Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bloomberg Skewered In Times Mayoral Control Article

Mike Bloomberg's bizarre comments on public schools finally caught up with him. Javier Hernandez of the Times strung together a few of the mayor's more outlandish talking points in his article on the expiration of mayoral control in today's paper.

The law granting the mayor complete and unprecedented control over the public schools expires Tuesday. Due to the deadlock in the State Senate, it is increasingly likely the temporary governance structure will revert to the old one in place before 2002. But according to the Times, rather than plan for the transition, the mayor has focused on trying to stoke fears:

Mr. Bloomberg has not announced any contingency plans, perhaps trying to hasten action upstate. But he has portrayed the possibility of losing control of the schools as nothing short of a catastrophe.

“If the Senate passes something that differs by one word or more,” he warned on Thursday, “it is saying to the city: ‘We want to resurrect the Soviet Union. We want to bring back chaos.’ ” In February, he said, “I think that there’d be riots in the streets.”
The Daily News reported the mayor's comments about the looming specter of communism as well. Both papers then quoted a series of experts including former Assembly Education Committee chair Steve Sanders, Board of Ed attorney David Bloomfield and former Chancellor Harold Levy to counter the administration arguments for impending chaos. Here's Bloomfield:

"There isn't a doomsday scenario unless the mayor brings it upon the city himself," said former top Board of Education lawyer David Bloomfield"

"He would cause the chaos."

The Times, true to its mission as the paper of record, even called the NYPD to check if the riot police were poised to deploy.

New York Times: Questions About Schools if Mayoral Control Ends
Daily News: 'Soviet Schools' if mayor control is lost says Mayor Bloomberg

Circus Comes to Town

June 27, 2009 (GBN News): A Federal Circuit Court judge has stepped into the NY State legislative leadership crisis by effectively putting the NY State Senate under the control of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. In what many political observers were calling a “an unusual and creative solution” to the weeks-long gridlock in the Senate, the judge gave Kenneth Feld, Chairman of Feld Entertainment, Inc., the circus’ parent company, the de facto powers of Lieutenant Governor. By virtue of his ability to break a tie, Mr. Feld will now hold the balance of power in the sharply divided upper chamber.

The most dramatic result of this new arrangement will be its effect on Mayoral control of the NY City schools. Mr. Feld’s first act was to broker a deal to replace Mayoral control with Circus control, and to name Marcus B. Mosshead, a senior Ringling Brothers clown, as the new Schools Chancellor. Mr. Mosshead will have full authority over the Department of Education, and can only be removed by a pie in the face.

J. Fredrick Runson, Chairman of the Education Department of Manhattan University, was asked what effect this change in leadership will have on the DOE. “On the surface, one wouldn’t expect much difference,” Dr. Runson told GBN News. “After all, the DOE has been a circus since 2002. But that circus was more like the one they had under Julius Caesar - teachers being fed to the lions, schools competing against each other to the death like gladiators, that sort of thing. And unlike the current Chancellor, this clown is a professional. In fact, it’s the first time a professional has been in charge of the DOE since Mayoral control began. So it may be a good thing.”

To bear out Dr. Runson’s optimism, the new Chancellor said he would finally address the issue of class size. In an exclusive interview, Mr. Mosshead said to GBN News, “You know that trick where dozens of people keep coming out of a little car that couldn’t possibly hold that many? Well, Joel Klein only knew how to do the first part of the trick, squeezing so many kids into the classrooms. But we’ve been doing that trick in the circus for years. We actually know how to get them out.”

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mayoral Control Foils Soviet Plot

June 26, 2009 (GBN News): A shadowy group of former Soviet officials is quietly poised to take over the NY City school system if Mayoral control is not renewed, according to a senior City Hall official. The official told GBN News that it was this plot Mayor Bloomberg was referring to yesterday when he warned that the loss of Mayoral control would “revive the Soviet Union”.

More chilling, however, is that this group sees the school system as only the first in a series of dominoes, culminating in a complete Communist takeover of the US. Mayor Bloomberg is said to feel that he is the only political figure in a position to foil this plot, by holding the line at the city schools. In fact, says the official, the entire Mayoral control battle was never about Mr. Bloomberg himself, but over nothing less than the survival of the free world. In the same vein, the Mayor was quoted as having justified his overturning of term limits by telling his aides, “Sometimes you have to destroy democracy in order to save it.”

GBN News asked J. Fredrick Runson, Dean of the School of International Affairs at Manhattan University, how the Mayor was able to ascertain the extent of the plot. “He looks at what he’s been trying to do with his own absolute power,” said Dr. Runson. “And he figures those old Soviets are trying to so the same thing. Or, to use the schoolyard vernacular, ‘it takes one to know one’.”

In a related story, the city Department of Education has awarded a no-bid, $10 million consulting contract to an Iranian paramilitary organization to once and for all control the cell phone problem in public schools. News reports that Basij paramilitaries were seen “beating people seen using mobile phones” convinced Chancellor Joel Klein that these methods could be effective in the NY City schools. A “News Hour” report that opposition demonstrators were reduced to hiding cell phones in bushes to avoid being caught was reminiscent of the way many NY City students must leave their cell phones in bodegas to avoid similar consequences. Apparently fearing that cell phones might be used to promote democratic protest in city schools, or even to support the purported Soviet plot, Mr. Klein felt that more stringent measures were needed.

Once again, thanks to Ann Kjellberg, without whose reporting GBN News would not have broken the cell phone story.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Undercover Agents Target GBN News

June 25, 2009 (GBN News): In what is seen by some as a sign of panic, Department Of Education undercover operatives have been trying to infiltrate the NY City Public School Parent Blog, sources told GBN News. One such attempt has been evident in the past few days. An anonymous commenter on the blog has been posting messages accusing GBN News of “not being funny”, and is apparently trying to discredit the news service by disingenuously accusing it of “kicking a serious post off the front page”. This operative has further tried to intimidate GBN News by suggesting that it take its stories “somewhere else”.

According to one source, who spoke to GBN News on condition of anonymity, the DOE has further contingency plans in case this blog infiltration is insufficient. One such plan reportedly involves the ARIS computer system. Its much touted “parent link”, purportedly designed to allow parents to access their children’s grades and attendance figures, is said to actually place dangerous spyware on users’ computers. The spyware will, among other things, turn critical emails to elected officials and newspapers into testimonials to Mayor Bloomberg’s control of the schools.

There was also reportedly a great deal of debate within the DOE as to how to confront parents “in the streets”. Apparently fearing that activists will emulate the recent street demonstrations in Iran, some DOE officials advocated using anti-riot weapons such as water cannons, while others promoted waterboarding. But the eventual consensus was to take advantage of the Department’s huge stockpile of dangerous weapons; weapons that strike fear in the hearts of anyone who knows the NY City public schools. Consequently, parents opposing Mayoral control will encounter school safety officers armed to the teeth with thousands of confiscated cell phones. They will effectively tie up parents’ communication through incessant calls, and prevent them from deciding whether to have chicken or fish for dinner.

GBN News released a statement pledging that it will not be cowed by intimidation. And the GBN News food critic assured readers that if they feel confused, “You can’t go wrong with the fish.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

GBN News Editorial: Point Taken

As is now apparent, for the last six years NY City public school students, parents and teachers have been privileged to participate in a massive, city-wide social science experiment, the purpose of which was to demonstrate through real life experience the pitfalls of totalitarian rule. The idea was the brainchild of NY City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, authorized by the State Legislature, and implemented by a prominent attorney who somehow ended up heading the city Department of Education. The purpose and nature of the experiment was not, of course, revealed to the participants, and was presented to the public simply as “educational reform”. But now that the project has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams, those who created it are seeking to extend its duration for another few years.

In conception and execution the experiment was brilliant. Until now, schoolchildren were only able to learn about the horrors of totalitarianism second hand. While books like “1984” and films like “Bananas” can seem almost like real, they are no substitute for one’s own experience.

Through the genius of Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg, New Yorkers have now had the opportunity to see first hand what happens when contracts are given out without oversight (the Alvarez and Marsal school bus debacle, for one); when an elected official can fire a voting Board member at will to get his way (PEP vote on social promotion); when a duly enacted law is openly flaunted (CFE class size lawsuit; City Council law overturning cell phone ban); when schools are precipitously closed or forced to house charters regardless of the will of the community; and when a wealthy elected official uses his fortune to overturn the clear will of the voters on term limits and run for another term.

And they said it “couldn’t happen here”. But now that the point has been made, and that it is obvious to everyone that this has all been just an elaborate lesson in civics, we see no useful purpose in its continuation. It is the opinion of this space that despite their desire to carry on the experiment, the only way to truly cement the legacy of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein is to end Mayoral control of the schools, replace it with a more inclusive system, and thus drive home once and for all the contrasts between democracy and a banana republic.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Banana Republic of NYC Public Schools

Check out my new posting on the Huffington Post.

More evidence in the NY Times today of how this Banana Republic that we call NYC operates.

The article further speculates about what political insiders have been surmising for weeks: that Silver caved in on the issue of mayoral control because of a deal he made with one billionaire (Bloomberg) to benefit another billionaire (Larry Silverstein.)

Mayoral control: Squadron jumps ship and "the days of tweaks are over"

It is becoming more clear that the Senate will vote on Mayoral control this week .

The Democratic caucus was working hard to remain united against the onslaught of the Mayor's men, and refusing to rubber-stamp the Silver/Padavan bill that would allow unlimited, unilateral one-man rule to continue.

Yet today it was announced that the first Democrat has jumped ship: Daniel Squadron of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, a freshman senator whose election campaign was supported by Bloomberg. See this article from today's News:
Mayor Bloomberg's school control bill gets first Democrat support

Please contact your State Senators today -- let them know how strongly you feel that one man rule cannot stand and they must support parents by supporting the Education Through Partnership Act, [Huntley/S5739] -- co-sponsored now by at least six other Senators.

Ask them to stand up for their constituents; instead of caving in to the billionaire bully who has nothing but contempt for parents and our views. Their emails and phone nos. can be found by plugging in your address here: ; telephone calls are the most effective, then faxes and then emails. But do it today!

In case there is any confusion about how weak the Silver/Padavan/Squadron bill is, and how it doesn't provide any stronger voice for parents, you can take a look at the summary on this comparison chart and this memo, which clearly lay out its provisions, as compared to our bill.

As the Mayor himself pointed out this weekend, there are not even "tweaks" in the Silver/Padavan bill, which he wholeheartedly supports:

"He's incensed about Sampson's drive to strip the mayor of his majority on the Panel for Educational Policy or impose fixed terms on his appointees. "That's not going to happen," Bloomberg declared. "That's the old Board of Education," he said dismissively, vowing to battle any last- minute "compromises." "The days of tweaks are over," he said.

It is ironic that these three men should have caved into the Mayor -- as parents and community members in their districts have clearly expressed their fervent opposition to renewing the current system which has wreaked havoc on our schools. Under this bill, the Department of Education will remain the only city agency that will be free from having to comply with city law .

Community Boards 1 and 3 in Manhattan, as well as the Community Education Councils in District 1 and District 2 -- all of which overlap with Squadron's and Silver's districts -- passed resolutions in support of strengthening the parent voice, enhancing the authority of CECs, and for stronger checks and balances on the Mayor's dictatorial control.

Both CEC 26 and CB 11 in Queens -- in Padavan's district -- passed resolutions in favor to alter the Mayor's automatic majority on the PEP. But it seems that for these three men, the Mayor's position is more important than the views of their constituents.

Here is Squadron's email address (his regular Senate email is down) so you can directly express your

Squadron's Albany Office: Tel: 518-455-2625; His District Office:Tel: 212-298-5565

Let him know that you are disappointed and angry that he caved into the our autocratic Mayor and has deserted not only the other Democrats in the Senate -- but also his constituents.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Unpublic Comment

Here's what I would have said during the public comment period of the PEP today, had there been a public comment:

I have a letter to pass out that I intended to present at the PEP meeting on the executive budget, which I sent to the Chancellor on May 27, bearing on DOE mandated, school-based expenses, which in the interests of time I will now only pass out. [The letter, signed by over 70 parents and public officials, asked the DOE to consider, in light of painful impending cuts to school budgets, the suspension or relocation of centrally mandated expenses and services--such as G&T testing and centralized periodic assessments--that impact school budgets and staff. It also recommended the temporary suspension of some centrally funded programs--such as Progress Reports and Learning Environment Surveys--to free up funds for instruction.]

I will simply say what scarcely needs mentioning, that if there were ever a demonstration that this body is little more than a name in a statute--indeed it is not even that!--a vote on an $18 billion budget with serious consequences for our city schools that takes place in secrecy, in an undisclosed location, with no announced agenda, would be it. I hope our legislators in Albany are taking note of the complete acquiescence of this body, which incidentally includes seven appointed public school parents, to this state of affairs.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Secret Bloomberg Plan to Retain School Control

June 18, 2009 (GBN News): Mayor Michael Bloomberg, fearing that State Senate gridlock could doom his control of the city school system, has quietly begun making plans to stage what would effectively amount to a coup d’etat, sources told GBN News. While the Mayor remains committed to some semblance of a democratic process, the sources said, he is also determined to protect the public from the sort of civil disturbances that he has predicted would ensue if Mayoral control is allowed to sunset.

Mr. Bloomberg is said to be spending substantial amounts of his own money to hire Xe Worldwide (formerly Blackwater Worldwide) to seize the NY City school system at midnight on June 30 if Mayoral control lapses at that time. But since even Mr. Bloomberg’s billions could not buy enough manpower to fully occupy each and every school, the plan calls for focusing on strategic assets such as the schools’ robocall machines.

Once in control of the communications apparatus, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein would deploy his own sizeable cadre of Public Relations employees to send out calls to each and every parent. The calls will intimidate parents with the recorded voice of Tony Soprano, telling them, “If you ever want to see your school again, you’ll keep your mouth shut and let the Mayor run it.”

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Xe Worldwide denied any involvement with the Mayor. However, a source at Xe told GBN News that many of their employees have taken to calling themselves “Soldiers of Bloomberg’s Fortune”.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bloomberg's mutiny

Remember when Bloomberg predicted "there will be riots in the streets" if mayoral control isn't renewed? The specter of civil unrest is being raised once again, as the power vacuum in Albany makes it difficult to predict what will happen to our schools on July 1st. This time, however, the one who is willing to take the law in his own hands is none other than Mike Bloomberg.

Queried about "the unthinkable"--i.e., the possibility of the law sunsetting without more--he is reported in today's NY Post to
...hold[ ]out hope that that mayoral-control law will be renewed without playing out doomsday scenarios.
But he didn't rule out trying to continue mayoral control after the law lapses to give the Senate more time to get its act together.
Let's get this straight: he??? Mayor Bloomberg??? I was under the impression that it would be up to the legislature to enact some kind of emergency measure to continue mayoral control while the squabbling senators figure out what to do about their more important business.

But the article suggests that Bloomberg may well thumb his nose at procedural niceties and just sit tight with his Chancellor by his side. After all, as he has reminded us before, the mayor controls the police force. Or perhaps that's just his way of letting us know he has bought every single legislator, so why bother to wait for the rubberstamp?

Perhaps we would do well to go about our business, nose to the grindstone, and stop complaining. Remember this one, from the term limits extension days? Let's get it over with and crown him!


The high school space crunch

Even as the Bloomberg administration pushes ahead with plans for a lavish Police Academy on a sprawling high-tech 30-acre campus, public school students are packed like sardines without any relief in sight. For high schools, the situation is critical. As Leonie reported on this blog back in November:
For high schools, the undersupply of new seats is even more shocking: though there is a need for at least 90,000 new HS seats, the plan would provide only about 2,600 IS/HS seats. Not a single new high school is proposed for Manhattan or Staten Island…… In the Bronx, not a single new HS seat is proposed …..
DOE’s indifference to the need for more high school seats is no news to students and parents at Stuyvesant High School, where overcrowding is threatening not only the students’ well-being and education but also their safety. Should you visit Stuyvesant High School during one of the many events DOE likes to stage there, you might admire the airy 10-story building with stunning river views, impressive granite-clad lobby and soaring atrium and conclude that Stuy kids are pampered indeed. But come back when school is in session and you’ll see a very different picture: dozens of students socializing, studying and even eating while sitting on the floor-- the landing of the grand staircase and the second floor hallway are so crowded that you literally have to pick your way through the students and take care not to step on a hand or knock over a drink. Go to the cafeteria, and you won't see a single empty seat; students have taken to sitting on the radiators even when they’re hot. Space--for classrooms as well as for kids to eat lunch or hang out during free periods-- has been a critical issue at Stuyvesant for at least three years.

Built to house an average class of about 700 students (2,835 in total, according to the Blue Book), Stuyvesant has been forced by Chancellor Klein--over the principal’s strenuous objections--to take increasingly larger classes. Enrollment is currently about 3,240; with next fall’s incoming class of nearly 900, it will climb to 3,350; if the trend continues, Stuyvesant may eventually house 3,600 students.

Overcrowding is impacting education as well as quality of student life: next fall, much of the library will be gone to make way for a classroom, and each period will be reduced by one minute to allow students sufficient time to pass between classes. Without space for new classrooms and a 4% budget cut in the face of increased enrollment, class size can only go up, of course. Class size at Stuyvesant is already among the highest of any public school: global history, government, physics, math B and geometry have more than 33 students on average, with several physics and geometry classes already maxed out at 35. Only the English department has kept average class size below 30 thanks to an initiative, recently extended with CFE money, to improve writing by capping composition classes at 25. It is often said that Stuyvesant students teach themselves—that will serve them in good stead, as they will not get much individual attention from teachers. It’s a pity guidance and college counseling are not self-service departments; at a minimum, students will still need teachers to write letters of recommendation for college—an issue that has already provoked much discontent and dissension as teachers feel overburdened by the numbers.

Equally worrisome from a parent's perspective is the issue of safety. Although it’s relatively easy to maintain order under normal circumstances, evacuating 3,300 students from a 10- story building in an emergency will be a challenge, and notifying parents in a timely fashion will be impossible (the auto- dialer system already takes 2-3 days to reach all the families).

Why is Stuyvesant so crowded? It isn't because NYC children have gotten smarter. Contrary to popular belief, there is no particular SHSAT score that will get a child into Stuyvesant-- the cut-off is set only as a function of how many students the Chancellor dictates the building can accept. This year’s freshman class may well have been enlarged to accommodate parents who can no longer afford private school, but Stuyvesant was already at 110% of capacity in 2004, when the principal, taking his own empowerment seriously, capped the entering class at 700-- and promptly got in trouble for it.

Overcrowding at Stuyvesant is a product of DOE's failure to tackle the need for more high school seats. Even as the Chancellor trumpets higher test scores, DOE has failed to plan for what to do with all those much-improved eighth-graders. What we need are more academically solid high schools with thoughtfully designed programs—the hugely popular Beacon comes to mind—in new buildings. Chopping up existing buildings into small schools with grandiose names that seldom match the reality of their programs, and stuffing more and more children into already crowded good schools such as Stuyvesant does not create additional capacity. We need a better capital plan NOW.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iranian Leader Weighs In on Assembly Ed Bill

June 16, 2009 (GBN News): Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the supreme leader of Iran, took time out from his country’s election crisis today to express wholehearted support for Assembly Bill A08903 which would extend Mayoral control of the NY City schools. The Ayatollah, in a rare public statement, urged the Assembly to pass the bill, and furthermore called on the State Senate to put aside their differences to follow suit.

The bill, which would extend Mayoral control with minor modifications, was said to appeal to the Ayatollah in that on the surface it seems to address the concerns of critics, while containing only cosmetic changes designed largely to defuse opposition. A senior cleric in Iran, speaking to GBN News on condition of anonymity, said that the Ayatollah was hoping to take a page from Mayor Bloomberg’s playbook in defusing Iran’s own leadership crisis. “I only wish,” Ayatollah Khameini was said to have told his inner circle of advisors, “that I had the sort of power Mayor Bloomberg has over the city schools.”

It was unclear if there is any quid pro quo for the Ayatollah’ s support. However, sources at the Department of Education said that the Mayor’s offer to send Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to Teheran, to bring his reforms to the Iranian schools, was flatly rejected by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian President was said to have felt that Mr. Klein’s methods were “too harsh”, even for a repressive regime such as his own.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Legislature Strikes Leadership Deal

June 13, 2009 (GBN News): NY Assembly and Senate leaders announced today a deal which will settle once and for all the legislative leadership crisis which has gridlocked state government in recent days. Under terms of the deal, effective control of the State Legislature will be ceded to NY City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

A beaming Mayor Bloomberg appeared today with the legislative leaders at an Albany news conference to discuss details of the new arrangement. The crux of the deal will be that, while the legislature will still be elected by the voters, the Mayor will have the power to dismiss any member at will and appoint his or her replacement.

According to sources in Albany, the question of fixed terms for the legislators was apparently a major sticking point to the agreement, with Senate and Assembly leaders insisting that the voters deserve independent representatives who are not beholden to the Mayor. But Mr. Bloomberg said in his statement that the “status quo is unacceptable”, and that only an “independent, non partisan figure” such as himself can break the paralysis in Albany.

The Mayor also insisted that his goals are limited, and that he is not looking to control every aspect of state government. “If Mayoral control of the NY City schools was not being put in jeopardy,” Mr. Bloomberg said, “I would not have needed to do this. But the legislative crisis threatened to send us back to the bad old days when parents actually had a say on the running of the school system. That sort of interference would be totally unacceptable.” However, some analysts are saying that the Mayor's move benefits him in another way. Control over the state legislature will make it easier for him to effect his proposed changes to the City Charter, which would give him total control over the City Council as well.

J. Fredrick Runson, political science professor at Manhattan University, says that there is precedent for the sort of arrangement where one powerful figure can supercede voters and determine the behavior of those in elective office. “Iran is a perfect analogy,” he told GBN News. “No matter who is elected, it’s the Ayatollah Khamenei who has the final say. The only difference is that his authority comes from his religious standing in a theocratic state, while Mayor Bloomberg’s comes from his financial standing in a plutocratic state.”

When asked how a Mayor of one city can effectively control the leadership of a state, Professor Runson cited a number of precedents. “Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, Colonel Pinochet in Chile, Colonel Doe in Liberia. They all took control over people with higher ranks and positions. Why not Colonel – I mean, Mayor Bloomberg?”

In other news, details are still emerging on Bernie Madoff’s educational Ponzi scheme, which was reported yesterday by GBN News. Apparently, Mr. Madoff was not just getting clients to invest in students’ test scores, but he also offered shares in the scheme to the students themselves as a reward for improved scores. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein defended the plan, saying, “The ‘shares for scores’ project not only encourages academic achievement by rewarding students but also cultivates valuable business acumen and nurtures NYC's future tax base with inflated apparent wealth.”

With thanks to Ann Kjellberg for contributing to this story

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bloomberg Enlists Obama Ed Boss to Muscle Citizens Union

Citizens Union, the century-old NY good government group got a lesson in Chicago-style strong-arm tactics today. Gotham Schools has the great scoop on how Obama's Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, sent a two page letter asking Citizens Union to reverse its position on a specific point of its schools governance proposal.

The CU had been working for the better part of a year on a comprehensive set of proposals for revision of mayoral control. One component was fixed terms for members of the citywide school board. The mayor, apparently fearful of a board where his own political appointees might refuse to vote as told, brought in Duncan to bring added pressure. The Citizens Union, despite proclaiming itself the "watchdog for the public interest and an advocate for the common good" promptly capitulated. Instead of fixed terms, they called for a 90 day notice period for terminating a board member. Duncan lavished praise on the mayor's reforms yet didn't explain why only a board operating under the constant threat of termination would continue to pursue them.

Message to City Council: Build schools, not jails!

Check out the Class Size Matters press conference with Comptroller Thompson, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilmembers Jackson, Gerson, Yassky and Liu, and the organization Stop the Brooklyn House of Detention, about the need to use city capital funds to build schools not prisons.

See also the news story at Gotham Schools here ; the City Comptroller here, and the Manhattan Borough President's office here , and our press release here.

The proposed capital plan for schools will provide only about one third of the seats necessary to alleviate overcrowding and reduce class sizes to mandated levels -- and is completely inadequate considering the rising student population in neighborhoods throughout the city.

We could double the number of new school seats in the plan if we cancelled prison projects in the Bronx and in Brooklyn that are estimated at nearly one billion dollars -- that communities don't want and the city doesn't need. Riker's is only 75% full and our prison population is falling. Meanwhile, nearly half of our students are in severely overcrowded school buldings, there are hundreds of children are on waiting lists for Kindergarten, and enrollment is going up.

The city is also planning on building an extravagant police academy in Queens estimated at nearly a billion dollars: a 35 acre campus, with a police museum, residence for visiting lecturers, and a replica of a bodega, bank and subway station, along with 250 classrooms. How many police recruits are expected next year? Only 250 in July 2009, and none in January 2010.

Moreover each capital dollar we shift from other projects to schools generates two dollars for construction, as the state matches the city's spending on schools-- a valuable economic stimulus just when we need it the most. As CM Jackson said at the press conference, we get double the bang for the buck.

So call your councilmembers now -- just plug in your address here -- and tell them to move at least a billion dollars in capital funds from prisons and the police academy to new schools. While our prison population is going down, our schools are overcrowded and class sizes are rising. We need to build more schools now!

Madoff Scandal Hits DOE

June 12, 2009 (GBN News): A large number of NY City charter schools have been secretly funded by convicted swindler Bernard Madoff, GBN News has learned. Sources at the NY City Department of Education, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that in a deal made roughly three years ago with the DOE, Mr. Madoff attracted private financing for the schools by persuading his clients to invest in NY City students’ test scores.

Mr. Madoff reportedly managed to convince his clients that there is an inherent financial value in test scores, and that their value appreciates as the scores rise. Citing the significant increases in scores reported by the DOE, he told his investors that they would stand to gain at least ten percent per year on their money. Mr. Madoff then used the financing put up by newer investors to pay off the original ones.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to the DOE sources, were enthralled with Mr. Madoff’s plan and signed on immediately. In fact, the sources said that the main reason the DOE paid $80 million for the ARIS computer system was for Mr. Madoff to track test scores for his investors.

Mr. Madoff’s arrest late last year touched off a major panic at the DOE. While his arrest was for an apparently unrelated matter, there was concern that even if the test score scheme managed to escape scrutiny, the charter schools’ major source of funding was certain to dry up. This may explain in part why charter schools are now being placed almost exclusively within public school buildings, to save money that had been counted on from Mr. Madoff.

J. Fredrick Runson, chairman of the Education Department at Manhattan University and one of the country’s foremost experts on educational Ponzi schemes, was not surprised at this new revelation. “It’s inevitable,” he told GBN News, “that when such an inflated value is put on something the way they did with test scores, people will try to twist it to their advantage. It was the perfect opportunity for Madoff. Klein and Bloomberg are so convinced that test scores are equated with success that they obviously fell for the investing scheme hook, line and sinker. And when Madoff told them it could fund charter schools, he had them eating out of his hand. Actually, the whole thing is kind of reminiscent of Ollie North and Iran/Contra – using one dubious plan to fund another.”

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Silver Proposes Only Minimal Changes to Governance

The NY Times has a report today on Shelly Silver's proposal for renewal of mayoral control. The changes to the central board, currently called the Panel for Educational Policy, would not reduce the mayor's authority:

"Another concern among critics of mayoral control has been bolstering the independence of panel members. Over the past seven years, the panel has become something of a rubber stamp for the mayor’s policies, having never rejected a proposal from Mr. Bloomberg.

Critics have pushed for fixed terms for panel members, a measure aimed at preventing the mayor from removing panelists who voice opposition to his proposals. But Mr. Silver’s plan maintains the requirement that panelists serve at the pleasure of the mayor."
Instead of fewer mayoral appointees or fixed terms for members, the Silver plan would require the mayor to appoint two public school parents and have someone other than the Chancellor chair the body.

Based on my experience on the Panel over the last two years, I don't see these changes as significant or likely to change anything about the functioning of the Panel. The mayor's current appointees generally have poor attendance at Panel meetings and briefings and make minimal or no contribution to the discussions. They are there simply to vote as instructed. Requiring someone who has never demonstrated any interest in public schools to chair the citywide board is not going to restore anyone's confidence in what even the Times calls a rubber stamp. Perhaps the parents appointed by the mayor will actually speak.

The Times does suggest Silver will call for changes to the role of district superintendents and community school districts. We'll see. The administration has been willing and able to evade statutory requirements at the district level, even despite a Senate lawsuit. It is unlikely that trying to legislate better behavior from the administration will work without addressing the balance of power on the board.

Today's Times article here. Their earlier study of the PEP here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mike Gets Tough on Parents

June 9, 2009 (GBN News): With control of the State Senate now in political limbo, the future of Mayoral control of the NY City schools is also in question. In fact, the Mayor and Schools Chancellor are so panicked over the prospect of losing control over the schools that they are now apparently using humiliation and intimidation to assert their control over public school parents.

A source at the DOE, speaking to GBN News on condition of anonymity, said that Mayor Bloomberg’s new campaign manager, Emomali Rakhmon, is behind the new policy. Mr. Rakhmon, who as dictator of Tajikistan parlayed his “get tough” attitude into a landslide presidential election which was “widely dismissed as a farce”, is said to have been hired by Mr. Bloomberg to shore up his dwindling poll numbers. When the Mayor complained that public school parents were “interfering with their children’s education” and trying to overturn his total control over the schools, the Tajik strongman told him, “In Tajikistan, we know how to handle people like that – just watch me and do like I do.”

Mr. Rakhmon demonstrated his technique for the Mayor this morning at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village. A parent, bringing a textbook to school for his daughter who had mistakenly left it home, checked in at the front desk in the lobby, about 25 yards from the Dean’s office where the book could have been immediately left for the child. However, after signing in the parent was told that random metal scanning was going on, and he would have to exit the building, re-enter through the side door, and go through the scanners.

The parent then had to walk a gauntlet of school safety officers to a basement hallway, where he was told to remove his belt and deposit it and all other metal objects into a bin. After exiting the scanner, he put the belt back on and the items back into his pocket. He was then pointed over to a second station, where he was again told to remove his belt and metal items. The safety officers told him to spread his legs and put his arms out, in what the parent felt was an extremely humiliating position, while the officers passed a wand across his legs, arms, and body. Only after being scanned twice was he allowed to finally proceed into the school.

Some critics of the Mayor have termed this new intimidation policy “excessive”. However, others feel it does not go far enough. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, in an exclusive interview with GBN News, said of the above incident, “You have to question why they even let that parent go free at all. These parents could be terrorists. After scanning, they should have waterboarded him, then thrown him into Gitmo. Oh, yeah, they’re closing Gitmo. Well, at least they could have put him into one of those rubber rooms they’ve got for teachers. They’re almost as good.”

Editors Note: Only some of the above piece is parody. The part about the Van Buren parent, unfortunately, is real. I know, since I was that parent. It is of little comfort to realize that the contempt with which the DOE treats us parents is not much different than that with which they treat our kids. The lack of respect with which the students were treated by the safety officers, as witnessed and described by people I spoke to, was appalling.

Nothing said in the above account, however, should be construed in any way as criticism of the Van Buren administration. Quite the contrary, I have been extremely impressed with the way the school handles their own security. I have observed the AP in charge of school security on a few occasions, and, as I told him today, his way is the antithesis of the way the scanning operation is run. As he walks through the halls, he is appropriately tough when necessary, but he always seems respectful of the students. I am sure that the sort of response he engenders goes a lot further in keeping the school safe than the intimidating, humiliating attitude of the scanning process. The DOE would do well to study his methods rather than those of the likes of Emomali Rakhmon.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Shrink: DOE Heads Need Meds

June 7, 2009 (GBN News): A frustrated NY City parent, astounded that the Department of Education considers the $80 Million ARIS computer system an example of “strengthening community involvement”, wondered “just what sort of drugs they are on”. However, one prominent psychiatrist says that the real question is not what they are on, but what they should be on.

J. Fredrick Runson, head of Psychiatry at the Manhattan University Medical School, told GBN News that Chancellor Joel Klein demonstrates what he termed, “sure signs of delusional thinking”. “Whether it’s the idea that ARIS improves community involvement, that closing schools improves them, that young people with little professional training can perform adequately in a complex field such as teaching, that cell phones are a threat to students’ safety, or that we could somehow manage with 30% fewer teachers, clearly the Chancellor is acting on beliefs that are neither rational nor empirically based. If that’s not delusional, I don’t know what is.”

Dr. Runson went on to say, “If someone out on the street said things like that, they’d surely be labeled as ‘crazy’. But instead, Bloomberg made him Chancellor.” The only hope, he indicated, lies in getting him to take some sort of anti-psychotic drug. “There are some really effective medications out there”, he said. “But who would have thought that, unless they end Mayoral Control, our children’s entire educational future could hinge on a bottle of Risperdal.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

PS 123 in Harlem: do not apply. Space reserved for charter school

Though the mayor and the chancellor often talk about increasing parental choice, in reality they are trying to undermine our neighborhood public schools in order to make way for charter school expansion – as quickly as possible -- whether parents like it or not.

In today’s
Daily News Juan Gonzalez reveals that while PS 123, a successful school in Harlem, had 644 parents applying to their new middle school, DOE drastically capped enrollment to give Eva Moskowitz’ charter school maximum space inside their building:

"Parents at a neighborhood public school suddenly learn Chancellor Joel Klein has decreed they must surrender scarce classroom space in their building for a new charter school. No parent or faculty meeting to gauge whether anyone wants the new school. No official vote of the local Community Education Council.

Some young bureaucrat from the city Education Department's Office of Portfolio Development arrives one day with a bunch of maps under his arm and promptly orders a new allocation of rooms."

Boom. Done. All part of Klein's rush to create 100,000 new charter school seats over the next few years."

The result? Half the current fifth-graders at PS 123 were reassigned to other schools in the neighborhood, enraging the parents at the school.

As he writes: “In no suburban school system in the state would parent concerns be so flagrantly disregarded. Sadly, Bloomberg's style of mayoral control has become more like a dictatorship with velvet gloves.”

Except many of us do not see the velvet.

The Future of NYC Public Education under Mayoral Control: On View Now in England

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the twenty-year history of the England’s standardized national exam system, called Sats, and how its present unhappy state could well be a predictor of the future of NCLB in the U.S. generally and the future of education in NYC public schools specifically.

The picture is an ugly one, with teachers and principals throughout the country widely critical of the exams due to the pressure they place on students, resulting in a persistent loss of interest in reading or learning because of endless drill and test preparation, excessive time devoted to teaching to the test, the undue narrowing of the curriculum, and other generally anti-educational consequences.

In effect, teachers and principals have gone to war against their own government, threatening to boycott all aspects of next year’s exams if they are not abolished.

Last month, England’s National Union of Teachers, the country’s largest, voted overwhelmingly to boycott next year’s Sats exams. Now, on May 2, the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), roughly equivalent to a national principals’ union, took the unprecedented step of overwhelmingly voting (94 percent in favor) to join the teachers’ planned boycott of next year’s exams, even though they will be in direct violation of national law by doing so. The two unions’ boycotts signify that they are refusing involvement in all aspects of England’s national exams: preparation, administration, invigilating (proctoring), and grading.

It’s taken twenty years for things in England to reach the point of open rebellion by the teachers’ and principals’ unions against their country’s system of standardized exams, a system not significantly different from the one Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein wield with such authoritarian impunity to justify their unilateral school closings and other policy whims. The arguments in England are identical to those we routinely hear in New York from outspoken teachers as well as parent leaders and education advocates.

President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan, are you paying attention to the devastating effect these exams are having on public education in England?

Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, are you aware of the damage such extreme emphasis on standardized exam performance has caused to England’s educational system and the negative impacts it has had on that country’s children?

New Yorkers, are you prepared to let your children suffer the consequences of four (or more) years of mayoral control under Mayor-for-life Bloomberg and Chancellor-for-life Klein?

All you have to do is look at the nightmare that has become England’s educational system to see what New York City’s public education system will look like in a few more years (unless, of course, the mayor succeeds in privatizing and charterizing it first, in which case we’ll have simply traded one nightmare for another). -- Steve Koss

New book on Bloomberg/Klein record

Check out our new book on the Bloomberg/Klein educational regime: "NYC Schools Under Bloomberg and Klein: What Parents, Teachers and Policymakes Need to Know."

With chapters by contributors to this blog like Diane Ravitch, Steve Koss, and Patrick Sullivan, and by other experts like Debbie Meier, Hazel Dukes of the NAACP, Udi Ofer of the NYCLU, Aaron Pallas of Columbia University and Jennifer Jennings (A/K/A Eduwonkette), it is must-read for anyone concerned about the future of our schools in this city -- and indeed the nation.

Our findings go behind the headlines to present an inside view on how the Mayor's unfettered authority has affected students, families, teachers, and communities -- you can purchase a copy now or download one for free at the Lulu website here.

DOE Escalates Charter School Tactics

June 3, 2009 (GBN News): Alarmed at growing parent resistance to the placement of charter schools inside existing public schools, the Department of Education has reportedly begun training school safety officers to forcibly take over classroom space if necessary. According to a source at the DOE, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the safety officers are being schooled in paramilitary tactics by DOE consultants Xe Worldwide (formerly Blackwater Worldwide). They are being equipped for offensive operations, and will be relied on to seize and hold classrooms so that the charter schools can be safely put into place.

The source said that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein were stunned at the success of parents at IS 278 in Marine Park, who successfully stopped a Hebrew Language Academy charter school from being placed within the school. They are said to be concerned that if this is repeated elsewhere, it could derail their plan to create 100,000 charter school seats by 2012. “It’s like a bunch of falling dominoes,” the Mayor reportedly said. “If we let them beat us in Brooklyn, the next thing you know, we’ll be fighting them off on the steps of City Hall.”

The Mayor plans to ask for increased Homeland Security funding to finance the operation. He is also said to be planning a new re-election campaign ad to capitalize on the new DOE tactics. The ad will employ images of 60’s protesters, while the voiceover says simply, “Mayor Bloomberg: Keeping our city safe for charter schools”.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Computer Worm Hits ARIS

June 1, 2009 (GBN News): Cyber security experts are warning the public of a potentially devastating and widespread new computer virus. The virus has been dubbed the “ARIS computer worm”, after the $80 million computer system used by the NY City Department of Education.

The DOE has just rolled out a web site where parents can use ARIS to directly access information including their children’s test scores and attendance. However, it has been reported by a number of parents that when they log on, they see only a message saying “The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to maintenance downtime or capacity problems. Please try again later.”

A security expert familiar with the situation told GBN News that once this message is displayed, the worm takes over the user’s entire address book and emails test scores to everyone in it. The virus then continues replicating itself, each time increasing the scores, until it reaches the web sites of the major city daily newspapers, where the now vastly inflated test scores are reported out to the public.

GBN News spoke to J. Fredrick Runson, head of the Computer Science Department at Manhattan University, and an expert on educational cyber threats. “This certainly would explain why the public has been inundated lately by reports of large increases in test scores,” Dr. Runson told GBN News. “The question is, what sort of nefarious characters would design a virus like this? Obviously, it must be people with a major stake in convincing the public that test scores are going up big time. But whoever it is, now that the computer security people are onto them, they’ll have to somehow destroy any evidence that they’ve tampered with the system, or they could be in big trouble.”

A DOE spokesperson denied reports that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein were seen this morning dumping computer hard drives into the Hudson River. “They were just out fishing together,” said the spokesperson. “They threw back some real whoppers.”