Thursday, January 31, 2013

Highlights of Mayoral candidate education debate sponsored by principals union

credit: Epoch Times

Last night there was a lively education debate sponsored by the CSA, the principals union, with all the Democratic mayoral candidates and Tom Allon, who is running as a Republican.  I was busily tweeting throughout.  
Except for a rather tiresome exchange as to who had the best public school  alma mater, it was an interesting discussion, well moderated by Liz Willen of Hechinger and Pedro Noguera of NYU.  ( In case you’re interested, Liu went to Bronx Science; Allon attended Stuyvesant;  Bill Thompson graduated from Midwood HS;  and Bill De Blasio’s son attends Brooklyn Tech. Chris Quinn said she wasn’t “smart enough” to go to Bronx Sci or Stuy but actually she grew up on Long Island.)
Each of the candidates had his or her high points:
·         Bill de Blasio got the biggest applause of the evening; when he said that come January, Eva Moskowitz of Success Academy Charters will no longer “have the run of the place”; i.e. be running the school system in the city;
·         Chris Quinn pointed out that there's no evidence that merit pay for teachers works;
·         Tom Allon said we need an expanded capital plan and innovative ways to finance school construction to reduce overcrowding;
·         John Liu pointed there was no evidence that the schools had improved under Bloomberg by our test scores on the national exams called the NAEPs;
·         Bill Thompson said that the past ten years of damaging policies were the result of non-educators running the system, and that we need to focus on improving schools rather than closing them, as happned in the Chancellor’s district when he headed the Board of Education.
They all liked community schools and wrap-around services, as promoted by the UFT (though I'd like them to confront the reality that there is little or no room in most of our schools, which are already hugely overcrowded); they all said there was too much testing; they all promised to consult parents and teachers more; and most of them supported a moratorium on school closures and co-locations, all that is, except for Quinn and Allon, who said the implementation of these policies could be improved. 
There was a general consensus that the obsession with small schools by this administration was misguided,; and most agreed that the networks aren’t working and we need our geographically based districts back.  The only one who differed on that point was Quinn, who maintained that some principals liked their networks, and they should be able to keep them if they wanted to; though there didn’t seem to be many principals in the audience who agreed about this.  It turned out (as I suspected) that she was talking about the New Visions network, which has been fierce in protecting its revenue and turf.  Tom Allon and De Blasio also got into an argument about whether De Blasio’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for Universal preK would cause rich people to move out of the city (there’s no evidence for that, by the way.)
 At one point, Liz Willen asked the question of a student at Wagner MS named Sophia: what would they do about the chronic problem of excessive class sizes?  De Blasio said we would have to wait for the CFE money to come in.  Liu said the city had enough money to solve this, if we made it a priority. The others didn’t think there was much hope and seemed stuck in the status quo; extremely disappointing considering smaller classes are the number one priority of parents and a constitutional requirement, according to the State’s highest court.
Anyway, if you want more detail you can check out my tweeting at @leoniehaimson at or see the articles at Epoch Times and  GothamSchools.

UPDATE on our charter co-location lawsuit

Yesterday morning in the State Supreme Court, Judge Barbara Jaffe heard arguments from attorneys working for the city and the charter schools who want to dismiss our lawsuit against the practice of DOE providing free space and services to charters, which we believe violates state law.   
The attorney from the City's Corporation Counsel  said the administration's co-location policy goes back more than ten years and has never before been challenged, and that the judge should give deference to DOE and State Ed Commissioner on this matter, especially if it’s a close call.  Judge  Jaffe responded that she didn’t need to defer if she didn’t see ambiguity in the statute.  Then the charter school attorney got up and made a lot of other arguments, each of which were quite hard to swallow. 
First, he said, Class Size Matters and NYC public school parents have no standing to bring a lawsuit, because we can’t prove any harm to schoolchildren due to the loss of $100 million (which is what we have estimated the lost revenue if the DOE charged for space and services, based on IBO figures.)  Since we can’t prove that the additional funding would mean more teachers or smaller class sizes, we shouldn’t be allowed to sue.  The judge responded that the court is supposed to interpret standing liberally.  Later, our attorney Arthur Schwartz pointed out the absurdity of this claim; including how many including the mayor have bewailed the negative impact on our schools from the $250 million in state aid lost because of the failure of the city to make a deal on teacher evaluation.  What is $100 million, he asked, chickenfeed?
 The opposing attorney also argued that the provision of free space to charters was simply a matter of allocation of resources that should be purely up to the DOE.  The Judge seemed skeptical of this point as well.  Finally, he tried to make an argument that the provision in the state law that says charters “may” contract for services or use of buildings with the district, but that "any such contract shall provide such services or facilities at cost” implies that they don’t have to have a contract to get use of these services or buildings, and if they don’t have a contract, they don’t have to pay anything.  He maintained that the free space could be considered a “contribution” from DOE.  The Judge suggested that this might be seen as an end-run around the law.  Our attorney pointed out that the charter schools already get per student funding, and the free space provided by DOE means that co-located charters are getting an extra $2700 per student than the law specifies, and more funding per student than public schools receive. If the argument of the charter attorney was taken to its logical conclusion, it would mean that the DOE was free to provide any amount they wanted to the charter schools, to the detriment of our public schools, totally ignoring the formula set out in state law.
 There was also back and forth as to whether there is any added “marginal” cost to the city by providing this extra funding to charter school students, since most of them would attend public schools anyway; the DOE says no (of course) and the IBO said yes.  Finally, their attorney argued that there are 101 charters in public school buildings enrolling 50,000 students, and if they had to pay rent they couldn’t continue to exist.  To that, the judge said “Gosh Darn, that would be a shame, but this is not the issue before me.”  [Not to mention that Eva Moskowitz’ charters had a surplus of over $23 million last year that could have paid for a lot of leases, though that might at some point cut down on the millions they spend on administrator salaries, advertising, PR and political lobbying.]
The judge was also interested in hearing more about the constitutional claim of our attorney, that there are fundamental inequities in how these co-locations have undermined the right of public school students to receive an adequate education.  The charter school attorney said that courts held in the CFE case that students are entitled not to equity but minimally adequate conditions, and the judge responded that some of the alleged facts in our brief, including public school students pushed into basement rooms next to the boiler with almost no toilets, might not been seen as even minimally adequate.

Anyway, we hope to hear in a few weeks whether the case will be dismissed or not.  Cross your fingers.  It has been dismally slow so far, given that we originally sued in July of 2011, but we hope that things will move more quickly if and when this moves to trial. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Who is Bradley Tusk and why should we care?

On Sunday, there was a front page story about how Bradley Tusk is coordinating the campaign against Obama’s appointment of Chuck Hagel as US Secretary of Defense on the grounds that Hagel was anti-choice and anti-gay (apparently Hagel made an anti-gay comment in 1998).  Tusk’s campaign includes TV ads and sending mailers that push Sen. Schumer to oppose the nomination with the mysterious name of “Use your Mandate” as the return address. I’ve received two of these large glossy mailers in the last week.
Here is Tusk claiming that there is opposition to Hagel from liberals in Foreign Policy magazine:
"From the left, there's a lot of consternation about the Hagel nomination," said Bradley Tusk, former campaign manager for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and founder of Tusk Strategies, which is helping coordinate the campaign. "A lot of people worked hard to reelect the president, believe in the president, and don't feel like they raised money and knocked on doors to then have him nominate a defense secretary who is clearly is anti-gay and anti-choice. I think what you hear a lot from the progressive community is: Couldn't he find someone who is just as qualified on defense issues who doesn't have these other views that we find abhorrent?"
Though Tusk claims this campaign is being funded by progressive members of the gay community, LGBT groups have criticized Tusk for keeping his donors secret, and Rachel Maddow has suggested that it’s most likely funded by right wingers disguising themselves as liberal. The NYT article suggests that this campaign is really being financed by GOP forces allied with hawks on Israel and who may want to hand Obama a defeat.  According to the NY Times:
In an interview, Mr. Tusk would only identify its financiers as Democratic “gay and L.G.B.T. people who have been active in campaigns around the country.” Yet federal records show that Use Your Mandate uses Del Cielo Media, an arm of one of the most prominent Republican ad-buying firms in the country, Smart Media, with clients that have included the presidential campaigns of former Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah and Senator John McCain of Arizona; the 2010 Senate campaign of Christine O’Donnell, who was known for positions against homosexuality, in Delaware; and, as it happens, the Emergency Committee for Israel. 

Who is Bradley Tusk and why is this relevant to NYC education?

Tusk is the former Lt. Governor and right hand man to former Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, who is now serving a 14 year sentence for corruption. Subsequently, Tusk became the manager of Bloomberg’s 2009 mayoral campaign, which spent $109 million and won by only 4.5  percentage points, after inundating NYC voters will hundreds of mailers like those being sent out about Hagel.  Tusk’s website also takes credit for running the campaign that lifted the cap on charters for DFER/ERN and the hedgefunders, and states that he now works for Michelle Rhee’s StudentFirst NY and Eva Moskowitz’s chain of Success Academy charters:

With StudentsFirst, led by Michelle Rhee, we have played an integral role in the first comprehensive attempt to pursue and implement education reform across the country. This includes launching full campaigns in target cities and states across the nation. With the Success Charter Network, Tusk Strategies has helped introduce high performing charter schools to new neighborhoods across New York City.

Tusk was also paid $1.5 million of $2 million of the Facebook money for “community engagement”, that was supposed to go towards improving Newark’s schools. [Community engagement with whom, one wonders.  Michael Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee and the hedge fund community?].

His website brags that he helped organize an education forum in October 2011 during the Presidential campaign,  with four GOP candidates, co-hosted by the College Board and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation:  “While all of the GOP candidates were invited to participate, only former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum attended in person, with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Cain speaking via satellite.”  Who moderated?  None other than our former chancellor, Joel Klein.

As the mayoral campaign heats up, expect Tusk to engage in similar tricks, either openly or secretly on behalf of Bloomberg, Rhee, Eva and the charter lobby, to try to ensure they keep and enlarge their control of education policy and hold on real estate in NYC public school buildings.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Data Privacy Day: send a message to the NY State Ed today, demanding that your child's data NOT be shared with private corporations

UPDATE:  See the great letter Sen. Liz Krueger just sent to Commissioner King about this issue, here and below.

Dear Parents:  Today is Data Privacy Day.    Here are some questions you can ask your school about your child’s private education records.
Unfortunately, we already know that NY State intends to share the most private information from your child’s educational records with the Shared Learning Collaborative, a project of the Gates Foundation, without your consent, who in turn intends to hand it over to private for-profit companies.
This information is supposed to include your child’s name, test scores, grades, disciplinary and attendance records, special education status and much more. The information will be put on a data cloud run by, with a system built by Wireless Generation, owned by Rupert Murdoch and run by Joel Klein.  Here is a fact sheet about this issue

Please email State Ed Commissioner John King today, with a copy to Chancellor Walcott and Stacey Childress of the Gates Foundation, demanding that your child’s information NOT be shared with ANY third parties, including the Gates Foundation.  Also copy the email to Michele Cahill of the Carnegie Corporation, which is supposedly in charge of the long-term governance and business plan for a new, separate corporation that will soon take over the project from the Gates Foundation.

Dear Commissioner King:
As a NYC public school parent I demand that you NOT share any of my child’s confidential information with ANY third parties, including the Gates Foundation or ANY other private entity or corporation.  I do not give my consent.
Instead, I ask that you hold public hearings in NYC to explain the purpose of this project, offer all New York parents the right to consent as the law requires, and inform the public who will be legally and financially responsible if this highly sensitive data leaks out or is used in an unauthorized fashion.

Signed: [Your Name and address]

Parent [or legal guardian] of [your Child’s full name, grade and school]

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The testing rebellion & opt-out movement in NYC has a supporter -- inside Tweed

Lisa Nielsen

A nationwide backlash has erupted against the obsession with standardized testing.  In February 2012, the Texas Commissioner of Education, Robert Perry, announced that testing had become a "perversion of its original intent.” Over the last year, 86 percent of Texas school boards representing 91 percent of the state’s students, have passed resolutions against the use of high stakes testing. The view is now so mainstream that in his introductory remarks before the Legislature, Joe Straus, the new, conservative GOP Speaker of the Texas House recently announced,

"By now, every member of this house has heard from constituents at the grocery store or the Little League fields about the burdens of an increasingly cumbersome testing system in our schools…Teachers and parents worry that we have sacrificed classroom inspiration for rote memorization. To parents and educators concerned about excessive testing: The Texas House has heard you."
Joining the movement is Joshua Starr, the superintendent of Montgomery County, Maryland, who has called for the nation to “stop the insanity” of  evaluating teachers according to student test scores, and has proposed a three year moratorium on all standardized testing.  Starr has joined forces with Heath Morrison, the newly-appointed superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, a Broad-trained educator no less, who calls testing “an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars” that won’t help kids.  
Then last week, the movement jumped into the headlines when teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle voted unanimously to boycott the lengthy computerized MAP exams, which take weeks of classroom time to administer; the teachers were supported by the school’s PTA and the student government.   Other Seattle schools have now joined the boycott, and yesterday, more than sixty educators and researchers, including Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, and Noam Chomsky, released a letter of support for the boycott, noting that "no student's intellectual process can be reduced to a single number." [Full disclosure: I was among the letter's signers.]
Even before this, more than one third of the principals in New York State had signed onto a letter, protesting the state-imposed teacher evaluation system, which will be largely based on test scores, and Carol Burris, a Long Island principal and the letter’s co-author, has more recently posted a petition that has now over 8200 signatures from parents and educators, opposing all high-stakes testing. 

Though many NYC teachers and principals have spoken out against the particularly onerous brand of test score-based accountability imposed by DOE, with decisions over which children to hold back, what schools to close and which teachers to deny tenure to, based largely on the basis of test scores, no one inside the halls of Tweed, DOE’s headquarters, has up to now been brave enough to speak out publicly against the system.
Until now.  As reported in yesterday’s NY Post, Lisa Nielsen, the  newly-appointed digital guru at Tweed, has not only stated that she believes that high-stakes testing is severely damaging our children and schools, she has also offered creative suggestions of activities that parents can offer their children rather than allow them to be subjected to the state tests.  On her personal blog, the Innovative Educator, she writes:    There are so many ways kids can learn on opt out of state standardized testing days.  All it takes is community coming together to take back our children’s freedom to learn.
Lisa also runs the Facebook NY State Opt out of Testing page, and has pointed out the “12 Most Unconventional Reasons to Opt Your Child Out of Standardized Testing,” including the fact that they are a “horrific waste of money”, and cause unneeded anxiety and stress.  She adds: 
“Instead of spending billions of dollars on funding testing this money could go toward providing resources for children or lowering class size. Let the teachers do what they were trained to do — teach and assess. Keep big business out of the equation. Keep the billions of dollars out of the pockets of publishers and let it remain in the classroom.”

We now have our own anti-testing advocate at Tweed, and  we should all celebrate Lisa’s honesty and her courage in speaking the truth. 
Pasi Sahlberg, expert on Finland’s renowned educational system, had said that if his government decided to evaluate their teachers on the basis of test scores, the “teachers would probably go on strike and wouldn’t return until this crazy idea went away.” 
It’s time for all our educators to join the movement, follow the inspired leadership of Lisa Nielsen and the teachers in Seattle, go public with their opposition, and refuse to participate in this oppressive system any longer.