Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The city's attempt to bury the news of its rejection of the Blue Book Working Group's recommendations on class size

Yesterday, in the middle of summer, the DOE finally released the recommendations of its own Blue Book working group, recommendations which had been finalized last December, according to several reliable sources.  (Chalkbeat wrongly reports the date as March.)  See also Schoolbook, WNYC radio and DNAinfo, for more information on the recommendations -- and what the city refused to accept.

The DOE not only delayed the release of these recommendations for over six months; they refrained from putting out a press release or posting them anywhere on their website, presumably because officials wanted to tamp down as much as possible on the news that the city had rejected the most critical proposal: that the space utilization formula should be aligned with smaller classes.

More specifically, the city signaled that it would not align the class sizes in the Blue Book with the goals in the DOE's original, state-mandated Contract for Excellence plan -- of 23 students per class in grades 4-8 and 25 in high school.  As Lisa Donlan was quoted in Schoolbook,
Certainly for me and for many of us, the class size issue was the biggest issue that we felt would have the greatest impact on bringing us to painting an accurate picture of reality and making sure that all kids got access to an adequate education — hands down," said Lisa Donlan, president of the Community Education Council for District 1 and a member of the working group.
Because the class size standards in the Blue Book (currently 28 students in grades 4-8 and 30 in high school) are larger than current averages, the failure to align the formula with smaller classes will likely stand in the way of efforts to reduce class size, and  contribute to even more overcrowding in the years ahead.

One of the members of the Working Group, Isaac Carmignani, explained the six month delay to  Chalkbeat this way: that the city didn't want the Group's recommendations or (presumably) their rejection to complicate their negotiations over the budget or mayoral control.

If so, this is yet more evidence that they are aware of the political volatility of this issue -- the number one priority of parents according to their own surveys --as well as their unaccountable refusal to take any real action to reduce class size, or even make an honest attempt to calculate which schools could and could not accommodate smaller classes.

While several news accounts correctly reported that this refusal appears to violate numerous promises made by Bill de Blasio during his campaign to reduce class size, and adhere to the original C4E plan approved by the state in 2007, they omitted the fact that he made even more specific pledges to align the Blue Book formula to smaller classes, according to his response to a KidsPAC survey, filled out by his campaign manager, Emma Wolfe, in July 2013:

Also glossed over in some of the news stories is how the city is shirking its constitutional and legal obligations to reduce class size.  In the CFE decision, as pointed out in our press release by Wendy Lecker, an attorney at the Education Law Center, the state's highest court said that NYC public school students were denied their constitutional right to an adequate education, in large part because of their excessive class sizes -- a denial in which this administration is now actively complicit.

The Working Group's letter, co-signed by Lorraine Grillo, President of the School Construction Authority and Shino Tanikawa, the President of CEC D2,  complete with its the recommendation on class size is posted on Chalkbeat.  Yet nowhere can I find online the email sent to reporters, containing the list of the specific proposals the DOE is going to accept, and those they are still considering. Few of those they are planning to adopt relate to actual changes to the Blue Book utilization formula.   So, for the record,  here they are: 
The DOE plans to adopt the following recommended changes to the Blue Book:
·         Publish capacity information for Public Assembly spaces (gymnasiums, cafeteria, etc.) in the PASS [the Principal's Annual Space Survey]
·         Include the total enrollment population of English Language Learners (ELL) in PASS
·         Include the total enrollment population of students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in PASS
·         Designate private counseling space for elementary and middle schools that currently do not account for private counseling space
·         Establish teacher workrooms at the middle school level to ensure teachers have an appropriate place for a prep period and encourage principals to allow available space to be used as teacher workrooms, subject to repurposing at the principal’s discretion
·         Include information on total enrollment, utilization, and capacity of school buildings within a particular grade level in a geographic district
·         Increase the minimum number of cluster rooms to two for elementary level schools with an enrollment at or below 250 students and conduct further analysis to determine a minimum for schools larger than 250 students

The DOE further agrees that the BBWG should continue to meet in order to monitor progress and make further recommendations as needed. The next Blue Book will be published later this summer or early fall.

The following recommendations require further study and analysis, which the DOE commits to undertake over the next year:
·         Change the formula for Special Education and English Language Learner space allocation based on the population of the targeted students
·         Require a minimum and maximum number of administrative spaces within a school.
·         Change the formula for specialty room allocations for grades 6-12 so there is a minimum of three for all schools
·         Transitioning the specialty room allocations for secondary level schools, grades 6-12 and 9-12, to a formula based model with minimum and maximum spaces allowed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

City’s rejection of class size recommendations of the DOE working group betrays top priority of parents and de Blasio campaign promises

Last week, the DOE released the results of the parent survey, with the key question eliminated that showed class size reduction the top priority of parents eight years in a row.  Adding insult to injury, today the DOE revealed that they were rejecting the recommendations of the Blue Book Working group, appointed by the Chancellor,  to incorporate smaller classes into the school utilization formula.  Here is our press release, with comments from attorney Wendy Lecker of the Education Law Center..

For immediate release: July 28, 2015
Contact:  Leonie Haimson,; 917-435-9329
Wendy Lecker, , 203 - 536-7567

City’s rejection of class size recommendations of the DOE working group betrays top priority of parents and de Blasio campaign promises

Said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, “It is deeply distressing that today, the Department of Education revealed it would reject the recommendations of the Blue Book Working Group, including parents, advocates and DOE officials appointed by the Chancellor, to improve the school overcrowding estimates by incorporating smaller classes in the school utilization formula.”

Class size reduction has been the top priority of parents every year since 2007, according to the DOE’s own surveys, and Bill de Blasio promised during his campaign to reform the Blue Book “so it incorporates the need for smaller classes.”  (See his completed NYC KidsPac candidate survey at )

Added Haimson, “De Blasio also promised that if elected, he would reduce class size to the levels set out in the city’s original Contracts for Excellence plan.  This plan involved average class sizes no larger than 20 students per class in grades K-3, 23 students in grades 4-8, and 25 students in high school.  The city’s rejection of the recommendations of the DOE’s own working group to incorporate these class size goals in the Blue Book is thus a betrayal of that commitment, as well as a refusal to be responsive to the top priority of parents and what research shows works to help kids learn. “

As Wendy Lecker, Senior Attorney for the Education Law Center pointed out, “In Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State (CFE), New York's highest court found that large class sizes in New York City schools played a major role in depriving schoolchildren of their constitutional right to a sound basic education.  Both the Contract for Excellence (C4E) law, passed in response to CFE, and the regulations promulgated under that law, provide specific mandates for reduction of class size in New York City. “ 

“The Blue Book Working Group, recognizing these mandates, recommended the smaller class size standards set forth in New York City's C4E 5 Year Class Size Reduction Plan, as approved by the State in 2007.  Yet, despite these mandates, and despite the fact that class sizes have been steadily rising, the City is choosing not to adopt the class size recommendations of the Blue Book Working Group. Instead, the existing blue book standards will allow for and encourage class sizes to increase even more, in violation of the CFE decision and the requirements of the Contract for Excellence law.”


Thursday, July 23, 2015

IBO analysis fails to mention important differentials in charter funding

A new IBO report claims the funding advantage per student of  co-located charters compared to NYC public schools disappeared last year. Yet this conclusion ignores many facts.

As the report points out,  the state has added funds for charters next year -- $250 more per student --  and additional increases of $100 in 2015-2016 and $150 in 2016-2017 were approved.

Moreover,  starting last year the city had to pay all new and expanding charters a subsidy for rent of $2,775 per student for private space if they don't give them space in the public schools. The amount will increase next year to $2,805 .

Meanwhile, the city paid  $11,000 per student to rent Success Academy three private facilities last  year alone.
"The stunning sum for this coming school year will nearly double the amount the city pays for a typical charter school student's entire annual education, set by state law at $13,527, to above $24,000. The city has set aside $5.4 million a year for the next four years to pay the rent for the three schools."
Also, NYC charters are NOT subject to fair student funding,  unlike DOE public schools.  Since on average charters enroll fewer English Language Learners and students with disabilities , that means they are getting more proportionally per student than most NYC public schools based on student need.

Finally, the IBO still did not include in their analysis the cost of busing, even though they have admitted in the past  that charter students are twice as likely to receive free busing from the city.  About 20% of charter school students get free busing, compared to  9% of public school kids. 

Of course these inequities do not touch on the even larger disparities in private funding.  Studies show that many NYC charters receive substantially more in privately raised funds, up to $4000 per pupil or more.

Success Academy chain is estimated to have a surplus of at least $30 million, and at their annual spring fundraiser raised $9.3 million in one night.   In  short, the inequities in funding are likely to grow larger in future years if current trends continue.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How the question left out of the DOE parent survey was the most interesting of all

More on the results of the parent survey and the question left out in Schoolbook and the NY Daily News. 

When the results of the DOE's Learning Environment Survey were released yesterday,  the administration took credit for high rates of parent satisfaction, though reporters pointed out the satisfaction rates were the same for the last three years and this year, only about half of all parents bothered to respond to the survey.
Yet what was most striking was the question that was left out.  This question had been asked of parents since the survey was first given:  Which of the following improvements would you MOST like your school to make?  Every year since 2007,  which was the first year the survey was given, smaller classes have been the top priority of parents by far, among ten choices.
The question was included in the survey because of the insistence of parent members of the focus groups organized by Jim Liebman, then head of the Accountability office, to give feedback on the survey's design back in 2006.    This year, the DOE revised the survey without holding any focus groups at all.

If you look at the 2014 data, smaller classes were even more clearly a top priority of NYC parents;  as it was either their #1 or #2 priority in all but two out of 32 districts:

In 2007, parents actually wanted separate questions on each of these issues, especially as regards class size and testing, but instead DOE decided to group them together in this way.  In any event, the results have been an important source of data that could have been used if the Chancellor or the Mayor actually wanted to be responsive to parent concerns.   Unfortunately, since 2007 class sizes have increased instead.

In 2007, Bloomberg tried to obscure the responses to this question during his press conference by grouping together many other options in a new category, called "more or better programs."  I and others, including Patrick Sullivan, called him out on this naked attempt to obscure that class size reduction had been first.  Here is the NY Times article from the time
Mr. Bloomberg lumped together several categories to note that for 45 percent of parents, “more or better programs,” not class size, was the top priority, despite a fierce lobbying campaign for smaller classes by some parents groups and the teachers’ union.
“When somebody stands up and says, ‘I speak for all parents and we want smaller class sizes,’ that’s just not true,” Mr. Bloomberg said.
Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, an advocacy group at which the mayor was clearly taking aim, said the survey pointed to the opposite conclusion. “It’s a transparent attempt to minimize the importance of an issue that is staring everybody in the face as the top priority of parents.”
In 2012, the DOE stopped including the responses to this question in their citywide summaries, though the data was still easy to find in their reports.  Now for the DOE to stop asking this question at all, after eight years, especially for an administration that claims to care about parent input,,  is hugely disappointing.  Here are quotes from yesterday's DOE press release:
Schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa: "... I look forward to working with school communities as they use these results to identify areas of improvement, and develop the right supports and solutions to address them. The more we listen to the feedback of students, parents, and teachers, the better our schools are going to be."
But how can they listen to parent feedback if they refuse to ask them what changes need to be made?  And this quote:

“The retooled survey focuses on dimensions of the school community that past research has found to be critical for improving student outcomes. The goal of this work is to equip schools with actionable information they can use to support teachers and serve students more effectively….” said James Kemple, Executive Director, Research Alliance for New York City Schools at New York University.
I don’t know what is any more “actionable information” or research-based than class size reduction, one of the few reforms proven to help kids succeed, unless the administration is determined not to take action to lower class size, no matter what parents want or the evidence shows .   In fact, class size reduction is one of only a handful of reforms proven to work through rigorous evidence, according to the Institute of Education Sciences.

Of course, the DOE can keep on asking silly questions instead like the following ones, included in this year's parent survey, which are neither “actionable” nor ones that most parents would probably be able to answer:

Sadly, the omission  of the critical question of what changes parents would like to see in their children's schools is yet another sign that though the administration's rhetoric focuses on the importance of parents having "trust" in school leadership, it is difficult to trust their leadership  when they don't  even ask the right questions.