Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Holiday Fantasy (Revised 2009)

Twas the day after Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa/…,when all around Tweed,
Not a creature was stirring, no one to take heed,
No stockings were hung by the chimney this time,
For the schools had been plundered by Bloomberg and Klein,

The city schoolchildren nestled snug in their beds,
Hoping to go back to school without dread,
Of their schools being closed, replaced by charters,
Finding a good place to learn would be harder,

But then on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
That Bloomberg and Klein knew something’s the matter,
Away to the window they flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash,

A host of pale figures, with ghostly shine,
Looked menacingly up at Bloomberg and Klein,
There were ATRs and teachers from rubber rooms,
And children fed up with crowded classrooms,

And angry parents who knew it not for the best,
For their children’s teachers to teach to the test,
With their students’ scores the only way,
They could gain the coveted merit pay,

Oh, Bloomberg and Klein, the fates for you,
Will be in the hands of this ghostly crew,
If you don't care to tend to the stakeholders’ needs,
You'll find it's the end of your control of Tweed,

Bloomberg and Klein just slithered away,
Too frightened to face this another day,
One only can hope that this lesson in dread,
Will not be lost on the Secretary of Ed.

A great holiday present for our kids, and please help us help you!

There’s great news today, and a holiday present for NYC public schoolchildren! Yesterday, the NY State Supreme Court rejected the city’s attempt to lease half of the sports fields on Randall’s Island to twenty private schools for the next twenty years, without first going through the mandated process, including review by the local Community Board and City Council.

Class Size Matters helped organize this lawsuit in 2006, when the city decided to unilaterally grant two thirds of these fields to the private schools, and this is the second time in two years that the court ruled in our favor. Yesterday, we were rewarded with a slam dunk decision, in which Judge Marilyn Shafer said that the city's arguments were “inherently incredible,” and ordered the city to pay court costs and fees to our (pro bono) attorneys, because of their attempt to evade the earlier ruling. (The decision is posted here; see also the Daily News, Times , NY Post and WNYC.)

The court ruling caps an eventful year for Class Size Matters, in which we’ve been busy advocating for all NYC students to be provided with smaller classes and a better opportunity to learn. We led the “Build Schools, not Prisons” campaign to alleviate school overcrowding, and recently the city added 5,000 seats to the capital plan. We co-authored a report on the growing numbers of students discharged from our schools but not counted as dropouts. We published a book on the Bloomberg-Klein educational record that received attention as far away as Australia and Thailand.

We helped form the Parent Commission to advocate for a better school governance law with more real parental input, and together with other public school parents, created NYC Kids Pac, to support candidates who will work for positive change in our schools.

We continue to offer news and information to parents through our two list servs, contribute to and manage the NYC public school parent blog, and also started a column on the Huffington Post. Finally, as mentioned above, we just a won a major case that will hopefully ensure the right of all NYC students to have equal access to the sports fields on Randall’s Island for years to come. Just some of our nearly 100 press clips from the past year are posted on our website.

Please be a part of this effort by contributing what you can. We rely on your financial support. Just click here, or on the link below to give a tax-deductible donation.

Anyone who donates $50 or more will receive a free copy of our acclaimed book, NYC Schools under Bloomberg and Klein, what Parents, Teachers and Policymakers Need to Know, with essays by Diane Ravitch, Debbie Meier, Steve Koss, Patrick Sullivan, and others.

Help us achieve our goal: that the city will finally fulfill its obligation to provide all public school children with smaller classes, a quality education, and a better chance to learn.

Please make a tax-deductible contribution to Class Size Matters now!

Happy holidays and a happy New Year,
Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Patrick Sullivan commands the stage at the PEP

Check out this video of Manhattan member of the Panel for Educational Policy Patrick Sullivan, fearless and brilliant, at the PEP December 20 meeting in the Bronx.

My favorite clip: when Patrick berates DOE officials for their "lack of fiscal discipline" -- their insistence on spending yet even more millions for yet another wasteful piece of software, a teacher training module that is supposed to be integrated into the $80 million super-computer super-mugging that is ARIS; meanwhile, school budgets are being slashed to the bone.

Hurray for Patrick! We are truly lucky to have him.

Gotham Gazette 2010 predictions taps GBN News

Gotham Gazette has included me as part of its "panel of experts" sharing predictions for the coming year. Of course, this means a GBN News article dated April 7, 2010. Here is the full article and it is also copied below.

Gary Babad, a NY City public school parent and writer for NYC Public School Parent

In the spirit of the parodies I write on New York City Public School Parents, here are my predictions:

Klein Closes Department of Education, Fires Self

April 7, 2010 (GBN News): Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, in a bold restructuring move, abruptly closed down the New York City Department of Education today and fired himself. The chancellor's actions came following the release of the city's reading test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), showing that the city's performance has remained flat for the past two years. On top of last fall's report that math scores had not significantly improved since 2007, the revelations gave the chancellor no choice but to take this drastic step.

However, on the heels of this announcement, Mr. Klein dropped another bombshell. He told reporters that he gives more weight to the "steady progress" made since 2003 than the lack of progress in the past two years. Thus, he will be rehiring himself immediately and reconstituting the DOE.

These rapid-fire reorganizations come at a particularly challenging time for the education department. Just last week, Mr. Klein had announced the closing of the last remaining public high school in the city. The DOE had been closing more and more "underperforming" schools, with students from each one flooding the few non-charter schools that were left. It is unclear just where the 253,763 students from Alfred E .Neuman High School in Queens will go next year, but the chancellor had a reassuring message for concerned parents. "The good news," said Mr.Klein, "is that with virtually no schools left, the high school application process has been considerably simplified."

NAEP Math Results -- Detailed Analysis Is Not Good News for Bloomberg and Klein

The recently released Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) results on the 2009 NAEP Math exam provide enough detailed data to explore NYC’s math education performance by ethnic group and family income. In addition, and perhaps most informatively, NYC’s progress can be compared in each category against the nine other cities that have participated in TUDA since 2003 (Austin began in 2005, and seven more cities began just this year). The results go a long way for assessing whether New York’s progress under mayoral control is notably different, for better or worse, than in these other cities.

The bottom line is decidedly mixed – favorable improvement at Grade 4 in total and for White, Black, Hispanic and Free Lunch Eligible breakdowns compared to the other TUDA cities, middling to poor comparative improvement at Grade 8 in all those same categories, and almost exclusively poor comparative performance at both grade levels on Black/White and Hispanic/White achievement gaps. After six years of learning under the Bloomberg/Klein mayoral control regime, Grade 8 students demonstrated almost uniformly poor performance gains on the NAEP math exam compared to other TUDA cities.

Let’s begin with the basics – improvement in average score and percentage of students at Proficient and Advanced. As the abbreviated table below shows, NYC’s comparative performance over six years placed it third out of ten cities for Grade 4 average math score (barely ahead of Atlanta and San Diego) and achievement level, but near the bottom of those same ten cities for Grade 8 average score increase and in the middle of the pack for Grade 8 achievement level increases. The clear overall winners in comparative performance on these measures were Boston and San Diego, with Houston also showing notably well at in both Grade 8 measures.

--------------------------NYC ------Rank -------------------- Other Cities

-------- Grade 4 ----- +11 ------- 3 of 10 ---------- Boston (+16), D.C. (+15)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +7 --------- 8 of 10 --------- Boston (+18), San Diego (+16),
---------------------------------------------------- Atlanta (+15), Houston (+13), LA (+13)

-------- Grade 4 ----- +14 ------- 3 of 10 ---------- Boston (+19), San Diego (+16)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +7 --------- 4* of 10 --------- Boston (+14), San Diego (+14),
------------------------------------------------------------- Houston (+12)
* Three-way tie with D.C. and LA

Breaking things down by racial group, NYC students showed solid increases across racial groups in percentage of students Proficient or Advanced at Grade 4, ranking third out of ten cities for White students (+16) , second for Black students (+9), and fourth for Hispanic students (+11). At Grade 8 level, however, NYC ranked sixth (tied with Cleveland) out of eight (Atlanta and DC did not meet NAEP reporting requirements for Grade 8) for White students, fifth (tied with Chicago and LA) for Black students, and eighth out of eight for Hispanic students. In other words, at Grade 8 level, NYC students’ increases ranked next to last for Whites and Blacks and dead last for Hispanics.

-------- Grade 4 ----- +16 ------- 3 of 10 ---------- Boston (+19), San Diego (+16)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +7 --------- 6* of 8 --------- Boston (+14), San Diego (+14),
------------------------------------------------------------- Houston (+12)
* Tied with Cleveland

-------- Grade 4 ----- +9 ------- 2 of 10 ---------- Boston (+17)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +3 --------- 5* of 8 --------- Boston (+12), San Diego (+9),
------------------------------------------------------------- Houston (+6), Charlotte (+6)
* Three-way tie with Chicago and LA

-------- Grade 4 ----- +11 ------- 4 of 9 ---------- D.C. (+18), Boston (+17), Houston (+13)
-------- Grade 8 ----- (-1) --------- 8 of 8 --------- Boston (+13), Houston (+12,)
------------------------------------------------------------- Chicago (+11), San Diego (+8)

In terms of achievement gaps, the Black/White gap actually grew worse, increasing seven points in Grade 4 (from 30 percentage points in 2003 to 37 in 2009) and four points in Grade 8 (from 31 percentage points in 2003 to 35 in 2009). For Grade 4, this gap increase was eighth worse out of ten cities, while at Grade 8 it was second out of eight cities. The picture was even worse for the
White/Hispanic achievement gap, increasing five points in Grade 4 (from 29 to 34 percentage points) and eight points in Grade 8 (from 25 to 33 percentage points). Thus, in the White/Hispanic achievement gap for both grades, these results placed NYC in ties for second to last out of the cities reported by NAEP.

-------- Grade 4 ----- +7 ------- 8 of 10 ---------- Boston (+19), San Diego (+16)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +4 --------- 2 of 10 --------- Charlotte (-3)

-------- Grade 4 ----- +5 ------- 6* of 9 ---------- Cleveland (-9), D.C. (-8), LA (-6),
------------------------------------------------------------- Houston (-5)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +8 ------- 6** of 8 --------- Boston (+14), San Diego (+14),
------------------------------------------------------------- Houston (+12)
* Three-way tie with Charlotte and Chicago
** Tied with Houston

Looking at average scores instead of proficiency levels, NYC ranked fourth out of ten cities on change from 2003 to 2009 in the White/Black performance gap and third out of eight cities at Grade 8. For the White/Hispanic performance gap, NYC ranked sixth out of ten cities at Grade 4 and dead last, eighth out of eight cities, for Grade 8.

Finally, we can look at changes in average score for Free Lunch Eligible and Free Lunch Ineligible students. By this breakdown, NYC ranked well (second out of ten) for Grade 4 Free Lunch Eligible but poorly in the other three categories (Grade 4 Free Lunch Ineligible – tied for last, Grade 8 Free Lunch Eligible (tied for seventh out of 10 cities), and Grade 8 Free Lunch Ineligible (last, ninth out of nine cities).

-------- Grade 4 ----- +11 ------- 2 of 10 ---------- Boston (+15)
-------- Grade 8 ----- +9 --------- 7* of 10 --------- Boston (+17), San Diego (+16),
---------------------------------------------------- Atlanta (+14), LA (+14)
* Tied with Cleveland

-------- Grade 4 ----- +5 ------- 8* of 9 ---------- Boston (+16), D.C. (+15)
-------- Grade 8 ----- (-10) ---- 9 of 9 --------- LA (+36), D.C. (+22), Houston (+20),
------------------------------------------------ Atlanta (+18), Boston (+17), San Diego (+17)
* Tied with Charlotte

Michael Bloomberg’s campaign for his third mayoral term was predicated in no small part on his claims to be NYC’s “education mayor” as justified and bolstered by NYS exam scores and a host of other self-generated statistics. Comparative analysis of TUDA results shows that those claims as measured by NAEP are suspect at best, and whatever gains are being achieved are coming at what for many is far too high a price.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Charter schools: the new polo ponies of the wealthy

It appears from an article in the Brooklyn Paper that the PAVE charter school board has been put on the defensive by DOE's proposal to give them a five year extension on staying at PS 15 -- and allowing them to take more space from the school each year as they expand, instead of the two year extension they originally requested.

A member of the board revealed that they have already been provided $26 million of city taxpayer funds from the NYC Department of Education for their own facility, and have raised $6.2 million more. Apparently they lack only $6 million to make this new building a reality.

Unmentioned in the article is that Spencer Robertson, the founder of PAVE, is the scion of Julian Robertson -- former hedge fund manager and according to Forbes, the #147 wealthiest person in the US, with an estimated fortune of $2.2 billion.

Julian Robertson is one of many hedge fund operators who have taken up charter schools as their new hobby, according to an article in the Style section of the NY Times. Robertson owns vineyards and golf courses in New Zealand, as well as homes in Locust Valley, the Hamptons and Sun Valley, as well in New York City.

He and other financiers are especially enthusiastic about the cause, because they their contributions are more than matched by hefty subsidies from state and city taxpayers. According to Whitney Tilson, another hedge fund operator and charter school supporter:

“It’s the most important cause in the nation, obviously, and with the state providing so much of the money, outside contributions are insanely well leveraged."

And yet Julian Robertson himself is careful not to pay NYC taxes , by making certain to spend under 183 days in the city. The state recently brought a lawsuit against Mr. Robertson senior for failure to pay taxes, but Robertson won this case, by proving that he had carefully worked out the minimum number of days he would reside in the city and having his scheduler keep records of this:

"...Mr. Robertson designated an assistant, his scheduler Julie Depperschmidt, to keep a careful count of where the Robertsons were from day to day in 2000 and to make sure they did not spend 183 days or more in New York City."

Spencer Robertson's wife Sarah is Director of Talent Recruitment at PAVE , and head of the board of Girls Prep Charter School, which has caused considerable controversy of its own by seeking to expand within a District 1 public school building. See the photo below, courtesy of the NY Times, of a recent District 1 meeting about the expansion of this school.
Another member of the Girls Prep board is Eric Grannis, husband of Eva Moskowitz, who makes more than $300,000 a year, operating another string of charter schools and who herself has been eager to expand her schools even further into the buildings of existing public schools in Harlem.

See this article about a "secret" meeting that took place last May, between Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Julian Robertson and other members of the Billionaire Boy's club, about how to coordinate their charity "efforts".

I suppose that didn't include a measly $6 million for a building for PACE, since DOE has now given them carte blanche to keep squatting in PS 15 for at least five more years-- which presumably would also allow the school to keep collecting interest from the $26 million of taxpayer funds they already had been given for school facilities.
(I wonder what the reaction of these hedge funds operators might be if a charter school was allowed to take up space and expand within the private schools where their own children attend school. )

Finally, everyone must read this brilliant Diane Ravitch piece about how the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" program, with its emphasis on charter school expansion is antithetical to the whole concept of equal opportunity and public responsibility for education. She puts it within a historical context, as only Diane can do:

Having written the history of the New York City public schools, I was reminded of the origins of free schooling in certain northeastern cities in the early 19th Century, when wealthy men decided that it was their civic duty to help civilize the children of the poor. In their view and in their day, they were doing good deeds, but their schools were stigmatized as charity schools for children of paupers and were avoided by children of the middle class. Outside of big cities, public education emerged as a community response to a community's need to school its children, not as a charitable venture.

Today, with the proliferation of charter schools, we may be seeing a resurgence of the historic pattern as public schools are privatized and taken over by very rich men (and women) who see themselves as saviors of the children of the poor. Naturally, you find this a repellent portrait because it undermines the democratic foundations of public education. It means that our society will increasingly rely on the good will of wealthy patrons to educate children of color. It means that education is seen as a private charity rather than as a public responsibility. Let's hope that the new owners who have taken over these schools are able to sustain their interest. After all, having 500 children in your care is not the same as having a stable of polo ponies or a vineyard in Napa Valley. If the children don't produce results that make the sponsors proud, they may pick a different hobby.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Save Columbus High School!

I hope everyone reads Christine Rowland's excellent piece on the unfair and destructive proposal to close Columbus HS at GothamSchools and then joins the Facebook group to Save Columbus.

You can also check out Leo Casey's piece at Edwize about how the DOE's "progress reports" victimize schools with alot of high-needs kids. Then be sure to watch this moving video:

When you are finished, read DOE's totally inadequate "education impact statement" calling for the school's closure, and send in your comments to the DOE. Be sure to email them as well to all the PEP members (their addresses are to the right).

Then come to the PEP meeting where the school's closure will be voted on, along with more than thirty other closings and changes in school utilization, at Brooklyn Tech on Jan. 26, and make your voices heard!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NAEP 2009 Math Results Show Little Progress for NYC Schools

Last week, math scores for 2009 were released for the eighteen cities now participating in the NAEP Grade 4 and 8 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) component, released bi-annually as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Operated under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Education and reported by their National Center for Educational Statistics, the NAEP’s are the only math and reading exams administered across the fifty states (reading test results are expected in Spring 2010). Given on a statistical sampling basis without high stakes consequences, these exams are generally considered the single best measure of national educational progress.

The Math results for 2009 were not the best of news for NYC. Among the eleven large cities who participated in 2007, only Boston and D.C. showed statistically significant gains in Grade 4 and only Austin and San Diego in Grade 8. No city declined, but the rest, including NYC, showed either no gains or gains sufficiently modest that they couldn’t reliably be attributed to real gains (as opposed to random chance). For NYC, these results stand in sharp contrast to the rather sizable gains in Grade 4 and 8 Math reported over the last two years via the NYS Grade 3-8 annual exams (on which School Progress Reports, grade retention, principals’ bonuses, and the Mayor’s political persona are based).

As reported in the local media (Jennifer Medina in the NY Times, Rachel Monohan and Meredith Kolodner in the NY Daily News, Yoav Gonen in the NY Post, and Beth Fertig at, NYC showed a one-point gain in average exam score in Grade 4 (from 236 in 2007 to 237 in 2009) and a three-point gain (from 270 to 273) in Grade 8. In addition, the percentage of Grade 4 students judged Proficient or better on the NAEP exam rose from 34% in 2007 to 35% in 2009; for Grade 8, the numbers were 22% in 2007 to 26% this year. By comparison, the NYS exams showed NYC Grade 4 proficiency or better increasing from 74.1% to 84.9% and Grade 8 moving up an astonishing 25 percentage points, from 45.6% to 71.3%. Comparable numbers since 2003 are shown below.

Grade 4 - % Proficient or Higher (Level 3+4 for NYS exams, Proficient + Advanced for NAEP)

2003 --- NYS 66.7% --- NAEP 21%

2005 --- NYS 77.4% --- NAEP 26%

2007 --- NYS 74.1% --- NAEP 34%

2009 --- NYS 84.9% --- NAEP 35%

Grade 8 - & Proficient or Higher (Level 3+4 for NYS exams, Proficient + Advanced for NAEP)

2003 --- NYS 34.4% --- NAEP 21%

2005 --- NYS 40.8% --- NAEP 21%

2007 --- NYS 45.6% --- NAEP 22%

2009 --- NYS 71.3% --- NAEP 26%

The inflation in all the NYS-based numbers naturally suggests that NYS/NYC students’ mathematical knowledge is nowhere near what is claimed by NYSED and NYCDOE.

This hardly comes as a surprise to most; it largely reflects the inherent fallacy of the NYSED’s testing regime, whose high stakes under NCLB have been substantially amplified under mayoral control of NYC schools until test prep and teaching to a specific test have come to dominate math teaching in the city. Nevertheless, measuring NYC’ students’ mathematical progress against the NAEP’s does suggest that, at least at Grade 4, both sets of scores are moving upward in some degree of encouraging lockstop. The picture in Grade 8 is far different and far more gloomy, particularly viewed within the framework of the huge reported gains in 2008 (14 percentage points, to 59.6%) and 2009 (another 11.7 percentage points, to 71.3% as shown in the table above).

These latest NAEP results offer a highly reliable reality check on the claimed math gains of NYC public school students. At Grade 4, the NAEPs suggest that the NYS test results have a degree of validity with regard to progress, although the 50-percentage-point gap on achievement is a major contradictory indicator of mastery level. At Grade 8, the NAEP’s paint a truly worrisome picture of a 45-percentage-point achievement gap and almost no measured progress in six years on the NAEPs during a period when NYC results on State exams signal gains bordering suspiciously on miraculous.

More disconcerting still is the realization that the 2009-year Grade 8 students who took these latest NAEPs are the first "pre-high-school end products" of the NYC public school system under Joel Klein and mayoral control during the six-year period (2003 - 2009) since the TUDAs and mayoral control both began.

Michael Bloomberg’s campaign for his third mayoral term was predicated in no small part on his claims to be NYC’s “education mayor” as justified by NYS exam scores and a host of other DOE self-generated statistical measures. In my next posting, I will delve much more deeply into the NAEP’s raw data to compare NYC’s progress since 2003 against the nine other large cities who have participated in TUDA since that time and also reveal how many of the DOE’s (and Mayor’s) claims are simply not supported by the only truly independent measure of NYC public school education currently available.

Monday, December 14, 2009

MTA Finance Committe Approves End to Funding NYC Student MetroCards

If the budget proposal stands as approved today by the MTA Finance Committee, NYC public school students will be required to pay half fares for their subway and bus transportation to and from school beginning next September, and even that 50% discount will be eliminated beginning in September, 2011. Elements of the MTA's proposal were presented on NY1 today and are now being reported in both the NY Daily News and the NY Times City Room blog. The Daily News reports tonight:

Approximately 555,000 students have received free or discounted Metro Cards in a longstanding program that had been fully funded by the state and city until 1995, when they slashed subsidies.

The state - which had been contributing $45 million a year to the program - reduced its share to $6 million this year, transit officials said.

MTA spokesman Jermey Soffin said no other transit authority in the country covers the cost of students traveling to or from school, and MTA Chief Financial Officer Gary Dellaverson said the state and city reduced free MetroCard subsidies in the 1990s, leaving the MTA to absorb more and more of the tab.

This year, "the state for all intent and purposes has eliminated its contribution to school fares...," Dellaverson said. An MTA budget document says, "The MTA can no longer afford to subsidize this free service."

Since the mid-1990s, NYC and NYS contributions to the free fare student MetroCard program had remained flat at a combined (and roughly 50/50 split) $90 million, even as fares have risen 80%, from $1.25 through most of 1995 to $2.25 today.

In 2009, NYS radically reduced its contribution to just $6 million (the declining red area), substantially compounding the growing shortfall already being made up by the MTA (the expanding green area) over recent years as can be seen in the graph shown here (covering 2000 - 2009), taken from today's MTA 2010 Budget -- December Financial Plan Presentation. Interestingly, in the same document, another chart projects savings increasing from $31 million in 2010 (students would receive half-fare MetroCards) to $62 million in 2011 (students receive no MetroCards), followed by a jump to $170 million in each of 2012 and 2013.

If things stand as presented, NYC public school parents will be left to fund their children's daily transit to/from school at an approximate cost of $750 per student per year at current fare levels. The burden will obviously fall hardest on those who can least afford it, the many Title I qualifying families in the city. Students will be less likely to choose schools at a commuting distance from their homes, fare-beating incidents and absence/truancy rates will rise, and petty thefts, gang-related activies, and other such problems will increase as more students resort to walking longer distances for lack of train or bus fare.

From the NY Times City Room blog:
Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, sharply denounced the cuts to student discounts. “The fact that you would jeopardize free MetroCards for children to go to school, and put their parents in harm’s way, is something so inexcusable, I had to come here today and tell you, just stop,” Mr. Stringer said in an angry speech before the committee meeting.

Perhaps there's one ray of sunshine in all this: Mayor Bloomberg will no longer have to put up with so many noisy, rowdy schoolchildren on his daily, "See! I really am in touch with the unwashed masses" morning subway ride to City Hall.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Onion Just Flat-Out Nails It!

The latest print issue of The Onion, New York's (and America's) best print/online satire magazine, includes a "Sports Section" article that absolutely nails the state of NYC and NYS education as well as that of the entire U.S. under NCLB.

Titled "Pittsburgh School District Leads Nation in Ability to Spell 'Roethlisberger,'" the article is fall-on-the-floor, laugh-out-loud hilarious, at least until you realize just had sadly true is the underlying reality that it satirizes. Replace the word "Roethlisberger" with NYS Math and ELA exams, Grades 3-8, and you've got the exact voice of the Tweed/DOE P.R. machine. If I hadn't seen it in The Onion newspaper myself, I'd have thought it came from Gary Babad. Enjoy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

From Big School to Big House

December 7, 2009 (GBN News): Mayor Michael Bloomberg today sharply rejected claims that his planned expansion of the Brooklyn House of Detention takes away money that could otherwise be used for education. In fact, the Mayor revealed a new plan through which local public school students would benefit by sharing space in the newly renovated jail facility.

In one stroke, Mr. Bloomberg appears to be trying to defuse two controversies that he has recently been embroiled in: a conflict with Comptroller William Thompson over approval of funding for the jail renovation; and the prospective closing of William H. Maxwell Vocational High School, which would leave many Brooklyn students without a local school.

The Mayor contends that his plan is a “win-win” for both the Departments of Education and Correction. “The jail gets increased capacity, the students get new space just a 10 minute bus ride from their old school,” he told reporters. “There will be great vocational opportunities on-site like license plate making. And best of all, the facility already has metal detectors to keep the students from bringing in their cell phones.”

However, Mr. Bloomberg’s plan is not without risk. If the students at the new facility fail to perform well on their standardized tests, the entire Brooklyn House of Detention could again be closed down, leaving both students and inmates out in the cold.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The case for keeping Maxwell Vocational HS open

A school that has served countless students since 1951 is on the chopping block, as the mayor’s newest round of school closures descends upon New York City. William H. Maxwell V.H.S. – a career and technical school - that houses majors in medical careers, cosmetology, fashion, and graphic design - is the latest casualty.

It is a school that requires more credits from its students than the average city high school, due to the additional credit hours involved in the majors.

Although successfully overcoming the state’s SURR list status in the past – almost immediately – it was filled beyond capacity, to 2000 students – in a building that was listed to serve 900. The influx of students came from other closed schools, such as Jefferson High School, in the first round of closures that the mayor instituted. It is in this context that the school received an F rating by the mayor’s progress report in 2006. The percentage of special-ed students is currently double that of other high schools at 22%. The school also services ELL students, which comprise 5% of the enrollment.

In the following year, the staff and newly appointed principal managed to obtain a D with a rating just shy of 31 (the cutoff score to obtain a C). Small learning communities were instituted, teachers voted for advisory classes, instituted retesting, and increased tutoring hours. This year, a double digit gain was seen as the school amassed a rating of 43.2. However, the DOE increased the cut off score to 44. Therefore, it was categorized as a D school for the second year in a row. If the scale had not been abruptly changed, the school would have been just shy of getting a B on last year’s scale.

The school had been in the headlines as recently as this summer. In an article about credit recovery in the NY Times, teachers in Maxwell exposed the pressure by the mayor’s DOE to offer kids dozens of credits – seemingly for doing holiday packets of worksheets – with no certified teacher in that field present. Although recovery credits are legal according to Bloomberg’s DOE with hardly any guidelines or restrictions, teachers took exception, and many refused to go along in signing off on these packets, contending that it was the mayor’s version of social promotion and a watering down of education for political gains. In addition, many of the hard working students who attended daily, vocalized the unfairness of these credit “give-aways” to those who had not made the same effort.

The recent announcement of proposed closure by Superintendent Cumberbatch to the staff left many sitting in the auditorium confused and angry. Adding to the confusion was the fact that the DOE awarded performance bonuses to the staff for recent academic gains. See, for example, this chart showing rising graduation rates.

Questions were asked about the seeming randomness of the increased cut off point. Teachers angrily pointed out that the school had recent graduates enrolled in Cornell, NYU, SUNY colleges such as Binghamton and Stony Brook, and a multitude of CUNY colleges. In addition, numerous students currently work in the very fields they majored in while attending Maxwell.

Many of the teachers voiced a feeling of betrayal, after years of instituting every suggested change and initiative brought down by DOE representatives - portfolios, individual goals, diagnostic testing, differentiated learning, and a weekly array of meetings to conference on struggling students – often times ignoring the union guidelines of working through lunch periods and after school hours. This hard work produced a Proficient rating from the New York State Education Department’s quality review.

This anger has transformed into determination, as the staff, students, parents, and past graduates now mobilize to demand that the mayor lay his hands off this proud school. It’s evident that the mayor does not want this round of closures to stir up a backlash of community uproar. Several times during the announcement, the superintendent kept reminding the staff that the open forums were merely a formality that existed because of the new governance laws – that the decision is a foregone conclusion.

These warnings, however, seemed to have failed to pacify the school community. As one teacher noted, maybe it’s a relief to finally know where we stand and know who we are fighting. And even after years of stress, being on the brink of closure, the staff feels reaffirmed that the school and its successes are worth this struggle. At the public forum on Tuesday, Jan. 12th,at 6pm in Maxwell’s auditorium, the school promises to show the mayor what happens when the talents of many voices come together – to contrast the decisions of just one single man.

- the Community of W.H. Maxwell Vocational HS.

If you want to support this school staying open, please contact Seung Ok, teacher at Maxwell, at

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Schools slated for closure -- resulting from the failure of the administration's policies

The DOE announced yesterday that they intend to close four schools, with more such announcements expected in the near future. (The Mayor recently announced he would like to close 10% of all NYC schools over the next four years – which would mean more than 35 a year.) Yet the low performance of these schools signals the ongoing failure of the administration's educational policies.

The schools targeted for closure include William H. Maxwell CTE (Vocational) HS; a school that has been flooded with high needs student for many years. Last year Maxwell was at 94% utilization; not long ago it was the most overcrowded high school in NYC. It has target cap of 1055 – which was raised from 722 originally -- so you can see how overcrowded it really is.

From Inside Schools:

An Oct. 4, 2004 Daily News article by Elizabeth Hays details the severe overcrowding at Maxwell. In the article, Ms. Hays refers to Maxwell as "Sardine High" and notes: "the former all-girls technical school in East New York is the most overcrowded high school in the city, the city Independent Budget Office said in a recent study. In the past three years, enrollment at Maxwell has skyrocketed more than 30%, from 1,341 to 1,757. And that's in a building designed for 722 students."

In many ways Maxwell is emblematic of DOE’s failures – as they have overloaded large high schools, including vocational schools, with the students that none of the small schools would accept– including many uninterested in the vocations that the school specialized in.

It always astounded me that the small schools could get away with not admitting any student who didn’t tour the school and apply, but vocational schools, which require students not only to pass Regents, but to pass exams in specific technical/vocational areas, could be sent students with no interest in those careers. The DOE says that part of their reason for closing the school is its low four-year graduation rate, but vocational schools should probably be judged on a different standard, because of all the extra courses and tests that students have to pass.

I met a teacher from Jane Addams HS in the Bronx who told me that the school was until recently the second highest performing school in that borough, after Bronx Science. Yet the new administration had wrecked his school, he said, by barring them from admissions fairs and ensuring that all the best students would enroll in the new small “New Century” high schools, funded by the Gates foundation. As a result, Addams and many other large Bronx high schools got sent all the kids that nobody else wanted.

As for Maxwell, this year the school had classes in at least twelve subjects at the contractual maximum of 34 students per class (Class sizes supposedly averaged 28.2 – though I don’t trust those numbers.) It shows how little effort the DOE has put in trying to improve these schools before closing them down.

Ironic that DOE says they are intent on trying to start new vocational schools yet if this one is closed, we will have fewer students overall in these programs than before.

Moreover, as the large schools are closed, the same sort of high needs population is sent to other large high schools nearby, overcrowding them and bringing down their performance level, like dominoes falling one by one.

See this report from Policy Studies Associates, which New Visions tried to suppress, and our analysis from November 2004, highlighting the increased pressure on the host or neighboring schools, “as a huge influx of transfers, including many "at risk" and special education students excluded from these schools, flooded other schools nearby.”

This “collateral damage” was recently conclusively shown by the recent report from the New School, “The New Marketplace: How Small-School Reforms and School Choice Have Reshaped New York City's High Schools, ” which points out:

As the city closed large troubled high schools and opened small schools in their place, thousands of students, most of whom had low levels of academic achievement were diverted to the remaining large schools in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. Enrollment increased at three-quarters of those schools, while attendance and graduation rates declined at more than 40 percent of the remaining large schools in those three boroughs.

The DOE to this day continues to deny the damaging effects of their school closure policies, and to this day has not yet devised a process to implement it more effectively.

Also, as a recent report on discharges that I co-authored with Jennifer Jennings reveals, discharge rates spike when a school is closed or phased out– meaning hundreds of students are sent elsewhere or “pushed out”, to GED programs or nowhere at all; students who never have a chance to graduate with a diploma but are not counted as dropouts. Click on this chart, for more details

As to the other three schools slated for closure, they are all smaller schools, recently created under this administration.

They include the Academy of Environmental Science Secondary High School in East Harlem, with lots of classes at 30 or above. Also, Frederick Douglass Academy III in the South Bronx, with middle school classes at 33 – while the schools it was modeled after, FDA I and II, in Manhattan have significantly smaller classes.

KAPPA II middle school in East Harlem is also being closed, has had as many as five principals in five years, as well as classes at 30 students or more. I imagine they probably want the space in these three buildings to house charter schools, or perhaps even newer small schools.

The apparently poor performance of FDA III and Kappa II shows how hard it is to replicate successful schools. How many FDA’s have there been created -- eight or more? And there are nine other Kappas.

In reality, DOE is breeding new small schools each year like rabbits, with no thought of quality control, sustainability, or collateral damage on the system as a whole.

For more on this story, see City to Shut 4 Schools for Poor Performance; More Closings Expected (NY Times); City announces plans to shut four “failing” public schools (GothamSchools ); DOE Puts Four Schools On Performance Chopping Block (NY1); City education officials to close three schools least likely to succeed (News).

Update, 12/05: sure enough, according to the EIS (Educational impact statement), DOE wants to close the Academy of Environmental Sciences to put a new charter school in its place. Check out the public notice. Bet you that school won't have any classes at thirty or above. Comments due Jan. 25.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The "21st century schools" swimming in cash

In today's Daily News, Meredith Kolodner describes how DOE is further undermining the supposed fairness of its "fair student funding" system by awarding lots of extra cash to its new pet project -- the high-tech "21st century" schools.

These schools are receiving increases of up to 31% of their budgets to hire more teachers and equipment, while other schools, including those with many more "high needs" students, are having to deal with big budget cuts and are laying off teachers and aides. See for example, this report from WNYC, about what layoffs one school in Brooklyn is facing.

As we earlier pointed out on the NYC education list serv , Tweed is hiring lots of extra staff to oversee the expansion of the highly promoted "School of One", which is part of the 21st century school project. In hiring ads, they say they are "looking to add several new team members to support this expansion" -- despite the supposed administrative hiring freeze. Presumably , the salaries of these "team members" are not even counted in the spending spree described in today's paper.

Like charter schools, which are not subject to "fair student funding" and receive lots of hidden subsidies and extra space, as with the new small schools , DOE likes to provide extra support and privileges to certain schools; and then gleefully point out how much better they are doing. Indeed, despite the PR spin, inequities have flourished under this administration.

Tying tenure to test scores: not ready for prime time

Lots of interesting letters to the Times today, deploring the Mayor's proposal to base tenure decisions on test scores. [see “Mayor to Link Teacher Tenure to Test Scores” ]

In the same vein, Aaron Pallas has a column in Gotham schools, Teacher Education in New York State: A skoolboy’s-Eye View, in which he lucidly explains how the evaluation of teachers based on value-added student test scores is not ready for prime time. Pallas recently appeared on a panel at Teachers College with David Steiner, new NY Commissioner of State Education, (photo to the right), and Merryl Tisch, head of the Board of Regents. (You can see a webcast of this event here.)

In his column, Pallas urges Steiner and Tisch to start working on improving the state exams, which have gotten radically easier over time, before beginning to consider a system that would base decision-making on their results. He also points out how the long-standing practice of having high schools score their own Regents exams is a system ripe for abuse.

As part of the state's "Race to the Top" proposal, Commissioner Steiner recently also proposed that they expand the awarding of teaching degrees -- allowing providers other than institutions of higher learning to offer teacher preparation programs, with the Board of Regents granting Master’s degrees to candidates who "graduate" from these programs.

There is so much lacking in terms of the state's current oversight -- of district spending practices, of cheating, of "credit recovery", of the proper reporting of graduation rates, of whether schools are even providing the minimal services to kids that they are entitled to by law.

Given the awful mess at State Ed which Steiner has not yet begun to clean up, I would hate to see him allow further abuses to occur by deregulating the awarding of teaching degrees -- which could easily make a teaching certificate as meaningless as passing the Regents exam is now.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Meeting in the Bronx on school overcrowding: what can be done?

On Dec. 14, Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. is hosting a meeting about the school overcrowding crisis , rising class sizes, and what can be done about this.

It's at 6 PM at the Bronx Borough Hall. The flyer is to the right; just click on it to enlarge.

Please come! We will all have to work together to solve this critical problem.

Imposters Crash White House Meeting

November 30, 2009 (GBN News): The couple who crashed a state dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the other night were not the only recent White House imposters. Despite heavy security, two men posing as “educational reformers” somehow not only got into the White House, but made it as far as the Oval Office for a meeting with President Obama. It is unclear just how the two pulled off the scam, but sources at the White House told GBN News that it may have been an “inside job”. Apparently the men, going by the names Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich, were personally vouched for by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

What was particularly troubling, the sources said, was that the President seems to have been warned about the two characters as early as the transition. The person who headed up his educational transition team, Linda Darling-Hammond, had reportedly cautioned the President that the sort of reforms championed by Sharpton and Gingrich were bogus. Ironically, Ms. Darling-Hammond had herself been considered for Education Secretary. Had she, and not Mr. Duncan, been chosen, it is likely that the two hucksters, and others of their ilk such as Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, would never have been permitted near the White House.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Yet Another Nail in the NYS Regents Exam Coffin

On November 19, the Office of the NY State Comptroller released a report of its findings from an audit of local district scoring of high school Regents exams. The results, while not surprising to those closest to high school education in NY State, was nevertheless stunning in its confirmation of just how badly skewed the entire Regents examination system has become. Equally startling was the mainstream press’s utter failure to note the findings, virtually all of which agreed with by the Regents themselves. (Note: only Maura Walz at the Gotham Schools website seems to have reported on this so far.)

The audit team randomly selected 200 NY State high schools and, using a team of experienced high school teachers, rescored nine non-multiple-choice questions on one 2005 subject area exam (identified only as Exam A) and thirteen non-multiple-choice questions on another 2005 subject area exam (Exam B). In total, the Review team rescored almost 2,400 Exam A papers and over 3,200 Exam B papers, looking only at questions where local school exam graders has discretion over how many points to award their students’ answers. Their findings in summary:

“…a significant tendency for local school districts to award full credit on questions requiring scorer judgment even when the exam answers were vague, incomplete, inaccurate, or insufficiently detailed.”

That sentence euphemistically recaps the much more disturbing details of their findings:

1. For Exam B, the locally reported total scores of the thirteen questions were higher than the Review Team’s re-scored total on 80% of the examination papers reviewed (totals were the same on 15% of the papers).

2. For Exam A, the locally reported total scores on the nine questions were higher than the Review Team’s re-scored total on 58% of the examination papers reviewed (totals were the same on 32% of the papers).

3. For Exam B, the locally reported total scores were at least three raw score points higher (or lower) on 34% of the exam papers re-scored by the Review Team. Three raw score points can easily scale to ten or more points on the student’s final, converted score. While not detailed in the report, one can well imagine that “bubble students’” tests were most prone to this higher level of score inflation to ensure they passed the raw score hurdle to receive a converted score of 65 or more.

4. For Exam A, the locally reported total scores were at least three raw score points higher (or lower) on 17% of the exam papers re-scored by the Review Team.

5. Exam B contained two five-point essay questions. The locally reported scores on these two questions were higher (or lower) than the Review Team’s re-scoring in 47% and 43%, respectively, of the exam papers reviewed.

6. Eighteen of 192 selected schools failed altogether to submit their requested Exam A papers, and 20 of 205 did not submit their Exam B papers. Even the Comptroller’s audit report suggests that these compliance failures might be attempts, as they put it, “to avoid scrutiny.”

7. Review of SED’s procedures for follow-up on privately-lodged complaints of scoring fraud or irregularity found no evidence that twelve of them had ever been investigated. Thus, even an honest teacher who whistle-blows on scoring fraud has virtually no guarantee that SED will conduct any investigation whatsoever. The door for cheating, fraud, or just looking the other way on exam grading is wide open and seemingly encouraged by SED’s actions and lack thereof.

Combine this pattern of fraudulently inflated grading with the persistent dumbing down of Regents exams and the concomitant lowering of the raw score needed for a passing scaled score grade, and the end result is an examination system that is utterly meaningless as a measure of knowledge or understanding. Even worse, as the Comptroller’s report makes clear, SED has failed completely to follow up on any of these issues, even having in hand another report from 2003/2004 detailing almost exactly the same problems.

What has become clear in the past five or six years (noticeably since the advent of NCLB), is that the NY State Regents examination system, once a moderately respectable measure of academic achievement, is now broken almost beyond repair. As long as the numbers are up, everyone rests easy; nobody seems to care that they are meaningless, as witnessed by the high levels of remediation required of first-year college student products of our state education system. As usual, the losers in this breakdown are the students and their sadly unaware parents.

It seems clear as well that the time has come for a major investigation and overhaul of SED and the Regents system. Governor Paterson and others in Albany, when will you wake up and start doing what’s right for the children in your state?

Our Children are more than test scores, Part 3: What Bloomberg, Duncan and Klein should learn from the Chinese

Today, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would order Joel Klein to tie all teacher tenure decisions to student test scores. Whether this violates state law and/or the union contract is a matter for others to determine.

What I can say is that his decision is the logical outgrowth of the rigid, unreliable and damaging accountability system that he and Klein have imposed on our schools, and that the Obama administration is now attempting to foist on the nation.

Check out Yong Zhao’s critique of the US Dept. of Education's “Race to the Top” program, and its attempt to force states to measure success and reward teachers on the basis of standardized test scores:

I have been reading through the 775-page final notice document to be published in the Federal Register on November 18, 2009. It includes the final versions of application guidelines, selection criteria and priorities for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund (RTT), the largest education grant in U.S. history.

I can guess from news reports, op-ed pieces, and blog posts that many states are working hard to prepare their applications. From my reading of the criteria, I think the following are the winning strategies and actions to include in the application, although they may be inconsistent with research findings or common sense.

Suggestion #1: Stop paying teachers and principals a salary. Instead pay teachers and principals on a per standardized test point basis each day. At the end of each school day, students should be tested using a standardized test, what a teacher and principal is paid is calculated at the end of the day based on the growth of the student, i.e., how much has the student improved over the previous day. This is true accountability and will for sure keep teachers and principals on their toes! ….

Suggestion #2: Remove all “non-core” academic activities and courses and reduce all teaching to math and reading because what the Secretary wants is “increasing student achievement in (at a minimum) reading/language arts and mathematics, as reported by the NAEP and the assessments required under the ESEA” … Actually, no need to teach them these subjects, just teaching them how to pass the tests may be even more effective.

For his other (clearly ironic) suggestions, check out Over the Top: Winning Strategies for the Race to the Top Fund.

Zhao is a Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University, and his perspective is particularly interesting, as he was raised in China and once taught there. See what he says in another posting about what the Chinese government has learned from its top-down approach – and what America should learn from China's self-acknowledged mistakes:

China is determined to reform its education to cultivate a diversity of talents and creativity. China has recognized and suffered from the damaging effects of standardized testing and has been trying very hard to move away from standards. If America or any other nation wants to worry about China, it is its determination and focus on creativity and talents, not its test scores.
Once standardized test scores become an accepted way to judge the potential and value of a child, the performance of a teacher, and the quality of school, it is very difficult to change. We are already seeing signs of this in the U.S., thanks to all the education reformers who want to make Americans “globally competitive.”

Zhao is author of Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, and was recently on the Brian Lehrer show, Comparing Education in China to the U.S. Here is an excerpt from his book:

Clearly, American education has been moving toward authoritarianism, letting the government dictate what and how students should learn and what schools should teach. This movement has been fueled mostly through fear—fear of threats from the Soviets, the Germans, the Japanese, the Koreans, the Chinese, and the Indians. The public, as any animal under threat would, has sought and accepted the action of a protector—the government.

Let's hope that Americans reject this reflexive, damaging vision of education, and take a closer look at the potential consequences before we let our government turn our public schools into those like China's.
See also this Huffington Post column about how like China, South Korea is trying to move away from a system based solely on standardized test scores.

Turkey Is As Turkey Does

November 25, 2009 (GBN News): NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein narrowly escaped what could have been a very embarrassing fate last Saturday. Mr. Klein was traveling through Suffolk County on his way to visit friends in the Hamptons when a hunter accidentally took a shot at him.

The hunter, Samuel Cranbog of Huntington Station, was participating in the annual Long Island Turkey Hunt when the incident occurred. When reached for comment, Mr. Cranbog was apologetic but defended his actions as an honest mistake. “After all,” he told reporters, “If it looks like a turkey, sounds like a turkey, and acts like a turkey, one has every reason to believe that it is a turkey.”

Still, Mr. Cranbog was relieved that his shot missed its target. Noting that his wife is a NY City schoolteacher, he said, “If I bagged a turkey like that, she’d never let me bring it into the house.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another day, another broken promise...

Guess what? the DOE has broken yet another promise -- this time to release the class size data by November 23.

See this November 18 article from Gotham schools in which educrats said class sizes would be reported to the City Council by that date -- which was yesterday. I checked with the City Council today and they have received nada.

They already missed the legal deadline of November 15. Indeed, this is the third year in a row they have missed the deadline.
Though no one should be surprised. Surely it will suit their purposes to suppress what is likely to be very bad news by releasing the info right before Thanksgiving...or perhaps over the Thanksgiving break.

I wish I had a dollar for every time these guys failed to follow through. I would be nearly as rich as Bloomberg.

Of course, the class size isn't likely to be fully reliable even when it is released, because of the fundamentally flawed reporting process. But that's another story...

A letter to Tom Toch about high school choice

Hey Tom, I read your recent article in PDK lauding high school choice. You write that the example of NYC shows that high school choice can "harness the power of the marketplace to better serve students’ diverse educational interests and needs and to stimulate improvement through competition for students on a wide scale."

As a NYC parent, I can tell you that this is a highly idealized picture of what actually occurs. The high school admissions process is a nightmare for most parents (and students); even worse than the college admissions process. And your article has some egregious errors.
You write that that “By 2009, some 95% of students won places at one of their top five high schools, and city officials had to assign only 791 students to schools.”
Actually, there were about 7500 students in 2009 -- 16% of the total-- who didn’t get into any of their top twelve choices.

That’s thousands of kids who end up being forced to attend failing schools, and/or schools miles from their homes, and/or schools that specialize in areas that don’t interest them at all. Another 7,000 or so students are automatically assigned to high schools because they show up too late to apply.
As this New School report points out, many of our students are routinely assigned to vocational schools to study trades that they have no interest in pursuing, though they have to pass exams in these specialized areas to graduate.

You would also be amazed at how low the quality of many of our high schools. More than half of our students attend severely overcrowded schools, most of them sitting in classes of thirty or larger, thousands in trailers. Many students travel an hour or more each way to school. As a result, about 40 percent students who enter high school at grade level or near grade level fail to graduate after four years.

And some of the most overcrowded schools are the lowest performing, flooded with high-needs students no one wants, especially special ed and ELL students. Indeed, inequities have flourished under this system of “school choice”.
Moreover, under the current system it has become nearly impossible for students to transfer out of the high school to which they ’ve been assigned – even they identify another school where the principal is willing to take them . You have to be practically mugged first.

This is one of the reasons our dropout and discharge rates are so high . In fact, the discharge rate for students in their first year of high school has doubled under this system of high school "choice", though none of these students counted as dropouts.

You are lucky you don’t have a child who attends public high school in NYC. We would all rather live someplace where our kids could automatically attend a decent neighborhood high school.
Yours, Leonie Haimson, public school parent

Our children are more than test scores, part 2

On the front page of today's Times is one of those iconic stories that epitomizes the system under Bloomberg and Klein: Francisco Hernandez Jr., a 13-year-old Brooklyn boy with Asperger’s wandered alone in the New York subway system for days, after he had been scolded at school for not concentrating.

Despite desperate searches by his parents , it took eleven days before the police tracked him down, dirty and exhausted, on the D train at Coney Island. What does this sad story have to do with the policies of this administration?

“Though doctors had recommended that Francisco be placed in a small school for children with learning disorders, she said, officials at his school told [his mother] he was testing fine and did not need to be transferred."

Like Kelly Sinisgalli, the 4th grade girl who was barred this fall by her principal from taking dance class and consigned to more test prep because she had only scored a “low 3” on her state exams– meaning at grade level –this sort of lunacy is the consequence of the rigid accountability system that Bloomberg and Klein have imposed, and that the Billionaire's boys club of Gates and Broad, and the Obama administration is trying to impose on the nation.

Following massive publicity, and after she had aced some practice tests, Kelly’s principal finally relented and allowed her to return to dance class, yet the essential situation remains the same.

Whether it’s a 4th grade public school student from Queens who is thought to be scoring poorly, or a thirteen year old boy with Asperger’s from Brooklyn who is thought to be scoring well, their fate is increasingly determined by their test scores, because test scores are all that matters to those running the system.

Check out this moving video from a NYC teacher about what's happening in our schools, Our kids are more than test scores.

What Is Our Children Learning from Ersatz Education Experts?

We learn from the 2mmnewsletter (Nov. 23, 2009) that entrepreneur Robert Compton has bootstrapped his investment in the film 2 Million Minutes (which, he claims, "reveal[ed]' the decline in American education"!) into a new career/venture as a “global education expert.” The newly-launched 2mm website features his prescriptions for an educationally competitive America, endorsed by notable educators Al Sharpton, Newt Gingrich and former Intel CEO Craig Barrett, and listed in a Children for Change petition that so far has garnered a whopping 53 signatures. Compton’s bright new ideas are the usual mix of “assessment and accountability” measures, pay-for-performance, and limitless expansion of charter schools and of teaching by TFA recruits and private-sector professionals; details are, of course, available by clicking the “Shop my store” tab. School systems will also no doubt be shopping—largely without any public scrutiny--for software and other products sold by companies in which Mr. Compton has an interest.

Let’s not quibble about “global”—the man has at least been to India (four times, he tells us, and “…the sights and sounds are familiar and comforting to [him] now.”). (See “call me Bob” above (with mustache) looking very comfortable indeed at the Taj Mahal). But, you might ask, what qualifies Compton as an “expert” in the field of education?

According to his biography on, he is or has been an “IBM Systems Engineer, Professional Venture Capitalist, Angel Investor, President/COO of NYSE company, Entrepreneur and Filmmaker”; and “active in over 30 businesses including software, telecommunication services, healthcare services and medical devices.” One of those businesses is Indian Math Online, an on-line learning program in which children “go through a virtuos [sic.!] cycle of mastering mathematics.” They clearly won’t be mastering English from Mr. Compton: the same document informs us that “How a student spends their Two Million Minutes…….. will effect their economic prospects for the rest of their lives. How a society’s teenagers spend their Two Million Minutes collectively will effect their country’s economic prospects.”

Mr. Compton does have an MBA from Harvard (curiously, so did another notable mangler of the English language, G.W. Bush). His biography also lists an “honorary doctorate” from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology—a remarkable achievement given that Rose-Hulman is an exclusively undergraduate institution. Upon receiving his honorary degree, Compton gave a speech entitled “Fortes Fortuna Juvat (Fortune Favors the Bold)." Actually, in the world of US “education reform,” fortune favors the shameless self-promoting huckster.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gates Foundation Proclamation Directed at New York

EdWeek has a copy of the proclamation issued by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation in September. It describes which states would be helped by the Foundation to secure additional federal funding for education in the form of Race to the Top grants. Some may recall with unease the last time the Gates Foundation helped us here in NYC. That was the small schools movement where we invested $800 million in capital funds to restructure large schools into small ones only to be told later by Gates that the idea didn't really work.

This time around we will not be getting such generous help from Gates. Apparently, we failed to obey some number of his eight new commandments for how to run our schools. New York is singled out in particular for failing in the area of "linking student and teacher data". That's a bit hard to fathom. We use standardized test data to make so many decisions: assign letter grades to schools, award bonuses to teachers, award bonuses to principals, decide which kids get into which elementary, middle and high schools, which kids get promoted to the next grade or held back, which schools get closed and replaced with charter schools, etc. But it's not nearly enough for the Gates Foundation.

As we've written before, Race to the Top offers an intellectually meager list of policy recommendations. It's welcome news we won't be getting any help to implement even more standardized testing or punitive closures of struggling schools.

Update: Gates Foundation emissaries visit with reform-minded Gotham Schools to provide the latest information on Gates intentions.