Saturday, September 26, 2009

School overcrowding and rising class sizes: who is to blame?

In response to questions and complaints about increased class sizes and overcrowding at schools all over the city, DOE officials commonly have blamed parents, for insisting on sending their kids to popular schools.

Yet their refusal to take responsibility for the problem, though typical, belies the reality: that the vast majority of K-8 students attend their local zoned neighborhood schools, and DOE completely controls how many students are assigned each high school through through OSEPO (the Office of School Enrollment, Planning and Operations).

So what are some of the real sources of the increased overcrowding?

1- The administration's disinterest and disinvestment in keeping class sizes low. Despite a state law requiring NYC to reduce class size in all grades, there are now 1600 fewer classroom teachers, and 10,000 more out-of-classroom staff since the Mayor took control of our schools, including many more highly paid administrators, and 2,000 additional school secretaries. Moreover, numerous audits and reports from the State Comptroller, the City Comptroller, and the State Education Department have found fault with the city's failure to spend state funds specifically targeted to class size reduction according to the intent of the law.

2-As described in numerous reports, their failure to adequately plan and build new schools for communities that have seen increased enrollment, especially in the younger grades. (For the latest reports from the City Comptroller and the Manhattan Borough President, see here and here.) This has also led to a significant increase in the percentage of students attending overcrowded schools, as well as more Kindergarten students being forced to attend schools outside their neighborhood schools.

3. At the high school level, the growing number of new small schools have caused our large comprehensive high schools to be increasingly flooded by students excluded from the small schools, which have capped enrollment and class sizes at lower levels. The reality is that different high school (and sometimes middle school) principals have different deals with the Department of Education, with many selective smaller schools (and charter schools housed in DOE buildings) allowed to cap enrollment at lower levels so that they can keep class sizes under 25, while other principals are inundated with so many students it is difficult for them to keep to the union contractual limits of 34.

The increased number of small schools jammed into existing school buildings has also directly contributed to more overcrowding overall, as each new small school and charter school eats up classroom space with more administrative and cluster rooms. More than one fourth of all NYC principals report that the insertion of new schools or programs into their buildings have led to more overcrowding in their schools.

4. Large budget cuts imposed at the school level by the city in recent years, including this fall, have made it harder for principals to keep sufficient teachers on staff , while the salaries of Tweed bureaucrats and consultants continues to grow apace.

All of these phenomena result directly from the flawed priorities, policies and budgetary decisions made by this administration. The DOE's attempt to blame parents for the resulting overcrowding is yet another way in which the accountability promised by mayoral control has failed to materialize.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chancellor's Regs and School Changes for Vote at November PEP

Six public notices were released by DOE tonight for votes on the agenda for the November 12th PEP meeting. Three are Chancellor's regulations and three are changes in school configuration / utilization.

Links to all are below and on the PEP web site
here It looks like we have a location for the November meeting as well: PS 128 in Queens, located at 69-10 65th Drive, Queens, NY 11379

Text below from the DOE site:


The following regulations have been posted for the 45 day public comment period. The Panel will vote on the regulations listed below at the November 12, 2009 Panel meeting. The meeting will take place at 6:00 PM at PS 128 in Queens, located at 69-10 65th Drive, Queens, NY 11379.

  1. Public Notice: C-30 Regulation Governing the Selection, Assignment and Appointment of Principals and Assistant Principals

    a. C-30 Regulation Governing the Selection, Assignment and Appointment of Principals and Assistant Principals

  2. Public Notice: C-37 Selection of Community Superintendents

    a. C-37 Selection of Community Superintendents

  3. Public Notice: A-190 Regulation on Significant changes in School Utilization

    a. A-190 Regulation on Significant Changes in School Utilization

  4. Public Notice: A-501 Regulation on Promotion Standards

    a. A-501 Regulation on Promotion Standards


The following educational impact statements have been posted for the 45 day public comment period. The Panel will vote on the statements listed below at the November 12, 2009 Panel meeting. The meeting will take place at 6:00 PM at PS 128 in Queens, located at 69-10 65th Drive, Queens, NY 11379.

  1. Public Notice: PS 46M

    a. Educational Impact Statement for PS 46M

  2. Public Notice: Greenwich Village Middle School

    a. Educational Impact Statement for Greenwich Village Middle School

  3. Public Notice: Mott Hall V (12X242)

    a. Educational Impact Statement for Mott Hall V (12X242)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Qaddafi Pitches Tent in Charter School Backyard

September 23, 2009 (GBN News): Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, who had tried in vain to find a spot to pitch his tent while in New York to speak at the UN, has finally found a home away from home. Colonel Qaddafi, who despite being ruler of Libya has somehow never been promoted to General, sleeps in a Bedouin tent no matter what part of the world he is visiting. After being banned from every outdoor venue in the Metropolitan area due to residents’ anger over his history of supporting terrorism, Colonel Qaddafi has now taken over the Harlem Success Academy, a New York City charter school, and slept last night in the schoolyard.

The Libyan strongman, who is said to have closely studied the methods of Eva Moskowitz, the head of Harlem Success, realized that he could turn her own techniques against her. Mr. Qaddafi was thus able to take over the school very much the way she wrested it away from PS 123 – by brazenly sending workmen into the schoolyard to remove the playground equipment and replace it with the Colonel’s tent.

It is unclear whether the Libyan leader plans to hold onto the school after he returns to Libya. But according to GBN News sources, before he leaves the city Mr. Qaddafi intends to endorse Mayor Bloomberg, a fellow eccentric dictator, for re-election – a move which could put a crimp in the Mayor’s campaign.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mayor's Appointees Take Reins of PEP, Defend Dubious Contracts

The Panel for Educational Policy resumed meeting on September 14th. Meeting materials can be found on the DOE web site here. My account follows below. Press coverage can be found here (NY Times), here (NY1 with video) Gotham Schools here and here (Daily News).

1. Votes for PEP Chair and Vice Chair

The first Panel for Educational Policy commenced with the vote to elect our chair. The Brooklyn member nominated mayoral appointee David Chang. I did not think the mayor’s candidate should run unopposed. I nominated myself and the Bronx member, Anna Santos seconded my nomination. The vote was 10-2 in favor of David.

I wasn't going to run for vice chair but was surprised to be nominated by Joan Correale representing Staten Island. I lost the vice chair vote 8-3-1 with support from the Bronx, Staten Island and Queens member Dmytro Fedkowskyj abstaining. The Brooklyn member supported the mayoral candidate, Philip Berry. While I did not expect to win either post, it was discouraging to see two individuals with mediocre or poor attendance records in their past PEP service ascend to leadership positions. The NY Times pegged David Chang’s attendance during his prior PEP service at 80% while Philip Berry only attended 65% of meetings. The mayor sends a terrible message to the city’s public school children when he entrusts oversight of their schools to two individuals who have struggled to make even the minimal time commitment required by the PEP.

I'd like to thank Anna Santos, Joan Correale and the public school parents of the Bronx and Staten Island for their support.

2. PEP By-Laws

The by-laws passed unanimously with little discussion. DOE General Counsel Mike Best had circulated a draft version that included a committee formed for the purpose of reviewing procurement contracts. The mayoral appointees agreed to expand this committee to five members, two borough members and three mayoral.

3. H1N1 update

The DOE and DOH guidance for the schools have been widely circulated. I asked about the policy for closing schools. It will be a last resort. Under this approach no schools would have been closed last year explained Deputy Chancellor Grimm.

4. Contract Approval Process

The new law requires the PEP to approve the bulk of DOE spending contracts. I had a fairly long discussion with DOE Chief Operating Officer Photo Anagnostopoulos about what information DOE will provide to PEP members seeking to understand the procurement contracts. Despite the clear language of the law requiring the PEP to “approve contracts”, DOE has refused to provide the actual contracts. Instead, we were supposed to make do with DOE-crafted summaries. I explained how the summaries did not accurately explain what we were buying, how were paying for it and how much it was going to cost. After much back and forth I said “you will give us the contracts yes or no?” She eventually agreed. Four mayoral appointees then admonished me, citing the risks of violating vendor confidentiality, the dangers of trying to micromanage the operations of the DOE, the vast complexity of the contracts and perhaps most remarkably, our fiduciary duty to the vendors! "We don’t need to see the contracts" they insisted. I wish the mayor’s appointees were as equally energetic in looking after the interests of the public school children as they were with the interests of DOE contractors.

5. Contract Approvals

Fifteen contracts were offered for approval. Two were controversial and were the subject of significant discussion and public comment.

Item 5, Octagon

Item 5 on the list was a contract with Octagon, Inc. acting as a marketing agent to generate revenue from vending and sponsorship arrangements. Octagon previously arranged the notorious Snapple vending deal. The comptroller’s office issued a highly negative audit of the Snapple contract in 2004 which included the finding that Octagon stood to realize “exorbitant compensation” (see comptrollers report here). The Comptroller asked the PEP to vote against the new agreement to hire Octagon as a marketing agent.

Due to the controversy, DOE made a statement defending the contract. The main point was that Octagon was not running the process to secure new deals as with the old Snapple contract but simply supporting DOE who would manage them. In response to my follow-up questioning, DOE made two disturbing admissions:

  • First, they admitted that despite not having a contract, Octagon has already worked with DOE on new deals. The contract summary provided to the PEP by DOE incorrectly stated that the contract was not retroactive. And no information on what nature of work Octagon completed was provided. We were not told we being asked to approve a contract for work already performed.
  • Second, the DOE admitted the contract summary provide to us misrepresented Octagon’s role. The summary stated: “The selected consulting firm will have the authority to develop, issue, negotiate and manage a competitive RFP process under DOE supervision for the selection of leading manufacturers of high quality items including, but not limited to, beverages, healthy snacks, athletic apparel…” (emphasis mine). This language directly contradicted DOE statements at the meeting asserting that Octagon would play only a minimal “advisory” role. I explained to the Chancellor, COO and fellow board members that this misinformation is precisely why it is essential for PEP members to have direct access to the contract language.
I voted against the Octagon contract citing the misleading information provided by DOE, the lack of any concrete information on what exactly Octagon would do in exchange for 15-18% commissions and the failure of the DOE to explain why the Snapple deal arranged by Octagon fell $5 million short of the revenue projected. The Octagon contract was approved 10 votes for and 3 against.

Item 6, Future Technology Associates

The DOE’s accounting system, called FAMIS, is maintained by a firm called Future Technology Associates (FTA). DOE requested PEP approval of a $54 million, four year contract with four main components: 1) maintain the system, 2) develop enhancements required by DOE and 3) integrate the accounting system with the city’s system (known as FMS). A fourth project included in the proposal was to expand the payroll system, NYCAPS.

My review of the proposal indicated the contract is actually four separate projects that were inappropriately bundled together:

  • First, maintenance of the FAMIS accounting system should be bid separately, with a heavy emphasis on transferring knowledge of operating and maintaining the system to DOE technology staff. DOE insisted that without approval of the contract in its entirety the department would not be able to function at all, even to write a check or pay salaries. Eight years into the management of the city school district by the Bloomberg administration, it is discouraging to find ourselves placed in this extremely vulnerable position. I could not get a straight answer from DOE on why the system was outsourced to expensive consultants in direct contradiction of the mayor’s IT Strategic Direction polices. I was told the system required the latest software skills in order to function, skills not available amongst DOE employees, but the only skills listed in the RFP were decades-old mainframe skills.
  • Second, enhancements of FAMIS should be limited to essential items with unnecessary work deferred. For example, third on the to-do list was enhancing the FAMIS web portal to make it easier to renew and replace wireless devices. Issuing Blackberries to Tweed staffers is hardly a priority given our current budget crisis.
  • Third, the integration with the city’s system should be separated and put to bid as a fixed priced contract. I was told by members of the press that the DOE effectively blocked other contractors from bidding on this work by requiring any contractor to assume liability for the entirety of the FAMIS software system. The task of connecting the system with the city’s system must be isolated from ensuring the ongoing functioning of the system itself. This extension of the liability requirement may have been imposed to protect the incumbent, FTA, from competition.
  • Fourth, the work extending the NYCAPS payroll system had no business whatsoever being tied into the work on the accounting system. This bundling may have been done to appease FTA or otherwise protect their incumbency.
The bundling of the various projects together into one contract made it impossible for the PEP to understand the costs and benefits of the individual projects. While it is likely that FTA would have distinct advantages in winning some pieces, I firmly believe that separating the projects would allow more competition on others.

I also had concerns about the vendor, FTA, itself. A series of columns by Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez surfaced some information suggesting the vendor may not be of sufficient size and strength to manage a contract of this magnitude: they have no other clients, they have no actual place of business beyond the DOE space occupied by their consultants and the Florida address listed on the contract summary is a Jacksonville strip mall containing a UPS Store, presumably the mail drop location for FTA.

I voted against the FTA contract and requested the work be re-bid in separate pieces as I suggested above. The contract was approved 11-2.

6. Discussion of 4th and 6th Grade Retention Policy

Chancellor Klein outlined the timetable for consideration of test-based grade retention policies in 4th and 6th grades. The RAND study of the 5th grade promotion policy will be released in October and the vote held by the PEP in November.

I asked Chancellor Klein to be prepared to respond to 1) the statement by NY State Department of Education saying use of state tests for promotion decisions was not appropriate and 2) accounts in the Daily News and NY Times demonstrating that random guessing will produce the level 2 score needed for promotion on some of these tests.

Friday, September 18, 2009

DOE Packs ’em In

September 18, 2009 (GBN News): In the face of heavy criticism by furious parents and beleaguered teachers, the NY City Department of Education has taken a major step towards dealing with the issue of overcrowding in the city’s classrooms. Class size has exploded all over the city, with over 7200 classes over the contractual limit. But Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told reporters today that the DOE has contracted with the King Oscar Sardine Company to implement what he termed “creative solutions” to the problem.

“It’s really just a space management problem,” said the Chancellor. “The King Oscar folks have assured us that there is excess space all over the place that can be better utilized.” Mr. Klein said that the new plans are already being implemented, citing at least one classroom where children are sitting in the previously wasted space behind the blackboard.

The no-bid contract with King Oscar has already come under fire from some critics, but Chancellor Klein was ready with a response. “The company is a proven leader in space utilization,” he said. “Nobody fits them in better than King Oscar.”

In a related story, the Panel for Educational Policy, who must approve all contracts over $1 million, met in a special emergency session to approve the King Oscar deal. Company personnel were present to demonstrate their expertise by setting up the Panel’s new meeting room, formerly a coat closet at Tweed Courthouse.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

DOE Hires Former “Weatherman”

September 16, 2009 (GBN News): In what may prove to be his most controversial move yet, NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has hired former Weather Underground leader Mark Rudd as the Department of Education’s new “Charter Facilities Acquisition Officer”. Mr. Rudd, who first made his name taking over buildings at Columbia University back in 1968, was, according to a DOE spokesperson, the “obvious choice” to assist charter schools in finding space in existing public schools.

City Comptroller William Thompson, the Democratic candidate for Mayor, immediately blasted the move, accusing Mr. Klein, and by association Mayor Bloomberg, of “palling around with terrorists”. The Mayor’s campaign quickly responded by insisting that Mr. Rudd had “reformed”, and “has not occupied a building in years.” But J. Fredrick Runson, head of the Political Science Department at Manhattan University, is skeptical of that statement. “They must think he’s as good as ever,” he told GBN News. “Otherwise, they’d just stick with Eva Moskowitz.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chris Cerf, corpocrat, moves over to the Bloomberg campaign

NY Times: "Mr. Cerf [Deputy Chancellor] will help organize public school parents, especially charter school parents; promote the mayor’s record on education; and advise the campaign on education policy until Election Day, when he is expected to return to City Hall."

Return to City Hall? In the Daily News it says Cerf may not come back to Tweed.

Good luck with organizing charter school parents.

I'm sure the funds -- and the distorted claims--will be flowing like crazy. Four years ago, Bloomberg gave Patty Harris, a deputy mayor, a bonus of $350,000 for less than three months of work on his campaign.

Daily News: "Micah Lasher, chief lobbyist, and John White, who heads up the office on where schools are located, will divide Cerf’s duties for the next six weeks."

Boy, that John White will be busy.

All the articles mention Cerf’s solicitation of funds from Edison when Edison had a contract with DOE; but not how Cerf hid his Edison stock holdings after being hired by DOE.

For more on this see Juan Gonzalez' column here: our NYC parent blog here; the NY Times here; and for Cerf’s earlier deceptions, here: and here.

The Times earlier reported on how Bloomberg gave at least $1 million to endow a new center at Patty Harris’ alma mater, Franklin and Marshall, to be called “the Patricia E. Harris Center for Business, Government and Public Policy.”

Perhaps he will now endow a new school of ethics in Cerf’s name.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

NYC Kids PAC launches; check out our endorsements!

Whether you're concerned about governance and Mayoral control, or about school overcrowding, you know we need real change in our public schools.

Public school parents have started a new organization, called NYC Kids PAC, to support candidates who are working to make the sort of changes we need. More information about NYC Kids PAC is at Gotham Schools ; also see our (very new) website at, that has our mission statement and a list of founding members.

As we learned from from the school governance battle in Albany and the struggle in the City Council for a better capital plan, we need to elect representatives who take their responsibilities to our kids seriously. We call for real action to end overcrowding, ensure parent input, and give our children real opportunity and protect their civil rights. We will build parent power through the ballot box.

We have endorsed the following candidates in the primaries taking place on Tuesday, and hope you will support them for their work on behalf of better schools:

--- For City Comptroller, we endorse John Liu, who as Councilmember voted against the school capital plan and demanded enhanced accountability from the DOE as a member of the Council's Education Committee;

--- For Public Advocate, we endorse Norman Siegel, for his pro bono work representing the interests of public school parents in the cell phone and Randall's Island lawsuits.

--- For reelection to the City Council, we endorse the six members who voted against the inadequate school capital plan: in alphabetical order,Charles Barron, Alan Gerson, Robert Jackson, Ken Mitchell, Diane Reyna, and Al Vann;

--- For City Council, we endorse Mark Weprin, who as a state Assemblymember voted against the Silver/Padavan legislation that continued the current system of mayoral control, with no checks and balances;

If you would like to become a member of NYC Kids PAC, or send a contribution, send an email to


Ann Kjellberg, President, NYC Kids PAC

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bloomberg Acquires Naming Rights to City Schools

September 11, 2009 (GBN News): In a dramatic City Hall news conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today that he has purchased the naming rights to the entire NY City school system. Henceforth, each city school will be called “Bloomberg School” followed by the school number. For example, PS 221 will now be known as “Bloomberg School 221”.

The Mayor promised that “every penny” of the $2 billion purchase price will go “straight to the classroom” in the form of charter school funding and merit pay for teachers. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, saying that the deal “Personifies both the letter and the spirit of our reforms”, immediately announced the Education Department will match the $2 billion with an equal amount of “Race to the Top” stimulus funds.

Critics pounced on the deal, contending that it is illegal to name a school after a living person. However, State Senator Frank Padavan, for whom the former Glen Oaks Campus was named (coincidently right before his own re-election bid), looked very much alive as he told GBN News, “If they can name it for a mere State Senator, they can certainly do it for someone as rich – I mean, as prominent – as the Mayor.”

In other news, Bloomberg LP, the Mayor’s own financial software and data company, announced today that it has been awarded a contract with the NY City Board of Elections to provide the city with new computerized voting machines. The machines are expected to be delivered in time for the upcoming Mayoral election, and a company spokesperson said that city voters will be “really happy with some of the features of the new machines.” For example, he said, as a convenience to the many voters who intend to vote for the Mayor, Mr. Bloomberg’s name will be highlighted in large print, “with little stars next to it so nobody will miss it.”

Class size audit: another broken promise to our children

City Comptroller Thompson released a class size audit on Wednesday, showing that in 2007-8, the city misused $47 million meant to reduce class size in K-3rd grades. Instead, schools used these funds on other budget items. Press release is here; the full audit is here.

The city is a serial offender when it comes to class size. Since 2006, there have been at least five audits and reports showing how the city has misused nearly a billion dollars in state funds meant for be used to hire new teachers to reduce class size. Yet there are now nearly 2,000 fewer classes in grades K-8 and 1600 fewer classroom teachers. Meanwhile, the number of high paid administrators and out of classroom positions has mushroomed.

The case studies in the latest audit are particularly interesting. One school, PS 36 in the Bronx, received $455,000 to create four extra classes in K-3, but instead subtracted two classes. As a result, they had 23.5 kids in Kindergarten classes, rather than 19; 29 students in 1st grade classes instead of 22; and 30 kids in 2nd grade classes instead of 18.

Another example: PS 327 in Brooklyn, which was allocated $335,000 and should have added four extra classes to reduce class size, but only added one. Both schools had the classroom space, according to the “Blue Book,” but didn’t follow through. Other schools that had no space to reduce class size were allocated these funds, while schools that had space were not provided with any class size funds.

The administration’s response to their failure to properly monitor the use of these funds? That the program has “ceased to exist.”

However the Early Grade class size reduction budget allocation memo is still listed on the DOE website for FY 2010 as an "externally restricted" program. The full budget memo is here, with specific rules that are supposed to be followed -- rules that according to this audit, were flagrantly violated.

Moreover, the city promised to the state to continue the program, even after it was formally folded into the Contracts for Excellence (C4E). The DOE stated as part of its C4E plan that "the Department continues to be committed to reducing class size in early grades via the Early Grade Class Size Reduction program."

Here’s another, equally creative response to the audit, from Joel Klein, on WNYC radio:

“KLEIN: We've put all the state money, we got lots of state money for that and it's all been put into lower class size. People say, well last year it went up a few tenths of a point or something like that, but last year we had budget cuts.”

What? They have never spent the state funds appropriately and in fact, the city is a serial offender when it comes to class size. See this summary; and these charts, showing the large increases by district throughout the city last year, particularly in grades K-3.

Check out how your district did. Click on the chart below, for visual evidence that there was no relationship between the schools that received C4E funds to reduce class size, and those that actually did.

Yet more broken promises to our children.
Smaller classes remain the top priority of parents, according to the DOE’s own surveys. The state’s highest court said that NYC children have been deprived of their constitutional right to an adequate education because of excessive class sizes. Class size reduction is now a state mandate, and yet the DOE continues to violate the law, with little or no compunction. In fact, last school year, class sizes increased by the largest amount in ten years.
We will be asking the state to withhold any more C4E funds from NYC until the city actually follows through on its moral and legal commitments to our children and reduces class size.

Some news articles about the audit are here: Space crunch keeps kids at home, bussed elsewhere, as packed classes begin in city -- Daily News; DOE misspends millions: Class size sky-rockets --; Thompson says DOE spent class size reduction money elsewhere -- GothamSchools; Comptroller Says DOE Didn't Use All Funds for Smaller Class Sizes --WNYC; Thompson Claims Mayor, DOE Misused Funds -- NY1.

Friday, September 4, 2009

City's claims re school construction are as inflated as the school grades

See today’s column by Juan Gonzalez in which he shows how the administration’s claims as regards school construction are as inflated as the school grades.

Many buildings claimed as “new school construction” are instead space leased in office buildings or parochial schools. What’s the problem with counting leased seats the same as new school construction? For one thing, the city never includes in their calculation how many seats are lost each year, when leased spaces lapse.

See this list of leases for Manhattan schools alone -- with thousands of seats subtracted due to lost leases in recent years. And the list is not even complete. For example, Baruch College HS, which lost its space last year, will spend one year in the former School for the Physical City, until that lease is finished, with no permanent home yet for the future.

The city’s press release also blatantly claims that this year’s total of 13,000 seats plus last year’s total, “represents the most-ever new classroom seats to come on line in a two-year period since the School Construction Authority was created in 1988.”

This is false. As Juan writes, “During three of those years, Giuliani created an average of 19,000 new seats. Under Bloomberg, the city has created more than 14,000 seats only once, in 2005, and school overcrowding continues to grow.”
No matter how you slice it, nearly any two years during the Giuliani administration produced bigger totals. Click on the chart above, with data taken directly from Mayor’s Management Reports.

Also, while the press release claims that “the 2005-2009 Capital Plan [was] the largest school construction effort in the City’s history,” this is not true either. Many previous administrations have built many more seats. Even Kathleen Grimm, Deputy Chancellor, was forced to admit this at a recent City Council hearing, when Robert Jackson presented her with the facts. See this account at Gotham Schools.

And the overcrowding has worsened, contrary to what City Hall claims. According to the DOE’s “Blue Book” 48 percent of students attended overcrowded schools as of the 2007-8 school year. This compares to 43 percent of students the year before. (We have no data as of 2008-9 as of yet.) Hundreds of children were put on waiting lists for Kindergarten this fall.

The new five year capital plan further cuts the number of new seats by 60 percent -- which will provide only approximately one third of the space necessary to eliminate current overcrowding and reduce class size to state-mandated levels -- and will do nothing to address the increased enrollment expected in neighborhoods throughout the city.

Three recent reports, from the NYC Comptroller, from the Manhattan Borough President, and from the Campaign for a Better Capital Plan, have each pointed out how school construction has lagged considerably behind the needs of our growing school-age population.

Just yesterday, the Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer put out yet another report, School Daze, showing how the DOE’s enrollment projections have consistently fallen short, and do not take into count the growth of new residential development, making it likely that thousands of Manhattan children will be left without schools in the near future.

Our classrooms are already overcrowded, and our children are facing a worsening crisis unless the city faces the truth – and builds more schools. In a recent survey, 86 percent of principals said that their class sizes were already too large to provide a quality education.

Indeed, the city is supposed to grow by a million residents by 2030 – without any plan to deal with the increased number of schoolchildren this will entail. Yet the only mention of schools in the PlaNYC report that detailed the need for improvements in every other aspect of the city’s infrastructure was a recommendation that excess school buildings should be renovated into more housing.

Already, the city’s share of capital spending going to schools has fallen sharply – click on the chart to the right. This disturbing trend is likely to continue, given the hugely inadequate new five year capital plan.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The absurd, silly, ridiculous school grades

See articles on this year’s elementary and middle school grades, or “progress reports”: Times, NY Post, Daily News, NY1, and this piece in Gotham schools (the best).

They are replete with examples of the absurd results, with schools such as PS 82 in the Bronx jumping from an “A” to an “F” and back this year to an “A”. PS 8 in Brooklyn which got an “F” last year and this year got an “A”, with the principal saying they did nothing different. The three schools that Klein tried to close last year to put charter schools in their place-- P.S. 194, 241 and 150 – all got “As”.

In fact, 84% of the schools got an “A” this year, and only two schools out of more than one thousand got “F”s. This is grade inflation that would put any human being other than Joel Klein to hide his head in shame.

And yet, according to the NY Times, “he clearly took pride in the results. “If you’re asking whether I would rather see less A’s,” he said, “the answer is no.”

Meanwhile, 87% of principals said in a recent survey that their schools were unable to provide a quality education because of excessive class sizes.

The absurdity of the grades this year derive from two profound flaws: First, 85% of the grade is based on one year’s gains or losses in test scores, which experts have found to be statistically unreliable and extremely erratic.

And two, the state tests have become so much easier and their scoring so lax that students can pass them without reading the questions – as long as they manage to fill in a few bubbles along the way. (For more on this scandal, well-reported everywhere except the Times, see the Daily News here and here, Gotham Schools and this NY Post column by Diane Ravitch.)

I wrote an oped for the Daily news about the new grading system when it was first announced in the fall of 2007: “Why parents & teachers should reject new school grades.” It starts out this way: “The new school grading system unveiled this week by Chancellor Joel Klein is a fiasco.”

But what do you expect when you had two guys in charge, Liebman and Klein, who are ignorant as to statistics, the unreliability of test scores, and even the larger goals of education?

Perhaps the best result is where we have now arrived: hopefully everyone realizes that the emperor has no clothes and they should ignore these silly grades, as they should have in the first place.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Advocates for Children candidate survey results

Advocates for Children announced the results of a new survey on education policy today. Candidates in the 2009 New York City elections for mayor, public advocate, and comptroller provided answers to questions covering a variety of controversial issues that affect local public schools. Mayor Bloomberg, unfortunately, refused to respond.

Click here to see the full press release and here to download the full results. Here are the results regarding class size:

5. Education outcomes will not improve significantly until class sizes are reduced.

Public Advocate

Bill de Blasio No Response

Eric Gioia Agree

Mark Green Strongly Agree

Norman H. Siegel Strongly Agree

Alex T. Zablocki Agree


Tony Avella Strongly Agree

Robert Burck Strongly Disagree

Joseph Dobrian Strongly Disagree

Tyrell Eiland Strongly Agree

John Finan Strongly Agree

Walter Iwachiw Neither Agree nor Disagree

Roland Rogers Strongly Agree

Bill Thompson Strongly Agree

Frances Villar Strongly Agree


Joseph A. Mendola Strongly Agree

David Yassky Agree

Was it the Bird? Was it the Plane? No, it was Super-Mayor!

September 2, 2009 (GBN News): A recent New York Post report appears to blame a “kamikaze bird” for an incident involving Mayor Bloomberg’s plane on the way to Senator Ted Kennedy’s funeral. However, the results of an FAA investigation tell an entirely different story, one which could prove embarrassing for the Mayor in an election year.

The FAA report, obtained by GBN News, finds that the Mayor’s plane “deliberately targeted a flock of Canada geese, striking one directly with the engine, killing the bird instantly.” The report was forwarded to the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, which immediately slapped the Mayor and his entire party with a fine for “hunting out of season, and without a license”.

A spokesperson for the Mayor categorically denied that Mr. Bloomberg’s plane purposely targeted the ill-fated bird. But an FAA official, speaking to GBN News on condition of anonymity, said the investigation showed that the Mayor had clearly demanded that the pilot go after the birds. When asked why Teachers Union President Randi Weingarten, traveling with the Mayor, was included in the charges, the official said, “She acts in such lockstep with the Mayor over education issues, we just assumed she’d do the same in this situation.”

J. Fredrick Runson, head of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Manhattan University, was asked why the Mayor would choose this particular method of hunting. “It’s just typical Bloomberg overkill,” he told GBN News. “Why use a mere rifle when you’ve got an entire jet plane at your disposal? It’s no different from the way he uses his billions to go after political opponents. Won’t even give them a sporting chance.”