frustrated by the lack of training and knowledge they had about how to minimize and safeguard the increasing amount of personal data being collected by schools and vendors, and how they can work to ensure it isn't breached or improperly used. This toolkit, like the Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy we along with Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood released in 2017, represents an attempt to provide the support and information that teachers need to act as responsible guardians of their students' privacy -- and their own.

Please join us in Indianapolis - more amazing speakers and panels are described here. -- Leonie Haimson

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The latest on lead in school water: what are the results for your school and what should parents do?

Update 9/16/18:  Today's NY Times has a letter from Claire Barnett of the Healthy Schools Network and Joan Leary Matthews of NRDC, urging the governor and state Legislature to lower the action level for lead, as there's no safe amount of lead in water that children drink.  

Sue Edelman also has an update, detailing in the NY Post how a new fountain/bubbler bought with funds raised by students at the International  High School in Prospect Heights is already releasing lead above the action level, raising suspicions that lead may be in the pipes.  According to the mandated reports the DOE has made to the state, no pipes were replaced in any of the NYC public schools.

This week, several media outlets reported on the new results from lead tests in NYC school water in the New York TimesChalkbeat, and the Daily News.  
The new data shows that 25% of schools still have at least one fixture with water above the “action” level of 15 parts per billion that requires remediation, compared to over 80% of schools before the latest round of remediation efforts began in last year.  The release of this data came after the DOE had refused to provide the updated retesting results for two weeks, and only after an article exposing the delay was published in the NY Post on Sunday. 
A spreadsheet showing the new results for every schools sorted by district is posted here.  There are now 391 schools with 1165 outlets that released lead above the legal limit, compared to 10,633 outlets before.
To recap:  In response to the Flint water crisis, the NY Legislature passed a new law in 2016 that required all public schools to test their water every five years using the “first draw” of water, rather than flushing the pipes before testing, which lessens the amount of lead in the sample.  Any outlet with water above 15 parts per billion (ppb) would from now on require fixing until the samples fell below that level.
Still to this day, the DOE officials claim to reporters that they previously they used a “practice [that] was developed in a partnership with the federal Environmental Protection Agency” even though EPA guidelines for over a decade have said that the first draw should be tested for lead om schools, rather than after the pipes were flushed.  See 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools, dated Oct. 2006:

Before the Flint crisis erupted, many schools hadn’t been tested for over ten years.  Moreover, the DOE was only testing buildings built before 1986, even though newer ones also had this problem, and were using the flushing method instead of the first draw, which more accurately measures how much lead is in the water that students drink at the beginning of the school day. 
Yet DOE went through a new round of testing in the spring of 2016 by using the flushing method, and had found 1,341 elevated samples in 510 schools, with fewer elevated samples on the second draw.
After the new state law passed in June 2016, the deadline for testing all water outlets with the new, more accurate method was September 30, 2016 for elementary schools.  Middle and high schools were supposed to have completed testing by October 31, 2016.
In July 2016, the city sent out conflicting messages.  First, DOE officials said that “At every location where elevated levels persisted after a second test…it turned off the source of the water and then started making repairs or replacing the fixtures. “  A Mayoral spokesperson claimed that in the case of “any elevated sample, relevant fixtures and piping are replaced to the wall, and retested out of an extreme abundance of caution.”

Yet while most districts started testing their school water over the summer of 2016 using the first draw method, the DOE refused to do this until after the NY Times called them out on it on September 1, 2016, in a story that revealed that they were still flushing the pipes beforehand  (though the Times story and most news articles since still fail to mention the new state law.)
Even then, the DOE said they would “continue doing pre-stagnation flushing when it was necessary to collect samples on Monday mornings or over school holidays."  If and when the DOE abandoned this practice which ran counter to the law and EPA guidelines is unclear.
In any case, NYC officials didn't begin retesting schools according to the mandated method until late November 2016.  According to the new state law, schools were also supposed to post the results of all lead testing and any remediation plans on their website no more than six weeks after the school received the lab reports.  Yet as Sue Edelman reported, last week many school websites lacked these reports.
Not until April 17, 2017 ,  six months after the deadline, did DOE release results from testing school water by the required method.  Then they found 10,633 elevated samples in 1,278 or 83% of all public schools. See the DOE older spreadsheet posted here
Now, after remediation, there are still 391 schools with elevated levels, with fewer fixtures – or 1,165  -- still releasing water above the action levels.  According to the DOE, additional unspecified efforts will be made to lower these levels or remove the outlets permanently. 
But perhaps the most surprising finding is that there are now 42 schools where the most recent round of testing found more outlets with lead above the legal limits than before. According to the NY Times a DOE spokesperson explained this ”because the schools had added new fixtures.”  But from examining reports on the school portals, the real reason appears to be that more fixtures were tested in the second round than in the first. 
Originally, only drinking fountains and fixtures like kitchen sinks where the water would be used for cooking were tested.  Subsequently, they apparently tested all “operational outlets”, including sinks in bathrooms and locker rooms etc.
According to the letter on its DOE school portal, Baruch IS 104 in Manhattan had only three out of 68 outlets that originally tested above the action level on Jan. 14, 2017.  Now 25 of 90 outlets are elevated. ( I have posted Baruch’s lab report here; but you can find it on the DOE school portal for every school under “data and reports” and then “facilities.”)  The highest amounts of lead at Baruch seem to be in water from sinks in the boys locker room.

A similar letter on the Truman HS DOE portal shows that the school originally had 11 of 276 outlets above the action limit, but now 27 have tested above 15 ppb, out of 333 outlets.   Long Island City HS originally had 13 outlets testing above the action level out of 190, while now there are 26 out of 200 fixtures.

For the names of schools where the new results find more contaminated outlets than before,  see the last tab on spreadsheet here

In June 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released  new guidelines that schools should limit the amount of lead in their water to no more than 1 part per billion, as opposed to the 15 parts per billion mandated in NY state law. Why? Because as AAP stated, ”There is no identified threshold or safe level of lead in blood…No Amount of Lead Exposure is Safe for Children. 

Indeed, research has shown that children with blood levels even less than 5 micrograms per deciliter suffer from lower IQs , worse test scores, and higher rates of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity.  

Here is a post I wrote earlier, citing evidence that there is no safe threshold of lead in water-- given that any detectable blood levels of lead in children are correlated with worst outcomes.  

This includes a study by researchers at Yale and Brown called "Lead Exposure and Racial Disparities in Test Scores," showing that preschool children with very low levels of lead in their blood are likely to have lower test scores in subsequent grades in math and ELA.

According to the GAO, as of September 2017, seven states and DC require regular testing of lead in school water, with Maryland calling for re- testing every three years.    In NY, Sen. Michael Gianaris has proposed a bill that would require re-testing every three years in New York, instead of the current five.  DC law now requires annual testing in their public schools, as Dr. Marc Edwards, who exposed the Flint water tragedy, recommends.   

As to the action levels of lead, Illinois requires that any school outlet that has any detectable level of lead in the water must be fixed;  and DC schools must remediate outlets with lead levels above 5 ppb.
Given this research, if I still had children in the public schools, I would send them to school with water bottles every day and urge them to drink from these sources rather than any school fixture.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

NYC Kids PAC endorsements for Thursday's Democratic primary; please vote!

NYC Kids PAC has made our final round of endorsements for the Democratic primary which will be held THIS Thursday, September 13.  
We urge you to vote for the following candidates:
  • Letitia James for Attorney General
  • Jumaane Williams for Lieutenant Gov
  • John Liu in Senate District 11 
  • Jessica Ramos in Senate District 13
  • Blake Morris in Senate District 17
  • Zellnor Myrie in Senate District 20
  • Ross Barkan in Senate District 22
  • Jasi Robinson in Senate District 23
  • Robert Jackson in Senate District 31
  • Catalina Cruz in Assembly District 39

All these candidates had strong responses to our candidate surveys, and records of supporting our public schools. More specifically, they support reducing class size, empowering parents, lessening high-stakes testing, stopping school privatization, and reforming mayoral control by adding checks and balances.

We urge you to go vote for these candidates on Thursday.  You can also download our flyer hereand hand it out in front of your school or share it with friends and colleagues via email or social media. 

The polls will be open from 6 AM to 9 PM.  If you’re not sure which if any of these candidates are running for election in your district, you can check out your ballot and your polling place by entering your address here


Shino, Isaac, Gloria, Fatima, Leonie, Eduardo, Margaret, Andy, Brooke, Jiin, Naila, Karen and Tesa