Thursday, January 16, 2020

Rally for smaller classes at City Hall on Wed. Jan. 29 at 12 noon!

Please join Class Size Matters and NYC Kids Pac to rally for smaller classes on Wed. January 29 in front of City Hall at noon; with City Council hearings focused on the class size issue to follow, starting at 1 PM.  A flyer you can share with others or post in your school is here.

The rally and hearings are an ideal opportunity for parents and teachers let the Mayor and the Council know that there can be no equity or excellence for NYC kids until the city lowers class sizes, which are 15-30% larger in our public schools than in the rest of the state.

We will be urging them to provide dedicated funding in next year's budget specifically to hire extra teachers to reduce class size, starting first in the lower grades and in struggling schools.
Class sizes have risen sharply since 2007 in every part of the city, and this year there were more than 275,000 students in classes of 30 or more.

Please come to our rally and stay for the hearings afterwards to show your support. If you'd like to testify and would like talking points, we have posted them here.   We also have more information about class size trends citywide, as well as data specific to your district here.

Email us if you'd like to speak at the rally or testify at the hearings. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Our class size lawsuit argued in the Appellate Court yesterday!

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit along with Sen. Robert Jackson and attorney Wendy Lecker
Yesterday, the class size lawsuit against the city and the state that we filed more than a year ago, along with nine NYC parents from every borough and the Alliance for Quality Education, was heard in the Appellate court in Albany.

Our pro bono attorney, Wendy Lecker of the Education Law Center, did a fabulous job, those of us in the courtroom agreed, which included two of the parent plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Litza Stark of Queens and Johanna Garcia of Manhattan, along with Johanna’s daughter Hailey, back from her first semester in college. NY Senator Robert Jackson, who spearheaded the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, was also there to support us, as well as retired teacher Norm Scott.

A panel of five judges listened intently as Wendy related how the NYC Department of Education had violated the state Contracts for Excellence law passed in 2007, which specifically mandates that the city lower average class sizes in all grades over five years – but instead, class sizes had sharply increased so that they are now far larger than they were when the law was first passed.  In response, the attorneys for the city and state tried to argue that since the five years outlined in the original law had lapsed, there was no longer any requirement for the DOE to lower class size.

Yet as Wendy pointed out,  the state legislature renews and reauthorizes the C4E law every year, including its class size mandate, with no specific end point for when the city’s obligations would cease;  thus this is indeed a continuing requirement on the part of the DOE.

The attorneys for the city and state also claimed that the court has no jurisdiction over this matter, but that the Commissioner of Education has the sole power to determine whether the city had adequately complied with the law.  Yet as Wendy counter-argued, the court indeed has the authority to decide whether the Commissioner has accurately interpreted the language of the statute, and the court's authority to do so in regards the C4E law was specifically re-confirmed in 2011 by the Appellate judges in 2011. By essentially nullifying the city’s class size obligation under the law, Wendy said, the Commissioner had essentially usurped the legislature’s role.

Though one cannot predict how the court will rule, those of us in the room felt that Wendy’s arguments were far stronger than those of the city or state attorneys, who did not even try to dispute the facts in the case: that class sizes had increased sharply since 2007, and this had unfairly deprived NYC students of an quality education. 

In any event, the Appellate Court will likely not issue any decision until this summer at least, and we are not content to sit back and wait for this to occur.  Instead, we are urging the Mayor and the Council to put a down payment on the quality of our children’s education by allocating specific funding for class size reduction, starting next year in the early grades and in struggling schools.  More on how you can help with this soon.

"Talk out of School" Ourtomorrow about suing the College Board and NY State Education funding

Our guests tomorrow

Join us tomorrow Wed. Jan. 14 at 10 AM on WBAI 99.5 or when I interview Cassie Creswell of IL Families for Public Schools and attorney Scott Drury about the federal class action lawsuit vs. the College Board for selling student data.  

Then we will also speak to NY State Senator Robert Jackson about the Legislature’s battle over state education funding and charter schools.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Breaking: Our class size appeal will be heard on Jan. 13 in Albany!

Big news just announced today: Our class size lawsuit vs NYC and NY State, Agostini vs. Elia, will finally be heard on Monday, January 13 at 1 PM in the Appellate Court in Albany.

Last spring, May 23, 2019 , attorney Wendy Lecker of the Education Law Center filed our appeal on behalf of nine NYC parents, Class Size Matters and the Alliance for Quality Education.  We sued the State Education Commissioner and the Chancellor, and urged the Appellate court to order the NYC Department of Education to reduce class size in all grades as the Contracts for Excellence law requires. 

Our original lawsuit, Agostini vs. Elia, was filed in April 2018 when then-NYS Education Commissioner Elia refused to take action to enforce the Contracts for Excellence law in response to our original complaint.  

The C4E law was first approved in 2007 and required NYC to lower class size; instead class sizes increased sharply and remain at levels far higher than when that law was passed.  

Yet in December 2018, Acting Supreme Court Judge Henry Zwack ruled against us in a skimpy decision that engaged with neither the law or the facts of the case; instead he claimed that this was merely a matter for Commissioner Elia to decide.  

Commissioner Elia had argued that any class size obligations on the part of the DOE had lapsed years ago. Yet as our appeal points out, if the Legislature wanted to eliminate this key legal obligation on the part of the city they would have done so, rather than renewing the provision every year.  Thus, the DOE's failure to lower class size is a continuing violation of law, and since the State Education Department has refused to hold city officials accountable for providing students with their constitutional right to a sound basic education, which includes smaller classes according to the Court of Appeals in the original CFE lawsuit, we have been forced to do so instead.

Unlike Judge Zwack, the Appellate Court has asked for copious back-up data on class sizes in NYC schools, which as the above charts make clear, have indeed risen dramatically since 2007.  Hopefully, that means these judges are engaged in the issue and will base their judgement on facts rather than the city's wishful thinking.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Please remember Class Size Matters in your year-end gift-giving!

Dear all--

I hope you had a wonderful holiday break with friends and family. Please consider making a year-end, tax-deductible donation to Class Size Matters so that we can continue our passionate advocacy for the smaller classes that all kids need for a quality education. We also promote the parent voice in education decision-making and the data privacy that students deserve.

Among our achievements this year - beating back the College Board which was pushing the NY State Education Department to allow their practice of selling of student data to continue. We also released a report showing that NYC is spending over a hundred million dollars annually on helping charters rent private space - including in some cases, in buildings that their charter management company owns.

Via a lawsuit last spring, we kept PS 25 open, an excellent public school in Brooklyn that the DOE wanted to close despite its excellent results and the small classes it provides for its students, 100% of them from low-income families.

We launched a new talk show and podcast on WBAI radio, called "Talk out of School." Our class size lawsuit vs DOE will be heard in the state appellate court in January.  Keep your fingers crossed for a positive outcome in that case.

But in addition to your good wishes, we need your financial support to keep going. If you appreciate our work, please do so now by clicking here.

Grateful for your help, Leonie

Monday, December 23, 2019

Yaffed's press conference responding to the revelation of foot-dragging by the city and state in taking action to ensure Yeshivas provide an adequate education to their students

One day after a Department of Investigation inquiry revealed that in 2017, the Mayor had delayed the release of an interim report into the quality of the education received by Ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas students in exchange for the Legislature extending his control over the public schools, the NYC Department of Education finally released its letter to the State Education Department, summarizing the results of its long-awaited investigation into ultra-orthodox Yeshivas.

Even as the DOE letter reported that only two of 28 Yeshivas they visited provided anywhere near a substantially equivalent education compliant with state law, as found via pre-announced visits that ended last spring, they also soft-pedaled the results, with the Chancellor writing that, "The DOE recognizes and applauds the significant progress made as a result of the proactive steps many schools have taken. The DOE is committed to working collaboratively with the schools to assist them as they continue on the path of providing improved instruction."  More on the letter from the Forward, Gothamist and Politico.

In response, Yaffed held a well-attended press conference this morning.  Here is a story about today's presser from the Daily News.

Abbreviated excerpts of the points made are below in the form of  tweets; first from Naftuli Moster, Executive Director of Yaffed, who organized the formal complaint of Yeshiva graduates issued four years ago and has been pressing the state and the city to take action ever since.

Then David Bloomfield, professor of education policy and law at Brooklyn College, who maintains that by interfering in the Yeshiva investigation the mayor himself violated the law, as well as important support expressed for the city and the state to take strong and immediate action, expressed by State Senator Robert Jackson, former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messenger, and Beatrice Weber, a mom and a grandmother, who is suing the DOE and the Yeshiva that her son attends for educational neglect.

I spoke briefly about the fact that though it is nearly 2020,  it is shameful how thousands of NYC children are still receiving schooling that was basically designed in the middle ages - with high school students consigned to study the Talmud 12 hours a day, with no instruction in English, math, social studies or science -- and with the mayor refusing to take steps to address this for the most selfish of political reasons.

Below the tweets  are the full, powerful statements Naftuli and Ms. Weber made at the presser. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Investigation into DOE's Yeshiva inquiry reveals that the release of an interim report was delayed in return for the extension of mayoral control in 2017

Update: News clips re de Blasio trading delay of release of Yeshiva report for extension of mayoral control includes an explanation of the institutional context from Gothamist: 
In a letter to the City Council last year, former DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said he encountered interference and "visible anger" from the de Blasio administration when it came to investigating the yeshivas. Peters was fired by de Blasio after a report showed he had misled the City Council and overstepped his authority by allegedly trying to take over the SCI, which helped produce today's investigation. Peters argued that his ousting came at a convenient time for the mayor. De Blasio appointed Margaret Garnett to replace Peters, and the City Council confirmed her appointment.

Daily News has a debatable quote from new DOI head Garnett:
Margaret Garnett, the commissioner of the city Department of Investigations, said investigators concluded that since City Hall delayed the report in pursuit of a policy goal — to retain Mayor de Blasio’s control over city schools — rather than personal gain, the maneuver didn’t violate rules about obstruction of an investigation.
And yet see this from the NY1 story:
The mayor's office dismissed the DOI's findings, saying, “There’s no ‘there’ there, as evidenced by the finding of no wrongdoing." "Those are not the words I would use," Garnett said of the mayor’s office’s response.
More via THE CITY
, Wall Street Journal, NY1, New York Post,  and New York Times .

The City’s Commissioner of Investigation and  Special commissioner of Investigation for schools issued a joint statement today on the results of their investigations into the DOE's inquiry into the subpar education received by students in ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas, an inquiry  that began in 2015 after the organization Yaffed and 52 Yeshiva graduates and parents, alleging that at least 39 yeshivas in New York City were failing to meet the state standards requiring a "substantially equivalent" secular education. 

Much controversy has surrounded this issue, based on a suspicion that the political influence of the ultra-Orthodox on the Mayor has prevented a resolution of this issue. In their brief statement, only a few pages long, DOI and SCI reveal that political that a deal was indeed struck in 2017 in Albany between the mayor's representatives and an unnamed State Senator (most likely Simcha Felder) that the DOE would delay issuing any interim report on their investigations in return for extending Mayoral control over the public schools, and that “Following that agreement, the interim report was in fact delayed by approximately one year.”
At the same time, the DOI and Special Investigator conclude that “our investigation found that the agreement had little to no substantive effect on the progress of the Inquiry” which was hampered by other factors, including the unwillingness of the Yeshivas to cooperate.
They also conclude that there is “no evidence of any violations of relevant laws or regulations and did not identify any criminal conduct in connection with the release of DOE’s interim report”.
Most bizarrely, they add, “the evidence did not permit a conclusion as to whether the Mayor had personally authorized the offer to delay issuance of the interim report” which to my mind is so unlikely that it  puts the rest of their conclusions at doubt.
The key passage in the joint statement is here:
In June 2017, a special session of the New York State Legislature was called to vote on extension of mayoral control of New York City schools, among other things. DOI and SCI found that shortly before the vote in that special session, representatives of the Mayor’s Office agreed to delay the release of an interim report summarizing the status of the DOE’s Inquiry. This agreement was apparently made as part of a multi-pronged effort to bolster legislative support for continued mayoral control over the DOE, which was a significant legislative priority for the Mayor’s Office.
The evidence did not permit a conclusion as to whether the Mayor had personally authorized the offer to delay issuance of the interim report. However, the totality of the evidence indicates that the Mayor was aware that the offer to delay had been made, prior to the final push to secure the votes for mayoral control. After being informed of the commitment to delay the interim report, the Mayor personally participated in conversations with at least one state senator and Orthodox community leaders about their broader concerns regarding oversight of yeshivas and how those concerns related to the extension of mayoral control. One witness told DOI and SCI that the City was asked to delay the issuance of the report – then scheduled for summer 2017 – until April 2018. However, DOI and SCI were unable to confirm that any City official agreed to a specific release date or specific period of delay.
The agreement to delay the release of an interim report appears to have had minimal substantive impact on the Inquiry itself. Multiple witnesses told DOI and SCI that, as of June 2017, DOE’s Inquiry was still in its early stages and that any interim report issued at that time would have contained only limited information.
It is hard to know which is more toxic - the system of autocratic mayoral control which I and others critiqued at Assembly hearings this week;  or the damaging political deals the Mayor has made to keep it - which include not just a delay in issuing a report on the Yeshivas in 2017,  but also that same year, his agreement to an increase in the number of NYC charter schools. 
 Before that, as part of the deal to extend mayoral control in 2014 , de Blasio agreed to either co-locate charter schools in public school buildings or help pay for rent in private buildings – a legal obligation which no other district in the state or the nation has been saddled with, and that the DOE is now spending more than $100M per year on.
A question which the DOE/SCI statement does not answer is why the DOE inquiry into the Yeshivas was still in its early stages in June 2017 – given that the initial complaint was made in the July 2015.  See Yaffed’s timeline here.
Another question is what is now holding up the release of the DOE's final report, given that that the DOE visits to Yeshivas concluded last spring and that  Although the DOE has now visited all 28 yeshivas [originally named in the complaint that are still open], more than four years after the initial complaints, the DOE’s Inquiry continues.”
If the visits ended last spring, why does the DOE Inquiry continue and why has no report has yet been issued?  No explanation is provided.
All this makes one suspect that the political influence of the ultra-Orthodox community with the Mayor and City Hall continues to hamper DOE’s actions and reporting on this issue.
The original concept of having a separate elected school board that appoints a district Superintendent or in NYC’s case, a Chancellor, was based on the notion that education decision-making should be insulated as much as possible from these sorts of political back-room deals.  

Readers, please feel free to leave your thoughts below.