Thursday, July 31, 2008

An Annex grows in Brooklyn -- with alot of hoopla

There's no relief in sight from the residential building boom that is overtaking so many neighborhoods – and the capacity of the local schools to deal with all the extra students. According to the Daily News, last month saw an astonishing 17,128 new building permits.

The June [building] permits were more than four times as many as in May, and as in June 2007 as well. They amount to more than half the 31,918 permits issued in all of 2007, and bring this year's total to 26,851. “

To make things worse, only 11,000 new school seats have been created in NYC over the last four years, with the DOE and the School Construction Authority asleep at the wheel.

Schools such as PS 116 in District 2 are so overcrowded that Kindergarten class sizes have swelled to 28. (See this letter to Chancellor Klein from Congresswoman Maloney, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, City Comptroller Bill Thompson and a large contingent of other state and city electeds. See also this report of a recent meeting with Tweed officials about the crisis of school overcrowding in District 2 in Manhattan, and this rally, where despite the claims the claims of Deputy Mayor Walcott that 3100 seats have been created, only 143 seats have actually been built.)

Meanwhile, what seems the entire city government shows up at press event to announce an annex to PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights. From the DOE press release:

At the announcement, Chancellor Klein was joined by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm, Chief Family Engagement Officer Martine Guerrier, SCA President Sharon Greenberger, Department of City Planning Director Purnima Kapur, PS 8 Principal Seth Phillips, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Councilman David Yassky, State Assemblywoman Joan Millman, State Senator Martin Connor, PTA co-President Tim Eldridge, Superintendent James Machen, PS 8 Assistant Principal Robert Mikos, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Joe Chan, Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy Deputy Director Nancy Webster, and Community Education Council representatives for School District 13.

Wow! Never have so many high level city officials come together to announce what? An annex for an elementary school? You would think that we were all living in a town of 20,000 somewhere in Kansas.

One wonders why they didn’t fly in President Bush, Al Sharpton, Bill Gates, the Rockettes, and the entire 32nd armored division of the Marine Corps for the occasion.

Conveniently missing from the press release is the information that the annex will hold only 150 students and won’t be ready, at the absolute soonest, until 2011.

This really represents small potatoes in a school system of over one million students, with such extreme levels of overcrowding and such huge class sizes – and a state mandate to reduce them sharply over the next four years.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gary goes national!

Today, Gary Babad, the brilliant parodist for our blog, was profiled in the NY Times.

One of the reasons Patrick Sullivan and I founded this blog back in March 2007 was to give a permanent home for Gary's amazing satires, which he had started writing for our NYC education list serv months before. (The other reason was to get the word out that that NYC parents were not uniformly thrilled with the arrogant, dismissive, and often destructive policies of the Bloomberg/Klein administration.)

But let's get back to Gary. Who would have thought that this mild-mannered social worker from Queens had such a wicked and barbed wit, that could so adeptly skewer the high-handed pretentious nonsense that constantly seems to issue from the land of Tweed?

Who can forget Gary's ingenious "Children First: A Game Of Irony”, in which the Chancellor gets to change the rules of the game as he goes along, or the “Children First” Game Gets Long-Awaited Update?

What about his reporting of the Mayor Defending DOE Blackwater Security Contract , or his scoop when the DOE ANNOUNCES BAN ON COMMON SENSE ? How about his announcement that Bloomberg Expands Congestion Pricing Plan to Schools?

Then there's the recent press release revealing that the DOE, in partnership with Microsoft and Blackwater USA, will engage in a $500 million expansion of the ARIS computer system to "personalize" instruction for every NYC student? Or his exclusive, revealing the plans of the Broad Foundation to Fund “High Stakes” Degree Program ? And what about his discovery that Secret Papers Reveal Klein Power Grab?

There are too many brilliant bits to list here. Just put GBN news into the search function above, and enjoy!

And please, Gary, when the Onion or Comedy Central come calling, don't forget the little folks who gave you your start.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New School Q&A

Q: What has an 177,000 fully air-conditioned square feet of space, an auditorium, large rooms, separate rest rooms, and multiple elevator banks; is fully ADA compliant; sits right in the middle of the city’s most overcrowded school district, with the fastest growing population of students; has nonresidential zoning; and is virtually empty?

A: Did you think it might be a future public school? No! According to the State of New York, it is a great thing to tear down to make room for more luxury condos!

75 Morton Street is a building owned by the State of New York, the former NYC regional offices of the NYS Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. In December Assemblymember Deborah Glick noted that it was slated for sale, and put in a call to the Empire State Development Corporation requesting that it be considered as a site for a school. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott told Assemblymember Glick in a meeting shortly after an RFP was posted for the site at the beginning of July that DOE was trying to negotiate with the ESDC to withdraw it and make the property available to the city for a school. So far there's no sign that ESDC is paying any attention.

The state is swiping this piece of desperately needed real estate out from under the city for what can only be seen as a negligible share of its total budget. The opportunity costs involved with the construction of a new school and the acquisition of a comparably large parcel elsewhere in D2 would seem to obliterate the advantage of an outright sale, but the right hand does not seem to know what the left hand is doing. Meanwhile, parents are pushing hard for middle school space at 75 Morton. D2 middle schools nearly all have class sizes in the 30s and are squashed into the top floors (no wheelchairs up there!) of overcrowded elementary schools.

Parents and local elected officials are planning to rally in support of D2 middle school space at 75 Morton—and to remind the state of our space needs, and the city of our need for middle schools. They hope that the sight of hundreds of parents and children, hungry for school space, in front of a school-ready building, will make it a little harder to tear it down. RALLY: 75 Morton Street, between Greenwich and Washington, August 6, 5:30

Congresswoman Maloney Struggles On

At the follow-up meeting today to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s mighty assembly of public officials questioning DOE’s plans for addressing D2 overcrowding (see our post below of July 21), NYC’s elected representatives explored new territories of amazement at DOE’s refusal to plan for the overcrowded classrooms so nearly upon us. Parents who have been bemused in the past by OSEPO head Marty Barr’s assertion that DOE makes no plans to address overcrowding until students have hung up their lunchboxes on the first day of school had the treat of seeing a whole new audience marvel at this stubbornly counterintuitive policy. When asked if OSEPO had contingency plans for overcrowding when it does emerge, and what contingencies trigger them, Barr averred that these must remain secret, even from officials, at the risk of starting a panic. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer brought a welcome draught of clear thinking to Tweed with his proposal that officials and DOE collaborate on a “war room,” to combine city planning and educational planning for school construction. Chancellor Klein declared that this idea made sense, betraying no prior familiarity with the planning component of the Borough President’s portfolio. Senator Tom Duane made a heartfelt plea not to be regarded as a mortal enemy when approaching DOE to discuss the concerns of his constituents. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Senators Liz Krueger and Marty Connor, and Councilmember Daniel Garodnick were all strikingly on point. But few practical solutions were on offer by the hosts, and there were some scary intimations, such as reference to a document outlining of “instructional decisions principals must make” regarding the use of classrooms in these times. In spite of the familiar obfuscations however, observers were refreshed by the commitment and preparation of the elected officials, and cheered by the knowledge that some increasing capacity does seem, somehow, to be eking out of this system, though perhaps not directly through the good works of the DOE.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bloomberg LP to Acquire Major Snake Oil Company

July 28, 2008 (GBN News): Bloomberg LP, the company owned by NY City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced today that it has agreed to acquire the country’s largest snake oil company, Python Snake Oil. The actual takeover will not be in effect until January 1, 2010, when Mayor Bloomberg will leave office and resume full time control of his company. At that time, Joel Klein, whose tenure as Schools Chancellor will almost certainly end with the Mayor’s, will take over as CEO of what will be known as the Snake Oil Division of Bloomberg LP.

In a statement to the press, a company spokesperson touted the acquisition as “a marriage made in heaven” between the world’s premier snake oil company and the world’s best snake oil salesmen, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein. After the announcement, Python Snake Oil stock doubled in value within hours. Noted financial analyst J. Fredrick Muggs, Dean of Manhattan University School of Business, told GBN News that despite the current bear market, “Investors obviously believe that if the Mayor and Chancellor can sell a bunch of flat test scores as significant progress, they can sell anything, even snake oil, in massive quantities.”

Sources at Bloomberg LP told GBN News that speculation within the company is that the profits from the new snake oil division will be used to fund the development of a number of charter schools in New York City. There was no direct comment on this from either Mr. Bloomberg or Mr.Klein, though a source at the DOE told GBN News that the Chancellor was sporting a “particularly venomous look” today.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Comparative NAEP Results Help Cut through the DOE's Smoke and Mirrors

Two more news articles in the last two days – one from a middle school principal in Cleveland and the other from a Social Studies teacher at Jamaica High School in Queens -- decried the simultaneous overemphasis on and dumbing down of standardized tests. These and other recent testimonials from “the front lines” arrive while Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, with the television advertising help of their unofficial public relations organ, the Fund for Public Schools, continue basking in their self-proclaimed remarkable progress in the City’s public school system.

Leaving aside for the moment the nontrivial question of whether the NYC and NYS standardized test results measure any type of academic progress other than increased ability to take standardized tests, can we compare New York City’s progress since 2003 against that of other large American cities? Happily, the answer is an unqualified “Yes.” Happily because the comparison vehicle is none other than the widely acknowledged “gold standard” of American educational achievement, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. In 2003, 2005, and 2007, eleven major cities – Atlanta, Austin (since 2005), Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. – have participated in assessments of Math and Reading at Grades 4 and 8 under their Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) program.

How according to NAEP TUDA has New York City compared during these years of amazing academic progress? Poorly, to be charitable. Using the NAEP TUDA’s reported results for percentage of students at or above a basic level of achievement, one can rank New York City’s gains (or losses) from 2003 to 2007 against those other ten cities. Here’s a summary of how we ranked out of the 11 cities (in categories where one or more cities may not have data reported, the total number of cities is noted in parentheses):

Progress in 4th Grade Reading Among
-- White students – 11th
-- Black students – 2nd
-- Hispanic students – 8th (out of 10)
-- Free lunch eligible students – 6th
-- Free lunch not eligible students – 9th (out of 10)

Progress in 4th Grade Mathematics Among
-- White students – 5th
-- Black students – 2nd
-- Hispanic students – 3rd (out of 10)
-- Free lunch eligible students – 3rd
-- Free lunch not eligible students – 8th (out of 10)

Progress in 8th Grade Reading Among
-- White students – 7th (out of 9)
-- Black students – 11th
-- Hispanic students – 10th (out of 10)
-- Free lunch eligible students – 10th
-- Free lunch not eligible students – 10th (out of 10)

Progress in 8th Grade Mathematics Among
-- White students – 9th (out of 9)
-- Black students – 9th
-- Hispanic students – 9th (out of 10)
-- Free lunch eligible students – 11th
-- Free lunch not eligible students – 9th (out of 10)

Combining and averaging all twenty of these rankings for every city, New York’s average ranking is 7.60, or 10th out of the 11 cities. Only Austin’s average ranking (8.20) is lower. Take away 4th Grade Mathematics, the City’s only bright spot, and the combined average of the remaining rankings place New York City a distant last among the eleven cities participating.

Averaging each city’s rankings for just 4th Grade Reading and Mathematics, NYC schools achieve the 6th best average ranking out of the eleven cities, while NYC rates dead last (11th) in combined 8th Grade Reading and Mathematics average ranking, dead last in combined 4th and 8th Grade Reading Only average ranking, 8th in combined 4th and 8th Grade Mathematics Only ranking, and tied for last and dead last, respectively, in Free Lunch Eligible and Free Lunch Not Eligible average ranking. The 8th Grade results are particularly instructive, since one might reasonably expect better than a dead last ranking for the cohort of students whose travels from 2003's NAEP exam to that of 2007 correspond precisely to the last four years of constantly proclaimed glorious progress under Chancellor Klein and Mayoral control of the public schools. (For those who are curious, Atlanta and Boston are the clear winners in NAEP progress from 2003 to 2007, followed by Houston, Los Angeles, and San Diego.)

By the only available cross-comparative studies of urban school district progress during the Mayoral control years, New York City’s public schools badly lag every other district measured but one. NAEP TUDA provides the sole objective means of assessing Chancellor Klein’s incessant and self-serving claims of progress and refuting those soft, fuzzy, and golden-hued television commercials paid for by his friends at the Fund for Public Schools. Based on the one and only standardized test measure we can trust, the only one that has not been dumbed down or politicized into propagandistic irrelevance, we can only give the Mayor and Chancellor an ungentlemanly F for their four-year academic progress.

Hardly the picture one gets from television, the major local press, the UFT, or the national mainstream media, all of whom have long since drunk the Kool-Aid of Mayoral control and academic progress measures that are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Thankfully, a few honest voices from the front lines, such as those noted earlier and the fourth grade Bronx teacher quoted in my recent posting, are starting to shine through that smoke and shatter those mirrors.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Congresswoman Maloney Battles Bloomberg Administration Over School Crowding

While the mayor and chancellor were off in Washington seeking to burnish their images as school reformers, their poor management of the school capacity crisis was drawing sharp criticism here from a Manhattan Congressional representative.

Last Monday, at a meeting called by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, a broad array of Manhattan elected representatives pressed Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott for action on the growing school capacity crisis in Manhattan. The meeting had taken three months to arrange due to the refusal of the administration to meet. But Maloney has been determined to hold the Bloomberg administration accountable. As Maloney told the The Villager newspaper who covered last week's meeting:

“When you’re constantly called to task, you can’t be telling people that you won’t meet with them,” she said of D.O.E.

Maloney explained that the flurry of action is what happens “when it gets to the point where you can’t walk down the street or go to church without your constituents coming up to you and saying it’s overcrowded,” noting that two-thirds of schools in the district were above capacity.

At a press conference held today at PS 116 with parents and lcoal electeds, Maloney cited how rampant residential development in the area has outstripped school capacity. While the mayor and chancellor travel the nation trumpeting their "successes", Manhattan parents have been left to contemplate 10:20 am lunches, kindergartens of 28, lost cluster rooms and shuttered G&T programs.

See story here on NY1 and press release here. Also the Daily News article: Protest vs. school crowding.

Friday, July 18, 2008

GBN News To Acquire NY Times

July 18, 2008 (GBN News): In a surprise move, GBN News announced today that an agreement was reached yesterday for the upstart news service to acquire one of the nation’s oldest and most venerated newspapers, the New York Times. GBN News, which despite its brief existence has gained a reputation for being the gold standard in education reporting, will be taking over the Times as of next Monday.

It is unclear just what effects this takeover will have on the Times reporting, or their staff. GBN News is a shoestring operation, run off a single computer in a small house in Bellerose, NY, while the Times has hundreds of employees and numerous facilities all over the world. Whether the newly merged news organizations will be headquartered in the Bellerose facility or the Times building in Manhattan has not been announced.

Also unclear is just how such a small news organization with virtually no assets was able to take over such a renowned industry giant. However, GBN news was recently awarded an exclusive no-bid contract as the sole distributor of NY City Department of Education press releases. Given the size of the DOE public relations budget, industry experts speculate that this contract alone could have financed GBN’s takeover of the Times.

Education in China: Far from Nirvana, but Not So Far from NCLB

Andrew Wolf’s July 11 column in the New York Sun referenced my June 28 posting on this blog concerning the complexity of the math problems China’s education system expected its fifth and sixth graders to be capable of solving. While the example problems he cited were accurate (and real), readers of his column might well infer that we endorse China’s educational approach. I cannot speak for Mr. Wolf, but I can state that, having seen it at relatively close hand for several years in the rapidly industrializing and modernizing eastern coastal city of Suzhou (about fifty miles west of Shanghai), I categorically do not. Here in highly summarized and generalized form are some of the characteristics of Suzhou’s school system:

-- Primary school from Grades 1 – 6, middle school from Grades 7 – 9, and high school from Grades 10 –12. Mandatory education ends with middle school.

-- Public school principals run their schools like small businesses, collecting tuition, leasing real estate on their grounds, and operating conference centers and even small factories on their campuses for extra income.

-- Teachers are permitted to act as paid tutors for their own students, an incentive if ever there was one not to be overly effective in the classroom. Teachers also receive sizable annual bonuses from their principals depending on the school's success in the citywide, province-wide, and/or national exams.

-- Students remain in one classroom all day, even in high school. The school day begins at 8:00 am and usually runs to 5:00 or 5:30 pm, with a 60 – 90 minute lunch break. Non-academic school activities such as clubs are minimal, and organized interscholastic sports teams are limited to perhaps boys soccer, boys basketball, and boys track.

-- Typical class sizes are 48 – 50 per class, with almost universal tracking (grouping students by “ability”) by the start of middle school.

-- All middle schools and high schools citywide are ranked from highest to lowest academically. Admissions to both middle school and high school are dictated by students’ scores on a single citywide entrance exam. Thus, a child’s academic future (including college) is fairly well determined on the basis of a single exam he or she takes at the end of sixth grade.

-- Teachers conduct just two class periods per day, entering the classroom just before the bell rings, leaving almost immediately after, and spending the rest of the day sequestered and largely unbothered by students in their departmental office. Typical teacher’s office activities include checking homework (copying is rampant but goes mostly unremarked), grading exams, reading the newspaper, playing computer games, and napping.

-- Nearly every class period consists of teacher lectures, often nothing more than reading directly from the textbook. Students are strongly discouraged from asking questions and generally only speak when called upon to read or reply to a direct question. The spirit of intellectually curiosity or exploration is non-existent.

-- Much of students’ sixth, ninth, and twelfth grade years is spent preparing for the round of exams that will determine their access to middle school, high school, or college. College exams are nationwide, lasting three days and covering eight different subject areas, including English language. Those exams are virtually the sole factor in deciding which students will qualify for which universities across the nation. They are so dreaded that students used to refer to them by the nickname “he qiyue” – black July - until the exams were moved to June (perhaps now "he liuyue" - black June?).

The list could go on quite a bit longer, but the outlines should be clear enough: large scale performance tracking of schools and students based on high stakes standardized exams with reward systems to match, curricula and teaching focused almost exclusively around preparation for those exams through rote learning and repetition, discouragement of intellectual inquiry and suppression of anything that might suggest a student’s scholarly passion, and systemic disinterest and disregard for non-academic activities and students’ social development.

China’s is an educational system that specializes in book knowledge at the expense of critical and creative thinking, as well as conformity, pressure, and self-discipline at the expense of individuality, self-motivated inquiry, and free-spirited thinking outside the box. Far from being a model to emulate, it is in many ways an intellectually stultifying system that reflects the Bush/NCLB/Bloomberg-Klein philosophy taken to its logical if extreme conclusion.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Quinnipiac poll on Mayoral control and term limits

See the new Quinnipiac poll that show that even though people like Bloomberg, they strongly oppose (56 - 38 percent) ending term limits.

And while they think he’s done a good job with the schools,
they believe that the next Mayor should share power with an independent board. Only 29 percent say the next Mayor should keep complete control of the schools, while 55 percent say he or she should share control with an independent school board.

Despite a massive advertising campaign about the rise in state test scores, Klein’s approval ratings are only up slightly – at 44%, and his disapproval rate remains high at 37%.

Among women, Klein’s approval rate is almost tied with his disapproval rate– 41% compared to 40%.

While 53% of public school parents say they are generally satisfied with the quality of the public schools in New York City, 45% are not.

Klein’s highest disapproval rate is in Staten Island, at 41%.

Staten Island also has the highest rate of those who say that the next Mayor should share power with an independent board.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jonathan Alter blusters about KIPP and merit pay

Jonathan Alter blusters in a column in Newsweek about what Obama should do to reform our schools:

…. we know what works to close the achievement gap. At the 60 KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools, more than 80 percent of 16,000 randomly selected low-income students go to college, four times the national average for poor kids.

Here is the response of Caroline Grannam, a SF parent and blogger who is one of the few people to independently assess KIPP’s claims:

In the current Newsweek, columnist Jonathan Alter earnestly claims that 12,800 alumni of KIPP schools have gone on to college. Here's what Alter wrote: At the 60 KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools, more than 80 percent of 16,000 randomly selected low-income students go to college, four times the national average for poor kids. The actual number, according to KIPP itself, is 447.

It turns out that that 80% figure was derived from calculating the matriculation rates at only two KIPP schools.

Alter also omits to mention the self-selection process involved in applying to KIPP, well as the rigorous interview process the school uses that discourages less motivated students from enrolling, including making them promise to attend school six days a week and most of the working day. Nor the high attrition rates, with some schools losing 50 percent of their students over three years.

Yet Alter continues to spin wildly:

[Obama] …hasn't been direct enough about reforming NCLB so that it revolves around clear measurements of classroom-teacher effectiveness. Research shows that this is the only variable (not class size or school size) that can close the achievement gap. Give poor kids from broken homes the best teachers, and most learn. Period.

Where is the research base for this? Don’t bother to ask, as there is none.

We don’t even know how to identify potentially effective teachers, not to mention how to make them more effective once they’ve been hired. Aside from treating them like professionals, giving them a smaller class and persuading them to stick around in the profession longer.

More from Alter:

To get there, Obama should hold a summit of all 50 governors and move them toward national standards and better recruitment, training and evaluation of teachers. He should advocate using Title I federal funding as a lever to encourage "thin contracts" free of the insane work rules and bias toward seniority, as offered by the brilliant new superintendent in Washington, D.C., Michelle Rhee. He should offer federal money for salary increases, but make them conditional on differential pay (paying teachers based on performance and willingness to work in underserved schools, which surveys show many teachers favor) and on support for the elimination of tenure.

What? Surveys, including this one from Education Sector, which generally favors such proposals, show that teachers overwhelmingly oppose basing salaries on performance (read test scores.): “…one in three teachers (34 percent) favors giving financial incentives to teachers whose kids routinely score higher than similar students on standardized tests. Most teachers today (64 percent) oppose the idea, up 8 percentage points from the 56 percent who opposed it in 2003.”

Nevertheless, Alter continues in this same vein:

And the next time he [Obama] addresses them, he should tell the unions they must change their focus from job security and the protection of ineffective teachers to higher pay and true accountability for performance—or face extinction.

Good luck with that one. I’m sure the NEA and the AFT are quaking in their boots.

As Grannam points out about Alter’s error in reporting the number of KIPP students that have gone to college that could also be applied to his false claims about teacher surveys and class size:

It's ironic that Alter made that rather significant error in a column mostly devoted to blasting and blaming teachers for troubled schools and calling for getting rid of problem teachers, along with eliminating tenure and increasing "accountability" for teachers. I wonder how he feels about more accountability for journalists.

In case you’re interested, Alter lives in Montclair NJ, where no doubt the class sizes are small, and teacher tenure reigns supreme, along with high salaries, and performance pay is nowhere in sight.

But in a school district like NYC, with lots of immigrant and poor students, it doesn’t matter what class sizes they are crammed into or what overcrowding exists. All will be well and teachers will magically be able to reach all thirty plus kids per class, as long as the people in charge crack the whip loud and hard enough and can threaten them with losing their jobs if they don’t deliver.

A sure fire formula for success if ever I’ve heard it.

I’ll end with Grannam’s conclusion in her SF Examiner blog:

I suspect that anyone more familiar with the inside of a diverse urban classroom than Jonathan Alter is (it’s evident that such a setting is as familiar to him as the surface of Mars) would have the same reaction I did: Send that man to teach in an overwhelmed inner-city school for a few months, and then let’s see how he feels about blaming and bashing teachers for the challenges such schools face.”

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Joel Klein tries to shake down the heavy hitters at Sun Valley... and provides an excuse for ridiculously expensive day care

Joel Klein is continuing his mission for world domination by hobnobbing with the media and hi tech elite at the annual summer confab hosted by Allen and Co. (Unfortunately, I couldn't find any photos of Klein at Sun Valley, but here is one from two years ago of Bloomberg whose appearance at the event earned him a position on the NY Daily News worst-dressed list.)

We posted earlier about the fact that Klein had made a presentation on his new vision of education reform, along with the other favorite of the business establishment, “Take No Prisoners” DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee. The response of one corporate insider, according to Media Bistro:

“Sony Corp.'s Katsumi Ihara called the presentation "fascinating" and said it broke down some of the causes and problems in the education battle in the United States and should yield interest from CEOs around the country. He added that Klein wasn't simply asking for money. He wanted their help in initiatives and projects to stimulate educational programs.”

Get that? “Not simply asking for money.” Presumably, Klein is not asking for money to improve the NYC public schools, which are still hugely overcrowded and burdened with the highest class sizes in the state, nor the “Fund for Public Schools,” a non-profit organization established to provide services and resources to our public schools, but now spending millions to run ads about the great job he and Bloomberg are doing.

I would guess – and this is pure speculation – that Klein is probably asking them to subsidize his new alliance with Al Sharpton, the so-called “Education Equity Project”, announced with great fanfare at a press conference in last month, which the Washington Post called “the kind of odd coupling that seemed more like the premise for a reality show than a news conference on education policy.” At the press conference, Klein and Sharpton announced that they would stage events at both political conventions this summer, to influence the agenda of the future President, as well as undertake other unspecified activities.

Whether or not Klein will raise major bucks at Sun Valley from Sony and the like to fund this operation is hard to predict; perhaps he has learned some tricks from Sharpton, well known for his success in “shaking down” corporations to fund his own operations.

Yet the need for more funding is clear, as the Klein-Sharpton alliance still seems to be primarily financed through our NYC taxpayer money, in the midst of a major budget squeeze that has made major cuts in social services for the elderly, housing, jobs for youth etc. In fact, Tweed’s very busy chief press officer David Cantor the main media contact on all its press releases, while also tasked with monitoring and responding to blogs and list servs like ours.

Not to mention Cantor’s primary responsibility of managing a large press operation that has to try to make it look like Klein and Co. actually know what they’re doing.

Apparently, Klein’s presentation did make an impact, at least with Sergey Brin, the head of Google, who sat down with reporters at Sun Valley to attempt damage control on their decision to cut subsidies and sharply raise the cost of child care for their employees – a blunder which made the front page of the NY Times recently. The full Times article is well worth reading, but here is a summary from InfoWeek:

… Google already had reasonably priced day care, when it decided to open a vastly more costly Euro-style operation, called the Woods, which uses something called the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Then Google also decided to upgrade the first, cheaper day care to mimic the Woods. Corporate push has come to shove because the more expensive approach is the pet project of Google VP Susan Wojcicki, who also happens to be Sergey Brin's sister-in-law.

The result? Google raised the price of day care to their employees by 70%, meaning that it will now cost parents with two children $57,000 per year.

How did Brin rationalize this? By referring to Joel Klein’s earlier presentation on the need for quality teaching. Apparently, the supposedly poor teaching in our public schools is now a blanket excuse that now can cover any management failure, from spending millions a year to keep more than a thousand teachers sitting in idle in ATR and/or rubber rooms, failing to address the ongoing crisis in class size, or the fact that the achievement gap still remains.

Perhaps Klein should advise Google to deal with this PR disaster by hiring Robert Gordon and renaming their efforts “fair student funding.”

See the latest update from the Silicon Valley Insider here: Sergey Explains The Crazy Cost Of Google's Day Care: He's Trying To Fix The Schools.

Secret Papers Reveal Klein Power Grab

July 12, 2008 (GBN News): Secret papers obtained by GBN News reveal a plan, masterminded by Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, to put Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the White House notwithstanding the Mayor’s declared intent not to run. The plan entails a massive last minute stealth write-in campaign, financed by the Fund for Public Schools, which is chaired by Mr. Klein.

Furthermore, the papers portray a far different relationship between the Mayor and Chancellor than publicly revealed; in fact, they show the Chancellor as the Mayor’s “Dick Cheney”, running the government from behind the scenes. Moreover, the plan reportedly goes beyond simply getting the Mayor elected, and lays out plans for government “reforms” that could amount to the functional equivalent of a “coup d’etat”.

Once Mr. Bloomberg is inaugurated, Mr. Klein plans to move quickly to secure a no-bid contract for the NYC Leadership Academy to install its graduates into all key civilian and military leadership positions, thus giving the Chancellor unprecedented control of the government. While publicly the Leadership Academy’s purpose has been to train principals to run NYC public schools, in actuality the Academy has been quietly training managers to become a sort of “shadow government”, ready to step immediately into positions heading up a number of government agencies.

Sources at the DOE have confirmed to GBN News the authenticity of these papers, and also indicated that there was some initial controversy at the DOE as to whether Leadership Academy graduates would be qualified to take over such sensitive positions as Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, Mr. Klein insisted that if individuals with limited or no educational experience could become NYC principals with nothing but Leadership Academy training, certainly they could run government agencies since the principles of business management apply to all leadership positions.

Mr. Klein has also reportedly expanded the DOE “Truth Squad” to manage the information flow so that this secret plan will not be revealed before it can be implemented. In fact, it is surprising, given the “truth squad’s” effectiveness, that GBN News has been allowed to report the existence of this plan at all. But while GBN News will of course endeavor to continue reporting details as we learn them, readers should anticipate that our coverage of this story could be impeded by DOE operatives at any [rest of paragraph deleted by order of the DOE].

In other news, Chancellor Klein had an embarrassing moment today when he was briefly detained and questioned by school security officers during a visit to PS 445 in Brooklyn. According to sources at the school, a sixth grader had reported being accosted in the hallway by a “creepy guy who kept asking me about my test scores and then tried to take away my cell phone.” Security officers immediately pulled Mr. Klein aside and questioned him, before realizing who he was. One of the officers defended the action, saying, “How were we to know he was the Chancellor? The kid said it was a ‘creepy guy’, and we just stopped the first creepy guy we could find.”

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why are inside-the-beltway so clueless at diagnosing the real problems of our public schools?

See the typical screed in Slate, by Ray Fisman, a professor at the Columbia Business School, subtitled “Why are public schools so bad at hiring good instructors?” It decries the inability of principals to get rid of incompetent teachers, and attributes poverty, the achievement gap and God knows what else to teacher tenure.

Strangely enough, it reports that the principal featured in the story, Anthony Lombardi at PS 49 in Queens, managed to get rid of one third of entire his teaching staff since he arrived, despite the existence of tenure, and, you got it, test scores rose.

The article doesn’t question that looking at test scores alone may not be the best or the only way to evaluate teachers or the quality of education. This is peculiar, especially since Lombardi seems to have rated his teachers not by looking at their test scores, but by examining their lesson plans and observing them in action, which is exactly how tenure decisions are made now.

(By the way, the school got a “B” in its recent DOE school progress report, for whatever that’s worth. And the teachers who remain at the school, though they may have been spared Lombardi’s wrath, don’t seem to respect him much – in the teacher survey, 50% disagreed with the statement that “School leaders invite teachers to play a meaningful role in setting goals and making important decisions for this school for this school,” And 57% disagree that “School leaders encourage open communication on important school issues.”

Most notably, the article omits the fact that teachers no longer have the right of automatic transfer – and in fact implies otherwise: “Since his arrival, a third of PS 49's teachers have been squeezed out through Lombardi's efforts. Of course, this just meant they were moved to another classroom in another school, lowering the test scores of someone else's children.”

Perhaps this inaccuracy results from the fact that much of the description of Lombardi and his schools seem to be lifted directly from a now-outdated NY Magazine article from 2003 (click here).

But the most interesting aspect of the piece, to me anyway, is that it cites the findings in a study by Kane, Staiger and Gordon (yes, the infamous Robert Gordon) that the quality of teaching in LA did not diminish one iota after they had to triple their hiring of teachers to reduce class size, despite the repeated claims of the Bloomberg/Klein administration that lowering class size in NYC would inevitably do just this. In fact, there is no evidence in the research literature that this has ever occurred.

To the contrary, providing them with smaller classes is the most certain way to improve the effectiveness of the teachers we already have in NYC, as well as reducing our sky-high attrition levels, in the process making it more likely that students have experienced teachers – the most reliable predictor of effectiveness, as parents know and which is also backed up by research. It is widely known that no private school in NYC will hire a first year teacher, but makes them spend a couple of years of “seasoning” in the public schools first.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chris Cerf, if you’re reading this, your press office is not doing their job!

See Elizabeth Green’s story in the NY Sun about how seven DOE PR officers monitor 24 key education blogs and list servs, and occasionally try to refute the critiques within them, including our NYC education news list serv, and this blog.

They call themselves the “Truth Squad” but we know that the members of our list serv are the real truth squad. I am glad, however, that the powers that be feel compelled to respond to some of our observations, even though it is so often done in a perfunctory and unconvincing fashion.

As I was quoted in the article, "It's good that the press operation actually hears our complaints, because Joel Klein doesn't seem to."

The article does not come as much news to me, since we all figured out more than a year ago that this was happening.

We had a fun time when the now-departed but not-forgotten Robert Gordon, author of the highly flawed “fair student funding” scheme was the first Tweedie to subscribe (Feb. 9, 2007). Gordon answered some of our questions, unsatisfactorily – and then quickly unsubscribed. (Mar 21, 2007)

David Cantor, the chief press officer, soon followed by subscribing in Feb 28, 2007. Adina Lopatin, of the Accountability office, subscribed one week later, around the time that I’d attended one of their screwy focus groups for their screwy parent survey.

Though the NY Sun article says that only one person from the press office is assigned to each blog or list serv, actually three of them, including Cantor, subscribe to our list serv: Melody Meyer (who joined up in Apr 2, 2007) and Lindsay Harr (Apr 11, 2007).

Cantor began to post himself occasionally, in a rather perfunctory manner, but not until December 11, 2007 -- nearly one year after he had joined, initially about the NY Mag article which quoted Klein as saying to parents that they could send their kids to private school if they didn’t like class sizes in the public schools. It later turned out that Klein said something else very similar – that District 2 parents had “choices,” but when I asked Cantor what that specifically meant, if not sending their kids to private schools, he never replied.

Since then he has interjected so rarely (only about ten times ) that the main effect of his desultory comments makes me suspect that nearly everything else that I and the other members of this list serv write, including some extremely inflammatory statements, must be true. I also don’t get the feeling that poor David enjoys the task that Chris Cerf has assigned him to.

None of this is particularly surprising, but what did surprise me is what I learned during a forum a few months ago, in April, on “Grading NY’s public schools.” During the question period, I asked Cerf a question. I began by introducing myself, but he quickly interrupted me to say, “I know who you are; I read your stuff every day.”

Every day? Not in my wildest dreams had I imagined that Cerf or anyone at that high a level at Tweed had the inclination or the time to do this. Sometimes I don’t even read myself every day – I’m too busy. I know my husband almost never does. I doubt most of the people on the list serv do.

But I was happy to hear this, if a bit surprised that Cerf had admitted this, for if I and others on our list can cause him one tenth the headaches that Tweed causes us every day, not to mention the other one million plus NYC public school parents -- that does give me a small sense of satisfaction.

After looking at the historical record, I now conclude that what probably started as a pure monitoring exercise, instigated by Cerf in Feb. of 2007 eventually turned into a rather lame attempt to beat the critics at their own game nearly a year later.

It was in October 2007, after all, that it emerged that Diane Ravitch had been taped by the DOE at various speaking events, and a file compiled of her remarks.

This news was also broken by Elizabeth Green in the NY Sun, following a vicious attack on Diane published in the NY Post the day before, in the form of an oped with the byline of Kathy Wylde, head of the NYC Partnership, but with information put together by the DOE press office. This was a terrific PR blunder on the part of Cerf and Co., as nearly everyone and their mother came to Diane’s defense – not that she needed their help; she offered her own eloquent response in the NY Post.

It was shortly thereafter, in Dec. of 2007 that David Cantor started commenting on our list serv, after the NY Magazine article was published that must have caused them much grief. It was only then that the vociferous rage of public school parents about school overcrowding, which had reached crisis proportions in certain neighborhoods, without the administration even so much as lifting a finger, began to break into the mainstream media.

In Elizabeth’s article, it says that “The squad's latest triumph should appear today on a Listserv operated by the parent organizer Leonie Haimson — in the form of an e-mail message arguing that Ms. Haimson's characterization of summer school programs as underfunded was incorrect.

We’re still waiting for that email message, by the way. As well as answers to lots more questions we have posed to David Cantor over the last few days and weeks.

Chris Cerf, if you’re reading this, your press office is not doing their job!

Update: the article in the NY Sun has delighted the bloggers, of course, many who have blogged about it already -- for some links click here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Joel Klein devises a plan in which he can stay in power....forever!

Last week, the DOE announced, with a straight face that, after competitive bidding, it had awarded a five year, $50 million contract to train principals to the (drum roll please) NYC Leadership Academy.

Ten million dollars a year of taxpayer money that will continue for five years, long after Bloomberg has left office. This news, delivered with a straight face, went mostly unreported in the press, with a few exceptions.

That the Leadership Academy – created by Joel Klein, with Joel Klein chair of the board, Joel Klein who had selected the other board members, Joel Klein who had appointed the director, Joel Klein who had raised $75 million in private money to start it through the Fund for Public Schools, an organization which is also chaired by Joel Klein….had now been awarded a $50 million contract by Joel Klein, went mostly unreported. (see partial correction below)

The press has had a field day reporting much smaller City Council grants to organizations that employ relatives of City Council members. But when Joel Klein awards a $50 million to an organization that he himself heads, nothing but….silence. The bare faced absurdity of it all cannot be outdone.

Encouraged by the lack of critical reception, Klein and his overpaid deputies have devised a new plan by which they can remain in power indefinitely, even after the Mayor leaves office, even if Mayoral control is significantly amended.

How? Simple. Before leaving office, Joel Klein will grant himself a contract to run the schools for the next twenty years, running the entire operation from an outside corporation, and eliminate DOE altogether. Whether this device is legal or not is uncertain, but that has never stopped him before.

At the same time, by eliminating the need for the entire central office at Tweed, he can claim a great victory by having shrunk the bureaucracy.

News update and partial correction:

A savvy reporter informed me that Joel Klein took himself and Chris Cerf off the board at the Leadership Academy about a month ago – just before awarding them the $50 Million competitively bid contract. Not that this would fool anyone, but…

Sure enough, when you go to the Academy's website here , you see the original board listed; but the links are missing for the bios for Klein, Cerf and Robert F. Arning, who is head of the NYC office of KPMG and has a huge contract with DOE as well.

And when you go to another page listing the board, their names are omitted.

Wonder if any of this is legal….since Klein stepped off the board right before granting the contract, presumably he thought there might be a problem.

UPDATE (July 27); the DOE's Truth Squad at work has made sure that the first of these links has been removed, eliminating any trace of Joel Klein's previous leadership of the Board, as well as Cerf's participation. When you go to the second link, there are eight current members listed, including Kathy Wylde of the NYC Partnership and two emeritus directors of McKinsey and Co. Two of the Leadership Academy's board members received awards from the Partnership in 2007, and another serves on their board as well.

Another Reality Check on NYC's State Exam Scores

The privately-backed Fund for Public Schools has once again entered the public relations arena on behalf of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein with television ads touting the “remarkable” gains made by NYC public school students in this year’s NYS Math and ELA exams. In so doing, they have joined every imaginable constituency from the UFT to the State Education Department to the editorial boards of major NYC newspapers in extracting as much credit as is humanly possible. After all, nobody’s personal or political agenda is harmed by rising test scores, so why not bathe in their afterglow, real or otherwise?

A few reports, such as Elizabeth Green’s story in the New York Sun or Jennifer Medina's in the New York Times have cast clouds of doubt over this year’s “too good to be true” results. It’s interesting, however, to step back for a moment, take a longer look at the data, and insert a little historical perspective (credit here goes in part to Sol Stern’s City Journal story, “Grading Mayoral Control” and Diane Ravitch's earlier posting in this blog from 2007).

To begin with, the DOE’s formal presentation of this year’s results makes the following self-congratulatory assertion:

Since 2002, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding State standards is up 27.7 points in 4th grade math and up 29.8 points in 8th grade math. In ELA, the percentage is up 14.8 points in 4th grade and 13.5 points in 8th grade.

Governor Pataki signed the legislations authorizing mayoral control of the NYC public schools on June 12, 2002. Joel Klein was appointed Chancellor in August, 2002 and spent his first year learning the system, creating task forces, and the like. As Sol Stern wrote, “Klein knew he couldn’t convincingly claim credit for the 2003 test scores, and he didn’t even hold a press conference to celebrate them.” Clearly, the earliest reasonable base year the Mayor and Chancellor can use for measuring the impact of their efforts would be 2003. Even starting with 2003 as the pre-Mayoral control base year assumes that Mr. Klein moved so quickly and forcefully in one school year as to achieve results in 2004 that could be attributed to the changes he had effectuated, but let’s be charitable and concede that possibility. So what do we see in looking at this year’s Summary Report numbers since 2003?

In 4th Grade Math, the five-year percentage point gain of students at Levels 3+4 shrinks from 27.7 points to 13.0, or by more than half. Furthermore, an inexplicable jump of 9.3 points in 2005 has never been duplicated; NYC 4th graders’ proficiency has only increased 2.3 percentage points in the last three years despite teacher bonuses, principal incentives, accountability threats, cell phone minutes and cash for students, and endless test preparation. In 4th grade English, we see the identical story. The DOE’s claimed 14.8 percentage point increase shrinks to just 8.9 points, and another inexplicable 9.9 percentage point increase in 2005 leaves today’s 4th graders only 1.8 points better off in terms of proficiency that they were three years ago.

In 8th Grade Math, the story is a bit different, but suspiciously so. The DOE’s claimed increase of 29.8 points in percent of students at Levels 3+4 shrinks slightly, to 25.2 points. However, after an 8.0-point jump to 42.4% in 2004, those scores had declined in 2005 and again in 2006 before reaching 45.6% in 2007, a three-year gain of 3.2 percentage points. After essentially flat-lining over four years (2004-2007), this year’s scores rose by an astonishing 14.0 percentage points, a logic-defying increase that certainly calls for further examination. In 8th Grade ELA, the increase since 2003 has been 10.5 percentage points (compared to the DOE’s claim of 13.5 points), and a respectable (and believable) 7.4 points since 2004.

To the extent that some of the test result increases are undoubtedly “real” (despite stories about cheating and suspicions that the tests are being "dumbed down"), consider the following viewer comment posted anonymously on NY1’s The Call blog (thank goodness there are still a few honest souls out there):

I am a fourth grade teacher in the Bronx, and my class is comprised entirely of Second Language Learners. Starting in November, we had to basically drop everything and teach to the test. I had to sit through meetings where my administrators would talk about "strategies" to help them succeed, like looking for key words. During this time, I was never teaching for learning, I was teaching to just scrape by on this test. We are told to stop teaching Science and Social Studies so we can do test prep. The students go until 5pm to the "Test Prep Academy" and in the two weeks before the test, we have to do ALL DAY TEST PREP. While the Language Arts test is challenging for second language learners, the math test is so far below what fourth graders should know it's just embarrassing! There is no long division, no double digit multiplication, no real problem solving that requires actual critical math application skills. I don't get to teach content, and I will leave for the suburbs as soon as I finish my Master's Degree.

Is this the price we have agreed and accepted to pay in our children’s education in order for Messrs. (and Ms.) Bloomberg, Klein, Weingarten, and others to wallow in their accolades? A devil’s bargain if ever there was one. SHAME ON US. ALL OF US.