Thursday, July 31, 2014

My speech when I received the Parent Voice award in DC on Monday night

Me with the board members of Parents Across America

On Monday night in Washington DC, I received the Parent Voice award from Parents Across America for my work defeating inBloom, at a dinner co-hosted by the NEA.  I was very moved and overwhelmed to receive this award, especially from fellow parents for whom I have so much respect and have worked closely with on many occasions.  Here is what I said:

I'm tremendously honored to receive this award from Parents across America - a wonderful organization that provides great tools for parents to resist damaging policies and to strengthen our public schools - and to speak up for parents in the national stage.  I am also incredibly honored to be given this award by Helen Gym, who is one of the foremost parent activists in the entire country and deserves her own award every day of the week.  I also want to thank the generosity of the NEA for co-hosting this dinner; parents and teachers working together can stop the runaway train of corporate education reform.
The inBloom saga was a hard fought battle but there is no way we could have defeated it without the  parents from all the nine inBloom states who stood up in horror and refused to take the bland assurances of their state and local officials and the Gates Foundation that this was all for their kids' benefit and their own.   
As soon as parents found out that the plan was to gather all their kids most sensitive and confidential info including their names, addresses, phones, disabilities, grades, test scores, health conditions and disciplinary records, store it on an insecure data cloud, and offer it up to vendors without their knowledge or consent, they were rightly furious and just wouldn't allow this to happen. 
Parents of all political stripes fought back and many who had no political affiliation at all and simply wanted to protect their children's privacy and safety and didn't think the potential benefits of data collection, sharing and mining were worth the risks.
I want to acknowledge some of those here tonight who helped us win this battle, including Khem Irby of Guilford NC, who stood up before her school board to protest the handing over of her children data to Bill Gates, Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch.

Robin Hiller of Voices for Education in Arizona, also Executive Director of Network for Public Education, who had me in her radio show several times to talk about the threats to privacy from inBloom and other schemes still in our future like the PARCC testing consortium.
 Rachael Stickland of Jefferson  Co Colorado who really did an amazing job organizing parents in her community against this violation of privacy.
Julie Woestehoff who scheduled briefings for me and others to speak to the editors of the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times, and co-hosted a forum for parents  that persuaded Illinois and Chicago to essentially cancel their involvement in inBloom in less than 24 hours from my arrival.
There are countless more parents and teachers who helped us fight this behemoth but couldn't be here today- activists in Louisiana, the first state to pull out, Georgia, and others. In NY, we had most of the district superintendents and school boards on our side as well, making it a lot harder for the inBloom apologists and flacks to argue that we were just naive and dumb parents who didn't understand how great this plan was and all the opportunities it would provide.

This is a template for the future that we will now use to try to strengthen the federal privacy law known as FERPA . Last week Rachael and I launched a new Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and we are visiting key congressional offices this week to get our point across that FERPA, which had been rewritten twice to essentially take out most of its privacy protections, must go back to what it was previously - a strong law that requires parental notification and consent before sharing the most intimate details of a child's life with any third party.
We will need all your help going forward, so please join us at
But more than anything else the story of inBloom provides proof that pissed off parents can achieve miracles - we can take down an $100 million project of the Gates Foundation when we work together, organize and have right on our side. 

Letter to SUNY board from Councilmembers, urging them not to approve any more charter schools until true accountability is achieved

An article about this letter was in today's Daily News. Excerpt: "We are being oversaturated with charter schools," said Tesa Wilson, president Community Education Council in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. "It's tax dollars being poured into a black hole with no accountability."

July 30, 2014


Dear Members of the SUNY Board of Trustees:

We, the undersigned members of the New York City (NYC) Council, oppose any further expansion of charter schools, urging you to hold off on authorizing new charter schools, until you address the lack of oversight and accountability in this rapidly growing sector.

On May 6, 2014, the NYC Council Committee on Education held an oversight hearing for charter schools, making it apparent that accountability measures and oversight have lagged behind the growth of charter schools.

Currently, New York State has 209 charter schools, with 183 (88%) of them in NYC. Recent changes to state law, pushed by Governor Cuomo and Wall Street financiers, aim to make further charter school expansion easier but fail to address the need for common sense regulation.

Both the NYC Council and the SUNY have a shared responsibility to ensure that our public school dollars are spent wisely and that all of our public school students, both traditional and charter, receive the best education possible.

We ask that the following concerns that arose at the hearing be addressed before any further expansion of charter schools takes place:

  • Examination of harsh discipline practices;
  • High teacher and student attrition rates;
  • Exclusionary admissions practices, as witnessed by the significantly reduced percentage of students with special needs, English Language Learners and over-the-counter students, as compared to district averages;
  • Discriminatory marketing practices, which include marketing materials only in English as well as marketing to specific groups of individuals;
  • Lack of transparency with how public dollars are being spent;
  • Parent handbooks and school policies not being made publicly available; and
  • The practice of shutting schools down to engage in political activity.

Lastly, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform recently released a report entitled Public Accountability for Charter Schools in New York City: Common-Sense Regulation and Oversight for the Future,” which details how all NYC students can benefit from increased regulation and oversight of the charter school sector. We ask that you review this report and implement the recommendations contained therein.

We look forward to your response.


Daniel Dromm                                                Margaret Chin
Chair, Committee on Education                     1st District
25th District

Antonio Reynoso                                            Mark Treyger
34th District                                                     47th District         

Alan Maisel                                                     Andy King                             
46th District                                                     12th District

Deborah Rose                                                   Inez Barron
49th District                                                     42nd District                     

Stephen Levin                                                 Vincent J. Gentile
33rd District                                                     43rd District

 cc:        Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

Hon. Bill de Blasio, Mayor
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Carmen FariƱa, Chancellor
NYC Department of Education
52 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007

Susan Miller Barker, Executive Director
Charter School Institute
State University of New York
41 State Street, Suite 700
Albany, NY 12207

State University of New York, Board of Trustees
H. Carl H. McCall, Chair
Joseph W. Belluck, Member
Henrik N. Dullea, Member
Ronald G. Ehrenberg, Member
Angelo M. Fatta, Member
Tina Good, Member
Eric Corngold, Member
Eunice A. Lewin, Member
Marshall A. Lichtman, Member
John L. Murad, Jr., Member
Peter K. Knuepfer, Member
Lori Mould, Member
Linda S. Sanford, Member
Richard Socarides, Member
Carl Spielvogel, Member
Cary F. Staller, Member
Lawrence J. Waldman, Member

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Leonie Haimson talking education reform on Bob Herbert's Op-Ed show

I was on Bob Herbert's Op-Ed show on CUNY-TV show last week; talking about corporate reform, charters, testing, the Common Core, school overcrowding, and what we should be doing as a city and a nation to ensure that students have a real opportunity to succeed.  As opposed to most TV shows where you have at most four minutes to make your point, we covered a lot of territory.  Take a look!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Our comments on how the city's proposed Contract for Excellence plan violates the language and the spirit of the law

Please send your comments to by the deadline of July 19; Mine are below.  thanks!  

Comments on the proposed Contract for Excellence plan from the NYC Department of Education

July 16, 2014

From:  Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters

The Contract for Excellence law (C4E) was passed in 2007 as a direct result of the Court of Appeals decision in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) case, in which the state’s highest court found that New York City schoolchildren were deprived of their constitutional right to receive a “sound basic education,” in large part because of excessive class sizes. For example, the court found that “over half of New York City schoolchildren are in classes of 26 or more, and tens of thousands are in classes of over 30.” 

The Court ordered the state to reform its school funding system, and for the state to “ensure[s] a system of accountability to measure whether the reforms actually provide the opportunity for a sound basic education.” 

The Contracts for Excellence law promised additional state funding to struggling districts in return for a pledge that they would spend them on five evidence-based reforms, later expanded to six.  For NYC, they added one crucial requirement:  that the city would submit a plan with annual targets to reduce class size in all grades to be achieved over five years.  Here are the regulations:
  1. In the city school district of the City of New York, include a plan that meets the requirements of clause (c)(2)(i)(a) of this section, to reduce average class sizes within five years for the following grade ranges:
    1. prekindergarten through grade three;
    2. grades four through eight; and
    3. grades nine through twelve.
Such plan shall be aligned with the capital plan of the city school district of the City of New York and include continuous class size reduction for low performing and overcrowded schools beginning in the 2007-2008 school year and thereafter.

Though the city’s original C4E plan, approved in Nov. 2007, called for the city to lower class size in all grades, instead class sizes have increased each year, and are now the largest in 15 years in grades K-3 and the largest since 2002 in grades 4-8.  As news account attest, more than 330,000 students attended classes of 30 or larger last year.  

Recent reports by Class Size Matters, the Independent Budget Office and the City Comptroller’s office show that school overcrowding has also worsened since 2007, in part because the school capital plan was never aligned with the city’s class size reduction plan.  

How do we know this? The class size standards in school utilization formula in the annual school capacity report known as the Blue Book, which are supposed to drive the capital plan, are larger in every grade (28 in grades 4-8 and 30 in high school) than current class size averages except in K-3, and thus will tend to force class sizes even higher. There are no class size standards at all in the Instructional Footprint that the DOE devised to decide where to put school co-locations, as these standards were eliminated in 2010.  Thus, wherever there is “excess” space in a school building, DOE inserts another school rather than lower class size.

The DOE has made many other policy decisions that have undermined the efforts of school principals to reduce class size, including cutting school budgets by about 14% since 2007; eliminating the early grade class size funds in 2010 (despite the fact that they had promised to retain this program in their 2007 class size plan), and eliminating class size limits of 28 in grades 1-3 in 2011.  These class size limits had existed for at least 15 years. Though the city claims that class sizes increased because of a lack of staqte funding, the increases began before the state cut education aid.  Why?  Because the DOE cut school staffing budgets first, violating another clause in the the C4E law which forbids “supplanting” – i.e. allowing state funds to substitute for city funds.   

Here is the language: “the increases in total foundation aid and supplemental educational improvement plan grants [will be] used to supplement, and not supplant funds allocated by the district in the base year for such purposes.”

This year the city’s C4E proposed plan openly supplants, with the following words in the school allocation memo:

“Supplement not Supplant: C4E funds are supplemental and generally may not be used to cover the costs of programs and personnel previously funded with tax levy dollars. However, there is an exception. C4E can fund the expense if the school can document and demonstrate that, due to cuts in tax levy funding, the programs or personnel would have been cut, if not for the availability of C4E dollars. Note that even in this "if not for" situation, the expenditure still must meet all of the programmatic requirements of C4E.”

In the accompanying Power Point, DOE claims that this is being done with the approval of the State Education Department: 

Expenditures made using C4E funds must “supplement, not supplant” funding provided by the school district; however, SED has provided guidance explaining that certain expenditures may be paid for with C4E funds even though these programs or expenditures were originally or have been typically paid for by the district or by other grants.”

We have no way of knowing if the State Education Department has given the city the permission to supplant, but if so, this appears to conflicts with state law.  What also appears to violate the law is the fact that principals are being allowed to use these funds to minimize class size increases, rather than reduce class size.  Here is the language from the School Allocation Memo:

“Minimize growth of class size in FY12- fund a teacher to minimize the growth in class size that the school would have otherwise experienced given budget cuts. Note: School must demonstrate that these positions would have been cut in FY12. Teachers must be supplemental to the number required by contract.”

First of all, this should of course say FY 15 – not FY 12.  But more importantly, there is nothing in the C4E law that would allow the city to use these funds to minimize class size increases.  Instead, it clearly requires the city to reduce class size.

 The DOE’s C4E plan each year, as approved by the state, also includes a special commitment to reduce class size in a list of 75 high priority schools, which are described as low-achieving and over-crowded.  

This arrangement does not fulfill the language in the law that requires the city to reduce average class size system-wide – since 75 schools represents a tiny percentage of the more than 1700 or so public schools in NYC.  Yet we have found that even in these high-priority 75 schools, class sizes have not been reduced, as there is no funding attached and no oversight.

Of the 65 elementary and middle schools on the priority list for class size reduction for 2013-2014, 30 increased in average class size; and in 22 of them, by more than half a student per class.  Two schools increased average class sizes by more than 20%.   Of the ten high schools on the list, in three the student/teacher ratio was unchanged or increased. 

This is no surprise if you look at the spending by these schools on class size reduction: twenty of the 75 schools spent ZERO money on class size reduction.  And more than half spent less than $100,000 – not enough to pay for a new teacher.

To make matters worse, four schools on the list were being phased out:  Jonathan Levin HS, JHS 302 Rafael Cordero, Business and Computer Applications, and Entrepreneurship High School in the Bronx and PS 156 Laurelton in Queens.

We actually went to visit one of the elementary schools on the list, which is a “focus” school.  The principal told us she had never been informed that she was on a priority list for class size reduction, and had been given no funds to do so.  In fact, another school had been co-located in her building, making it very hard to find the space.  And there were 29 and 30 students in some of the school’s classes, most of them English language learners and new immigrants to the country.

What does this show?  That even in the tiny subset of struggling schools that DOE has made a special commitment to reduce class size, they have no interest in following through on their promises.
This is a long standing problem: When we examined the original priority 75 list for class size reduction, by 2011 seven of them were persistently low achieving (PLA) schools:  Lehman HS, JHS 80 and MS 391 in the Bronx, Boys and Girls and FDR HS in Brooklyn, and Newtown HS and Bryant HS in Queens.  

Three more schools were added to the city’s priority list for class size reduction in 2011:  Long Island City HS in Queens, JHS 22, and JHS 166 and Dewey HS in Brooklyn.  What happened in these high schools? 

NONE of these schools came close to meeting their class size reduction targets at the end of the year.  All of these schools continued to have class sizes far above the state averages of 21, and far above their reduction targets of 24.3 to 24.8 students per class.

In only one of the schools had class sizes been lowered significantly since 2007.  The other schools had class sizes unacceptably near 30, and in the cases of Bryant HS and Boys and Girls HS, and Long Island City HS, class sizes had increased sharply.

Mayor de Blasio campaigned on a promise that he would commit to achieving specific class size reduction goals by the end of first term and if necessary, raise revenue to fund this.  He also pledged that he would comply with the plan the city submitted in 2007, calling for class size reduction in all grades.  We hope that you will follow-up with these promises.

Smaller classes are the number one priority of parents in DOE surveys every year.  In responding to a  survey, NYC principals said classes should be no larger than 20 in grades K-3, no larger than 23 in grades 4-5, and no larger than 24 in all other grades in order to provide a quality education.

We urge the DOE to commit to reducing class size by allocating a substantial share of the more than $600 million in C4E funds specifically towards this goal, as a citywide initiative, and make sure that the funds are used appropriately, to hire additional teachers to reduce class size, especially in struggling schools.  We also urge the DOE to immediately re-institute the early grade class size program that was eliminated in 2010, and to restore the cap on class sizes in grades 1-3 at 28 students, that was eliminated in 2011. 

Please heed the decision of the state’s highest court, listen to parents, educators, and what research shows, and follow through with the mayor’s promises to voters by reducing class size.  New York City public school children deserve their right to a quality education.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Audit on school overcrowding released today confirms our findings that the crisis is getting worse

Today's Daily News, and no that it not me screaming in facepaint.
Today's audit from the City Comptroller reinforces the findings in our recent report, Space Crunch, showing that DOE continues to put out misleading data to minimize the worsening crisis of overcrowding in our schools, and has no real plans to deal with it.   See the Juan Gonzalez front page story in the Daily News today about the audit.  The unacceptable level of overcrowding was also delineated in a recent study from the Independent Budget Office. 

Overcrowding has a host of negative impacts on students, including excessive class sizes, high rates of disengagement and disciplinary problems, safety issues, and a sense among students that the system doesn’t care enough about their needs.  More than 330,000 students were in classes of 30 or more last year.  We also found that the DOE undercounts the number of students in trailers by many thousands.

Though the audit found that about 1/3 of kids were in overcrowded buildings by looking at the Blue Book’s “historic” 2011-2012 figures, we analyzed more recent “target” figures from 2012-13 and found nearly half of all students were in overcrowded buildings.   

The “target” formula is somewhat more accurate but still underestimates the actual level of overcrowding in schools.  This means more than 480,000 students were in extremely overstuffed buildings last year. The audit found the same trend line as we did– worsening overcrowding, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels.

The most interesting aspect of the audit involved their asking for documentation of what the DOE Offices of Portfolio Management and Space Planning had done to address the problem of overcrowding:

DOE’s Offices of Space Planning and Portfolio Management lacked any statistical or documentary evidence showing the substantive steps they took to alleviate school overcrowding. This failure constitutes a significant internal control deficiency. The lack of documentation may be partly attributed to the absence of written policies and procedures for either office. Through interviews and discussions with DOE personnel we were able to ascertain that Portfolio Management and Space Planning had some procedures in place and that they had attempted to follow these procedures to alleviate overcrowding. [Like what? They do not say.]

However, no documentation or evidence existed with in these two offices to indicate what these steps were or whether they had been taken….

Portfolio Management staff explained that the process for alleviating overcrowding is “organic,” consisting of “borough teams” that monitor schools monthly and annually, conduct monthly meetings, and hold telephone conversations with principals. According to Portfolio Management and Space Planning staff, written documentation, meeting minutes, and telephone logs of this process were not maintained. Therefore, there is no way to assess whether DOE was in fact, taking steps to alleviate overcrowding and whether those steps were effective.”

The DOE now claims that Portfolio has been abolished and a new office created called District planning, but several people in the know say the office has much the same personnel and apparently the same mission: to cram new co-located schools into existing school buildings which further overcrowds them.

From a footnote in the audit: “Portfolio Management, prior to its dissolution, did not have an organizational chart for its approximately 50 person staff, nor did it maintain a list of school buildings where the office attempted to address problems.”

We estimate that at least 100,000 seats are needed to alleviate the space crunch in our schools—more than double the number in the current capital plan, or else it is likely that NYC kids will be stuffed into even more overcrowded classrooms and substandard trailers for years to come.  It is time that the new administration confronts this ongoing crisis honestly and takes meaningful steps to address it.