Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What (or who) I am grateful for

This has been a rocky year in many ways for the causes I care most about; with class sizes increasing in all grades for the first time in ten years, a disappointing capital plan, and big budget cuts on the horizon.

Though I usually criticize on this list serv, I’d like to take a moment today to tell you about some of the people I am grateful for.

I am grateful for the fact that we have some excellent public servants in this city.

These include (but are not limited to): Speaker Shelly Silver, Assembly member Cathy Nolan, CM Robert Jackson, Manhattan borough President Scott Stringer, and Betsy Gotbaum, the Public Advocate. All of them believe that parents should have a voice in how the system is run, and that class sizes should be small enough to ensure that NYC children are able to receive personal attention they need from their teachers.

I am grateful for their hardworking staff as well – you know who you are!

I am grateful for my own two State legislators, Sen. Tom Duane and AM Deborah Glick, who always are welcoming when I make the long trip to Albany.

I am grateful for the members of the City Council from both parties who led the battle over term limits, even if it was a losing cause, especially Bill de Blasio, Leticia James, John Liu, and James Oddo.

I am grateful for a very robust corps of education reporters in this city – most other cities do not have so many smart and aggressive reporters. I am especially grateful that despite the demise of the NY Sun, Elizabeth Green found a new home at Gotham Schools; (though I do still miss Mike Meenan of NY 1.)

I am grateful for the members of our Parent Commission on school governance; and the Manhattan Task force of School Overcrowding, for their tremendous support, insight, and hard work on issues that are not easy to solve but that are critical to the future of education in this city.

I am grateful for Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan appointee to the Panel of Educational Policy and the co-chair of the Overcrowding Task force, for his analytic abilities, and his courage in questioning the priorities and policies of this administration.

I am grateful for Norman Siegel and his boundless energy and enthusiasm in challenging City Hall when the administration violates the law.

I am grateful for Diane Ravitch’s commitment, eloquence and engagement as a writer, blogger, and true public intellectual.

I am grateful for her fellow bloggers, Debbie Meier, Jennifer Jennings, and Aaron Pallas – like Diane, it would be far easier for all of them to stay safe and cloistered in the groves of academe, but they continue to speak truth to power every day.

I am grateful to each of the wonderful contributors to our NYC public school parent blog, especially Gary Babad, who always can make me laugh no matter how dark the day, and David Bellel, whose illustrations are ceaselessly inventive and who has videotaped all our School governance forums.

I am grateful for all those who have volunteered their time for Class Size Matters, including Ann Kjellberg, Irene Kaufman, Eric Zerof, and Emily Horowitz.

I am extremely grateful for all those who have made financial contributions to the organization.

I am grateful for my family and friends.

Finally, I am grateful to all of those who continue to be actively involved in the crucial effort to improve our public schools and without whose support I could not continue this work.

Happy New Year to all!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Test Scores Crash, Class Size Soars as Klein Rings Closing Bell

December 30, 2008 (GBN News): The bottom fell out of the worldwide market in test score futures today on word that NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein would be ringing the NASDAQ closing bell. And in a closely related development, class size futures went up to the highest level in over seven years, reaching over 40 in some districts.

The spectacle of Chancellor Klein serving in such a high profile ceremony sent shudders throughout the education world. Fears were that if his NY City style reforms spread around the country and even the world, the NY City model of constant test prep and higher class sizes will have negative effects on children’s educational performance everywhere. “If the NAEP scores for New York City are any indication,” said one analyst, “the spread of the Klein model could result in catastrophically poor educational achievement all over the world that may not bottom out until the Klein/Bloomberg administration is out of power, or at least discredited.”

Early in the Obama transition, the test score futures market had rebounded while class size futures declined on news that Linda Darling-Hammond was heading up the President-elect’s educational transition team. However, Mr. Obama’s choice of Arne Duncan as Education Secretary again roiled the market, and the Klein bell ringing ceremony today may be the final nail in the coffin.

Send a message to Obama about the need for smaller classes now!

Obama’s transition team has a website, with proposals for his administration to consider, suggested by members of the public. I just posted one about the need for class size reduction, along with funding to build more schools.

Please, go now and vote for smaller classes -- you can also leave a comment on the website. According to his transition team, "the top 10 ideas are going to be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day and will be supported by a national lobbying campaign run by, MySpace, more than a dozen leading nonprofits after the Inauguration. So each idea has a real chance at becoming policy.

The first round of voting to determine the top three ideas in each category will end tomorrow, December 31 – so there isn’t much time! Why is this important?

Recently, there has been an unprecedented attack on class size reduction at the national level by policymakers, bloggers, business leaders and foundations, despite the fact that smaller classes are one of the few education reforms that have been proven to work, according to the research arm of the US Dept. of Education, and that also have widespread support among parents and educators.

In a recent report, Andrew Rotherham, an influential inside-the-beltway blogger, has proposed that school districts no longer be able to use their federal Title II education funds for this purpose – despite the fact that about half of all districts currently invest these funds in smaller classes. Instead, he wants to require that this critical funding be spent on more experimental and controversial programs, that are supposedly “high leverage” – like teacher performance pay and Teach for America.

In support of his opposition to class size reduction, he cites not a single research study (because none exists) but an oped published in the Daily News last year, written by Robert Gordon, a consultant employed by Joel Klein and another inside-the-beltway policy wonk, who trashed public school parents for their “class size obsession”.

Like Joel Klein and Jim Liebman, Gordon is an attorney with no experience as an educator or researcher. Yet both Rotherham and Gordon are being promoted by the charter school privatization and testing crowd to receive top-level appointments in an Obama administration.

Their attacks on class size have been joined in recent opeds by conservative commentator, David Brooks of the NY Times, who wrote that small classes were a “superficial” reform, compared to “merit pay for good teachers, charter schools and tough accountability standards”, and Lou Gerstner, former head of IBM, who baldly stated in the Wall St. Journal that class size “does not matter” and is pushing for the abolition of all school districts (along with more merit pay and testing.)

The most powerful man in education circles today, Bill Gates, who intends to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the newest flavors of the week, including -- you guessed it -- more charter schools, testing, and merit pay, recently joined in on the chorus, attacking class size reduction in a prominent speech,

So vote for smaller classes here, if you would like Obama to consider supporting class size reduction and more school construction. Help him resist the loud but clueless voices of the DC education policy establishment.

Please forward this message to others who care, and Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

GBN News “Best Headline of 2009” Contest

GBN News invites you to create your favorite GBN News headline of the coming year. The winning headline will title a full GBN News “look ahead” story. Entries can be a headline alone, or can contain a sub-headline as well, and must be submitted in the “comments” section below by January 10. Decision of the GBN News editorial staff will be final. Some examples:

Klein Indicted in Test Score Ponzi Scheme
Chancellor Used Scores Raised in Some Schools to Boost Those in Others

Blagojevich to Replace Sen. Caroline Kennedy in DOE Fund Raising Job
Gets Nod Over Madoff

DOE Defies Council on Shoe Ban
Chancellor, Fearing Thrown Projectiles, to Ignore Council Law Allowing Children to Wear Shoes To and From School

Sabathia Elected Mayor
Yankees Outspend Bloomberg on Campaign

Klein’s and Rhee’s Blackberries Exposed In Sex Scandal
Neither Chancellor Suspected Steamy Email Affair Between Respective Devices

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy holidays from NYC public school parents!

With all the dismal economic and education news, it is easy to forget that NYC parents are occasionally able to prevail and preserve something precious for their kids.

Villagers fought like crazy for over ten years to save the mounds in Washington Square Park from being eliminated by the Parks Dept. We finally won our battle, thanks to support from Council Member Alan Gerson and Community Board 2.

Enjoy the video clip below by Matt Davis, and happy holidays to all!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Budget Cuts Update at Panel for Educational Policy

At last week's meeting we heard the latest on the budget cuts. Click here for the presentation. There is information on page nine about where schools have started to cut. The largest categories are classroom supplies, before/after school per-session funding and substitute teachers.

I again asked for cuts in the Office of Accountability and Press Office. Now that my own children are in third grade, I can see firsthand the excessive test prep and the complete absurdity of paying McGraw Hill $80 million for interim assessments to be presented online in the Acuity system. If we must have test prep, then a paper practice test is infinitely cheaper and far more practical. When I explained to the Chancellor that there was no benefit to teaching or learning, in fact it's harder for parents to see the information, he simply admitted he would not convince me of the benefits, nor I dissuade him.

And so despite the woeful situation of the city and state budgets, the Bloomberg administration is determined to pour money into the Accountability Initiative. Testing materials, test prep, databases for test scores and test-related staff positions devour the education budget. For example, see this expensive position for Knowledge Manager advertised while schools cannot even fund substitutes or tutoring. All this money spent on testing while the mayor himself has vowed to send another $526 million in cuts directly to the classroom. This one on top of the $385 he's already sent us.

Here is an apt photo-illustration by Dave B; Data-Zilla wipes out a city starting with the education budget.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Special Education Update at Panel for Educational Policy

On Monday we finally had the session on Special Education canceled last month in favor of Jim Liebman’s tedious defense of the ARIS database system.

Several members of the Citywide Council on Special Education (CCSE) were present – John Englert, Patricia Connelly, Ellen McHugh. Apologies to anyone I missed. Linda Wernikoff oversees special education initiatives at DOE. Click here for the Powerpoint she delivered (pdf format).

She also provided copies of a new manual of special education standard operating procedures. I noted that the opening pages explain how more than 18 different entities are involved in special education and parents often are frustrated in their attempts to get the services required by their child’s IEP. I asked Ms. Wernikoff who exactly was accountable when services were not provided. She pointed to the principals and explained the DOE’s effort to devolve authority to them. I explained the difficulty in holding principals accountable when the District superintendents have been turned into Senior Achievement Facilitators and sent all over the city to show principals how to look at reports. The Citywide Council on Special Educaiton has proposed creating a senior-level executive to oversee special education reporting directly to the Chancellor. When I raised this proposal with Chancellor Klein, he replied that he didn’t see it as necessary.

My colleague from Queens, Dmytro Fedkowskyj, asked an important question on special education placements. He had heard that parents were being told they had to accept the first placement option offered by DOE. Linda Wernikoff assured Dmytro that there had been no change in policy and that DOE would still work with parents to find an appropriate placement.

Many people offered highly critical testimony during the public comment section of the agenda. John Englert, president of CCSE, explained how the rosy view offered by DOE contrasted sharply with State Comptroller DiNapoli's audit findings showing thousands of children do not receive the services they require. Jesse Mojica of the Bronx Borough President's office cited results of his survey indicating only 6% of calls placed to DOE requesting assisstance with special education issues were resolved.

Mayoral control: the need for more accountability, transparency and checks and balances

Check out Part I of our terrific Dec. 19 public forum with Council Member John Liu, Robert Tobias, former head of testing for the NYC public schools and now director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at NYU, Udi Ofer, Director of Advocacy at the NYCLU and George Sweeting, Deputy Director of the Independent Budget Office.

The speakers were clear about how the administration is exploiting ambiguities and loopholes in the law to evade any actual oversight or checks and balances, either when it comes to the civil rights of NYC students or the accurate reporting of data such as test scores or spending policies, and how this has led to a "crisis of confidence" in our schools.

Part II is posted here, and Part III is here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Arne Duncan and the Chicago "turnaround" schools

In today’s Christian Science Monitor , an unusually skeptical article points out that Arne Duncan made his reputation on the so-called “turnaround schools” in Chicago – schools that were provided to private managers or charter school operators to restaff and restructure – but supposedly improved results dramatically, while keeping their original student body intact.

“The district closed, replaced, or overhauled the management at more than 60 low-performing schools. But … only a small percentage of students displaced by school closings ended up at the new and improved schools. Many landed at other schools that were on academic probation."

Obama made the announcement this week about Duncan’s appointment while standing in one such Chicago school, the Renaissance Dodge Academy that has been much praised by Obama and others for improvements in test scores. In fact, the principal was invited to testify before the House education Committee in May 2007, presumably because the school had the largest test gains of any school in Illinois in 2006.

See this 2007 letter that Julie Woestehoff of PURE sent to Rep. George Miller, chair of the House Education committee:

It’s important to know that the Dodge Renaissance Academy provides three instructors in every classroom, an expensive luxury made possible only by generous private funding that is not available to traditional schools. In addition, the Chicago Public Schools’ own data show that only 12 students who attended Dodge in 2002 (the year CPS closed the school) were still enrolled at the restructured Dodge in 2005.

The new school is essentially serving a completely different student body. It simply does not operate on a level playing field with other schools, and its results should be considered in that context. (emphasis added.)

AUSL (for Academy for Urban School Leadership) , which is the management group that took over the Dodge Renaissance Academy, subsequently took over another Chicago school and renamed it “Sherman School of Excellence”.

Sherman’s improved performance has been hyped in the same fashion as Dodge’s was previously. In general, this trend has prompted growing complaints from parents and students, as reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, that many of these turnaround schools are "destroying'' neighborhood schools by luring away high-scoring kids, or flooding them all their low-performers.

According to a recent post by Julie, here is a summary of the stats at Sherman since AUSL took it over:

· The enrollment dropped from 617 in 2007 to 493 in 2008.

· The percent of low-income students dropped 10% in one year, from 94% in 2007 to 84.2% in 2008. (In 2005, the poverty rate was even higher, 98.5%.)

· The mobility rate rose from 43.5% in 2007 to 52.2% in 2008.

Her analysis echoes Eduwonkette’s who has argued (for example here and here) that the new NYC small schools have far different student bodies than the large, failing schools that they replaced – with fewer special ed, ELL and other high needs kids.

At the same time, the small schools offer smaller classes and more personal attention. Why should anyone be surprised that if you take higher-achieving kids, and put them in smaller classes, they will do better than high-needs kids in overcrowded classes?

Not to honk my own horn, but I made these points more than three years ago, in a brief report presented to the Panel on Educational Policy in November 2005, and later in testimony before the City Council.

Should Arne Duncan or Joel Klein be lauded for such accomplishments? Especially when Klein resists with every bone in his being from offering the same opportunities to students in the rest of our schools? What do you think?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Arne Duncan's appointment: the view from Chicago

Julie Woestehoff is head of PURE, Parents United for Responsible Education in Chicago, and a strong education advocate for the right of parents to be involved in decision-making at the school level. (that's her in the front, with the white hair, with other PURE members.)

Julie co-authored our Common-sense education reforms for the Presidential candidates and appeared at our forum last month on Mayoral control in other cities.

Here is her statement today on the PURE blog: Not my first choice

Well, godspeed, Arne. Let's hope that working for a better boss will help you make better decisions.

It was hard to know what to say to the press last night - here's what I came up with:

In the Tribune: "I think Arne's time here is a cautionary tale," said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education. "We hope that outside of Chicago, Arne Duncan will do the right thing for kids."

In the Sun-Times: "There have been good things and bad things about what's been happening in Chicago schools,'' said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education."We all need to look very carefully at what those things are.''....

pure | PURE Thoughts | 16 December, 9:59am

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Learn NY hears from some real life NYC parents about Mayoral control

Gotham Schools tells how Robin Warren, an employee at Learn NY, the organization set up by Bloomberg to maintain Mayoral control, has been introducing herself on various NYC parent list servs and saying that the organization is really, truly, sincerely interested in hearing their views.

Warren posted a message to Urban Baby and what an earful she received in return. I guess she’s learning quickly that it’s going to be tough to convince NYC parents who’ve had to deal with six years of an unaccountable, arrogant and dictatorial administration that the current system should remain.

Within eleven minutes, here were the first six replies:

12.10.08, 01:16 PM

· You're shilling for Bloomberg? How much is he paying you?

12.10.08, 01:18 PM

· What is your qualification?

12.10.08, 01:22 PM

· Ladies, this is a political organization (non-profit in name only) that was created to influence NYS to reauthorize mayoral control of the school system. The Board members are Bloomberg hacks who do his bidding. It's a transparent attempt to influence the public debate in his favor, that's all.

12.10.08, 01:25 PM

· Spamming for Bloomberg's czarship of schools!

12.10.08, 01:26 PM


12.10.08, 01:27 PM

· Here's some feedback: The testing idea has gone waaay out of control and has overtaken most of the creative and "fun" parts of the school day that used to exist, school bureaucracy is terrible because there's no one who's accessible and is willing to help, and within the schools the teachers and administrators seem hamstrung by the administrative duties they have now, field trips have almost disappeared, classes are way too big and school budgets way too small so that the only really successful schools are those in which the parents have to raise enormous amounts of money, and many parents - me included - feel entirely disenfranchised at this point in the 'Mayoral Control' experiment and would not mind at all if it went away.

ARIS: a view from the field

About ARIS, the $80 million supercomputer that Jim Liebman, the DOE accountability czar, insists is a valuable tool to improve instruction, here is a report from a teacher who attended a recent training sponsored by the Accountability office:

The whole afternoon was devoted to the "connect" features. These include a profile page, blogging, group formation, discussion boards, wiki documents and file uploading that come with everyone's ARIS account. The package is less than meets the eye. All of the features I examined were inferior to similar tools that are readily available online.

A couple examples. If you write a blog or set up a discussion board there's (apparently) no way to get email notification if someone responds. You'll have to keep logging into ARIS and checking for activity. That's will be a big drawback for those teachers who are willing to participate. Many of the participants at the workshop said basically, the Big Brother factor would preclude them from sharing anything meaningful. There was a lot of disbelief this was seriously being offered. Another very weak feature is the wiki documents. No tool bar. I've never seen anything so bare bones.

Before the training started the instructor asked everyone to share their feelings about ARIS in one word. The most common word was "skeptical." She said she'd do that again at the end to see if workshop had changed anyone's mind but we never got to do that. A lot of questions came up. There seems to be an attempt to present ARIS as both data and "community." Well there's going to be data ..."

See this post in Gotham Schools about how New Visions sent out an email pointing out problems with ARIS, including widespread errors in the data, which was later withdrawn -- undoubtedly after pressure from DOE.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

No evidence of improved outcomes at NYC's small schools

Joel Klein and his friends at New Visions often trumpet the results of their small schools initiative, claiming these schools have improved achievement and graduation rates for their students, compared to those attending other NYC public schools. And in a recent speech, while Bill Gates admitted to the overall failure of the small school initiative, which he had funded to the tune of nearly $2 billion, he still claimed that the small schools in NYC had succeeded:

“Their graduation rates were nearly 40 percentage points higher than the rates in the schools they replaced. In 2006, the small schools' graduation rates exceeded those of comparable schools in the district by 18 percentage points.

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), of the Institute for Education Sciences, the research arm of the US Dept. of Education, produces objective analyses of education research. In a recent report, the WWC summarized all the available research on dropout prevention programs and strategies, including 84 evaluations of 22 programs, and found only four that had positive results, in terms of helping students stay in school longer and/or progressing more rapidly. A few programs showed some evidence of helping students to graduate from school.

Guess which programs/schools had no convincing evidence of improved results? The NYC small schools funded by Gates. The WWC analyzed twelve different studies of NYC’s small schools, called “New Century High Schools” and found:

No studies of the New Century High Schools Initiative that fell within the scope of the Dropout Prevention review meet WWC evidence standards. The lack of studies meeting WWC evidence standards means that, at this time, the WWC is unable to draw any conclusions based on research about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of New Century High Schools.

Here is an excerpt from the New Visions press release, boasting about the results of these schools, as reported in the final Policy Studies Associates study, a supposedly independent evaluation that was also funded by the Gates Foundation:

New York, NY October 16, 2007 -- An independent research study of 75 New Century High Schools (NCHS) reports a significantly higher average graduation rate than the citywide average in the first schools with graduating classes. The study also notes higher rates of student retention, promotion, and attendance than in other New York City public high schools...…“We conclude that the NCHS intervention was notable with regard to dropout prevention and on time graduation,” the PSA researchers found. “Keeping youth in school earning credits and passing exams is a significant accomplishment, and it is a basis on which to build deeper accomplishments."

What did WWC say about this and the other PSA reports, as well as two West Ed studies, also funded by Gates?

These studies were rejected, because the intervention and comparison groups are not shown to be equivalent at baseline” – meaning that the students who attended the new small high schools were not shown to be similar to those to whom they were being compared.

Six other studies of the NYC small schools were rejected, “because [they do] not examine the effectiveness of an intervention,” including this one from the Carnegie Foundation, “Small schools in the big city: Promising results validate reform efforts in New York City high schools.

The Institute for Education Studies has concluded, by the way, that that class size reduction is one of only four, evidence-based reforms that through rigorous, randomized experiments have been proven to work – the "gold standard" of research. None of the strategies attempted by the NYC Department of Education under Joel Klein's leadership were cited.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Klein Lied to the National Press Club in Australia

Check out the latest report from the Australian organization Save Our Schools. Here is an excerpt from Klein Lied to the National Press Club:

New York City Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, was exposed as a dissembler at his National Press Club address in Canberra last week. Under forensic questioning from The Canberra Times’ education reporter, Emma Macdonald, Klein resorted to lies and deceptions to justify his claims of increases in student achievement in New York City schools.

Macdonald challenged Klein on his claims by citing national reading and mathematics assessments which show that there has been no improvement in student achievement in NYC since 2003, except for 4th grade mathematics. She questioned him on whether the grades given to schools in this year’s school progress reports had been manipulated by reducing the cut-off scores to achieve an A or B.

Klein denied both charges. He said that Macdonald was wrong on both facts. His response was to falsely assert that the cut-off scores for school grades had not been reduced, falsely claim that New York State tests were a better measure of student achievement than the independent national assessments, and to selectively cite evidence about the success of African-American students.

Check out the entire document, complete with bibliography.

By the way, it was our own Steve Koss who first figured out the cut-off scores had been manipulated in this way: Don’t Like the Results? Change the Scale!

See also the report by the Australian Education Union, Joel Klein and the New York School Accountability Model

Bill Gates rather meaninglessly opines...

In Newsweek, Bill Gates predictably comes out for Joel Klein as Education Secretary and also for Mayoral control:

Gates argues that rigorous accountability is the only option, from mayoral control (elected school boards are mostly a menace) to principal control (teacher tenure and onerous work rules are quality-killers) to data control (IT systems that closely track performance are a must).

I wonder if his foundation is one of the secret backers of NY Learn – the organization pushing the continuation of Mayoral control here in NYC.

Gates, of course, also strongly supports charter schools, and claims that “At YES College Prep in Houston, 95 percent of the students are African-American or Hispanic and 80 percent are poor. But since 2000, every student has gone on to a four-year college. One hundred percent.”

Wow! That is impressive. Yet according to the school’s website, “Every student must be accepted to a four-year college or university in order to graduate from YES Prep.”

Hmm. That means by definition, all their graduates must have been accepted at a four year-college. Oh well.

What this meaningless statistic does not tell you are how many of their students are shed along the way.