Friday, May 29, 2015

Fact Sheet on School Overcrowding and the Capital Plan

This fact sheet is also available as a downloadable pdf here.
Fact Sheet on School Overcrowding and the Capital Plan

The Problem:

·         According to an audit from the NYC Comptroller, at least one third of public schools are overcrowded, without the city having any clear plan to deal with the problem.  A third of the city’s elementary schools are at least 138% of capacity.  Nearly half a million students already attend schools that are severely overcrowded and the situation is getting worse.

·         The current school construction capital plan with about 38,000 seats will meet less than half the need, given DOE’s own data and their enrollment projections.   NYC is the fastest growing large city in the country, according to the recent Census, and yet the city has no realistic proposal to address the growing student population.

·         There is widespread consensus that the DOE’s formula for estimating school utilization levels underestimates the actual level of overcrowding and the space needed to provide a quality education. A working group appointed by the Chancellor made suggestions in December to improve the accuracy of this formula, but their recommendations still have not been released.

·         The well-documented result is that hundreds of schools have lost their cluster rooms; thousands of students are assigned to lunch as early as 10 a.m., and/or have no access to the gym. Many special needs students are forced to receive their services in hallways and/or closets rather than in dedicated spaces, and class sizes in the early grades have reached a 15-year high. 

·         The Mayor’s ambitious plan to build an additional 160,000 market-rate housing units, on top of 200,000 affordable units over the next 10 years will create the need for even more school seats.

Class Size Matters Recommendations:

·         The DOE should double the number of new seats in the capital plan, which would more nearly achieve the goal of alleviating current overcrowding and accommodating projected enrollment growth. According to the Independent Budget office, this would cost $125 million per year, given that the state reimburses for half the cost. 

·         The DOE planned to pay $127 million per year at a total cost of more than $1.1B for nine years for a computer consulting company.  That contract was later cancelled by the city after the media raised concerns about the fact that the company had been involved in a kickback scheme. Originally the contract was nearly twice that high, at a potential cost of more than $2 billion.  For less than what the DOE was prepared to pay for this contract on an annual basis,   the number of seats in the capital plan could be doubled and we could begin to meet the real needs of NYC public school students. 

·         The DOE should also form an independent commission to improve the planning process and efficiency in siting new schools, which now lags far behind private and public development efforts.

Prepared by Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters, May 2015.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

DOE's lack of commitment to reducing class size and transparency on full display today at City Hall

Video of yesterday's Council budget hearing as well as briefing papers are posted here.

The lack of commitment to reducing class size that plagued the DOE through the Bloomberg years and that continues under the new administration was in full display during the City Council budget hearings today at City Hall.  So was a lack of transparency, which if anything has worsened under our new Mayor.

First class size: In response to the questions from the Chair of the Finance Committee Julissa Ferreras about class size in Renewal schools, Chancellor Farina responded that while class size is about 22-23 in the early grades, instead of lowering class size she will install reading specialists.  Middle school class sizes are around 29, but she is introducing guidance counselors in these schools instead, which she considers more important, and in high school, they look at credit accumulation; (like at Dewey HS?) 

Though we found that 60% of Renewal schools had at least some classes that were 30 or more, the Chancellor said that “We do not have large class sizes in Renewal schools generally, because unfortunately (?) enrollment in these schools has not been as high as it should be.” 

Later she went on to say that some Renewal schools are going to purposely INCREASE class size, so that they could also do small group instruction (which was eliminated from schools with the new UFT contract.)  She said the same change would happen in many of the PROSE schools, now able to violate the class size limits in the union contract, by giving lecture classes or team teaching, supposedly so that they can also work with struggling students in smaller groups at other times.  One school apparently combines physics and chemistry – in one room at one time.   Others combine four classes into one.  How any of this will help kids learn I have no idea, but this appears to be Farina’s favorite innovation.  If it is innovation, it appears to be going in the wrong direction.  

Transparency: CM Ferreras also asked the Chancellor why the capital plan was released over two months late this year.  (It is usually released at the beginning of February but this year was not released until May.)  The Chancellor said they went over it with “a fine tooth comb” and it was “revised and revised.”  

In fact, almost nothing in the plan changed except for adding thousands of new preK seats, as Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose admitted in her testimony later in the day.  The DOE did not change the number of K12 seats, nor did they site any of the 4,900 seats (supposedly for class size reduction)  that were added in January 2014.

Ferreras said the lateness of the plan was unacceptable, that legally they were required to submit it by March 1, and the DOE had hampered the Council’s opportunity to look through the plan carefully.

Chair of the Education Committee Danny Dromm pointed out that the total of $13.5 billion spent  has not changed the November plan, which was a shame,  since the Mayor has announced his intention to add 200K new units of housing, and the plan was already by DOE admission, 16,000 seats short.  What are the plans going forward to address the need, considering this shortage? 

Farina was less than direct in her response.  Where there are possible areas for sale, or lease, they will take advantage of it, she said; where they might be less enrollment, we could shift around spending.  Ray Orlando, DOE budget director added, we have the Education Construction Fund for development potential.  We know must keep up with neighborhood growth.  Farina said, some developers are coming to us with plans where schools will be put into their developments. (like where?)

Dromm asked why there was a decrease in the number of new seats since the city’s last ten year capital plan.  Orlando: you should ask Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose.  The ten year capital plan is updated every April. There are more opportunities to improve.  

Dromm: I’m concerned about $2B decrease in the new ten year plan, since the preliminary ten year plan.  [There's a $5 billion cut since the last ten year plan in 2008-2017] Some people say we need 25,000 to 50,000 more seats than 16,000 currently acknowledged. (Yes, that’s what our analysis in Space Crunch showed clearly, based on DOE data.)

When Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose appeared in the afternoon to testify about the capital plan, she was no more forthright in her responses.  She had no answer for why the plan was months late, only that, fortunately, after being aligned with the city's ten year capital plan, it had changed very little. (!!) 

She had no answer for why the DOE still has not sited any of the 4,900 seats for class size reduction,  first proposed a year and a half ago in January 2014, only they were still going over the "criteria" for where to put them -- even as they located 6800 new seats for preK in the last few months.

She had no answer for when the DOE would close the gap despite their admitted need for 16,000 more seats.  (The real need is much larger.)

She continually described the crisis of school overcrowding that exists in nearly all parts of the city, with nearly half of all students attending schools at 100% utilization or more, as "pocket overcrowding". 

She had no answer for why the recommendations of the Blue Book working group appointed last year to improve the DOE’s utilization formula for school overcrowding had not yet been released. (Reportedly, their recommendations were made last December.)   

Here is a sample of her exchange with Dromm on this issue: 

Dromm: The recommendations of Blue Book task force were ready months ago. When will they be released?  
Rose: We’re looking forward to releasing them soon as soon as we can. 
Dromm: What is the cause for delay?
Rose: We are continuing to work this through our agency, what this mean for us. 
Ferreras: I’m really sorry, but you’re not giving us a date.  We need to understand and get an answer.  Either tell us when they will be released or explain the delay.
Rose: We are continuing to work on this and look forward to sharing them with you. 

But the lack of transparency around this issue didn’t compare with the complete misinformation offered by Rose and SCA President Lorraine Grillo about the state’s contribution to the funding of the plan.  

Dromm pointed out that schools are a far smaller percentage of the new ten year city capital plan compared to the previous 2008-2017 ten year plan – only 28% compared to 34%, under Bloomberg. (For more in this, see my testimony.)  This is regrettable given that the Mayor has said education is a priority, Dromm added.  He then asked where the funding for the plan comes from. 

Grillo responded that previously, the state had paid for 50% of the funds for school construction but that now, the city has taken over entire funding since state building aid is "expiring."

Rose agreed, claiming that the city's portion of  ten year capital plan for schools has more than "now
more than doubled." Because of this, the city will be covering the entire cost, spending $20.3 billion for school construction and repair compared to $9.8 billion before.

But none of that is true.  As the Independent Budget Office reported today, the state formula for building aid for schools has not changed one iota.  The state is still reimbursing the city for 50% of the cost.  The only change is that the city is now floating the bonds rather than the state, with minimal if any change in cost or risk to the city.

Why is the administration hiding this fact?  The Office of Management and Budget has also inexplicably taken out all information concerning the state contribution to school construction and repair out of their ten year capital plan report, as opposed to every ten year plan produced during the Bloomberg years.  See the new 10 year capital plan put out by OMB: 
Education spending in Ten Year Capital strategy (FY 2016-2025)

 Compare that to the last ten year plan for 2008-2017 – put out during the Bloomberg administration:
Education spending in Ten Year Capital strategy (FY 2008-2017)

Why is the DOE now hiding the billions they receive from the state? Is it their excuse for the inexcusable spending cuts to education they are planning to make? 

Whatever the explanation, the misinformation provided today at City Hall was truly regrettable, and yet more evidence that the officials who are supposed to be working for parents, concerned citizens, and taxpayers, are either astonishingly ignorant or refusing to tell us the truth.

Our oped today on why Mayoral Control needs to be reformed

Please read our oped in Gotham Gazette, co-authored by Shino Tanikawa of CEC 2 and NYC Kids PAC, why mayoral control needs to be reformed to incorporate checks and balances and more parent input.  It begins this way:

On May 12, a Quinnipiac poll was released showing that two to one, New York City voters believe that the mayor should share control over our public schools with other elected officials. On Tuesday, Public Advocate Letitia James issued a report, calling for improvements to ensure sufficient checks and balances and more parent input in school governance. We agree.

We make the case that when it comes to transparency, accountability, parental input, and checks and balances, the existing governance system is highly flawed, and we provide many examples. 

As one Community Education Council said, “CECs still lack a seat at the table in planning what happens in their respective districts. The new engagement is additional phone calls…We're still toothless lions when it comes down to any real power.” Another concluded, “As it stands, CECs are largely ignored by the DOE.  When we write resolutions they go unanswered. When we give input at hearings our input is ignored.”

The oped concludes: Absolute power does not work at the federal, state, or local level. It leads to poor policies and encourages corruption. It certainly does not work when it comes to our public schools.  

Please read our oped and also check out the excellent report by Public Advocate Tish James which makes many similar points. Thanks!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Robert Reich explains how to reinvent public education & boost the economy at the same time

Watch the video.  Best thing MoveOn or any group has put our in years on how to strengthen, rather than defund and dismantle our public schools. 
 Reinvent Education
We can't win the fight to #SaveTheEconomy without tackling #education. Watch Robert Reich make the case for our kids, our teachers, and our schools -- and boost the economy at the same time.  Posted by on Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The field tests are coming! The field tests are coming! Opt out says testing expert Fred Smith

Dear parents,

I just wanted to call your attention to the stand-alone field tests that are coming in June.  This is the fourth year in a row that SED and Pearson have followed this questionable approach.  And each year they do it without informing parents about the field tests.

The list of schools is hereChange the Stakes also has information about the 1,013 schools and grades that have been targeted to give the ELA and math field tests.  The window for administering the tests is from June 1 through June 10.   Some schools have been tapped to give the tests on two grade levels. I have projected that 135,000 children are targeted to be guinea pigs in this sample of schools. A sample opt out letter is here.

Please remember that taking the tests is not mandated.  There is absolutely no requirement for kids to take them--and they have proven to be a flawed way to develop the Core-aligned exams that children have had to endure since 2012.  The CtS web site also provides information about the nature of the field tests and why children should not take them.

The key to putting an end to this practice is to insist that parents be made aware of the tests and asked to fill out a consent form if they want their children to participate.  But, to date, both Albany (SED) and Chancellor Farina have not notified parents about this field testing scheme and have not sought their permission.  Continuation of the stand-alone field tests has depended on keeping parents in the dark.

We must spread the word to all parents, especially those whose children are in a targeted school, that the tests are coming, and parents have the right to reject them.  It is a safe and responsible step to take along the path to greater parental involvement and empowerment.

Best, Fred Smith

On the risible statement DOE makes about Pearson & their proposed $8.6M no-bid contract to be voted on tomorrow night

1.       First of all, the DOE page listing items to be voted upon tomorrow for public review and/or comment does not list contracts though it should.
2.       Secondly, I am writing about the no-bid  $8.6M, 7 year contract for Pearson’s software line.
All the DOE says on pp. 82-83 to justify this no-bid contract is that “Pearson Education is the sole provider of this software, so a Request for Bids was not practical.”  Huh?  Of course Pearson is the sole provider of Pearson software, but this is tautological.  Where is the analysis showing a detailed comparison of the cost/benefits of other similar software?  Where is there any evaluation of the quality of this software at all?
The subsequent statement that “DOE has found Pearson’s performance to be satisfactory on prior work” is risible, considering the well-documented low quality of Pearson exams, the repeated errors they have made in scoring both here in NYC and elsewhere, and the corruption they have engaged in, as determined by the NYS Attorney General.
I cannot see the rationale for this contract stated anywhere that would counter NY’s repeatedly deplorable experience with Pearson products and service.
Finally, I urge you to check out Prof. Alan Singer’s recent column on Pearson at and vote no.

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters