Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sign up for Class Size Matter's Annual "Skinny" Award Dinner now!

UPDATE!  The venue has changed.  Please take note!

It's that time of year again! Our 2017 Annual Skinny Award Dinner will be held Tuesday, June 20 at 6:30 PM at Casa La Femme, 140 Charles St., in Greenwich Village in Manhattan.

We will be serving a three course dinner with wine, and will honor those individuals who gave us the real "skinny" on NYC schools, including :
  • The Parents of Save CPE1, who through persistent protests and organizing saved their progressive school from a principal who tried to undermine it;
  • Mehrose Ahmad and Sumaita Hasan, the student-editors of Townsend Harris HS newspaper The Classic, and their faculty adviser Brian Sweeney, who by telling the truth unseated their abusive principal;
  • Laura Barbieri and Arthur Schwartz of Advocates for Justice, who have persistently fought the co-location of charter schools, and this year were victorious in court by ensuring that School Leadership Team meetings would be open to the public;
  • Wendy Lecker and David Sciarra of Education Law Center, who won funds for struggling schools when Gov. Cuomo tried to withhold this aid.
Just click here to reserve your seat. Please join us to partake of good food and great company, to celebrate these victories and gain inspiration for the battles to come! If you cannot attend, you can also make a contribution to Class Size Matters to honor these intrepid individuals and support our work.

Hope to see you at the Skinny awards!

More soon, Leonie

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Update on lead in school water and AM NY on need for more transparency from DOE

Credit: Metro NY
AM New York just ran an editorial decrying the lack of transparency of  DOE's findings on excessive levels of lead in school water,  as well as a handy map and other visuals showing the extent of the lead problem, with more than 80% of NYC public schools having at least one affected water outlet. 

The editorial highlights two schools where the levels found were especially alarming: PS 723, a District 75 school for special needs students in the Bronx where the lead levels were 6,000 times the "action" level of 15 parts per billion,  and William E. Grady Vocational High School in Brooklyn, which had more than 100 samples that violated this level, with three that tested above 30,000 parts per billion.

On May 9th, the DOE released an updated spreadsheet with information on every water fixture's lead levels on May 9th but it contains no information about remediation efforts or retesting after remediation was done. Here is a link to the DOE web page on lead; and here is a link to the  latest DOE lead test results.  

As the AM New York editorial pronounced,“Of course, most NYC school buildings are old, and finding some lead in the pipes is not a surprise. But the extent of the findings, both in the levels and the number of schools affected, is stunning. The problem has been exacerbated by the DOE’s insufficient public response....

While the DOE followed the guidelines in state legislation passed last year by sending letters home to parents and posting the letters to school websites, city officials should do more. A more comprehensive and user-friendly response by school and city officials is warranted. DOE should make sure its online school search functions include faucet-by-faucet lead levels, and explanations of the risks they pose. (Right now, none of that information is easily searchable.) It should publish lists of schools with the worst levels of lead, and issue clear explanations of the results and what parents need to know. The state health department should do more, too, perhaps by analyzing the city’s by-faucet data and providing resources and guidance.”

On May 16,  the City Council Committee on Education and Finance held hearings where Chancellor Rose testified that the remediation of the outlets would not be completed until sometime next year.  She also minimized the seriousness and the extent of the problem by emphasizing how most children drink out of outlets after the water has flowed for awhile -- which really misses the point.  For more on the lead issue, including how DOE was months late doing the mandated retesting according to the new state law, and how even the action level of 15 parts per billion is too high according to the American Pediatric Association, see our previous posts here and here.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

David Rosenberg's testimony on what should be included in the state's accountability system

I was at the Manhattan ESSA hearing yesterday, to testify on what is wrong with the NYSED’s proposed accountability system and how it could be improved. There were 27 people who spoke, which Commissioner Elia said was the most at any of the state's ESSA hearings so far.  Amazingly, about half of them were administrators, teachers, parents, students and alumnae from a tiny NYC transfer HS called Harvey Milk School that was founded for LGTBQ kids who are marginalized and bullied in their regular high schools – although now the school is open to all.

Several others who were there to testify were teachers at portfolio assessment schools.  All of them were concerned that the current NYSED proposal might further stigmatize their schools by relying too heavily on test scores and four-year graduation rates.  Most students don't even enter transfer schools until they have been enrolled in other high schools for one or two years.  A teacher from Harvey Milk movingly pointed out how at most NYC high schools, the class sizes are too big – and that students need to know that “they are seen, that their voices are heard, and they matter.  He concluded that his schools does not merely educate, "it saves lives."

I asked a graduate from Harvey Milk sitting next to me, now attending college, what his class sizes were at the school; he said 8 to 10 students per class.  And yet sadly, in about half of NYC high schools class sizes are three times that size, at 30 student or more; and there is nothing in the proposed NYSED accountability plan that will help ensure that at any time in the future, these students will truly be “seen” and understand that they matter -- because the system as it exists now does not allow for that to occur.   

Below is the terrific testimony of David Rosenberg, a District 2 parent, who testified as well. For more on how the NYSED proposal for school accountability may undermine both equity and the quality of our schools, see the CSM/NYSAPE summary here.

Dates of future hearings are here: including Brooklyn on June 6 and Queens on June 10.

Comments on ESSA implementation in NYS

My name is David Rosenberg. I have a 7th grader in district 2. She is an excellent student who is appreciated by her teachers, garnering much praise from the school administration. She makes us proud every day.  She does not participate in the ELA or State Math Test. She does not participate in Field Tests. Next year she won’t even participate in the MOSL. And this is because she is not a 1, 2, 3, or 4. She is much more than the simplistic and wrong-headed measures that you use to sort children and schools. 

The business of testing students in order to rank them is limiting, unfair, and racist. It punishes low income, ELL’s, and children of color, and any who lack the opportunities enjoyed by white, affluent, and entitled kids. Even entitled kids are not served by the testing regime, they just have the resources to game the outcome. NYSED has an opportunity to right a number of the wrongs committed over the last decade. I am not hopeful that you will, but I’ve shown up on a Saturday in the hopes that you might.

So far what I’ve heard is that:

             1. That NYSED has proposed to determine a school or district’s accountability status based on school’s state test scores. This is one of the reasons my child opts-out.
            2. NYSED’s proposed formula appears to assign any student who opts out of the 3-8th grade tests a score of “1” on the 1-4 scale (with 1 as the lowest possible score). How come my opt-out child isn’t a 3? How about you count her as the average of the school children who are actually taking the test? Counting opt out’s as a 1 makes the NYSED appear to have an agenda, and if the agenda is to suppress the opt-out, you will fail. I have a suggestion. Try being fair.
            3. NYSED has proposed that chronic absenteeism be the sole school quality indicator for elementary and middle schools, and indicators of “college, career, and civic readiness” as the additional school quality indicator in high schools, including access to advanced coursework. I don’t believe that these benchmarks reflect a successful school system or educational model. What I’ve found that what produces successful careers are ideas, drive, passion, curiosity, confidence, purpose, and exposure to a myriad of viewpoints and disciplines. You can’t measure any of these with a test score or in school attendance.
            When NYSED surveyed parents, teachers and other members of the public about what additional indicators should be, the most popular responses were factors related to students’ opportunity to learn.
            As a public-school parent, this is what I want to see from an ESSA accountability system:
            A robust Opportunity to Learn (OTL) index in the accountability system with several different evidence-based Opportunity to Learn factors – because while the state would encourage schools to pay attention to these factors, not any one of them would be excessively high stakes. This would tend to minimize the risk of further narrowing the curriculum, causing other negative impacts, and/or gaming the results through the well-known mechanism of Campbell’s Law.
           You have an opportunity to improve the life and learning of public school children in New York State. I hope you have the bravery. You’d find out what great allies we public school parents can be.
            Thank you.
            Campbell’s Law:
            "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."                          

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Testimony of Eduardo Hernandez at Bronx ESSA Hearings

Here is the testimony of Eduardo Hernandez on the state's proposed accountability plan that he presented to Chancellor Rosa, Regent Reyes and Commissioner Elia at the Bronx ESSA hearings on
Tuesday night.

For more on how the NYSED proposal for school accountability may undermine both equity and quality in our schools, see the
CSM/NYSAPE summary here

Future hearings throughout the state available here: for those upcoming in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn click on the table to the right.  

Good evening, I'm Dr. Eduardo Hernandez, a parent of three daughters who attend NYC public schools and a member of the Community Education Council from District 8.  Tonight, I’m speaking on behalf of Class Size Matters and NYC Kids PAC.

Congress passed ESSA in response to the millions of parents who were asking for alternate ways to measure school performance other than test scores and graduation rates and to ensure that all kids receive an equitable and high-quality education.

When NYSED surveyed parents and other members of the public about what these additional indicators should be, the most popular responses were factors related to students’ opportunity to learn, including a well-rounded education with access to art, music, science, health, and physical education, as well as reasonably small class size, access to bilingual services, and more. 
Yet the current proposal put forward by the NY State Education Department ignores these factors and adds only one school quality indicator in addition to the academic factors – chronic absenteeism.
Including chronic absenteeism as the single school quality indicator in the accountability system would unfairly schools with large populations of disadvantaged, homeless students and those with strong family ties in the parents’ home countries where families return periodically for visits during the school year. Travel is usually done before and after the breaks to save a few hundred dollars in airfares.
My district, district 8 in the Bronx, has several homeless shelters and a large number of transient students.  Some of our schools have a 30% to 40% population of transient students.
Using absenteeism as an indicator of school could not only unfairly penalize those schools, but could also lead to unintended consequences, like causing schools to exclude or try to push out these students.
For high schools, the chosen factor was advanced course work as part of what is called college, career and civic readiness.
Adding advanced coursework as the only additional school quality factor for high schools could cause schools to narrow their curriculum and further reduce access to art, music, physical education, health etc.
Many of our schools in the Bronx already fail to provide the minimum coursework in art, music and physical education that state regulations require – and omitting these factors from the system could send the message that the State Education Department and the Regents do not really care if they ever do. 
Too many children in NYC and the Bronx also suffer from class sizes of 30 or more – and insufficient access to bilingual services that together doom our children to failure, despite laws and regulations from the state that should have addressed these substandard conditions years ago. 
I urge the Board of Regents and the NY State Education Department to revise this proposal and ensure that it includes a wider range of Opportunity to Learn factors, such as the ones that Class Size Matters and other stakeholders have proposed.

Thank you, Chancellor, Commissioner, members and staff, for allowing me the opportunity to speak to you today.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Parents and Advocates Release Parent Toolkit For Student Privacy

For more information:

Rachael Stickland, (303) 204-1272
Josh Golin, (617) 896-9369,

Tuesday, May 16, 2017 – Amid growing concerns about data privacy and surveillance, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy (PCSP) and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) have created an important resource for parents to understand and safeguard students’ personal information.
The Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy: A Practical Guide for Protecting Your Child’s Sensitive School Data from Snoops, Hackers, and Marketers is a vital resource in an age where nearly all school records are stored digitally, and where learning, homework, and administrative tasks are increasingly conducted online. Available free to parents on CCFC and PCSP’s websites, the Toolkit offers clear guidance about federal laws that do—and don’t—protect students’ privacy, helps parents ask the right questions about their schools’ data policies, and offers simple steps parents can take to advocate for better privacy policies and practices in their children’s schools.
Rachael Stickland, Co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, explained that many parents are under the false impression that sensitive student records are stored securely in a paper file under lock and key in the principal’s office. “As a parent of two school-aged children, I know first-hand how difficult it is to comprehend the sheer amount of digital data students generate during the course of a normal school day and what that means for our children’s future. With districts outsourcing operations like bus, cafeteria, and instructional services to vendors who store student personal data in the ‘cloud’ and share it with third parties, including state and federal agencies, it’s more important than ever for parents to take some control over their children’s information. It’s not too late to take action when it comes to protecting our children’s privacy.”
A new report issued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation found that students’ activities and information are being monitored by tech companies through devices and software used in classrooms. The data collected by schools and technology vendors often include kids’ names, birth dates, browsing histories, grades, test scores, disabilities, disciplinary records, and more, without adequate privacy and security protections or the consent of parents. Yet few guides exist to help parents navigate the confusing patchwork of laws and regulations that govern student privacy, or help them promote stronger protections.
Other currently available resources are overly technical, filled with jargon, or skewed to the interests of educational technology companies rather than parents and students. CCFC and PCSCP’s new Toolkit, designed with input from experts in education, data privacy, and federal law, is designed to put the needs of families first.
“You shouldn’t need a PhD or law degree to ensure that your child’s sensitive student data isn’t shared with commercial entities,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “Our Toolkit demystifies student privacy and empowers parents to set limits on who accesses the information collected by schools and other third parties about their children.”
Stefanie Fuhr, a Minnesota mother of three, said, “I will be sharing the Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy with parents, teachers, and school administrators, because I don’t think many are aware of the use and potential misuse of a child’s educational data, which can have a profound impact on a child’s future prospects. I plan to meet with my school’s principal with a copy of the Toolkit in hand, and start the conversation with the suggested questions it provides.”
“The Toolkit is comprehensive and quite informative,” said Tim Farley, a father and high school principal in New York. “It is appealing to the eye, written in a manner that’s easy to understand by most parents, and it has the information parents need to protect their children’s privacy.”
Education and privacy advocates are hailing this unique new resource. Faith Boninger of the National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado Boulder, said, “The toolkit is a great resource. It walks parents through the many ways that children’s data may be collected and used without their knowledge or consent, and explains what they can do about it. It explains federal student privacy law in plain English. And it includes specific, useful models for advocacy, like questions that parents can ask teachers and principals, and letters to opt out of specific types of data-sharing.”
“The Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy is a powerhouse resource for parents, educators and school districts,” said Laura Bowman, President of the PAA-Roanoke Valley chapter of the public education advocacy group Parents Across America. “By providing easily understood explanations of laws and legal rights, best practices, questions to ask, and ways to advocate for their children, the Toolkit empowers parents with the information they need to ensure their child’s sensitive information is safeguarded.”
Phyllis Bush, Co-founder of Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, and a Board member of the Network for Public Education, said “Technology has made information readily available with a click, but what do our children pay in the loss of privacy? Reading through the Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy, and following the typical journey of a child through a data-mined school experience, is a stark reminder of the perils that lie before our children. The Toolkit will give parents the tools to pushback against the assault on our children’s privacy.”
The Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy can be downloaded at PCSP and CCFC will co-sponsor a webinar on May 23, 2017, to help parents effectively use the toolkit’s resources.
The Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy was made possible by a grant from the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Save the date! Skinny awards, NYSED hearings & what's missing from their school accountability system & more!

1 – Save the date! Class Size Matters Annual Skinny Award Dinner will be held Tuesday, June 20; the venue and honorees TBA. It’s always a fun evening with good food, great company and an opportunity to reconnect, celebrate our victories together and gain inspiration for the battles to come. Please be there if you can!

2. The NYS Education Department has proposed a new school accountability system under the federal law known as ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act). The Regents have not yet accepted this proposal and are gathering input through public hearings happening now through Friday, June 16, 2017 as listed here, starting Monday night in Staten Island and Tuesday in the Bronx.

ESSA allows states more leeway to shape their accountability systems than did its predecessor No Child Left Behind – and to include a range of school quality factors in addition to test scores and graduation rates.  Yet NYSED’s proposal falls short in many ways by failing to move away sufficiently from NCLB's damaging high-stakes testing regime and towards a new evidence-based accountability system that would incentivize schools to provide the sort of well-rounded education that research shows improves students’ chances at success and that parents want for their children.

Instead, the state’s ESSA proposal is overly simplistic, and could undermine children’s opportunity for an equitable and quality education. It would also likely brand schools with high opt-rates as failing and need of comprehensive support. It’s important that parents attend these hearings and make their voices heard.

For a summary of what’s wrong with the NYSED proposal, and what Class Size Matters and NYSAPE would like to see instead, including offering incentives for schools to provide an equitable well-rounded education with small classes, art, music, physical education, and more, please click here (pdf) or here (in word) for our fact sheet. If you do attend these hearings, please let me know and feel free to draw from our talking points. The public can also email their comments through Friday, June 16, 2017 to

3. I had a letter last week in the NY Times about why expanding charter schools will NOT lead to more equity, and may actually hurt those children who need our help the most -- as opposed to class size reduction, which narrows the opportunity and the achievement gap. Speaking of class size, Congress voted to cut Title IIA funds by $300 million -- about 12.5% -- through September-- funds that NYC and many high-needs districts use to prevent class size increases. Meanwhile, President Trump wants to eliminate Title IIA funding altogether for the next fiscal year. For a copy of my letter, more on Trump’s damaging proposal, and how the new President of France Emmanuel Macron has proposed capping class sizes in high-poverty schools at 12 students per class, check out my blog here.
Hope to see you at the Skinny’s on June 20 – and thanks!


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Angry New Yorkers protest Paul Ryan today at Success Charter school in Harlem

Today, Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan visited Success Academy charter school in Harlem.
Apparently, when he showed up at the school on W. 118 St. late, at about 2:30 PM,  he  was persuaded to spend a few minutes in one of the classrooms at Mickey Mantle school P 811, one of the two co-located public schools in the building -- a school for disabled children that a few years ago, Success CEO Eva Moskowitz had tried to push out so she could take over their space.  

Then he visited the charter school, whose tactics of suspending and pushing out special needs children and others who won't conform to their strict code of discipline are well known.

Earlier, starting at 11:30 AM there were hundreds of protesters lining 118 St., which was blocked off.

Though most of the signs had to with Ryan's attempt to decimate Obamacare,  there were also several having to do with education.

The connection between the naked attempt of Ryan, Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump to privatize health care and privatize education was evident to many in the crowd.

People chanted "Shame, shame" and "Hands off our health care, hands off our schools."

Here are some of the sights, sounds and speeches at the protest this afternoon outside the school.

Former Council Member Robert Jackson helped lead chants on the north side of W. 118 St. :

Then we marched across 118 St. and stood in front of  Harlem Success Academy I.

Bob Bland, one of the organizers of the massive Women's March in DC on Jan. 21, spoke. 

Followed by the always eloquent NYC Public Advocate Tish James.

Mark Hannay of NY Metro Health Care:

And last but certainly not least, Fatima Geidi, former Success charter parent, introduced by Maria Bautista of AQE. 

All in all, New Yorkers made it very clear to Speaker Ryan and the many reporters there to cover his visit that the right-wing attempt to eviscerate public health and public education would not occur without a fight.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Macron, Trump, class size vs. charter schools, and my letter to the NY TImes

Today the big news is that Emmanuel Macron was elected as President of France by a huge margin - 65% to 35% - over Marine Le Pen.  This was a terrific win for many reasons, including one not often mentioned in the US media.

Macron has proposed radically reducing class size -- with a plan to hire 5,000 teachers to cut class size to 12 in the early grades in high-need communities.  

His platform is aligned with the findings of renowned economist Thomas Piketty, who after analyzing the gains of students in an earlier governmental class size reduction program, concluded that capping class size at 15 in high-poverty schools would eliminate the achievement gap between racial and economic groups.

Meanwhile, last week the US Congress voted to approve a continuing resolution that funds the federal budget through September.  But the budget they approved cuts Title IIA funds by 12.5%, a reduction of $300 million.  About one third of Title IIA funds are used to lower class size, especially in high-poverty districts where classes already are too high.  In NYC, the entire allocation of Title IIA funds of more than $100 million is used to keep teachers on staff and prevent further increases in class size, which have already risen sharply since 2008.  More on this here.

This is what the NEA had to say about the Congress vote:
Randi Weingarten sent this statement to Education Week, which she shared with me: 

The amount is better than the zero that President Trump initially proposed, but a cut will have consequences. In this case the consequences are larger class sizes for students and the loss of high quality professional development for teachers. We will watch what comes out in the President’s budget in May and continue to resist Trump administration’s push to defund public education and fight to regain and add Title II funding in the next budget cycle.

President Trump, of course,  has proposed slashing the education budget for next year by over $9 billion, and totally eliminating the $2.4 billion Title IIA program for next school year-- which would decimate efforts to keep class sizes under control throughout the country, especially in large urban districts.   

Instead Trump wants to divert as many federal dollars as possible to charter schools, vouchers, and tuition tax credits for private schools.  On Wednesday, he appeared at a White House event along with Vice President Pence and Education Secretary DeVos, promoting school "choice" and the DC voucher program, even though the results of that program have had negative effects.

I wrote a letter published in today's NY Times, along with several others critiquing an earlier column by David Leonhardt that argued that expanding charter schools would be a good solution to improve our education system.  The letters are all worth reading, and make good points.  

The problem is that few if any charter school studies undertaken by researchers have examined their impact on the entire ecosystem of public schools.In my letter I point out how diverting more funds from NYC public schools to charters will not help and will instead likely hurt our neediest students and undermine the public school system as a whole.

In this country, we have a clear choice to make.  If we truly care about equity we will focus our efforts on keeping class sizes small enough for all students to be able to receive the attention they deserve -- especially those students who need the help the most. Instead, putting more public dollars into privately-run schools will merely create even more winners and losers, and leave more children behind. My letter is below:

To the Editor:

David Leonhardt ignores the fact that very few charters enroll and retain equal numbers of at-risk students as traditional public schools in the communities in which they are situated — children with serious disabilities, those who receive free lunch, and/or recent immigrants and English-language learners.

The result is that our traditional public schools are increasingly concentrated with the highest need students with fewer resources to educate them. In New York City alone, charter schools are diverting more than $1.7 billion from the public schools, as well as taking up more space in a system where more than 550,000 students attend overcrowded schools and more than 300,000 students are crammed into classes of 30 or more.

For the sake of equity, we need to implement solutions that will work for all public students, especially those with the highest needs. By focusing our efforts on expanding charter schools, society is leaving out those students who need our help the most.

The writer is executive director of Class Size Matters.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Urgent! Please contact Congress today -- urge them NOT to cut funds for class size reduction!

It was just reported that Congress will vote early this week on an education budget that would cut Title IIA funds by $300 million — which are used by districts across the country to keep teachers on
staff and prevent class size increases.

In NYC, 100% of these funds or $101 million are spent to fund approximately 1000 teaching positions. President Trump’s budget would eliminate these funds altogether for the following year.

Please write Congress today: Urge them NOT to cut Title IIA funds. Already more than 300,000 NYC students are sitting in classes of 30 or more.

As I explained in a recent piece in Alternet, districts throughout the country have already lost thousands of teaching positions since the Great Recession which were never replaced — increasing class sizes to sky-high levels.

For more on the myriad, proven benefits of smaller classes, check out our research summary here. But please write to Congress today by clicking here.