Monday, November 30, 2009

Meeting in the Bronx on school overcrowding: what can be done?

On Dec. 14, Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. is hosting a meeting about the school overcrowding crisis , rising class sizes, and what can be done about this.

It's at 6 PM at the Bronx Borough Hall. The flyer is to the right; just click on it to enlarge.

Please come! We will all have to work together to solve this critical problem.

Imposters Crash White House Meeting

November 30, 2009 (GBN News): The couple who crashed a state dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the other night were not the only recent White House imposters. Despite heavy security, two men posing as “educational reformers” somehow not only got into the White House, but made it as far as the Oval Office for a meeting with President Obama. It is unclear just how the two pulled off the scam, but sources at the White House told GBN News that it may have been an “inside job”. Apparently the men, going by the names Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich, were personally vouched for by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

What was particularly troubling, the sources said, was that the President seems to have been warned about the two characters as early as the transition. The person who headed up his educational transition team, Linda Darling-Hammond, had reportedly cautioned the President that the sort of reforms championed by Sharpton and Gingrich were bogus. Ironically, Ms. Darling-Hammond had herself been considered for Education Secretary. Had she, and not Mr. Duncan, been chosen, it is likely that the two hucksters, and others of their ilk such as Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, would never have been permitted near the White House.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Yet Another Nail in the NYS Regents Exam Coffin

On November 19, the Office of the NY State Comptroller released a report of its findings from an audit of local district scoring of high school Regents exams. The results, while not surprising to those closest to high school education in NY State, was nevertheless stunning in its confirmation of just how badly skewed the entire Regents examination system has become. Equally startling was the mainstream press’s utter failure to note the findings, virtually all of which agreed with by the Regents themselves. (Note: only Maura Walz at the Gotham Schools website seems to have reported on this so far.)

The audit team randomly selected 200 NY State high schools and, using a team of experienced high school teachers, rescored nine non-multiple-choice questions on one 2005 subject area exam (identified only as Exam A) and thirteen non-multiple-choice questions on another 2005 subject area exam (Exam B). In total, the Review team rescored almost 2,400 Exam A papers and over 3,200 Exam B papers, looking only at questions where local school exam graders has discretion over how many points to award their students’ answers. Their findings in summary:

“…a significant tendency for local school districts to award full credit on questions requiring scorer judgment even when the exam answers were vague, incomplete, inaccurate, or insufficiently detailed.”

That sentence euphemistically recaps the much more disturbing details of their findings:

1. For Exam B, the locally reported total scores of the thirteen questions were higher than the Review Team’s re-scored total on 80% of the examination papers reviewed (totals were the same on 15% of the papers).

2. For Exam A, the locally reported total scores on the nine questions were higher than the Review Team’s re-scored total on 58% of the examination papers reviewed (totals were the same on 32% of the papers).

3. For Exam B, the locally reported total scores were at least three raw score points higher (or lower) on 34% of the exam papers re-scored by the Review Team. Three raw score points can easily scale to ten or more points on the student’s final, converted score. While not detailed in the report, one can well imagine that “bubble students’” tests were most prone to this higher level of score inflation to ensure they passed the raw score hurdle to receive a converted score of 65 or more.

4. For Exam A, the locally reported total scores were at least three raw score points higher (or lower) on 17% of the exam papers re-scored by the Review Team.

5. Exam B contained two five-point essay questions. The locally reported scores on these two questions were higher (or lower) than the Review Team’s re-scoring in 47% and 43%, respectively, of the exam papers reviewed.

6. Eighteen of 192 selected schools failed altogether to submit their requested Exam A papers, and 20 of 205 did not submit their Exam B papers. Even the Comptroller’s audit report suggests that these compliance failures might be attempts, as they put it, “to avoid scrutiny.”

7. Review of SED’s procedures for follow-up on privately-lodged complaints of scoring fraud or irregularity found no evidence that twelve of them had ever been investigated. Thus, even an honest teacher who whistle-blows on scoring fraud has virtually no guarantee that SED will conduct any investigation whatsoever. The door for cheating, fraud, or just looking the other way on exam grading is wide open and seemingly encouraged by SED’s actions and lack thereof.

Combine this pattern of fraudulently inflated grading with the persistent dumbing down of Regents exams and the concomitant lowering of the raw score needed for a passing scaled score grade, and the end result is an examination system that is utterly meaningless as a measure of knowledge or understanding. Even worse, as the Comptroller’s report makes clear, SED has failed completely to follow up on any of these issues, even having in hand another report from 2003/2004 detailing almost exactly the same problems.

What has become clear in the past five or six years (noticeably since the advent of NCLB), is that the NY State Regents examination system, once a moderately respectable measure of academic achievement, is now broken almost beyond repair. As long as the numbers are up, everyone rests easy; nobody seems to care that they are meaningless, as witnessed by the high levels of remediation required of first-year college student products of our state education system. As usual, the losers in this breakdown are the students and their sadly unaware parents.

It seems clear as well that the time has come for a major investigation and overhaul of SED and the Regents system. Governor Paterson and others in Albany, when will you wake up and start doing what’s right for the children in your state?

Our Children are more than test scores, Part 3: What Bloomberg, Duncan and Klein should learn from the Chinese

Today, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would order Joel Klein to tie all teacher tenure decisions to student test scores. Whether this violates state law and/or the union contract is a matter for others to determine.

What I can say is that his decision is the logical outgrowth of the rigid, unreliable and damaging accountability system that he and Klein have imposed on our schools, and that the Obama administration is now attempting to foist on the nation.

Check out Yong Zhao’s critique of the US Dept. of Education's “Race to the Top” program, and its attempt to force states to measure success and reward teachers on the basis of standardized test scores:

I have been reading through the 775-page final notice document to be published in the Federal Register on November 18, 2009. It includes the final versions of application guidelines, selection criteria and priorities for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund (RTT), the largest education grant in U.S. history.

I can guess from news reports, op-ed pieces, and blog posts that many states are working hard to prepare their applications. From my reading of the criteria, I think the following are the winning strategies and actions to include in the application, although they may be inconsistent with research findings or common sense.

Suggestion #1: Stop paying teachers and principals a salary. Instead pay teachers and principals on a per standardized test point basis each day. At the end of each school day, students should be tested using a standardized test, what a teacher and principal is paid is calculated at the end of the day based on the growth of the student, i.e., how much has the student improved over the previous day. This is true accountability and will for sure keep teachers and principals on their toes! ….

Suggestion #2: Remove all “non-core” academic activities and courses and reduce all teaching to math and reading because what the Secretary wants is “increasing student achievement in (at a minimum) reading/language arts and mathematics, as reported by the NAEP and the assessments required under the ESEA” … Actually, no need to teach them these subjects, just teaching them how to pass the tests may be even more effective.

For his other (clearly ironic) suggestions, check out Over the Top: Winning Strategies for the Race to the Top Fund.

Zhao is a Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University, and his perspective is particularly interesting, as he was raised in China and once taught there. See what he says in another posting about what the Chinese government has learned from its top-down approach – and what America should learn from China's self-acknowledged mistakes:

China is determined to reform its education to cultivate a diversity of talents and creativity. China has recognized and suffered from the damaging effects of standardized testing and has been trying very hard to move away from standards. If America or any other nation wants to worry about China, it is its determination and focus on creativity and talents, not its test scores.
Once standardized test scores become an accepted way to judge the potential and value of a child, the performance of a teacher, and the quality of school, it is very difficult to change. We are already seeing signs of this in the U.S., thanks to all the education reformers who want to make Americans “globally competitive.”

Zhao is author of Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, and was recently on the Brian Lehrer show, Comparing Education in China to the U.S. Here is an excerpt from his book:

Clearly, American education has been moving toward authoritarianism, letting the government dictate what and how students should learn and what schools should teach. This movement has been fueled mostly through fear—fear of threats from the Soviets, the Germans, the Japanese, the Koreans, the Chinese, and the Indians. The public, as any animal under threat would, has sought and accepted the action of a protector—the government.

Let's hope that Americans reject this reflexive, damaging vision of education, and take a closer look at the potential consequences before we let our government turn our public schools into those like China's.
See also this Huffington Post column about how like China, South Korea is trying to move away from a system based solely on standardized test scores.

Turkey Is As Turkey Does

November 25, 2009 (GBN News): NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein narrowly escaped what could have been a very embarrassing fate last Saturday. Mr. Klein was traveling through Suffolk County on his way to visit friends in the Hamptons when a hunter accidentally took a shot at him.

The hunter, Samuel Cranbog of Huntington Station, was participating in the annual Long Island Turkey Hunt when the incident occurred. When reached for comment, Mr. Cranbog was apologetic but defended his actions as an honest mistake. “After all,” he told reporters, “If it looks like a turkey, sounds like a turkey, and acts like a turkey, one has every reason to believe that it is a turkey.”

Still, Mr. Cranbog was relieved that his shot missed its target. Noting that his wife is a NY City schoolteacher, he said, “If I bagged a turkey like that, she’d never let me bring it into the house.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another day, another broken promise...

Guess what? the DOE has broken yet another promise -- this time to release the class size data by November 23.

See this November 18 article from Gotham schools in which educrats said class sizes would be reported to the City Council by that date -- which was yesterday. I checked with the City Council today and they have received nada.

They already missed the legal deadline of November 15. Indeed, this is the third year in a row they have missed the deadline.
Though no one should be surprised. Surely it will suit their purposes to suppress what is likely to be very bad news by releasing the info right before Thanksgiving...or perhaps over the Thanksgiving break.

I wish I had a dollar for every time these guys failed to follow through. I would be nearly as rich as Bloomberg.

Of course, the class size isn't likely to be fully reliable even when it is released, because of the fundamentally flawed reporting process. But that's another story...

A letter to Tom Toch about high school choice

Hey Tom, I read your recent article in PDK lauding high school choice. You write that the example of NYC shows that high school choice can "harness the power of the marketplace to better serve students’ diverse educational interests and needs and to stimulate improvement through competition for students on a wide scale."

As a NYC parent, I can tell you that this is a highly idealized picture of what actually occurs. The high school admissions process is a nightmare for most parents (and students); even worse than the college admissions process. And your article has some egregious errors.
You write that that “By 2009, some 95% of students won places at one of their top five high schools, and city officials had to assign only 791 students to schools.”
Actually, there were about 7500 students in 2009 -- 16% of the total-- who didn’t get into any of their top twelve choices.

That’s thousands of kids who end up being forced to attend failing schools, and/or schools miles from their homes, and/or schools that specialize in areas that don’t interest them at all. Another 7,000 or so students are automatically assigned to high schools because they show up too late to apply.
As this New School report points out, many of our students are routinely assigned to vocational schools to study trades that they have no interest in pursuing, though they have to pass exams in these specialized areas to graduate.

You would also be amazed at how low the quality of many of our high schools. More than half of our students attend severely overcrowded schools, most of them sitting in classes of thirty or larger, thousands in trailers. Many students travel an hour or more each way to school. As a result, about 40 percent students who enter high school at grade level or near grade level fail to graduate after four years.

And some of the most overcrowded schools are the lowest performing, flooded with high-needs students no one wants, especially special ed and ELL students. Indeed, inequities have flourished under this system of “school choice”.
Moreover, under the current system it has become nearly impossible for students to transfer out of the high school to which they ’ve been assigned – even they identify another school where the principal is willing to take them . You have to be practically mugged first.

This is one of the reasons our dropout and discharge rates are so high . In fact, the discharge rate for students in their first year of high school has doubled under this system of high school "choice", though none of these students counted as dropouts.

You are lucky you don’t have a child who attends public high school in NYC. We would all rather live someplace where our kids could automatically attend a decent neighborhood high school.
Yours, Leonie Haimson, public school parent

Our children are more than test scores, part 2

On the front page of today's Times is one of those iconic stories that epitomizes the system under Bloomberg and Klein: Francisco Hernandez Jr., a 13-year-old Brooklyn boy with Asperger’s wandered alone in the New York subway system for days, after he had been scolded at school for not concentrating.

Despite desperate searches by his parents , it took eleven days before the police tracked him down, dirty and exhausted, on the D train at Coney Island. What does this sad story have to do with the policies of this administration?

“Though doctors had recommended that Francisco be placed in a small school for children with learning disorders, she said, officials at his school told [his mother] he was testing fine and did not need to be transferred."

Like Kelly Sinisgalli, the 4th grade girl who was barred this fall by her principal from taking dance class and consigned to more test prep because she had only scored a “low 3” on her state exams– meaning at grade level –this sort of lunacy is the consequence of the rigid accountability system that Bloomberg and Klein have imposed, and that the Billionaire's boys club of Gates and Broad, and the Obama administration is trying to impose on the nation.

Following massive publicity, and after she had aced some practice tests, Kelly’s principal finally relented and allowed her to return to dance class, yet the essential situation remains the same.

Whether it’s a 4th grade public school student from Queens who is thought to be scoring poorly, or a thirteen year old boy with Asperger’s from Brooklyn who is thought to be scoring well, their fate is increasingly determined by their test scores, because test scores are all that matters to those running the system.

Check out this moving video from a NYC teacher about what's happening in our schools, Our kids are more than test scores.

What Is Our Children Learning from Ersatz Education Experts?

We learn from the 2mmnewsletter (Nov. 23, 2009) that entrepreneur Robert Compton has bootstrapped his investment in the film 2 Million Minutes (which, he claims, "reveal[ed]' the decline in American education"!) into a new career/venture as a “global education expert.” The newly-launched 2mm website features his prescriptions for an educationally competitive America, endorsed by notable educators Al Sharpton, Newt Gingrich and former Intel CEO Craig Barrett, and listed in a Children for Change petition that so far has garnered a whopping 53 signatures. Compton’s bright new ideas are the usual mix of “assessment and accountability” measures, pay-for-performance, and limitless expansion of charter schools and of teaching by TFA recruits and private-sector professionals; details are, of course, available by clicking the “Shop my store” tab. School systems will also no doubt be shopping—largely without any public scrutiny--for software and other products sold by companies in which Mr. Compton has an interest.

Let’s not quibble about “global”—the man has at least been to India (four times, he tells us, and “…the sights and sounds are familiar and comforting to [him] now.”). (See “call me Bob” above (with mustache) looking very comfortable indeed at the Taj Mahal). But, you might ask, what qualifies Compton as an “expert” in the field of education?

According to his biography on, he is or has been an “IBM Systems Engineer, Professional Venture Capitalist, Angel Investor, President/COO of NYSE company, Entrepreneur and Filmmaker”; and “active in over 30 businesses including software, telecommunication services, healthcare services and medical devices.” One of those businesses is Indian Math Online, an on-line learning program in which children “go through a virtuos [sic.!] cycle of mastering mathematics.” They clearly won’t be mastering English from Mr. Compton: the same document informs us that “How a student spends their Two Million Minutes…….. will effect their economic prospects for the rest of their lives. How a society’s teenagers spend their Two Million Minutes collectively will effect their country’s economic prospects.”

Mr. Compton does have an MBA from Harvard (curiously, so did another notable mangler of the English language, G.W. Bush). His biography also lists an “honorary doctorate” from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology—a remarkable achievement given that Rose-Hulman is an exclusively undergraduate institution. Upon receiving his honorary degree, Compton gave a speech entitled “Fortes Fortuna Juvat (Fortune Favors the Bold)." Actually, in the world of US “education reform,” fortune favors the shameless self-promoting huckster.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gates Foundation Proclamation Directed at New York

EdWeek has a copy of the proclamation issued by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation in September. It describes which states would be helped by the Foundation to secure additional federal funding for education in the form of Race to the Top grants. Some may recall with unease the last time the Gates Foundation helped us here in NYC. That was the small schools movement where we invested $800 million in capital funds to restructure large schools into small ones only to be told later by Gates that the idea didn't really work.

This time around we will not be getting such generous help from Gates. Apparently, we failed to obey some number of his eight new commandments for how to run our schools. New York is singled out in particular for failing in the area of "linking student and teacher data". That's a bit hard to fathom. We use standardized test data to make so many decisions: assign letter grades to schools, award bonuses to teachers, award bonuses to principals, decide which kids get into which elementary, middle and high schools, which kids get promoted to the next grade or held back, which schools get closed and replaced with charter schools, etc. But it's not nearly enough for the Gates Foundation.

As we've written before, Race to the Top offers an intellectually meager list of policy recommendations. It's welcome news we won't be getting any help to implement even more standardized testing or punitive closures of struggling schools.

Update: Gates Foundation emissaries visit with reform-minded Gotham Schools to provide the latest information on Gates intentions.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Times' enduring obsession with Gifted and talented programs, and what is left out

This morning, the NY Times has yet another article about the city's Gifted and Talented programs, and the high-stakes exams that control admissions to these programs. See today's front page story, Tips for the Admissions Test ... to Kindergarten . It all seems so familiar....and indeed it is.

By my quick count, this is at least the ninth article about G and T that the Times has run in the last seven months.

To add insult to injury, this is the second Times article about the admissions process that omits any mention of its inherently discriminatory nature - which has significantly worsened under this administration. This is due to the Chancellor's insistence that all G and T admissions should be based solely on the results of high stakes exams, which Klein claims ato be more "equitable" but which are highly inequitable in terms of results.

His policies have also directly led to the proliferation of expensive prep programs that few typical NYC families can afford. If you are going to run articles about G and T admissions, failing to cite their contribution to worsening racial and economic segregation in our schools is regrettable. In fact, many people said that these policies would have a racially discriminatory impact, including Patrick Sullivan and Debbie Meier , who both predicted this on our blog when Klein first announced the new admissions policy in the fall of 2007.

For other recent Times articles about G and T, see this one, from October 19, about a new expensive private school in Manhattan: School for the Gifted, and Only the Gifted.

Here is another, a Susan Dominus column from August 17, Connecting Anxious Parents and Educators, at $450 an Hour , about a consultant who helps get kids into private schools: "It would be her mission to democratize information for New York’s most competitive elite."

"Democratize" at $450 an hour? This is like Michael Bloomberg claiming the recent election was fair, when he outspent his opponent sixteen to one.

This was followed by yet another Dominus column on August 25: Early Testing In City Schools Called Faulty. Although she discusses the unreliability of G and T exams, in that children tested at a young age often score quite differently in later years, she fails to mention how the results are also discriminatory, given the influence of socio-economic factors. And she uncritically repeats the administration's claims that their policies are somehow equitable:

" Chancellor Joel I. Klein has tried to rejigger the testing system to be more fair, with uniform cut-offs citywide and better outreach to less-advantaged areas. But what ''Nurture Shock'' suggests, and Ms. Commitante [head of DOE's gifted and talented progrm] somewhat acknowledges, is that just means the randomness of gifted and talented placement is now more equitable."

To the contrary, see this far more informative oped in the Daily News, by James Borland, a professor of education, who points out how inherently inequitable the admissions process has become:

A one-size-fits-all approach to identifying students for the city's gifted and talented programs - which is just what the Department of Education has implemented - is neither equitable nor educationally sound. In fact, testing very young children, before the educational system exerts its admittedly limited equalizing effect, only magnifies the effects of differences in socioeconomic status. It favors children who have had the advantages of expensive preschools; of parents with time, ability and inclination to read to them; and of exposure to cultural events.

On September 7, Dominus yet wrote yet another column, about a new G and T public school in Brooklyn, Going the Distance to Get a Child to a Magnet School , in which she omits any analysis of the economic or racial composition of the school, and instead, approvingly focuses on one "highly motivated" mom, who sends her son, Benjamin, to the school, although it is miles away:

...a bus hired by a dozen families, at about $400 a month each, will pick up Benjamin and another 5-year-old before stopping at homes in Crown Heights, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and Prospect Heights. Finally, at least an hour and a half after Benjamin has left home, he and the others will arrive at Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a brand-new citywide school for gifted and talented children at the corner of Stillwell Avenue and Avenue P, in Gravesend. Such are the lengths to which some parents — highly motivated parents — will go to take advantage of the city’s coveted magnet programs for gifted children.

Is it really only a matter of motivation? Last spring, the Times ran numerous pieces dealing with G and T programs on the Upper West Side, the epicenter of the phenomenon, including this one on the City Room blog, Are Parents Thinking Differently About Education? (June 29):

The phone keeps ringing at the Upper West Side office of Robin Aronow, an educational consultant and schools guru: anxious families suddenly rethinking whether they can afford private school, distressed parents wondering what to do if their children don’t make it into vaunted gifted and talented programs.

See also these articles from the paper: Students Must Retake Lost Gifted Tests (May 15); Gifted Tests Missing on Upper West Side (May 13), and More Children Take the Tests for Gifted Programs, and More Qualify (May 5).

In this last article, the reporter discloses that the number of students who qualified for G and T seats rose by 45 percent over the year before, but not until the sixth paragraph does the reader discover that the racial disparity in admissions remained largely unchanged.

On the upper West side, the number of children taking the tests rose by 15 percent, while the number of students making the cut off score increased by 48 percent. Though the reporter does not speculate on the cause of this phenomenon, the DOE spokesperson attributed this increase to "families’ increasing familiarity with the new admissions process." Instead, these higher scores are most likely the results of the increased amount of test prep taking place.

By continually reporting on the expensive consultants that are profiting off parents' anxieties to get their children into G and T programs, the Times is encouraging their proliferation. Indeed, the paper deserves to get a cut from these consultants, by regurgitating these articles, over and over again.

If charter schools are the obsession of the editors of the NY Post, gifted and talented programs remain the singular obsession of the Times.

Both serve a tiny proportion of NYC public school students and are far less important than other issues that affect the huge majority of our kids: the systemic and worsening crisis in overcrowding and its impact on class sizes, the lack of transparency and flawed priorities of DOE spending, including the mushrooming school bonus program and the continued growth in Tweed's accountability office, the loss of arts and enrichment programs, the obsession with closing schools rather than improving them, the increased amount of test prep that dominates classroom time and the like -- all of which have contributed to the decline of educational quality in our schools, and all of which our paper of record fails to cover adequately, or not at all.

Friday, November 20, 2009

More on the bogus school bonuses

All three dailies are onto the absurdity of the DOE granting huge bonuses to staff at low-performing schools that received "C" and "D" on their progress reports – including, according to the Daily News, at least one school that is closing.

The bonus program will eat up almost $40 million in precious education funds this year. Despite all the budget cuts already enacted at the school level, and more to come, leading to layoffs, larger classes, the loss of after school and enrichment programs , the DOE insists that these indefensible bonuses will be continued (NY1).

"It's always cited as one of the most novel, exciting programs. And I think New Yorkers want results. We are paying for results," said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

Yes, results based on inflated test scores, credit recovery, and widespread tampering with student test scores.

From the Post: “Somebody has to be complicit in this robbery -- it cannot be that DOE can simply appropriate public money as it sees fit," said Paola de Kock, whose son graduated in June from Stuyvesant HS in Manhattan.

Unfortunately, they can and they will continue to waste our taxpayer money -- as far into the future as the eye can see. Unless the City Council stands up for our children and stops them. Don't hold your breath.

See also the article in the Times.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The charter school wars erupt on the Lower East Side

The charter school wars have spread with a fury to the Lower East Side. Over the last few years, several charter schools have been inserted into their buildings, and now it appears that the parents of District 1 have had enough.

Last night, there was standing room only at the Community Education Council, where three different proposals to make room for the expansion of Girls Prep Charter School by taking away from rooms from other schools in D1 were debated.

Check out the video of CM Rosie Mendez below, and other videos of CM Alan Gerson, Suzie Kong, parent leader from Shuang Wen School and James Lee, Principal of PS 20 , Thomas Staebell, Principal of PS 15 and Isabel Reyna-Torres, teacher at PS 20.

Too bad Joel Klein, Michael Bloomberg, Arne Duncan and Bill Gates were not there to see this. You can check out news reports from NY1, Gotham Schools and and Dewey 21C. When will the madness end?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Here is a chart that identifies NYC schools where the DOE found window caulk containing more than 50 parts per million (ppm) PCBs. PCBs are highly toxic compounds that were banned years ago but not yet removed from all sources.

PCBs spontaneously enter the air and can be ingested through breathing. They pose particular health and developmental risks to children. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PCBs at levels greater than 50 ppm “present an unreasonable risk of injury to health” and “must be removed.” The windows at many public schools around NYC nevertheless continue to contain caulk that is contaminated with PCBs, sometimes very severely.

What the chart shows are results of some PCB tests that the DOE conducted before doing routine window renovation work in the period from April 2008 to September 2009. The caulk that was tested was slated to be removed and was in fact removed. However, the DOE only tested windows subject to renovation in each school, and it is highly likely that other windows and doors at these schools contain the same contaminated caulk.

PLEASE JOIN THE NYC COALITION FOR PCB-FREE SCHOOLS! We are parents, school employees, and community members concerned about the risks posed by PCBs in schools. We have formed a coalition to urge the DOE to have all NYC schools tested and cleaned up; we also want to ensure that parents have a meaningful voice in the DOE’s decision-making on this issue. All children deserve a PCB-free learning environment. If you know parents at any of the schools, please let them know, and please forward this information widely.

To join us, or if you have questions, please contact New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), the non-profit civil rights organization we are working with. You can reach Staff Attorney Miranda Massie at or Community Organizer Gigi Gazón at They can also both be reached at 212/244-4664.


Is an Ill Wind Blowing Through NYC Public High Schools?

Even as the recent round of DOE Progress Reports has generated another wave of criticisms over Lake Wobegon-style grade inflation (with only one school in the city getting an F and over three-quarters grabbing A's), the just-released high school report cards contain some serious, and considerably more negative, news.

As Jennifer Medina and Robert Gebeloff reported in their Monday (11/16) New York Times article, "More New York High Schools Get A's:"

The school environment grades, which are based on attendance and results of student, parent and teacher surveys, and make up 15 percent of the grade, showed the steepest decline. This year, 55 high schools received a D or an F in school environment, compared with 12 last year.

Thus, in the one area where students vote with their feet (attendance) and the public -- parents, teachers, and students -- have some direct input via surveys tailored to each of those constituencies, the feedback from high schools is not happy news for Chancellor Klein. And the picture is actually far worse than the Times reported. As is too often the case, their "analysis" picked a piece of easy, low-hanging fruit while eschewing a more substantive and informative presentation.

Here's a more thorough recap of the School Environment Survey component of the high school Progress Reports, based on the 268 high schools across all five boroughs for which Progress Reports were completed and published for both 2008 and 2009. (Excel spreadsheets for all 2007, 2008, and 2009 Progress Reports can be found on the DOE website here.)

School Environment --------- Number of Schools Receiving Grade
------- Grade ------------------------ 2008 --------------- 2009

--------- A ---------------------------- 100 ------------------ 78
--------- B ---------------------------- 124 ------------------ 88
--------- C ----------------------------- 34 ------------------ 56
--------- D ------------------------------ 4 ------------------ 33
--------- F ------------------------------ 6 ------------------ 13

The number of high schools scoring an A or B for School Environment dropped from 224 in 2008 to just 166 this year, a decline of 25.9%, while the number of schools scoring a C, D, or F in that category rose from 44 to 102, an increase of 131.8%.

Another way of looking at this shift comes from studying the increases and decreases in letter grades. From 2008 to 2009, three of 268 schools increased their School Environment performance by two letter grades, and just nine more managed a one-letter-grade improvement. A total of 139 schools retained their same letter grade from 2008 to 2009, while 94 schools dropped one letter grade level, 19 more dropped two letter grades, and four dropped three letter grades. In other words, 4.5% of high schools saw their School Environment grades go up, 51.9% stayed the same, and 43.6% saw a drop of at least one letter grade. Across the full range of those 268 schools, their average School Environment grade (using a scale of A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, and F=0) went from 3.15 in 2008 to just 2.69 in 2009, a drop of 14.6%.

While everything about these Progress Reports and surveys remains suspecct, the data from these latest ones suggest that some ill winds may be blowing in NYC public high schools. Parents, teachers, and/or students are clearly responding to these environment surveys more negatively now than a year ago, a trend that should warrant great concern with the constant shuffling, reconfiguring, and shuttering of schools and the persistently (and worsening) overcrowded classrooms.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Grade inflation and lower standards at the DOE: what else is new?

Today, there were lots of articles about the inflated high school grades (the so-called “progress reports”) which turned out to be almost as inflated as those for elementary and middle schools. 75 percent of NYC high schools got As or Bs, and only one school got an F.
Yet as I pointed out to WNYC radio, more than half of our high schools are extremely overcrowded, with the largest class sizes in the state, and among the lowest graduation rates anywhere. According to the Daily News, at more than half of the schools that received the highest scores, less than half of the kids graduate with a Regents diploma.

Moreover, there seems to be a double standard and favoritism at Tweed. DOE says they will close down large high schools that did not do well, but the one high school that got an “F”, Peace and Diversity, will be provided with more help and resources. Is that because it happens to be a small school, founded in 2004? And the DOE has a vested interest in promoting the new small schools they helped start over our large high schools, those schools that in fact, their own policies have helped destabilize?

See the response in the Post by the Michael Mulgrew, UFT head: “Mulgrew also bristled at a chart produced by the city showing that the smaller high schools opened under Bloomberg since 2002 were faring better than others, even as several of the newer schools rated D's and the lone F.
"I don't like when you try to draw distinctions when you're responsible for all of the schools but you have a vested interest in trying to tell people that the schools you created are doing well," he said.”

Unfortunately, none of the articles make the connections between these grades, the threat of school closure, and all the cheating and grade tampering scandals that have erupted in high schools in recent years. And none make the point that the cut scores are arbitrarily decided upon by the administration – so in essence, the Chancellor and his minions decide ahead of time exactly how many grades there will be in each category, easily providing the DOE with yet another way to congratulate themselves while closing down certain schools to grab their real estate.

Most interesting is the following finding, from the NY Times: “The school environment grades, which are based on attendance and results of student, parent and teacher surveys, and make up 15 percent of the grade, showed the steepest decline. This year, 55 high schools received a D or an F in school environment, compared with 12 last year.”

What’s going on here? Are the pressures of the high stakes accountability system tearing our high schools apart? If so, it wouldn’t be altogether surprising.

Million dollar ravioli

Amazing piece by Arthur Goldstein, teacher at Francis Lewis HS at Gotham Schools about the last week's Panel for Educational Policy meeting.
Excerpt: So city kids can't have regular teachers. They can't have reasonable class sizes, or even legal ones. They can't have decent classrooms, or adequate gymnasium space. They can't have lunch at a reasonable hour. Still, as a result of this meeting, whenever they do get lunch, city kids will finally get the million-dollar ravioli they deserve.
See also James Eterno's comments at the PEP about what's happened due to budget cuts at Jamaica HS.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Joel Hits Klein's Policy

November 16, 2009 (GBN News): NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein sharply criticized his own policies today, pointedly referring to the recently released high school progress reports as “more stable and accurate than reports for elementary and middle schools” due to their use of “multiple measures” rather than just standardized test scores. Mr. Klein, who has insisted that multiple measures “dilute the power of accountability”, and that test scores should almost exclusively determine everything from principals’ bonuses to whether to close a school, announced that he will join the ranks of his critics by starting a new blog attacking those practices. According to GBN News sources, the Chancellor had tried to voice his criticisms through the traditional DOE channels, but became frustrated when he found that “nobody seemed to be listening”. The Chancellor’s blog can be found at

Sunday, November 15, 2009

DOE Demands Consultants Get Additional $ At November Panel for Educational Policy Meeting

November's Panel for Educational Policy meeting was the longest yet in my tenure, over three and a half hours. Most of the time was devoted to consideration of the procurement and consulting contracts submitted for approval.

The vote to provide management consultants KPMG with a $3 million extension to continue the Learning Environment Survey was the most contentious. I sharply questioned the wisdom of continuing this survey with looming state and city budget cuts. There is no evidence DOE actually acts on any of the findings. Every year parents ask for smaller class sizes and every year the DOE does nothing to address this concern. Last year class sizes rose in all grades but one. Chancellor Klein was absolutely indignant that I was attacking his survey. He defended it by pointing to all the school district heads across the country who had told him how much they admired it. Impressing your friends is a poor justification for diverting $3 million from the classroom.

See Daily News coverage here.

A contract with Hanover Foods to provide canned ravioli to schools passed 9-3. I voted against the contract because new DOE specifications resulted in only one bidder and a price increase of 41% amounting to $1.1 million in additional cost over three years. While nutritional standard are important, the upgrade was not significant enough to warrant the additional expense. For example, we were told the new specifications called for lower sodium but the reduction was minimal: from 880 mg per serving to 770.

NY1 ran a segment dedicated to this debate here.

There was a lengthy discussion of whether the Panel should approve funding of scholarships to Touro College for teachers seeking qualifications in special ed and other hard to fill areas.
There are three open investigations into Touro including transcript fraud and $53 million in improperly awarded Federal tuition funds. Queens Panel member Dmytro Fedkowskyj and I asked for another month to consider the evidence but our motion to postpone was defeated and the funding was approved.

Through the examination of these contracts I am getting a clear message that DOE is not focused on reducing procurement and consulting costs. Moreover, there is a clear sense of entitlement from the senior DOE staff. They somehow have come to see the irresponsible spending as their prerogative or even right. That's a problem we will be working to address over the next few months. Across the city, school leadership teams are working hard to close growing budget gaps while the Chancellor and his team are squandering millions of dollars.

Friday, November 13, 2009

City Scores to Rise on Cash for Grades

November 13, 2009 (GBN News): The sudden retirement of a North Carolina school principal after a “cash for grades” fund raiser has drawn the attention of NY City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Upon hearing that students in Rosewood Middle School were able to buy 20 test points for $20, the Mayor’s immediate response was, “You can do that?” Mr. Bloomberg then directed Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to offer an administrative position to Principal Susie Shepherd, who will implement a similar policy in the NY City schools.

The Mayor and Chancellor are said to be hoping that enough students will participate in the program to lift the city’s overall scores. Furthermore, to narrow the gap between higher and lower income families, the Mayor will be personally donating money to those students of limited means who can show that they are “motivated enough” to want to purchase the higher test scores.

Sources told GBN News that Mr. Bloomberg regrets only that had this idea come up before the election, he could have deducted the money he is paying for higher scores as a campaign expense.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More blatant charter school propaganda

The hype around the charter school, Harlem Village Academies, has been extraordinary.

The school has been featured on NBC Nightly News and many other media venues. The CEO, Deborah Kenny, spouts all the usual cliches: the school's success is based on running it “like a business”, the school supports “great teaching” and has a “culture of accountability.” She also calls Bloomberg a “godsend” for education. One thing is for sure, Kenny is paid like a corporate executive, according to the the blog Schools Matters.

Be sure to check out the hugely deceptive video below from an Oct. 15 segment of the MSNBC show, Morning Joe. Joe Scarborough begins by showing headlines from that morning's NY Times about NY State's lack of progress on the math NAEP exams, also called the Nation's report card, which called into question the validity of the sharp increases of NY students on the state math exams.

But then Joe goes on to say “However, but its not all bad news: for example 100% of the eighth graders at NYC’s Harlem Village Academies are proficient in their math skills."

At the same time, a graphic is displayed with the name of the charter school, stating that 100% of its students scored proficient in math, compared to 34% in the nation. At the top of the blackboard the words “the Nation’s Report Card” are featured, implying that both sets of results are from NAEP.

Yet the 100% figure for this charter school were from the NY state exams – which the NAEP results had just revealed to be hugely inflated! And the 34% is the national average for proficiency on the NAEPs – whose results are far more reliable and whose standards are much higher.

Whether this deception was promulgated by Kenny or was just sloppy reporting on the part of MSNBC, who knows. But at no time did Deborah Kenny try to correct the misimpression created by Joe Scarborough’s remarks or the visual displayed on the screen. I guess she earned her 420K salary that day.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Hypno Guru Puts Spell on Politicos

November 7, 2009 (GBN News): A hypnotherapist hired as a consultant to the NY City Department of Education may be doing more than originally reported, GBN News has learned. The consultant, William Howatt, was hired for $375,000, ostensibly "to save money" and to improve employees' "ability to adapt to change". However, photo archives unearthed by GBN News seem to show Mr. Howatt appearing, Zelig-like, with political figures such as President Obama and the late Ted Kennedy, as well as media commentators like Nicholas Kristof, David Brooks, and Jonathan Alter.

J. Fredrick Runson, professor of psychiatry at Manhattan University Medical School and an expert on hypnosis and mind control techniques, told GBN News it is no coincidence that every influential figure seen with Mr. Howatt has furthered, in one way or another, the Joel Klein/Arne Duncan/Michele Rhee concept of school reform.

“I’ve often wondered how such seemingly well-informed people can be so clueless about education,” said Dr. Runson. “They are all smart individuals who generally base their opinions or policy on solid empirical evidence. But around education issues, it’s like they’re zombies. Each one has promulgated an agenda without even bothering to look at the facts. Charter schools, pay for performance, bogus testing – there’s no evidence that any of this helps children learn, but they're pushing it anyway. I’d bet my bright, shiny pendant that this so-called ‘new age guru’ is hypnotizing these guys without them even knowing.”

Dr. Runson said he couldn’t be certain who is behind the scheme, but he is sure that Mr. Howatt is not acting alone. “$375,000 is rather steep for your regular, garden variety consultant,” he said. “Somebody backing this has got to be very, very rich.”

Friday, November 6, 2009

You won't believe this one!

Every time you think that things couldn’t possibly get worse in terms of the wacky and wasteful use of funds at the NYC Department of Education -- it does.
If the DOE were a Wall St. firm it would have crashed years ago. See what high-priced consultant George Rabb, late of the bankrupt Bear Stearns brought to Tweed last year, ostensibly "to save money" and to improve employees' "ability to adapt to change."
Though Rabb has since left DOE, this is further confirmation that lunatics have been running the asylum at Tweed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thompson takes the parent vote!

NYC Kids PAC congratulates Bill Thompson on his strong performance this Tuesday in the mayoral elections. As the New York Times exit poll shows, parents of public school children voted overwhelmingly for change—favoring Thompson 55% to 43%.

Mayor Bloomberg assumed complete control of the schools in 2002 and declared that New Yorkers should hold him accountable with their vote. The election reveals that public school parents have done just that. Despite $80 million dollars in flyers and saturation advertising hawking the mayor’s false statistics and bogus claims of improvements in our schools, public school parents called for change.

NYC Kids PAC also congratulates John Liu, the comptroller-elect, an NYC Kids PAC endorsee. Liu was the city’s largest vote-getter with 693,330 votes—roughly 150,000 more than Bloomberg.

We celebrate the six victorious City Councilmember who also received our endorsement: Charles Barron, Robert Jackson, Ken Mitchell, Diane Reyna, Al Vann, and Councilmember-elect Mark Weprin. We supported these candidates on the basis of their education records, specifically their votes to expand the school capital plan and revise mayoral control.
NYC Kids PAC looks forward to working with the Mayor, Speaker Quinn, the City Council, Comptroller-elect Liu, and Public Advocate-elect de Blasio to enact the policies we need for real improvements in our schools. The election results demonstrate that New Yorkers are not happy with the one-man rule that has come to dominate our schools and our city.

We call on all of New York City’s officials to recognize the mandate for change expressed by Tuesday’s vote by

—immediately replacing Joel Klein with an educator as chancellor;
—reducing class size and eliminating overcrowding;
—limiting high-stakes testing and its distorting consequences for curriculum and instruction;
—curtailing the privatization of public education;
—strengthening neighborhood schools;
—institutionalizing the parent voice in decision-making; and
—insuring transparency and accountability in finances and data analysis.

NYC Kids PAC only formed in September, and yet it helped raise over $8,000 for Bill Thompson, marshaled parents as volunteers from throughout the five boroughs, and distributed thousands of flyers educating the electorate on the issues of concern to parents. NYC Kids PAC will continue to support leaders who stand up for what we know our kids really need. For more information about our mission and our goals see


Parents - Did you know that the DOE plans to bring standardized testing to our youngest children? If this happens, curriculum will be drastically altered because teachers will be pressured to teach to the test. There will be precious little time for art, music, science, drama, and creative play. Experts agree that testing young children is highly unreliable due to the uneven development in early childhood. Additionally, standardized tests have a long and notorious history of misrepresenting the intellectual capabilities of young children based on race, class and immigrant status. And during this period of severe budget cuts, it would be a waste of money to spend millions of dollars on such an irresponsible testing policy.

Time Out From Testing is organizing a citywide referendum to stop K-2 testing. Please go to our website at to sign the online petition. In addition, next week are elementary school parent-teacher conferences during which you can set up a table to gather signatures of opposition. Please download the "Letter for Parents" from our website, make copies, ask parents to sign, collect all the letters and return them to us. (You will find the address at the bottom of the letter.)

Want to get more involved in this campaign? Email us at

Many thanks! Jane Hirschmann

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Business as Usual for Bloomberg

November 4, 2009 (GBN News): While publicly maintaining that “a win is a win”, Mayor Bloomberg is said to be privately furious over the poor return on his $100 million re-election campaign investment. “I didn’t become a billionaire by throwing away money,” he reportedly told associates after his unexpectedly narrow victory on Tuesday. “I paid for a 20% margin, and I expected to get a 20% margin.”

However, Mr. Bloomberg will apparently be able to recoup much of the money he spent. The Mayor is said to be billing the Thompson campaign for $50 million worth of Bloomberg ads highlighting Mr. Thompson’s picture. Though the ads had actually attacked the Democratic candidate, a spokesperson for the Mayor maintained that, “We gave him all that exposure. It’s only fair that Thompson should pay for it.”

In a related story, last minute rumors of potential trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission may have contributed to Mr. Bloomberg’s relatively poor showing in the election. The SEC is reportedly investigating the Mayor for insider trading in test score futures. Sources told GBN News that Mr. Bloomberg is suspected of using his knowledge of inflated NY State test scores to invest heavily in them. Unfortunately for the Mayor, the recent release of NAEP scores tipped off the investigators and exposed the scheme.

Public School Parents Voted Against Bloomberg

The NY Times has some interesting exit poll results. About 25% of voters told the Times they had children in public school. These parents went for Thompson 55% to 43% for Bloomberg.

Full results here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009