Monday, April 30, 2018

Expansion of literacy coaches - another likely failed initiative after looking at past results

Some of us remember how there were reading and math coaches hired in every NYC public elementary school in the first phase of Children's First under Chancellor Joel Klein.  It led to little or no improvement in achievement, according to the NAEPs.

Now Mayor de Blasio wants to spend $30 million on hiring more literacy coaches..  From Politico:

The initiative relies on a vast infrastructure of reading coaches and other supports. Just under $22 million of the new funding will pay for staff, including new coaches, more targeted supports in high-needs schools, and higher salaries for coaches in order to attract new staff. Of the $30 million investment, $8.6 million will be used to cover new programming, including training for reading coaches, interventions for students who are struggling with reading basics, more after-school reading programs for students living in homeless shelters, training for teachers and superintendents to support coaches, and a new online platform designed to give parents more information about their child's reading progress.
Was there any analysis of the efficacy of literacy and math coaches under Children's First?  Has there been any analysis of the impact of the 103 literacy coaches the DOE hired for Districts 17 and 32 schools in Brooklyn,  and Districts 9 and 10 in the Bronx starting in 2016-2017 school year— which supposedly expanded to another 14 districts the following year? Did this show any results?

The hiring was already supposedly expanded to 800 schools this year -- what are the results so far? and how much are we already spending on this initiative?

The WSJ reported that it cost  $75 million as of this school year - plus another $30M would equal more than $100M:

By fall 2018, the city plans to have a so-called universal literacy coach in each of the roughly 800 elementary schools, at an annual cost of $75 million. Education department officials said it was hard to find candidates up to the task, though five teachers applied for each spot. The coaches get professional development for three weeks in the summer and twice monthly after that. 
As in the previous attempt to improve results by adding "coaches," this initiative will also likely be ineffectual without a concurrent sharp decrease in class sizes in the early grades.  $100 million  would buy at least 1000 teachers to reduce class size, a reform with proven results.

I also wonder about this "new online platform designed to give parents more information about their child's reading progress"  as described above. How much will it cost, how reliable will it be and what's the evidence for this idea --given how little the online platform ARIS was used by teachers or parents and what a costly boondoggle it turned out to be.

The vast infrastructure described above also reminds one of the increased bureaucracy and professional development systems created for the wrongheaded Renewal school program -- also costing about $100 million per year, with little or no improvement in class size and disappointing results.  Will these millions go down the drain as well?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Failure of Mayoral control: De Blasio starts yesterday by slandering teachers and the day ends with the closure of yet more schools by his hand-picked panel, despite heartbreaking student pleas

Correction: Just read in this NYT editorial criticizing de Blasio's disgraceful comments on the tiny number of only seven substantiated teacher sexual harassment complaints over four years that it was Yoav Gonen of the NYP that asked the question-- not Jill Jorgensen of the Daily News.  And apparently the number of actual complaints was 570- not 471, as the city first reported.

What an awful day it was yesterday.  It started with the Mayor and the City Council holding a joint press conference, touting a budget deal to bring all schools next year up to 90% of their Fair Student Funding amount -- which is a good thing, but not cause for a huge celebration when they're still not fully funded.

Then the Mayor immediately stepped in it after Jill Jorgensen of the Daily News asked what he thought about the fact that out of 471 allegations by DOE employees of sexual harassment since 2013, only seven had been substantiated, according to recently released data.  Mayor de Blasio responded this way:

"There has been a history, it's pretty well-known inside the education world, of some people bringing complaints of one type or another for reasons that may not have to do with the specific issue — and this is not just about sexual harassment it's about a whole host of potential infractions...It is a known fact that unfortunately there's been a bit of a hyper-complaint dynamic, sometimes for the wrong reasons. I think that has inflated the numbers."

Why the DOE, unlike any other city agency, would foster such unwarranted complaints he added, "I'm just saying it's a reality.  I can't give you the sociological reasons. I am saying it is a reality we have to address."

Really?  Only 471 complaints over the last four years itself seems quite low given the fact that there are more than 135,000 DOE employees -- the largest by far of any city agency.  Instead, the more likely explanation for the low number of allegations and the even smaller number of substantiated complaints is the well-documented chronic dysfunction and corruption at the DOE internal investigative office, the OSI, staffed by agents who drag their feet, whitewash, or retaliate against teacher whistleblowers when they attempt to expose misdeeds of their superiors.

One recalls how the Mayor repeatedly dismissed the well-founded allegations of Dewey HS teachers who, for many months, provided ample evidence to DOE and the Chancellor of the grade-fixing scandal engineered by their principal.  This  was eventually admitted by DOE, but only after more than a year of stories by Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News, Sue Edelman of the NY Post and Marcia Kramer of CBS-- and  after hundreds of Dewey students had already graduated with fake credits.  In fact, Dewey principal Kathleen Elvin used the fact that the Chancellor had allowed these students to graduate to keep a well-paying position at DOE after she was fired from the school.  

This scandal was recently the subject of a scathing and  under-reported audit from the NY State Education Department, with a statement from Deputy Commissioner Beth Berlin to Phil Weinberg, DOE Deputy Chancellor:

 "NYCDOE must be accountable for ensuring make-up and credit recovery programs in all its schools are properly administered and provide the education students need to succeed in life. Anything short of that is a disservice to students. ...Your response to our audit indicates that NYCDOE does not recognize or appreciate the seriousness of the audit findings. NYCDOE must address the findings of this audit and immediately start work on implementing its recommendations so no more students are cheated out of the education they deserve."

Then last evening the Panel for Educational Policy met at Murry Bergtraum HS, the first with the new Chancellor Carranza.  It started with typical DOE dysfunction, with hundreds of students, teachers, and parents standing in an incredibly slow line to sign up to speak, with two pairs of DOE employees assigned to take each of their names.   Each speaker was asked to spell out his or her name, while one DOE staffer then recited the name to another staffer, who slowly entered the names into laptops.

When the meeting started at about 6:15 PM, Chancellor Carranza repeated the news that the increase in Fair Student Funding to 90% - though not the Mayor's controversial comments about the "culture of complaint" at DOE.  The proceedings went on till past midnight, with one student after another begging the DOE to keep their schools open or being saved from being merged and squeezed into less space.

The crisis of overcrowding was a theme repeated again and again during the night, starting with a  vote on school capital plan.  Three advocates spoke from the audience, asking for more schools to be retrofitted to allow access for disabled students, with far too many students severely restricted in choices for elementary, middle and high school.   I spoke and welcomed the new Chancellor, and then pointed out how more than 570,000 students are crammed into extremely overcrowded schools, and yet the capital plan is less than half funded to address the need, according to the DOE's admission.  And we know the need is even greater than the DOE admits, in part because the school capacity formula is not aligned with smaller classes, which are necessary if our schools are going to improve.

I cited the sharp increases in class size, and the lagging NAEP scores which reveal that, despite the Mayor's claims, achievement hasn't budged in four years, except for a decline in 4th grade math.  I reported on our recently filed lawsuit, demanding that NYC comply with the law and reduce class size.

Sebastian Spitz, my associate, followed up about the lagging results of many of the Renewal schools, many of which haven't reduced class sizes despite the DOE's promise to the state, with most of them still suffering from classes of 30 or more.  He recounted the fact that according to our analysis, there is a strong statistical correlation between those Renewal schools that have improved results with lower class sizes; including PS 15 that has tiny classes and has managed to move off the Renewal list.  He also inveighed against the DOE's decision to close PS 25, which was approved at the previous PEP meeting. PS 25 is  another school with tiny class sizes that the DOE wants to close, despite the fact that it is the fourth best elementary school in the entire city, according to the Department's own admission. [You can read Sebastian's comments and my comments here.)

After only about five minutes of discussion focused on the disability access issue, the capital plan was approved 10-2 , with Geneal Chacon, the Bronx Borough President appointee, and Lori Podvesker, a mayoral appointee and a disability advocate, voting against it.

The PEP went on to unanimously approve  millions of dollars in vendor contracts, without any discussion (they have never voted down a contract despite many excessive and even corrupt ones).  They also unanimously approved without a single comment the controversial fair student funding weights,  with many schools still receiving less than 100% of their fair share and more funding allocated to middle school students than those attending elementary or high schools. 

Then the meat of the evening occurred. There were 27 controversial changes in school utilization on the agenda, with many schools proposed for closure, merger, resiting, and thousands of students lives disrupted and treated like widgets --  in many cases to make room for rapidly expanding charter schools.  These schools have been prioritized under this administration nearly as much as during the last one, despite de Blasio's campaign promises to put our public schools first -- and not to close any schools except as a last resort.

Eduardo Hernandez from CEC8 spoke, and pointed out that the merger of Rucker HS and Longwood Prep, two struggling Renewal schools, didn't address the problem of insufficient resources, or their overcrowded conditions with the building at 114% capacity and Success charter school taking 60% of the space. Once you approve this, he warned, it will hurt their students and crowd them even more in-- as Success continues to expand.  He also said that the protests and chanting that had already erupted were the direct result of the lack of meaningful parent and community engagement, with rushed DOE hearings that are scheduled after their decisions have already been made.  As he rightly concluded, the entire process is rigged.

The two most controversial proposals involved the closure of Crotona Academy High School, a Bronx transfer school enrolling high-risk, overage and under-credited students, many of whom had already attended two or more high schools previously, and the merger of two transfer schools in Brooklyn, Bedford Stuyvesant Preparatory High School and Brooklyn Academy High School.

There were many Crotona Academy High School students at the meeting, all of them opposed to the closure. Students spoke about their experiences at their other high schools, where large class sizes and overcrowding led to them being unable to form meaningful connections with their teachers. For hours, students pleaded with the Chancellor and  PEP members to keep the school open, including giving a musical performance. One parent said she was a DOE teacher, but she couldn't help her two children who had dropped out of their previous schools -- but Crotona did. The teachers explained that the data the DOE used to justify the closing of the school was out-of-date; later the Superintendent admitted to PEP members that he didn't have access to the latest data but he insisted the school should be closed anyway.

Crotona Academy has been a school in "good standing" by the New York State Education Department for the last five years. Closing a school is always disruptive for students, but it is particularly damaging for transfer students, whose self-confidence is exceedingly fragile. One student warned of an increase in street violence if the school closed. Yet the PEP approved the school's closure by a vote of 7-5, with every mayoral appointee voting for closure and the five borough president appointees voting to keep the school open. Advocates say they will sue the DOE for violating federal law.

The merger of Bedford-Stuyvesant HS and Brooklyn Academy HS also drew intense and passionate opposition. The merger is part of a plan to bring Uncommon Brooklyn East Middle school Charter , into the building, and give most of the building's floors to Uncommon, which already operates a high school there. Uncommon has among the highest reported suspension rates of any of the charter schools in the city, but for some reason it is a favorite of former Chancellor Farina anyway who granted it special privileges even when this undermined the education of public school students.

Uncommon had to move from its current location, co-located in the building of PS 9, which is hugely overcrowded,at 117%, with enrollment having grown 28% since 2012-2013 school year. Yet the the DOE acknowledged that the intrusion of Uncommon into the new building would also result in overcrowding; by the 2021-2022 school year, the building is projected to have a utilization rate of 96%-104%. 

As a result, the merged transfer schools will lose an entire floor of the building to Uncommon . In addition, PS K373, a co-located District 75 school, will be assigned a classroom with only 240 square feet for its  12:1:1 program. This violates state guidelines, which call for at least 770 square feet for 12:1:1 classes.

Neither Bedford-Stuyvesant HS nor Brooklyn Academy HS is poorly performing. Their graduation rates are at the 93rd and 88th percentiles for transfer schools, making them among the top transfer schools in the city. Merging the two schools will cause them to lose intervention rooms, counseling rooms, and classrooms, lead to teachers and counselors being excessed, and undermine the amazing progress made by their students, which should be celebrated and supported rather than undermined.

Several representatives of elected officials pointed out that all the proposed co-locations and charter expansions merely made  overcrowding worse. Senator Velmanette Montgomery's representative urged the panel not to allow the success of one group of students to be sacrificed for the sake of another - and not to eliminate the space for small classes at the transfer schools  but to find an alternative site for Uncommon charters.

One after another,  students eloquently pleaded with the Chancellor and the members of the PEP, explaining how in their previous high schools, the overcrowding had been too intense, with class sizes of thirty or more causing them anxiety and depression. One girl said  about her experience in her previous high schools, "I felt like a nobody, now I feel  like I'm somebody - don't take that away.  If you do, I'm giving up. "   Again, in heartless fashion, the mayoral appointees were unmoved, and the merger was approved by a vote of 7-5. 

The PEP voted to merge six other schools: Holcombe L. Rucker, Longwood Preparatory Academy, East Flatbush Community Research School, the Middle School of Marketing and Legal Studies, Aspirations Diploma Plus High School, and W.E.B. Du Bois Academic High School. The first three are struggling Renewal schools, and the last two are transfer high schools. It was a tragic night for nearly all concerned.

I would urge people to watch the video of the proceedings, but typically, the most recent video posted on the DOE website is  of the February PEP meeting -- two months behind. Perhaps Norm Scott will post his video soon.  I recall what Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose said at the NYC Council hearings last week-- that overcrowding did not harm the quality of education afforded students-- and yet here were our most vulnerable students, one after another,  revealing how overcrowding had undermined both their learning and mental health, and warned how this would happen again as they were squeezed into less space.

Celia Green, acting President of the Citywide Council on High Schools, is an amazing special education advocate and mother of  six boys, including four on the autism spectrum.  A video in which she was interviewed last year was used by the Mayor to campaign for continued mayoral control.

Last night she told me that mayoral control was the worst thing that ever happened to NYC schools.

Debate on high-stakes testing and opting out on today's Brian Lehrer Show

Check out today's interview with CEC District 6 President Johanna Garcia on the Brian Lehrer Show. Johanna did a great job of explaining why students should opt out of these unreliable exams and the negative impact of high-stakes testing on our schools and the quality of education in a debate with Richard Buery, former Deputy Mayor under de Blasio and now chief of public affairs at KIPP charter schools.  Please listen to the entire segment -- but for a quick recap, my tweets are below.  Rarely do real-life parents or education advocates get on this show, let's hope that Brian will do this more often in the future.

Image result for johanna garcia cec nyc  Richard Buery   

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Save the date! NYSED wants to hear from parents on student privacy starting May 2!

As many of you may remember, our fight against NY state sharing loads of personal student data with a Gates-funded corporation called inBloom Inc. aroused much concern among parents.  This concern led to the passage of new NY student privacy law in March 2014.  One part of the law  blocked inBloom , which closed its doors shortly after, and the other part of the law had a number of other provisions to help protect and secure personal student data, most of which have not yet been implemented or enforced.

The best thing about the legislation is that it included a Parent Bill of Rights, that was supposed to be expanded through the input of parents and other stakeholders.  We have been pressing the NY State Education Department to reach out to parents to ask them what the Parent Bill of Rights should include, and how the law should be strengthened and enforced.  They are finally doing this. 

In a series of forums beginning on Wednesday May 2 in West Seneca NY and ending on June 18 in Queens, parents will have the opportunity to express their concerns to NYSED and its chief privacy officer,  Tope Akinyemi, about the ways in which their children's personal data is being collected by schools and districts, and shared with a variety of vendors and other third parties, often without their knowledge or consent.

Districts, schools and classrooms across the state are doing very different things with student data, without much oversight, but all of them are collecting more and more of it,  and sharing it with the state, leading to an increasing numbers of breaches and other instances where the data has been misused for commercial or other non-educational purposes.  Here is a list of the personal data elements that the state currently collects from districts and schools, including their suspension, attendance and disability records, whether they have been determined to be homeless, neglected or delinquent, and their date of entry to the United States (which could be used as a proxy to immigrant status).

It was also recently reported that Pearson has done experiments on students in one of their instructional software programs, by embedding different "messages" to see how this affected their scores, without their knowledge or consent.  To this day, we would never have known about this experiment if Pearson hadn't reported on the results at a recent educational research conference.   The company says they were doing this to improve their products and/or develop new ones-- which is clearly a commercial use but even so, is allowed in many contracts and in many state laws.  The New York state law bans the commercial use of data, but doesn't define what that means, so that this one of the areas that needs to be clarified and addressed.

We will be providing a list of possible talking points soon, but I wanted to alert you to these important forums so you can save the date and plan to attend. See the schedule below.

You can also email your comments and suggestions on this issue to NYSED from May 2- June 18 to  If you can, please copy me at as I'd like to hear your concerns as well.  Thanks! 

Leonie Haimson, co-chair, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy

Monday, April 23, 2018

Hearings on NYC's dysfunctional school planning and siting process begins with DOE saying there is no negative impact of school overcrowding on students

Elizabeth Rose, Deputy Chancellor of NYC DOE and Lorraine Grillo, President, School Construction Authority
On Wednesday there were joint hearings at the City Council of the Education, Finance and Land Use committees on their comprehensive new report, Planning to Learn: The School Building Challenge, as well as five bills introduced to address the school overcrowding crisis which has led to more than 575,000 students crammed into overutilized schools according to the DOE's own data.  Here is the overcrowding by type of school, as included in the report -with elementary schools at 106% overutilizaiton, and the citywide average at 96%:

From Planning to Learn: The School Building Challenge

Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose and School Construction Authority President Lorraine Grillo testified on behalf of the city.  Rose refused to admit that school overcrowding was a problem or disadvantaged students in any way, and claimed that "some of our more successful schools are overcrowded."

Rose remained obdurate on this point even in the face of repeated questioning from Council
Council Member Mark Treyger
Education Chair Mark Treyger, who pointed out that overcrowding leads to huge class sizes, loss of art and music rooms, and other evidence of a substandard education.  Using closets for intervention services  and increasing class size does have an impact on opportunities for kids, he pointed out. Moreover, educators aren’t robots and need working space too. But Rose refused to budge.

(One can only imagine the scandal that would ensue if a Department of Health Commissioner testified that hospital overcrowding, with patients receiving treatment in hallways or closets, had no effect on the quality of care provided.  Yet to my knowledge, no media outlet reported on Rose's claims.) 

Lorraine Grillo admitted that the SCA has only four real estate brokers on retainer in the entire city to help them find sites for schools, and yet claimed "we’ve had enormous success with our brokers" and didn't need any more help locating sites.  Yet Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Danny Dromm pointed out how it was they who had recently identified sites for new schools in the Bronx and in Queens and had forwarded them on to the SCA. In fact,  when asked, Grillo couldn't name one school site that had been located by their brokers.

As to the SCA's enrollment projections, Grillo repeatedly claimed that they were accurate within 1-2 percent citywide.  However, that claim cannot be verified since neither the DOE nor the SCA release these projections publicly, and even if true, it could still mean that from district to district, neighborhood to neighborhood the projections were completely off.  Finally, given how many schools are at or near 100% capacity, the difference of only a few students could bring many of them above the tipping point.

Dromm also pointed out that the majority of seats funded in current five year capital plan won’t be ready till after 2022- wouldn't it be better to do rolling ten year plan instead? By 2022, it is likely that school construction will have fallen even further behind the need.  Grillo said that "we're mandated only to do a five year plan", implying that they couldn't go beyond that.
Salamanca also questioned why there was no effort made by the City Planning to address these issues: City Planning comes to us and says, we want 4000 new units in my district, but they have NEVER mentioned the need to build any new schools for the new families living there.  Why?  In many districts school overcrowding has existed for decades; and as we expand preK and 3K, and available land gets scarce and the population grows, the challenges increase to provide enough schools.   We must revise our methodologies to ensure all students have the maximum chance of success.

But perhaps the biggest revelation came when Council Member Treyger asked representatives from City Planning and DCAS (Department of Citywide Administrative Services) to join the DOE and the SCA at the witness table.

He then questioned them if they regularly communicate with the DOE about the need for new schools.  While they didn't answer the question directly, it soon became clear that there was no ongoing collaboration between these city agencies on the issue of school overcrowding, and that they are only involved when it came to major rezonings (City Planning) or when identifying available city-owned or other buildings for expanded preK and 3K (DCAS).

After the questioning of government officials was over, I testified, followed by disability advocates who spoke on the need to retrofit schools for better access.  Then CM Treyger asked if we felt that there was any real coordination between city agencies on tackling school overcrowding.

I answered that there was no effective collaboration that I could see, and that city agencies responded
Leonie Haimson at NYC Council hearings
only to the Mayor's top priorities, which up to now have been expanding preK, implementing 3K and building more housing, all of which actually contribute to worse school overcrowding rather than counteract it. Meanwhile, the only schools that are built are those where there is a tremendous grassroots effort undertaken from parents and their elected officials to demand this.

An example of what it requires occurred in the hugely overcrowded community of Sunset Park last year.  There have been five additional schools for Sunset Park funded in the capital plan for over 20 years without a single one built or even sited, with the DOE claiming there was simply no room in the neighborhood for new schools.  Then last year, four sites were acquired by the SCA for schools but only as a result of a tremendous organizing effort of parents, community organizations, and CM Menchaca, who identified these sites and pressed for their acquisition.

Not every community can do this, of course, and with the capital plan for school construction only half funded, many children will be left out.  Without the active involvement of the Mayor to prioritize this issue, and without a substantial boost in spending in the capital plan, along with systemic reforms to the process of school planning and siting, the problem of school overcrowding will likely grow even more severe, and NYC children will suffer the consequences.

Our testimony is posted below and here; and includes suggestions for strengthening the five bills already introduced.  It also proposes four additional bills:

  • A bill to to ensure that the CEQR formula used by City Planning is based upon the latest census data –  and that it includes enrollment projections for UPK and 3K students as well as charter schools already co-located in DOE buildings.
  • A bill to reform the ULURP process, so that proposed residential projects in areas where the schools are already overcrowded or likely to become so would require the building or leasing of new schools to provide sufficient seats to keep the schools below 100% utilization.  Right now the thresholds are far too high, even in areas where the schools are already overcrowded.
  • Any large-scale development project or rezoning should also be referred to the district Community Education Council for their comments. Often CECs are more aware of specific issues related to school capacity and overcrowding than local Community Boards. Like Community Boards, the CECs should hold public hearings and vote on whether to recommend approval, modification or rejection to the proposed project, based upon its likely impact on schools.
  • DOE should be also obligated to report each year on how many schools seats have been added and lost, whether through lapsed leases, elimination of TCUs, annexes or for other reasons. Right now, they only report on the number of seats added rather than lost each year, which gives a highly inaccurate picture of the progress made towards alleviating school overcrowding.