Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Council Hearing on Empowerment Schools

The City Council Education Committee held a hearing yesterday on empowerment schools with testimony from Eric Nadelstern, CEO of Empowerment Schools. Under questioning, Nadelstern, a veteran NYC administrator, resorted to the familiar DoE tactic of laying down a smokescreen of obfuscation. Today's NY1 and NY Times coverage give some sense of the Council's frustration but leave out important points made at the hearings.

Councilmember John Liu was the sharpest in his criticism. Nadelstern, despite assertions that empowerment schools have much better results in terms of graduation rates, dropout rates and college placement than other schools, couldn't say whether those schools were better before they joined the empowerment zone. Liu's response: "How can say you don't know these numbers when you testify they are improving?" and again "We never get straight answers." Councilman Dan Garodnick, one of the more lucid of the city's politicans, asked a simple question about what distinct services would empowerment schools provide compared to the two other support models being offered to schools, Learning Support Organizations and Partnership Support Organizations. In response, Nadelstern droned on and on, never answering the question. After two more attempts at asking the same question, Garodnick gave up.

Most ominously, David Bloomfield, President of the Citywide Council on High Schools, and himself a parent at an empowerment school, testified on the weaknesses of the DoE plan. Ten years ago, working with the NYC Partnership and the School Governance Task Force, he helped draft a plan that is conceptually very similar to the empowerment initiative. The key difference is that the task force report called for "real authority" to be vested in school leadership teams. Yesterday, David testified on how that essential ingredient is completely missing from the Empowerment Schools we have today: "Parent after parent after parent after parent has complained that Empowerment Schools lack functional School Leadership Teams."

Update: Councilman Garodnick's office shared his excellent letter to the Chancellor.


Noel said...

Hi Patrick -- I'm getting a "Document Not Found" error when I try to look at that letter you link to.

Patrick Sullivan said...

Give it another try. Now it's linked to the Councilman's website.