Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fred Smith on David Abrams' resignation: No Mas!

Fred Smith is a former senior analyst for the NYC Board of Education and an expert on testing. Here he comments on the sudden resignation of David Abrams, who led the NY State Education Dept. testing office into one preposterous blunder after another over many years, the most serious of which was  test score inflation -- but my favorite was the ridiculous 4th grade reading test of 2006 which featured Brownie the Cow.  (You have to see this to believe it; here is the story and questions archived.) This article in the Daily News was probably the final straw: about a prematurely released state plan to lengthen 3rd grade standardized exams to four hours.  
Susan Crawford asks whether the SED might actually hire a trained psychometrician in Abrams’ place. "Does there exist a "lever of change" we can push somewhere to insist that SED put someone in charge of testing who has the appropriate credentials?" 
Fred responds: 
I'm reminded of a statement by Abba Eban: Men behave wisely once they have exhausted all the other alternatives.
 Surely wisdom has not guided the NYS Testing Program.  Maybe there's a slight opening for it now.
The spirit of OWS comes to mind as a force for change: With the ridiculous longer testing that was about to be sprung on everyone; followed by Abrams' (who must know where the bodies are buried) resignation; and the rebellion of principals against teacher evaluations--perhaps, the moment is ripe for principals, teachers and parents to unify in a massive OPT OUT of the testing.  No Mas! 
There's no need to rush ahead on the next runaway test train--to perpetuate obsession with high scores, misuse of the data to justify dubious decisions and consequent cheating, institutional lying about the results, destruction of the curriculum, mad giveaway money to publishers and other attendant evils.

Another ridiculous report from the corporate reformers on HS "choice"

Grover Whitehurst, former official in the US Dept. of Education under George W. Bush, has written a report for Brookings Institute, giving NYC the highest marks for school "choice" (see NYT here; report here).

It is true that NYC has hundreds of new high schools, with a catalog so thick it resembles the phone book.

Yet this report ignores that there is nothing more despised by NYC parents than the demanding and complicated HS "choice" process, as reported on in many places, including here.

See also the chart at right from the excellent New Schools study, The New Marketplace, which shows how ridiculously complex the process is.

It also doesn't mention how  many of the new schools  have no record of success and indeed several have already landed on the failing list.

The Brookings report also fails to mention the fact that over 8,000 NYC students were rejected from all of their top 12 high school choices last year.

Finally, it ignores the reality that once a student is accepted to a high school, DOE has made it almost impossible to transfer out, no matter how unhappy the student and inappropriate the placement turns out to be, as reported on here

Some system of choice!  DOE would do better to focus on improving and supporting the high schools we have, so that every 8th grader can be guaranteed a seat in a good high school, rather than continuing to spin off new high schools each year with little or no attempt at quality control, no place to put them, and no guarantee that NYC students will end up in a school that offers them a decent education.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

video: Leonie Haimson, Aaron Pallas and Danielle Lee on mayoral control

On Nov. 17, I appeared on the BronxNet TV show Perspectives, which asked the question, "Are We Experiencing an Education Crisis?"  The show was hosted by Darren Jaime, and the other panelists included  Aaron Pallas of Columbia University; Sophia James, consultant, and Dr. Danielle Lee, head of the Harlem Education Activities Fund (HEAF).

The entire show is well worth watching.  Here is an excerpt focused on who is ultimately responsible for the failure of NYC public schools:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Film Screening and panel discussion on charter schools on Thursday!

Come see the movie everyone's talking about;  learn the truth about charter schools and what our children really need to succeed!

What: Screening of the film, The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman

When: Thursday Dec. 1 at 6 PM

Where: PS 250, 108 Montrose Ave.

Panel discussion following the film with Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters;
Lydia Bellahcene and Karen Sprowal, former charter school parents; and Julie Cavanagh & Brian Jones, teacher/activists and stars of the film.

Co-sponsored by Class Size Matters and CEC 14;  
For more information call the District office at 718-302-7624

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The New Teacher Project's weird & crazy teacher survey

The New Teacher Project, an organization which Michelle Rhee once ran, is closely aligned with DOE, and which strongly advocates against seniority protections and for merit pay and evaluations linked to test scores, posted a  survey for NYC teachers.  This survey, which originally had a deadline of Friday,  December 3, seems to have been taken down early, perhaps because publicity leaked out about it on our NYC Ed list serv.
The survey contained many strange, three level choices that are difficult to rationalize or interpret, but appear to be designed to get results that favor its policy agenda and against other reforms like class size reduction.  Here’s a typical question:
Which would you prefer: A school with…
Average school leadership
Poor school leadership
Primarily economically disadvantaged students and low levels of academic growth or achievement
Few economically disadvantaged students and low levels of growth or academic achievement
No clear path for leadership opportunities
Clear path to taking on school leadership roles while continuing to teach in the classroom (e.g., becoming grade level / department chair, mentoring / coaching new teachers, serving in specialist role)

 Why should these various options be considered tradeoffs?   Good question. 
There are other similar questions that ask  respondents to choose  similarly strange, three level options:
Which would you prefer: A school with…
Clear path to becoming an administrative leader (e.g., principal, assistant principal) at the school or within the district
No clear path for leadership opportunities
13 students in your class
26 students in your class
$3,800 base salary increase to all teachers
$7,600 base salary increase to all teachers

Perhaps the trade-off between between becoming an administrative leader or not is meant to distract the respondent from focusing on the clearer choice between much smaller classes and a medium vs. small salary increase?
Some of the questions are so confusing that I’m not sure how anyone might answer them or why they would be asked at all:

A school with...
Clear path to taking on school leadership roles while continuing to teach in the classroom (e.g., becoming grade level / department chair, mentoring / coaching new teachers, serving in specialist role)
Clear path to becoming an administrative leader (e.g., principal, assistant principal) at the school or within the district
Few economically disadvantaged students and low levels of growth or academic achievement
Primarily economically disadvantaged students and high levels of academic growth or achievement
26 students in your class
20 students in your class

In any event, if you are a teacher, what do you think of the survey?  Did you make any better sense of it than I could?
(PS if anyone would like to see a full copy, pl. email me at )

A message from Parents to Improve School Transportation: Relax about bus strike but not about safety

PIST was an invited guest at the monthly membership meeting of school bus drivers’, escorts’, and mechanics’ Local 1181 ATU on November 22. This was clearly NOT a meeting to hold a strike vote.   The president went over the union’s position on Employee Protection Provisions but no date was set for a strike vote, let alone a strike.

PIST described how parents were made to worry all weekend by media reports--traceable to Mayor Bloomberg—that a school bus strike could or would happen on the 21st.  On Monday, some students came home with forms requested updated emergency contacts specifically in case of a sudden strike.  President Michael Cordiello replied that never in the history of the local would they strike in the middle of the day and leave children stranded. 

Leaders of PIST and of the Community Education Council 31 in Staten Island are some of the parents who agree that job security for trained, experienced bus workers leads to a standard of quality and stability for our children.  Other special education parent groups are more focused on fighting service cuts disguised as ‘mandate relief’—for which PIST thanks and admires them—or are understandably upset by the prospect of disabled children missing school in the event of any strike. 

Even if one believes the unions are motivated only by self-preservation, aren’t their working conditions still our children’s travel and safety conditions? 

In that auditorium on Tuesday night, the nods and looks of concern on a rainbow of faces created a sense that these workers have much more empathy for school bus families than we ever get from the agencies in charge of pupil transportation.

Meanwhile, a school bus combusted in midtown Tuesday, shortly after breaking down and being evacuated. Thankfully, no one was hurt.  We have to wonder why a bus in such bad shape was on the road in the first place.  If Bloomberg can find $1.3 million to throw at the MTA to counter an undeclared yellow bus strike (NY Times 11/19/11), where is the investment into bus repairs/maintenance?  Where is the leadership to make sure bus evacuation drills occur twice a year as promised by Chancellor’s Regulation A-801? 

Back at the 1181 meeting:  a driver raised that her company had shown a training film that instructed drivers to check their bus battery, etcetera—tasks that should be assigned to a trained bus mechanic instead.  Would an inexperienced, non-union driver feel empowered to question this big company?

PIST thinks parents should take this moment when school busing is in the news to expose the root problems; to seek relief for families coping with bad routes (such as distribution of those alleged already-paid-for Metrocards to people with OPT complaints); to seek the truth about the bus fire and inadequate inspections; to call Bloomberg out for the things that have gone on in OPT; and to not let ourselves be used against a group of people who provide a vital support service to our children’s civil right to an education.  

What do you think?  Tell us at or on Facebook at PIST NYC or call 347-504-3310.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Deadline is tomorrow; please send an email about class size today!

Please send a message to the DOE  today; protesting the failure of the DOE to reduce class size and have allowed class sizes to increase to levels that  are damaging our children’s education and chance at success.    
The deadline for comment on the city’s defective Contracts for Excellence plan is tomorrow night, Wednesday, Nov. 23. 
Class sizes are now the largest they have been since eleven years in grades K-3, and are larger than they were when the state’s highest court said our children were denied their constitutional right to an adequate education in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, as a result of excessive class sizes.   In addition, we believe that there is $180 million missing from the city’s CFE plan, compared to the $531 million allocated by the state for this purpose.
We now have powerpoints showing  the rise in class size in your district’s schools, as well as other information  how the city has failed our children.  (If you don’t see your district, just email me at and we will send it to you.) 
Already four different Community Education Councils have passed resolutions, protesting the sharp increase in class sizes and DOE’s violations of law: District 1 in Manhattan, Districts 20 and 21 in Brooklyn, and District 30 in Queens.  Some of these call for City Council hearings and others for State hearings on the matter.  If you would like a sample resolution for your CEC or PTA, let me know; the one just passed by CEC 21 is here; CEC 1 is here.  
Again, the deadline for comment is tomorrow night Wednesday, Nov. 23, and DOE is supposed to send all public comments to the State Education department along with its proposed C4E plan. It is important that the state Commissioner know how dissatisfied parents are with the Bloomberg administration’s dereliction of duty to our children.  
A sample email is below; feel free to change it in any way you would like. Do it for your child, and do it for all NYC public school children.
And then have a happy Thanksgiving. 
 As a parent, I would like to protest that class sizes have now increased four years in a row, citywide and in my child’s school, despite the fact that the city was mandated to reduce class size in all grades starting in 2007.  This is the final year of the city’s five year class size reduction plan, and class sizes in the early grades are now the largest in eleven years.
DOE has failed to allocate a single penny specifically towards class size reduction and instead has cut repeatedly cut school budgets, even when they received millions more from the state in C4E funding and overall education aidThe city’s refusal to reduce class size has severely damaged my child’s opportunity to learn.    
 [optional: My child is in  [ fill in name]  school, in district  [fill in number], with  a class size of x in [fill in] grade. ]
 The state should immediately force the city to revise its Contract for Excellence proposal, by allocating the $180 million missing from the plan that the state provided, and use it to hire more teachers.  The state should also implement a corrective action plan that would require the city exercise proper oversight and start reducing class size, instead of continuing to slash school budgets, eliminating thousands of teaching positions and wasting precious education dollars on failed programs that do not help our children learn, like more testing, technology, consultants and bureaucrats. 
Otherwise, the state as well as the city will have failed to do its duty by NYC’s children.
Yours sincerely,
Your name, child’s school and district
Email address

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bloomberg DOE Mismanagement of Queens High School at November PEP Meeting

The November Panel for Educational Policy meeting was held in the Frank Sinatra High School in Astoria, Queens.

Rules of Order

Panel members were provided with headphones to allow us to hear each other in case the noise got too loud. The audience was relatively small so we did not have to resort to the headphones.

Vice Chair Lisette Nieves explained what good behavior would be expected of the audience. She then explained the Chancellor would decide what to do if things got out of order. I reminded her that it was a Panel for Educational Policy meeting and while the Chancellor was a non-voting Panel member, it was her responsibility as Chair to decide what to do. Given the preference of Mayor Bloomberg for increasing use of force to control the Occupy protesters, it is essential that we have clear lines of authority at Panel meetings. We won't have mace, sound cannons, rubber bullets or anything else from Commissioner Kelly's arsenal discharged in a school auditorium, at least if I have any say in the matter.

Chancellor's Report

The Chancellor's report included a discussion of the scheduling problems at Queens Metro High School and Long Island City High School.

The commentary on the debacle transpiring at Queens Metro from Council Member Crowley and PEP member Dmytro Fedkowskyj was distressing. In my response, I suggested the root causes of the problems were the evisceration of the superintendent's role and the rapid fire opening of small schools which have combined effect of introducing many new and poorly supervised principals into the system. A parent from the school confirmed my concerns. She spoke poignantly of liking the Queens Metro principal but feeling that "the safety net had been torn from her". While coping with the principal's responsibilities for the first time, this administrator had been burdened with double the anticipated number of students yet had no guidance or supervision from above. Another parent made clear that there was not even a response to the situation from the DOE until Gotham Schools (report by Rachel Cromidas here) exposed the situation publicly. Council member Crowley spoke in detail about the effects the failures had on the students in the school including her own two sons. The problems at Queens Metro and Long Island City HS are management failures for which Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Walcott and Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky should be held accountable. See more from Ed Notes here.

Suspiciously, we heard absolutely nothing about an "imminent" bus strike despite the fact that the mayor and chancellor had already wound up their public relations blitzkrieg for the next morning.

KIPP Charter Co-location

A new KIPP middle school will be co-located with two highly rated public middle schools in Washington Heights. A teacher who only recently obtained her own room so she didn't have to teach from cart, and a number of parents, spoke against the proposal. I pointed out to the DOE that the KIPP network has vast resources to build or lease its own facilities. It was recently awarded a $25 million privatization grant from the conservative Walton foundation and is the largest recipient of funding from the Robin Hood foundation. I asked if KIPP could create its own space rather than take space from successful public schools. Deputy Chancellor Sternberg explained that while KIPP had done some of its own construction, it generally preferred to take Board of Ed space instead and had the full support of the DOE in doing so.

General Counsel Mike Best responded to my question about litigation brought to force the DOE to require charter schools to reimburse the district for use of space as is required by the state education law. He explained that the DOE disagreed and would continue to defend their refusal to accept reimbursement. He also denied that any charter school had ever had a lease agreement with the Board of Ed despite the fact that one with Girls Prep Charter School had been entered into evidence in the case he is currently arguing.

New School for Upper East Side of Manhattan

A new school was approved for the Our Lady of Good Counsel site on east 91st Street. I asked for the Panel to defer the decision for a month in accordance with the District 2 CEC's request for time to consider input from the community and weigh a counter proposal to move PS 77, Lower Lab, to this space. This proposal would allow PS 198 to continue its expansion in the building it shares with PS 77. I cited complaints from many on the Upper East Side that they were told by Marc Sternberg and Elizabeth Rose that the proposal was "a done deal". The Panel was not willing to provide more time.

Finally, I'd like to thank the Broadway Station for their hospitality. I hope we return to Astoria in the near future as the neighborhood offers many excellent dining opportunities.

Video: the drummers from Occupy Wall St. and Norman Siegel gather around the corner from Bloomberg's residence

This afternoon, I went to see the drummers who, after being kicked out of Zuccotti Park, decided to protest outside Bloomberg's townhouse on E. 79 St.  Sadly, the police blocked off the street, but the drummers gathered anyway on 5th avenue next to Central Park instead.

As you will see in the video below, I bumped into my hero, Norman Siegel, who told us that barring the drummers from E. 79 St. was a violation of their first amendment rights.  In fact, in January 2010, Norman sued the city on behalf of teachers and parents, and we gained the right to march on the south side of 79 St.., to protest school closings and charter co-locations.

Off camera, Norman also said that the arrests of reporters that I videotaped a week ago were illegal , and that he had sent a letter written with Sen. Eric Adams to Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly to that effect. Because of Norman's work, NYC press credentials now require that reporters have to right to cross any barriers, along with police lines etc. During the course of his conversation with a reporter who had been assaulted by the police, we also found out that tomorrow Norman Siegel will turn 68 years young. Happy Birthday Norman!

NYC children and teachers speak out at Occupy Wall St. rally in Foley Sq.

My video taken Sept. 17 of our part of the citywide protests as part of Occupy Wall St. and Occupy the DOE, when, among other things, Justin Wedes taught the Children's Brigade how to use the people's mike, and  teachers and students spoke out in Foley Sq.

Part I and Part II below.  Beautiful and sad.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What's the real story behind the threatened bus strike: are the bus drivers the enemy or part of the 99%?

The real facts behind the threatened school bus strike are difficult to untangle.  As the NY Times explained today, the mayor's position is a reversal of his previous one:
The specter of a strike is an interesting turn of events for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. For years, his administration had fought alongside the union to keep the seniority-based protections in the contracts, in part because removing them could have prompted the union to strike. In July, however, the city made an about-face, asking Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to veto a bill it had helped develop that would have extended the protections to bus contracts for preschool students who receive special education services. 

Mr. Cuomo did just that in September, citing a decision by the State Court of Appeals that including such protections drives up cost and drives away competition. (The protections are part of the contracts, which expire in December 2012, that govern the transportation of about 138,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.) 

In a news conference at City Hall on Friday, Mr. Bloomberg characterized a possible strike as “illegal” and the union’s behavior as “outrageous” based on the court ruling.
See the letter, dated July 11, 2011, from Bloomberg to the Governor, asking him to veto this bill. But as is clear from a CNN article,  the Court of Appeals decision  occurred  in 2008, suggesting that the new legislation passed last year was designed  to supercede the court ruling. And according to Sara Catalinato of Parents to Improve School Transportation (see below) this Employers Protection Provision (EPP), has been in all K-12 busing contracts since 1979; it just didn't yet cover pre-K busing, which the new bill was designed to provide.
The fact that Bloomberg had asked the Governor last summer to veto a bill that would allow him to ensure union protections for pre-K bus drivers in new contracts was conviently omitted from  his most recent message to the public -- as well as most of the news articles -- in which he falsely claimed that seniority protections were something that would be illegal, without mentioning that he had worked to ensure that they remained so. 
It now appears that the city is willing to spend millions to break the bus drivers union, as they have attempted to break the teachers union and the school aides union previously.  This is revealed by the fact that in the midst of huge budget cuts to schools, they have now spent $1.3 million in advance for student Metrocards, daring drivers to strike with winter approaching, even though the existing contract does not lapse until July:
The city’s Education Department spent $1.3 million buying 300,000 MetroCards to give to students who are picked up at bus stops and to parents whose children might need an escort to school because they are disabled or too young to ride the subway on their own. Parents who drive will be reimbursed based on the number of miles traveled, while those who use another type of private transportation can turn in receipts for reimbursement.
Of course, most NYC parents cannot afford to hire private transportation for their disabled children, even with the promise of future reimbursement.
As Sam Pirozzolo of Staten Island writes, “Mayor Bloomberg would rather allow non-union, untrained bus drivers to drive our most vulnerable children to and from school.”   This daring maneuver is reminiscent of Bloomberg’s attack on teacher tenure and seniority, and his push to have new, inexperienced teachers replace seasoned professionals so that he can cut back on education spending even more.
Perhaps since he no longer intends to run for re-election he doesn't fear alienating the unions and/or the public; or perhaps the vicious attacks on unions throughout the country by right wing Governors have unleashed the Tea Party side of Bloomberg. 
Though Walcott’s letter to parents said,We are deeply concerned about the impact of a strike on your schools and school communities,” they are obviously not concerned enough. Another heedless act by a heedless administration. 
Below is a message from Sara Catalinotto of Parents to Improve School Transportation, who added , “Bottom line: as OWS would say, Bloomberg is the 1%, kids and bus workers are the 99%!
The Chancellor's letter home is painting a picture of rogue workers trying to deny our kids a ride to school for no good reason, but our experience has been that it is the DOE's own Office of Pupil Transportation which puts both the children/families and the drivers/escorts in a bad situation every year with route cuts, unnecessarily long rides, and other abuses.  
An Employee Protection Provision is something parents support because we want trained, experienced and decently paid workers handling the youngest children with disabilities.  This EPP has been in the K-12 contracts since 1979; it didn't cover pre-K only because pre-K wasn't universal at the time.  This summer, both houses in Albany passed a bill to extend EPP to pre-Kindergarten and Early Intervention busing, but Cuomo vetoed it at Bloomberg's request (see attached letter).  Nobody wants a strike, but PIST members who I have heard from today are willing to join ATU 1181 picket lines in support of a fair deal for the workers AND the kids.  
We have no reason to trust the DOE to come through with carfare and  Metrocards--these are things parents often ask for in crises caused by OPT mismanagement of busing, which are routinely denied.  It would be hypocritical of Bloomberg's appointees at Tweed to suddenly find the money and staff to figure this out, now that it is a question of opposing advancement of union rights.  We contend that our children need a School Bus Bill of Rights with transportation overseen by those with the most at stake: families, educators and bus workers.
Please contact us again if you want more background documentation on problems with school busing.

Thanks, Sara Catalinotto,

Response from Sam Pirozzolo to Mayor's Bus Strike Warnings

Sam Pirozzolo is a long time parent leader and member of Staten Island's CEC 31. He posted the statement below on his Facebook account this morning:

Reprehensible Mayoral Behavior

I would like to congratulate Mayor Michael Bloomberg for hitting a new low in the city’s school bus policies. After holding a press conference Friday afternoon, approximately 150,000 notices, phone calls and a press release filled with allegations of illegalities and strike threats were sent to parents trying to instill fear throughout the city that a school bus strike was imminent. The mayor has deceived NYC public school parents yet again.

This is what the mayor didn’t tell parents. Next year the contract with the companies that deal with Pre-K, K and special education expires. The union has asked the administration to put some assurances on the table that they will work with them to ensure the bus companies maintain the same type of protections for drivers they have always supported. Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg has shown no desire to work with Local 1181 and he has gone into full attack mode as a pre-emptive attempt to thwart legitimate and lawful negotiations. I have talked with union officials who have told me that they never threatened to strike. Mayor Bloomberg is jumping the gun and intentionally causing parents to believe a school bus strike is imminent. The mayor didn’t tell parents that he held Friday’s press conference before he even put out the bid to other bus companies.

It seems that Mayor Bloomberg would rather allow non-union, untrained bus drivers to drive our most vulnerable children to and from school. The Mayor did not tell parents that both the Senate and Assembly passed legislation that he helped write to protect the seniority of qualified bus drivers. The mayor did not tell parents that he wrote a letter to the governor asking him NOT to sign his own bill into law. (

Why would the mayor do this? In my opinion, it’s all about stealing money from the hard working citizens of NYC. I would suggest that if Mayor Bloomberg wanted to save money, I mean a lot of money; he should keep his hands off the backs and out of the pockets of the hard working, struggling middle class. Instead, he should put his hands into the pockets of his own poorly run city agencies like the Department of Education. Mayor Bloomberg would be able to save hundreds of millions if not more than a billion dollars with a few sound cuts. He could easily reduce the numbers of lawyers on the DoE payroll. Lawyers do not educate children. He could save tons of money if he would fire some of the countless consultants. Maybe he could eliminate some of the no bid and exploding contracts that plague our system and steal money from our classrooms. Yes the mayor has plenty of places he could save money yet he chooses to attack and intimidate the citizens of NYC with bogus tales of an imminent school bus strike.

What we are witnessing is the failure of a bought and paid for third term in office. Another concern I have is that the mayor is acting like a skilled magician. Is he distracting our attention away from what must really be going on? NYC is in for continued difficult times; deception like this is not what we need. It is behavior like this that leads to protests like OWS. I think the mayor’s riot helmet may be on too tight.

Sam Pirozzolo