Monday, August 31, 2009

The Leadership Academy: the real deal?

Last week the Aspiring Principals Program of the New York City Leadership Academy, made headlines. On August 24, a NYU press release announced:

Public elementary and middle schools in New York City led by ‘Aspiring Principals Program’-trained principals have achieved comparable or higher rates of student improvement than schools led by other new principals ... These results were obtained even though APP-trained principals were more likely to be placed in chronically low-performing schools.”

The New York Times chimed in: “Graduates of a program designed to inculcate school principals with unconventional thinking have gone on to help drive up English test scores even though the graduates were often placed at schools with histories of academic failure.” The article went on to explain that the APP graduates helped increase English Language Arts scores at elementary and middle schools “at a faster pace than new principals with more traditional résumés”; while in math the APP principals made progress, but “at a pace no better than their peers.”

The report

What did this report actually say? Written by Sean P. Corcoran, Amy Ellen Schwartz, and Meryle Weinstein of NYU’s Institute for Education and Social Policy, it compared the performance of schools under the leadership of graduates from the Aspiring Principals Program (APP) with that of schools under other new principals.

Both groups had to have been placed as new principals and to have remained in their positions for three years. Of the 147 graduates in the 2004 and 2005 APP cohorts, 88 (60 percent) met the inclusion criteria. 371 non-APP principals met the criteria; of these, 334 were in schools with comparable grade configurations. So there were 88 APP principals and 334 comparison principals in the study.

The schools in the two categories were significantly different. Compared to other new principals, APP principals tended to be placed in lower-performing schools and schools trending downward in ELA and math. There were also demographic and geographic differences.

The study used two types of comparison: (a) a straightforward comparison of average achievement in both types of schools and (b) a regression analysis (controlling for various school and student characteristics). It was the regression analysis that suggested an APP edge in ELA (but not for math) for elementary and middle schools.

The findings

The study found that test scores at schools in both groups improved over the period of the study in terms of test scores– but not as much as schools in the rest of the city. More specifically, the regression analysis indicated that the ELA standardized scores of APP elementary and middle schools were relatively stable, compared to schools headed by new principals who were not APP graduates. In math, APP elementary and middle schools fared slightly worse than comparison schools in relation to the city, but the differences were not statistically significant.

At the high school level (not mentioned in the NYU press release or NYT article), the differences between APP and comparison schools were “minor and inconclusive.”

Unanswered questions

There are many questions that the study did not address. Only 88 out of 147 graduates in the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 cohorts met the inclusion criteria. More than 18 percent of APP graduates were never placed as principals at all. The rest stayed in their positions for fewer than three years.

Is this a high or low number? The authors wrote that they did not have comparative mobility information for the non-APP principals, but they presumably could have reported the average attrition rate for New York City principals overall.

Also, the study only analyzed test score data – which alone are insufficient to fully evaluate a school’s performance. Wasn’t there other data that could have been examined? What about the parent and teacher surveys at APP-headed schools compared to schools run by other new principals?

Though the study compared the size of the schools for both cohorts (APP graduates on average headed smaller schools) they did not compare class sizes – or other school-level conditions that could have contributed to the relative performance of both groups.

Most intriguing is the finding that the relative test scores at both sets of schools continued to decline compared to the rising achievement of schools citywide, but schools headed by APP principals declined less –at least in terms of their ELA results:

“... relative student test performance falls modestly in the years following the installation of a new principal, in both APP and comparison schools…..we find a statistically significant negative relationship between new principals and achievement in both mathematics and ELA.”

It was only after doing a regression analysis, by controlling for various factors (including student background), that they found that the relative performance of APP schools was relatively stable while the comparison schools continued to decline. See this graph:
Thus, the reigning philosophy of the Klein administration – that new leaders properly trained in the methods propounded by the Leadership Academy will spark significant improvements in low-performing schools does not seem to hold true. Instead, these appointees may stabilize what otherwise would be expected to be continued decline resulting from a new principal.
As a way to deal with ongoing attrition and fill positions in elementary and middle schools, the Leadership Academy might be said to be “promising”. But as a way to “turn around” schools it does not seem to be promising at all.

Unmentioned in any of the news articles was the fact that the research organization Mathematica had originally been commissioned by DOE to do an in-depth, multi-year study of the Leadership Academy. Yet after several years of analysis, this study was cancelled by DOE, just months before the results were supposed to be released. What Mathematica might have been discovered about the program and its graduates will probably never be known.

For another close look at this study, see Aaron Pallas’ critique at Gotham Schools.

The Truth about Charter Schools

Come to a meeting on charter schools, sponsored by Sen. Bill Perkins; Wed. Sept. 2 at 6 PM. More info by clicking on the flyer at the right.

Many schools and students are being deprived of classrooms and equitable conditions because of the forced insertion of charter schools into their buildings.

How should we deal with the growing trend towards privatization that is ripping our communities apart?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The hiring crisis in our schools: what brought us to this point?

The Times performs a double whammy today by running an editorial in favor of the Race to the Top proposals; featuring a direct attack on the teachers unions for opposing tying the evaluation of teachers to standardized test scores: Editorial: Accountability in Public Schools.

The paper also features an article, Amid Hiring Freeze, Principals Leave Jobs Empty , about how principals are refusing to hire experienced teachers on ATR (absent teacher reserve) – of which there are nearly 2,000 -- despite 1800 teaching openings. Instead, principals are hiring new teachers as “permanent” substitutes, waiting out the hiring freeze that Klein announced a few months ago. What the article fails to discuss is how this is a crisis entirely of Joel Klein’s making, and represents one of the biggest management blunders of his career.

Klein has continued to pay for Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows program to recruit new candidates long after it was clear that a huge pool of experienced teachers was growing, who are being paid full salary and yet have no regular classroom assignments-- through no fault of their own. In the article, no mention is made of what led to this crisis: how Klein changed the school funding system, under the advice of Sir Michael Barber, a management consultant from McKinsey and Co., whose advice to the Blair administration to impose a similar scheme in the UK had earlier caused massive teacher layoffs and what was described as the most serious educational crisis in that nation’s post-war history.

NYC’s so-called “fair funding” system was specifically designed so that for the first time, principals would have to pay for their own staffing of teachers and for their full salaries, to give them an incentive to hire new, cheaper teachers rather than experienced ones. Many critics warned that given budget cuts to come, the refusal of DOE to fund teachers centrally -- as opposed to say, school achievement facilitators, data inquiry teams or parent coordinators, all of which is directly financed by the administration -- would lead to principals being forced to choose between larger classes and less experienced teachers, and this is exactly what has occurred.

See, for example, our exchange with Robert Gordon, who designed the funding system for Klein, in March 2007, and earlier comments from Noreen Connell and Gordon in a Times article from Jan. 27, 2007, Seeking Equity, School Chief Outlines a Financing Plan:

The expert, Noreen Connell, who leads the Educational Priorities Panel, a nonprofit group, said that the changes would initially make the budget system more complicated, and would be harmful long term by making it overly expensive for schools to retain veteran teachers.
While the new plan would provide money to schools and require principals to cover payroll and other expenses, Ms. Connell said in an interview that she preferred a system that seeks to calculate a school's staffing needs and then provides the dollars to meet them.

''The funding proposals,'' she wrote in commentary posted on the group's Web site, ''have the potential to do lasting damage for decades to come.'' In the interview, Ms. Connell also said the chancellor did not have time to carry out the plan before the end of Mr. Bloomberg's term in 2009. ''They won't be around to suffer the consequences,'' she said.

Robert Gordon, the Education Department's managing director for resource allocation, who is designing the new system, said it would maximize the amount of control that principals have over their budgets, allowing them ''to retain their most experienced teachers if that is what they want to do.''

Why should the school funding system be designed to force principals to choose between hiring or retaining experienced teachers and smaller classes – when these are among the few factors that have been proven to result in better schools ? Do public schools in the suburbs have to choose between these goals, or the private schools to which Klein and Bloomberg sent their kids?
The article also omits its own reporting of the fact that there has been a decrease of 1600 in the number of classroom teachers under this administration, with a concurrent rise in ten thousand out of classroom positions, including two thousand more school secretaries.

The only thing incorrect about Noreen Connell’s predictions in 2007 is that we may be saddled with Chancellor Klein for years to come, because of Bloomberg’s overturning of term limits. Robert Gordon has now moved onto the Obama administration, where he is probably designing similarly destructive funding schemes on a national scale. Sadly, the Educational Priorities Panel, one of the few objective monitors of DOE’s spending practices, is gone, apparently because the NYC foundation world didn’t see the point in supporting the sort of expert analysis that EPP was able to provide.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Susan Neuman's comments on Race to the Top, and mine

Here is an excerpt from Susan Neuman's comments on Race to the Top. Neuman, now a Professor at the University of Michigan was formerly the Asst. Secretary of Education under George W. Bush:

Teachers work on the basis of incentives, rather than disincentives. It would be wiser to focus on guidelines that ensured teacher decision-making; quality professional development; smaller classes; smaller teacher-child ratios in hard to staff schools; and quality improvements in facilities. Compensation might be appreciated but even more important are the conditions of schooling which allow teachers to be successful or not. These guidelines place undue emphasis on teachers as the agent of change without any regard for what might make teachers more effective. As documented in numerous papers and research, it becomes difficult to do the job when there are no books, no desks, no paper, and no pencils.

These guidelines, to date, seem like a grand and very expensive experiment, with little research or experiential evidence to suggest that it will work. Having experienced the last eight years in attempting to improve quality teaching without evidence, we need to support innovation and research before resorting to these new federal efforts.

It is striking that we now have a US Department of Education with apparently no sane, rational voice like hers. My full comments are posted here. They are similar, but perhaps not so artfully expressed. Here is the conclusion:

Rather than focus our efforts on encouraging the proliferation of charter schools, and/ or tying teacher pay to standardized test scores, both of which could have the unintended negative consequences of worsening the supply of experienced, effective teachers, research suggests that it would be far better to directly address the substandard conditions in our large urban districts that lead to high teacher attrition and low student achievement, namely their overcrowded classes, full of students who badly need the attention that only a smaller class can provide.

Not only would improving classroom conditions by reducing class size work directly to narrow the achievement gap, by providing at-risk children with a better opportunity to learn, but in the long run, this would also likely lead to a more effective, experienced workforce. Instead of the chronic frustration that too often causes teachers to flee, they would now be offered a real chance to experience the job satisfaction that can only come from success at their chosen profession.

Finally, as a public school parent and head of a parent advocacy group, I strongly object to the following statement in the proposed regulations: that states should be rewarded with these funds to the extent that they show support from the following stakeholder groups:

“The State’s teachers’ union(s) and charter school authorizers; Other State and local leaders (e.g., business, community, civil rights, and education association leaders); Grant-making foundations and other funding sources; and LEAs, including public charter schools identified as LEAs under State law.”

This list egregiously leaves out public school parents, the most important stakeholder group of all.

Race to the Top or to the Bottom? Make your voice heard!

Patrick has posted his comments on the proposed regulations for the US Dept. of Education’s Race to the Top grants – check them out!

The deadline for comments is Aug. 29 – please, even if you just write a sentence or two, make your voices heard, if only to protest the way they have left parents out of their list of “key stakeholders,” as Patrick was the first to point out. Among those cited instead are charter school operators and private foundations. Remind you of anyone?

Here is a link to the proposed regs on how this $4.3 billion funding should be divvied up, where you can also post comments.

The federal government wants to use the promise of these funds to bribe states to lift their caps on charter schools, despite any research showing that charter schools deliver superior results. Currently NY State has a cap of 200 for charter schools, which will soon be reached. Without a cap, the Bloomberg administration will be able to start hundreds more charter schools over the next few years. The DOE has publicly stated that they want to reserve 100,000 school seats in NYC for charter school students – which will require the closing of many more neighborhood public schools. No community, no matter where you live, will remain free from this threat.

The US Dept. of Education is also proposing that states be required to develop data systems that will allow tenure decisions and teacher pay to be linked to student standardized test scores, and closing a lot more schools, while reopening them with new staff. Their agenda is almost identical to that of Joel Klein, which has wreaked such havoc here in NYC.

As of this morning there were over 500 comments, most of them highly critical of the proposed regs, all of which you can access on the govt. website here.

Some of the best are from Diane Ravitch, Julie Woestehoff of PURE, a parent organization in Chicago, Helen Ladd of Duke University, Paul Barton, education researcher and consultant, Sean Corcoran of NYU and the Economic Policy Institute, and many others, including several classroom teachers. See also these letters to the NY Times, uniformly critical of Duncan's proposals. Here are comments from Charles Finn of California:

Yet again we have a system designed by bureaucrats, not educators. It gives classroom teachers virtually all of the responsibility for improving education (it's their salaries on the line, not those of principals and other administrators) while giving them no power whatsoever. Super-high-stakes testing is one of the major problems with education today -it is not the solution! Our current tests are inappropriate, and improperly used. Even the people who created them are appalled by the way scores are being used. It's time to stop the madness and actually talk with parents, teachers, and students about what is working and what is not in our schools. Politicians have their own agenda, and it's not about kids. "Race To The Top" will likely go down as President Obama's biggest blunder.

Together, the responses make a very compelling case that these proposed regulations are not only unsupported by research and experience, but will also likely lead to even worse conditions in our neediest schools.

The deadline for comments is Aug. 29 – please, even if you just write a few words let the US Dept. of Education hear from you by clicking here. Let them know that parents are the most important stakeholders of all. And please share your comments with the rest of us.

Swine flu: to close schools or not?

In today’s Daily News, Juan Gonzalez takes a good look at the report of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) on the swine flu which has some very worrisome warnings and advice that the Bloomberg administration seems intent on ignoring.

Last spring, Mayor Bloomberg insisted on more than one occasion that shutting schools "has absolutely nothing to do with the spread of the disease." The city closed only about 50 schools - and usually only in response to the demands of angry parents.

The panel urges that our leaders learn from the experiences of other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Mexico and Japan, which have used more aggressive policies on school closings so far. ….The report says that "there is significant evidence, as well as logic, to support the idea that school closure ... can reduce virus transmission," while it also notes that local communities will have to weigh the "tradeoffs between the medical benefit gained and social disruption caused by school or institutional closure."

To see the PCAST report , click here (pdf).

Founding convention for Coalition for Public Education

Come to the founding convention of the new Coalition for Public Education.

It's scheduled for Saturday, August 29 at DC 37; lots of elected officials and interesting breakout sessions scheduled.

We need to organize and join forces -- to stem the tide and defend ourselves from the myriad pressures, both nationally and locally, that want to impose destructive policies in our public schools.

For more details, click on the flyer to the right.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Comments on Race to the Top Proposal

The Obama Administration has provided a proposal for spending $ 4.5 billion in Federal funds to push their education agenda. The full proposal and a form to submit comments can be found here. I submitted the following comment:

Comments on Obama Administration’s Race to the Top Proposal.

Patrick J. Sullivan, Manhattan Member, Panel for Educational Policy, NYC Board of Education

The proposal emphasizes increased uses of standardized testing and expansion of charter schools, two strategies for improving student performance that do not have a research base supporting their efficacy.

In contrast evidence-based strategies such as class size reduction are not anywhere supported by the proposal. Beyond small class size, attributes of high performing public and private schools – enrichment programs, arts, foreign language, and sports – are nowhere to be found in the proposal despite the fact that these programs are always found in schools already at “the top”.

The definition of effective teacher and student growth are too narrowly dependent on standardized tests. Application of these definitions as proposed for teacher tenure, compensation and termination decisions will have negative consequences for teaching and learning.

The “effective teacher” and “very effective teacher” are defined as those who demonstrate “student growth” which is itself defined to be changes in “student achievement”. “Student achievement” is defined as changes in state standardized test scores. Once enshrined as criteria for making tenure decisions, rating and termination decisions as suggested by the proposal (Reform plan criteria C2), this approach will lead to narrowing of the curriculum and teaching to the test. Only tested subjects will be emphasized. There is also significant risk that educators will avoid schools where factors outside of a teacher’s control such as overcrowding, underfunding, poverty, crime, weak administration and lack of parental support create a more difficult environment for teaching. Rather than seeking to define effective teaching, the RttT proposals should focus on proven tactics for improving teaching effectiveness such as lower class size or innovative solutions for addressing the challenges teachers face.

Proposed interventions for underperforming schools lack vision and emphasize measures that, in practice, will be punitive toward educators.

The interventions required in “Turning Around Struggling Schools” (Reform Plan Criteria D3) include closing schools, elimination of the majority of staff and forced conversion to charter or private management. The emphasis of these tactics will cause talented teachers to avoid low performing schools likely to lead to situations where teachers will be terminated or otherwise stigmatized as failing.

The proposal systematically excludes parents as stakeholders in the education of their children.

One factor considered in awarding the grants to each state is the extent to which support and commitment of key stakeholders is enlisted (Overall Selection Criteria E3). While the administration has a long list of stakeholders, parents are not on it. Charter schools, teachers unions and foundations are deemed to be important stakeholders but not parents. These criteria should be extended to explicitly include parents, parent groups and Parent Associations as stakeholders. There is only one place where parents are even mentioned in the proposal, as consumers of reports produced by the proposed data systems. The proposal’s exclusion of parents and the rejection of their role in the education of their children are inappropriate and will undermine any genuine reform effort. Reform efforts must engage parents as they play an essential role in maintaining a supportive environment for learning and must set expectations for their children. This type of thinking appears to be alien to the drafters of the proposal who appear to seek only to hold teachers accountable to the exclusion of all other factors or stakeholders.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cash for Clunkers to Continue Under Department of Ed

August 24, 2009 (GBN News): With the popular “Cash for Clunkers” program set to expire, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has agreed to extend it under the auspices of the US Department of Education. The Secretary announced today that starting immediately, school districts will be given $450,000 in Federal stimulus money towards the purchase of a brand new charter school for each failing school they trade in.

While Secretary Duncan has not yet announced all of the details, he did indicate that, like the junked cars, the old schools will have to be entirely destroyed. “People couldn’t keep so much as an oil pan or a spark plug from any of those old cars they traded in,” the Secretary said. “So why would we let them keep any part of a ‘clunker school’?” Mr. Duncan thus indicated that teachers, principals, and even the students will have to vacate the schools that are traded in. “With a fresh staff and students in the new charter schools,” he said, “we’ll get much higher mileage – I mean test scores – than the old schools did.”

However, it appears that some of the old trade-in automobiles will not in fact meet their intended fate. According to GBN News sources, the Education Department has managed to block the destruction of thousands of “clunkers”, and will be using them as classroom space for students whose schools are traded in. “Those are pretty big cars being traded in,” said one source close to the Secretary. “The kids may actually have more space than some of the classrooms they’re in now.”

Friday, August 21, 2009

Correction needed for Times article on charter school construction

The NY Times misreports yet another important education issue, this time as regards charter school construction. See our previous attempts to correct the record in their recent article on test score increases in NYC schools here and here.

As in the previous article, they uncritically buy the administration’s PR, and in the process, make several important factual errors.

The news that the administration was prepared to spend city capital funds to build new charter schools, despite the fact that the city receives no reimbursement from the state to do so, was first broken in June by Yoav Gonen of the NY Post here.
Dear Editors:

Your article from August 19 re charter school construction is replete with misinformation. First, the reporter writes: “School building in general has exploded in the last five years…..”

Correction no. 1: School construction has not "exploded"; in fact more school seats were built during the last six years of the Giuliani administration than during the first six of the Bloomberg administration.
See the chart above, from a chapter in the recent book, NYC schools under Bloomberg and Klein: What Parents, Teachers and Policymakers Need to Know. As noted, the data comes directly from the Mayor’s Management Report.

And the new five year capital plan further cuts the number of new seats by 60% -- which will provide only approximately one third of the space necessary to eliminate overcrowding and reduce class size to state-mandated levels.

Three different reports, from the NYC Comptroller’s office, from the Manhattan Borough President, and from the Campaign for a Better Capital Plan, a consortium of advocacy groups, public school parents, and unions, all have pointed out how school construction has lagged considerably behind the need to eliminate overcrowding, reduce class size and meet our growing school-age population.

Correction no. 2. “…since the School Construction Authority for New York City financed about $13 billion worth of projects, some of them charter schools. In June, an additional $11.3 billion was allocated for public school construction over the next five years.”

Of the $13 billion in the previous capital plan, only $4.7 billion was allocated for public school construction. The rest went to maintenance, repair, facility enhancements, environmental remediation, technology (including for ARIS, the supercomputer used to crunch test scores) and other ancillary uses.

Moreover, of the $11.3 billion in the new capital plan, only $3.8 billion is for school construction.

Correction no. 3: “If they plan to build in neighborhoods that need more schools because of population growth, charter schools may now apply to dip into a $3.8 billion pool of state money for school construction.”

Actually, the $3.8 billion is not state money for school construction, but the amount of city funds allocated to school construction over the next five years, as noted above.

Moreover, though the state does provides 50% reimbursement for every dollar the city spends to build new regular public schools, the state does not reimburse the city for any funds spent on charter school construction.

Indeed, the reality is the reverse of what this statement implies. The fact that the DOE is now prepared to allocate a portion of its limited capital funds to build new charter schools with no reimbursement by the state, indicates that they are prepared to spend twice as much per seat for charter school students than for regular public school students.

Correction no. 4: the quotation from the head of the Center for Charter School Excellence: “As a result, charter schools often lease buildings or they start operations in unused public school space, he said.”

Unused public school space? This is incorrect. Perhaps you should have asked some of the parents or staff at PS 123, or one of the other many regular public schools that have lost classroom space and cluster rooms to charter schools over the last five years. These controversies have been widely reported in recent months, even occasionally in your paper, and should have been mentioned here.

I trust you will print these corrections ASAP.


Leonie Haimson
Executive Director, Class Size Matters

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Effective Teacher" as Defined By the Obama Dept of Ed

The proposal for allocating Race to the Top Funds is worth reading for its insights into how educational policy in the Obama administration is evolving. There is much discussion of "effective teachers and principals" and the use of "effectiveness information" for granting tenure and dismissing teachers is suggested. But what do these words mean? Fortunately, there is a list of definitions at the end of the document (use the pdf -- it's the easiest to read)

First, the "effective teacher":
Effective teacher means a teacher
whose students achieve acceptable rates
(e.g., at least one grade level in an
academic year) of student growth (as
defined in this notice). States may
supplement this definition as they see
fit so long as teacher effectiveness is
judged, in significant measure, by
student growth (as defined in this
What then, is "student growth". Also in the definitions section:
Student growth means the change in
achievement data for an individual
student between two points in time.
Growth may be measured by a variety of
approaches, but any approach used
must be statistically rigorous and based
on student achievement (as defined in
this notice) data, and may also include
other measures of student learning in
order to increase the construct validity
and generalizability of the information.
Of course, "student achievement". That's what we're all after. But not surprisingly it's nothing more than our old friends, the ELA and Math tests.
Student achievement means, at a
(a) For tested grades and subjects: A
student’s score on the State’s assessment
under section 1111(b)(3) of the ESEA;
(b) For non-tested grades and subjects:

Is that all there is?

Comments are being taken on the Race to the Top Fund proposal through August 29th. Cliick here for the comment form.

Obama Education Grant Criteria Excludes Parents as Stakeholders

The Obama administration has issued proposed rules and guidelines for the Race to the Top education grants. One factor considered in awarding the grants to each state is the extent to which support and commitment of key stakeholders is enlisted. While the administration has a long list of stakeholders (see below), parents are not on it. Charter schools, teachers unions and the foundations are deemed to be important stakeholders but not parents.

Submit your comments online through August 29th.

(E)(3) Enlisting statewide support and commitment: The extent to
which the State has demonstrated commitment, support, and/or funding from the following key stakeholders:

(i) The State's teachers' union(s) and charter school authorizers;
(ii) Other State and local leaders (e.g., business, community,
civil rights, and education association leaders);
(iii) Grant-making foundations and other funding sources; and
(iv) LEAs, including public charter schools identified as LEAs
under State law, with special emphasis on the following: High-need LEAs (as defined in this notice); participation by LEAs, schools, students, and students in poverty; and the strength of the Memoranda of Understanding between LEAs and the State, which must at a minimum be signed by the LEA superintendent (or equivalent), the president of the local school board (if relevant), and the local teachers' union leader (if relevant).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Conflicts of interest abound on new PEP

See the article from today’s Daily News below on the eight mayoral appointments to the Panel for Educational Policy. Out of the four new members, two are former city aides, one owes his current job to Mayor Bloomberg, and three run organizations dependent on city contracts and/or receive financial support from the Mayor himself.

The Mayor will continue to control a super-majority of eight out of the thirteen members, according to the new Padavan/Silver law, and will be able to fire any of them at will. The only change in terms of the board's composition is that Klein can no longer serve as an official member, and the Mayor is now required to select two public school parents among his eight appointees.

The two new parent members announced yesterday are:

Linda Lausell Bryant, head of Inwood House, an organization which currently has a $255,000 contract with the DOE, and has received no-bid DOE contracts in the past. Inwood House has also benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual donations from Bloomberg’s own pocket via the Carnegie Corporation, from 2003 to the present day, and has received $8.5 million in tax exempt capital financing from the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

The other public school parent appointed to the board is Joe Chen, head of the Brooklyn Downtown Partnership, an organization which has millions of dollars of city contracts, according to the News. According to the Brooklyn Paper, Chen was appointed to his current job by Bloomberg himself – despite the fact that no city employees can serve on the PEP. Chen is also a former top aide to Deputy Mayor Doctoroff and is closely allied with the real estate interests in Brooklyn.

The other new members include Gitte Peng, a documentary film maker who was until recently a top aide to Deputy Mayor Walcott, credited for helping fashion the governance law and helping to found a charter school; and Tomás D. Morales, head of the College of Staten Island, part of CUNY, which is entirely dependent on city funding .

As Dick Dadey of the Citizens Union said, "These appointments continue [the mayor's] past practice of appointing people who ... will not break with the mayor.”

Current PEP members who were re-appointed, all of whom were among the mayor’s strongest supporters on the board, will include:

Philip A. Berry, vice chair of CUNY’s board; Tino Hernandez, former head of the NYC Housing Authority who resigned from NYCHA last year amidst a scandal regarding recurring elevator breakdowns; Richard Menschel of Goldman Sachs, a good friend of the mayor’s, and David Chang, president of Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, which has received $104 million in tax-exempt financing through EDC. Not one of them has ever voted against the administration.

All the current borough representatives will be re-appointed, including Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan representative, who up till now has been the only consistently independent voice on the panel. The Brooklyn BP has yet to choose his representative; let’s hope that whoever it will be allowed to serve as a real voice for parents like Patrick.

Along with the evident conflicts of interest, is there continues to be no contact information made available by the DOE for any of the PEP members. The only way for members of the public to reach them is to write a letter c/o the Department of Education. But then, why would the DOE want to make these people accessible to the public?

Previously, no minutes of the PEP meetings were posted since 2007. Now the DOE is beginning to post minutes retroactively and has reached April 2008 – as the new law requires. But these are the most bare bones minutes one could possibly imagine.

Not a single comment from the public is included in the minutes. Also see this record of the PEP meeting on Dec. 17, 2007: “Chancellor Klein and members of the DOE’s Senior Leadership Team walked through questions panel members submitted on a variety of topics. Panel members asked questions and commented throughout the presentation. No action was taken.”

This was actually one of the most interesting of PEP meetings, in which Panel members were for the first and only time allowed to submit questions on DOE policies, (though only three did.) Compare this minimalist account to our description on the parent blog, in which Patrick single-handedly debated critical issues with Chancellor Klein, Linda Wernikoff, Marcia Lyles, Chris Cerf, Kathleen Grimm, and Garth Harris: Jedi vs. the Sith at the December PEP meeting.

The Parent Commission had proposed that all future meetings of the PEP should be webcast and be archived on line. We also proposed that no one who worked for an organization that received substantial contracts from the city or contributions from the mayor himself could serve on the PEP.

Unfortunately, these were among many proposals to improve accountability, transparency and public input that were not adopted.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Muffy returns

After a long absence, Muffy Worthington expresses her appreciation for Arne Duncan and Joel Klein, for helping to provide a lucrative career for her daughter, Buffy, who wants to start her own charter school after graduating from college but has an expensive Manolo Blahnik habit.

Muffy is the wife of Smellington Worthington III, one of Bloomberg's biggest supporters.

Check it out at Billionaires for Education Reform.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

No Canine Left Behind

August 13, 2009 (GBN News): The NY City Department of Education is struggling to accommodate a new and unexpected influx of students enrolling in the city schools for September. While financially pressed parents have already been transferring students from costly private schools, recently another group of students has started to come into the system, this time from obedience schools.

A top DOE official attributed this sudden spike in enrollment to a widely circulated blog, which suggested that even a dog can pass the standardized tests required to be promoted in the city schools. Apparently, dog owners frustrated by their pets’ lack of progress in traditional obedience schools are hoping that the laxer standards at the DOE will afford their pooches a better chance to graduate.

The DOE had initially tried to prevent the dogs from being enrolled. But attorneys for the ASPCA were successful in arguing that nothing in the DOE regulations specifically prohibits dogs from attending city schools, provided that they reside within the five boroughs.

However, this may be a case of “Be careful what you wish for.” Dr. J. Fredrick Runsford, Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Manhattan University, told GBN News that the ASPCA may have a change of heart when they see what sort of conditions the dogs will have to endure in the schools. “Overcrowded and alternately sweltering or freezing classrooms, lack of time in the schedule for lunch periods, abusive school safety officers,” Dr. Runsford pointed out. “Those things would actually violate a whole bunch of animal rights laws. They may conclude that the dogs would be better off back in the kennels.”

In a related story, a DOE spokesperson would not comment on a report that the Department had signed a no-bid contract with the Purina Company making them the exclusive supplier of school lunches for the 2009-10 academic year.

Thanks to NYC Educator for first breaking this story.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Strange Visitors From Another Dimension?

August 11, 2009 (GBN News): A leading expert in paranormal phenomena charges that NY City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have somehow switched places with counterparts from another dimension. J. Fredrick Runson, head of the Parapsychology Department at Manhattan University, told GBN News that there is no other possible explanation for the recent comments made by the Mayor and Chancellor about social promotion.

Dr. Runson pointed out that despite research showing that grade retention can lead to higher dropout rates, the Mayor nevertheless stated, “It’s pretty hard to argue that it doesn’t work.” And the Chancellor, despite a firestorm of opposition to ending social promotion both in 2004 and at present, called support for his policy “unanimous”. “To disagree on an issue is one thing,” Professor Runson said to GBN News in a telephone interview. “But to deny that there is any opposition at all has got to be coming out of a totally different reality. Those guys are not from these parts, I can assure you.”

The implications, according to Dr. Runson, of the Mayor and Chancellor being from an alternate universe are potentially staggering. “Why, in their bizarre world,” he said, “No-bid contracts may be mandated, parents to be ‘seen and not heard’, cell phones could be dangerous weapons, and spending a fortune to overturn term limits so you can run again, after swearing that you won’t, may be considered the epitome of the democratic process. Imagine what sort of policies that kind of world view could lead to.”

When asked what can be done to expose and stop these other-worldly imposters, Dr, Runson took a page from another group opposing the legitimacy of a public figure’s existence. “Those so-called ‘birthers’ who say that President Obama was not born in this country may be a bunch of lunatics,” he said. “But somehow they managed to get a whole lot of people looking for Obama’s birth certificate. If we can do the same with Bloomberg, and if he is indeed some sort of alien from another dimension, he surely won’t be able to produce a birth certificate. And while proving he’s not human may not disqualify him from being Mayor - after all, Giuliani managed to get elected - it could at least cost Bloomberg enough votes to make it a closer race.”

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Mayor commits educational malpractice, once again

Today, the mayor announced he would extend his grade retention policies to 4th and 6th grades -- meaning that all NYC students through 8th grade would now face being held back on the basis of a single test score. According to Gotham Schools,

Asked about researchers’ claims that retention policies can raise the dropout rate, Bloomberg said he was “speechless,” adding, “It’s pretty hard to argue that it does not work.” Klein said that since 2004, when the DOE ended social promotion for third graders, support for its end has been “unanimous.”

In fact, the consensus among experts is overwhelmingly negative -- that grade retention hurts rather than helps students and leads to higher dropout rates. When the City Council held hearings the first time the Mayor proposed this policy, they could not find a single education researcher who supported it.

Yet the mayor and Klein manage to inhabit their own universe of spin; reminiscent to the manner in which Karl Rove described the Bush administration:

We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

See the 2004 letter, signed by over 100 academics, heads of organizations, and experts on testing from throughout the nation, in opposition to the mayor's policy, when he first proposed 3rd grade retention, explaining:

"All of the major educational research and testing organizations oppose using test results as the sole criterion for advancement or retention, since judging a particular student on the basis of a single exam is an inherently unreliable and an unfair measure of his or her actual level of achievement. ...Harcourt and CTB McGraw Hill, the two largest companies that produce standardized tests...are on record opposing the use of their tests as the exclusive criterion for decisions about retention, because they can never be a reliable and/or complete measure of what students may or may not know."

Among the letter’s signers were Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, renowned pediatrician and author of numerous works on child care and development, Robert Tobias, former head of Division of Assessment and Accountability for the Board of Education and now Director of the Center for Research on Teaching and Learning at NYU, and Dr. Ernest House, who did the independent evaluation of New York City’s failed “Gates” retention program in the 1980’s.

Other signers included four past presidents of the American Education Research Association, the nation’s premier organization of educational researchers, as well as three members and the study director of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Appropriate Use of Educational Testing, and two members of the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council.

According to Dr. Shane Jimerson, professor of Child and Adolescent Development at the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of over twenty publications on the subject of retention,

“The continued use of grade retention constitutes educational malpractice. It is the responsibility of educators to provide interventions that are effective in promoting academic success, yet research examining the effectiveness of retention reveals lower achievement, more behavior problems, and higher dropout rates among retained students. It is particularly disconcerting that a disproportionate number of students of ethnic minority and low income backgrounds are retained. Moreover, children’s experience of being held back is highly stressful; surveys indicate that by sixth grade, students report that only the loss of a parent and going blind is more stressful. “

The second time the DOE pushed through this policy, for 5th grade retention, Klein agreed to commission an independent research study of the results. RAND has been analyzing the data since 2005 and has produced several interim reports which the public has not been allowed to see, as reported in a chapter in our book, NYC Schools Under Bloomberg and Klein: What Parents, Teachers and Policymakers Need to Know, by Patrick Sullivan, member of the Panel for Educational Policy:

"....the reports contained the results of extensive surveys with elementary school principals, summer school administrators, and Academic Intervention Services (AIS) specialists. Summer school leaders were coping with the latest DOE reorganization and complained they could not get any specific information on the students assigned to their programs. AIS leaders found that small class sizes were the most effective tool to help struggling students but less than a third of at-risk children had access to smaller classes. Principals felt the retention policy relied too much on standardized tests and was damaging to student self-esteem. Most troubling of all: none of these findings had been made public."

Now, as Patrick points out in Gotham Schools,

"When we voted on the 8th grade retention policy last year they said the release date for the RAND study was August 2009. Now it is “sometime this fall”. Would that happen to be “sometime after the election this fall?” What are they hiding?"

According to the DOE spokesperson, " Preliminary results of the RAND study, which looks at the performance of third and fifth graders affected by the Mayor’s promotion policy over time and will include data from the 2008-2009 school year, were delivered to the Department of Education last year...."

If Bloomberg and Klein were really so convinced that their retention policies have been successful, they should be obligated to release the RAND findings before the vote of the Panel to approve their extension to even more children.

Arne Duncan has become an embarrassment

Check out my latest column on the Huffington Post.

Check out how Duncan's latest intrusion into local politics and slavish flattery of Mayor Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch's NY Post has provoked outrage from parents and teachers alike.

It would all be somewhat comical if this politicization of education reform weren't so inherently dangerous. It's time for Obama to rein his appointee in - before he causes yet further embarrassment to his administration.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Is Arne Duncan Destroying the Obama Brand?

Education blogs today were transfixed by US Education Secretary Arne Duncan's gushing appreciation for the New York Post's contribution to the mayoral control debate here in NYC.

From the Post's story:

Arne Duncan, the US secretary of education, lauded The Post's coverage.

"I appreciate your paper's leadership. I appreciate the thoughtfulness. You guys did a lot of work on [the mayoral-control issue]," Duncan said.

Gotham Schools has a genuinely thoughtful analysis entitled "The Fruitful Alliance of Arne Duncan and Rupert Murdoch" including some great quotes from incredulous education and journalism insiders.

NYC Educator's scathing commentary dismisses Duncan as "cheerleader for the Bloomberg PR machine".

The President ought to watch his back. The Post's circulation dropped 21% this year. With his own numbers headed south as well, he might want to suggest his Education Secretary find some new friends.

Bill’s Korea Mission: The Real Story

August 7, 2009 (GBN News): As has been widely speculated, the release of two jailed reporters was not the only reason for former President Bill Clinton’s recent trip to North Korea. According to GBN News sources, Mr. Clinton also carried an urgent message from President Obama to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, looking to secure his support for the NY State Senate bill renewing Mayoral control of the NY City schools. The bill’s easy passage yesterday is seen as proof that this second objective of the former President’s mission was as successful as the first.

While some have questioned why local school control would be the subject of international diplomacy, this is not the first time the Administration has injected itself into this issue. In June, Education Secretary Arne Duncan personally advocated for an important aspect of Mayoral control. But President Obama apparently felt that he needed to broaden this lobbying effort.

The benefit of Mr. Kim’s involvement is obvious. As a bona fide member of the Axis of Evil, he carries with him a large intimidation factor, which could sway the votes of fence sitters who might be wary of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. And the North Korean leader clearly derives a boost to his international prestige by partnering with a like minded autocrat such as Mayor Bloomberg. But how Mr. Clinton came to be involved was another story.

According to sources close to the former President, the trip was originally planned solely to free the two reporters. However, prior to Mr. Clinton’s departure, a group of workers from Eva Moskowitz' Harlem Success Academy entered the Clinton offices in Harlem and began changing locks and moving out furniture and equipment. When they told the former President that they were there to set up a new charter school, Mr. Clinton angrily demanded an explanation from Mayor Bloomberg. The Mayor referred him without comment to Secretary Duncan, who told Mr. Clinton, “We just need you to do the President a small favor. Get Kim to support the Senate bill, and all those nasty people in your office will go away.”

In a related story, a spokesperson for the Mayor categorically denied reports that Mr. Kim is in line to replace Schools Chancellor Joel Klein after the Mayor is re-elected. “Not tough enough” was the only reason given.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Haimson, Jackson Featured in NY1 Guest Editorials

NY1 asked a number of prominent New Yorkers to comment on mayoral control and Mike Bloomberg's management of the public schools. Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters is below.

Also check out NYC Council Education Chair Robert Jackson and parent leader Muba Yarofulani.

An Open Letter to President Obama: Please help us save our school!

Dear President Obama:

The Early College model, which you recently cited in your speech to the NAACP as a promising example that should be emulated nationwide, provides students with small classes, advanced instruction, extra learning time, and the opportunity to take college courses and graduate from high school with two years of college credit.

Here in New York City, the Bronx Early College Academy (BECA) was founded three years ago as a 6-12 school with help from funding from the Gates Foundation. Ninety nine percent of our students are African-American or Hispanic.

Though BECA was rated the most improved school in the city in parent surveys this year, its success has been put at risk by irresponsible conduct of the NYC Department of Education. Our school is one of more than ninety schools being moved into a new building this year, in a disruptive and chaotic process of musical chairs, with decisions made by unaccountable officials at the Office of Portfolio Development who have been completely unavailable and inaccessible to parents and other stakeholders.

Our students work hard: they have to complete about two hours of homework each day, attend mandatory classes after school three days a week, as well as classes on Saturday. The school was initially placed in an annex of PS 24 in Riverdale. Because of cramped space, the school could not provide our students with the smaller class sizes that the early college model requires. Instead, our class sizes averaged 27 students, but we hoped for improvements once the school was moved to a building of our own. We also had no auditorium, no gymnasium, no science labs, no media rooms, no library, no specialty rooms - just a few classrooms and a lunchroom.

Parents believed in the academic program and the mission of BECA enough to look beyond what we did not have. We held on to the promises made by DOE officials that they would find us a suitable site near to Lehman or on the college campus itself, with all of the amenities that a high-tech, early college program should provide – as well as a site that would allow our children to easily attend college classes during the school day when they reached 9th grade.

Yet now, the school is being moved six miles away to the South Bronx --even further away from Lehman. The building (the former JHS166, which is being closed) will house six different schools, including a district suspension site. Rather than respond to parental complaints and requests for meetings, our school is being placed in a rat-infested facility that looks more like a prison than a school building.

While the school has a site-selection committee that includes parents as members, our committee was never consulted before the move was announced.

Again, there will be no room for smaller classes, once the school grows to its full 6-12 size. And though DOE officials had originally promised that shuttle-bus service would be available for the 3½-mile trip to the Lehman campus starting next fall when our students reached 9th grade, they later revised this to say that there would only be buses once our students were 10th graders. Most recently we were told buses would not be provided until the 11th grade.

The lack of concern and disrespect for the BECA community has been exhibited by the Chancellor himself.

When BECA parents spoke up in June to protest the move during a meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, Chancellor Klein claimed he was “unaware” of these issues, although there had been direct and frequent communication with him since March, via letters, petitions, rallies, calls to 311, and even speakers at earlier PEP meetings.

Editorials, opeds from elected representatives, as well as numerous news articles had been published about this issue. We have used whatever means available to us to express our concerns, yet we feel utterly ignored –emblematic of the manner in which the Bloomberg/Klein administration has shown complete disregard for the parent voice in the NYC educational system.

President Obama: you have spoken widely and well about the importance of parents being involved in our children’s educations. Why should parents have to go through such lengths just to have our views ignored, by an administration that does not value our contributions? Why allow time for public comments during meetings of the Panel for Educational Policy, if those comments are not heard or followed up on?

As Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz wrote in April in the Riverdale Press, “the real problem [is] a Department of Education with no real plan, just a mandate to create more and more small schools with no intelligent planning as to where to put many of them….. [in a] mad rush to create so many so quickly …”

As a school, BECA has had its problems. We have had three principals in as many years. Now, just when we have hit our stride, the DOE pulls the rug under our feet with this disruptive move. With the great progress that our school has made, it is imperative that our progress should continue. If our school falters once more, it will be due to an administration that has shown a lack of commitment to make good on its promises to our children – and a lack of concern for their future success.

President Obama, listen to our pleas. Please help us convince the Department of Education that a more suitable site must be found for our school.

Sincerely, Annabelle Wright, PA President, Bronx Early College Academy

Ms. Wright can be reached at 917-496-3757 or at See also these letters from parents at BECA and from the Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to Chancellor Klein, detailing the poor planning process by the Office of Portfolio Development. For more on BECA, see The Riverdale Press from December 18, 2008– “Turning things around” and . For more on the Early College model, see this Huffington Post column by a student who graduated from Bard Early College HS. For an analysis of the problems of the NYC small school initiative, including high staff turnover, inadequate facilities, and frequent moves, as well as the “collateral damage” suffered by students at the large schools as a result, see the recent report from the New School, “The New Marketplace: How Small-School Reforms and School Choice Have Reshaped NYC’s High Schools.”