Thursday, November 29, 2012

CFE may sue for money owed & lessons learned re accountability and oversight

Exciting news! The Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) announced in a letter today that it was considering re-opening the lawsuit against New York State, on the basis that the funding promised NYC and other high-needs school districts has never been fulfilled.

The current plan puts off full funding "until at least 16 years from now, in 2028. Thus, two more generations of New York children will pass through our schools before the State even begins to approach meeting its constitutional obligation to adequately fund its public schools through implementation of the CFE remedy."

See the letter below, from David Sciarra of the Education Law Center, which has taken over the case, to the Governor and the leaders of the NY Legislature.

Coincidentally,  I  gave a class on CFE  Monday night at Princeton, for  a course on urban education policy.  See my powerpoint  below the Sciarra letter, in which I  summarize the history of the case, as well as where it fell short in my view, in terms of class size, public process, accountability and compliance.

Even in the first few years, when NYC did get all the extra funding that had been promised, class sizes also increased -- despite a provision in the state law requiring that the city be reducing class size in exchange for the funds.

Lessons learned:  
  • How money is spent is as important as the extra funding;
  • Enforcement, compliance and accountability mechanisms are critical;
  •  Do not rely on any city or state governmental body to do any of the above;
  • This time, continuing court oversight should be required, to ensure that the specific conditions that the court found deprived children of their constitutional right to a sound basic education are addressed, including class size.
  • 2012 Nov CFE Ltr Re 2013-14 Budget Final Lessons from CFE

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Arne Duncan as Secretary of State? What would he do?

Tom Friedman of the New York Times opined that  Arne Duncan should be the Secretary of State because he can do to the world what he has done to education.
This column provoked much hilarious comment on Twitter last night.

Here is a sample:

Please help us shape the next administration's education agenda!

The race for mayor is heating up. Last week, the mayoral candidates spoke about their vision for education. I can’t think of anything more important than trying to ensure that the next mayor is committed to improving our public schools, rather than overcrowding them, replacing teachers with computers, privatizing schools or shutting them down. But we want to hear from YOU about what YOU think the next mayor should do!

Shaping the Next Administration's Education Agenda
Co-sponsored by Class Size Matters, the A+ Coalition and NYC Kids PAC
When: Tuesday, December 11, 1012 at 5:30pm 
Where: NYU Pless Hall, 3rd Fl. Lounge, 82 Washington Square East (map)

Click here or enter your info below to reserve your seat now. Seats are limited due to space. 
At this event, we will also be introducing NYC Kids PAC, a parent-led organization developing and submitting surveys to all the mayoral candidates, and issuing candidate scorecards based on the results.  Please come if you’d like to hear more about this effort and to provide input on what issues should be addressed.   
Any questions?  Just email us at or call us at the phone number below.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sandra Stotsky critiques the Common Core in NYC on Monday night

Professor Sandra Stotsky, an eminent critic of the Common Core standards being implemented in 46 states including New York, will be speaking in NYC on Monday night, November 26, from 5-7 PM at Azure, 333 E. 91 St., along with Shael Suransky of DOE, who is a strong defender of the standards.  It should be an interesting evening.  For more information see GothamSchools .
Stotsky is the main author of the Massachusetts ELA standards, widely considered to be among the best in the nation.  Though the Common Core’s ELA standards demand that students provide evidence in their writing for their views, ironically there is no evidence for many of the Common Core's own components, including the mandate that 50 percent of the assigned reading in grades K-5 be “informational” text; and 70 percent in grades 6-12. 
The only backing for this split that has been provided by David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, the authors of the ELA standards, is their similarity to the distribution of reading passages on the NAEP exams, a rather weak rationale. And yet a cursory examination of the NAEP framework reveals that in the 8th grade NAEP ELA, the proportion devoted to informational text is only 55 percent, rather than 70 percent, so even this flimsy evidence turns out to be untrue.  By their own standards, then, the authors of the Common Core should receive a failing grade.
Some of the issues Stotsky will be addressing are below; around the country she has also called for high school English teachers to engage in Thoreau-like "civil disobedience” to ignore the Common Core's irrational and damaging prescriptions. For a longer analysis, see the report she co-authored with English professor Mark Bauerlein for the Pioneer Institute. 
How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk
College readiness will likely decrease when the secondary English curriculum prioritizes literary nonfiction or informational reading and reduces the study of complex literary texts and literary traditions.  Common Core itself provides no evidence to support its promise that more literary nonfiction or informational reading in the English class will make all students ready for college-level coursework. Common Core’s architects have inaccurately and without warrant applied NAEP percentages for passage types on its reading tests to the English and reading curriculum, misleading teachers, administrators, and test developers alike.
The deficiencies in Common Core’s literature standards and its misplaced stress on literary nonfiction or informational reading in the English class reflect the limited expertise of Common Core’s architects and sponsoring organizations. Its secondary English language arts standards were not developed or approved by English teachers and humanities scholars, nor were they research-based or internationally benchmarked.  The authors of Common Core’s ELA Standards argue that more informational readings in high school will improve college readiness, apparently on the sole basis that students in college read mostly informational texts, not literary ones. We know of no research, however, to support this piece of illogical reasoning.  Rather, the history of college readiness in the 20th century suggests that problems in college readiness stem from an increasingly incoherent and less-challenging literature curriculum from the 1960s onward. Until that time, a literature-heavy English curriculum was understood as precisely the kind of pre-college training students needed.
State law typically specifies only that state tests must be based on state standards. Since most states have adopted Common Core’s ELA standards as their state standards, and Common Core’s College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading are mainly generic reading skills, states can generate state-specific guidelines for a secondary literature curriculum to eliminate this unwarranted division of reading standards without conflicting with any of Common Core’s ELA standards.
Otherwise, state and local policy makers will see the very problems in reading that Common Core aimed to remedy worsen. The achievement gap will persist or widen.  While high-achieving students in academically-oriented private and suburban schools may receive rich literary-historical instruction, students in low-performing schools will receive watery training in mere reading comprehension.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The first mayoral debate on education!

This afternoon, the first debate on education among the mayoral candidates took place, hosted by Manhattan Media.  The candidates included two Bills, one Tom, one John and one Christine, absent Scott Stringer, given his announcement today that he will run for City Comptroller instead. 

The consensus among most of the observers I talked to afterwards is that the candidates did not distinguish themselves much from one another  on the hot-button issues.  Also, despite the best efforts of the moderators, Lindsey Christ of NY! And Philissa Cramer of GothamSchools, who tried to get them to be as specific as possible, given the limited time frame, there was a lot of ambiguity in their responses.  Below are the questions and answers, as best as I could record them:
Question: Would you select a Chancellor who is an educator, and would that person be from inside the DOE or outside the system?
Bill Thompson: Would choose an educator and someone outside the system; the “best of the best.”
Bill De Blasio: An educator, with a screening process that includes the public (how?).
Tom Allon: Would choose someone like the following individuals: former Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern, Jennifer Raab, head of Hunter College, Linda Darling-Hammond professor at Stanford, or John White (formerly of DOE and now the controversial Louisiana education chief) .
John Liu: An educator, possibly from within the DOE.
Christine Quinn:  Would rule no one out, there are many great people inside DOE including principals, network people and Superintendents.  Jennifer Raab is a “fascinating” example, who was not an educator when appointed head of Hunter but has done an excellent job.

Question: The next mayor will probably have to negotiate a new contract with the UFT; would you push for merit pay and/or limit tenure?
DeBlasio: I want to compliment Cory Booker, who got an excellent contract for Newark teachers [I don’t think Booker had much to do with it]; he put incentives into system to get teachers to teach in high need subject areas like science.  As to tenure, there is “merit” in new state system; it’s a “wtep in the right direction”; he would partner with the union on improving the system.
Allon:  For merit pay, would establish a new “career” track; gives example of New American Academy which pays master teachers more. 50% attrition rates of teachers in 5 years a disgrace; he would weaken tenure (how that would improve attrition unclear).
Liu: There’s a reason for tenure:  teacher jobs were used by pols to give jobs to cronies etc.; tenure should be protected.  Merit pay; depends how you measure “merit”; in the current system there’s a 40-50% margin of error; first you need an evaluation system that makes sense.
Thompson: NYC tried merit pay before; it hasn’t worked, but he wouldn’t take it off the table.
Quinn: Newark contract should be model for nation; it was developed in a collaborative process ; gives extra pay to teachers to teach in tougher schools; would not support score-based merit pay; teachers do not go into profession for money. (So why would financial incentives work to attract them to high needs schools?)  Tenure: agrees with new state system that if you have a poor evaluation two years in a row, with mentoring and support, you should lose tenure. She would push to implement this system in NYC.

Question #3: What one thing would you do to improve school system?
Liu: Would hire more guidance counselors, so instead of 1 per 100 students.
Thompson: Moratorium on school closings.
Allon: No more standardized testing in 1st through 5th grade (unfortunately there are federal and state mandates requiring testing in 3-5th grades); make foreign language mandatory in elementary schools and require at least two years classroom experience for all teachers.
De Blasio: fund Universal preK and more afterschool programs.
Quinn: stop vilifying teachers, tone down rhetoric, reduce test prep, intervene in struggling schools to get them help they need before closing.

Question #4:  Have schools gotten better or worse under Bloomberg?
De Blasio: Progress has “stalled”; we need “reset” and cannot continue status quo.
Allon: Schools slightly better, but we need to properly train teachers, need at least 3 years of clinical practice;
Liu: Not sure, some schools better, some worse, hard to measure; we need to reduce emphasis on high-stakes testing; stop co-locations and listen to parents more, make sure students really ready for college.
Thompson: Mayoral control has not worked; there’s been an excessive focus on test-taking.
Quinn: tThere’s been progress, but not enough; need to bring parents in real ways; too much test prep, should be more emphasis on college completion.

Question #5: Would you give charters free rent in public school buildings?
Quinn: I would not stop this practice, though all sides think current system is broken, including charter proponents. Process needs to be more “transparent.”
De Blasio: Opinions of parents ignored and system undemocratic; there needs to be more parent engagement, if there’s a bad plan should be changed.
Thompson: System of inequities, students at public school feel they're 2nd class citizens; should be done differently, but not against charter co-locations per se.
Allon: Charters are public schools, principals should work together as they do in Brandeis building, which has four high schools, including Frank McCourt HS which he helped start.
Liu: Would call for moratorium on all school closings and co-locations; co-locations cause too much friction and  are destructive to educational process.
DeBlasio (in response to Allon); McCourt HS good example of harmful co-location; successful HS model whose growth was limited by incursion of charter school (Upper West Success).
Allon True, they originally wanted 800 seats for McCourt, but DOE limited enrollment to 400, DOE still stuck on small school model that Gates started but has now discredited.  Administrative costs for all these small schools are sky high, paying for principal/AP for every schools.  
Quinn: Lots of examples of principals working together well in co-located schools; we need to invest in more leadership training of principals.

Question: class size reduction is the top priority of parents; is it a priority of yours;  and if so, how would you pay for it ?
Liu: Yes, it’s a priority; but there are space issues; teachers are not fully utilized; we can afford to do this without spending a lot more money.
Allon:  Impossible to enact this citywide; he would prioritize 1st and 2nd grade; and in language and science instruction.
Thompson: Most important in K-3rd grades; in other grades, could provide more time on task through extended day or Saturday school.
De Blasio: Parents want this intensely; we should fund it by doing away with all the consultants; reiterates support for preK.
Quinn:  Focus on class size in preK-3rd  and ELA classes.  We might find savings in the contracts budget, to redirect to classroom but in order to implement we need long term capital planning to make sure there’s space; engage with Census and Dept of Health in this process.

Question: When mayoral control up for vote in 2015, would you go to Albany to change system or keep as is?
De Blasio:  We need to keep mayoral control but a more democratic version, including giving CEC’s a meaningful role in co-locations and closings like Community Boards have now(CBs also only have advisory powers). The PEP should be place of real debate instead of Kangaroo court.
Quinn:  We need municipal control, DOE treated like real city agency, under control of City Council and Mayor.  That way the Council could legislate, will full budgetary knowledge and authority and parents can go to Councilmember for help.  [Currently, DOE is NOT a city agency like any other but primarily under control of state legislature instead.]
Allon: Mayoral control “red herring” not important; we need right teachers in classroom.
Liu:  I supported mayoral control because I thought it meant accountability,  but we didn’t get that.  We need to modify so there is more accountability [but how he didn’t say].
Thompson: Doesn’t matter so much as long as there is a good mayor, he would “tweak” it and bring district Superintendents back as before.

All of the candidates had their high points:  Liu came out most strongly vs. co-locations and school closings; and expressed the most skepticism about theunreliable teacher evaluation system.  Chris Quinn’s notion of municipal control would be a substantial improvement to our governance system, providing real checks and balances, if the Legislature would agree to give more power to the City Council.  Allon seemed to understand how flawed and expensive the small school initiative has been, though his understanding of some other areas seemed weak (testing and John White).  De Blasio was most emphatic that the governance system needs to be changed to become more democratic, and that the PEP must change as well, but put forward few specifics as to how this should be accomplished.  Thompson was clear about the need to have a moratorium on school closings and giving back authority to the district Superintendents, but was weak on charters and how to reform mayoral control.
In the end, they all were somewhat disappointing in similar ways: they all inveighed against the clear overemphasis on testing and test prep, but offered no concrete proposals on how to mitigate this, especially as many of these policies are now coming from state and federal level.  They all said that the system had to change so that parents would be “listened” to more, but none had specific proposals to institutionalize the parent voice.  All said class size was important but most would limit their efforts to smaller classes in the early grades, and none seemed to understand how many economic benefits and cost savings would come from this reform.  None seemed to realize how necessary class size reduction will be towards improving our schools, including for our middle and high students if the words “equity” and “college and career ready” are ever to become more than buzzwords.
Hopefully, as time goes on, all the candidates will start to develop a deeper understanding and more clearly defined policy positions over the six months.  In any case, it will be up to us as parents, educators and advocates to make sure that they do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What should be done instead of pushing our kids off the "fiscal cliff"

Update: Please sign our petition to the President and the Congress NOW!

I know; the words “fiscal cliff” probably fills you with the same mixture of dread and ennui as it does me.  But let’s take a moment and focus on the decisions the President and Congress have to make in the next few weeks to address the yawning deficit. Unless they make the right choices by January 2, huge across-the-board cuts to critical education and other domestic programs will be automatically triggered, causing irreversible harm to our nation’s children, and putting our slowly recovering economy into a massive tailspin.
What would these automatic cuts mean for our public schools?  $5 billion would be slashed from the federal education budget; which would plunge to pre-2003 levels, despite the fact that there are now 5.4 million more public school students.   This would lead to sharply increased class sizes and fewer services for children who are already suffering from some of the largest classes in decades.
New York City would lose nearly $75 million from its education budget, mostly from Title One programs that go our highest-poverty schools, Title II, which helps keep class sizes as small as possible, Title III, which subsidizes programs for immigrant youth and English language learners, and IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) which provides funding for special education services.
At the same time as class sizes have already sharply risen, there are also more economically disadvantaged children than before, who desperately rely on this funding to even out inequities in local and state funding and provide them a better opportunity to learn. Our national child poverty rate has risen to a stunning 23 percent.  
No one should consider cutting any of these programs; and even Mitt Romney during the third Presidential debate said he wouldn’t consider cuts to education if elected.  But this is the future we’re facing unless the President and Congress make the right choices now.
If our elected officials are truly dedicated to cutting fat out of our education budget, they should first target some of the Department of Education discretionary grant programs that amount to more than $2 billion.  These programs, designed to persuade states and districts to adopt more standardized testing and expand merit pay and online learning, are increasingly opposed by voters on the left and the right, who rejected them at the polls last week in several states.
Yet under the administration’s proposed budget, funding for its controversial “Race to the Top” program would actually grow, as well as other competitive grant programs.    If Congress wants to save money, let them start with these programs first, contained in the administration’s proposed education budget:

·         Cut the $850 million that the administration wants to spend on yet another round of “Race to the Top” grants,  which promotes more high-stakes testing, unreliable teacher evaluation schemes based on test scores, and privatization at the expense of improving classroom conditions. Even the National Academy of Sciences opposed “Race to the Top”, pointing out how tying teacher evaluation to test scores was inherently risky and unreliable. 
·        Eliminate $400 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund, which expands merit pay and other unproven compensation schemes that teachers themselves overwhelmingly oppose and have never been shown to improve schools.
·         Subtract $150 million to be spent on the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, and $383 million from the district “Race to the Top” grants,  primarily focused on yet more testing, merit pay, and online learning.   Online learning has been touted by the administration and private industry as a way to “personalize education,” though putting students on computers emphasizes rote learning and denies them the opportunity to debate and exercise the critical thinking skills that only interaction with a teacher and other students can provide.  
·         Cancel or radically reform the School Improvement Grants (now renamed School Turnaround Grants), funded at $536 million, which impose the same rigid and punitive models that have sparked vehement protests from parents, students and teachers in communities throughout the country.  These include mandating school closings, conversion to charter schools, outsourcing management to private consulting companies, and/or firing half of the teaching staff, which have led to more chaos and "churn" in schools serving our most at-risk children. 

What else should the President and Congress do, to prevent damaging cuts to education and other domestic programs? The wealthiest Americans and private equity should be required to pay their fair share, of course.  This, plus ending corporate loopholes that allow companies like GE and Verizon to get away with paying no federal taxes, would raise approximately $1.5 trillion.  
There is no doubt that we need a  more equitable tax system in this nation, and these measures might also moderate the widening income gap and level the playing field that is undermining our democracy.  Raising taxes on corporations, hedge funds, and upper income individuals would not only create more revenue, but would also help restrain the ability of the richest Americans to use their private wealth to impose even more corporate-style policies on our schools.  
Last week in Washington State, for example, ten billionaires spent nearly eleven million dollars to get a charter school initiative approved, despite the fervent opposition of the State PTA, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the State School Board Association, and many other good government and civil rights groups.  These organizations pointed out that instituting charter schools would divert millions of dollars from the state’s public schools, which are already constitutionally underfunded according to the courts, and would put public dollars into private hands, with less oversight and accountability. 
Unfortunately, these billionaires were able to get their way by outspending the opposition by more than 16 to one, and the charter school initiative was approved by less than two percentage points.
If we are going to strengthen our public schools, we need to fund them properly and implement proven reforms. Encouraging democracy to flourish through a more equitable tax structure would  help us achieve these goals.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

PEP's Mayoral Bloc Rejects Call for Delay in Charter School Co-locations

Thursday's Panel for Educational Policy meeting at Frank Sinatra HS started forty minutes late as Vice Chair Freida Foster waited for enough mayoral bloc appointees to ensure the mayor's super-majority was in place to approve resolutions.

Deferral of Co-Location Votes or "The People's Business"

Brooklyn representative Kelvin Diamond introduced a resolution to defer co-location votes from the rescheduled December PEP meeting to January.  Diamond cited the losses and disruption caused by Hurricane Sandy as obstacles to holding public hearings where the affected communities could weigh in on the decisions.  Chancellor Walcott spoke against the resolution citing the need to proceed with "the people's business".  I joined the Queens representative in supporting the Brooklyn resolution.  The resolution failed as the Staten Island representative joined the mayoral bloc in dismissing our concerns about the ability of the public to focus on these hearings and the larger privatization effort underway in the aftermath of the hurricane. Of the ten proposals in question, six of them are to place schools privately managed by the Success Academy Network in public school buildings. Gotham Schools has a good account of the discussion.

Budget Vote and Rules of Order Skirmish

Next up was an $8 billion budget vote, the aggregation of actual school budgets for approval.   Chair Freida Foster recognized me to ask questions and make comments.  I asked why the budget had been delayed and then imposed under the Chancellor's emergency powers, a highly unusual event.   The response was Mike Tragale, the DOE CFO was sick.  I remarked upon the inconsistency in how the DOE decided to defer the budget vote when one person was sick but proceed with the Success Academy co-locations when hundreds of thousands were distracted.  I was about to raise a concern about the poor fiscal management practices that place so much importance on a single person when I was interrupted by a member of staff, Courtenay Jackson-Chase, the DOE's general counsel and  secretary to the PEP.   I explained that she had not been recognized by the PEP chair, had no standing to interrupt me and was not even a member of the Panel.  Chancellor Walcott began lecturing me about bullying.   I noted that he had not been recognized to speak either.   Eventually after criticizing my comments and questioning by prerogative to even pose them he relented and I went to my next question, about the record number of budget appeals requested by principals and granted by the DOE.

The episode underscores how the PEP is merely a vehicle for the imposition of the mayor's agenda.  The legislature stripped the Chancellor of his chairmanship of the Panel along with his vote.  Yet nothing has really changed.  The Chancellor routinely interrupts or speaks without any regard for decorum or rules of order.  The Panel secretary, Jackson-Chase (previously Mike Best) sits next to the Panel Chair, always a malleable mayoral appointee, delivers instructions on how to conduct the meeting and cuts off speakers, both Panel members and members of the public alike. 

Proposals for Co-locations and Expansions

A proposal related to the Brooklyn College Academy failed for lack of votes.  The mayor typically has three appointees associated with CUNY on the PEP.   These CUNY-affiliated members generally keep quiet and rubber stamp the mayor's proposals.  In this case these members abstained due to conflict of interest. 

The principal of PS MS 15 in the Bronx spoke against the expansion of another public school in her building citing the loss of three classrooms currently serving children with special education needs.  The DOE dismissed her concerns because her school would still be "at footprint".  The action will result in severe overcrowding in the building with an estimated utilization between 116% and 132%.  I was joined by the Brooklyn and Queens representatives in refusing to support the change.  There is currently no Bronx appointee to the Panel.  The proposal passed 8-3.

A Success Academy co-location was approved by an 8-3 margin with the mayoral bloc and Staten Island member opposed by Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.   This vote was premature as the school in question is asking us for public school space to serve middle school students despite not being authorized by the grantor of its charter to do so.   The host building will go to a utilization of 113% to 138%, an increasingly typical level of overcrowding for Harlem schools subject to co-location with privately managed charter schools.   I asked the mayoral bloc Panel members why we could not instead provide this space for the excellent public school in the building, PS 175, to expand as it previously requested.   Only Ian Shapiro responded, criticizing me for challenging the DOE experts who decided a charter school would better serve this community than growing a successful public school. 


We had an absurd discussion about "in-sourcing" the Galaxy budgeting system by paying the consultants who run the system $23 million over the next five years.  The deal reminded me of the contract with Future Technology Associates (FTA).  In both cases the DOE similarly bundled three or four discrete pieces of work together for the incumbent rather than keeping them separate so multiple firms could bid.  And DOE offered the same argument to defend the consulting contract - "only the consultants know how to run this system".  Let us all hope this one turns out better than our deal with FTA.  The principals of FTA ended up with indictments following an investigation that revealed widespread fraud.

A contract for a tutoring firm discovered to have committed multi-million dollar over-billing errors was considered.  One of our new student representatives, Ilan, pointed out that either the firm stole from us or was so incompetent as to make massive billing errors.  Either way we shouldn't want them tutoring our students.   Despite this display of sagacity so rare at PEP meetings, the contract was approved 8-3.