Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Overcrowding rally on May 6: please come!

There will be a rally/press conference next week to protest school overcrowding and the hundreds of Kindergarten students who have been placed on waiting lists for next fall.

This administration has been criminally negligent in failing to provide seats for these kids. Please come!

Where: Steps of City Hall (Take the 1,2,3 to Chambers Street or 4,5,6 or J,M,Z to City Hall)

When: Wed. May 6 at 4 PM. Bring your kids!

A flyer to post in your school or building is here.

A mother's letter to Mayor Bloomberg

This administration has been warned many times that school overcrowding in NYC was a huge problem and was getting worse, and has done nothing to prevent the crisis now upon us. In fact, the city’s share of capital spending invested in school construction and repair is at least a ten year low.

See the below letter to the Mayor, the Chancellor, and the US Secretary of Education, from a mother whose 5 year old, like hundreds more, has no place to attend school next year, because of the Mayor's utter refusal to attend to this issue. She puts it much better than I could.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan


I am a mother whose first child will be entering kindergarten this fall -- my second will enter the following year. I'm writing to you now because I am deeply disturbed by what is -- or more accurately, is not -- happening regarding Manhattan elementary schools, particularly those in my neighborhood.

You know (or should know) the current situation and its history. P.S. 151, located in District 2 on the Upper East Side, was closed in 2000 and later demolished. Rather than building a new school at another location, for nine years the DOE has placed children from P.S. 151-zoned families in other Upper East Side schools through a lottery process.

This year, of course, that is no longer feasible -- as former private-school parents are sending their children to public schools to help cut back on expenses, schools throughout Manhattan are filled beyond capacity. There are currently between four and five hundred children waiting for seats in the borough's public elementary schools; kindergarteners from the Upper East Side to Tribeca have been put on waiting lists. Obviously, without enough room for their own neighborhood children, UES schools could not be expected to take the P.S. 151 kindergarteners as well.

As a result, barely two months ago, P.S. 151 parents were abruptly informed that the lottery was being abolished (this was after many of us had spent months researching and visiting schools in our area, on the assumption that the lottery would be in force). Instead, we were told, there would be an actual P.S. 151 available in the fall. There was just one problem: the DOE had yet to find a site for the school.

Since then, parent organizations from the P.S. 151 zone have met regularly with the DOE to get the ball rolling on a school site in time for the fall. To put it bluntly, we have been appalled by the bureaucratic foot-dragging, lack of focus and high-handed attitude displayed by DOE officials. A few examples:

  • Their initial idea was to put entering kindergarteners into Robert F. Wagner Middle School -- side by side with 12-14-year-olds, with no library, play space or other facilities of their own. Later, they came up with a list of 12 other potential sites... but did not visit any of them until a few weeks ago.
  • Currently, the DOE is negotiating with the Archdiocese of New York to lease the building on East 91st Street formerly occupied by a parochial school, Our Lady of Good Counsel -- but they did not consider speaking with the Archdiocese until one of the parents paved the way for such discussions.
  • The DOE has refused to re-open the possibility of using the elementary school building on East 88th Street which currently houses Richard Green High School (whose students come from outside the neighborhood). This would be a perfect solution because unlike the other alternatives, it would be permanent -- the children would not have to be moved again in a year or two. But the Department supposedly abandoned the idea in the face of pressure from the high school's parents and the teacher's union. We understand their concerns, but we feel that the DOE should be able to come up with a relocation plan that they can accept, rather than simply backing down.

In sum, given the DOE's past and present conduct, we are very worried that they will not have a viable space ready by the fall, or will wind up warehousing our children in whatever space requires the least effort to set up. And despite their assurance that they will be able to construct a permanent site for the school over the next 2-3 years, we are concerned that they will "forget" their pledge and permanently leave students wherever they are placed in the coming school year. They do not seem to grasp that there are four months until the start of the next school year, and that our children are not objects to be stored in "whatever space is available."

What is particularly galling is that this is all going on as Mayor Bloomberg runs for re-election with education reform as one of his signature issues. Mr. Mayor, you are spending a good chunk of money on TV ads where you tout New York as "a great place to raise a family" -- I assume you are including the public schools in this assessment. How can you make this claim with a straight face, given the current crisis? I cannot help but recall the grandiose promises you made when the school system was revamped and Mr. Klein was installed as Chancellor. The two of you were going to eliminate politics, patronage and corruption, and deliver a school system driven by transparency, accountability and responsiveness. No doubt the system is "cleaner" than it was during the community-board era. But transparent? Accountable? Responsive?

Secretary Duncan, I have also addressed this letter to you because of your experience leading a big-city school system and your long commitment to serious educational reform. Would you have tolerated this kind of performance in Chicago? And is there anything your department can do to help resolve this situation?

My fellow parents and I cannot and will not sit by quietly and allow our children to be victims of bureaucratic negligence, laziness and inertia. We will be rallying next week in front of City Hall, and we will continue to press our case with our elected officials and in the media. We will not rest until the kindergartners of P.S. 151 -- and everywhere in the city -- are assured of a safe, workable space in which to begin their public school education. The three of you have staked your reputations on this promise; it is time to back it up with concrete action.

Respectfully yours,

Jacalyn Filler

GBN Newsflash: DOE Implements Swine Flu Contingency Plan

April 29, 2009 (GBN News): Determined not to let the Swine Flu crisis “go to waste”, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is said to be implementing a new contingency plan for the city schools. According to GBN News sources, the Chancellor has decided that any school reporting children with “flu-like symptoms” will be immediately closed. The building will then, “out of an abundance of caution”, be scrubbed and sanitized, and will reopen the following week as a charter school.

GBN News will have further details if they become available.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pirate Chooses Prison Over DOE

April 23, 2009 (GBN News): The Somali pirate who just yesterday agreed to perform community service for the NY City Department of Education as part of a plea bargain has now opted for a life prison sentence instead. Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, the sole surviving pirate from the hijacking of the merchant ship Maersk Alabama, was being counted on by the DOE to raise millions of dollars in ransom to be used for charter school conversions. However, Mr. Muse has apparently succumbed to pressure from his compatriots in Somalia to renounce the deal.

GBN News spoke through a translator to a top Somali pirate leader, who refused to be quoted by name out of fear of reprisals by the DOE. The pirate leader confirmed that he and a number of his colleagues had pleaded with Mr. Muse not to work for the Education Department. “We may be pirates, but we have our standards,” he said. “We run a good, clean operation. But to have one of our number work for Joel Klein at the DOE – no self-respecting pirate would be associated with an organization that sleazy.”

J. Fredrick Runson, Dean of the Manhattan University Law School, is a recognized expert on piracy and author of the definitive Joel Klein biography, “Hijacking the Ship of Schools”. Professor Runson is not surprised that the pirating community back home had flexed its muscles over this issue. “Pirates depend on the fear and respect of their victims,” he told GBN News. “What credibility would they have when they board a ship, and the crew realizes their captors are the ones whose colleague sold out to the DOE? They’ll be laughed out of the water!”

There was no official comment from the DOE as to who would be taking a plea bargain to replace Mr. Muse. However, one source with knowledge of the situation told GBN News that offers to both Bernie Madoff and Rod Blagojevich were rejected; apparently neither was any more willing to risk his reputation than Mr. Muse.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

DOE to Mandate CEC Voting

April 22, 2009 (GBN News): NY City public school parents have gotten a reprieve of sorts from the Department of Education. The deadline for casting ballots in the “straw vote” for Community Education Council (CEC) elections has been extended to April 29. However, there is a catch: A high level DOE source told GBN News that voting will now be mandatory.

The Education Department has been trying in vain to get parents to participate in the non-binding vote for council members, but many parents and CEC members themselves have felt that it is pointless to vote in elections that have no meaning, for representatives who have no power. Consequently, the Department has apparently resorted to the only surefire solution to parental ambivalence, which is to compel them to participate.

It is unclear just how the DOE plans to enforce the mandatory voting rule. Parents are not under the direct jurisdiction of school safety officers, thus cannot be physically detained, suspended or otherwise mistreated. However, the DOE source told GBN News that the Department is looking into having the children of non-voting parents suffer some sort of consequence. Sanctions currently being considered include taking points off their grades, or losing lunchroom and bathroom privileges.

The DOE plans to publicize the mandatory voting initiative with new robocalls featuring the voice of Tony Soprano. The calls will reportedly tell parents, “If you don’t want your kid to get hurt, you’ll vote in the CEC elections.” Parents can vote on the website

Plea Bargain for Somali Pirate

April 22, 2009 (GBN News): In an unexpected development, the Somali pirate who was brought to New York to stand trial for hijacking the merchant ship Maersk Alabama has agreed to a plea bargain. Rather than face a potential life sentence, the pirate, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, will instead perform community service for the NY City Department of Education. Federal prosecutors reportedly offered the plea bargain at the urging of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who was said to feel that Mr. Muse’s skills would be wasted in jail, and that he would be much more effective at the DOE.

While Mr. Muse’s role at the DOE has not been officially announced, officials close to the situation have indicated that he will likely be involved in the process of converting public schools into charter schools. Mr. Muse, in fact, is seen by Mr. Klein as a “transformative figure” who, by hijacking public schools and holding them for ransom, can raise millions of dollars and thus provide the resources to remake them into successful charter schools.

J. Fredrick Runson, Dean of the Manhattan University Law School and an expert on school piracy, told GBN News that, while this is an unusual arrangement, it is a logical extension of DOE policy. He also added, “I’m sure that Joel Klein sees a lot of himself in Mr. Muse. After all, the Chancellor hijacked an entire school system.”

Mr. Muse is also expected to earn a high school diploma through his community service. Under the DOE “credit recovery” policy, he will be credited with “seat time” towards his diploma for any days he spends actually inside a school that he is hijacking.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Diane Ravitch on Joel Klein's letter to the Times

Joel Klein's letter in the New York Times today fails to refute my oped.

The Brookings study to which he refers covers the period from 2000-2007--including the three years prior to implementation of mayoral control. That three-year period included one year (02-03) that showed big gains right before the Bloomberg reforms were introduced.

In other words, with the lawyerly word "largely," he takes credit for gains he had nothing to do with and attributes them to mayoral control.

The Brookings study is based solely on state test scores, which I explained, are exemplars of grade inflation rather than actual achievement because New York state scores on NAEP were as flat as the city’s from 2003-2007.

And then there is the strange idea that NYC kids do well on state tests because they study for them, but do poorly on national tests because they don't. Of what value is it to learn to read if one can read only for state tests? Does that mean that students can't read college textbooks or work manuals because they are prepared only to take state tests?

NAEP remains the federal audit and the best assessment in the nation. If a city or state does poorly on the audit test, then it is doing poorly. The fact that NAEP is an audit test for which students do not prepare makes it more valid, as it accurately reflects reading skill and comprehension, rather than test prep. If a city or state does poorly on the audit test, then it is doing poorly. Or, whom do you trust? Madoff's accountant or the federal auditors?

And last, Klein goes around the nation calling for national standards and tests, yet rejects the results of the national tests that we have. All in all, not a persuasive argument for New York City's alleged gains. ---- Diane Ravitch

Editor's note: For another excellent analysis of why NAEP results are more reliable than those of the NY State tests -- see this posting from Aaron Pallas on Gotham Schools.

Want to See the Future of NCLB? Look to the UK.

The Bush Administration and Margaret Spellings are history, and the education world now anxiously parses sentences and micro-analyzes tea leaves from Barack Obama and his new Secretary of Education, former Chicago schools superintendent Arne Duncan, as the new Administration’s plans for the future of American education slowly unfold.

Despite all this attention, the most underreported story in American education is taking place not in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, where a data-driven educational testing regime instituted by the legislative progenitor of NCLB has devolved into near chaos. In recent weeks, the 190,000 members of England’s National Union of Teachers have voted to boycott the country’s 2010 national standardized exams, refusing to prepare students for them or administer them. Perhaps even more astonishing, the National Association of Headteachers appears set to follow in their boycott footsteps, the first time in history that England’s school principals have taken such an action.

The story behind all this is, of course, particular to England’s educational system structure, but the results are hardly surprising and seem utterly predictable. Of greater concern for American education, however, is the remarkable parallels between England’s disastrous twenty-year experience with performance standards and school rating and the overall approach of NCLB. The United Kingdom began this same process more than a decade before the U.S., and it is not unreasonable to view their today as our tomorrow. The future of American primary and secondary schools under NCLB may well be written in the events currently occurring in England, enough so that taking a close look is more than warranted.

A Little History and Background

In 1967, a comprehensive, three-year study of England’s primary education system was published by the Central Advisory Council for Education. The Plowden Report as it became known (in honor of the Council’s chair, Lady Bridget Plowden), ran well over a thousand pages and called for a highly child-centered approach to primary education. It also cautioned against standardized student assessments, stating in part:

We have considered whether we can lay down standards that should be achieved by the end of the primary school but concluded that it is not possible to describe a standard of attainment that should be reached by all or most children….We therefore envisage that some use will continue to be made of objective tests within schools. Such tests can be helpful - and their norms can serve as a basis of comparison - as long as they are used with insight and discrimination and teachers do not assume that only what is measurable is valuable…

Twenty years later, Margaret Thatcher’s government summarily ignored this advice. The Conservative Party’s Education Reform Act of 1988 introduced the United Kingdom to Standard Attainment Tests, colloquially referred to as Sats. This groundbreaking legislation called for the implementation of a National Curriculum in England, Wales, and Northern Island for all primary and secondary schools. With a common curriculum in place, a series of standardized performance tests could be instituted from which student progress could be measured. More important within the Conservative philosophical worldview, test results could be compiled by school and used to rate each school’s yearly performance in published “league tables.” Parents would thus be enabled, Conservatives argued, to exercise an ostensibly free market choice of schools for their children, based on each school's standardized test results measured against a common national curriculum.

The Sats were first implemented in 1991 with the Key Stage 1 exam for seven-year-olds (effectively, second graders). Key Stage 2 exams began three years later for eleven-year-olds completing their sixth year of general education. Key Stage 3 exams applied to students at age fourteen, and a final, Key Stage 4 exam (now generally referred to as the CCSEs for General Certificate of Secondary Education) came at age fifteen or sixteen. Over time, Key Stage 1 exams settled in to cover Reading, Writing, and Mathematics, while the Key Stage 2 and 3 exams encompassed those two subject areas plus Science. The youngest students were targeted to reach at least a Level 2 performance (their levels run from 1 – 3), while the Key Stage 2 (eleven-year-old) examinees were targeted to reach Level 4 (out of a range from 2 – 5) and Key Stage 3 (fourteen-year-olds) would fall between Levels 3 and 7.

Things Fall Apart

Several teachers’ unions opposed the Sats implementation in 1993, but the first major rumbling of dissatisfaction came in the early 2000s. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland each separately abolished the league tables (school by school comparisons) and moved to abolish the National Curriculum testing represented by Sats. Most often, those exams were replaced by teacher-based assessments combined (in some cases) with periodic standardized exams applied on a sampled basis to assess overall educational progress. In virtually every instance, the rationale for abandoning Sats was, as The Guardian reported in 2003 about Scotland’s decision, “to create a ‘seamless’ curriculum with the emphasis on teaching rather than testing.” Scotland’s Education Minister, Peter Peacock, stated that the annual testing regime had “driven some schools and teachers to test, test and retest.” He further asserted that the educational focus had to return to “improving learning in the interests of the child…not data collection.”

Even as the rest of the United Kingdom was abandoning Sats, England forged on despite growing opposition. Sats not only formed the exclusive basis for rating and ranking the nation’s schools, they (particularly the Key Stage 2’s) were also paramount in determining teachers’ pay, headmasters’ continued employment, and schools’ reputations. Even as the percentage of students reaching the targeted performance levels (81 percent at Level 4 in English, 78% in Math, 88% in Science in the 2008 Key Stage 2 exams for eleven-year-olds), the percentage of students reaching the highest mark, Level 5, was dropping. Educators throughout England were decrying the narrowing of curriculum, pervasive “teaching to the test,” widespread demotivation of students toward learning, and impacts on students’ health due to intense pressure from schools and parents. A voluminous report issued from highly-regarded Cambridge University concluded (as The Guardian reported) “that a generation of children had had their lives impoverished by the dominance of a rigid testing regime, and had received an education that was ‘fundamentally deficient.’ It was neither broad nor balanced, and it valued memorisation [sic] and recall over understanding and inquiry.”

By 2007, reports of cheating by teachers and administrators were surfacing; in one instance, a teacher hung herself after it was discovered that she had helped her students cheat. In 2008, the American company Educational Testing Service took over the contract to administer the Key Stage 3 exams for fourteen-year-olds. ETS’s performance was disastrous, a total failure of control over the marking process that not only led to their contract’s termination but prompted the London government to declare an end to all future Key Stage 3 exams in England. While the policy change was welcomed, many questioned why the Key Stage 1 and 2 exams were not abolished as well.

Teachers and School Heads in Open Revolt

Now, as the 2009 tests loom in May, the National Union of Teachers has voted (reportedly unanimously) that its 190,000 teacher members will boycott next year’s Sats exams. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) is expected to follow suit in the coming weeks when their annual meeting takes place. In essence, the national unions of teachers and school heads are in open revolt against the government’s NCLB-like testing and school rating regimes.

Various spokespeople have stated that the tests are “educationally barren,” that teaching to the tests has “distorted the whole education process,” that there is “overwhelming evidence showing the Sats damage the education of children, supported by evidence linking them to a deterioration in children’s health,” that the tests were having a “very serious backwash effect” on the rest of the school curriculum, and that their abolition “will restore magic moments to the primary classroom as everyday events, not as rarities.” The general secretary of the NAHT stated: “Testing narrows the curriculum and makes learning shallow, because the tests are simply regurgitative….There is high stress for children’ some will already be spending up to ten hours a week rehearsing these tests. It’s a complete waste of time.” John Dunford, leader of another head teachers’ union, stated that “the original purpose of examinations, to assess students’ progress, has become confused with school accountability and the performance management of teachers.”

Perhaps the strongest indictment of Sats came in the New Statesman, written by Francis Gilbert, a middle school teacher for almost twenty years. “In practice,” Gilbert wrote in the November 20, 2008 issue, “these tests have proved to be a nightmarish failure. The Sats have not only led to a marked decline in standards, they have broken children’s zeal for learning. They have alienated pupils, teachers and parents alike without making schools properly accountable….the Sats have made children better at passing abstruse exams but in so doing have bludgeoned out all enthusiasm for learning, leaving them lacking in initiative, floundering when confronted with unexpected challenges, unable to construct sustained arguments and powerless to think imaginatively.”

NCLB was modeled on and grew out of the UK’s Sats exam initiative, a program that preceded it by over a decade. While it’s of course impossible to compare directly the two countries’ educational systems, it is also foolish not to observe and learn from the English experience. After two decades of data-driven, standardized exam-based performance measurement, the pendulum in the UK is clearly swinging back toward local, teacher-based assessments with periodic but less intrusive system-wide assessment.

It may well be that the future of American education under NCLB is here now, reflected in the past twenty years’ experience in the United Kingdom. It is certainly true, here in NYC's public schools, that we're seeing all the negative signs that England has already experienced and is now rejecting.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Denying NYC parents the most basic choice of all

The Carl Icahn charter school in the Bronx is the most popular school in the city – according to the Daily News, with only 3% of applicants able to get in. Its principal notes that "You cannot fail at Icahn Charter because I have a million programs there to help you."

Why? All classes at the school are capped at 18, according to its website and an article in the NY Sun. Classes run to 4 PM, with Saturday help for any child who needs it.

And yet this administration, which promotes charter schools at every opportunity, allowed class size to rise in our regular public schools in all grades this year but 4th – despite $150 million in state aid that was targeted specifically to reducing class size. More than 66,000 students-- or about one quarter of all NYC public school children in grades K-3 are now in classes of 25 or more– an increase of more than 11, 000 students compared to last year. There are nearly 14,000 students in grades 1-3 in classes over 28 – a 36% jump.

The size of Kindergarten classes increased so much that average class size is now as large as in 2002 – when the mayor was first elected. Next year will likely be worse – with hundreds of parents on waiting lists for their zoned neighborhood schools. See articles about waiting lists in Chelsea, Upper East side, and Greenwich village – even after increasing class size to 25 – the union contractual maximum -- in all these neighborhood schools.

The administration says it will provide 100,000 seats for charter school students by 2012 – though there are only 25,000 new seats in the entire proposed five year capital plan. This means that they are planning to take at least 75,000 seats from our already overcrowded regular public schools – with more closing of neighborhood schools to make way for charters, and higher class sizes for those kids sent elsewhere.

Charter school promoters like Eli Broad constantly say that charter schools are “laboratories for success that others can emulate within a public-school system. So I'm a very strong believer in mayoral control."

Not sure what the meaning of “laboratories for success” is when the Mayor and the Chancellor resolutely refuses to implement the same reforms that make charter schools successful in the regular public schools they control – even when state law demands it.

And I’m not sure what parental “choice” means, which the administration claims to support, when they are insistent on taking away the most basic choice of all from parents – to send their children to their zoned neighborhood public schools. Some might even see it as a right -- except for the people who run this city, who would rather see the dissolution of our public schools so that privatization can prevail.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mike to Skeptics: A Student in Every Seat

April 12, 2009 (GBN News): More than a few eyebrows were raised in the education community last week when an unnamed DOE spokesperson contended that there will be “enough seats available to serve twice” the city’s goal of 50,000 students in charter schools by 2012. Where, asked many parents and educators, would these seats be found, at a time when public schools are already seriously overcrowded?

In the face of that skepticism, Mayor Bloomberg, throwing his run for a third term into high gear, announced today that he would personally provide those extra seats. The Mayor confirmed a February 27 GBN News story which reported that Mr. Bloomberg, who has been buying up and renovating property adjacent to his East Side townhouse, will indeed be housing a large number of charter schools in his living room.

GBN News was among a group of news organizations given a tour of the Mayor’s expanding living room today. Mr. Bloomberg personally escorted the media through the space, and pointed out a number of seats that he said are among those being designated for charter school students.

“Over there, by the flat screen TV”, the Mayor told his guests, “there are about 15 seats right there.” He went on to indicate an equal number of seats by the fireplace. While the reporters were only shown a small part of the Mayor’s living room, he made it clear that this was only the tip of the iceberg, and that he will “guarantee a charter school seat for any child who wants one, if I have to buy up every piece of adjacent property from river to river. I’d like to see any candidate for Mayor try to top that.”

However, it appears that there is one small catch to the Mayor’s promise. As a condition of acceptance into those charter schools, students will have to commit to serve as interns in Mr. Bloomberg’s reelection campaign. When asked whether this poses a conflict of interest, the Mayor told reporters, “This is a great opportunity for kids to do some real grass roots organizing. No other schools in the city can give them that opportunity. I’d like to see Eva Moskowitz top that.”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Put the Public Back in Public Education: sign our petition now!

Mayoral control (or what some would call mayoral dictatorship) will either sunset, be renewed or amended in June.

If you believe in accountability and checks and balances...

If you believe in democracy....

If you believe that parents should have a real voice in how our children are educated....

If you believe in billionaire bullies not having autocratic power over our schools....

If you believe that the key to improving the quality of education lies in improving classroom conditions and reducing class size rather than spending more time on testing and test prep....

Then please sign our petition, Put the Public Back in Public Education Now!

Diane Ravitch's oped: a wake-up call for democracy?

Patrick already posted a link to Diane Ravitch's terrific oped in the NY Times, and described the way in which it convincingly disputes the Bloomberg administration's claims of having significantly improved student achievement.

Diane also eloquently points out how the autocracy that currently prevails in NYC under the name of mayoral control is contrary to our entire concept of democracy: mayor has exercised such unlimited power over the public schools as Mr. Bloomberg. Previous mayors respected the independence of the board members they appointed. The present version of the board, the Panel on Education Policy, serves at the pleasure of the mayor and rubber-stamps the policies and spending practices of the Department of Education, which is run by Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

....Not every school problem can be solved by changes in governance. But to establish accountability, transparency and the legitimacy that comes with public participation, the Legislature should act promptly to restore public oversight of public education. As we all learned in civics class, checks and balances are vital to democracy.

Also see this further exploration of many of the themes in her piece in the Daily Kos.

How long before the elite in this city become aware of the abuses and lies inherent in this administration's dictatorial reign over our schools?
Let's hope that Diane's oped represents a much needed wake-up call.

NYC's Big Enchilada -- Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood

In August 2007, Jonathan Kozol wrote an article in Harper’s (“The Big Enchilada”) in which he cited a market prospectus, written by analysts at Montgomery Securities, describing the profit-making opportunities to be had in privatizing public education:

"The education industry", according to these analysts, "represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control" that "have either voluntarily opened" or, they note in pointed terms, have "been forced" to open up to private enterprise. Indeed, they write, "the education industry represents the largest market opportunity" since health-care services were privatized during the 1970s. Referring to private education companies as "EMOs" ("Education Management Organizations"), they note that college education also offers some "attractive investment returns" for corporations, but then come back to what they see as the much greater profits to be gained by moving into public elementary and secondary schools. "The larger developing opportunity is in the K-12 EMO market, led by private elementary school providers", which, they emphasize, "are well positioned to exploit potential political reforms such as school vouchers". From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, "the K-12 market is the Big Enchilada".

With roughly one hundred privately-owned and managed charter schools already expected to be in operation by September, the “Big Enchilada” has moved yet one step closer to realization thanks to the privatization-minded Broad Foundatiion (which not coincidentally, and incestuously, counts among its board members both Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee and which has just taken on another Klein protégé, Garth Harries, in its 2009 Superintendents Academy class). The Foundation’s latest press release proudly trumpets its donation of $2.5 million to Brett Peiser’s Uncommon Schools and Eva Moskowitz’s Success Charter Network to further their respective corporate goals of creating as many as 60 New York City-based charter schools between the two of them alone over the next five to ten years. (Uncommon Charter currently has six charters in operation under a variety of names – Excellence, Leadership Prep, Collegiate – with three more set to open later in 2009; Harlem Success has four charters in operation under the name Harlem Success).

Topping off this week of great charter school news comes reporting from Yoav Gonen in the New York Post that the DOE is making plans to create space within the next four years for 100,000 students in charter schools, about four times the number of such students today. That’s also triple the number of students expected to be attending charter schools this September, when the City’s number of such schools will grow to 99. At the same ratio, it would take some 300 charter schools to accommodate the targeted 100,000 students. The necessary space (and the students to fill it) will come at the expense of existing neighborhood public schools, effectively turning public assets over to private, for-profit business use at zero dollar rent.

In the Post article, an unnamed DOE spokeswoman is cited as responding to this report of planned charter school growth with a nonsensical argument that the City’s goal is merely 50,000 students in charter schools by 2012, but with “enough seats available to serve twice that amount.” At the same time class sizes are failing to reduce and many schools are being crammed to overflowing, does any sentient New Yorker honestly believe that the DOE would create enough charter school space for 50,000 more children and then leave it unfilled?

During which election cycle did the citizens of New York City vote to put 10% of its public school system in private hands? Is this a policy goal the citizenry favors? Has anybody asked them? Do they get any say in this process as massive public assets, accumulated over decades, are virtually gifted to private corporate interests? Do they know and approve of Mayor Bloomberg’s and Chancellor Klein’s plans to effectively turn the DOE into an outsourcer of their children’s education?

Ten percent down, ninety percent to go. Sounds uncomfortably like the future of the NYC public school system being mortgaged to private interests, with hardly a murmur from the vast majority of our publicly-elected officials. Maybe they just like Mexican food.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bloomberg Education Record Debunked by Ravitch in NY Times

In today's NY Times op-ed, Diane Ravitch suggests Obama's Education Secretary ought to do his homework before he lavishes praise on Mike Bloomberg:

Mr. Bloomberg’s allies say that the results of the current system are so spectacular that the law should be renewed without change. Secretary Duncan agrees: “I’m looking at the data here in front of me,” he said while in New York. “Graduation rates are up. Test scores are up ... By every measure, that’s real progress.”

It sounds good, but in fact no independent source has verified such claims.

On the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress — widely acknowledged as the gold standard of the testing industry — New York City showed almost no academic improvement between 2003, when the mayor’s reforms were introduced, and 2007. There were no significant gains for New York City’s students — black, Hispanic, white, Asian or lower-income — in fourth-grade reading, eighth-grade reading or eighth-grade mathematics. In fourth-grade math, pupils showed significant gains (although the validity of this is suspect because an unusually large proportion — 25 percent — of students were given extra time and help). The federal test reported no narrowing of the achievement gap between white students and minority students.
Diane goes on to look at dubious graduation rates and offers her recommendations for changes in governance. Full article here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What If They Gave an Election and Nobody Ran? Less Than One-Third of NYC School Districts Will Have Meaningful CEC Elections

On Tuesday (April 7), the NY Daily News reported that the number of candidates for the 307 elected parent positions in the thirty-four Community Education Councils (CECs) has plunged from 690 in 2007 to just 443 this year, a drop of 35.8% in parents who are volunteering for seats on those district-level bodies. Each of the 32 geographic school districts offers nine such elected positions, the special education District 75 offers nine more, and the Citywide CEC for high schools offers ten (two per borough).

At a time that the DOE is making a massive and expensive effort to engage public school parents in a meaningless, Internet-based “straw vote” intended as input to the final election by PTA/PA Presidents of each district’s CEC members, the response among current and prospective parent leaders is largely a huge yawn. Many parent leaders will simply not abide the restriction that membership in a CEC prohibits them from officer positions in their PTA and PA organizations of their own children’s schools, while others have tired of the powerlessness and irrelevance to which the DOE has relegated the CECs.

The Daily News contends that five districts among the 34 did not have enough candidates to fill the nine seats available. According to the DOE’s own Power to the Parents website, however, the correct number appears to be seven districts (1, 8, 12, 16, 19, 21, and 75) with insufficient candidates to fill the seats, and that’s still does not appear to be the whole story. Four more districts (13, 14, 28, and 32) have just nine candidates, effectively making elections in those districts moot as well due to lack of opposition – no candidate can lose as long as they get at least one vote. Thus, eleven of the City’s thirty-four districts (32.4%) will at best be holding meaningless elections for which the parental “straw vote” are doubly meaningless.

Beyond these eleven under-enrolled districts, there are six districts (4, 11, 17, 20, 22, and 30) with just ten candidates and four more districts (6, 9, 23, and 27) with just eleven candidates. If one takes as reasonable an election in which at least twelve candidates are vying for nine positions, then just thirteen NYC school districts (38.2%) reach that fairly minimal cutoff. A quick scan through the candidate profiles in the districts with just ten or eleven choices indicates that some of those are fairly marginal, suggesting that those districts may in practical terms be closer to having nine candidates than the numbers alone indicate. For example, one candidate wrote nothing more than, “I teach my child. So I know how I have to do this,” while another candidate’s entire statement reads simply, “I am a people person.”

The DOE has been busy spending scarce money trying to convince parents to participate in an ostensibly inclusionary “straw vote” that is both meaningless and intended as a public relations proxy for real parental voice and real parental inclusion. Unfortunately for them, the parent leader public has largely rejected the Community Education Councils and left the DOE with an embarrassing dearth of candidates in all but a handful of districts. An already patently ineffectual excuse for parent participation and involvement in NYC school policy-making, driven by public relations, now looks even more pathetically irrelevant. That's no mean accomplishment.

Bloomberg recruits child labor via school newsletters for his campaign

Talk about politicizing our schools….

Tweed won’t let people hand out leaflets for CEC candidates in school buildings because it is too “political”, but somehow Bloomberg is allowed to use school newsletters to recruit high school students for his re-election campaign. Reportedly, some schools have been persuaded to even offer course credits to students who work for his re-election!

Talk about killing two birds with one stone: Bloomberg is able to artificially raise graduation rates and obtain cheap child labor for his campaign with one fell swoop.

Reminiscent of the tactics he used to coerce organizations that received city money to testify on behalf of the extending term is increasingly clear that there are no limits to how far he will go to get his way.

Had this sort of corruption occurred in the days of the old Board of Education or Community school boards you would never have heard the end of it --- especially from the tabloids and mainstream media. But again the billionaire bully is able to break all the rules and get away with it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Join us for a very special celebration!

Announcing the first annual

Skinny Awards

When: Thursday May 7, at 6 PM

Where: Jerry's Café, 90 Chambers St (between Church and Broadway)

Please join us for a very special evening

Presenting awards to the three best education bloggers, who provide us with the real "skinny" on NYC schools:

Diane Ravitch, Lifetime Achievement Award

Jennifer Jennings (AKA Eduwonkette), the Shooting Star Award

Gary Babad, Humorist Supreme

A rare opportunity to meet these three celebrated bloggers

and enjoy a three course dinner with wine.

A fundraiser sponsored by the NYC Public School Parent Blog and Class Size Matters.

Tickets: $100 --Patron, $75 -- Supporter

To attend, please send a tax-deductible contribution to Class Size Matters, 124 Waverly Pl., New York, NY 10011

Or click on this link: In the section at the bottom entitled "Designate your donation to a specific program or fund," please write May 7 dinner, along with the number of tickets you are purchasing.

Be there or be square!

Monday, April 6, 2009

What's Wrong with This Picture?

Below are three paragraphs of a story run in Friday’s New York Times entitled, “City Backs Down on a Plan to Replace Three Public Schools with Charter Schools:”

The city’s Department of Education, facing a lawsuit accusing it of violating state law, retreated on Thursday from a plan to shut down three traditional public schools to make way for charter schools.

The schools — Public Schools 194 and 241 in Harlem, and Public School 150 in Brownsville, Brooklyn — were originally scheduled to close their doors to new students in the fall, the first step in a gradual phaseout. But education officials said that the schools would remain open, though they cautioned that they could be closed in the future if they did not improve….

Mr. White stood by the decision to gradually shut the schools, which had persistently scored low on the city’s report cards and were unpopular among families. He said the incoming charter schools were receiving large numbers of applications from children zoned for the three schools — a sign, he said, of the undesirability of the traditional schools.

What’s wrong with this picture?

First, where are the DOE’s efforts to improve these schools? Is improvement of schools not the DOE’s number one responsibility? If these schools’ principals and/or teachers are not up to the job, then by all means replace them. If the resources and facilities are inadequate, by all means upgrade them. When did the DOE’s responsibility shift from “improvement” to “closure,” from “it’s our job to fix this” to “let’s shut it down and give it to somebody else?” Why are so many New Yorkers accepting this policy of piecemeal privatization of a public school system virtually without comment?

Second, how is one to read the DOE’s cautioning that these schools “could be closed in the future if they did not improve?” Who is ultimately responsible here, and who is being threatened? Since when is John White’s and Joel Klein’s DOE separate from the principals and teachers of these schools? Isn’t this statement a bit like saying, “If I don’t do a better job soon, I’m going to fire myself?” How is it that we are systematically letting the Chancellor separate himself from the failures of the very schools he is paid to improve? Or are we paying Mr. Klein out of taxpayer dollars just to let him auction off our public school buildings to the next “edupreneur” who knocks on his door?

Third, and related, how many times do we have to listen to the DOE (and others who should know better) argue that Harlem parents’ enthusiasm for charter schools is a measure of “the undesirability of the traditional schools” and, by inference, the innate superiority of charter schools? Of course Harlem parents are applying for their children to go to charter schools! They’re not blind or foolish. They see where the DOE’s money and effort and focus are going. They see that charters often provide extra attention, smaller classes, and all the extracurricular activities our public schools lack – and that this administration refuses to provide.

See, for example this comment from a parent shopping for a Harlem charter school in a recent New York Times article:

Many families at the fair said they had grown tired of cuts to public schools. Sonia Davis, who lives in the South Bronx and works for a jewelry company, went to the fair to look at charter schools because she was frustrated with the large classes and lackluster extracurricular programs at her neighborhood schools….

“You’ve got to have baseball, chess, cheerleading, drama, debate, poetry, and music — oh God, music — like cello and violin,” said Ms. Davis, who has two daughters. “I like charter schools because they don’t just have children bubbling in tests; they give them time to unwind.”

Why is this rush toward charters not seen for what it really is: a broad-scale indictment of Chancellor Klein’s failed tenure? If after seven years at the DOE’s helm, the best he can offer is an escape from the very schools he has failed to improve, isn’t that effectively a statement of surrender on his part? Or is failure the goal, part of a localized “shock doctrine” program that paves the way for a back door public school privatization program that would never have been approved by public referendum?

Finally, and perhaps most curiously, why has Harlem become the DOE’s attack zone, the ground zero of public elementary school closings targeted with yet two more (and the threat of more charter intrusions into buildings like the Langston Early Childhood Learning Center, PS 185, on W. 112th Street)? Were Harlem’s schools really so much worse than the rest of the City’s? Perhaps Harlem’s mid-Manhattan Island location, an area that is rapidly gentrifying, is more conveniently accessible than the Bronx or Brooklyn from the Upper East Side where so many of the new, chauffeured class of educational entrepreneurs reside.