Saturday, August 30, 2008

Where do you go when your complaints to NYCDOE go unresolved?

Guest blogger James Calantjis ( is a NYC teacher, a long time advocate for School Leadership Teams (SLTs), and the founder of the SLT Empowerment Alliance. The problem of lack of enforcement of state and federal mandates in NYC schools is a chronic one.

When I became an advocate for School Leadership Team empowerment in 2004, I became frustrated trying to get the NYC Department of Education to respond to their lack of compliance with State Educational Law concerning SLTs.

In Dec. 1996 (renewed in 2003), State law mandated that School Leadership Teams be formed in all schools to develop Comprehensive Educational Plans (CEP) and school budgets through a shared decision making process. Parents were to make up 50% of the Team by law, with the balance including teachers, administrators and others. The principal, Parent Association President and UFT Chapter Leader were to be core members.

The problem was that the NYCDOE shut out Teams from any decision making concerning the development of the school’s budget, violating State Education Law. My complaints to NYCDOE went nowhere. Their agenda was to empower principals and neutralize parent and teacher involvement.

I then turned to the NYS Office of School Improvement and Community Services (SICS-NYC) under Associate Commissioner Shelia Evans-Tranumn. This State agency regulates Commissioner’s Regulation 100.11 concerning shared decision making, which is incorporated into the SLT law. It also investigates Title 1 complaints through a formal procedure required by the Federal government.

Federal law requires “substantial parental involvement” with Title 1 programs and funds. In all Title 1 schools and districts, parents are suppose to be consulted by school leadership teams in the spending of Title 1 funds and the planning of programs, especially in the 1% of these funds that are suppose to be used for parent involvement activities. School Leadership Teams then incorporate the programs and spending into the Comprehensive Educational Plan.

The response of SICS-NYC and its coordinator, Sandra Norfleet, was to ask me to contact NYCDOE and follow-up with them. I told them this was unacceptable since NYCDOE was not willing to resolve the issues and I expected NYSED to follow-up until the matter was resolved. When I submitted Title 1 complaints from parents at several schools, including a District 31 Title 1 Committee, stating that parents had been shut out of their right to be involved in Title 1 planning and spending decisions, the State refused to take direct action by following their formal complaint procedure.

The State continued to refer these complaints to NYCDOE without any resolution. Numerous e-mails were sent to Ms. Norfleet and Ms. Tranumn that were mostly ignored. Commissioner Mills was copied on all e-mails.

In frustration, I contacted the Federal Office that supervised the NYC area for Title 1 to try to force NYSED to respond and follow the formal complaint procedure required. While this action forced them to respond again, the complaint procedure was never followed.

During the last four years, I have received letters and e-mails from NYCDOE and NYSED thanking me for my concerns but void of substance, leaving the issues unresolved.

What have I learned? I learned that the deck is stacked against parents and others who make complaints to the State concerning the NYCDOE.

While the State has oversight powers, it is unwilling to enforce State and Federal regulations under the present Commissioner. The State Education Department would rather maintain a friendly relationship with the NYCDOE, than enforce policies that protect the rights of parents. The State Education Department has neglected its responsibilities to ensure that School Leadership Teams are functioning according to law in NYC and that Federal Title 1 parent involvement mandates are being enforced.

--- James Calantjis

See this earlier post about the complaint, Pollicino v. Klein, filed by Marie Pollicino, a Queens parent to the NY State Education Dept. about the Chancellor's unlawful attempt to eviscerate the authority of School Leadership Teams. This complaint was subsequently joined by the United Federation of Teachers. See the UFT's brief, as well as an affidavit from Amina Rachman, special assistant to the the UFT President, Randi Weingarten, that includes a letter from Randi to the Chancellor about the improper process used to revise the regs concerning SLTs, and the illegal result.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stop Academic Apartheid at Jamaica HS

Read this excerpt from a letter to Commissioner Mills from James Eterno, chapter leader at Jamaica HS; for more, see the full letter.

Dear Commissioner Mills:

I must alert you to a growing crisis—“Academic Apartheid” in our schools. I am writing as part of the comment process on New York City’s Contract for Excellence (C4E) proposal. I am a twenty-two year veteran teacher at Jamaica High School in Queens, a traditional comprehensive public high school. I also represent over 100 members of the United Federation of Teachers as their elected Chapter Leader, a position that I have held for the last twelve years. The members who elected me would like to see more state funds sent to the city tied directly to lowering class sizes and a directive that sufficient classroom space be made available for reduced class sizes.

Despite the fact that Jamaica High School is on the state/federal accountability list as a low-performing school—last year, we were in our fifth year as a School Requiring Academic Progress—and supposed to get more C4E money as a result, the school is still receiving far less per pupil funding than Queens Collegiate, a new small selective school that is being placed in the building. We believe this is unfair.

….Jamaica, a traditional comprehensive high school that has many more high needs students, will be funded at $8,264 per pupil while the new selective school, Queens Collegiate, will be funded at $10,920 per pupil. This means that per student expenditures will be $2,656 greater at Queens Collegiate compared to Jamaica High School. This amounts to 32% higher spending for a Queens Collegiate student. Even taking into consideration start-up costs for the new school, this still adds up to separate and unequal schools within one building.

The promotional literature being produced by Queens Collegiate advertises lower class sizes. If Jamaica had a per pupil allocation similar to Queens Collegiate, we could easily lower class sizes to under 23 instead of having class sizes as high as 34, the level that we are currently projecting; we certainly could improve the student to counselor ratio and enhance other support services as well.

Despite the clear need for smaller classes, and the new state mandate to achieve them, particularly in low-performing schools, Jamaica High School is being denied the funding that would make this possible. In addition, valuable classroom space that could be utilized to provide room for this is being taken away from Jamaica to house the new school.

It should be noted that in a recent citywide survey, 86% of NYC public school principals said that their class sizes were too large to provide a quality education, and 27% said that overcrowding in their schools had worsened from new schools or programs having been moved into their buildings in recent years.

In the city’s class size plan, approved last fall by the state, the DOE pledged that “decisions regarding the co-location of a new school or program in an existing building will explicitly take into account the decisions and plans principals have made regarding reduced class size. It is important to be clear that the DOE will not place a new school or program in a building at the expense of those schools and programs already operating within the building and that these decisions will be made in consultation with school principals.”

Unfortunately, they are ignoring that pledge in the case of Jamaica High School and probably in many other schools as well Clearly, the views of the principal, the staff, the parents and the needs of our students have for the most part been disregarded by the Department of Education.

The DOE would seem to be paying no heed to their pledge to the state not to site new schools to the detriment of existing schools at many other sites as 18 new charter schools and 53 more small schools are planned for next year; nearly all of them are slated to share space with already existing schools. This policy is creating a system of “Academic Apartheid” in these buildings as the charter schools and many of the small schools are given permission to cap class size and/or enrollment at far lower levels than the schools that they are invading. Indeed, a recent analysis showed that small schools have a class size of four fewer students on average than large schools, 24 students per class compared to 28.

Many of the existing schools which are being forced to share space with these smaller schools also have excessive class sizes, and would otherwise have been able to reduce class sizes to more appropriate levels if they had the space. This situation calls for immediate state action.

Jamaica High School and all other city schools on the state or federal low-performing list should be given the funding, the space and a clear directive to reduce class size to at least the levels set out in the city’s five year plan—20 students in a class in grades K to 3, and 23 in all other grades—and the state must forbid any new school from being placed in the building of any state or federal low-performing school until it has achieved those class sizes.

If this is not done, then a system of “Academic Apartheid” will expand and there will be separate and unequal schools within hundreds of New York City school buildings, including Jamaica High School. The state has a moral obligation to ensure that this does not occur.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely, James Eterno, Social Studies Teacher, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

Monday, August 25, 2008

More questions than answers about charter schools on the NY Times blog

See the extended commentary and answers from James D. Merriman IV, the chief executive of the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence on the NY Times blog.

Merriman goes on at some length about how disadvantaged charter schools are in terms of funding and support. I posted the following question:

Question: Mr. Merriman says that charter schools are seriously hampered by receiving less funding, but according to DOE budget documents they received more than $11,000 per student his past year, and are projected to receive $12,500 per student next.

Meanwhile, the school that my child attends receives about $7400 per student. Mr. Merriman also argues that charter schools don’t receive any funding for facilities — but why should they need to when the administration gives them prime real estate in our existing public school buildings, at the same time taking away valuable classroom and cluster spaces from the students at the existing public school?

Moreover, as mentioned above, charter schools have the most valuable advantage of all — the ability to cap enrollment and class size at any level they want.

My question is this: who pays for custodial services, lunch, and transportation services at charter schools that share buildings with traditional public schools? Does the DOE charge the charter schools extra for this, or is this also provided free of charge?

My question went unanswered.

Also, the following statement made by Mr. Merriman on the NY Times blog was inaccurate:

What the chancellor has not done is move to close neighborhood zoned elementary schools and replace then with a charter school. If the neighborhood zoned elementary school is shut down, the chancellor has replaced that school with another zoned school—and everyone who was in the zone who was attending the old school has the right to attend the new one.”

To the contrary, the Chancellor closed down PS 101 in East Harlem – a neighborhood school that was in good standing with the state and federal government and that had just received a “proficient” rating on its quality review.

At the time, I found it very suspicious – and suspected that the real motivation for this action was so that its building could be given over to a charter school. Reporters asked DOE whether this would occur, but the administration denied this was in their plans.

Nevertheless, a few months later, it was announced that a charter school, another branch of the Harlem Success Academy, would open in the building of the former PS 101 at 141 East 111 St.

Teacher bashing in Denver; the new spectator sport

Lots of teacher union bashing at events in Denver scheduled around the Democratic National Convention – instigated and abetted by NYC folks like Klein and Sharpton and their so-called "Education Equality Project."

Amazing how trendy it has become to make teachers the scapegoats for the low-performance of city schools.

I don’t remember cops being blamed for high crime rates in urban areas.

Or for that matter, low-quality doctors being blamed for health problems among the poor and underinsured.

Eduwonkette revealed!

Eduwonkette revealed herself on her blog last night as Jennifer Jennings, a grad student in Sociology at Columbia University. See also this article in NY Magazine.

Jennifer is beautiful and brilliant and an expert in deconstructing the fraudulent statistics of the NYC Department of Education.

As one of the few individuals who has known her identity for many months, I must say it’s a relief not to have to keep it secret any more.

Jennifer also did the seminal study of the “bubble kids” in Texas, revealing the "educational triage" that high-stakes testing had given rise to; see her study here and her Washington Post oped summarizing the results.

There will undoubtedly be many more path-breaking studies to come – that is, if Bloomberg and Klein do not put out a hit against her.

Here’s hoping that this emboldens some of the other academics who in private, are extremely critical of this administration’s policies, to be courageous enough to speak out publicly themselves.

An open letter to Harvard's President about its support for large-scale experiments on urban public school students

See this Washington Post article about the large scale experiment that will pay 3,000 middle school students up to $100 per month for good attendance, behavior and grades; this experiment is being partially funded by Harvard Univ. and is directed by Prof. Roland Fryer, who is carrying out a similar experiment in the NYC public schools.

Cc: The National Science, Kaplan, Smith Richardson and Broad foundations.

Dear President Gilpin Faust:

I applaud your efforts to reduce class size, which according to the AP, led to Harvard regaining the top spot in the recent US News and World report. According to US News, 75% of Harvard’s undergraduate classes now have fewer than 20 students

At the same time, I want to protest Harvard’s participation, and that of the other foundations copied on this email, in financing the large-scale experiments in Washington DC, New York City and elsewhere that will pay cash rewards to high-needs public school students for high test scores. An article in yesterday’s Washington Post reported that approximately half the cost of a new $2.7 million experiment in DC schools is being covered by Harvard’s American Inequity Lab.

Roland Fryer, the Harvard professor and author of this experiment, as well as the experiment in NYC schools which gives up to $500 to middle school students who have high test scores and provides them with free minutes on their cellphones, claims that “Surveys of students and parents show support for the concept.”

To the contrary, our survey of over 1,000 NYC parents showed that over 70% strongly opposed paying students for good scores. Another survey done by EdWeek showed that an overwhelming majority (81%) of respondents were against schools offering cash rewards to students.

These views would matter less if the research indicated that such programs were likely to be successful. A similar NYC program that paid $2 million to reward students for high AP scores led to fewer students actually passing the exam. Numerous studies show that in the long run, cash rewards undermine the intrinsic satisfaction that otherwise results from positive behavior. This particular scheme is also likely to lead to increased economic disparities and resentment between those students who would do well in any case, and others who simply need more academic help and support.

Moreover, there are far more effective strategies to enhance student engagement and learning, particularly among low-achievers and in high-need schools. Many studies show that providing smaller classes narrows the achievement gap and creates more student engagement and focused learning in the middle and upper grades. See this recent study by Thomas Dee of Swarthmore and Martin West of Harvard, showing that smaller classes in 8th grade are associated with significantly higher levels of student engagement and eventual earnings, with the expected benefit from reducing class size in urban schools nearly twice the estimated cost.

Prof. Peter Blatchford also recently released a detailed observational report, showing that when secondary students are place in smaller classes, much greater time is spent “on task” and focused on learning, with special benefits for low-achievers and twice as much negative behavior per student exhibited in large classes than in small.

Clearly, Harvard believes in the importance of smaller classes for its own students, having devoted considerable resources to reducing class size, and limiting the size of freshman seminars to 12 students or less.

Yet despite the abundant evidence, urban and minority students tend to be placed classes much larger than this. Indeed, more than 70% of middle school students in NYC are in classes of 26 students or more, and about 40% of eighth graders crammed into classes of thirty or more.

I urge Harvard, the National Science Foundation, and the other foundations that are supporting these large-scale experiments to instead shift their considerable resources towards research on the multiple benefits of smaller classes, and towards the effort to provide the same sort of individualized attention to public schools students that are currently enjoyed by students at our more elite private institutions.

I also hope that you make sure that the results of any experiments you help finance are fully evaluated by a completely independent investigator, not by the author of the experiment himself, and examine the long run as well as the short run effects.

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters

Please send your own letters to Harvard’s President and the other participating funders at the following addresses:;;;;

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bloomberg on term limits

Check out Bloomberg yesterday at his City Hall press conference, signaling a change in his position on term limits, which previously he was vociferous in support:

"Term limits are term limits. I am in favor of them. What's an appropriate level? Whether it's one term, two terms, three terms? I think you can debate that."

Why not five or six? Especially if your name is Bloomberg and you’re one of the richest men in the world – clearly your earlier statements, public opinion and the law shouldn’t matter.

See Bloomberg Shifts on Term Limits (NY Sun); Bloomberg Supports Ending City Council Term Limits (NY1); and Bloomberg rethinks term limit law (Daily News)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mayoral control as crony capitalism

See today's NY Sun about how the DOE has been shooting itself in the foot as regards the continuation of Mayoral control, by treating Legislators as badly as they treat everyone else and denying them input and information. Said Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, a Queens Democrat:

"What kind of politics is he trying to take out of the schools?" she said. "Is it when maybe a politician calls and says, 'Gee, I'd love this kid in this class.' Is that what he's talking about? Or is it when I call and say, 'Gee, what are you doing with the extra billions of dollars that I gave you?'"

The only people outside of Tweed and the Mayor’s office who have any voice in this authoritarian system – the real stakeholders, as Gary Babad has written -- are the Gates and Broad foundations, private contractors, and the scions of billionaires who attend cocktail parties with Bloomberg and Klein, are encouraged to start charter schools and set them up in existing school buildings to save a few pennies, and as a result deprive other students of the opportunities given to their own .

In fact, the way Mayoral control has operated is unaccountable crony capitalism at its worst. Here's hoping it comes back to haunt them.

18 new charter schools: creating a separate and unequal school system

In today’s news, lots of feel-good spin from the Mayor about the eighteen new charter schools planned for this fall, and how they provide valuable “competition” that will drive improvement in other public schools. One out of every eight schools is now a charter school.

Yet for some reason, this announcement does not bring unalloyed joy to most public school parents. Why?

Each of these new charter schools will take resources and precious space from our regular public schools, taking away their opportunity to provide the same smaller classes that are the charter schools’ greatest attraction.

Indeed, every additional dollar spent on these new charter schools will come right off the top of the Contract for Excellence funds meant to improve conditions in our regular public schools, as a result of the CFE lawsuit. And every time the DOE puts a charter school in an existing building, this deprives students at the existing school of precious classroom space that could be used to reduce class size.

Only a few words of reservation in any of the articles:

In some places, parents have complained about the mayor’s policy of giving charter schools space in existing public school buildings and about the unfairness of their smaller class size, and have called them a diversion from his responsibility to fix the school system overall. (NY Times.)

See this strong statement from Randi Weingarten in the Daily News:

UFT President Randi Weingarten said that charters should operate in separate spaces or buildings than public schools to prevent overcrowding in the regular public schools. "They should have their own space and be as transparent and open as regular public schools in order to ensure a level playing field and avoid divisive situations where the needs of charter school students are pitted against those of other public school students," she said.

Watch the NY1 segment:

Some Bronx parents say that competition isn't the answer to the problems in their local school. One parent said Bloomberg needs to focus more on making sure that all schools have the resources they need to succeed, so there's no competition at all between neighborhood and charter schools.

Indeed, how can traditional public schools be expected to compete on a level playing field, when they are deprived of the ability to cap enrollment and class sizes at reasonable levels? How does this promote equity?

The only question is why the administration is so averse to allowing all our schools to reduce class size, even in the face of a state mandate to do so, while encouraging this very same practice in charter schools.

Do the Mayor and the Chancellor actually intend to create a separate and unequal school system?

See this letter to the State Commissioner from 30 Community Education Council members and other parent leaders, protesting their lack of input into the siting of charter schools, and the way in which the administration ignores the impact of these schools in further depriving students at existing schools of adequate learning conditions. The letter was mentioned in an earlier NY Sun article here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Al and Joel at the Olympics

Crack reporter David Bellel has obtained exclusive video from the Olympics -- the Education Equality Project taking their act on the road:

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ex Bear Stearns Exec to Rescue DOE

August 11, 2008 (GBN News): According to a story on NY1, the position of Chief Financial Officer of the NY City Department of Education, vacant since 2006, is finally about to be filled. The post will be given to George Raab, who was most recently a managing director of the failed Wall Street giant Bear Stearns. NY1 reports that Mr. Raab is being hired “to help the Department of Education manage its money during these uncertain economic times.”

GBN News spoke to noted financial analyst J. Fredrick Muggs, Dean of the Manhattan University School of Business, who saw the move as a logical next step for the DOE. “The man’s already had experience on a sinking ship,” Dr. Muggs said. “What better choice could you have to go down with another one?”

Sources at the DOE told GBN News that immediately upon taking over the CFO position, Mr. Raab plans to sell the DOE to JP Morgan Chase for $19.95.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

No-bid contracts at DOE have reached $342 million

NY Post reports today that the $12.5 million DOE no-bid contract to All Kinds of Minds, founded by Dr. Mel Levine, trained fewer than 1/5 of teachers promised; more recently Levine has been accused of child sexual abuse.

According to the Post, since 2004, DOE's spending on no-bid contracts amounts to $342 M. (click on summary to the right, courtesy of the NY Post.)

More recently, the number of official no-bid contracts has lessened somewhat, to “only” $12 million last year, but one wonders if this is in name only. There is little or no accounting or explanation of the 944 contracts that last year that cost the taxpayer $1.9 billion. During the budget hearings, City Council Speaker Quinn asked the DOE to cut back or limit these contracts, but they continue to soar upwards each year.

For example, see the recent DOE announcement that the NYC Leadership Academy “was selected from among multiple vendors through a competitive procurement process” to receive a five year contract. Yet how competitive this process is questionable, given the fact that the Leadership Academy was founded by the Chancellor, is run by his appointee, and he was chair of the board until just weeks before he granted it this $50 million, five year contract.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Questions Raised Over McCain Use of ARIS Computer

August 8, 2008 (GBN News): Those who claim that NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has been trying to influence the Presidential election found some potentially damaging new evidence today, when it was reported that presumptive Republican candidate John McCain has been receiving computer training on the Department of Education’s $80 million supercomputer, ARIS. ARIS, the acronym for Achievement Reporting and Information System, has been used by the DOE to track everything from students’ test scores to bathroom visits. The computer, procured through a no-bid contract between the DOE and IBM, is supposed to be used exclusively by the Education Department. However, Senator McCain, who recently had to admit that he is not particularly computer literate, seems to have been granted an exception.

Mr. Klein, through his Educational Equality Project, has already made statements which some have interpreted as favoring Senator McCain. But allowing the candidate the use of ARIS will certainly lead to new charges of preferential treatment, and of inappropriate use of city property for political purposes.

When reached for comment by GBN News, Chancellor Klein denied any impropriety. “Senator McCain is simply taking advantage of our fine adult education program, just like thousands of other older adults throughout the city,” said the Chancellor. However, a GBN News spot check of a number of adult ed classes run by the DOE turned up none that used a computer anywhere near the capabilities, let alone the cost, of ARIS.

In a related story, reporters covering the McCain campaign have expressed concern over the Senator’s frequent references to their old high school test scores. While nobody has been able to offer any real evidence to date, some members of the press apparently fear that the candidate’s knowledge of such potentially embarrassing facts about them could have a chilling effect on their ability to report objectively on the campaign.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fewer crimes at Impact schools? The real reason they don't want you to know....

See this NY Times piece, on the Mayor’s press conference where Bloomberg reported a sharp drop in crime in schools citywide and especially at the “Impact schools.” These are schools that have been flooded with police and scanners. Excerpt:

Last fall, City Comptroller William C. Thompson, a likely mayoral candidate, issued an audit showing that in a sampling of schools, several crimes that were recorded in school records were never reported to the state or the police.

Several crimes?

Actually, the audit from the Comptroller's office found that out of the ten sampled schools, 414 – or 21 percent– of 1,996 incidents went unreported – including a rape.

The Mayor’s press conference was held at the HS of Graphic Communication Arts, where the sharpest drop in reported crime this year occurred.

The Daily News had a far more skeptical account:

Last year, Controller William Thompson released an audit of 10 schools that found 21% of serious incidents weren't reported to the Education Department. The school where Tuesday's press conference was held - High School of Graphic Communication Arts - failed to report 13 out of 171 incidents in the 2004 to 2005 school year.

Several teachers Tuesday said administrators discouraged reporting incidents that might cause penalties for their school. "Everyone figured out that they only want good news," said a teacher at one impact school. "The principals are afraid for their heads."

This is Campbell’s law at work. No principal or teacher will report a crime knowing that this may land the school on the list, because most Impact schools start to lose students fast. And once a school loses students, it tends to be phased out or phased down, and people lose their jobs.

Once on the list, studies show, student attendance falls and most likely, achievement and grad rates as well.

Accordingly, of the 19 high schools on the Impact list in 2005, 15 of them have now been closed or are being phased out or "phased down" -- that is, with vastly smaller enrollments. This is as good way as any to guarantee that these schools will have fewer reported crimes -- especially if they no longer exist.

For more on the chronic underreporting of school crime, see this report from the Public Advocate’s office. And here is a story from NY1, detailing last fall’s audit and the fact that the HS of Graphic Communication Arts was cited as a chronic offender.