Friday, February 26, 2010

The smoking gun of Eva's emails

Be sure to check out Juan Gonzalez’s Friday's column where he revealed the smoking gun of emails, showing how Eva Moskowitz asked Klein to close two neighborhood zoned elementary schools in Harlem, PS 194 and PS 241, so that her charter schools could take their place.

Less than two months later, Klein announced plans to phase out those schools and use the space for two Harlem Success academies on the pretext that both schools were "failing"; yet both of them got "A's" at the end of the year.

Don’t forget to read all the emails on the News website – full of fascinating nuggets about the battles for space; also discussed are Bill Clinton, Al Sharpton and how Eva persuaded Klein to change DOE policy in order to provide her with the addresses of parents through mailing houses so she could saturate them with her mailings and recruiting efforts.

As she writes Klein at one point, "the decisions that have to be made are are political. Deciding on merits of quality of school and space allocations per pupil is in our system political."

Absolutely. And in every case, his decisions were politically based.

The emails also show how Moskowitz even now trying to engineer her schools' expansion into preK and get double the state funding for it – even though state law officially disallows charters to provide preK. Meanwhile, the DOE has cut back on preK in several Harlem public schools to give the space for charters!

FYI, anyone can FOIL the emails themselves sent between charter school operators and the DOE. It would be instructive to read them all. I imagine much of Klein’s time is taken up by agreeing to the aggressive demands of these privatizers. READ them for yourself.

Below see an excerpt from Democracy Now, where Juan Gonzalez talks about how he fought DOE for eight months to obtain these emails:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Eva and Joel getting physical

Humor from David Bellel, in reference to today's Juan Gonzalez column and the revealing emails he uncovered between Eva Moskowitz and Joel Klein.

After all, it's better to laugh than to cry.

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Political pull by charter school operator exposed

Some parents have asked me why I am involving myself in such a controversial issue as charter schools, seemingly unrelated to class size. But I don’t think it is.

District public schools that have a higher concentration of high-needs students are losing classrooms, libraries and intervention spaces to charter schools, which is neither equitable or good policy.
This is especially damaging, given the fact that only three out of 13 district schools slated to lose space next year to charters have reached their mandated class size reduction targets. For more on this see here, my comments on the charter co-locations that were voted on by the PEP last night.
Yesterday, on Good Day NY, when asked why the Chancellor seems biased towards charters, I said I didn’t really know, but that I suspected that many of the charter school operators are receiving preferential treatment because of their political connections.

A perfect example is revealed in today’s column in the Daily News by Juan Gonzalez, and in the emails he FOILed between Eva Moskowitz and Chancellor Klein.

Not only did the Chancellor intercede repeatedly with his own staff to get her chain of charter schools more space, when she had already received more than the formula would allow, helped her recruit parents for her schools by giving her access to their names and addresses, and also appeared at numerous fundraisers and helped her raise a million dollars from the Broad foundation, explaining how politically useful she was in organizing thousands of charter school parents to support Bloomberg, the continuation of mayoral control and raising of the charter school cap.

As Klein wrote to Dan Katzir of the Broad Foundation, “she’s done more to organize parents and get them aligned with what our reforms than anyone else on the outside.”

In her emails, Moskowitz repeatedly refers to her “army of parents” and many of them were indeed at attendance last night in the PEP meeting, along with their kids, cheering and chanting in support of their expansion into district buildings – all of which were approved, except for one.
Click on the email above, and check out the others on the Daily news website here. You'll be amazed.

You can also check out my appearance on Democracy Now .

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is Harlem Village Academy Really the Model for Urban Public School Reform? Times Columnist Bob Herbert Seems to Think So.

In his latest NY Times column, Bob Herbert has shown that he belongs to the Nick Kristof club of "journalists" who helicopter into an issue, traipse around for a few hours, get treated like royalty and receive a king's tour, hear a one-sided pitch, watch a show being put on for their benefit, and then go write a story as if they actually know something about the broader topic.

Herbert decided to dabble for a few hours in NYC public school education, and the Potemkin village story he presents is about the marvels of Harlem Village Academy (HVA) charter school on West 144th Street. Herbert makes much of one his one selected statistic: "In 2008, when the math and science test scores come in, Ms. Kenny's eighth graders had achieved 100 percent proficiency." That's commendable, of course, but here are a few figures he overlooked or failed to mention:

-- In 2006-07, the first year on which DOE reports data for HVA, the school had a Grade 5 class of 66 students. HVA has no students in Grades K-4, so Grade 5 appears to be the school's primary intake class. The next year, that same cohort as Grade 6 students numbered 45. A 32% loss of students in a single year for such a stellar school, even in the middle school crossover year, is worth explaining.

-- In 2006-07, HVA had a Grade 7 class of 42 students, but the next year's Grade 8 cohort numbered just 31, another 26% loss of students that raises an eyebrow or two.

-- One-third of the school's classes in 2008 were "taught by teachers without appropriate certification" according to the DOE's own data, and 42% of the teachers were reported either without certification (18%) or teaching outside their area of certification (24%). HVA did not report its teacher turnover rates for the DOE's 2007-08 report, nor does it appear to have ever disclosed those figures for the DOE's public reporting.

-- In 2006-07, HVA had zero students out of 200 classified at Limited English Proficient (LEP); in 2007-08, that number was still only three out of 233. By comparison, PS/IS 210, located just eight blocks away on West 152nd Street, had 173 LEP students out of a student population of 360 in 2007-08, or 48%.

-- In 2006-07, 53% of the HVA student body qualified for free lunch, rising to 61% in 2007-08. By comparison, 91% of the student population at nearby PS/IS 210 qualified for free lunch in 2006-07 (no data reported for 2007-08).

-- HVA reported 75 student suspensions in 2005-06 and 87 suspensions for 2006-07. The student body in those two years totaled 200 and 233, respectively. Nearby PS/IS 210 reported just 10 suspensions in each of those two years for student populations of 192 and 257, respectively. Both schools reported 94% attendance rates for 2006-07, the only year reported by HVA.

-- For 2007-08, HVA reported a Grade 8 cohort of 31 students. Thirty took the Grade 8 Math exam, but only 25 took the Grade 8 Science exam in which 96% were rated Proficient. What happened to the other six students, almost 20% of the class? If they were all too weak academically to have reached Proficient, the school's percentage would have dropped to 77% -- still good, but not as chest-thumping as 96%. Curiously, 41 of HVA's 43 Grade 8 student the previous year took the Science exam for 2006-07, and their proficiency percentage came in just there, at 76%.

-- A recent executive search letter seeking teachers on HVA's behalf included the following statement: The organization [Harlem Village Academies] recently completed a $67 million capital campaign to build a new high school in the heart of Harlem and has a robust pipeline of donors. Harlem Village Academies recently held its first ever gala, hosted by Hugh Jackman, with performances by John Legend, Patti LaBelle, and Joss Stone. The event, attended by Mayor Bloomber and Governor Patterson, generated net revenues of nearly $2 million. I can't resist adding here that the DOE is still aggressively pursuing its edict that NYC public school students are forbidden from selling homemade brownies, cupcakes, or cookies to raise $50 or $100 for their clubs and activities; if they could just get Hugh Jackman and Patti LaBelle!

-- Other recent news items from HVA's own website cite the involvement of Jack Welch (GE), Dick Parsons (Citigroup), Brian Williams (NBC), and Tiki Barber. Again, compare all this to the (steadily shrinking) resources DOE provides to PS/IS 210 and its much needier student population nearby. Note as well that Mayor Bloomberg is repeatedly quoted in the school's literature and on its website as describing HVA as "the poster child for this country." Is this really the Mayor's vision for NYC public schools: dependent on celebrities and the feel-good charitable funding fad of the moment among NYC's corporatocracy and its nouveau riche hedge fund managers?

-- Principal Deborah Kenny, as chief executive of Harlem Village Network (which includes one other school in East Harlem, the Leadership Village Academy Charter School), commanded a neat little compensation package totaling slightly under $420,000 last year. She is not the acting principal of any of her network's three schools, yet her compensation, spread over the 400-odd students in her network, adds a $1,000 per student overhead burden. If the entire NYC public school system operated in the same manner for its one million students, the combined compensation for all the comparable "network chief executives" would add one billion dollars to the city's education budget!

I should state here that I am not categorically opposed to charter schools in principle, any more than I have ever been opposed to parochial schools (from which, in Indianapolis, I am a partial product). What I object to is the unthinking, unquestioning acceptance by people like Mr. Herbert, who are supposed to know better, that privatizing public education based on hidden investors (with potentially their own agendas), paying outsized salaries to members of the club, dumping at will any kids who are difficult to teach or control, ignoring kids with English language or special education needs, and then blindly comparing these cream-skimmed apples to a wholly different and far more inclusive set of underfunded oranges somehow represents "the answer" for urban education in America. Mr. Herbert owes us much better than the misleading storyline he has provided in this instance, whatever his personal feelings and connections are.

Schools like Harlem Village Academy may indeed work well for the population they create for themselves after dumping the kids they don't want back into the "traditional" public school system, and they deserve to be credited for what they achieve as a result since their students appear to be benefiting. But that's not public education, that's just a tuition-free private school operating on public money in public space, supplemented by lots and lots of private money and making a few more, mostly white people like Ms. Kenny and Ms. Moskowitz shamefully well-paid.

Interview about charter schools on Good Day NY

From Good Day NY this morning:

Check out the link for the interview with the Chancellor that preceded my interview.

Charter School Debate:Chancellor Klein and Parents Weigh In

A decision about sharing space among charter and public schools in New York City is expected on Wednesday night.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is facing backlash from parents who say their children are being shortchanged by adding charter schools.

Speaking with Good Day NY on Wednesday, Klein said he wished there was more space to avoid co-locations.

"I wish we had a lot more space in New York City. About 500-600 schools share space. But we need to share the space fairly among all 1.1 million students. We need to give parents hope and opportunity," Klein told Good Day NY Co-Host Rosanna Scotto.

Opponents like Leonie Haimson who represents the non-profit organization Class Size Matters says public school students are being shortchanged.

"Parents see it like charters schools have invaded their public school space. (Charter schools) have taken away libraries, classrooms and intervention spaces," said Haimson during Good Day NY on Wednesday.

Charter schools- or schools operated independently of the local school board- are often run by politically connected individuals and educate the most elite of children, said Haimson.
"Sometimes a school year in and year out doesn't do the work... the Obama administration has said we should be closing five percent of our schools," said Klein.

The bottom line, said Haimson, is to "let the parents decide.. it's our children... if you put this up to a vote among all the parents including charter school parents you'd realize the co-locations are extremely unpopular."

Ed Sec on "No Fly" List?

February 24, 2010 (GBN News): An embarrassed Education Secretary Arne Duncan was late for a Cabinet meeting today after being detained and strip-searched at O’Hare Airport before boarding a flight to Washington. The Transportation Safety Administration had no official comment, but a source at the TSA told GBN News that the Secretary had apparently been put on the Terrorist Watch List.

According to this official, Mr. Duncan had attracted the attention of the TSA after reports that he could be about to destroy the US public school system. While some at the TSA wanted to dismiss Mr. Duncan’s reputed plans as a “crackpot scheme”, others prevailed by pointing out that if he succeeded, the effects on our education system could be devastating.

When asked if any other high education officials were also placed on the watch list, the source said, “I’m not saying yes or no, but if I were Joel Klein, I’d make sure my underwear was presentable before I tried getting on a plane.”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Coming Soon: The "AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH" of Ed Reform?

Arguably the single most important spur to public acceptance and concern over global climate change as an issue came from Davis Guggenheim's 2006 documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth." With that video, global warming moved from being a topic of scientific conferences, technical journals, and environmental activists to being a household term familiar to parents and children alike.

What "An Inconvenient Truth" and Al Gore did for climate change, Guggenheim's "Waiting for Superman" and Bill Gates may soon be doing for American education reform. Judging from reports emanating from this year's Sundance Film Festival, a popular-media tidal wave is taking shape, and it could well make all previous efforts to sell the Bush/Spellings/Obama/Duncan education reforms look like ripples in a backyard wading pool.

Mr. Guggenheim has compiled a "definitive" explanatory documentary of America's educational ills (based, of course, on his certainty that the current system is broken). A short item by Brooks Barnes in the NY Times on Monday, February 1 described "Waiting for Superman" as "a searing indictment of public education in the United States." So who exactly is Guggenheim indicting? Here's part of one Sundance attendee's review (Matt Belloni, from the Hollywood Reporter):

"In fact, for all its focus on underprivileged, inner-city kids, sections of SUPERMAN feel like they could have been cut together by Bill O'Reilly. Slo-mo footage of union leader speeches opposing reform that could help problem schools. Hidden-cam video of a teacher reading newspapers and checking his watch as his class goofs around. New York educators being paid millions to not teach. A major subject of the film, reform-minded DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, runs into a crippling teachers-union road block in her effort to shift pay structures to reward good teachers."

Guggenheim has cherry-picked and packaged every hoary scare story from the last twenty-five years: the lazy and incompetent teacher, the reactionary and obstructionist union as represented by "villainess" Randi Weingarten (of whom one commentator notes that the movie "make[s] something of a foaming satanic beast"), the Democratic Party supported by those teacher unions, the lack of incentive rewards for "good" teachers, and not enough charter schools.

Sound familiar? Sound like a documentary, or an advocacy piece? Still not sure? Well then, go back to the top of this posting and check out the "Terminator"-like nuclear-bomb-blast scene surrounding the little blonde, white girl in the movie's advertising poster. Anyone but me reminded of LBJ's infamous, anti-Goldwater nuclear holocaust campaign ad, the one that was shown on TV exactly one time and pretty much decided the election?

And who are the stars of Guggenheim's film? None other than NYC's own Geoffrey Canada, supported by Michelle Rhee and KIPP founders David Levin and Mike Feinberg, backed by a song written and performed just for this movie by John Legend.

So where is the Superman who can save our little blond children from these incompetent teachers and their devil's-spawn unions? Where's Clark Kent when we need him? Never fear, that bespectacled, geeky guy is here, only this Superman's street-clothes identity is Bill Gates. Numerous reports from Sundance indicate that billion-dollar Bill has shown more than a passing interest in this film. In fact, he was a highly visible participant at the Sundance Festival's "Waiting for Superman" screening, actually sharing the stage at the Q&A afterward with Guggenheim and Canada. He even twittered gushingly from the screening that there was "not a dry eye in the house." (Sniff, sniff).

Remarkably, in that Q&A following the movie's premier, director Guggenheim chose to let Mr. Gates speak for him. "Guggenheim was happy to defer questions to Gates, even admitting, 'I'm so glad Bill is here!'" When the director cedes his place to a third party with no involvement in the movie's creation, one has to assume said director is not terribly comfortable with his knowledge level on the subject matter, and/or that there's another agenda. Not hard to guess what that would be.

Distribution rights to "Waiting for Superman" were sold to Paramount Vanguard before the movie was even shown at Sundance. Then again, it was Paramount who distributed Guggenheim's "An Inconvenient Truth" to the tune of $50 million in receipts. They must be seeing deja vu all over again.

A few years from now, we may look back at "Waiting for Superman" as the real beginning of the end for American public education. Davis Guggenheim's documentary could become the key propaganda piece that persuades a dull-witted, gullible, and uninformed American public that only Superman Gates, Lois Lane Rhee, and Jimmy Olsen Canada can save their children from the locust-like hordes of brainy, ultra-educated, young Chinese men and women who are just chomping at the bit to step ashore and eat their lunches. If Mr. Gates and his steamrolling billions have anything to say about it, you can bet we'll be seeing and hearing a lot more about "Waiting for Superman" in the coming months.

Just in case you think this is a one-shot deal, brace yourself for another one, due on May 7. It's a film titled, "The Lottery." Yeah, you guessed it -- another "documentary," this one about the charter school lottery process in Harlem, starring Geoffrey Canada, Eva Moskowitz (Harlem Success Academy), Dacia Toll (Achievement First), and Joel Klein. The movie's position? How about this excerpt from a review from the CNBC website:

"The Lottery exposes the backwards politics and nefarious agendas of politicians and special interest groups who stand in the way of improving a failing public school system."

I never realized that I'm a backwards special interest group with a nefarious agenda. But hey, at least I'll be able to have some fun at the movies!! Looks like 2010 is going to be a long, long year.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The "New Math" of Closing Large High Schools?

Earlier this week, I picked up a copy of the latest West Side Spirit newspaper to read their cover story, "McCourt High School Recruiting Students." The whole enterprise -- a planned, four-year high schoolwith an anticipated enrollment of 432 (108 per grade level) to begin operation in September 2010 -- is of course a heartwarming memorial to teacher/author Frank McCourt. However, as I read the article, I saw this:

"In addition to being evaluated on grades and attendance, students interested in enrolling must take part in an interview, which screens for writing ability and collaborative skills. Part of the interview will include an on-demand writing test and a group task to gauge students' interest in collaboration."

Given the less-than-stellar history of Brandeis High School, which is being closed to make way for McCourt and at least three other schools, this screening process struck me as not likely to select many students comparable to those who have been attending Brandeis in recent years (a population that in 2005-06 was 24.5% ELL and 11.0% Special Education). To the contrary, it seem more suited to Upper West Siders looking for a local, "top tier" high school on the order of Lab School, Millennium, SOF, or Eleanor Roosevelt.

The West Side Spirit included the names of three other new schools already in their first year of operation in the W. 84th Street building even as the old Brandeis H.S. phases out. There's the Global Learning Collaborative with a 9th Grade of 108 students (based on their January 15, 2010 DOE register); there's the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers with a 9th Grade of 98 students; and there's Innovation Diploma Plus, a Grade 9-12 transfer school "for students who have fallen behind and are at risk of dropping out," with a total current student population of 137 (and a less-than-sterling year-to-date attendance rate of 67%).

So if McCourt serves few or none of the kind of students who used to fill the halls of Brandeis, that leaves Global Learning and Green Careers, each of which looks to be targeting enrollment of 425-450. Innovation Diploma Plus might eventually ramp up to 300 or more, but transfer schools by definition would not be taking in incoming 9th graders who might have attended Brandeis were it still operating. A few more might make it through the McCourt H.S. screening process, so let's say that brings us to 250 annual incoming ninth graders. Even if the DOE eventually adds two more small high schools in the building, it seems unlikely that the total number of incoming ninth graders in the building would exceed five or six hundred.

Here's the rub. As recently as 2005-06, the old Brandeis school's CEP reported a Grade 9 population alone of 1,243 (with total 9-12 enrollment of 2,751). Those 1,243 ninth graders would be looking at perhaps 250 available seats this coming September and perhaps 600 available seats in another couple years.

Where do those 600 - 900 left-out students go instead of Brandeis? Not nerby Martin Luther King -- it's being closed. Not Norman Thomas -- it's being closed as well. Not Julia Richman or Seward Park -- they're already long gone. And not Park East or Columbus or Adlai Stevenson or Evander Childs.

If every other former large high school goes the same route as all these, is the end result fewer total public high school seats than before these closures began? Are they all the same as Seward Park, where a former, single-school student population of 2,542 is now 1,686 spread over five schools? Or Canarsie High School, still phasing out from when it housed 2,885 students in 2007 and now has three new schools with combined Grade 9 and 10 populations of just 564 (which projects out to full enrollments of perhaps 1,100)? Even with two more schools added to the Canarsie Education Complex, the total served populatin would probably just reach 2,000.

Will the net impact be the same in all these new, multi-school "education complexes" (Bushwick, Franklin K. Lane, Wingate, Tilden, Far Rockaway, Beach Channel, Evander Childs, Adlai Stevenson, Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson, Jamaica, Alfred E. Smith, etc.) compared to their former, single-school enrollments? The performance numbers (attendance, Regents pass rates, graduation rate) for the small, replacement schools may look better now, but how much of that is the result of skimming off the cream? Maybe Canarsie and Brandeis were overcrowded before, but that begs the question of where those missing (unaccommodatable) students will have gone, perhaps 800 or so in each of those two schools alone. And where do the ELL and Special Education kids go who previously attended those now- (or soon-to-be-) closed schools?

Is this the DOE's version of "new math?" Or is it a form of forced educational triage?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Duncan Plots “All-Natural” Turnaround Strategy

February 12, 2010 (GBN News): Education secretary Arne Duncan, looking to apply the lessons of Hurricane Katrina as well as those of the more recent disaster in Haiti, is developing a new “turnaround” strategy for American schools, according to sources at the USDOE. The Secretary, who recently said that that Katrina was the "best thing" to happen to the New Orleans schools, has reportedly been telling staffers that the key is to be proactive. “We can’t just sit around and wait for a disaster to happen to fix the schools,” Mr. Duncan was said to have told his top aides at a recent meeting. “We have to make one happen.”

Details of the Secretary’s plan have been cloaked in secrecy, but insiders told GBN News that Mr. Duncan recently met with NASA officials to determine the feasibility of diverting a “near Earth” asteroid towards failing schools. The Secretary was also said to have emailed the US Army Corps of Engineers to ask if, when the unusually large snow pack melts this spring, the resultant flooding can be directed towards other such schools.

While the Corps of Engineers reportedly rebuffed Mr. Duncan’s overture (“Destroying stuff in order to save it went out with Vietnam”, he was told), rumors of the Secretary's other plans have sent shock waves through a number of major US school systems. But education officials in New York were not concerned. “He won’t target us,” said a source at the NY City DOE, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’ve already got Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg. There’s no natural disaster on the planet that can top their track record in destroying public schools.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Scorched earth policies in the closings of schools

Check out my latest on the Huffington Post: Parents, students and civil rights advocates protest the mass closings of public schools:

Instead of strengthening our neighborhood schools, that have for
generations accepted and served a variety of students, and providing resources and reforms like smaller classes that have been proven to work, officials are pursuing a
scorched earth policy - as during the Vietnam war, when the military claimed they were forced to destroy
villages in order to save them.


Some day these misconceived policies will be recognized as the
educational equivalent of practices pursued by civic authorities the 1950's and 1960's to remake entire neighborhoods in the name of "urban renewal" and "slum clearance.

Also read the NAACP's oped in today's Daily News, in support of their lawsuit to block the school closings.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Why the building trades program at Alfred E. Smith HS should not be shut down!

On January 26th the NYC Department of Education voted to phase out 19 public city schools. Alfred E. Smith Career & Technical HS was one of the original 20 schools to be voted on.
As you may know, we were taken off the list (temporarily) in part due to "feedback from the community and the demand for an automotive program to continue to exist in the Bronx."

Despite this, we're still in a crisis situation as the DoE plans to phase out our Building Trades program and move two existing schools into the building and co-locate with Alfred E. Smith (Bronx Haven High School and the New York City Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries).
We welcome change, however, phasing-out our Building Trades Program in one of the poorest congressional districts in the United States and replacing it with a for-profit, fragmented charter school that doesn't offer endorsed diplomas or hands-on training is unambiguously a mistake.
(Here's a photo of electrical, architectural drafting, HVAC, plumbing, and carpentry students, collaborating to build a functional model house on site at AES.)
Eliminating Career and Technical Education in electrical, plumbing, carpentry, architectural drafting, and Heating, Ventilating, and Air Condition (HVAC) for economically disadvantaged South Bronx students is an educational injustice. We need your support. If interested and available, please consider attending our public hearing, PEP vote and/or simply submit a public comment (instructions below) in support of keeping our Building Trades Program open. Your support is much appreciated!

See this link, with 14 reasons not to phase out Alfred E Smith Career & Technical Education High School.
--Nathaniel Thayer Wight, MS CCC-SLP, Speech & Language Pathologist; Green Science Club Coordinator / Teacher at

I. Please attend the Public Hearing at 5:30 PM on Friday, February 12th, 2010 at Alfred E. Smith CTE High School, 333 East 151st Street, Bronx

Those who wish to speak will be given two minutes to provide their input regarding why Building Trades shouldn't be shut down. Our ability to show how important the school is to the students, parents and community will be considered by the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) when they vote on February 24th. Your attendance would be very appreciated and invaluable.
II. Attend the PEP hearing and vote on phasing out of AES Building Trades: at 6 PM on Wed., February 24, 2010 at the High School of Fashion Industries, 225 West 24 St., Manhattan; come at 5:30 PM to sign up to speak.

III. Submit a public comment to Samuel Sloves (, 718-935-4414). Put Alfred E. Smith CTE High School Building Trade in the subject line. Public comments will be accepted through Feb 22 (and through March 21 for 08X381, 84X395).

Feel free to use any of our 14 reasons not to close this school (available at this link).

For more on AES and why it should not be closed see NY Times article here; Juan Gonzalez Daily News column here; AES Shop Classes, Music Video here; and AES Student Voices here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Number of girls declining in our selective science high schools

Much attention has been given in the media and on this blog to the declining number of black and Hispanic students admitted to the specialized science high schools in NYC, with only seven black students admitted out of 958 at Stuyvesant, and only 17 Hispanics, at this, the most selective of our schools.

Yet so far ignored is the fact that the percentage of girls has significantly declined at most of these schools as well over the last four years. Only Brooklyn Tech has had a stable female student population. (Click on the charts to the right and below.)

This is very strange since it goes against all national trends.
Moreover, it is even more hard to explain since admissions to these schools relies on the results of one very high-stakes exam, and NYC girls do far better on both the math and English state exams than boys – particularly at the middle school level. This is true whether one is looking at average scale scores or percent scoring at level four (most advanced.)
Have an explanation or even a guess? If so, please leave a comment.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Nine years of "torture" under Chancellor Klein

See State Senator Carl Kruger, chair of the Finance Committee, at the recent budget hearings in Albany, telling Joel Klein that its been nine years of "torture" under this administration, because of the way Klein has cut off parents, communities, and elected officials from the process of running the schools. I'm sure alot of parents would agree.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Closing the Achievement Gap? Black & Hispanic Students Disappear from City's Top High School

As reported today in the NY Times and the Post, a grand total of 7 black students scored high enough on the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT) to be offered admission to Stuyvesant High School. The total for Hispanic students was an equally dismal 17. The under-representation of black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant has been pointed out for a number of years (see 2006 and 2008 NY Times articles).

During my tenure as a parent and PA officer, there was much consternation about it, but of course nothing that either the PA or the school itself could do (most notably, a mentoring program for students already at Stuyvesant) could improve the dismal admission statistics. These are basically a reflection of the quality of preparation in the lower grades. No doubt the test is culturally biased, but that alone cannot explain the low numbers. And it certainly cannot explain the continuing drop in admissions, as there is no reason to believe the test has become any more culturally biased over the years.

According to the “DOE spokesman" interviewed by the Post reporter, “the demographics of those taking the test and receiving offers has stayed relatively constant in recent years.” The statistics on the DOE's own website tell a different story.

The state statistical reports for Stuyvesant (here and here) indicate that the school had 83 “Black /African-American” students in 2003-4; 75 in 2004-5; 66 in 2005-6, 66 in 2006-7, and 61 in 2007–08; the corresponding numbers for “Hispanic or Latino” are 96, 86, 99, 99 and 93. These classifications are probably somewhat fluid, but there has undoubtedly been a huge fall-off. Incidentally, the shrinking number of black students is even more dramatic when viewed against the backdrop of ever-larger freshman classes (between 2004 and 2009, the freshman class grew from about 700 to almost 1000 students).

Of course, the city's response to the continuing slide in the number of black and Hispanic students who “ace the test” (shorthand for making the cut-off for admission to Stuyvesant) has been more test prep rather than more instruction. Instead of teaching more math, science and English in K-8 (including correct verbal expression and critical reading of books and essays rather than isolated passages), DOE set up a Specialized High School Institute, which gives promising candidates “extra lessons and test-taking tips.” Predictably, the approach hasn’t yielded results. Although it seems that most people who can afford the often substantial fees have given in to SHSAT test-prep frenzy--"cram schools" in Flushing are given much of the credit for the explosion in Asian enrollment at Stuyvesant, while Kaplan and its clones are considered virtually obligatory for everyone else--there's little reason to believe test prep will make a real difference for a child who isn't already adequately prepared in the subjects the test covers.

The stories behind the statistics are instructive and heart-breaking. The 2006 New York Times article cited above reported on two kids in the city's free SHSAT test prep program, which was held at Stuyvesant. (I have edited identifying information):
[A girl], 12, said the very act of striding through Stuyvesant’s gleaming hallways made her feel smart. “You can be like, ‘I could be here, I could be in these desks in a year or two,’ ” she said during her lunch break one day. For [a boy], 12, who got an “overall excellence” medal at his sixth-grade graduation, the experience has been humbling. His teacher at [PS XXX] had called him a “walking dictionary,” but in the first seven pages of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a book he read for the institute, he found 71 new vocabulary words.
How can a few weeks of "extra lessons" and "test tips" possibly prepare these kids for the SHSAT, much less the Stuyvesant curriculum? Consider, by contrast, the experience of several kids I know, who moved to New York after going to school overseas, took the SHSAT without much preparation or even familiarity with that sort of test, "aced it" and did well at Stuyvesant. Most did not even speak English in the home, but all were well-prepared to learn what Stuyvesant can offer.

When the Post reporter called me for comment last night, I practically fell off the couch on which I was dozing. The under-representation of black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant is an old story, but a drop in the black student population from 2%-3% to less than 1% is astonishing. No matter how much BloomKlein may crow about increasing scores on dumbed- down and easily gamed tests, the proof of the pudding eventually is in how many kids get admitted to good high schools. A competitive-exam school such as Stuyvesant is not for everyone, nor would I suggest it is the only avenue to academic success. But I don't see how the administration can claim to be making progress on the racial achievement gap when the number of black kids who qualify for the city’s top high school has fallen to insignificance under their watch.

Bloomberg School Closings Condemned in Amsterdam News Editorial

In their editorials, the Times, News and Post generally parrot the mayor's positions on matters of public education. So it is inspiring to read a real editorial written explicitly to consider the point of view of those who patronize the public schools. Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor in chief of the Amsterdam News has penned "An Open Letter to Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott".

Here is an excerpt:
But what do the parents have to say about the way their children are educated? Do they have a right to be involved, or do you think it should just be the DOE that makes all the decisions from on high and then the little people carry out your demands?
Tatum goes on to criticize the poor leadership of the administration:
The real question is why the failing schools have not been able to be turned around. Is it because it just can’t be done, or is it because if you let the schools fall far enough down, you can, with the stroke of a pen, close them and open up smaller ones in the same space? Is that really an answer?
If your kids go to public school, Tatum's letter is a must read. It is an insightful antidote to the relentless spin put out by the Chancellor's bloated press office and their allies on the editorial boards of the Times, News and Post. Find it on the website of the Amsterdam News here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Revised regulations regarding School leadership teams; let your voice be heard

Next Wednesday, the Panel for Educational Policy will hold a special meeting to vote on new regulations regarding parental involvement in our schools -- including School and District Leadership Teams.

School leadership teams (SLTs) are composed of half parents and half staff, with the power to develop Comprehensive Education Plans (CEPs) at the school level and be consulted as to the school-based budget.

As you may remember, Class Size Matters was involved in helping Marie Pollicino, a Queens parent, file a complaint to the State Commissioner against the way in which the chancellor had rewritten the SLT regulations, to remove the SLT's authority over both the CEP and the school-based budget, to give that power to the principal alone.

In 2008, Marie's complaint was largely upheld by the commissioner , who agreed with us that the Chancellor's revisions clearly conflicted with state law. This decision also led to the rewriting of the new governance law, to clarify the central role of the SLT and ensure that the team as a whole would retain the final authority over the CEP, and would be fully consulted by the principal over the school-based budget.

Now the Chancellor has rewritten the regs once again, in a way that we believe is still problematic and shuts out the parent voice.

Though we have several concerns that are expressed in the letter below, the most important is how the regulations need to be strengthened to ensure that a real consultative process take place between the principal and the rest of the SLT regarding the school based budget, and that the principal should not have the final say over the CEP if there is no consensus, as is presently proposed, because this would seriously undermine any incentive on his or her part to reach consensus with the rest of the team.

Finally, it is crucial that the CEC President or his/her designee in each district be included as legally-required member of the District leadership team, as is President's council; this is where real collaboration and discussion regarding school siting and overall district plans is supposed to occur.

Please, sign your name to the end of Marie's letter, along with the other parent leaders below, and send it to the Chancellor and the members of the PEP today. Their email addresses are included at the top of the letter.

-------------- Forwarded Message: --------------;;;;;;;;;;;;;

To Chancellor Klein, Chair Chang and the members of the Panel for Educational Policy:

As the parent who issued the original complaint to the State Commissioner after the Chancellor's attempt to rewrite the regulations concerning School Leadership Teams in 2007-- a complaint the Commissioner largely upheld – I along with others whose signatures are below urge the Department of Education and the PEP to adopt the following changes to the A665 regulations, as now proposed:

1. In order to create more of a balance between all the members of the team, the principal should not be eligible to serve as the chair of the School Leadership Team.

2. At any time during the school year, when requested, the principal shall make available to any member of the team the Galaxy table of organization report, with confidential information redacted, rather than as currently proposed, only when requested by the team as a whole. Similarly, any member of the team upon request should be able to receive a copy of the Galaxy budget allocations and table of organization, as well as any other information requested on the amount and use of the school’s Contract for Excellence funding and/or other categorical funding provided by the city, state or federal government to provide specific programs, staffing or services.

3. To ensure full consultation on the development of the school-based budget, as the law provides, the first draft of the school-based budget should be reviewed by a budget committee of the team, to give advice and input to the principal. This committee should include both teachers and parents. The revised budget should then be presented to the full SLT for their further input before its final adoption by the principal.

4. If the SLT cannot reach agreement on the Comprehensive Educational Plan, it should seek assistance from the District Leadership Team (instead of superintendent as currently drafted). If after 30 days, no agreement can be reached following this assistance, then the superintendent should make the final determination, rather than the principal as currently proposed.

If principals are given the power to make the final decision as to the CEP, this weakens their incentive to form a consensus with the rest of the team, which in turn undermines the provision in the new law that the entire team should have the authority to develop the CEP.

6. A copy of the CEP should be posted in a prominent location in each school, placed on the school's website, and made available to any parent who requests it by December 31 of each year, along with a copy of the school-based budget, with any confidential information redacted.

7. The president of the district Community Education Council (or designee) should be a mandated part of the District Leadership Team. As currently written, the Community Education Council is left out of the membership of the DLT, which is a serious omission if there is to be productive collaboration among all the district’s stakeholders.


Marie Pollicino, recording secretary of the Community District Education Council 26, Queens

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters

Rob Caloras, President, Community District Education Council 26, Queens

James Calantjis, SLT Support Center,

Sue Dietrich, 1st VP of Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council*; Recording secretary of the Staten Island Federation*

Lisa Donlan, President of the Community District Education Council 1*, Manhattan

Monica Major, President of the Community District Education Council 11*, Bronx

Patricia Connelly, parent, MS 51, District 15; Member, Citywide Council on Special Education, 2007-2009; Member, SLT, PS 107, District 15, 2001 - 2003, Brooklyn

* affiliation for identification purposes only

Double standard for kids and adults at the DOE

See today's Daily News about how Alexa Gonzalez, a 12-year-old student at JHS 190 in Forest Hills Queens, was put in handcuffs and taken to the precinct house after doodling on her desk. She remains suspended from school and attended court along with her mother yesterday. (photo thanks to the Daily News)

These overly harsh disciplinary tactics in our schools remain distressingly common and were the subject of a NYCLU lawsuit filed last month, charging that the practice of arresting children for minor disciplinary offenses feeds the schools-to-prison pipeline.

DOE officials said that this latest occurrence was regrettable -- and they yet refuse to alter the guidelines under which the police have full sway in our schools.

Last year the NYPD agreed to "test out" velcro handcuffs for children in 22 schools in northern Queens-- and in these schools alone said that restraints would be used only when a child was at risk of hurting himself or others. This was in response to an highly publicized incident in which a five year old child was handcuffed and dragged to a psych ward after a trantrum at PS 81 in Ridgewood Queens.

I guess Forest Hills children who reside in Central Queens -- no less the rest of our million NYC public school students --aren't so lucky.

Meanwhile, this week, Maura Keaney, Bloomberg campaign staffer, was hired to run the DOE's office of external affairs with a $143,000 salary, the same day that the Conflicts of Interest Board announced she had engaged in ethical violations for soliciting campaign contributions from union officials while working on union-related policy issues for Speaker Quinn.

In 2007, Deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf was determined to have violated conflict of interest rules and having lied under oath, with the special investigator's findings suppressed until the report was FOILed the next year. Cerf remained without any sanction in his high-level job, and later was tapped to work for the Bloomberg re-election campaign, along with Maura Keaney.
Keaney will now be in charge, as Cerf was earlier, of the DOE's extensive public relations and lobbying operations.

What did Bloomberg say about Keaney's being hired for a top DOE job on the same day she was cited for conflict-of-interest violations?

“I think,” he said, “she’s going to be spectacular."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Notices from the Panel of Educational Puppets

In a notice dated 12/2/09, DOE announced a public review period for a new procurement policy, the closing of 20 schools (euphemistically, "significant changes in school utilization") and revisions to "regulations." The scope of the latter was not made clear until DOE posted the full list on December 11th: no fewer than ten Chancellor's Regulations, including those governing Parents' Associations, School Leadership Teams and district and citywide councils, were to be voted on by the Panel for Educational Policy at its January 26, 2010 meeting. No notice was sent directly to the organizations affected by the proposed changes, not even to CPAC, the parent body set up by the Chancellor himself to "advise" him.

Sensing the growing fury against wholesale closing of schools without a proven plan to improve the education of the children in them, Klein evidently decided the PEP should at least pretend to listen to the populace at the January meeting. But he took pity on the members and dispatched a spokesman to Gotham Schools with news of a shortened agenda--no pajamas needed because the regulations would be considered at a "special mid-February meeting." However, DOE did not bother to change the notice on the website, leaving many parents confused about what exactly was going to be taken up on January 26 besides closing schools (a letter from CPAC's co-chairs asking for clarification on the agenda and requesting that the meeting on the regulations be deferred until late February went unanswered).

After the meeting, the PEP website (fittingly, just a tab on the DOE website) was revised to indicate that "At the January 26, 2010 Panel meeting, the Panel voted to postpone the vote on Regulations until February 10, 2010." To view the text of the regulations on the agenda, one must "click on the [corresponding] public comment period"--December 11, 2009 - February 8, 2010. However, the web page that actually lists the regulations still indicates that "Oral and written comments on these Regulations will be accepted from December 11, 2009 to January 25, 2010." The public is obviously entitled to assume comments will be taken until February 8th, but it is telling that-- as with practically everything DOE does that involves parents-- DOE feels no need to put out information (even legal notices) with a minimal level of professionalism.

Moreover, the website notice was silent as to the time and place for the meeting (Murry Bergtraum High School, 7:15 pm) until today. The PEP Bylaws provide that notice for a “calendar” (a.k.a. regular) meeting must be sent at least 10 business days in advance of the meeting and must include date, place, time and the agenda. If this were a regular meeting, the PEP arguably met the 10-day deadline, but with a defective notice since place and time were not timely included. However, the meeting on the regs will be a “special calendar meeting,” for which the bylaws provide only that notice must be given "where possible …. to each panel member .. not less than 24 hours in advance of the meeting.” In other words, the PEP bylaws do not provide for public notice of a special meeting.

Assuming no more stealth revisions were made to the regulations after December 30, the PEP has apparently also met the minimum requirements of its bylaws for a public comment period (45 days, including 15 days’ if substantive revisions are made) by posting the proposed regs on its website on December 11. Of course, these are minimum requirements that may and should be expanded where appropriate, as urged by CPAC in two separate letters to the PEP and Chancellor Klein. CPAC requested the regulations be considered at the March calendar meeting or, if at a special meeting, no earlier than late February in order to give parents and parents’ associations time to review and thoughtfully comment on these rather dense documents. Silly CPAC for believing a response might come from puppets—the PEP marches on with whatever schedule and agenda DOE dictates.

In the regulations expected to be rubber-stamped on February 10, DOE mandates parents’ associations send written notices to individual parents (by mail or backpack) at least 10 school days in advance of all meetings. No exceptions. Notices must include date, time and agenda. No exceptions. And those of us who have had dealings with OFEA and/or its predecessor (OPE) know that DOE interprets these requirements very strictly when it comes to PAs, missing no opportunity to tie them up in grievances for months. You see, DOE believes PA officers—volunteer leaders of organizations with little money and no staff support--must do their utmost to give actual notice to individual parents; a website posting or even an email will not do. Obviously, DOE does not subscribe to the old adage that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. (incidentally, the PEP bylaws repeatedly refer to notices and other items being made available to the public “including including via the Panel’s official internet web site.” Query: where else are these things made available?)

The PEP bylaws also provide that the PEP “shall make available to the public… assessment of the public comments concerning the item under consideration prior to 24 hours before the Panel vote on such item.” With the school closings, boilerplate prepared in advance and cut-and-pasted was passed off as the required assessment. This won't be as easy to manage with comments on the regulations. I suggest parents inundate the PEP with last-minute comments (see here for the list of regulations and DOE staff to whom comments should be sent). Since they will not be considered seriously in any event, we can at least have the satisfaction of making them sweat to come up with plausible "assessments" between midnight on February 8th and 7:15 pm on February 9th.