Friday, July 27, 2007
Sign a letter now and let the State know how you feel!
Accordingly, the Mayor and the Department of Education ignored the pleas of parents from all parts of the city -- including the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Queens -- who begged them them to revise this flimsy proposal and instead submit a real plan that will lead to measurable progress in class size. Instead, a small group of schools will receive "targeted" class size coaching -- without an actual commitment that any school will actually reduce class size to appropriate levels.
This week the Mayor traveled to St. Louis, and in a speech to the Urban League said that elected officials who respond to parents' legitimate concerns to have their children provided with the same sort of class sizes and attention that Bloomberg's own daughters received are merely offering "cheap platitudes and slogans instead of real solutions."
Please sign on this letter to Commissioner Mills of the NY State Education Dept., urging him to reject the city's proposal, and make the DOE offer a real solution to our class size crisis. Just send your name, school and/or other organizational affiliation to email@example.com with a copy to Ann Kjellberg at firstname.lastname@example.org by Aug. 6 -- the day before the state deadline for comment.
Then please resend the message -- with any edits or details about your child's situation that you'd like -- directly to SED at email@example.com, signed with your name and full address, with a copy to your state legislators, as it's important for them to weigh in as well. For their emails, just plug your address and zip here.
Then forward this message to every parent you know who cares about the future of education in this city.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Klein and Aide to Provide Yuks for Next Woody Allen Film
Mr. Allen felt that the DOE plan to provide outside lockers for cell phones, and to make the lockers transparent so that students could not store drugs or weapons in them, was a “stroke of comedic genius”. He said it reminded him of the scene in “Bananas” where the South American dictator decrees that people change their underwear every day, but that they must wear their underwear on the outside so it can be monitored.
Mr. Allen was also said to be tickled by a statement made by Ms. Parks, the DOE spokeswoman, about a City Council bill prohibiting the DOE from interfering with parents’ right to send their children to school with cell phones for use going to and from school. Ms. Parks was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “The mayor has never said you can’t bring phones to and from school — you just can’t walk into the buildings with them. So I’m really at a loss to see what the legislation adds.” Mr. Allen will be relying on Ms. Parks, as well as Mr. Klein, to come up with similar outlandish statements for the movie.
Mr. Allen has characteristically refused to divulge any details about the new film. However, a source close to Mr. Allen revealed that the film would be a remake of “Bananas”, set in New York, and would feature Mr. Allen as a bumbling character who manages to attain dictatorial control over the city schools. The source said that Mr. Allen felt it would be the “challenge of his career” to portray a more bumbling set of characters than the ones currently running the Department.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Bloomberg Record on Education Attacked by Manhattan Institute Scholar
What was refreshing in Stern's article was the discussion of "accountability". Public school parents have come to realize that the mayor and chancellor use this word to simply mean more tests for our kids. But what of the accountability of the mayor to answer to the public?
The article goes on to point out specifically how Chancellor Joel Klein's bloated public relations staff spins test score results. In this passage picking up on arguments made by Diane Ravitch in posts on our blog and the Huffington Post, Stern points out how the Bloomberg administration has deliberately embellished its own record by appropriating test score increases stemming from earlier reforms:
Stirring public unease is the realization that what Bloomberg really meant by accountability was one election, one time. If you didn’t like the way that mayoral control was working under Bloomberg, you could vote for Democrat Freddy Ferrer in the 2005 mayoral election (Bloomberg’s last, because of term limits). But what could you do after that election? Bloomberg’s suggestion: “Boo me at parades.”
The arrogance of that response demonstrates how little Bloomberg really seems to care about accountability. In fact, his Department of Education routinely undermines accountability with a public-relations juggernaut that deflects legitimate criticism of his education policies, dominates the mainstream press, uses the schools as campaign props, and, most ominously, distorts student test-score data. Without transparency, real accountability doesn’t exist.
While the story may not get covered in the mainstream daily press, this City Journal article, like the earlier one in The Nation, reveal how much of what constitutes news about education in New York City is merely the narrative scripted by the administration's press office. An office that Stern claims has 29 people (DOE says no, only 14). Either way, that's enough people to staff an elementary school, which would certainly be a better use of our tax dollars.
Consider: Bloomberg took office on January 1, 2002, but he didn’t win control of the schools until June 12 of that year. Klein wasn’t appointed until August, and then he spent the rest of the year studying the system and appointing task forces to advise the administration on how to restructure the schools. By the time the chancellor finished studying, students were taking the 2003 fourth-grade reading test. The system was, in effect, operating on autopilot during the year that the students recorded the healthy 5.9 percentage-point improvement.
At the time, Klein knew that he couldn’t convincingly claim credit for the 2003 test scores, and he didn’t even hold a press conference to celebrate them. Four years later, the fourth-grade reading scores have inched up by another 7 percentage points, only half the average yearly increase achieved under the tenures of Chancellors Levy and Rudy Crew. But to avoid that invidious comparison, the mayor and the chancellor simply take the 2003 result and add it to their own column.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Panel for Educational Policy Votes on DoE's Contract for Excellence
From my perspective as the panel representative of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, the DoE proposal is deeply flawed and is essentially a repackaging of what they had always intended to do. Testimony I gave on behalf of the Borough President last week is here and you can see what others said here. During Monday's meeting, I focused my questions on the specific areas where the plan violates either the law creating the contracts or the SED regulations specifying the content of the contracts.
First, the law requires the class size reduction plan to be focused on "overcrowded and low performing" schools. The DoE plan uses their Fair Student Funding formula to allocate funds. This approach considers neither overcrowding nor school performance. Second, there is no alignment of the capital plan with the money being given to schools to reduce class size. In many cases principals are getting more money but don't have space to add classes. Despite the fact that this alignment is required under the state regulations, DoE has been quite clear in saying there is no construction funding to reduce class sizes below the limits of the contract with the teachers union. Third, the DoE proposal directs large sums of money for testing, assessments and coaching school staff on interpreting tests. This spending is not an allowed use of state funds under the regulations.
While a vote was not scheduled and the Law Department insisted one was not required, I made a motion to hold a vote. As the oversight board for the city's school system, we have the responsibility under state law for reviewing and approving major policy decisions. Chancellor Klein allowed the vote, with the plan getting approved. I voted against it, the Queens representative, Michael Flowers abstained and everyone else-- the mayor's appointees and representatives of the Bronx and Staten Island approved it.
If you have a minute, watch this video of the proceedings filmed by District 1 parent Noel Bush. It is certainly a disappointing performance given the importance of the topic, the final resolution of a fourteen year fight for the funding city kids are owed under the constitution.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
On a Serious Note: A GBN News Cautionary Tale
A winter day, early 2008 (GBN News): Three days after the worst terror attack since 9/11, this time in the dead of winter, there is increasing concern about the fate of a number of missing New York City public school students. Despite the near total shutdown of the city’s transportation system in the first two days after the attack, most people seem to have been able to find their way back to their homes or to other shelters. Many made use of their cell phones to help direct them away from danger, coordinate assistance, and to reassure loved ones of their safety. However, some city students, denied the right to possess cell phones by a strict Department of Education policy, have not been heard from since the blast.
Several distraught parents, unable to get any information from the police, have contacted news organizations. One high school parent, whose daughter travels to school by subway between Manhattan and the Bronx, said that her daughter’s cell phone had been confiscated the day before the attack in a random scan. The parents had considered keeping her home from school until they were sure the metal detectors were gone, but were afraid that she would miss important test preparation with the high stakes tests coming up. The parent said that her daughter, a ninth grader, is unfamiliar with the city streets and, without transit running and with no way to call her parents, probably got lost wandering around in the sub freezing temperatures.
The parent of an eighth grader said that his daughter had actually managed to reach an out of town “contact person” after waiting two hours for one of the few working pay phones, but was unable to leave a call back number since the pay phone was constantly busy. The contact person was finally able to relay the girl’s location to the parents, but when they finally got to the pay phone location hours later, the daughter was gone, and has not been heard from since.
A few of the missing students were from a Manhattan high school a short distance from the terrorist blast. This school was one of those designated for experimental “outside lockers” where children could lock their phones up before coming into school. However, the school grounds were evacuated in such haste, and the smoke was so thick, that students did not have time to retrieve their phones as they fled in all directions. A parent of one of those children said that he was afraid his son might have wandered further into the danger zone. Had his son been able to call, the father said, he could perhaps have directed him safely out of the area.
One child who did eventually make it home told a horrifying story. She had been taken in by ostensibly “Good Samaritans” who offered her a refuge from the cold weather, but they proceeded to steal her money and threatened her life if she told anyone. The child then wandered the streets in a daze until she happened upon a police officer.
The police confirmed that they are getting a number of missing children reports, but they have been too overwhelmed with securing the city to appropriately follow up. A senior Police Department official, in apparent contradiction to the Mayor’s policy, acknowledged that had the city’s schoolchildren been able to carry cell phones, many more would have gotten safely home, and much anguish would have been avoided. Moreover, he said the 911 system, already overloaded in the hours after the attack, was further burdened by parents attempting to find their children. In retrospect, he admitted that children, as our most vulnerable citizens, should have had at least the same essential safety tools as adults.
Besides the missing, there have been a number of other serious situations involving school children. One Brooklyn High school had a near riot and school security agents were overwhelmed when hundreds of students fought over the school’s only two pay phones. And some parents whose children finally did make it home reported that their children were traumatized and frost bitten, and some are afraid to go back to school on their own. Others heard from hospitals that their children were being treated for exposure, having spent hours outside trying to find their way home, many walking miles in the cold.
Mayor Bloomberg, at a City Hall news conference, dismissed the parents’ concerns and insisted that the missing children “probably just stopped off for pizza somewhere”. The Mayor added, “We’re not changing our cell phone policy, schools are for learning, thank you very much, next question.”
Friday, July 13, 2007
DOE Plays Key Role in Latest Potter Book
As Potter fans know, the previous book, “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince”, saw Harry watching in horror as Professor Snape kills the Headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, Albus Dumbledore. In the new book we learn that in a secret plot engineered by the evil wizard, Lord Voldemort, the New York City Department of Education had taken over Hogwarts months before Dumbledore’s killing. It turns out that Snape was simply carrying out the DOE policy of removing “underperforming headmasters”, after the Hogwarts students showed “insufficient progress” on their “OWL” exams.
Much of the book revolves around the DOE reorganization of Hogwarts after Dumbledore’s departure, and the attempts by Harry, the other students, and the staff to cope with the massive changes. Class sizes rise, and the school’s young wizards and witches spend most of their waking hours in test prep. The DOE bans owls, thereby cutting off any student communication with their parents in an emergency. Worst of all, the entire Quidditch season has to be cancelled because the Quidditch pitch is leased to a consortium of private schools of wizardry and witchcraft, and the Hogwarts students are no longer allowed to use it for their matches. And even if they had a field, there is a shortage of brooms due to transportation cuts by the DOE consultants Alvarez and Marsal.
In the book’s climactic scene, a visit to Hogwarts by Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein so traumatizes the students and staff that they beg for mercy, saying that anything would be better than this, even Voldemort. Harry and his friends finally make a deal with Voldemort: they will not challenge his primacy in the Wizarding world in return for his promise to keep Bloomberg and Klein away from Hogwarts. It is a hard lesson in “the lesser of evils”, and somewhat telling that the students choose Voldemort over Bloomberg and Klein. While the rumors that Harry dies in this book may not be literally true, his interest in education and his thirst for knowledge die a painful death at the hands of the DOE.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Parents, teachers, students and elected officials criticize DoE's contract for excellence, class size reduction proposal
Comments were limited to two minutes. We've collected some prepared statements below:
Assembly Member Cathy Nolan, Chair of the NY State Assembly Education Committee here.
Council Member Robert Jackson, Chair of the NYC Council Education and the original CFE plaintiff here.
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters and a public school parent here.
John Elfrank-Dana, Teacher and UFT Chapter Leader, Murray Bergtraum High School here.
Seth Pearce, New York Student Union here.
Patrick Sullivan, Manhattan member of the Panel for Educational Policy here.
Ann Kjellberg, parent at PS 41 in District 2 here.
Noreen Connell, Educational Priorities Panel, here
Read the testimony of teachers, parents and other concerned citizens at the borough hearings -- very compelling! in pdf form: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island.
UFT President Randi Weingarten, here
Jo Anne Simon, President-elect, New York Branch - International Dyslexia Association here
Concerns on NYC's Contract for Excellence
I understand that the success of our school system has been and continues to be the top priority of the Mayor and Chancellor. While I share in the excitement about the pending arrival of this vital new state funding, I have serious concerns about the current Contract for Excellence.
First, I would like to discuss the serious flaws in this process. In order to account for the Campaign for Equity (CFE) lawsuit funds issued by the state, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) must submit a Contract for Excellence plan. Holding hearings in the middle of school summer break, with little outreach, one week before the plan is submitted to the State Education Department is not sufficient time to digest and respond to the public's concerns. I urge the Department of Education to seriously address the issues brought before them today and act to amend the plan before its submission.
In addition, this plan should come before the Panel on Educational Policy (PEP) for a vote. The PEP is specifically charged with the responsibility to "consider and approve any other standards, policies, objectives, and regulations as specifically authorized or required by state or federal law or regulation (NYS Education Law § 2590-g (1)(b))." As the Contract for Excellence plan submission has been mandated by state law, it is required to come before the PEP for approval. It is imperative the PEP functions properly as a part of the Department of Education government structure.
Outside of this poor process, there are serious issues regarding the Fair Student Funding formula and class size reduction as laid out in the plan. One true weakness of the plan is its reliance on an unproven funding mechanism. The Contracts for Excellence were supposed to focus on students with the greatest educational need. An original finding of the CFE judgment was that the city's schools were deficient in class size, retention of teachers and instrumentalities of learning. While Fair Student Funding will place new money as well as decision-making authority into some schools, it does nothing for about half of the city's schools. In Manhattan Districts 4 (East Harlem) and 5 (Central Harlem) the proportion is actually much higher -- 2 of 3 schools are considered "unfairly over-funded" by DOE. For these students, the DOE offers simply "accountability" - more testing - yet no substantive educational programs. Fair Student Funding is a new and unproven approach to budgeting. Its effects are still unclear and poorly understood. Reliance on it for allocating the new state money is inappropriate. There must be a more tangible dividend from Campaign for Fiscal Equity for all our schools.
In place of tangible benefits, the DOE offers "accountability initiatives" such as the McGraw Hill contract for interim tests, new staff positions called Senior Achievement Facilitators, Data Inquiry Teams and the like. Excessive standardized testing, supercomputers and bureaucratic staff positions will not help teachers provide differentiated instruction as DOE claims. Our teachers need smaller classes to better focus on the needs of each student.
The law requires class size reduction to specifically target "low performing and overcrowded schools." In drafting the law, the state legislature reflected common sense - resolve overcrowding by focusing on the weakest schools first. The DoE's allocation formula, Fair Student Funding (FSF), considers neither overcrowding nor poor performance in determining the allocation of funds to schools. While the state has identified 382 city schools in need of improvement or restructuring, 47% of the identified schools will not receive new funding under the FSF and therefore will have no class size reduction plan.
Most important, the plan offers no alignment of physical capacity or capital budget for new seats with the class size reduction plan. Principals may be given more funds under FSF but in most cases will not have space to add classes. DOE has provided a document purporting to show alignment of the capital budget with class size reduction but there is nothing more than "placeholders" of number of seats plugged in at the district level and no investment to reduce class size beyond the third grade.
The absence of a coherent plan demonstrates a lack of willingness to be held accountable for overcrowding. No one wants the mayor and chancellor to fail in their efforts to improve our schools. However, if they continue their refusal to plan for and spend new state funding as intended, the state must hold them accountable.
Friday, July 6, 2007
The city's class size reduction proposal; smaller by 1/3 of a child?
For news clips about their proposal, and our reaction, see articles in today’s NY Times, the NY Sun, the Daily News, and the SI Advance. For the proposal and all the documentation, check out the DOE website here.
As you may remember, the new state law requires the city to submit a five year class size reduction plan for all grades, as part of its “contracts for excellence”. This was a massive battle that we won, with your help, this spring. Yet there is nothing in the documents that DOE released yesterday that even resembles a five year plan.
There are no goals, no benchmarks, no time tables, no specific budgetary allocations, and no provision of space that would ensure that significantly smaller classes in any grade would ever become a reality.
Even as a one year plan, the proposal falls far short of adequate. What the DOE has simply done is aggregate the choices of those principals who have said that they intend to hire extra teachers with their “fair student funding” allocations, out of a menu of five different options. Whether this will ever lead to smaller classes is anyone’s guess.
In the initial years, the state law requires that the city’s efforts to reduce class size should be focused first on low-performing and overcrowded schools. Yet our analysis shows that 47% of all city schools on the state failing list will receive no FSF funds at all – and thus the principals of these schools were provided with no real option to reduce class size. (For more on this, click here.)
Most of the other low-performing high schools in the city are severely overcrowded, without sufficient space to reduce class size. In fact, DOE’s own figures show that more than half of failing schools with very large class sizes (in the top quartile) are currently at 100% utilization or more.
Accordingly, the state law not only requires a five year class size reduction plan for smaller classes in all grades, but also that the city’s capital plan for schools be aligned with their class size plan, so that in future years, there will be sufficient space for smaller classes in all schools. Yet the city’s capital plan only provides enough space for smaller classes in K-3, and assumes maximum class sizes in all other grades.
The DOE has not reported how many additional general education classes will be formed with the FSF allocations; thus it is difficult to predict whether their plan will even lead to smaller classes anywhere. They have said that they “project” smaller classes as a result, of about .3-.8 students per class on average – yes, that’s 1/3 to 4/5 of a student. (see above photo for a visualization)
Yet this amount is so minimal, and the class size data that DOE reports is so error-prone that this will be difficult to even track.
Moreover, enrollment is still falling i by about 1.5% per year. Thus, much of this decline would occur in any case, without any concerted effort to reduce class size, which we see no evidence of in this case.
There are many other problems with their “contracts”. For example, DOE claims that their $40 million accountability initiative should be paid for under the contracts, including $17 million for the interim assessments, even though this falls under none of the categories set out in the regulations. They also claim that the assessments, in which students will be tested an additional five times in English and math starting next year, will create more instructional time rather than subtract from it.
So what can we do?
1. Robert Jackson, original CFE plaintiff and chair of the City Council Education committee is holding a press conference on Sunday, to express his views about whether this proposal is an adequate solution to the problem of class size in our schools, the issues he raised in the CFE case, and whether it complies with the state law. Please come and bring your kids! Encourage your elected representatives to attend as well. Signs are welcome, as would be any visual that shows how paltry a mere one third of a child reduction in class size really is. (What portion of your child would you leave out? An arm, a leg – god forbid, a head?)
WHO: Education Chair Robert Jackson, Class Size Matters, Educational Priorities Panel (EPP), Parent to Parent, Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), and other education advocates and elected officials; parents are invited!
WHERE: City Hall Steps
WHEN: Sunday, July 8, 2007
TIME: 11:30 am
2. All parents, teachers and others who care about the future of education in this city really should come and testify at the borough hearings next week; the meeting times and places are below. Transcripts will be taken of your remarks and sent to the State Education Commissioner to read when he is considering whether the city’s proposal (let’s not call it a plan) is acceptable.
3. Take a look at the talking points posted here: The DOE is very clever, in trying to package this as a real class size reduction plan, though as I said to the press, it is more of game of 52 pick up. Throw the cards in the air and see where they land. From all indications we have from past experience, we would get no real improvements if it goes forward.
Hearings Monday- Thursday of next week in all five boroughs. Come no later than 5:30 PM to sign up to speak; speaking time will be limited to two minutes.
Monday, July 9, 2007
Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice
244 East 163rd Street
Bronx, NY 10451
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Brooklyn H.S. for the Arts
345 Dean Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Millennium High School
75 Broad Street
New York, NY 10004
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Michael J. Petrides H.S.
715 Ocean Terrace,
Staten Island, NY 10301
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Thomas A. Edison Career & Technical Education H.S.
165-65 84th Avenue
Jamaica, NY 11432
Written comments regarding the Contracts for Excellence will be accepted through July 14, 2007 at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
The Plot Sickens
The superintendent did not reveal which of the candidates was which, but GBN News has learned that the other finalist for the position had been Emomali Rakhmon, currently chief of school security for the DOE and formerly the President of Tajikistan. Mr. Rakhmon, according to GBN News sources, had been encouraged by Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to apply for the Principal position when he heard that Mr. Rakhmon, like Ms. Rohloff, was a “leadership academy” graduate. However, the resume Mr. Rakhmon submitted to the C-30 committee failed to even mention his stormy tenure as Tajik strongman, where he ruled with an iron fist, banned cell phones and automobiles from universities and decreed that citizens drop the Slavic “ov” from the end of their names. The sanitized resume mentioned only his “high administrative positions” in both Tajikistan and New York, and emphasized his “leadership qualities” and his ability to bring order and discipline to schools in both places.
When reached for comment, Mr. Rakhmon confirmed that he had indeed been the other finalist for the position. He stressed that the Leadership Academy he attended in Tajikistan was, as he put it, “better than Klein’s”. “I know it’s better,” he told GBN News, “because I ran it myself.” He went on to say, “I was top graduate. I got all ‘fours’. Not easy to do in Tajikistan, harder than your ELA.” However, GBN news has learned that Mr. Rakhmon was not just the “top graduate”, he was the only one, and rumors in Tajikistan were that the other academy students had all dropped out after they “did not clear reference checks” or “accepted other positions”.
While Mr. Rakhmon denied any responsibility for the sudden change in the selection process, he is known to be close to Mr. Klein, and committee members voiced suspicion that Mr. Rakhmon could still be in the running for the position. A committee member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that, “If we really had to choose between them, I suppose the guy is better than Rohloff, but next time we’ll learn a lesson from this, and we’ll be sure to read the NY City Parent Blog at http://nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/ to get the real story before we accept the choice they give us.