Thursday, April 23, 2015

Arne's Army

April 23, 2015 (GBN News): Education Secretary Arne Duncan might be wishing the Republicans had held up the Attorney General nomination of Loretta Lynch for just a little while longer. The new AG has put the kibosh on Mr. Duncan’s scheme to force schoolchildren who opt out of standardized testing to take the tests. The Secretary had wanted to lower the age for Federal jury service, then summon the children for jury duty and give them the tests under the guise of an eligibility questionnaire. “I have all the respect in the world for President Obama”, said Ms. Lynch in a statement to reporters at the justice department. “But truth be told, that Duncan character is nothing but a jerk.”

However, GBN News has learned that Mr. Duncan, not to be deterred, has now contacted Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to see if the military conscription age could be lowered to 5, then have drill sergeants administer the tests. “But if you can’t get the little buggers into the army,” the Education Secretary was said to have told Mr. Carter, “we can always conscript their parents. When those white suburban moms find themselves doing 500 pushups in the hot sun, you can bet they’ll have their kids filling out those bubbles before you can say, ‘Bill Gates’.”

President Obama, himself a Constitutional scholar, had no public comment on the legality of the Secretary’s plans. But one White House staffer, on condition of anonymity, told GBN News that the President was overheard telling his wife, “Thank goodness they don’t do standardized testing at Sasha and Malia’s school. But in case they ever do, it’s a good thing it’s a Quaker school and we can always opt out by being conscientious objectors.”

Terrific Court Decision on School Leadership Teams and the Open Meetings Law

5/22/15 Update: We just found out the DOE is appealing this decision, showing their disrespect for parents and the public's right to know. Sadly, the CSA, the NYC principals union, expressed their  support for the DOE decision to appeal, despite this slam dunk decision that SLT meetings MUST be open to the public.

Newsclips on the court decision  include AP, NY Times, Chalkbeat , City and State, and National School Board Association Legal Clips.  

Today we found out that we had won our lawsuit vs. the DOE on the issue of whether School Leadership Team meetings must be open to the public. Class Size Matters and Public Advocate Tish James had intervened in this case back in January, which was originally brought by a retired teacher named Michael Thomas when he was denied access to a School Leadership Team meeting on Staten Island.

Judge Moulton of the NY Supreme Court wrote a great decision which is a slam dunk for our side. Thanks to Michael Thomas, Tish James, and our pro bono attorneys from Advocates for Justice and NY Lawyers for Public Interest.  Thanks also to Lisa Donlan, President of CEC 1, who provided a critical affidavit in the case and provided much of the legal research on Open Meetings Law. Here is today's press release from Public Advocate Tish James.

This is a big win for parents and transparency. The Judge's decision also emphasizes the important role that School Leadership Teams have in the overall governance system, which the DOE tried to deny -- claiming falsely that they have only "advisory powers." See the decision below.   
I hope the Chancellor sends out an immediate message to principals, teachers and parents, informing them of the court decision, acknowledging that SLT's have real authority when it comes to devising a comprehensive education plan for every school, and clearly stating that their meetings are open to the public.

The fact that the DOE argued otherwise in court-- that SLT's only have advisory powers --is not only contrary to law, but also flies in the face of their claim that they respect parent input. More about the background of this case and its importance on our blog, City and State and Chalkbeat.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How did the state math exams go today?

Please leave your comment below about this week's math exams. Our post on the ELA exams has provided important feedback on the quality of the ELA exams, and the response of the students with 61 comments so far. Be sure to say which grade of the exam and which day you are describing.  thanks!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

NYC KidsPAC Parents and Advocates release Education report card for Mayor de Blasio

Media outlets that reported on our report card include News 12-TV, Wall St. Journal, NY Post, WCBS radio, and Epoch Times (in Chinese).  Please take a look at the grades we awarded the mayor on education issues below, and leave a comment on the blog.  thanks, Leonie 

For immediate release: April 19, 2015

Contact: Shino Tanikawa, 917-770-8438,

Leonie Haimson, 917-435-9329,

NYC KidsPAC releases Education report card for Mayor de Blasio

Grades range from As to Fs in many crucial areas

Today, Sunday April 19 at noon, in front of the Department of Education headquarters at Tweed, NYC KidsPAC released a report card for Mayor de Blasio, based on how many of his campaign promises he has fulfilled in the area of education policy after more than a year in office. NYC KidsPAC is a political action committee made up of parent leaders and advocates who work for better schools by issuing candidate surveys, informing the electorate about the results, and supporting candidates who have demonstrated a commitment to improving our city’s public schools.

NYC KidsPAC provided the DOE and the Mayor’s office with this report three weeks ago, and received no response. They will now provide the report to the leaders and members of the State Legislature, to help them decide whether to renew mayoral control.

In 2013 NYCKids PAC endorsed Bill de Blasio for Mayor, citing the hope he would “stop the rampant privatization of our schools and the overemphasis on testing, will listen more closely to the concerns of parents and communities, and will push for new investments in expanding preK, improving classroom conditions and alleviating school overcrowding.” We believe that De Blasio has a better understanding of the issues than the previous administration, and has made several positive changes, most notably the expansion of preKindergarten, but has yet to live up to his promises in other important areas.

bdb report card betterThe grades the Mayor received from NYC KidsPAC are decidedly mixed, ranging from “A” and “A-“ on cell phones, school closings, and arts education, to a “B” on testing, and a “D” on co-locations, space planning, parent engagement and input, special education and student privacy. He received an “F” on class size, transparency and accountability and diversity.

Shino Tanikawa, president of NYC KidsPAC and a Manhattan parent leader explained: “We thank Mayor de Blasio on his reversal of the cell phone ban and halting school closures, two issues that are important to many parents. We are also encouraged by his commitment to arts education. The Mayor expressed some very promising ideas for improving the governance of our school system during his campaign. For example, he proposed fixed terms for the Panel for Educational Policy members, and to ask Community Education Councils to vote on changes in school utilization including co-locations. Then PEP members would be required to refer to those votes in their decision-making. None of these reforms have yet occurred, and we have seen many damaging co-locations approved without reference to the priorities of parents in those communities. Our report gives him a “D” in the category of Co-locations, and an incomplete in Governance. Though we hope that he will deliver on more of his promises soon, we must oppose the renewal of mayoral control without real checks and balances and more decision-making power given to parents and community members.”

Eduardo Hernandez, a member of Community Education Council in District 8 in the Bronx, said: “NYC kids have just endured three strenuous days of ELA testing and will sit through another three days in math next week. We gave the Mayor a “B” in this category, because the DOE has acknowledged that parents have the right to opt out their children out of testing, and engage in another activity. However, the DOE has not publicized this sufficiently, and many parents remain unaware of their rights. The Mayor has neglected to reform the admissions process to gifted programs and to the five selective, specialized high schools under his control that still rely solely on test scores. Though when he ran for office, he pledged to make admissions to these programs and schools based on more holistic factors, they are still based solely on high-stakes exams with racially disparate outcomes.”

“Overcrowded classrooms and rising enrollments are pervasive problems that have plagued our children’s schools for far too long. We gave him an “Incomplete” because so far the de Blasio Administration has failed to act follow up on his promises to alleviate overcrowding by improving the school capital plan, which is months overdue. The current version of the plan doesn’t meet one third of the actual need, given existing overcrowding and enrollment projections, and without improvement, NYC kids are likely result to be subjected to even more crammed conditions in the future,” said Andy Lachman, head of Parent Leaders of Upper East Side Schools (PLUS).

As Gloria Corsino, president of the Citywide Council for District 75, pointed out, “Bill de Blasio gets an “F” when it comes to transparency and accountability. Our education budget is no clearer than under Bloomberg; huge consulting contracts are still approved by the PEP with little or no explanation, including a $1 billion contract that was awarded to a company that had engaged in a kickback scheme. Luckily, City Hall reversed that decision at the last minute, but this is a contract that should never have been proposed in the first place. Freedom of Information requests are responded to no more quickly, and the DOE still refuses to count all the kids in trailers, including hundreds of students with disabilities, and thousands of high school students. The recommendations of the Blue Book working group for improving the accuracy of DOE’s figures on overcrowding have still not been released to the public.”

Karen Sprowal, a parent leader in Upper Manhattan, gave some of the reasons why the Mayor received a “D” for Parent engagement: “It is very disappointing that parents have so little input under this administration. The Chancellor now claims in court that School Leadership Teams, composed of half parents, have only advisory powers, which is contrary to state law. The DOE revamped their parent survey without any input from parents, and took out what we considered the most important question, as to which improvement strategy we would most like to see in our schools, a question that has been asked by DOE since 2007. Too often at Town Hall meetings, the Chancellor responds to parental concerns with a dismissive attitude. Sadly, we have also heard from many CEC members that they still feel their views are not consulted before important decisions are made.”

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, said, “The Mayor gets an “F” on class size, because he has fulfilled none of his promises on this critical issue, the top priority of parents according to the DOE’s own surveys. Despite his commitment to reduce class size significantly, and if necessary, raise funds to do so, class sizes remain at a fifteen year high in the early grades, and the administration has taken no action in this area or indicated that they intend to follow through in any way. In fact, the Chancellor has repeatedly ignored the concerns expressed by educators and parents, and has stated that class size is not a problem that needs to be solved, despite the decision of the state’s highest court that NYC children are denied their constitutional rights because their classes are too large. “

“NYC KidsPAC gives the Mayor an “F” for diversity, as the well-documented segregation in NYC schools has not been addressed despite his campaign promises. The administration has failed to respond to communities asking for district-wide solutions that have been shown to increase equity of access in numerous school systems across the country. Mayor de Blasio has failed to live up to his obligation to address this civil rights issue by amending the admissions policies that stratify our schools,” concluded Lisa Donlan, President of Community Education Council in District One on the Lower East Side.

The Mayor’s report card, along with an analysis of the Mayor’s performance on this and other issues, can be downloaded here and viewed below.  It is also posted at


Friday, April 17, 2015

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Historic opt out levels, media today & join us Sunday to give a report card to the Mayor!

Today (Thursday, April 16, 2015) I'll be on the national public radio show, To The Point at 2PM EST & Inside City Hall on NY1 at 7 & 10 PM EST talking about testing and opting out. Please listen and watch!
This week, the opt-out movement reached historic levels across the state. The unofficial count shows more than 150,000 kids have opted out of the NY state Common Core ELA exam with only 53% of districts reporting, according to a spreadsheet posted by United to Counter the Core. The best reporting on this has been done by Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News,  who writes, " The entire structure of high-stakes testing in New York crumbled Tuesday, as tens of thousands of fed-up public school parents rebelled against Albany's fixation with standardized tests..."
Many teachers, students and parents have also told us that the ELA exams this week are too long, full of outmoded vocabulary and ambiguous questions, with convoluted reading passages at a difficulty level many grades higher than the students being tested. You can read their comments or post yours on the blog here.
The state math exam happens next week; we encourage even more parents to opt out. Sample opt out letters are on the NYSAPE website. Despite wild speculation, there is no legal basis in either federal or state law for schools or districts to be punished with budget cuts if large numbers of students refuse the test. The best discussion of this is by the NYS Superintendents. In the US Senate, an amendment just passed unanimously in committee, barring the feds from penalizing any state or district for allowing parents to opt out.
On Sunday at noon, in front of Tweed, 52 Chambers St., parent leaders, NYC Kids PAC and Class Size Matters will be releasing a report card to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, grading him on whether he has fulfilled his campaign promises on education after more than a year in office. Please join us and bring your kids! You can respond to this message or email for more information.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How did the ELA exams go today? Please let us know!

How were the NYS ELA exams today at your school?  Please use this blog as a discussion board.  We first found out about the infamous Pineapple passage on the 8th grade ELA exam in 2012 from a comment on this blog. 

I have heard second hand from my NYSAPE allies about opt out figures upstate and in Long Island at 70-80% at many schools, and at least one school in NYC.  I also heard secondhand that the 6th grade ELA exam had at least one reading passage at a 14.8 level on the Flesh Kincaid index -- which according to Wikipedia, indicates it is "best understood by university graduates." 

Feel free to post below opt out figures at your schools, or if you're a teacher, student, or principal, anything you found strange, incomprehensible, erroneous or not-so-unusual about the test today.  Thanks!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

NYSED official agrees: state ELA exams given to English Language learners provide no useful information to their teachers or parents

Tomorrow at 11: 30 AM, Sunday April 11, I will be appearing on Tiempo, on ABC, hosted by Joe Torres, talking about why all kids but especially English Language Learners should opt out of next week’s ELA state exams.  The program taped last week.  English Language Learners make up 14.4% of the total NYC public school population.

I appeared with Angelica Infante-Green, NY State Associate Commissioner of the Office of Bilingual Education.  To my surprise, Ms. Infante-Green immediately agreed that the state ELA exam is useless in terms of the information they provide about ELL students to teachers, parents or schools.  She also said that because the test was so difficult, it could not show "growth" and thus was an invalid measure to evaluate teachers with ELL students. Yet she strongly opposed opting out of the test, and continued to argue that it could hurt the school’s funding if too many students opted out – a point that has been refuted by other NYS Education officials.

Ms. Infante-Green revealed that NYSED had sent in a waiver request to the US Department of Education, asking if they could exempt English Language Learners from the test for at least two years after they enter this country, instead of only one year, which is the mandate now. She said that they really wanted to exempt such students from the ELA exam for at least three years, but didn't think they could possibly get such a waiver.

Below is some of the research I did in advance by asking teachers and professors, expert in this area.  This is important information to share, especially as I didn’t have the time to make all these points

Please also read Katie Lapham’s terrific list of reasons to opt out, and the oped in the Daily News today by Arthur Goldstein, a high school ESL teacher.

Katie Lapham: first grade dual language teacher, previously 5th grade ESL teacher:

Children take the grades 3-8 ELA test after just one year in the system (even though it takes a lot longer than that to become fluent in academic English). Looking at test score data for ELLs highlights how unreliable and misleading the scores are. Only three percent of ELLs "passed" the 2014 ELA. It's ridiculous to make the claim that 97% of ELLs are "failing" in ELA. 

The scores are useless to me and do not reflect the growth ELLs make in the classroom.

The tests are abusive: ELLs get extended time (time and a half) on the tests; instead of 90 minutes per day for six days (3 days for ELA, 3 days for math), 5th grade ELLs, for example, are entitled to 135 minutes each testing day. That’s a total of 13.5 hours! 

Our ELLs are subjected to even more tests afterwards. Following the NYS ELA and math tests, ELLs are mandated to take the 4-part NYSESLAT which assesses their proficiency in the reading, writing, listening and speaking of English. The reading and writing sub-tests resemble the NYS ELA test.   This means hours and hours more of testing.

Laura Kaplan, Adjunct Professor of bilingual education at Hunter College:

All research in the field suggests that it takes English language learners 5-7 years to develop Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) in English, the kind of academic knowledge that is tested on standardized tests (Cummins, 1979, 1981, 1984). 

This is quite a different kind of knowledge than conversational English (Basic Interpersonal Communication - BICS) which can be picked up in 1-3 years.  Just because a student is conversationally proficient in English, this proficiency should not be confused with academic mastery that a native English speaker might be expected to have at the same age.

The testing is totally antithetical to all research on English language learning. It is inhumane and cruel and shows us absolutely nothing.  Testing negatively impacts instructional time which could be productively spent learning English, not test-prep, and fosters resentment, decreased motivation, and the highest dropout rates of any other population (ELLs). Shame on the SED for propagating tests which have no educational value.

Watch my appearance on Tiempo with Joe Torres here- April 12th, 2015 show