Tuesday, March 31, 2009
In a true democracy, legislation becomes law after vigorous debate by well-informed parties who reach agreement for the betterment of the public. In Albany, it’s different. Here, laws — and the state budget — are crafted behind closed doors by small groups of pols who’ve spent quality time with lobbyists and amassed large quantities of campaign checks from powerful interests. With a few rare exceptions, “debate” means nothing because the mere fact a bill makes it to the floor guarantees its passage. Real decisions on what major bills move are made in secret by the leadership of the political party that happens to be in power. The majority parties in both houses control the agenda, and the leaders don’t allow bills to come up for a vote they don’t want passed.
Now, close your mental eyes and read this again, but replace every reference to laws, Albany, and politicians or political parties with school policies, NYC DOE, and Chancellor Klein. Amazingly, the shoe fits perfectly!
So, the same newspaper that today publishes an article headlined "State of Shame" excoriating the NY State Legislature for its undemocratic and secretive behavior sees absolutely no irony (or error) in their non-stop, feverish fawning and slavish shilling for precisely the same sorts of actions and behaviors by Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein under their current mayoral dictatorship (er-r-r, control) of the city's public schools. The Daily News either has the world's biggest blind spot or they've sold their souls for a Bloomberg billion or two. Whichever the case, the level of cynicism and hypocrisy here is absolutely stunning, simply breathtaking. Sad to see a major metropolitan newspaper fall to its own two-faced "State of Shame," where only one of those faces -- the wrong one -- is apparently able to see itself in the mirror.
Monday, March 30, 2009
“The president of the pro-business Partnership for
“[Comptroller] Thompson also echoed critics of mayoral control in calling for more channels for parental participation, an independent body to audit data and more power for local education councils. “The current administration has sought to avoid debate and public scrutiny,” Mr. Thompson said, “while fundamental decisions regarding education reform have been made by executives with very little education background.”
As the day progressed, city officials sparred with lawmakers over test scores, class size, test preparation and no-bid contracts. Parents booed, hissed and applauded, flashing signs and passing out pamphlets… Laura Acosta, an organizer for
“Hundreds of parents and community leaders turned out for the last state Assembly hearing about mayoral control over city schools. …Patricia Connelly, of a group called the Parent Commission, told lawmakers the Department of Education routinely makes decisions about opening and closing schools without community involvement. CONNELLY: The parent commission rejects the condescending autocracy that currently masquerades as parent engagement. …: Connelly's group called for a partnership with the mayor, by diluting his power over an existing panel on education policy.”- WNYC radio, March 21, 2009
“The strong thrust of Friday’s hearing, the last of five that have taken Assembly members on a tour through the boroughs, was that lawmakers are not happy with the system they created. Some have become even less happy during the hearings in every borough over the last few months… Lawmakers repeatedly raised concerns that charter schools are causing a “two-tiered system” where some students get excellent educations while others languish in failing schools.” – Gotham Schools, March 23, 2009
About recent poll results
“Chancellor Klein’s approval rating continues to fall – 7 points in the last month alone.
“One person who is not particularly popular, though, is Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, who is Mr. Bloomberg’s point man on the issue of mayoral control of the schools. Voters approve his job performance by 37 percent to 35 percent, but that figure has slipped several percentage points over the last few months.” – NY Times City Room, March 24, 2009
“Approval for how Mayor Bloomberg is handling the public schools has also dropped, to 47 percent from 50 percent a month ago, giving him the lowest approval rating on his education efforts since May 2003. Just 46 percent of New Yorkers said they thought the mayor’s takeover of the public schools has been a success. Public school parents rated the mayor the worst: Just 41 percent of them said they approved of the job he’s doing, and 54 percent said they disapproved.” – Gotham Schools, March 24, 2009
“When voters were asked if the mayor should share power over the schools with the City Council… 53 percent support joint authority, and 37 percent don't...”-New York Post, March 25, 2009
About DOE spending practices
“A cost-cutting plan to close city day-care center classrooms will actually cost taxpayers almost $7 million, according to insiders and a Daily News analysis…. insiders say the average cost to the city for each kindergartner in public school is about $4,000. Tack on $2,800 apiece for after-school care, and the tab for 3,200 kids comes to $21.7 million. …
Evelyn Segura's 4-year-old daughter Ashley Nicole Triz will have to leave the Williamsbridge NAACP day care in the
“City Councilman Bill DeBlasio released a report accusing the education department of wasteful spending, especially on testing.... DEBLASIO: We're going far beyond the federal requirements and the basics and spending a lot more on additional testing and pre-testing that we don't need in the middle of a fiscal crisis…. DeBlasio singled out an $80 million computer network for tracking data, and more than $20 million a year in benchmark testing. He also complained about the department's $1.3 million communications budget.” .- WNYC radio, March 26, 2009
About 2,000 teaching jobs could be cut if the state denies the city its fair share of federal stimulus funding, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein warned Thursday….Teachers union chief Randi Weingarten railed against the suggestion that cutting teachers and school staff is a necessary evil. "We need to cut things that ... aren't core," she said. – Daily News, March 27, 2009
On Charter schools and the lack of community input on their siting
The biggest uproar has been sparked by DOE's aggressive policy of putting new charters in existing public schools without seeking parent approval. "It's the same in every neighborhood," said Monica Major, president of the Community Education Council in District 11 in the Bronx. "The DOE just tells you they're putting a new charter in your building and you have to force them to even have a conversation about it." ….
Public school parent leaders say they don't oppose charters. They just want the DOE to abide by state law and consider the views of the local Community Education Councils, the successors to the old community school districts, before making those decisions. "They continually create this atmosphere of animosity toward parents," Major said. That's why she joined the Parent Commission on School Governance, a volunteer group that just released a proposal to sharply curb mayoral control of the schools. -- Daily News, March 24, 2009
The United Federation of Teachers and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday charging that the city’s Department of Education violated state law by moving to replace traditional public schools with charter schools without proper consultation of neighborhood school boards….The lawsuit accuses the department of “utilizing its powers over school creation to alter attendance zones unilaterally without the consent or involvement of the people the community school serves,” and adds that it “continues to act by fiat.”…
Since the mayoral takeover, the local school boards have declined in influence, with zoning among their few remaining powers. “This is our last shred of authority,” noted Jennifer Freeman, a member of the education council that represents much of
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson, and Paul also answer questions from the audience, about who will make the final decision on Mayoral control, charter schools, and other issues.
Only two themes have been consistent through the constant reorganizations and permutations of the Bloomberg/Klein agenda: a persistent disregard for the law, and a continual refusal to allow parents to be involved in decisionmaking at the school, district or citywide levels.
Diane was in peak form, talking about how the Bloomberg version of Mayoral control is unlike any in NYC's history, how there's no accountability in the current system, and how the administration's claims of improved achievement results are dubious at best.
Well, there’s a new Mayoral control troll in town named “Abby,” who on March 24 wrote on the WNYC blog:
When the Mayor and the government were not involved in our education system, NYC schools failed our students. To ensure education is a top priority, we must continue to make our leaders responsible for its success. People who believe the Mayor has too much control, are not considering the growing number of schools and students who succeeding.
On the same day, "Abby" left her comments on Gotham Schools– saying that the Mayor has allowed one hundred charter schools to open, and if only we maintained Mayoral control, “NYC will eventually reach a point where all students are receiving a quality education” (presumably through the further multiplication of charter schools).
And then on March 26, she was at it again on Gotham Schools, saying that it's “time to put petty bickering and politics aside and make students and education the focus” by continuing Mayoral control. (No matter that the Mayor and Klein are the ones who engage in non-stop political spin, and spend precious taxpayer money to try to keep their chokehold on our schools.)
I was feeling a little suspicious of this Abby, even though she identified herself as a “citizen” and didn’t link to any organizational website. Paid representatives of
Sure enough, a few days ago, someone from Learn NY named Abby Sugrue sent around an email to parents, including several on our NYC education news list serv who had never signed up with the organization, bragging that in a recent article about the Assembly hearings on school governance, “The New York Times called our supporters and coalition a "heavy weight parent group"!
Clearly, if Mayoral control trolls are trolling for emails among our subscribers, a known hotbed of parent activists, acutely aware of the damaging effects of mayoral autocracy on our schools, they must getting desperate.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Under the plan, each student in grades K through 12 will be required to stay at home for one school day a week. Spread over the entire school system, this will enable the DOE to save money by consolidating classes and excessing hundreds of teachers.
In announcing the plan, Chancellor Klein assured parents that children will not miss any important educational instruction. “While children may have to forego some of the non-essential subjects like art, social studies and science, we can guarantee that no child will do without reading and math test prep, and their standardized test scores will not suffer as a result of the furloughs.”
Critics immediately pounced on the plan, calling it a violation of state education law. However, the Chancellor said that the furloughs will technically be termed “suspensions”, and thus are totally legal. “We know all these kids carry cell phones in school every day,” Mr. Klein said. “That’s a clear violation of DOE policy, so now whenever we need to furlough students, we’ll just suspend them for posession of cell phones.”
The Chancellor also sought to reassure public school parents that they do have alternatives. Because of the federal stimulus package, Mr. Klein pointed out, massive infusions of money will be available for charter schools, and thus those schools will be exempt from the furloughs. “All they have to do is apply to charter schools,” he said, “and their kids won’t miss a day.”
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
After screwing up our schools, the Gates foundation now proceeds to spread its tentacles into the US Dept. of Education; where Arne Duncan, armed with a $5 billion slush fund to push the agenda of the Billionaire boy’s club agenda of more charter schools and merit pay; with KIPP, Kopp and Klein joining the advisory board of the Broad foundation to further their hostile takeover of public education, Diane asks the very timely question, Will Public Education Survive the Embrace of Big Money?
Despite his recent charm offensive, all the millions being spent on ads by the Fund for Public Schools and doled out to community groups and churches by Learn NY, and all the other efforts being made by DOE, Bloomberg, and his billionaire buddies to control the public debate about the results of their chokehold over the public schools, Chancellor Klein’s approval rating continues to fall – 7 points in the last month alone.
Disapprove 35 24 35 39 28 42 37
DK/NA 28 28 28 27 30 24 29
Disapprove 35 36 29 39 38 29 40
DK/NA 30 26 32 26 23 28 27
TREND: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Joel Klein is handling his job as New York City Schools Chancellor?
Mar 24 Feb 24 Jan 27 Nov 25 Oct 3 Feb 26 Mar 15
2009 2009 2009 2008 2008 2003 2007
Disapprove 35 36 36 35 38 27 43
DK/NA 28 20 21 22 20 28 24
“ The combination of overcrowded classrooms in neighborhoods newly inundated with young children, a recession that is causing some families to rethink expensive private schools, and a new citywide admissions process that requires people to sign up for kindergarten earlier has spread fear of lotteries and rejections across playgrounds and online discussion groups.”
“…newly inundated with young children?” Not exactly.
Though the crisis is clearly worsening, many of these schools have been overcrowded for years. In 2006-7, PS 290 was already at 155% capacity, according to the DOE's "Blue Book." At PS 6, class sizes in Kindergarten reached 28 this fall, and the school was forced to convert their only art room to an extra classroom.
Despite these clear warning signs, the DOE has refused to build, expand or lease any new elementary schools on the
Parent leaders and elected officials have been pressing DOE officials for many years to create a new school to relieve overcrowding at all the neighborhood schools – which so far, they have refused to do. Instead, DOE has proposed creating five new Kindergarten classes, to be inserted into the basement of Wagner middle school next fall – presumably to be moved elsewhere, to a location unknown, the year after. And this is what
Sunday, March 22, 2009
There was a long line outside the
Once inside, there seemed to be an unbridgeable chasm between supporters and opponents of mayoral control. But upon examination, there were few who didn't support greater checks and balances on the powers of the mayor and chancellor and increased parent input.
Comptroller William Thompson and a representative from Borough President Marty Markowitz started off the hearing by declaring themselves strong supporters of mayoral control. But having made that statement, each followed with recommendations that were similar to—if much weaker than—those of the Parent Commission on School Governance and Mayoral Control; for example, to support a more independent school board, with members with fixed terms to replace the current Panel on Educational Policy, stronger roles for Community District Education Councils (CDECs), and an independent body to audit test scores and graduation rates.
Thompson proposed a model like that currently used in
The EBC spokesperson, Rev. David Brawley, testified to the improvements in the schools in his community that he said were brought by mayoral control. But, when pressed for what changes he would like to see, he suggested an independent parent advocacy center, similar to the Parent Commission's proposal for an Independent Parent Organization (IPO) and affiliated
A number of sincere speakers from charter schools testified about the educational opportunities these schools offered students who would otherwise languish in their neighborhood public schools. But none of them asked why these opportunities, including smaller classes, are only available in charter schools and not in our regular public schools, or even why continuing mayoral control is necessary for these programs to continue. By pitting charter school parents against opponents of mayoral control, the DOE has cleverly divided parents into two camps that are fighting each other instead of an administration that refuses to provide a quality education to all NYC public school children.
As a representative of the Citywide Council on Special Education, Parent Commission member Patricia Connelly spoke early, to great effect. After describing the especially dismal situation that exists for students with special needs and the lack of a voice for parents of these children, she also described how the DOE routinely makes decisions about opening and closing schools without community involvement. "The Parent Commission rejects the condescending autocracy that currently masquerades as parent engagement," she stated.
A number of other speakers referenced the Parent Commission's recommendations, including several CDEC members. By the time our panel got a chance to speak at 6:30 PM, we were rushed a bit, but other members of the Parent Commission had already had a chance to fully present our proposals in the
As this was the first of any of the five Assembly hearings I had attended, I was most interested to watch the various members of the Assembly Education Committee in action.. They spent a huge amount of time fiercely questioning the speakers from the Department of Education, including Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott; Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning Marcia Lyles, Eric Nadelstern, Chief Schools Officer; Deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf; James Liebman, Chief Accountability Officer, and Martine Guerrier, Chief Family Engagement officer. Even though many of the DOE officials had clearly been prepared in advance (and Cerf carried a thick white binder entitled “Briefing Book” on his lap), they seemed strangely unprepared for many of the specific questions asked.
For example, Hakeem Jeffries asked for the black male graduation rate—a figure the DOE had not include in their testimony and that none of them appeared able to provide, even though graduation rates was supposed to be the focus of their testimony. Jeffries himself supplied the shocking figure of 32%.
Alan Maisel asked how many principals had been trained, to what effect , and at what cost by the
Nick Perry called the controversial practice of “credit recovery” the “dirty little secret” of schools, in which students who otherwise failed their courses could “catch up” by attending a few weekend sessions. Hakeem Jeffries followed up by asking DOE officials how many students graduate from high school as a result of credit recovery. Nadelstern said that the number of students benefiting from this policy was “impossible to calculate,” but claimed that the practice was long-standing.
Deputy Mayor Walcott made the unconvincing argument that though they might not have all the data available, at least with Mayoral control, “you know where to get the answers”(!!) Several legislators talked about how unresponsive the DOE had been in keeping them informed. Michael Benedetto complained that an elementary school in his district that he had once attended was being closed and turned into a charter school with little or no advance warning. Nick Perry recounted how he had tried to get Martine Guerrier to return his phone calls to no avail.
Jim Brennan questioned DOE claims of achievements that had actually started before their tenure (he has released a report on this subject). Mark Weprin lit into the DOE for appearing to deny the extent of test prep occurring in the schools, instead of true teaching.
Daniel O'Donnell described the letter grades schools receive on their Progress reports by the Yiddish word “fakakta ,” saying that no parent believes them. He asked why DOE was not following the law by failing to establish an “audit committee”– as had all other school districts throughout the state. He questioned why charter schools are not educating their fair share of special needs students or English Language Learners (and he returned to this question with every charter school provider who testified).
Chair Cathy Nolan expressed her understanding, as a public school parent herself, of how the DOE's parent surveys were constructed to manipulate a favorable response, and ended the DOE questioning with a comment on how the administration appears to be creating a “two tier” system that “smacks of triage,” allowing charter schools to provide smaller classes, while refusing to allow our regular public schools to do the same.
It seems clear that the Education Committee is prepared to make major changes in school governance, even if mayoral control is not rejected outright. Mark Weprin said that the only question was what changes they would recommend. Of course, how this will play out in the Senate and with the Governor is yet to be seen.
When I left at 7:00 pm, a large and vocal contingent from the Campaign for Better Schools had recently arrived. With only an hour left in the hearings, less than half of the remaining 50 or so people who had signed up to testify—largely parents and teachers—had yet had a chance to speak. Clearly, many parents are fed up and wanted to take advantage of the rare opportunity of these hearings to have their voices heard, especially as the legislators appeared interested in what they had to say. This was a refreshing contrast to the hearings held by the administration, in which they make it very clear that could care less what we parents think. --- Ellen Bilofsky
Check out the news stories about the hearings here: A Diverse Set of Voices Struggles to Be Heard on School Control (NY Times);State Assembly Holds Final Hearing on Mayoral Control of Schools (WNYC radio); Thompson Calls For Changes To Mayor-Controlled Schools (NY1); City Controller William Thompson's control issue (Daily News); Thompson: Let mayor keep school control, but limit his options (Gotham Schools)
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Yet Juan’s column in the print edition of the Daily News is much longer than the version online, and cites the recommendations of the Parent Commission on School Governance, the fact that parents would like the Mayor to obey the law and consider the views of Community Education Councils when siting new charter schools, and the opposition of Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell and other legislators towards renewing Mayoral control when the current governance system sunsets in June. Yet all this is missing from the web version.
Was this radical shortening of the column another instance in which the Daily News editors are trying to censor the news? Similar to the recent episode when, unbeknownst to the reporter, the top editors axed her article about the personal wealth of the top officials at
As is well known, the Daily News’ publisher, Mort Zuckerman, sits on the Fund for Public Schools, along with Rupert Murdoch’s wife. The Fund for Public School has spent millions on PR for the extension of Mayoral control. Zuckerman is also a close ally of the Chancellor and the Mayor, and editorials in the News on this issue, as well as those in the New York Post read as though they were dictated straight from City Hall.
Here is the section of Juan’s column that appeared in print and yet was eliminated from the online version:
“They continually create this atmosphere of animosity towards parents,” [Monica] Major said. That’s why she joined the Parent Commission on School Governance, a volunteer group that just released a proposal to sharply curb mayoral control of the schools.
Manhattan Assemblymen Daniel O’Donnell, who used to be a supporter of mayoral control, has been amazed at the widespread discontent parents have expressed at school governance hearings in all the boroughs.
“If I had to vote today, I would vote against mayoral control,” O’Donnell said. “That should trouble them [Bloomberg and Klein] because many of my colleagues in the Assembly have similar feelings.”