Wednesday, January 25, 2017

NYC Council hearings on teacher retention & a disappointing budget from the Mayor

 Yesterday afternoon the City Council Education Committee held hearings on teacher recruitment and retention at City Hall; at the same time Mayor de Blasio was presenting his budget proposal for Fiscal 2018.  Both held special relevance to the issues of class size and school overcrowding that are so critical to the quality of education in this city.

At the hearings, Amy Way of  DOE's Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality and Anna Commitante, Senior Executive Director of the Office of Curriculum, faithfully repeated the Chancellor's mantra that the best strategy to support teachers and prevent them from quitting is to provide them with "80 minutes of rigorous weekly professional development" and "high-quality curricula".

Yet four different Council Members pressed them on the need for class size reduction to stem the tide of teachers leaving our schools, and asked them what if anything they were doing anything to lower c class size:  Education Committee Chair Danny Dromm, as well as Council Members Mark Treyger, Inez Barron and Margaret Chin.  Not coincidentally, Dromm and Treyger were teachers in NYC public schools before being elected to the Council, CM Barron was formerly a NYC teacher and a principal, and CM Chin is married to a public school teacher and once taught ESL classes herself.

CM Barron confronted them about the fact that most of the Renewal schools still have class sizes of 30 and that they should be addressing that condition if they want to give teachers a real chance to succeed and keep them from fleeing these schools.  All these other efforts will be useless until and unless they address this critical factor.   The DOE did not respond. 

Dromm pointed out that many NYC teachers leave to teach in the suburbs because class size is much lower there; he himself had had classes as large as 38 students in middle school.  Treyger said that it was very difficult to provide enough support to students, especially English Language Learners who have recently come to this country,  with class sizes this large as. Chin asked if the DOE had any class size goals they were aiming for; Commitante just repeated the average class sizes, and cited no intention of bringing them any lower.

CM Mark Levine questioned what strategies were being using to stem high rates of teacher attrition especially at struggling schools, where turnover rates are high, and DOE responded with the usual nostrum that they are building "professional learning communities" in these schools.  CM Treyger pointed out that the label of "Renewal" schools hardly helps attract teachers or students; who would go to a hospital called a Renewal hospital? he asked.

Dromm also criticized the Fair Student Funding system, which incentivizes principals not to hire experienced teachers or to try to offload them, as they cost as much as two new teachers.  He argued   that the DOE should cover the cost of staffing schools rather than make principals pay for teacher salaries out of the school's limited budget,  as happened in the pre-Bloomberg years.  He said that the Council was thinking of passing a resolution on this issue.  The DOE officials just shrugged their shoulders and said they didn't think this was a problem.  Several Council Members brought up the need to increase the diversity of the NYC teaching force, which the DOE claimed they were working hard to fix.

After a bit more of this, Karen Alford of the the UFT testified . She gave short shrift to class size and just mentioned in passing that it would be good if first or second year teachers had a chance to have smaller classes. Shael Suransky -- remember our former Deputy Chancellor? - now head of Bank St. College talked at length about the importance of teacher residency programs. This, he said, is especially important to train teachers of ELLs,  22% of whom are diagnosed with disabilities, showing something is very wrong in our schools.  A professor from Teachers College said that requiring applicants submit GRE scores to graduate-level teacher education programs as now mandated by the New York State Education Transformation Act of 2015 was pointless and exclusionary, and would further cut down on the diversity needed for the teaching force.

I testified as well.  My testimony, on the proven positive impact of small classes on teacher retention,  is here.

At the same time, I was eager to hear what the Mayor was announcing about next year's budget plan. The day before, NY1 had announced that he would propose nearly doubling the seats in the school capital plan:

"There is nothing more important to our families than their children and we have a lot of overcrowded schools," the mayor said Monday night on the Road to City Hall. "This is an area where we have to make an impact."

On Tuesday, the mayor will propose his new budget for the year ahead. In it, he will almost double the number of new school seats, meaning he will add about 38,000 seats.

This made me quite hopeful; perhaps De Blasio would finally do the right thing and fully fund at least the DOE's estimate for the need for new seats.  The 38,000 was not just a random figure -- but the unfunded seats in the current 2015-2019 five-year capital plan, which includes about 45,000-50,000 seats. (Our estimate of the actual need for seats is much higher.)

Yet it turned out that the Mayor was promising to fund these seats not now, not in the current plan, but in the 2020-2024 plan -- several years from now.   By that point, of course, our schools will likely be even more overcrowded given the current pace of residential development.

As is customary, one capital plan rolls into another, as few of the 45,000 or so in the current plan will  be built by the time the new plan is adopted.  In fact, only about one fifth of these seats have yet even been sited.

Late in the afternoon, I asked Ben Max of Gotham Gazette who was tweeting out highlights from the Mayor's announcement what the story was on the school capital plan:

Ben Max tweeted back a photo of the Mayor's announcement:

Then the DOE's press officer interjected:

Monday, January 23, 2017

On class size, teacher recruitment and retention

Tomorrow there are NYC Council hearings on teacher retention and attrition.  Here is what I will say.  This testimony is also available as a pdf here.

Testimony to the NYC Council Education Committee on the impact of class size reduction on teacher recruitment and retention
January 24, 2017

Dear Chair Dromm and members of the NYC Council Education committee:

Thank you for holding these hearings today.  

Most experts say the challenge of creating an effective, experienced teaching force especially in high-needs urban areas such as New York City derives more from high levels of teacher attrition than to the difficulty of recruitment.  As Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania has written, “school staffing problems are rooted in the way schools are organized and the way the teaching occupation is treated … lasting improvements in the quality and quantity of the teaching workforce will require improvements in the quality of the teaching job."[1]

One of the most important determinants of the quality of the teaching profession is whether teachers feel as though they have a chance to be successful, and this in turn largely depends on their class sizes.   Studies have linked small class sizes with a variety of cognitive and non-cognitive benefits for students and teachers, both short and long-term.  Research shows that class size is an important factor in teachers’ decisions to leave or stay in their jobs.  Richard Ingersoll has noted that 54 percent of teachers who leave their school report that large class sizes contributed to their decision. [2]

According to a 2004 NYC Council survey of public school teachers, nearly a third (30%) of teachers with 1-5 years of experience said it was unlikely that they would be teaching in a NYC school in the next three years.  For those teachers who were considering leaving, the top three changes in their work conditions that they said would most likely to persuade them to stay included higher pay, smaller classes, and better student discipline. [3]

Of course, teacher pay has been increased substantially since 2007; yet at the same time, class sizes have also increased sharply.  As for student discipline, many studies demonstrate that disruptive behavior also diminishes significantly when class sizes are smaller, because students are more engaged, can gain more positive feedback from their teachers and develop a more positive attitude towards their schools.

A review of 11 separate class size studies revealed the positive impact of smaller classes on students' behavior, resulting in decreases in disciplinary problems and increases in pro-social behavior, including positive interactions with teachers and other students.[4]

In a report released by the Educational Priorities Panel about the impact of the first year of the state’s early grade class size program in 2000, both teachers and administrators described a huge improvement in student learning, but also in their behavior. [5]

One principal of a Harlem elementary school spoke about how suspensions at her school had fallen 60 percent from the previous year, which she attributed to smaller classes.  Another principal observed: “Management is easier…There are fewer discipline problems because [student] needs are being met in the classroom.  They’re not acting out as much; there’s been a turnaround in their behavior.  For the first time, we have time to invest in the whole child, and relate to the child on all levels.” 

As a Brooklyn teacher explained, “If you have a child with a disciplinary problem, you can get on top of it faster …you can re-channel children’s attention towards a different avenue and get them to refocus their energies on the work, instead of acting out." As another teacher put it, students “look at each other more as family, and they connect to each other.”

Of course, as disciplinary problems are reduced, the time for learning is increased, which leads to further academic advances -- triggering a positive feedback. Teachers almost uniformly reported spending more time on teaching, and less on classroom management as class sizes are decreased. 

In the EPP report, many NYC principals independently predicted that the improvement in teacher morale resulting from class size reduction would lead to less staff turnover at their schools.  One teacher went as far as to say that she would not remain teaching in the New York City public school system if the program was discontinued: "Now that I've seen the difference a small class makes, I don't want to go back to being a policeman. It would be impossible for me to go back to the old way. If the program disappeared, I'd go elsewhere -- I wouldn't keep teaching in a city public school, I'd teach where classes are smaller. Whatever money I was offered, it's just not worth it."

One of the arguments frequently made by opponents of class size reduction is that it could lead to an influx of unqualified, inexperienced teachers, particularly in schools that were already hard-to-staff. None of the principals mentioned this as a problem. Instead, one interviewed for this report said that it was much easier to fill the new openings she had, even among applicants who had already taken other jobs, because she could promise them smaller classes. Indeed, for the first time, she said, she could recruit more qualified candidates to teach in her school, including many with master’s degrees and greater experience.

Other studies have confirmed a significant relationship between class size, teacher morale and teacher retention.  One study done in California concluded that large classes significantly increased teacher attrition rates.[6]  Another study analyzed data from New York districts outside NYC, and concluded that decreasing class size by three students per class significantly lowered teacher attrition. [7]

In a 2014 UFT survey, 99 percent of NYC teachers said reducing class size would be the most effective reform to improve student outcomes – far outstripping any other policy, including implementing socio-emotional learning, expanding universal preKindergarten, community schools, or college-ready standards.[8]   Thus reducing class size would likely significantly improve the retention of qualified, experienced teachers, since they would no longer leave the profession or depart to teach in suburban or private schools to experience success.  

In the EPP report, one principal described the impact of smaller classes on her staff this way:

With my teachers, I was always concerned about burnout. I was a teacher myself and knew how difficult it was having 25 to 30 students ... In this school the staff turnover used to be tremendous; it was in part because they had so many kids, they were doomed to failure and no one wants to fail. Now, my teachers are happy. They are enjoying the art of teaching again. Sometimes, I felt like we were all on an assembly line. Now we can feel satisfaction, because we have results and can accomplish our goals.

For more studies showing the benefits of class size reduction in improving learning, socio-emotional development, attendance, discipline, school climate, parent engagement and narrowing the achievement gap, see  

[1] Ingersoll, Richard, (2003) Is There Really a Teacher Shortage? Consortium for Policy Research in Education,

[2] See Figure 15 at: Ingersoll, Richard M., (2015) “Why Schools Have Difficulty Staffing Their Classrooms with Qualified Teachers.” Consortium for Policy Research in Education,

[3] NYC Council, (2004) A Staff Report of the NYC Council Investigation Division on Teacher Attrition and Retention.

[4] Finn, Jeremy D., Susan B. Gerber and Jayne Boyd-Zaharias, (2005). “Small Classes in the Early Grades, Academic Achievement, and Graduating from High School,Journal of Educational Psychology.

[5] Haimson, Leonie, (2000) Smaller is Better: First-hand Reports of Early Grade Class Size Reduction in New York City Public Schools, Educational Priorities Panel.
[6]Loeb, Susanna, Linda Darling-Hammond and John Luczak, (2005), How Teaching Conditions Predict Teacher Turnover in California Schools. Peabody Journal of Education 80(3):44-70.

[7] Pas Isenberg, Emily, (2010). “The Effect of Class Size on Teacher Attrition: Evidence from Class Size Reduction Policies in New York State.” U.S. Bureau of the Census Center for Economic Studies. Washington, DC.
[8] Maisie McAdoo and Rhonda Rosenberg, (2014) What works, what doesn’t: Teachers speak their minds, New York Teacher. . Ninety-one percent of respondents said class size reduction was a highly effective reform and another 8 percent rated it somewhat effective, for a total of 99 percent.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Pass a resolution in support of a Commission to reform the dysfunctional system of school planning and siting!

Many parent leaders signed a letter in June 2015, along with the Public Advocate and 22 Council Members, calling for a Commission to reform the broken, dysfunctional process of school planning and siting, to better estimate the need for new school seats and to ensure that sufficient numbers are built efficiently and promptly along with enrollment growth and not years afterward.

We have heard that the City Council is likely to hold hearings soon where the idea of a Commission will be discussed.  We don't have a date yet, but it would be terrific if PTAs and Community Education Councils could vote on resolutions to support the formation of a Commission that would come up with specific and actionable proposals to improve school planning and siting, or else our schools are likely to become even more overcrowded in the years to come. 

Below is a summary of how many seats are funded in each district in the current (Nov.2016) capital plan, compared to DOE's estimate of the need  along with our explanation of why even the DOE's figures significantly underestimate the actual need.

Also below is a sample resolution passed by the CEC D15.  CEC D2 also passed a similar one last week.
If you've already passed a similar resolution or would like some data for your district to plug into a resolution, just email us at thanks!  Leonie

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Lily Eskelson along with 2000 angry parents & teachers urge Zuckerberg not to hire Campbell Brown -- and to curtail the propagation of fake news

More than 2000 concerned parents and teachers signed our petition urging Mark Zuckerberg NOT to hire Campbell Brown to head his new “news team”.  They live throughout the country in 46 states and DC, and  in 10 different countries plus Puerto Rico.  Many commented that they would boycott Facebook unless Zuckerberg reversed his decision.The message they signed onto is below --- as well as the signers' names and outraged comments.

Now,  I just received a copy of an email sent to Zuckerberg from Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the President of the NEA as well -- which is below.

From: Lily Eskelsen <>
Date: Thursday, January 12, 2017 at 1:34 PM
To: Mark Zuckerberg ;
Subject: From the NEA President on how to change everything

To Mark Zuckerberg:

I’m reaching out to you, personally.  I’m sure you’ve seen the on-line petitions of educators denouncing the hiring of Campbell Brown by Facebook as its head of news partnerships.  It’s not hard to understand why.

Here’s the thing.  At the National Education Association we’ve been trying to break through all the empty rhetoric of “failed public schools” and “the only solution is privatization” and “educator unions protect the status quo”… and, well, you get it.

No, we don’t have the billions that helped fund Campbell Brown’s crusade against public schools and organizations like mine, but we do have important answers to what we know will improve schools – if only someone would think to ask a teacher!

My years working with homeless children were my inspiration to run for an NEA office.  My union was the only organization that was going to see a leader in a 6th grade teacher from Utah.  I represent millions of hard-working teachers who leave the classroom at the end of the day and go home to plan the next day’s lessons at the kitchen table; who call Mom about a problem we need to solve together; who pull out of our own pockets at the grocery store to buy what we need for our students’ Science Fair.

We don’t recognize ourselves in the words coming out of Campbell Brown’s mouth.  We know they are unfair and biased.  We know that she knows that much of what she repeats is untrue, not supported by research or evidence, and so we don’t trust her.

I’m not sure why she was chosen for the Facebook team.  I only know that she has done untold harm to our serious work to make every public school as good as our best public schools, and she’s insulted educators in a way that builds a false narrative that public education should be shut down and turned over to the corporate world.

We know the truth.  If you are interested in true research, experience and evidence, we would jump at the chance to show you what educators are inventing, creating, giving birth to… and any other metaphor that you can think of that shows that we’re not waiting for permission, let alone for a politician, to tell us what to do.  We’re already doing whatever it takes to give every student what he or she needs to live the lives they decide to live.  You won’t see it on the news.  This revolution is quiet and deep and changing the world.

We’re the ones who know the names of our kids.  We’re the ones who know what we’re talking about.  If you want to talk about how you can help with something real, please just let me know.  What we have to say will change everything, and we need friends of education and believers in our students to be our true partners.


Lily Eskelsen Garcia

Thank you Lily!!! Indeed, Campbell Brown has "insulted educators in a way that builds a false narrative that public education should be shut down and turned over to the corporate world."

The devastating impact of Facebook on the Presidential race through the dissemination of fake news has been widely reported.  More false or highly biased articles were read and shared in the last few weeks before the election than those published by legitimate news operations.   Yet Campbell Brown is the last person who should be enlisted in order to  improve the image of Facebook and its credibility -- "to help news organizations and journalists work more closely and more effectively with Facebook" as she described her new job on Facebook.

Not only does Brown has deep Republican connections -- her husband, Dan Senor, was an adviser to George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, and sits on the board of the pro-charter school organization started by Michelle Rhee, StudentsFirstNY  -- but she herself is a fierce propagandist for corporate reform and the privatization of public education through the expansion of charter schools and vouchers.

Brown's own news blog, The 74, has received funding from billionaire privateer Betsy DeVos, Trump's appointee to be the Secretary of Education, and Brown sits on the board of Devos' lobbying organization, American Federation for Children.  DeVos also sponsored Campbell Brown's GOP presidential candidate forum held in New Hampshire in 2015.

Rather than step back from the controversy over the DeVos nomination, Brown wrote the following in her defense:

The suggestion that Betsy’s work with children is ideologically or financially driven would be disputed, I’d guess, by just about everyone who has spent time alongside her during the past 30 years as she founded, helped run and advised education groups and initiatives that have helped improve education across the country — including thousands of teachers and poor families.

Part of the difference between the politician’s and practitioner’s view of her efforts stems from the fact that she understands what things are supposed to look like at the school level and has been single-minded in improving opportunities there for children.

Politically, that means she can be agile when she needs to be and dig in on core principles when she must. She is tenacious in defending the best interests of children rather than interest groups and their political patrons.
There are very few education advocates in DeVos' home state of Michigan that would agree with this -- as she has singlehandedly used her great wealth to pursue her free market ideology in favor of the untrammelled expansion of for-profit charters in the state, while draining millions from public schools and facilitating corruption and subjecting children to deficient learning conditions.  If DeVos gets her way, the federal government will fund vouchers to allow taxpayer money to flow to private and religious schools as well.   It was just reported that the DeVos family and the organizations they run have donated to 10 out of the 12 Republican  Senators on the HELP committee that will hold hearings on her nomination next week -- and nearly $1 billion to 28 Senators who will vote on her confirmation.

Campbell Brown has also launched a series of baseless lawsuits in several states, attacking teacher tenure as somehow illegal or unconstitutional, through an organization called Partnership for Educational Justice.  Before this, she started something called the Parent Transparency Project, which, like the Partnership for Educational Justice, ironically refused to divulge its donors.  She used this organization to charge that NYC public schools were overflowing with teachers who were sexual predators, and she fiercely advocated for the law to be changed so that teachers could be fired at will if accused of abuse --  without any hearings or due process necessary.  As Mother Jones reported,

Shortly after it was launched... PTP trained its sights on the New York mayoral race, asking the candidates to pledge to change the firing process for school employees accused of sexual misconduct. ... PTP spent $100,000 on a television attack ad questioning whether six candidates, including Republican Joe Lhota and Democrats Bill de Blasio and Anthony Weiner, had "the guts to stand up to the teachers' unions." 

Pro-charter, anti-union school billionaires already have an outside influence on education reporting via mainstream media outlets financed by their foundations.  The Gates and Walton Foundations not only fund the 74, but also National Public Radio, Education Week and Chalkbeat, to name a few.   The Gates Foundation also supports the awful Media Bullpen, run by the pro-charter group Center for Education Reform, which grades every education article according to how closely it adheres to the privatization anti-union ideology. Even the Education Writers Association receives money from the Gates and Walton Foundations, who sponsor workshops and seminars on topics relevant to their concerns.

While Education Week and NPR usually include disclaimers when running pieces about Gates or Walton initiatives, the same cannot be said of Chalkbeat or some of the others.  The NY Times itself  publishes a regular column by Tina Rosenberg, who co-founded and runs Solutions Journalism, an outfit also funded by Gates Foundation -- and Rosenberg often hypes Gates education projects in her columns without disclosing any conflict of interest, as I discussed here.

So we not only suffer from too many billionaires who use their wealth to influence education policy in this country, but try to control its reporting as well.  The addition of Facebook to this mix will only worsen the trend.  Sadly, despite the many articles discussing Zuckerberg's hiring of Campbell Brown, the only media outlets to explore the negative implications given her unrelenting campaign to privatize our schools were Vanity Fair  and Huffington Post.

Here is the petition and the names and comments of the more than 2000 angry parents and teachers who signed it.  If you'd like to add your name, you can do so here.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Two new research summaries on the multiple benefits of class size reduction

Here are two research summaries on the evidence for the wide-ranging benefits of class size reduction; the first is for use by any teacher, parent or advocate nationally; the second is meant primarily for residents of New York state.

These research briefs are especially useful in advocating for your state or district to use its Title IIA funds for class size reduction, as the new federal law known as ESSA, or Every Student Succeeds Act, requires evidence if these funds will be used to hire teachers to lower class size.