Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Risk of Covid worse in crowded lunchrooms; and in many overcrowded schools lunch already starts at 9:30 AM


One of the most concerning risks of Covid transmission will take place in the cafeteria or other eating spaces, because students have to take their masks off to eat, often in very overcrowded conditions.  That's why NYC is now requiring proof of vaccination for anyone eating at a restaurant indoors.  Sadly, no vaccination is required for any student, even those 12 and up who are eligible.

In a Chalkbeat article on this issue earlier this month, the DOE advised the following:

In New York City, officials with the education department recommend that schools use outdoor spaces or other large areas for meal times, and to start lunch earlier or later so fewer students are in the cafeteria at once.

Yet the proposal to start lunch earlier ignores how many overcrowded schools already start lunch very early. In Feb. 2019 an article in City Limits pointed out in some schools, students were forced to eat lunch as early as 9 AM. 

Despite DOE promises to improve the situation after the Daily News and WNYC had posted data listing 75 overcrowded schools where lunch was served before 10 a.m. five years before, these early lunch periods still occurred at 41 of the 75 schools. Three schools had closed and 21 others served lunch between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.

This was followed up by another expose in March 2019 in the Daily News, revealing that students at more than half of all NYC public schools were forced to eat lunch before 11 AM.  In response, the DOE spokesperson said,  Students shouldn’t eat lunch before 11 a.m., and we’ll work with each school serving lunch before 11 a.m. to make adjustments if possible for the 2019-20 school year." 

A few months after the Daily News article appeared, Mayor de Blasio promised to take action: "That has to change. It's unacceptable. I'm a parent and I can say parents don't want to see that for their kids,"

It's impossible to check to see if the situation has improved, as the data on lunch times is no longer on the webpage where it once existed. Peter Fois of the DOE Office of Food and Nutrition Services emailed me that updated info may be posted in mid- to late-October.  

Yet you can take a look at a list provided by City Limits of the schools that had exceptionally early lunch times in 2014 and still did in 2019 here.  I doubt it's changed much since then.  There is also a list by school of how many lunch periods they schedule per day, as required by Local Law 60-2011, but there's no data posted since 2018-2019.  City Council sent me a copy of the report for the 2019-2020 school, and I sorted the tab entitled "meal periods" by the number of  lunch periods for each school per day.  Though it's hard to interpret the time that lunch is served from the data, one can assume that the more periods a day, the earlier lunch starts and the later it ends. John Adams HS in Queens was the worst, with eight periods of lunch a day.

Of course, the problem is generally made worse by the number of co-located schools in the same building, which not only increases overcrowding overall but makes scheduling lunch far more challenging, since each school wants its own dedicated time in the cafeteria.  I wrote about how the DOE has continued to co-locate schools throughout the pandemic in our  testimony to the Council on Sept.1.


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The uselessness of the interim assessments that the DOE purchased for $36 million


The NYC Department of Education is mandating that all schools administer standardized interim tests three times a year, also called benchmark or formative assessments.  Here is the excerpt from the DOE handbook, “Instructional Principles”, describing these assessments, which are euphemistically call “screeners”. 


Alternative standardized assessments can be selected by schools but must be approved by DOE central.

According to the UFT, the first round of testing for grades K-10 will occur starting Sept. 27 and will continue through Oct. 22.  Students in grades 3-10 will be administered computer-based tests during this period, and K-2 kids will be assessed via “individual 15-minute question-and-answer sessions.” Given that many kids in grades 1 and 2 are in classes of 28 or more, these sessions could take a teacher seven to eight hours of class size over this three -week period.

This new regimen of commercially-prepared tests according to the DOE will cost $36 million – more than twice the amount they are spending for their “class size pilot”. 

Some of us remember how in the first phase of Children's First under Chancellor Joel Klein, similar interim assessments were required at every school, along with literacy and math coaches and a unified curriculum, similar to the regime of reforms that DOE is now attempting once again.  Here is an excerpt from a DOE 2005 press release, heralding these measures as leading to gains in state test scores:

Our new Citywide core curriculum, coaches, professional development, interim assessments, and aggressive intervention programs for struggling students, coupled with the enormously hard work of our teachers and other school staff, all contributed to these tremendous gains.

These same test score gains, however, were not seen on  the NAEPs,  the more accurate and reliable national assessments, and when the state exams were re-calibrated in 2010 to eliminate the rampant test score inflation that had occurred over this period, the gains disappeared.

This is not surprising.  As I wrote recently  in the Gotham Gazette, there is little or no research showing standardized interim assessments help students learn, or reliably diagnose their learning problems.

Few if any independent peer-reviewed evaluations have offered evidence for their validity or demonstrated that they have any positive impact on learning. One of the few randomized studies showed that administering the MAP exams had “no significant effect” on achievement. Many teachers have critiqued iReady exams, and many students despise them. 

As the late Robert Slavin wrote, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University:

Research finds that benchmark assessments do not make any difference in achievement. …In a rational world, these findings would put an end to benchmark assessments, at least as they are used now. The average outcomes are not just small, they are zero. They use up a lot of student time and district money… Interim assessments fall into the enormous category of educational interventions that are simple, compelling and wrong. Yes, teachers need to know what students are learning and what is needed to improve it, but they have available many more tools that are far more sensitive, useful, timely, and tied to actions teachers can take.

Why are these assessments so relatively useless?  Because by and large, they are disconnected from the actual curriculum and work being done in classrooms. UFT President Michael Mulgrew pointed out  in 2019,when then-Chancellor Carranza first proposed imposing these tests, “How do you use a standardized formative assessment when you don’t have any sort of standardized curriculum….You don’t even know what you’ll be measuring.”

Indeed, after the first round of Children’s First in NYC, interim assessments were quietly eliminated after a few years, along with all those literacy and math coaches.   

Scott Marion, the Executive Director of the Center for Assessment  explains,

Interim assessments do not have a de facto place in balanced assessment systems. In fact, my colleagues and I argued in our Tricky Balance paper and policy brief that interim assessments more likely create unbalanced systems….Widely-used commercial interim assessments, in particular, generally are not tied to any specific curriculum and are not necessarily coherent with instruction and other assessments in the system…commercial interim assessments have a limited role, at best, in balanced systems of assessment, and any role must be supported by positive evidence that outweighs negative consequences.

In Seattle, the MAP tests were dropped in 2013 in all high schools after a successful boycott of teachers and students, and made optional in other grades.  Teachers pointed out how they didn’t test students on the material they were learning in the classroom.   

And last spring, after many Chicago students were found to be taking  hours and even days  to complete the open-ended MAP exams, the Chicago Board of Education dropped its contract with North West Evaluation Association, the company that produces them.

There are also serious privacy concerns with these exams.  The MAP exam attempts to measures student engagement and self-regulation by a student’s pattern of clicks and responses.   NWEA claims that “Teachers can use this information to identify students who may benefit from SEL (social and emotional learning) interventions.”  Parents have expressed concerns about the company’s use of this data, and the fact that NWEA hasn’t signed the Student Privacy pledge

Recently, a Brooklyn parent wrote me: “One of my sons already took a round of MAP when his middle school began administering them ….  The data still follows him, the test was so "ridiculous and meaningless, unrelated to what he was learning" (his words) and the predictive analysis so deeply flawed (forecasting that this honor roll student would not graduate HS or go to college on time).

She added: “I will be opting both of my HS students out of MAP and will continue to advocate for what our schools and all students really need to flourish and be safe, especially this year.”

Other NYC parents, students and teachers should seriously consider doing the same.

Watch Democracy Now's coverage of the successful Seattle boycott of these exams nearly a decade ago. 

US Dept. of Education "Blue Ribbon" schools; as usual, difficult to understand their choices

The US Ed Dept just announced seven NYC schools selected as Blue Ribbon exemplary high performing schools.

Three out of the seven – all in Manhattan D2 -- have low numbers of Black and Hispanic students and low levels of poverty.   

According to DOE School Performance Dashboard , these are the schools’ demographics, roughly speaking.  You can compare their Economic Need Index (ENI) to the citywide average of 71%; and their percentage of Black and Hispanic students to the citywide average of 63%.  

Only one school of the above, PS 249 in D 17, has an ENI or percentage of Black and Hispanic students nearly as high as the citywide average.  The Icahn Charter School comes second, which caps all class sizes at 18 in grades K-8.

As usual, it is difficult to understand the rhyme or reason for these particular selections.  Interestingly, not a single school in the city or the entire state of New York is on the list of schools was honored as  exemplary for closing the Achievement gap.

Monday, September 20, 2021

DOE still has not posted last year's class size data -- after repeated promises to do so.

DOE still has not posted last year's class size data, including the class sizes of remote and blended learning classes.  Last year, many NYC parents and teachers spoke out in protest about how these classes were excessively large, with as many as 40 or 60 students.  See articles in NY Post, WSJ and Gothamist.

Nearly a year ago, in response to a letter sent to the Chancellor by Council Education Chair Mark Treyger, Deputy Chancellor Karin Goldmark promised to provide class size data for the 2020-2021 school year by February, with separate categories for in-person vs. hybrid vs. remote learning.  That never happened.  

Instead, the only class size data posted in February, months after the Nov. 15 legal deadline, were for the socially distanced, in-person classes that were much smaller, averaging 18-20 students per class.

In May, at City Council budget hearings, after Finance Chair Danny Dromm pointed out that DOE had still not posted the promised class size data, Chancellor Porter again promised to make it available. See the hearing transcript on pp. 30-31.

MEISHA PORTER: …as you know that that data that you are asking about that we did post reflects our in-person classes. We also had to make investments to class size obviously as a result of COVID and look forward to providing that data as soon as possible.
CHAIRPERSON DROMM: So, Chancellor, thank you. We look forward to getting that data and former
Chancellor Carranza did say that that data was being collected. So, it should be easily available for us
to see. Would you agree with that, that that data was collected?
MEISHA PORTER: That data is being collected and we will work to make sure that we make it available to you.

Yet they never followed through. On Friday, I sent the following FOIL request for this data.  See below.  I will update this post if and when I receive the data.

Sept. 17, 2021

Records Access Officer
NYC Department of Education
52 Chambers Street, Room 308
New York, NY 10007

By email: FOIL@schools.nyc.gov

Dear Records Access Officer:

Under the provisions of the New York Freedom of Information Law, Article 6 of the Public Officers Law, I hereby request
the class size data for the last school year 2020-2021, preferably on Nov. 15, 2020, disaggregated by type of class: remote only, hybrid (remote and in person) and full-time in person learning.  As usual, please supply this data, with class size distributions and averages by grade and type of class, at the citywide, district and school levels.

On Oct. 15, 2020, CM Mark Treyger sent a letter to then- Chancellor Carranza urging him to report on school-specific and citywide class size averages as the law requires on Nov. 15, and to disaggregate the data by type of instruction used: either in-person learning, remote classes for blended learning students, and remote classes for full-time remote students.   His letter is here .

On Nov. 14, one day before the class size data was legally due to be reported, Deputy Chancellor Karen Goldmark responded,  saying that they would delay the release of any class size data until Dec. 31, 2020, and would report the disaggregated data by Feb. 15, 2021.

No class size data was released on Dec. 31, and on Feb. 15, 2021, the DOE posted class size data, not on the DOE or Infohub website as usual, but on the city’s Open Data website. 

The data, which was said to reflect class sizes as of Nov. 13, 2020, was not disaggregated, and one can only assume it only reflected in-person class sizes,  since they were far smaller than ever before, 18-20 on average depending on the grade. See charts here.

Meanwhile, some parents and teachers had reported very large remote and online blended learning classes of 40 students, 60 or more.  See articles in NY Post, WSJ and Gothamist about this issue. 

There is no doubt that the DOE has had access to disaggregated class size data since at least Oct. 2020. 

At the Mayor's press conference on Oct. 26, 2020,  Chancellor Carranza said that schools have been reporting attendance data in "literally three buckets of attendance every single day": in-person classes, remote blended learning classes, and full-time remote classes.  Thus, the disaggregated class sizes must have been available since that time, as attendance rates cannot be calculated without the data on the number of students enrolled in a class compared to the number who are attending.  

In Oct. 2020, the DOE began to release attendance rates by school, and since Feb. 2021, the city reported citywide and district-wide attendance data disaggregated by remote, blended in-person, blended-remote, and in-person learning.

In April 2021, the DOE released remote-only attendance data by grade.

This requested class size data is not exempt from disclosure under FOIL. In the event that all or part of this request is denied, please cite each specific applicable FOIL exemption and notify us of appeal procedures available under the law. 

To the extent that this data is readily available in an electronic format, we request that it be provided in that format. The Freedom of Information Law requires agencies to respond within five (5) business days of a records request.  

Please contact me by phone at 917-435-9329 or by email to leoniehaimson@gmail.com  with any questions. Thank you in advance for your timely consideration of this request.

Sincerely, Leonie Haimson