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.

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