Sunday, January 31, 2010

The ugly naked face of mayoral control

Tuesday night's marathon session of the Panel for Educational Policy at Brooklyn Tech that lasted till nearly 4 AM was one of the most inspiring and awful events I have ever witnessed.

Inspiring because there were thousands of people there to protest the closing of 19 schools, and hundreds spoke out, for more than eight hours: eloquently, angrily, passionately and intelligently, about why their schools should not be closed and why the administration's blind and reckless policies would hurt our most vulnerable children. These English language learners, special education students, poor and homeless, will likely be excluded from the new small schools and charter schools that will replace their schools, and will undoubtedly be discharged in huge numbers as these schools phase out, never to receive a fair chance at a high school diploma.

Parents, students and teachers cited facts and numbers, personal experience, trenchant analysis and damning evidence of the DOE's malignant neglect and botched statistics.

Though the testimony started at 6 PM and continued until 2:45 AM, it was never boring. Early on, there was even humor from Lisa Donlan and Jane Hirschmann, who put on an inspired puppet show -- excerpts of which are below.

It was inspiring because at long last, Joel Klein got the reception he deserved: booed, jeered, criticized, compared to the Bernie Madoff of educational policy, with his destructive Ponzi scheme of closing schools and shifting around high-needs students; a scheme that will soon collapse, when there is nowhere left for these children to go.

It was awful because nothing that anyone said made any difference in the final vote.

The PEP, which the legislature in their wisdom allowed to continue with its a supermajority of mayoral appointees, was intent on rubberstamping whatever flawed or ridiculous policies put forward by the administration.

Shamefully, there was not a word from the chair, David Chang, or any other mayoral appointee to any of the thousands of people who urged them to think twice. Only the independent members from Manhattan, Bronx, Queens and the Bronx voted no.

When Patrick Sullivan, Manhattan member, asked the mayoral "yes men" if they had anything to say to justify these closings, not one of them felt obligated to explain his or her vote.

This event should never have been allowed to occur in a city and a nation that calls itself a democracy; with all the power in the hands of one man to make the decisions for thousands of other people's children, but this is the ugly naked face of mayoral control.

See also City Panel Backs Closing of 19 Schools (NY Times), Public sentiment has turned against Mayor Bloomberg's dictatorial school reforms (Daily News); The School Closing Marathon (Gotham Gazette); School Vote Scene Report: Joel Klein Called "Racist," (Village Voice); City's reasoning for wanting to close Jamaica HS based on faulty statistics (; Parents Battle for a Say in Educational Policy (Gabe Pressman, NBC); Panel Decides to Shutter 19 NYC Public Schools (NBC New York) NYC school officials vote to close 19 underperforming schools (; Rage as 19 schools get the axe (New York Post); “Attack” on Brooklyn high schools (

Charter school parent: Charter chickens come home to roost

Last week, we learned that Chancellor Klein sent a “Notice of Intention to Revoke Charter” letter to East New York Prep Charter School (ENYP). It’s not often that the Chancellor revokes charters, so this sent folks in charter land reeling.

After the stalemate with the State Legislature on changing the charter law for Race to the Top funding, this was bad news we did not need. The administration refused to lift the cap, since the legislature’s proposal would allow district parents to have input on school sitings – yet another way that parents in New York City have been excluded from the conversation on school reform.

Although charters are public schools, the practice of ignoring the district parents' concerns in co-locations can no longer continue. It seems the views of the actual stakeholders, public school parents in both the district and charter system, are always ignored.

The financial mismanagement and corporate chicanery that occurred at ENYP and other charter schools underscores the need for more accountability, transparency, parent voice and teacher protections at charter schools.

Parents complained to the DoE and were ignored. They also had no clue about the rules governing accountability in the charter contract. Teachers stood up for their students and were fired. Low performing and special ed students were expelled from the school so that Sheila Joseph could perform well with the only thing that charters are judged on – test scores.

Well, Sheila Joseph delivered on the test scores through her reign of terror and the cost of her success are the many expelled students, the families and students of ENYP who now have to find new schools for their children and her faculty and staff who now have to find new jobs.

I know many great school leaders and board members, but I also know many school leaders who view their charter school as their own fiefdom, teachers and staff as their serfs and students as their currency.

We need greater accountability, transparency, oversight of charters and their founding boards to ensure the East New York Prep Charter School debacle never happens again.

-- Mona Davids, President, NY Charter Parents Association

For more information about the closing of this school, see also
Head of charter school set to close fires back at teachers, DOE (GothamSchools); School flunks out (NY Post).

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Life Imitates Art

I thought I was writing parody when I did that GBN piece reporting that Klein was looking to the Haiti earthquake as a model for destroying the NY city schools. But now a serious news story reports that Arne Duncan is saying that Katrina was the "best thing" for the New Orleans schools.

I figured I've either got to stop writing stuff that they not only take seriously but copy, or I've got to set my sights higher than the NYC DOE and see if Arne will hire me to work for the Feds.

In that vein, I asked Diane Ravitch on the NYC education news listserv: "If you ever meet with the guy [Duncan] again, maybe you could mention it? On the other hand, it doesn't sound like he listened to you, so as Gilda Radner used to say, "Never mind!"

Her response: "You have to stop circulating your stuff to the US DOE. Keep it close to the vest. Everyone is looking for new ideas, and you are consistently out there on the cutting edge. Maybe you could suggest to Joel and Arne that the latest and best idea, the one that catapults you to the head of the civil rights movement, is to save public education, not destroy it. And you are right: He didn't listen to me!"

Joel and Arne: Are you listening?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bloomberg Finally Turned Out of Office

January 29, 2010 (GBN News): Mayor Michael Bloomberg, after spending over $100 million to overturn term limits and win re-election for a third term, has ironically been run out of City Hall by a twelve year old girl. The Mayor was abruptly whisked away to an undisclosed location when the girl, part of a group of students protesting the planned relocation of their school, approached the mayor.

“When they showed up,” Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott told GBN News, “we thought at first that they might be charter school students coming to thank the Mayor for his support. But then it turned out that they were public school students, not authorized to be on the premises. In this day and age of terrorism, we felt that it was prudent to get the Mayor away from there as soon as possible.”

A spokesperson for Mr. Bloomberg later minimized the incident. “The Mayor was never in danger, and security initially wasn’t going to take such a drastic step. But when he heard they were public school students, his first reaction was, ‘Ugh, get me out of here.’ So they felt it was best to comply with his wishes.”


I sent the following letter to my state and city representatives after the 1/26 PEP meeting:

I am a NYC public school parent of a high school student at LaGuardia, where I serve on the SLT. I am writing to express how appalled I am at the outcome of the so-called "hearing" Tuesday night at the NYC Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) held at Brooklyn Tech. I was in attendance from 6 pm, when testimony began, until 12:30, and I know that testimony went on well beyond that, until nearly 3 am, when the mayoral appointees on the panel voted (unconscionably!) to close 19 schools.

Thank you to all the legislators who came to speak on behalf of the schools. Thanks to Borough President Scott Stringer, Council Member Robert Jackson and other City Council members in the districts affected, and Public Advocate Bill deBlasio. Thanks also to Patrick Sullivan, PEP member, who consistently challenges the DOE on its consistently cynical, misguided decisions.

Mayor Bloomberg was quoted in the Times today as saying "We listened very carefully, but nobody made a convincing case." Perhaps we should buy him and the puppet members of the panel hearing aides!

I was there. I listened to 6 1/2 hours of testimony. I was extremely moved as student after student, teacher after teacher, parent after parent got up and made a case for their schools.

I learned:

• The DOE statistics, the ones that they were basing their "decision" on, were often wrong. The schools presented the panel with accurate statistics.

• Many of the schools slated to be closed received passing "grades" from the DOE, garnered "proficient" status on their Quality Reviews, and had earned teacher bonuses for improvement.

• Most of the schools affected have populations that will not be served by the small and much more exclusive charter schools that will replace them: ELLs, special ed students, students who live in shelters or foster homes, students who have scored low on tests, teen-aged mothers.

• The DOE is saying that these schools don't meet the criteria for 4-year graduation rates. But significant numbers of students at these schools do go on to get diplomas after 5 or 6 years. This seems to me to be a great accomplishment. Can a teen-aged mother get her degree in 4 years? What about a student hopping from shelter to shelter?

• Closing down these schools will create a domino effect. These students will get transferred to other large schools, contributing to further overcrowding, and setting them up for “failure” (and subsequent closing) as well.

But more than that, I learned that a school is more than statistics. I was reminded that a good school is a web of connections and relationships between teachers/administration and students/families/community. I heard students speak eloquently about teachers they love, teachers who have challenged them to learn, who stay after school long hours to run clubs and tutoring programs. I also heard teachers speak passionately about specific students who came in discouraged and with low scores, but who then went on succeed. An in case after case, I was moved to tears.

A school is so much more than (manipulated) DOE statistics. The DOE should get off of ARIS. They should dismantle their bloated and myopic accountability office and get their butts into a classroom. They should stay a day, 2 days, 3, a week, a month, a year. Chancellor Klein should apprentice himself to the educators who are on the front lines. And while he is at it, he should attend staff meetings and team meetings, and why not staff development workshops at university education departments, we have plenty in this city: TC Columbia, Bank Street, NYU, Hunter and CUNY. Then he will know what education is. Then he would never close these schools and turn the system over to his billionaire business cronies who want to drop in and "reform" the system. Re-form to what? To a system that can put $ into their pockets?

I am appalled at what passes for democracy in this city: an arrogant, billionaire bully mayor who buys off or intimidates everyone who dares to challenge him, a pit bull chancellor who has no education background whatsoever, who has no respect for experienced educators, and who accepts counsel only from the business community. Where are the nationally respected education elders who would work with and advise you, Chancellor Klein? What happened to Shelley Harwayne? And Carmen FariƱa? Why did they flee the system?

And so now, in the wake of the PEP's decision, we are left with the question: where will the students who attend the shuttered schools go? Thousands and thousands of students are affected. Many will no doubt drop out or be discharged. The DOE just sacrificed them. And what will these students -- the hundreds who scraped up the courage to stand up and speak, the ones who heard their teachers plead their cases, the ones who organized, gathering statistics and powerful anecdotal examples of what their schools mean to them, how they have buoyed and supported them -- what will these students now think of the democratic process in this city?

Mayoral control? This is the result.


Jan Carr

Klein to Visit Haiti Schools

January 29, 2010 (GBN News): NY City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein plans a trip next week to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, in order to see for himself the effects on the country’s school system, sources have told GBN News. Mr. Klein was said to have been struck by the fact that 97% of the schools in the capital of Port-Au-Prince were destroyed, and he was hoping to see if he could replicate the situation in the New York City schools.

The Chancellor, who sat through hours of angry testimony at this week’s PEP meeting opposing his plan to close 20 city schools, has been trying to find a way to close schools without having to face thousands of hostile parents, teachers and students. “An act of God is the only way to do this,” Mr. Klein was said to have told aides. “You never hear about the Almighty having to face a bunch of rabble without even being able to check his Blackberry or go to the bathroom.”

J. Fredrick Runson, professor of Education at Manhattan University, said that while it may seem that the Haiti solution is a bit drastic, the public here may not see much of a difference. “After all,” he told GBN News, “if he’s trying to destroy the NY City schools, he’s already accomplished most of that goal.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Those Pix Ain’t For Kix

January 27, 2010 (GBN News): The Bloomberg administration today strongly denied charges that pictures taken during a demonstration last week against school closings constituted illegal surveillance. A spokesperson for the Mayor told reporters that police officers did indeed take pictures of teachers, students and parents who rallied in front of the Mayor’s residence. However, the purpose was simply to offer them souvenir photographs of the event. Souvenir pictures were also taken of speakers at last night’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting at Brooklyn Technical High School, at which the school closings were voted on. “We wanted the pictures to be a surprise”, said the aide. “But once they threatened to sue us, we had to get the truth out.”

While no further details were given, sources at City Hall told GBN News that the Department of Education is planning to offer the souvenir photos to everyone who demonstrated at the Mayor’s home or spoke at the PEP meeting. According to these sources, the photos will be offered in various sizes, including 5x7’s, 4x6’s, wallets, and mug shots. The DOE will charge between $50 and $500, depending on the package, “to keep the photos out of the wrong hands”. However, the pictures will be free for anyone who waives the right to sue.

In a related story, the International Olympic Committee has resisted pressure from the Obama Administration, and voted not to include “Race to the Top” as an Olympic sport. Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressed disappointment at the IOC ruling, but told reporters, “They may change their minds when they see their souvenir photos.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why the school closings cannot be legally approved tonight

The Dept. of Education's summaries and response to public comments on the proposed school closings has now been posted on the Panel for Educational Policy public comment webpage.

They remain hugely inadequate, and do not sufficiently respond to any of the issues highlighted in our critique, as regards the likely effect on class size or overcrowding; nor as regards the fiscal impact of these proposals.

They do reveal that at the public hearings, hundreds spoke in opposition to these proposals, and at most of them, not a single person spoke in support.

One more point. The PEP bylaws, in compliance with the new governance law, say the following:
"Following the public review process, the Secretary shall make available to the
public, including via the Panel’s official internet web site, an assessment of
the public comments concerning the item under consideration prior to 24 hours
before the Panel vote on such item. The Secretary shall conduct such assessment
in accordance with Education Law 2590-g(8)(c). "

Yet none of these summaries were posted on the DOE website until after 10 AM this morning; and by 1:45 PM only half were up.

So unless the Panel for Educational Panel vote occurs after 10 AM tomorrow morning, these proposals cannot legally be approved.

Acceptance rate at proposed closing schools

One of the rationales DOE officials have cited for their proposed closings of twenty one schools is a low demand ratio of applications per seat.

Click on the chart to check out the acceptance rates for the schools slated for closure in the attached chart – with ratios of applications per seat comparable to some of the top US colleges and universities.

The Monroe Academy for Business and Law has an acceptance rate of 8% -- comparable to that of Harvard. Academy of Environmental Sciences has an acceptance rate of 9% -- comparable to Yale.

One of the schools lower on the list, Beach Channel’s Program in Law and Justice, has an acceptance rate of 56%, comparable to Polytechnic University, where David Chang, the chair of the Panel for Education Policy, is Chancellor.

The three zoned schools, Columbus, Beach Channel and Jamaica, that the DOE wants to phase out receive hundreds of applications a year from students in the neighborhood who are guaranteed to receive a seat.

In the case of Columbus, more than one thousand students applied. This means if these schools are phased out, their students will no longer have a zoned high school that they have a right to attend.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Why the administration should not close these schools!

Class Size Matters submitted comments on Friday on the proposed closings of 22 schools; check them out on our website here.

We point out how DOE’s Educational Impact Statements are profoundly flawed, with incomplete or inaccurate graduation rate data, and how DOE officials have refused to follow their own accountability standards in proposing these closings.

There is strong evidence that large numbers of students will drop out and/or be discharged in high numbers as these schools phase out, with no chance to graduate with a high school diploma, as has occurred in the past.

The NY Times just published a piece implying otherwise, about Columbus high school:
“… [DOE officials] say they make the closing process as painless as
possible. For the closing school, it is a gradual death, with current
students allowed to graduate if they do not fall behind, but no new classes
admitted. As space opens up, the new schools come to life, adding a grade each
"New schools come to life"? A "painless" process? A "gradual death"? "...current students allowed to graduate if they do not fall behind"?
Sounds very humane, like someone putting a dying animal out of its misery. Unfortunately, the reality is quite the reverse.

The fact is that most students at Columbus and the other high schools slated for closure are already "falling behind" in that they are not slated to graduate in four years. Many of them require special education services and/or are English language learners, and take up to five or six years to graduate. And as these schools phase out, it becomes more and more difficult for students to gain the necessary credits, as their schools no longer offer all the necessary courses.
Indeed, low four-year graduation rates are the prime reason the DOE cites in proposing to close these schools, and there is no plan provided to ensure that the majority of students currently in these buildings will ever have a chance to earn a high school diploma.

See this chart, from the discharge report I co-authored with Jennifer Jennings, showing how discharge rates skyrocket for students at NYC high schools - to up to 30% or more of the students in each graduating class for last two years before they phased out. These students are forced to leave for GED programs, or sometimes simply disappear off the rolls, never even counted as dropouts.
The schools targeted for closure have been flooded with the most vulnerable students in recent years, including disproportionate numbers who are homeless. Closing them will doom these students to failure.

Other problems with the impact statements include: the DOE has failed to acknowledge how these closings will likely lead to even worse overcrowding elsewhere, with several thousand high school seats lost the first year alone.

There is no mention of the fiscal impact these closings will have in an era of contracting budgets, with up to a thousand teachers put on Absent Teacher Reserve, and millions of dollars in start-up costs for the new small schools and charter schools.

Indeed, mass school closings are poor educational policy; and will likely lead to high numbers of dropouts and/or discharged students, more overcrowding, and higher class sizes at a time enrollment is increasing, and school budgets have been slashed to the bone. There is no evidence that the administration has made any efforts to improve these schools before closing them.

We are calling for a moratorium until the Independent Budget Office can prepare an analysis of the considerable fiscal impact of these proposals, their effect on class size and overcrowding, and what’s likely to happen to dropout and discharge rates at these schools as they phase out, as well as other issues insufficiently (or inaccurately) addressed in the Educational Impact Statements.

Finally, the DOE should consider developing a genuine turn-around strategy, implementing targeted improvements, including reducing class size and a host of other reforms proven to raise student achievement, boost graduation rates, and enhance the learning environment.
Please send in your own comments today to the members of the Panel for Educational Policy, and to the DOE. The PEP members’ contact information is on the right hand side of the blog. The DOE contact information is on the public notice page here; for high school closings, send them to
All comments sent are supposed to be summarized, posted and presented to the PEP before the vote. And hope to see you tomorrow night at Brooklyn Tech High school; come at 5:30 PM to sign up to speak.

Senator Craig Johnson, charter school supporter -- that is for NYC, not his constituents!

Excerpt from today's NY Post oped by Sen. Craig Johnson, Democrat from Port Washington LI, who broke ranks with his party by supporting the Governor's bill that would raise the cap charter schools statewide with no input allowed from parents about where they would be placed:

“While there are no charters in the district I represent, I'm not blind to good they've done elsewhere.”

Is he also blind to the destruction they have caused here in New York City, where the charter school wars divide parent from parent and are undermining the strength and stability of our public schools?

Lucky for his constituents that they don’t have to deal with charter schools invading the school buildings that their kids attend; I wonder how they would feel about legislation that denied the parents of Port Washington the right to have any input into these sitings – as did the bill which Johnson supported.

Here is Johnson’s email:

Here are the name and addresses of Port Washington's school board -- which here in NYC, we also don't have the right to elect. Instead our school board is controlled by the mayor. Feel free to copy them and let them know how you feel.

While you're at it, let Governor Paterson know how you feel about his bill that refused to let parents have any input into unchecked charter school expansion.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Police spy on protesters against school closings, in violation of our civil rights

See this video of the NY Police Department, taking photographs of parents, students and teachers, who were peacefully protesting on Jan. 21 on the mayor's block, against his proposals to force mass closings of public schools and their takeover by charter schools. We were exercising our constitutional right under the First Amendment to publicly demand that these destructive policies be stopped.

Meanwhile, a reporter from the Village Voice caught on videotape police taking photographs from the roof of and inside the Rudolph Steiner school, directly adjacent to the mayor's house.

In 1985, the federal court ruled that it is illegal for the New York City police to take photos of protesters, unless they have cause to believe that a crime may be committed.

The city signed a consent agreement that year, restricting police surveillance according to these rules, called the Handschu agreement. In the case of this peaceful protest, there was no such cause and this is clearly intimidation tactics, and/or a violation of civil rights.

The police responded to inquiries from the press yesterday, by claiming that they were taking pictures for "for crowd control planning purposes," which, on the face of it, sounds absurd.

The administration's surveillance of critics of its education policies does not occur in a vacuum. Remember how in 2007, it came out that the DOE had assigned an employee to tape Diane Ravitch, and was keeping a dossier on her?

And subsequently, it was revealed that Chris Cerf, then Deputy Chancellor, had assigned several of his staff to closely monitor our NYC education list serv, among others?

This is what Diane wrote at the time, after the DOE had gotten Kathy Wylde to publish an oped in the NY Post, attacking her:

"The public schools need involvement by parents and local communities. They need a lively and open public forum in which decisions can be debated before they are finalized. The public should have a voice in what happens to the children of the community. This I promise: I will continue to analyze the facts and the evidence to the best of my ability, without fear or favor. I will not be intimidated."

Neither will we.

See Group Claims NYPD Violated Protest Rights‎ (NY1); Civil rights lawyer Siegel snaps at NYPD for protest photos outside Mayor Bloomberg’s townhouse (Daily News); Voice Video Shows NYPD Snapping Photos of School Demonstrators at Mayor Bloomberg’s House (Village Voice); and video of our press conference (thanks to David Bellel).

Thursday's protest on the mayor's block against school closings, and forced privatization

See this video of Thursday's rally, at the closing of our protest outside the mayor's home on 79 St.; another terrific video of the marchers with their signs and interviews is posted here.

Gathered together were young and old, parents, students and teachers, all united, from all parts of the city and all colors, races and ethnicities; with great spirit and energy, opposing the mayor's mass closings , charter school invasions and forced privatization of our public school system-- a spirit that would not be discouraged or intimidated, even after the city prevented us from marching on the same side of the street as the mayor lives.

Subsequently, we discovered that the police were taking photos of us, in violation of a consent decree barring this surveillance that the city signed in 1985!

See Mayor Bloomberg Beats Norm Siegel, Decrees North Side of 79th Street a No Free Speech Zone' ...(Village Voice) with footage of the NYPD taking photos of the protesters. Also: Educating for Democracy: A Demonstration Against School Closings
(Huffington Post);
Protesters rally against closures on mayor's street, if not his stoop (GothamSchools); Charter School Protesters Take Fight to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Doorstep ... (DNAinfo).

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Federally-Funded National Study Attributes School Foreign Language Cutbacks to NCLB

It's not as if there hasn't already been plenty of evidence regarding the destructive effects of NCLB on American public education and how those negative impacts have been magnified and multiplied by the policies of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein. Now comes yet more damning evidence, this time courtesy of the Center for Applied Linguistics, in a just-released study of foreign language education in American schools funded by the federal Department of Education.

Based on a questionnaire sent to 5,000 American schools at all levels from primary through high school, coupled with follow-up phone calls to 3,200 of those schools, the survey garnered an impressive 76 percent response rate. While there's good news with regard to teaching of Chinese language, the news everywhere else is, as the New York Times describes it, "dismal." Yet while the Times chose to focus on the upbeat, Chinese language side of the picture, the downside for America's future in matters of global business, diplomacy, and multiculturalism generally seems inarguable.

The truly grim news emerges not so much in specific languages but in education level. The Center for Applied Linguistics survey found that thousands of public schools have shrunk or altogether abandoned foreign language instruction, with the largest cutbacks coming at the public elementary and middle school levels. The percentage of public elementary schools offering a foreign language declined from 24% in 1997 to just 15% in 2008, while the middle school fall was an even more precipitous seventeen points, from 75% to 58% over the same period. Furthermore, the study noted that the percentage of private elementary schools offering a foreign language, 51%, is now triple that of the 15% of public elementary schools offering a foreign language.

While restricted public school budgets may have contributed to this drop-off in pre-high-school foreign language courses, it should be noted that the study data reflects pre-recession, 2008 conditions. Instead, the study suggests that much of the cause can be attributed to adverse educational impacts of NCLB. As the study's Executive Summary states:

"Approximately one third of public elementary and secondary schools with language programs reported that their foreign language instruction had been affected by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education legislation. Comments from survey respondents suggested that NCLB's focus on mathematics and reading instruction had drawn resources away from foreign languages because they are not included in the law's accountability measures."

Is there any chance President Obama and/or Arne Duncan will someday wake up and realize the Bush-era damage to education they seem so bent on perpetuating? With apologies in advance for Blogger's inability to handle special characters, I can only say, "Ningun nino se quede atras," indeed, but not if Spanish (or French, German, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, or Hebrew) isn't already spoken in that left-behind child's home.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Charter school expansion without parent input blocked

Yesterday, the NY State Legislature refused to pass the governor’s proposed doubling of the charter school cap, without including a condition that no charter school could be forced into a school building without the approval of parents whose children already attend school in the building. The mayor and the charter school lobby refused to accept this condition, so the charter school expansion was not approved.

This expansion was proposed, not so that public education in this city would be improved, but so that NY State's chance for federal "Race to the Top" funding might be enhanced. (For our earlier coverage of the flaws of the Race to the Top, including how it ignores the findings of research and the priorities of parents, see here , here and here.)

As Speaker Silver said, “Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein were willing to sacrifice the creation of 200 more charter schools rather than accept any limitation on their unchecked power to ignore the voices of parents and displace traditional public schools from existing classroom space.”

Thanks to all of you who called your legislators; NYC parents won a big one yesterday!

Juan Gonzalez writes about why having parent input in charter school sitings is so important, in today’s Daily News. In case you’re keeping track, the only Democratic State Senators who signed onto the governor’s bill for charter school expansion with no parent input allowed were Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx and Craig Johnson from Long Island.

For more on what happened yesterday, see Gotham Schools and Times.

Hearing on the extension and expansion of PAVE charter inside PS 15K

Excerpts from last night's hearings on the administration's intention to allow the PAVE charter school to stay and expand in PS 15 in Brooklyn, well beyond their original agreeement.

For more on this issue, see our blog here, Juan Gonzalez' column, InsideSchools, and the CAPE website. Thanks to Norm Scott as always for the video.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

James Eterno and Rachael Ali of Jamaica HS at our emergency parent conference on school closings

Here James Eterno and Rachael Ali dispute the DOE's "Educational impact statements" and show how they are full of erroneous information. James reveals how the graduation rate at Jamaica has increased by 15% over the last few years, and Rachael describes how budget cuts have devastated programs at the school.

James proposes that DOE should take the funds reserved for start-ups and invest them in reducing class size and increasing guidance counselors at the schools slated for closure.

Norman Siegel at the emergency conference on school closings

On Saturday, our emergency parent conference on the proposed school closings and charter school sitings was terrific.

About 150 parents turned out from throughout the city to hear eloquent and informative presentations from teachers and students at some of the affected schools, including Christine Rowland and Klodian Simoni from Columbus HS in the Bronx, James Eterno and Rachael Ali from Jamaica HS in Queens, and Seung Ok from Maxwell HS in Brooklyn.

Then we heard from Lisa Donlan of District 1, Jim Devor of District 15, Khem Irby of District 13, and Julie Cavanagh of PS 15K about how parents can navigate the DOE website, participate in the public hearings, and challenge the DOE's Educational Impact Statements.

Finally, Norman Siegel spoke about our victory in court on Friday, in which New Yorkers won the right to protest the closings and the charter school expansions outside the mayor's home this Thursday, Jan. 21. Norman also spoke stirringly about his own background and beliefs, as a former NYC public school student and civil rights activist.

Check out an excerpt below.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Come join our protest at the mayor's house!

On Friday, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the Federal District Court upheld the right of parents, students, teachers and other concerned citizens to exercise their first amendment rights and peacefully protest against the school closures and charter school invasions in front of the Mayor's house on E. 79 St. on January 21.

Up to now, the city has been blocking protesters from this public space.

Please come! Bring signs and bring your children so they can be part of this historic event.

Remember, even if your school is not directly affected, the proposed closings and charter school sitings will lead to more overcrowding and larger classes citywide, and will come at a tremendous human and fiscal cost to the system.

Thousands of students will likely be discharged, most of them ELL and special ed, without a chance to graduate with a high school diploma. Hundreds of teachers will be put on absent teacher reserve.

When: Thursday, Jan. 21 from 4 -6:30 PM

Where: Meet on the SW corner of 79 St. and 5th Avenue, near Central Park.

A flyer you can post or distribute in your school is here.

Here is the Times on this victory; an excerpt from the court transcript follows:

Judge Hellerstein: Now, a curtailment of basic First Amendment rights is an irreparable damage. If I curtail the right peacefully to picket and peacefully to express views, I'm curtailing, theoretically, First Amendment rights. And so the denial of those rights constitutes irreparable damage.

....we live in a democracy. And to the greatest extent possible, we need to find ways to both engage in all the protective devices that are necessary to protect our governance in our society while not compromising, wherever we can avoid compromising, the constitutional rights of citizens to demonstrate, to express their views, and protest, and picket.

…The picketing is against the increase of charter schools that I'm told the mayor is planning. Since the mayor is the political leader and elected leader of the city and in charge of the educational system of the city, the point is to picket effectively where residence of the mayor is. As regulated by the provisions I read out, I grant the motion.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Texans Fight Off Federal Education Mandates

Texas Governor Rick Perry joined Texas teachers in denouncing and rejecting the imposition of the federal Race to the Top agenda on the children of Texas:

“Texas is on the right path toward improved education, and we would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington, virtually eliminating parents’ participation in their children’s education,” Gov. Perry said. “If Washington were truly concerned about funding education with solutions that match local challenges, they would make the money available to states with no strings attached.”
- Rick Perry, Governor

Race to the Top is the first step in federalizing our Texas school systems and imposing a national high-stakes test on our children and teachers. This is not acceptable. We support Governor Perry in his refusal to sell our schools to Washington for less than $75 per student.”
-Gayle Fallon, president, Houston Federation of Teachers

“The Texas Classroom Teachers Association supports the decision of Governor Perry and Commissioner Scott to decline to seek funds under the federal Race to the Top program. Texas public schools need enhanced funding, but the limited funding and potentially harmful policy requirements associated with Race to the Top are, in our view, likely to result in a net cost to Texas education. The loss of autonomy and flexibility that are essential to meet the needs of Texas students is simply not worth it.”
-Jeri Stone, executive director and general counsel, Texas Classroom Teachers Association

For our earlier coverage of the flaws of the Race to the Top see here , here and here.

NYC School Results on Intel STS -- The Silence Is Deafening

"City Students Sci High in U.S. Brain Game," cheered the headline in the NY Daily News. But that was on January 12, 2006.

"New York Tops Other States in Science Award Semifinalists," crowed the headline in the NY Times. But that was January 12, 2006 also.

"140 N.Y. Kids Are Sci High," preened the headline in the NY Post. But that one, too, was on January 12, 2006.

"33 City HS Kids Win Intel Honors," hurrahed the headline in the NY Post. But that one was dated January 13, 2005. On the same date, the NY Daily News headlined, "HS Makes Twin Killing" in its story of NYC's Intel semifinalists.

"Phenomenal Teen Scientists Advance City's Best & Brightest," thrilled the NY Daily News headline. But that one was dated January 15, 2004. "City Kids Show Intel-ligence" chimed in punningly the NY Post on the same date, while the NY Times supportively headlined their story, "Stuyvesant Again Leads in Science Contest."

"Stuy's Top Sci-High in Contest," ran the congratulatory NY Daily News headline -- on January 16, 2003. "'Junior Nobel'" for Local HS," raved the NY Post, while the NY Times offered as its laudatory leading line, "Stuyvesant Defeats Inertia to Lead Intel Rivals Again."

And so the story goes, back and back and back. In 2001, the NY Daily News headline ran positively braggardly: "Do the Math: We Rule. State, Bronx Science Clean Up in Contest." The year before, the Daily News had bellowed, "Scientific Sensations 58 Students Advance to Intel Contest Semis."

So here we are in January 2010, with the NYC public schools' just announced miserly showing of just 15 Intel semifinalists, all but one of them from Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, and not a peep from any of those newspapers. Nothing said about the precipitous decline in the city schools' Intel Science Talent Search contest over the past few years, a dropoff that mirrors almost precisely the years of mayoral control and Joel Klein's stewardship of the public schools.

Last year, only the NY Post could muster a chipper but soft-pedaled story on January 15, 2009 headlined, "Kids Are All Bright." With only 24 semifinalists, just half the number in 2002 (the last year before mayoral control of the public schools was initiated), the Post could at least try to keep a good game face. In 2008, with only 20 semifinalists, only the NY Times could muster a story (January 17, 2008), and its headline, "L.I. School Stands Out in Science Contest," was an inadvertent slap in the DOE's face. For 2010, the news is so bleak, none of the local papers can apparently find a story line that puts a happy face on the results.

Of course, we might well ask why a different story line hasn't appeared instead, one that asks why, with the exception of Bronx Science and Stuyvesant, the NYC public schools have virtually disappeared off the Intel STS map and what this relentless, seven-year, downhill trend says about our public high schools under Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein. We might also ask when the local print media were apparently, surreptitiously, also put under mayoral control.

Jamaica HS hearings: the battle for its survival

See the dynamic duo, James and Camille Eterno, fighting for the survival of Jamaica high school.

Also check out James' posting at GothamSchools, co-authored with Arthur Goldstein of Francis Lewis HS.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

NYC Public Schools Hit New Low in Number of Intel Science Fair Semifinalists

On Wednesday, January 13, the Intel Science Talent Search (STS) program made its annual announcement of the science fair’s 300 national semifinalists. What was once a source of immense pride in NYC, worthy of peacock-preening stories about the city’s impressive number of young future scientists and, by implication, the quality of NYC public schools, in the NY Times, Daily News, and Post went by unnoticed and unmentioned yesterday.

That the Intel semifinalist list merited not such so much as a passing notice, not even from the ever-churning DOE P.R. machine, tells you all you need to know about the news. It wasn't just bad, it was all-time level bad.

NYC public schools hit their lowest point in the last thirteen years (and certainly much more), based on available data going back to 1997, with just fifteen semifinalists this year. All but one come from Bronx Science (5) and Stuyvesant (9), with Queens H.S. of Science at York College being home to the city’s only other public school award-winner. There were also four semifinalists from NYC private schools: two from Brearley and one each from Ramaz and St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows. Congratulations to all nineteen of these outstanding young people.

As I have blogged for the last two years (see my posts January 24, 2009 and January 18, 2008), we are once again confronted by the extraordinary drop-off (de-Klein, as I labeled it last year) in NYC public schools’ Intel STS performance in the Klein years (2003 – 2009), as shown by the graph below.
In the six years before Chancellor Klein, the public schools averaged 46 semifinalists per year; over the period 2003 – 2009, that figure has now plummeted by half, to 23. Even worse, the number of NYC-based semifinalists coming from the non-specialized science high schools has dropped from an average of 18.2 (1997-2002) to just 6.33 (2003 – 2009), and the average number of non- specialized science high schools hosting semifinalists has fallen correspondingly from 5.67 to 3.33, this year hitting an all-time low of just one.

With the lone exceptions of Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, NYC public high schools under the leadership of Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg have virtually disappeared from the national science achievement map. The result is hardly surprising given this administration’s educational priorities and their obsession with standardized tests and measurable accountability.

Lest anyone think this pattern is simply reflective of larger NYS trends, it should be noted that the NYC private school average number of STS semifinalists during these two time periods declined slightly from 6.50 to 5.86 and the NYS average (including NYC schools) went from 155.8 to 129.4, a decrease of 26 semifinalists that almost exactly matches the fall in NYC public schools’ number of semifinalists.

This near-collapse in Intel STS performance, long touted with pride as a measure of the quality of NYC’s public high school public education, has come entirely under Mayor Bloomberg’s watch and his seizure of public school control; in 2002, the last year before mayoral control, there were 47 public school STS semifinalists originating from nine different schools.

The numbers themselves are stunning, but equally stunning is the utter, year-after-year failure of the local print media to inform the public as to what has happened. Their reticence on this is more than a little disturbing, culminating this year with total silence on the results, not even granting the traditional congratulatory nod to the students who made the cut and the schools that supported them. Perhaps the news was so disappointing for Mayor Mike that Messrs. Sulzberger, Zuckerman, and Murdoch simply forbade its mention. Regardless, the silence has now finally reached the level of deafening.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How the DOE missed the boat on enrollment growth, leading to inequitable budget cuts

See this article in today’s Daily News – showing that the DOE now is going to impose even bigger mid-year budget cuts than the maximum of 1 percent promised, to the 740 schools where enrollment increased – despite their supposed “fair student funding” formula. I have posted the memo here.

Here is an excerpt:

“For schools experiencing growth in enrollment, given the mandates related to special education, we will fund 100% of the increase in dollars related to an increase in special education enrollment. However, given the decline in the overall DOE discretionary budget and the decrease in the percentage of dollars returned by the schools with enrollment declines, we can only fund 55.5% of the increase in FSF attributed to the increase in general education enrollment.”

In other words, schools that have growing enrollments are getting screwed.

The even more critical issue is DOE’s explanation for this situation: that citywide, enrollment is growing this year for the first time since 2002 – not even counting charter school growth, which has been rapidly expanding.

“For the first time since 2002, enrollment has increased. During the current school year, NYC public schools saw an increase in total pupil enrollment of about 1%. This means that in addition to the annual redistribution of dollars from schools with register losses to those with register gains, we will need to add dollars to the FSF budgets.”

Overall, according to sources, there are about 10,000 more students than last year. Yet the DOE hadn’t budgeted for this, even though we’ve been warning them to expect this for years.

Actually, elementary and middle school enrollments started growing last year, according to our calculations -- if charter schools in DOE buildings are included.

Indeed, many public officials, parents and advocates, including the City Comptroller and the Manhattan Borough President, warned them of imminent enrollment growth, based on higher birth rates, more development, and families wanting to stay in the city, because of the lower crime rate. This, we warned, would likely lead to even worse overcrowding, given the inadequate capital plan, rather than the mere “pocket overcrowding” that DOE educrats love to describe.

We also told them that the enrollment projections provided by their consulting firms – Grier Partnership and Statistical Forecasting – should not be trusted. FYI, the latest Grier report predicts that enrollment would not increase in NYC schools until 2017, and SF until 2016 – at least seven years away.

Here is what we wrote in our report, A Better Capital Plan, in October 2008:

"Although a detailed demographic analysis is beyond the capability of this report, there are signs that especially in the early grades, increased enrollment and overcrowding may already be upon us, and this trend may worsen over the coming years."

And yet as usual, the DOE ignored what we were saying. The mismanagement, incompetence and unfairness of all this cannot be understated. And it prefigures even worse conditions in our schools for years to come.

Contact your legislator today about raising the cap on charter schools!

In the next few days, the NY State Legislature will vote whether to raise or eliminate the cap on charter schools. A recent study from the UFT found that charter schools enroll fewer immigrant, ELL, special education and poor students than the citywide average, and much fewer needy students than the districts in which they are located.

Charter schools also tend to have more resources and provide smaller classes than our regular public schools, because they are allowed to cap enrollment and class size at any level they want. Here is an oped from today’s News by Diane Ravitch that explores these issues.

Currently, 70% of the 99 NYC charter schools are located inside of DOE buildings, sharing space and sometimes squeezing space from our regular public schools. Many more are supposed to be co-located or expanded in public school buildings next year. This is leading to an inequitable and unsustainable crisis in this city.

Whether you support the creation of more charter schools or not, I hope you agree that all NYC children deserve the smaller classes that the state’s highest court said were necessary if there were to receive their constitutional right to an adequate education.

Currently, charter schools are approved in Albany with no thought of where they will go – often with deleterious effects on our regular public schools, where enrollment is rapidly rising, and class sizes are increasing at an unprecedented rate.

Please call your legislators today – and urge them to:

1- require that any new charter school must specify in advance the facility in which it will be located before it is approved;

2- ensure that a charter school cannot be placed in any building where at full scale, it will prevent the existing schools in the building from reducing class size to the mandated city goals of no more than 20 per class in grades K-3, 23 students per class in 4-8 and 25 in high school.

Click here to find the name and/or contact no. of your Assemblymember and State Senator. Calls are best, then faxes, and finally emails.

Also, please remember to come to our emergency citywide conference on Saturday on school closings and charter school sitings.

When: Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010 from 9:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Where: School of the Future, 127 East 22nd Street, NYC. (take the #6 to 23 St.)

A flyer you can post or distribute in your school is here.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Book Review: Catching Up or Leading the Way

Yong Zhao occupies a unique position from which to reflect upon the current national direction of American education in his recent--and very readable--book, Catching Up or Leading the Way. Mr. Zahoa, a University Distinguished Professor in the College of Education at Michigan State, is also a product of the inquiry-suppressing, conformity-inducing, national-standardized-test-driven system that constitutes Chinese education. These two seemingly antipodal perspectives alone offer more than ample reason to listen to Mr. Zhao's voice, all the more so when he argues that both systems are moving, each in their own way, toward becoming more alike.

The crux of Professor Zhao's analysis appears in his preface. "...What China wants is what America is eager throw away--an education that respects individual talents, supports divergent thinking, tolerates deviation, and encourages creativity; a system in which government does not dictate what students learn or how teachers teach; and culture that does not rank or judge the success of a school, a teacher, or a child based on only test scores in a few subjects determined by the government...An innovation-driven society is driven by innovative people. Innovative people cannot come from schools that force students to memorize correct answers on standardized tests or reward students who excel at regurgitating dictated spoon-fed knowledge...why does America want to adopt practices that China and many other countries have been so eager to give up?"

Professor Zhao begins by attacking the myth of the broken American education system and the ostensible government reforms that have sought to address the problem. He argues that the historical strength of America's education system can be found in its promotion of talent diversity and the value of the individual, explaining in clear terms the distinction between "contest mobility" and "sponsored mobility" systems. In the latter, as typified by China and Great Britain, students "are subject to path-defining examinations and tests early in their life and are sorted accordingly toward the forms of schooling and training that are deemed 'appropriate' to their perceived talents...." He follows this discussion with a chapter entitled, "Why China Isn't a Threat Yet," one of whose subheads, "High Scores but Low Ability" captures perfectly everything I have personally seen and heard about the products of the Chinese education system (including an abysmally low level of post-school personal reading or interest in new learning, unless it can be turned directly into increased income -- knowledge for knowledge's sake is a concept largely inconceivable among Chinese mainland adults).

Professor Zhao is highly critical of NCLB and the damage to American education he perceives ensuing from it. He does not pull his punches in this arena, most amusingly so when he cites President Bush's January 8, 2002 signing of the NCLB enabling legislation at Hamilton High School in Ohio. Two years later, Hamilton was branded a failing school under the provisions of the same law.

Catching Up or Leading the Way closes with Professor Zhao's prescriptions for American education. I found myself in agreement on most -- increased global knowledge and cross-cultural competency, more foreign language skills, digital competence, nurturing of individuals' diverse talents, focus on students' strengths and not just on their "deficiencies," and broadened measures of accountability for school performance. I am less enthusiastic a proponent of what the author terms personalized learning. Instead, I prefer offering as wide a range as possible of artistic, cultural, physical, vocational, and academic electives and programs as the best means of personalizing learning, encouraging intellectual exploration, and cultivating individual talents, interests, and passions.

On balance, Yong Zhao's book is a valuable addition to the discussion of America's badly misguided (in my judgment) education reform movement. He brings a refreshing, international perspective to the debate, and he does so in a manner that is clear, easy to understand, and requires no extensive background to follow. Catching Up or Leading the Way is an easy book to recommend as essential reading to those who scratch their heads wondering what we are doing to our public education system and perhaps even more so, why.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Report on the Columbus HS hearing from a former alum

I went to Christopher Columbus H.S. in the Bronx (my alma mater) Thursday night for the joint hearing that DOE arranged about closing the school and also one of the small schools that share the building, Global Enterprise H.S., (which was started during the Bloomberg-Klein regime.)

The auditorium was packed, and everyone who spoke during the first two hours, while I was there -- the local elected officials, the Bronx Borough President's rep., the head of the community board, administrators, teachers, union reps (teachers and principals unions), students, alums -- everyone was passionate in their defense of the schools, their opposition to the closings, and their criticism of the DOE.

Heartfelt testimony included statistics refuting the DOE's charges that the schools were failing, charts showing graduation rates above the city-wide average, information about successful coping with over-crowding, high percentages of special needs students and new-arrival students who enter not speaking a word of English. The words of praise in the DOE's own recent progress reports were cited as direct contradiction of the words they now use in their closing rationales.

People spoke about how they have not received help and support from the district office or DOE central. It was pointed out that DOE claims of having consulted with the "stakeholders" about this were bogus, because when personnel at Global asked widely who had been consulted, they could find no one who had. Several people suggested that clearing space for charter schools was the likely explanation for this DOE plan. One student, choked up with tears, said that the closing would shut the door to his future.

The building looked to be in great shape, inside and out, with lots of informational and inspirational signs and college posters all over the walls. It was maybe in better shape than when I attended, and since it opened in 1938, it is now well more than twice as old as it was then.

If PEP votes to close these schools after a hearing like this, it will be a chilling example of how an irrational dictatorship rides roughshod over the near-unanimous opinions and desires of practically all aspects of the communities it supposedly serves.

If all the B.P. reps on the PEP, if they each wish to keep their schools open, make common cause for the meeting on the 26th ("Don't vote to close my schools and I won't vote to close yours") and the vote comes out with eight Bloombergs for closing, five Borough Presidents against, it will demonstrate how unfair the make-up of this group is, and ought to result in lawsuits against the closings.

--Richard Barr, parent leader

For some recent articles which deal with the school closings, see: Jamaica and Columbus High School supporters pack hearings (GothamSchools);Hundreds Protest Proposed School Closings (WNYC); Bloomberg School Closings Draw Ire (The Indypendent); Hundreds Rally To Keep Queens School Open (NY1 );Beach Channel supporters lay out their case against closure (GothamSchools);Was Beach Channel set up for failure? (Queens Chronicle ); Parents to have say on DOE plan to close Jamaica HS (