Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bloomberg Beaten by East Harlem PTA Presidents and Community Activists in Randalls Island Lawsuit

In a rare legal defeat for Mike Bloomberg's administration, State Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich voided his brazen attempt to hand over the Randalls Island playing fields to a consortium of 20 private schools via an invitation-only long term contract. The judge ruled the city will have to follow the land use review process required by the city charter.

See Associated Press coverage in Newsday here ,New York Times here and Daily News here. Our prior coverage here.

Statements from plaintiffs and supporters:

Eugenia Simmons-Taylor, former president of the Presidents Council in D4 in East Harlem which was the lead plaintiff: "This is a great victory for public school children as well as the community as a whole. I'm thrilled that we were able to stop this unjust deal before it went through. Now the community and our elected representatives will have a chance to have their say."

Matthew Washington, a member of the Community Board 11 in East Harlem and another plaintiff: "We're happy to have an opportunity to do the right thing for all the children in this city."

David Bloomfield, a member of the Citywide Council on High Schools, also a plaintiff: "The sad lesson of the Randall's Island litigation is that elites have no business making decisions for those with less money or influence. From the first, the city and the Randall's Island Sports Foundation should have included parents, schools, and the community at the negotiating table. Instead, the courts have been forced to ensure these rights and in so doing have made sure that there will be quality recreational facilities for all children."

Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, the sole member of the Franchise & Concession Review Commission to oppose the original contract: "I applaud today's decision," Stringer said. "The judge's order will insure that the project gets the full public review and input it needs to become a fair deal for the community, the City and for private and public schoolchildren alike."

Geoffrey Croft, President of NYC Park Advocates, "We are delighted at this outcome, but this deal never should have been allowed to go forward in the first place. I hope the city doesn't appeal the decision. It would be a waste of taxpayer money and would violate the important principle that public parks should be for the public and not for private interests."

Next Up, Grading Parents. A Parody -- Or Is It?

In the midst of a celebration of the City’s five Intel finalists at Stuyvesant HS (where he repeatedly refused to acknowledge a reporter’s question as to why the number of Intel semifinalists has crashed to barely half its former level since he took charge of the public school system), Chancellor Joel Klein stunned the crowd with his latest announcement on data-driven assessment.

“Beginning in September 2008,” Mr. Klein stated, “The ARIS reporting system will be expanded to track parents’ performance in assisting their children’s education. Now that we are tracking and incentivizing the performance of principals and teachers based on student test results, we see this as the last piece of the puzzle. For years, educators have agreed that parent involvement is a key to student learning; now we’re going to put part of the burden back where it belongs.“

“Some of you may ask how we can track parents’ behavior with their kids. Hey, these are the days of the Patriot Act – nothing is private any more. So to begin with, we’ve contracted for a $32 million extension of ARIS to interface directly with Time Warner Cable and Direct TV, so we’ll know what every student’s family is watching and how much. We’ve also created an $8 million interface to EZ Pass and a $93 million interface to AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Mozilla, Internet Explorer, Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and Friendster. Oh, and those cell phones your kids keep bringing illegally to school? You got it – we’ll know the minutes and text messaging on those, too.”

“But those things are just child’s play next to our biggest and most revolutionary innovation, conceived by our consultants from Alvarez & Marsal. Beginning next September, the DOE will install hi-tech video surveillance systems in the home of every public school student from Grades 1 – 12. All non-private home activities will be coded and cataloged by Wipro and Infosys in Bangalore, India and fed back to the expanded ARIS so we can generate parental report cards. Parents who receive passing grades will be rewarded with Blu-ray hi-def DVD players and movie discs, while those with D’s or F’s will face mandatory parent training sessions every weekend for three months.”

“No more free rides: no more not reading to your children, no more not helping them with their homework, no more letting them study with the television on while they text message on their cell phones with iPod earphones stuck like cotton in their ears. Did anybody think we were just going to give away money for coming to a Parent Teacher Conference, getting their kid a library card, or taking them to the dentist? Get real, folks. Woody Allen may have said that 80% of success is just showing up, but he’s not a parent in my school system!”

When reminded by an anonymous voice in the crowd that the public schools are not “his” system, the Chancellor puzzled bystanders by channeling his inner Pee Wee Herman and snapping back, “I know you are, but what am I?”

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Children handcuffed in school; what is going on?

Two recent incidents provide yet more evidence that the situation with cops in the schools has gotten completely out of control.

Twelve days ago a ten year old girl was handcuffed on a school bus, and on Friday, a five year old boy was handcuffed at his elementary school and taken to a psychiatric hospital -- even after his babysitter came to pick him up. Both these children had serious disabilities which required more sensitive interventions.

According to the Daily News, the Kindergarten student, who suffers from attention deficit disorder, speech problems and asthma, has had nightmares ever since and will start seeing a psychologist soon.

The NYCLU and other advocacy groups have documented in detail repeated abuses of the police and safety agents in our schools-- whose number has grown until they now constitute the tenth largest police force in the country. Several times, even principals have been arrested for coming to the aid of students after they had been manhandled by safety agents.

In 2005, the DOE suspended more students than the entire student population of New Haven.

New legislation has been proposed, called the Student Safety Act, which would provide more transparency and oversight as regards disciplinary and security policies in our public schools. For more on this important issue, see the NYCLU website here.

The truth behind DOE's high ratings in the principals' survey by Diane Ravitch

Last week, the NYC Department of Education released its survey of principals, showing that more than 70% were satisfied with the support that they receive from the DOE. This was good news for the Department, and they were able to wave these numbers as “proof” that the leaders in the field are satisfied.

As it happened , I was the keynote speaker on Saturday January 26 at the annual meeting of the New York City Elementary School Principals’ Association at the Brooklyn Marriott. Before I spoke, I had a candid conversation with some principals. I heard some of the usual complaints about how out of touch the DOE is, how outrageous is the flood of tests, how heedless the DOE is about the real needs of students and teachers, etc.

So naturally I asked why the principal survey showed such high levels of satisfaction with the DOE. Weren’t the responses anonymous?

I was told, by people who for obvious reasons I cannot name, that principals understand that there is no such thing as anonymity when corresponding by email with the DOE. Principals assume that anything sent to the DOE, even if they do not sign it personally, has the school’s ID. Given what they believe is the “vindictive” spirit of Tweed, most dared not take the risk of expressing negative views.

In the world of interoffice electronic communication, there is no such thing as a secret ballot. Or so they believe. And they were afraid to speak up.

---Diane Ravitch

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Four things to hate about the Spitzer education budget

1- He would give about $100 million less than he pledged last year to NYC schools. These funds are their due from the settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

2- The limited amount in additional operating aid he gives with one hand, he takes away with the other, by delaying reimbursement for school construction – which is the last thing we need, when the city has to be encouraged to build more schools more quickly to alleviate overcrowding and reduce class size. This will give them all the excuses they need not to improve the capital plan.

3- The promise of transparency and stability that was supposed to come with a new school aid formula -- one that would be less prone to political manipulation year after year and that would more equitably fund NYC schools -- has entirely vanished.

4- Last but not least, the extra operating aid would come in the form of an unrestricted grant – with no strings attached, unlike the portion of the CFE settlement called Contracts for excellence -- that was actually supposed to be directed to specific programs that research shows actually work, like class size reduction. With this money the city could instead spend it on more testing, cash rewards tied to test scores, more consultants, higher salaries at Tweed, or really any new fad that strikes their fancy.

Paul Francis, Spitzer's director of operations, told New York Sun that the governor's decision to give the city much of these funds in the form of a unrestricted grant was the result of a compromise "between the desire of the city to have unrestricted funds and the desire of the advocacy community to have all the money subject to the Contracts for Excellence."

To the contrary, we need more accountability, not less, with these precious funds. This money belongs to the children of NYC, not to the Governor, the Mayor or Joel Klein; and it must be spent in a way that gives them their constitutional right to an adequate education – including smaller classes in all grades.

We have a lot of work to do, with both the state and the city, to ensure that the promise to our children of smaller classes embodied in the 12 long years of the battle for education equity is actually fulfilled. Stay tuned.

NY State Math A Regents Exams – The Soft Bigotry (and Political Payoff) of Lowered Expectations

I taught high school Math at NYC Lab School in the mid- to late-1990s, during the days of Sequential Math I, II, and III – before the advent of the soon-to-disappear Math A and Math B. Having spent time in the last 2 –3 weeks helping my 10th grade son prepare for his January Math A exam, I was appalled by the degree to which expectations for high school mathematics competency in New York State (and consequently NYC) has been diminished. The phenomenon President Bush often cites about “the soft bigotry of low expectations” has indeed become a reality in New York State.

The Math A exam consists of 30 multiple choice questions, each worth two points, plus nine extended answer questions variously worth 2, 3, or 4 points. The maximum possible score is 84, but conversion to a 100-point scale is done by a test-specific conversion chart rather than a strict percentage basis. On the June 2007 exam, for example, a student needed to earn only 35 of those 84 points (41.7%) to earn a passing grade of 65. On today’s January 2008 exam, the cutoff dropped again, to 34 out of 84. In other words, 40.5% is now the new 65%.

But wait, it gets worse. Suppose a student knew the answers today to 13 of the 30 multiple choice questions and blindly guesses at the other 17 (assume for the moment that he or she cannot answer any of the extended answer questions). This student has a 1/4 chance of guessing correctly on each of those 17 remaining multiple choice questions, so on average he or she can get 4.25 more questions correct by just guessing. Seventeen correct answers (13 known + 4 guessed) yields 34 points, and that converts to a 65 final score. Yet the student only really “knew the math” for 13 questions (good for 26 points). The 8 points received from guessing represented 23.5% of his or her passing grade total of 34. Meanwhile, the student’s “knowledge level” grade of 31.0% (26/84) has netted him or her a 66. So a paltry 31% is the new 65%.

Compare this to the pre-NCLB days of Sequential I, II, and III exams. Those tests contained 18 short answer questions (2 points each) and 17 multiple choice questions (2 points each), from which students were required to choose and answer 30 questions. A series of extended answer questions accounted for 40 more points. On those exams, scaled to 100 points, students were required to earn 65 points to get a 65. A student forced to guess on all the multiple choice questions could expect on average to get 4.25 correct (1/4 of 17), good for 8.5 points. Blind guessing would then, on average, gain the student just 13.1% (8.5/65) of his or her passing grade. Compared to the Math A student who could pass today’s Regents exam with a knowledge level grade of 31%, the earlier Sequential I student needed on average a “knowledge level” grade of 56.5%, a level 82.3% higher than today’s students.

This lowering of the mathematics bar for New York’s public high school students offers yet one more example of how standards and expectations have been dropped as a result of No Child Left Behind. In fact, the difference is so substantial as to call into question any claims by the NYSED or the DOE about increases in the Regents mathematics pass rates and, by extension, State and City graduation rates. A look at the Math A grade conversion charts since 2004 further substantiates this view.

Raw scores (out of 84) needed for a passing grade of 65%

Math A – January exams -------- 37 ----------- 34 ---------- 33 ----------- 35 ---------- 34
Math A – June exams ------------ 37 ----------- 36 ---------- 35 ----------- 35
Math A – August exams --------- 36 ----------- 34 ---------- 34 ----------- 34

Math B – June exams ------------ 45 ----------- 48 ---------- 47 ----------- 47

Where it took a raw score of 36 or 37 (out of 84) to get a 65% final grade in 2004, it now takes just a 34 or 35 (with a low of just 33 in January 2006). By comparison, the raw score cutoff for passing the Math B exam, where there is far less pressure related to State graduation requirements, has remained virtually unchanged over four years. Any system that allows government to decide where they will set the bar on each exam and then take political credit for improved performance must be inherently suspect.

Subjected to the same competency standards as students were a decade ago for Sequential Math I, a sizable percentage of today’s high school students would likely fail to meet the mathematics portion of their graduation requirements. We’re not necessarily educating better, just lowering the bar. The New York miracle in high school mathematics is just as ethereal (and phony) as George W. Bush’s now discredited “Texas Miracle” when he was that State’s Governor.

[Admittedly, this discussion ignores the Part 2, 3, and 4 extended answer questions. More on this aspect of the Math A exams in another posting. Note, however, that multiple choice questions (generally less demanding, amenable to guessing, and more easily copied or otherwise communicated from student to student) constitute 60 of Math A’s 84 points (71.4%) compared to, at most, 34% (34/100) of the earlier Sequential Math I exams.]

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Is holding back kids really the solution to our middle school problems, or is the Mayor running out of even bad ideas?

Last week, in his State of the City address, the Mayor announced that the Department of Education will now extend the policy of holding back students on the basis of their test scores to 8th graders, in addition to the third, fifth, and seventh graders who already face this prospect. This could mean the retention of an additional 18,000 students next year. Clearly, in terms of their educational policies, the administration has run out of even bad ideas.

As research and experience show, holding back kids doesn’t work. More than one hundred leading academics, researchers, and national experts on testing signed our letter opposing the administration’s proposal to retain third graders back in 2004, saying that basing promotional decisions on standardized tests is not only unfair, given the unreliability of a single exam, but also leads to lower achievement and higher drop out rates. (Check out a copy of this letter.)

Among those who signed our letter to the Mayor included Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Ernest House, who did the independent evaluation of New York City’s failed retention program in the 1980’s, four past presidents of the American Education Research Association, the chair of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Appropriate Use of Educational Testing, and several members of the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council. Even the two largest testing companies are on record that the decision to hold back a child should never be based upon test scores alone. Indeed, the professional consensus is so clear about the negative effects of this policy on students’ academic and emotional health that it amounts to educational malpractice, according to Prof. Shane Jimerson of the University of California.

Nothing has changed since then.In fact, if this policy had worked, the administration’s policy of holding back third, fifth and especially seventh graders would have caused a rise in eighth grade achievement. Instead, as revealed by city’s results on the national assessments called the NAEPs, test scores in these grades have been stagnant or declining.

See for example, these dynamite charts, prepared by the Annenberg Institute for a new report called "Our Children Can't Wait" about the problems of our middle schools. (Click on the graphs to enlarge them). The one below shows that NYC had the largest decline in 8th grade ELA scores of any urban school district tested. The one above shows that NYC is the only city where this decline occurred among both black and Latino students over the last four years.

In reality, nearly every parent (or teacher) who's looked seriously at NYC middle schools realizes that their number one problem is huge class sizes.

In these grades, we expect a lot from our students. We expect them to learn how to read and analyze complex literature, to write essays and research papers, to master computational skills and begin algebra. All this, when their bodies, their relationships, and their sense of self are in rapid transition. Yet our schools offer none of the intellectual or emotional support that students need during this crucial time.

Instead, our middle schoolers are crammed into the largest classes in the state, and some of the largest in the entire industrialized world. Class sizes average 26-27, and one fourth of students are in classes of 31 or more – even in many failing schools. As a result, teachers are simply unable to provide these students with the support and attention they need, either in class or with their homework.

Even those who were thriving and motivated up to this point begin to become disengaged, disillusioned and fall behind. Here are the words of one parent:

“For both her elementary and middle school years, my daughter had wonderful and dedicated public school teachers. At one of the better middle schools in the city, she had 38 kids in her class. Each teacher taught four classes. With almost 150 students, how can one teacher be expected to prepare lessons, teach class, grade papers and have time left to focus on the individual child? My daughter's grades weren't the highest or the lowest. She fell into the vast middle, as do the majority of kids.”

“At her middle school, my daughter was utterly lost and very unhappy. She was forgotten. No not forgotten, never known. It is a crime that at this crucial turning point, when adolescents are searching for an identity to call their own, they are tossed into huge classes with no one who has the time to see them as individuals.”

Yet this administration refuses to take affirmative steps to make sure that our middle schoolers are better known to their teachers, even in the face of a new state mandate to reduce class size. Instead, the new policy to hold back more 8th graders will likely cause classes in this grade to grow even larger, as students are increasingly stalled at this level, prevented from moving on into high school. Frustrated by their lack of progress, and by their inability to get the help that they need, many will eventually drop out.

It’s a shame that this administration won't act to improve the opportunities for our children to succeed, but rather insists on increasing the chances that they will fail.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why other states are figuring out what Tweed cannot seem to grasp...

....that schools, teachers and students are more than just test scores.

Check out the recent stories about the research study being carried out by Tweed that will help them create a teacher evaluation program based solely on the test score gains of their students -- see NY Times article here; and the negative reaction of the UFT here and here.

For a video presentation from Jonah Rockoff of Columbia Univ. about this study, which has been posted online since late this summer, see here. (Why reporters are just catching on now, I have no idea.)

Meanwhile, just as North Carolina has begun to move away from an overemphasis on standardized test scores (see earlier blog entry here ) now it also seems that officials in Florida, “where a standardized test has been treated for nearly a decade as the only barometer of success” are also beginning to recognize the “need to look at a broader array of tools to measure school performance," according to an editorial in today’s St. Petersburg Times.

In North Carolina, this welcome development was prompted by the recognition that all this emphasis on testing and merit pay based on test scores had not improved schools and had instead led to a host of negative consequences – including making it more difficult to recruit and keep teachers at low-performing schools. (See for example, the paper by Charles T Clotfelter et. al. called "Do School Accountability Systems Make It More Difficult for Low-Performing Schools to Attract and Retain High-Quality Teachers?" from 2004, which showed increased teacher attrition rates at such schools after the new accountability systems had been imposed.)

In Florida, it appears that the new state Education Commissioner Eric Smith was reacting to the fact that teachers in most of the districts across the state had rejected a merit pay scheme based on test scores. Smith also was appointed by a relatively new Governor, Charlie Crist, who though a Republican is considerably less dogmatic than the previous guy in charge, Jeb Bush.

The St. Pete editorial, called "A welcome challenge to FCAT monopoly" ends this way:

When teachers turn down pay raises because they refuse to be judged by one standardized test, they are sending a powerful signal to the capital. Maybe now someone will listen.

Perhaps it is time for Jeb Bush's education buddies, Mike Bloomberg and Joel Klein, to take another look at this issue. One can only dream…

For an argument that the Rockoff/DOE study violates accepted ethical standards for academic research, by not obtaining the informed consent of the research subjects -- the teachers themselves --see

Meanwhile, the Union Chief Leader reports that the the principal's union has negotiated a better agreement with DOE in which school test scores will only be a part of their evaluation, along with other factors.

Monday, January 21, 2008

DOE to Teachers: We’re Watching You

January 21, 2007 (GBN News): A report in the NY Times reveals that the NY City Department of Education is quietly gathering data to rate individual teachers based on their students’ performance on standardized tests. This is sure to generate controversy in the educational community, and concerns are already being raised that such data will be used to make decisions on teacher pay and tenure. However, GBN News has learned that the DOE initiative to evaluate teachers is going far beyond just test scores.

According to sources at the DOE, the Department is using a technique called “microtargeting” to amass detailed information on NYC teachers. The technique is one that Mayor Bloomberg is using nationwide to accumulate data on potential voters in advance of a possible run for President. Such information ranges from individual demographics, to people’s political preferences, to whether they purchase foods containing trans fats. The DOE sources suggest that the Department is developing a profiling system that would rate teachers, not just on their effectiveness, but on their potential to accommodate to the school reforms that the Mayor and Chancellor Joel Klein have instituted.

One high level DOE official, who spoke to GBN News on condition of anonymity, said that this initiative is just a logical extension of the Mayor’s reliance on - some would say obsession with - data. “He’s made billions using methods like this,” the source said. “Of course he’d want to apply it to education, which he considers just as ‘cutthroat’ as the business world or politics. The Mayor and Chancellor see teachers as the biggest impediment to their reforms. Naturally, they’d want to weed out the biggest potential critics as well as those who are merely ineffective.”

The source said that the DOE will be using the data to look into a number of variables which will assist them in evaluating teachers. “Do they complain in public on education blogs? Are they active in the UFT? Are they of good moral fiber? Do they eat enough fiber? No piece of data is too trivial for the Mayor and Chancellor. And by the way, wait till you see what they’re coming up with about the kids and the parents. Talk about defenders of the status quo.”

Just how teachers, politicians and parents will respond to this new initiative has yet to be seen. Still, this DOE official contends that the plan should go a long way towards discrediting the charge that the DOE is only interested in test scores.

Ed. Note: Being GBN News, the above story is parody. But ask yourself, as you read it: Can't you envision the DOE actually doing something like this? After all, the Times article is astonishingly and chillingly real.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Intel Science Talent Search Since Mayoral Control – A Study in De-Klein

Yesterday’s announcement of the 2007/2008 crop of the 300 annual semifinalists for the Intel Science Talent Search contained the happy news that Stuyvesant HS garnered eleven of those coveted awards and Bronx Science another five. Congratulations to all students who participated and all who reached the semifinals for their hard work. However, even the NY Times was reduced in the headline of its article to saluting Ward Melville HS in East Setauket for its best-in-the-nation thirteen semifinalists while Newsday ran the more unintentionally damning headline, “Intel Science Competition Names 69 LI Semifinalists” (NYC had 28).

While Chancellor Klein routinely (and not altogether unfairly) lectures parent gatherings over the NYC public school system’s past failures to address the academic needs of its weakest students, the Intel science fair news offers an opportunity to look at one aspect of how the highest end students are faring since Mayor Bloomberg took control of the City’s public education system. The results are so discouraging that it’s hardly surprising the DOE’s “all happy news all the time” PR machine has hardly mentioned the change in NYC public school Intel semifinalists during its tenure.

Intel provides information dating back to 1997/1998 about semifinalists in the Science Talent Search contest. For the sake of comparison, I combined and averaged the data for the six years from 1997 to 2002 into one group and that for the five Bloomberg/Klein years from 2003 to 2007/2008 into a second group. Here are just a few of the findings:

-- The number of NYC public school Intel semifinalists declined from an average of 45.8 per year before Bloomberg/Klein to just 24.4 per year in the last five years, a decline of 46.8%. The average number of semifinalists from the City’s specialized science high schools dropped from 26.7 to 17.4 (down 37.1%) while semifinalists from the rest of NYC’s public high schools fell from 18.2 per year before Mayoral control to just 7.0 per year since, down 61.5%.

-- By comparison, NYC private school semifinalists averaged 6.5 annually from 1997 to 2002 and 6.8 annually from 2003 to 2007. Similarly, NY State semifinalists from schools outside the five boroughs increased 2.7%, from a 103.5 average in the 1997-2002 period to a 106.2 average since 2003.

-- NY State’s share of each year’s national pool of 300 semifinalists dropped from an average of 10.05% (1997-2002) to 8.46% (2003-2007). The entire drop, equivalent to over 18 fewer NYS semifinalists each year, is entirely attributable to the NYC public school decline.

-- Perhaps the most disturbing finding, the number of public high schools other than Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, and Staten Island Tech) having at least one Intel semifinalist in a given year dropped from an average of 5.7 before Bloomberg/Klein to just 3.4 since. This year, only two schools outside the realm of the science high schools – Francis Lewis and NEST+M – managed to collar an Intel semifinalist spot.

-- The percentage decline in NYS and NYC Intel semifinalists is NOT a function of greater participation nationwide. Intel reports just a 4.7% growth in average yearly number of participants, from 1,550 (1997 – 2002) to 1,623 (2003 – 2007). Over the same two periods, NYC public high school's share of the national semifinalist pool fell by half from 2.96% to 1.50%, reaching only 1.06% in 2006 and 1.25% this year (see the graph above -- click on the graph to enlarge it). The City's share of the NY State semifinalist pool shrank from 29.4% to just 17.8% (just 15.4% last year and 16.1% this year).

These are devastating decreases in success rates for NYC’s best students in this nation’s most prestigious high school science competition, a contest that NYC students routinely dominated in the years before and immediately preceding Mayoral control. At this point, one can only speculate on the possible reasons: overemphasis on standardized math and ELA test scores with less time spent on middle school science classes, overburdened teachers in overcrowded schools teaching outsized classes in the traditionally large schools that produce Intel semifinalists, siphoning off talented students into small schools not staffed or equipped to support and mentor Intel participants, or simply an overshift in emphasis on failing students to the detriment of the City’s highest performers. More investigation and research is needed to determine the root causes.

Regardless, this embarrassing decline in Intel semifinalist results in the last four years – seemingly unnoticed in the local media – represents just one more indictment of this Chancellor’s failed educational policies. These figures suggest that even our best students are being routinely underserved.

To see the full Excel file, click here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

All You Need is Data

January 16, 2008 (GBN News): Middle School 422 in Brooklyn received an “A” on its recent Progress Report, outperforming every other school in its cohort and earning the Principal a large bonus. However, in what could prove to be a major embarrassment for the Department of Education, it seems that outside of its test scores in the DOE’s ARIS computer system, there is no evidence of the school’s existence.

This unusual situation came to light only when Schools Chancellor Joel Klein traveled to Brooklyn for a media event recognizing the school’s high level of achievement. With journalists in tow, the Chancellor and his entourage arrived at the school’s purported address, only to find an empty lot. Certain that this was simply a case of mistaken address, the Chancellor used his Blackberry to contact his office. Staff at the Department’s Tweed headquarters confirmed the address in the computer, but inquiries in the neighborhood turned up nobody who had ever seen or heard of MS 422.

A DOE spokesperson later told GBN News that upon further investigation, it appears that the school never actually existed. “The data all looked great on paper,” the spokesperson said. “The test scores were through the roof, the surveys were very positive. There’s just no school there. Who knew?”

In a press conference at Tweed, Chancellor Klein assured reporters that the Principal “is absolutely accountable” for the situation. “The naysayers and defenders of the status quo keep telling us that there are children who are uneducable,” he said. “But this Principal started with literally nothing, and look at the test scores that were achieved. It proves that we can educate anybody – even nobody. That bonus was well earned.”

In other news, Mayor Michael Bloomberg denied that his aides could have said that he is considering whether to buy the US Presidency. “Since when does anyone else know what I’m thinking?’ the Mayor asked. “Everyone knows I only consult with people after I’ve made a decision.”

Monday, January 14, 2008

GBN News Editorial: Scanning and the Cell Phone Ban

January 14, 2008: There has been a great deal of controversy over Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on cell phones in schools, and his enforcement of the ban through the use of metal detector scanning. Besides the obvious need for cell phones to insure students’ safety while traveling to and from school, many parents and educators have objected to what they feel are disruptions to the school day brought about by metal scanning in the schools. However, in the interests of balance, we feel it is only fair to present the many benefits that NY City school children derive from the DOE cell phone ban and metal scanning policy. It is clear to us that the policy:

*Promotes physical health: Students are cooped up all day in stuffy classrooms. With scanning, students spend quality time outdoors, often in healthful, brisk, below freezing temperatures while waiting to go through the scanners.

*Promotes individual resourcefulness and experience in negotiating financial agreements: Many students make arrangements to store cell phones in bodegas for the day, making their own deals with local business people.

*Promotes physical exercise: Those who are unable to negotiate storage arrangements must dig holes to bury cell phones outside the schools, since the phones are legal to bring to school but not into the building.

*Stimulates students’ interest in politics: Students can follow along with the local legislative process, and see first hand how elected officials are able to defy the laws passed by their representatives (ie the City Council bill overturning the ban by a 46-2 margin). Students and their parents can even participate in a real live lawsuit against the ban.

*Deters crime by giving students the chance to experience an authentic “prison atmosphere”.

*Promotes intergenerational understanding and cooperation: Most parents and their children, whatever their conflicts and differences, agree whole heartedly on their opposition to the ban, and work together to find ways to keep the phones from being confiscated, ie staying home from school or sneaking them in past the scanners.

*Provides students with “hands on” experience in civil disobedience, and promotes understanding of the concept that there are unjust laws that can be ethically disobeyed.

*Lowers class size: DOE figures show that attendance is down from 10 – 20% on scanning days.

It is surprising that with all of the PR acumen possessed by the DOE and the Mayor, they have failed to adequately bring out the above points to the public. Perhaps they feel that it is enough to simply realize that the Mayor is always right, even when he is opposed on an issue by an overwhelming majority of the public. But this just points up an important educational benefit of Mayoral control of the schools. Students usually learn only from textbooks about forms of government different from our own democracy. But here in New York, they can see for themselves a real life, “textbook example” of how a dictatorship works. It is a lesson that they, and all of us, should learn from.

The lack of charter school accountability -- and does competition actually improve public education?

Today, the Daily News runs both an editorial and an oped, excoriating the State Comptroller for auditing charter schools, and supporting the charter schools' lawsuit in trying to block further audits. Here’s an excerpt from the editorial:

“Charter schools are more accountable than most parts of government. They answer to two layers of state regulation, and they must shut down if they don't meet educational goals within five years - a standard we'd love to see applied to the rest of the educational establishment.”

I would bet fewer charter schools have been closed down in NYC in recent years than regular public schools – and not because they’ve all been successful. In reality, they operate with very little supervision.

I recommend that if people took a look at the Comptroller’s Sept. audit, they’d realize how unaccountable many charter schools have been – and how lax both SED and DOE have been in terms of oversight. Amazing to me that any major media outlet would oppose strict accountability in the use of taxpayer funds in this way.

Despite the fact that all charter schools are required to report annually on their progress towards meeting the educational goals established when they were founded, and DOE is supposed to closely monitor their progress in achieving these goals, according to the audit, none of this has occurred.

The original goals and any information about progress made towards meeting these goals are supposed to be included on in the schools’ annual reports. Yet the DOE could provide only 10 of the 23 annual reports of the charter schools under its purview, and the Comptroller’s office obtained one more report from SED.

Of these 11, not one of them contained all the information required by state law, and more than half either omitted certain goals, misstated them, or did not discuss the progress made towards them. The audit found that the DOE had no formal process for reviewing these reports, no written records of the same, and no records of their decision-making process in approving the original applications of charter schools or calling for their renewals.

Nor were there any procedures or plans in place to call for improvements in their performance, or a corrective plan if there was failure. DOE also kept no records of the visits made to charter schools before approving the renewal of their charters. Not surprisingly, DOE recommended the renewal of all the charters in every case, for the maximum period of five years.

It sure doesn’t sound that there was real accountability here – as the Daily News editorial insists – or any evidence that any of these charter schools were “shut down if they don't meet educational goals within five years" – especially as DOE appeared to be ignorant of what their goals were.

Instead of criticizing the audit, if the editors of the Daily News really cared about accountability, they would be applauding the state Comptroller and criticizing the charter schools for suing to block them.

But there has long been a double-standard when it comes to charter schools; see the response of Chester Finn, for example, to the other recent audit which found KIPP using funds to send teachers on junkets to the Caribbean:

"I think they should be able to fly around the world in first class if administrators think that will keep up the good results."

Meanwhile, according to today's NY Sun, Sol Stern and some other conservatives are moving away from the idea that market incentives and competition (like more charter schools) will solve all the problems of public education– perhaps in part influenced by the failures here in NYC, where this administration has adopted this sort of market-driven ideology with a vengeance.

“There's a growing consensus that a market approach alone is not enough," the president of the Albany-based Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, Tom Carroll, said. He added: "There's a need for a moment of reflection."

It was never clear to me why competition would be expected to work to improve the public school system. Here in NYC, there has always been a healthy system of competition from parochial and private schools, and rather than improving the public schools, it has been a way for the business and opinion elite and many members of the middle class to escape sending their kids to public schools, which has considerably diminished political pressure towards improving them.

If Bloomberg, Klein et al and their cronies on Wall St, as well as the editors of the NY Times and the Daily News, had children who actually attended NYC public schools, I’m convinced there would have been smaller classes years ago.

No Children Left Behind … in John Bowne HS Classrooms After Random Scanning

On Thursday, January 10, a parent from John Bowne High School in Queens posted the following at the Yahoo Groups site nyceducationnews:

At John Bowne's PTA meeting last nite, the issue of scanning was brought up by the principal. We had scanning on Dec. 17. I asked what the attendance was for that day and the principal said the drop was between 18 and 23%…. He estimated that the overtime alone cost the school about $10,000.00….He had deans, APs, secretaries, teachers, etc. bagging and tagging electronic devices? Another mom asked what was confiscated, other than eds - 2 pockets knives, a box cutter and a couple bags of pot…. this AM, the outside of the school was crawling with (what I assumed) police officers (another waste of our tax dollars) and school security officers.

John Bowne's register shows 3,075 students, so using the midrange of the Principal’s estimate, a 20% drop in attendance means that the DOE created about 615 truants the day of their first scanning on December 17. Data posted by the DOE on John Bowne’s web page this weekend shows the following attendance data for last week, including last Thursday when the school was scanned for a second time.

Monday (1/7) – 78.2%
Tuesday (1/8) – 79.1%
Wednesday (1/9) – 78.5%
Thursday (1/10) – 63.7%
Friday (1/11) – 64.2%
Year-To-Date Attendance Rate – 79.7%

On Thursday, the date of John Bowne’s second recent random scanning, the school’s daily attendance dropped 16.0% from its year-to-date average. This drop translates into 492 extra absences, above and beyond the school’s normal daily experience. The next day (Friday), a decline of 15.5% from the normal daily attendance rate meant yet another 476 extra absences. Many John Bowne students were apparently scared off from coming back to school on Friday, or perhaps they simply decided to accept the DOE’s invitation to make it a four-day weekend.

Leaving aside this program’s emotional impact on students (see the NYCLU’s Criminalizing the Classroom report), the disruptions for school administrators and teachers, and the repeated intrusions on parents’ lives to retrieve their children’s cell phone or other electronics property, the DOE’s mobile random scanning program single-handedly created 1,583 extra absences/truancies in just one school in just three days. That's 9,498 lost academic periods, not even counting the lost first and second periods for most of the students who were in attendance those days. Add those 5,535 periods in (assuming 60% of students in attendance losing on average 1.5 periods on two scanning dates), and John Bowne students collectively lost over 15,000 academic class periods in order to find two pocket knives, a box cutter, and a couple bags of pot.

How can anyone possibly justify this continuing intrusion on children’s education? Can the DOE not at least offer the option of voluntary participation in this program, based on each Principal’s assessment of his or her school safety needs? Is this not what empowerment means?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Make your voice heard on the future of Mayoral control

Two opportunities to make your opinions known about the effects of Mayoral control on our schools, as the State Legislature has to decide whether or not it should be renewed next year:
  • A series of public hearings hosted by the UFT in all boroughs starting next week; for more information, click here.
  • A new website hosted by the Public Advocate's Commission on School Governance, where you can send your comments to the members of the Commission online. There are also some interesting papers posted on the history of Mayoral control here in NYC and elsewhere, including one by our own Diane Ravitch.
No one can say you weren't asked!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Council Hangs Up On Klein

January 10, 2008 (GBN News): The NY City Council yesterday overrode, by a 46-2 margin, Mayor Bloomberg’s veto of a bill effectively banning Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s Blackberry from DOE headquarters at Tweed courthouse. The bill bans from the building “… any electronic device that could be misused so as to cause disruption of the educational process, whether through gratuitous reorganizations, precipitous closing of schools, excessive standardized testing, overcrowded classrooms, confiscation of cell phones, or demoralization of teachers and parents.”

The law, which went into effect immediately, was put to the test early this morning when the Chancellor’s Blackberry was confiscated by School Security as he arrived at Tweed. An eyewitness told GBN News that Mr. Klein’s reaction “wasn’t pretty”. He reportedly demanded that security officers immediately contact the Mayor, but Mr. Bloomberg was busy denying his candidacy for the Presidency and could not be reached. Aides tried to avoid contact with the Chancellor as he angrily stormed towards his office, fingers twitching uncontrollably in the absence of the Blackberry. And matters went from bad to worse for Mr. Klein when his chef at home resigned in frustration after vainly trying to reach him to find out if he wanted beef or fish for dinner.

In a related story, Dr. Phil responded angrily to charges that today’s visit to Chancellor Klein in his office at Tweed was inappropriate. “It’s not a whole lot different than seeing Britney Spears”, he told GBN News. “Just another petulant individual with a sense of entitlement who thinks he can do no wrong”, he added. “I’ll have him straightened out in prime time - I mean in no time.”

Judge Scornful of Bloomberg Administration Arguments in Randall's Island Lawsuit

State Supreme Court Judge Shirley Kornreich heard arguments Thursday morning in the lawsuit brought by East Harlem public school parents and community activists. The parents are seeking to void a no-bid contract granted by the Bloomberg Administration that grants exclusive access to most playing fields to twenty elite private schools in the peak after-school hours.

While today's arguments were to determine whether attorneys for the parents could extend the complaint to address the city's failure to file the proper environmental impact statement, Judge Korneich asked both sides about the core issue of whether the city ignored the land use approval process required by the City Charter.

The judge's comments suggest the city could be in for some rough sledding. Changes in use of large tracts of land are required to go through the land use review process know as ULURP which includes review by the community board and approval by the borough president and City Council. But when the mayor's attorneys claimed that the number of fields can be roughly doubled without any change in the use of the parkland on Randall's Island, the judge sarcastically said "that's magical". At one point after listening to the city's circular arguments, the judge stated "you can't have your cake and eat it too".

See NY Times coverage here which concludes with "Justice Kornreich told the lawyers that she would be inclined to annul the city's plan unless she were presented with documents showing that the city was not taking land used for other purposes".

The public school parents and community activists are represented by civil liberties attorney Norman Siegel and Alan Klinger of the firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.

The contract granted by the administration would reserve 66% of the total fields for 20 private schools in exchange for funding to partially offset maintenance costs. Public schools and athletic programs associated with the Department of Education would have the remaining 33%. Everyone else including catholic schools and yeshivas would get nothing. The city provided no information on how the twenty schools were selected or how the rental fees were set.

Statements from plaintiffs:

“I felt very good about our day in court,” said Marina Ortiz, an East Harlem community advocate and co-plaintiff in the suit. “It’s important to challenge the City’s failure to undergo community and environmental review to ensure that the law is followed in matters regarding public parkland,” said Ortiz.

Plaintiff Eugenia Simmons-Taylor, a parent leader in East Harlem and former president of the District 4 Presidents Council, said: “Public school parents in East Harlem joined this fight because our children are being excluded from having equal access to the Randall’s Island sports fields for the next 20 years. This is a sweetheart deal with the private schools that is unjust and we’ve got to stop it before it’s too late.”

“All children deserve an equal opportunity to play on old, new and future sports fields,” said Matthew Washington, a plaintiff and member of Community Board 11 in East Harlem. “Privatization of public land is completely unacceptable; public parks need to remain accessible to all members of the public at all operational times.”

For more information see earlier posts here and here.

UPDATE: more news on the lawsuit from the NY Sun, the NY Post and metro.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Public Advocate’s Office to Seek Data on DOE’s Random Scanning Program

Last Thursday, January 3, the DOE’s random scanning team appeared on the doorstep of Benjamin Cardozo High School to execute their standard cell phone and iPod seizure program. Regardless whether weapons or dangerous instruments were found, one thing is certain: Cardozo’s attendance rate dropped from 83.9% on January 2 to 73.9% on scanning day. Given Cardozo’s register of 3,907 students, the DOE’s mobile search and seizure program created about 390 extra truants that day, and about 2,350 extra missed academic periods. [This 10% drop matches the 9.7 percentage point drop in attendance at Forest Hills High School when that school was subjected to random scanning on September 11 of this school year, resulting in 326 extra absences beyond the school’s normal rate.]

Amid discussions and questions raised by various parents about Cardozo and the DOE’s random scanning program on the NYC Education News listserv on January 3, the following response was posted:

I am writing you on behalf of the Public Advocate. As you may know, Betsy Gotbaum has long opposed the DOE's policy of turning schools into armed camps. She has also spoken out against the cell phone ban, citing parents' rightful concern for their children's safety. Furthermore, she has serious problems with and has raised objection to the lack of fiscal accountability at the DOE. Parents and taxpayers alike deserve answers to the questions you ask. Our office will be writing to the DOE as you have suggested. When we get a response we will post it here. Tomas Hunt, Office of the Public Advocate

I have since sent a letter to Mr. Hunt that includes the following ten questions, in the hope that the Public Advocate’s Office can secure data and answers from the DOE:

1. What are the dates, school names, and results (number of weapons, other dangerous items, and cellphones, iPods, and other electronics confiscated) from the inception of this program through year-end 2007?
2. For items categorized as weapons or dangerous items, what were those items (that is, were they guns, knives, chains, and brass knuckles or were they scissors, math compasses, laser pointers, and pocket knives)?
3. What was the daily attendance rate at each of these schools for the three school days immediately preceding the random scanning date(s) and/or the school’s Year-to-Date daily attendance rate immediately preceding the scanning?
4. What was the daily attendance rate for the date(s) that random scanning took place?
5. Has the DOE through its responsible school safety office conduct any controlled study of the deterrent effect of random scanning on students carrying weapons or other dangerous items? If so, when, where, how, and what were the results?
6. How many persons in the DOE and/or School Safety are assigned to the random scanning program?
7. How many portable scanners has the DOE purchased for this program, and what was their total cost? What is their annual maintenance cost?
8. What is the annualized cost to operate this program in terms of personnel and equipment expenses for transport, set-up, operation of the equipment, search and confiscation of students’ property, logging and bagging of confiscated items, and disassembling this scanners for removal?
9. What are the costs of additional personnel attached to this program for outside the building security (to keep students from leaving the area or otherwise hiding their property when they see that scanning is taking place)?
10. What are the costs of additional personnel assigned to this program for recordkeeping, reporting, and program administration?

In a final but hardly amusing irony, Mr. Hunt’s email acknowledging receipt of my letter included the following anecdote:

Just last week Betsy [Gotbaum] and I entered a high school where we both were sent through the magnetron and on the other side four school safety agents surrounded Betsy told her to put her hands on a desk and to spread her legs as she was wanded-down. We were there with a principal from the building who was pleading with guards not to do this, but they did it anyway. It can seem like sense and purpose has given way to force and order.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Bloomberg to Press for Electoral Reform

January 4, 2007 (GBN News): Mayor Michael Bloomberg may or may not be running for President, but he nevertheless intends to have a major influence on the process. GBN News has learned that at a University of Oklahoma conference next week, the Mayor plans to unveil his own blueprint for electoral reform. The plan would be modeled on his NY City school reforms and would radically change the way the country elects its Chief Executive.

The central aspect of the plan, according to GBN News sources, would replace the current system of public voting with one in which candidates would be evaluated largely through high stakes testing. This would have the benefit, Mr. Bloomberg will argue, of dispensing with the traditional partisan campaigning, and would instead involve candidates taking a series of test prep courses. Primary elections would no longer be necessary. Instead, preliminary rounds of testing would eliminate “failing” candidates, setting the stage for a November showdown between the two highest performing contenders that remain.

Election Day would also change drastically. Voters would stay home, saving on energy and travel costs, while the candidates spend the day taking a final, winner-takes-all test. Their scores will be evaluated by computer, and the contenders will receive a letter grade, A through F. 30% of the grade will be based on the actual test score, and 55% will involve the candidates’ progress since the previous test (known in political circles as “momentum”). The final 15% will be based on voter surveys, but these will be distributed only after the winner is announced.

The Mayor is said to have bristled at the suggestion that voters should receive their surveys before the election. “We value input from our citizens,” Mr. Bloomberg was said to have told associates. “We need to have them think they have a say in what happens. But the proof of the pudding is in the data, and we will have all the data we need to choose a leader who will be beyond partisanship, and who will be test prepped to address the fundamental challenges facing the nation.”

The Mayor’s proposed changes would not take effect until after the 2008 election, so just like his educational reforms, they will not affect him personally. Thus, should Mr. Bloomberg choose to run this year, he can still gain the Presidency the “old fashioned way”: by buying it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Weprin Crashes Press Conference and Again Blasts DOE

In a stunning reminder that the State ultimately controls our public schools, State Assemblymember Mark Weprin invited himself to DOE press conference at PS 46 in his district and denounced DOE's mania for standardized testing. The press event was arranged by DOE to celebrate schools that received "A" grades on their standardized test-based Progress Reports. But to the assembled audience that included the grim-faced Chancellor Klein and Chief Accountability Officer Jim Liebman, Weprin bluntly asserted there was "too much focus on trying to get the right answers on a test and not enough on learning". Weprin again complained the DOE is turning our schools into Stanley Kaplan test prep centers, a charge he first leveled during recent City Council hearings.

See Mike Meenan's excellent NY1 footage here and great coverage by Elizabeth Green in the NY Sun here. The Sun offered these revealing remarks:

Visiting a fourth-grade classroom before the announcement, Mr. Klein asked children why their school received an A. "Because," one child answered, "when the New York State ELA test is coming up, they teach us what methods to use, how to write."

Another boy said, "They do everything to help us with our ELA and all our tests."

Oh boy! Tweed's battalion of PR spinners have been busy trying to convince us that the Progress Reports are about more than test prep but they may have a hard time explaining those truthful children away.

Restore parent power: send a message to Commissioner Mills today!

On Dec. 31, Marie Pollicino, a parent and Community Education Council member from Queens, filed a class action complaint with the State Education Department on behalf of all NYC public school parents. Her petition says that the new regulations adopted by DOE that strip away the rights and responsibilities of School Leadership Teams to decide on school-based budgets and Comprehensive Education plans are unlawful and unwarranted, and should be reversed.

She also points out that the process of amending these regs was contrary to state law by not involving CECs or any other official parent group, and she asked for a stay, so that the previous regulations that provided real decision-making authority to SLTs should be retained until the Commissioner determines the propriety of the amendments.

Her petition is posted here; it makes a very compelling case. It follows an earlier letter to the Commissioner from the NY State Assembly Education Chair Cathy Nolan, who made several of the same points.

Given more resources and authority delegated to the school level, and the huge pressure put on principals by this administration to raise test scores and spend nearly all their discretionary funds on data analysis and test prep, to the exclusion of nearly everything else, it is more crucial than ever before that parents be able to provide a countervailing force to see that resources are invested properly – on reducing class size and improving learning conditions in our classrooms.

This regulation is yet another insidious way in which the administration is systematically trying to strip any ability for parents to have a voice in the way their children are educated.

Please contact the Commissioner Richard Mills, with a copy of your email to the Regents, Assembly Member Nolan, City Council Member Robert Jackson, Chancellor Klein and the Mayor, as well as your own elected reps in the Legislature and City Council – whose emails you can easily gather by plugging in your address here. A sample message along with email addresses is below; feel free to add anything relevant to your situation or that of your child.

nolanc@ (and your state and city council reps)

Dear Commissioner Mills and the Board of Regents:

I urge you to support the class action petition by Marie Pollicino of the District 26 Community Education Council, on behalf of all NYC parents, and reverse the unauthorized and illegal action of the NYC Department of Education to eliminate the authority of School Leadership Teams to collectively determine each school’s budget and Comprehensive Education Plan. This amendment to the regulations governing the rights and responsibilities of SLTs would remove the ability of parents to help determine the spending priorities of their children’s schools, and was done without consulting Community Education Councils and/or any official parent group, contrary to state law and regulation.

I urge you to restore the regulation to its previous version, which properly recognized the rights of parents to be full partners along with the principal and staff in decision-making at the school level.

Yours, [Name, home address, school, and leadership position if any.]