Friday, July 27, 2018

de Blasio's new PAC and charter school treasurer: progressive enough?

credit: NY Post
Mayor de Blasio has set up a new federal political action fund, called "Fairness PAC,"  registered Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission. The purpose of the PAC is ostensibly to support progressive candidates nationwide and presumably to enhance his own image nationally for future elective office -- as well as the prominence of his wife, Chirlane.  According to the NY Post,

City officials said the committee will offer direct support to candidates and also cover campaigning-related travel expenses for the mayor and his wife, Chirlane McCray, who’s said she might run for future office.

This is de Blasio's third attempt to set up his own PAC:

The mayor’s first political non-profit, the Campaign for One New York, was shut in March 2017 amid a federal probe over the mayor’s fundraising practices. And de Blasio’s other PAC — The Progressive Agenda — crashed and burned on its initial foray into the national spotlight during the 2016 presidential race.

J. David Goodman and William Neuman of the NY Times ask if the Mayor is progressive enough to satisfy the growing activist wing of the Democratic party.  They cite many aspects of his record, including the expansion of preK, but also his reluctance to address school segregation until recently. 

There are many other education problems de Blasio promised to tackle when running for Mayor but has failed to improve, including school overcrowding, class size, school closings, transparency, community collaboration, parent empowerment, high stakes testing and more -- as outlined in NYC Kids PAC report cards, where he received low or failing grades on these issues.

Yet perhaps the most striking aspect of de Blasio's new Fairness PAC, as revealed by its federal registration form, is that Richard Buery is its treasurer, probably the most important position for a PAC.  Buery was formerly the Deputy Mayor and is now Chief of Policy and Public Affairs for KIPP charter schools.

Over the past two or three years, the progressive wing of the Democratic party has gradually shifted its stance away from supporting charter school expansion, as evidenced by the positions of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and others -- as well as civil rights organizations like the NAACP and Black Lives Matters.  This evolution was no doubt helped by the full-throated support for school privatization of Trump and Betsy DeVos.

One recalls that while de Blasio originally ran for Mayor in 2012 on a platform opposing charter school co-locations, he quickly conceded after ads run by the charter lobby and financed by hedgefunders blasted him for refusing space in public schools for three Success charter schools.  He quickly formed a School Space working group, headed by Buery, which included several charter school officials, in order to calm the waters.  Since then DOE has approved the vast majority of charter school co-location requests.

When in 2014, the Legislature passed a new law, pushed through by Governor Cuomo, that NYC would have to provide free space in public schools or pay for leased space for every new or expanding charter school out of the city budget, (the only school district in the state or the nation with this onerous obligation), de Blasio didn't protest, but simply said “The decisions about the space will be made by the Department of Education.  That’s the bottom line.”

In 2017, he agreed to other concessions to charter expansion, without complaint, in order to retain mayoral control.  It will be interesting to see how this "progressive" Mayor positions himself on the national stage on school privatization, and from whom he (and his treasurer) raises money. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

More sloppy & non-fact based journalism from NY Times on charter schools

David Leonhardt
David Leonhardt's latest NY Times column touting charter schools is full of bogus claims and sloppy journalism.  He inveighs against progressive critics, writes that he wants a fact-based debate over education reform “in a more nuanced, less absolutist way than often happens" but then adds: "Initially, charters’ overall results were no better than average. But they are now." The link is to a CREDO website that doesn't show this.

The most recent CREDO national study of charters from 2013 examined charters in 26 states plus NYC and found significant (if tiny) learning gains in reading on average but none in math.  CREDO is generally considered a pro-charter organization, funded by the Walton Foundation and many independent scholars have critiqued its methodology.

Moreover, the main finding of the 2013 study was that the vast majority of charter schools do no better than public schools, as Wendy Lecker has pointed out.  In 2009, CREDO found, 83 percent of charters had the same or worse results in terms of test scores than public schools, and in 2013, about 71-75 percent had the same or worse results.

Finally, to the extent that in some urban districts, there are studies showing that charters outperform public schools on test scores,  there are many possible ways to explain these results, including an overemphasis on test prep, differential student populations, peer effects, higher student attrition rates and under-funding of most urban public schools.

Leonhardt also writes that "The harshest critics of reform, meanwhile, do their own fact-twisting. They wave away reams of rigorous research on the academic gains in New Orleans, Boston, Washington, New York, Chicago and other cities, in favor of one or two cherry-picked discouraging statistics. It’s classic whataboutism. "

Yet three out of these four links have nothing to do with charter schools, nor are they peer-reviewed studies. The NYC study by Roland Fryer instead focuses on which attributes of NYC charter schools seemed to be correlated with higher test scores compared to other NYC charter schools.

The Chicago link goes to a NY Times column Leonhardt himself wrote on overall increases in test scores and graduation rates in Chicago public schools that doesn’t even mention charter schools.  The DC link also is far from “rigorous research,” but sends you to a DCPS press release about the increase in 2017 PARCC scores, with again no mention of charter schools, or even “reform” more broadly.  
If there is indeed “reams of rigorous research” supporting charter schools, one might expect that Leonhardt would link to at least one actual, rigorous study showing this. 

Leonhardt's previous column on charter schools discussed this recent report from Doug Harris of Tulane's  Education Research Alliance on the improved results of New Orleans charter schools.  Others including Mercedes Schneider have critiqued the Harris study.  I immediately focused on the section of the report in which Harris mentions possible alternative explanations for these schools' academic progress, including their substantial increased funding after Katrina.  

After citing the the abundant research that spending matters when it comes to student outcomes, and admitting that the NOLA schools saw a $1,358 funding increase per student after privatization, Harris then argues:

It is questionable, however, whether the results from these studies provide a valid indication of the counterfactual in this case. First, the corruption and dysfunction in the Orleans Parish School Board prior to the storm implies that the additional resources would not have been used to generate better outcomes to the extent that the average district did in the above school funding studies. Second, the city’s spending increase, which came mainly from local funding and philanthropists, may have been partly caused by the reforms. The same inefficiencies that led to public disenchantment with the local OPSB pre-Katrina led to a widespread perception in the city that the reforms improved schools (Cowen Institute, 2016). This increased public support likely contributed to political support for local property tax levies and the backing of philanthropists that produced the spending increase. Any effect of spending on student outcomes, in this sense, may not be just an alternative explanation, but rather an indirect effect of the reforms. Therefore, while spending almost certainly contributed to the overall effect, it is unclear whether it was a substantial cause.

Here Doug Harris maintains that he doesn't even have to attempt to disentangle the differential impact of increased funding in NOLA schools on student outcomes from their charterization, since in his estimation, it was unlikely that philanthropic support or increased local spending would have occurred without privatization happening first.  Thus he posits that the political will to fund schools properly was an effect of charterization, and thus not a possible cause of their academic improvements - a speculative argument at best.

One could study whether increased funding for schools has occurred primarily in those school districts that charters have taken over.  One could also analyze the degree to which public support for public schools has become dependent on their privatization.  Harris doesn't attempt either, as far as I know.  In any case, if either statement is true, this says more about the weaknesses in our political system than the inherent quality of charter schools.
Leonhardt, of course, doesn't mention this weakness of Harris' argument in his column on the NOLA report, nor does he mention any of the evidence that the growth of charter schools nationally has also been associated with reports of corruption, increased segregation, suspension rates, abuse of student rights, and loss of funding for democratically-governed public schools, as the recent NPE/Schott report card points out, among others. 

Research studies focusing on other aspects of the corporate “reform” agenda more generally, including the implementation of the Common Core, teacher evaluation linked to test scores, more closures of public schools, and expansion of online learning, have shown generally dismal academic results.  It is indeed time to engage in more “fact-based” discussions of these trends, and I would urge NY Times columnists like Leonhardt to start doing so.  

Yaffed files suit against Governor Cuomo, Commissioner Elia and Board of Regents for violating US constitution when it comes to ultra-Orthodox schools

Below is one of the most substantive, alarming  press releases I have ever read, announcing a lawsuit launched today vs the Governor, Commissioner Elia and the Board of Regents, from the Yaffed website here.  There is also an AP article about the lawsuit.

I found this statistic  in the press release especially alarming.  Because of the Hassidic community's high birth rate, "it is projected that by 2030, between 8% and 13% of school-age children in New York City, and between 23% and 37% of school-age children in Brooklyn, will be Hasidic, meaning without action, even more students are on track to being denied a sound, basic education."

See also the YouTube video featuring disillusioned alumni of the Hassidic Yeshivas, as well as Diane Ravitch, Ruth Messenger, and me, about the Mayor's unconscionable delay in investigating and regulating these substandard schools.

YAFFED Files Federal Lawsuit Against New York Governor, NYS Education Commissioner, Board of Regents Chancellor Alleging Unconstitutional “Felder Amendment” Denies Yeshiva Students Right to Basic Education


Hundreds of Millions of Taxpayer Dollars Support Schools that “Graduate” Students with Few Skills; Poverty Rates and Public Assistance Sky High

(New York, NY) – Today, Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED), a nonprofit committed to improving educational curricula within ultra-Orthodox schools, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, and N.Y. Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa.  YAFFED is represented by lawyers from the law firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP as pro-bono counsel.

The suit alleges that on April 12, 2018, when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a budget that included an amendment to New York Education Law, Section 3204, section 2, known as the “Felder Amendment”, New York created a carve-out to the statutory requirement of substantial equivalent instruction in non-public schools that applies to and is intended to benefit only certain ultra-Orthodox non-public schools. In doing so, New York violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The amendment to Section 3204 is the brainchild of State Senator Simcha Felder and ultra-Orthodox community leaders who oppose state oversight of yeshivas.  Senator Felder attracted much attention in late March when he single-handedly held the 2018 state budget negotiations hostage, demanding the Education Law be changed to inoculate ultra-Orthodox Jewish non-public schools from oversight before agreeing to pass the budget.

"All across America, special interest groups and individuals seek to chip away at a child’s access and right to a comprehensive education. Nowhere have they been more successful than right here in New York, where many yeshivas have gotten away with providing no secular education at all, or at best a very limited one, to tens of thousands of children. This sub-standard secular education was codified into law with Senator Felder’s amendment." said Naftuli Moster, YAFFED‘s Founder and Executive Director.

As of June 2018, there were 273 Orthodox yeshivas registered with the state; 211 of these yeshivas are located in Kings County.  In 2013-14, there were over 52,000 students enrolled in 83 Hasidic schools in New York City, concentrated in the neighborhoods of Borough Park, Williamsburg, Crown Heights (all in Brooklyn). An additional 26,446 students were enrolled in Hasidic schools in places such as Monsey, New Square, and Kiryas Joel. Oversight of these schools by education officials in New York was already non-existent, resulting in many schools flouting state laws.  It is projected that by 2030, between 8% and 13% of school-age children in New York City, and between 23% and 37% of school-age children in Brooklyn, will be Hasidic, meaning without action, even more students are on track to being denied a sound, basic education.

“The Felder Amendment tailors State oversight for a small subset of schools based on their religious affiliation, in a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.  There is no secular legislative purpose for the Felder Amendment, which is seen by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious sects as an endorsement of their religious choice regarding education.” said Eric Huang, lead counsel for YAFFED.

Even though the new amendment creates a carve-out that relieves ultra-Orthodox yeshivas from following the rigorous standards set in state education laws for all other non-public schools, these yeshivas continue to benefit from hundreds of millions of tax-payer dollars annually.  Federal money flows to yeshivas through programs such as Title I, II, and III; Head Start and child care contracts; the E-rate telecommunications program; and food programs. For example, non-public schools in the largely Hasidic neighborhood of East Ramapo received approximately $835 per student in federal Title funding in 2016-17. In addition, state and city funding is provided to yeshivas through Academic Intervention Services (AIS), Nonpublic School Safety Equipment (NPSE), Mandated Services Aid (MSA), the Comprehensive Attendance Program (CAP), EarlyLearn, Universal Pre-K, child care vouchers, and New York City Council discretionary funds.

It is a well-established fact, going back decades, that most Hasidic boys’ yeshivas, some Hasidic girls’ schools as well as non-Hasidic, ultra-Orthodox boys’ schools fail to provide a basic education to their students. Leaders in the ultra-Orthodox community often boast about the fact that many yeshivas focus on only providing students with a religious education, particularly for boys who are all expected to become rabbis.  Few yeshivas administer state tests, including Regents exams, and most yeshivas do not award “graduates” a diploma, making post-secondary education nearly impossible.

The “Education Clause” in Article XI, section 1 of the New York State Constitution ensures the availability of a “sound basic education” to all children in the State and creates the right to adequate instruction along with all the resources that such instruction requires. For public schools, the curriculum for grades one through eight must include instruction in the subject areas of arithmetic, reading, spelling, writing, the English language, geography, United States history, civics, hygiene, physical training, the history of New York State, and science. In high school, academic instruction must include instruction in the English language and its use, civics, hygiene, physical training, American history including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.  Many yeshivas fail to provide any instruction comparable to instruction in these subject areas.
At many ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, the language of instruction is almost exclusively Yiddish. From ages 7 to 12 many Hasidic boys receive instruction in basic English reading, writing, and arithmetic for only 90 minutes a day, four days a week.

Male students over the age of 13 often spend 12 hours a day receiving instruction only in Judaic studies with no secular instruction.

In a recent survey conducted by YAFFED, of 116 yeshiva graduates and parents of current students, not a single respondent said that their school provided instruction in every subject required by the state.  In elementary schools, 65% of those who attended Hasidic yeshivas reported having received some education in English reading, 61% in English writing, and 65% in arithmetic.  Less than a quarter (24%) reported learning U.S. History, and only 2% learned New York history.  Only 8% of Hasidic boys in the survey received instruction in science, and 10% were taught geography.  None recalled any education in art or music.  Of the respondents who attended elementary-level Hasidic yeshivas for boys in New York City, 27% said they received no secular education at all in elementary school. At the high school level, 75% of respondents said they received no secular education at all, and for the 25% who did, it was typically optional and often discouraged. Only 14% of respondents said they learned English; 7% in mathematics; 18% in science; and 9% in social studies.  None had art or music classes.

Not surprisingly, Hasidic families are at high-risk for poverty and reliance upon government assistance.  Approximately 45% of Hasidic households in New York are poor and another 18% are near poor.  In the largely Hasidic area of Williamsburg, the median household income is $21,502, compared to the Brooklyn median of $46,958 and the city median of $52,737. Hasidic communities in Brooklyn have a greater percentage of families receiving cash assistance, food stamps, public health care coverage, and Section 8 housing vouchers, as compared to Brooklyn and New York City as a whole.  For example, 33.8% of Borough Park residents utilize Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamps; in Williamsburg, the number is an astounding 51.8%. The Brooklyn total is 23.8%, while 20.4% of all New York City residents receive SNAP food stamps.

The percentage of people in a heavily Hasidic district of Brooklyn utilizing public income support such as cash assistance (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicaid has increased dramatically in the last decade as the population grew rapidly without improvements in education.  In Borough Park, 63.1% of the civilian non-institutionalized population receives public health care coverage, compared to 42.7% of all Brooklyn residents and 39.5% in New York City as a whole. In Williamsburg, the proportion of residents receiving public health coverage is 76.6%.

The ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic town of Kiryas Joel was named the poorest town in the country in 2011, with 70 percent of the village’s 21,000 residents living in households whose income fell below the federal poverty threshold. And in 2018, the largely ultra-Orthodox town of New Square was found to be the poorest town in New York State.

“New York’s tens-of-thousands of yeshiva students deserve better – they deserve, like all students, the right to develop the skills that will enable them to lead independent, financially secure lives. With this lawsuit, we’re making it clear: Hasidic children have the right to the education that is constitutionally guaranteed to them by the state of New York.” concluded Moster.

YAFFED is an advocacy group committed to improving educational curricula within ultra-Orthodox schools. We fervently believe that every child is entitled to a fair and equitable education that is in compliance with the law. Our work involves raising awareness about the importance of general studies education, and encouraging elected officials, Department of Education officials and the leadership of the ultra-Orthodox world to act responsibly in preparing their youth for economic sufficiency and for broad access to the resources of the modern world.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Dear Parents and Educators,
NYC Kids PAC enthusiastically endorses the following candidates running for the State Legislature in the Democratic  primary on September 13, 2018:
(If you don’t know which Senate or Assembly district you live in, click on the links above.)
We support these candidates on the basis of their progressive records and their excellent responses on the NYC Kids PAC education survey.  (You can see their responses here [link], along with the surveys of their opponents if they returned them.)
Three of the candidates for Senate, Jessica, Zellnor and Robert, are also challenging sitting legislators who had previously joined the IDC, the Independent Democratic Caucus.  Until recently, the IDC worked with GOP members to block critical education fun
ding and support the further privatization of our public schools.
Four of our five endorsees , although relatively new to electoral politics, bring impressive resumes, energy and commitment to their campaigns.  
One of them is a seasoned veteran,Robert Jackson, who has extensive experience as the chair of the NYC Council Education Committee and a twenty-five year history of education advocacy as a school board president and lead plaintiff in the CFE lawsuit to obtain fair funding for NYC schools.  
NYC Kids PAC decided not to endorse in the primary for governor.  We are no fans of Gov. Cuomo, who has shirked his responsibility to fairly fund NYC schools and has shown undue preferences for privately-run charter schools that often violate student rights and divert even more funding and space from our public schools.  While Cynthia Nixon’s survey responses [LINK] were convincing on the need to increase education funding, keep the cap on charter schools, and reduce the emphasis on standardized tests, on several other important issues, including mayoral control, parent and CEC empowerment, class size and the Common Core standards, her responses were disappointing.
We urge all NYC parents and concerned citizens to vote for the candidates below; even more importantly, to contribute to and/or volunteer for their campaigns.  

Jessica Ramos: Volunteer or Donate.

Julia Salazar: Volunteer or Donate

Zellnor Myrie: Volunteer or Donate

Robert Jackson: Volunteer or Donate.

Catalina Cruz: Volunteer or Donate.

We may be making additional endorsements in the coming weeks; please stay tuned!
Shino, Isaac, Gloria, Fatima, Leonie, Eduardo, Shino, Andy, Brooke, Jiin Wen, Naila, Karen and Tesa

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Parent sues City Hall for refusing to release unredacted decision memo on class size

Decision memo p.2
Update: Tomorrow, Wed. May 15 at 2:30 PM at the NY Supreme Court, 60 Centre St., Rm. 418, Judge Arthur Engeron will hear arguments in this lawsuit vs NYC for redacting nearly the entire City Hall decision memo on why the Mayor rejected the Blue Book Working Group recommendations to align school capacity with smaller classes.

For immediate release: July 17, 2018
For more information contact: Leonie Haimson;; 917-435-9329.

On Monday, July 16, 2018, Brooke Parker, a NYC public school parent, filed a lawsuit against the Office of the Mayor of the City of New York, challenging the almost complete redaction of a City Hall Decision Memo that contained a discussion of the reasons for the city’s rejection of several recommendations of the Blue Book Working Group, including a proposal to align the school capacity formula with smaller class sizes.  She is represented in court by Laura D. Barbieri, Special Counsel of Advocates for Justice, a pro-bono law firm.
Brooke is also a member of NYC Kids PAC, which had sent a candidate survey to Bill de Blasio when he first ran for Mayor.  In June 2013, his campaign returned the survey, in which he promised to  Reform the blue book formula so it more accurately reflects overcrowding and incorporates the need for smaller classes.”
In February 2014, his newly-appointed Chancellor Carmen Farina appointed a working group to come up with proposals to improve the accuracy of the formula used to devise school capacity and utilization. The working group contained administrators, teachers and parents, and was co-chaired by Lorraine Grillo, the President of the School Construction Authority and Shino Tanikawa,  a parent leader and then-President of the Community Education Council in District 2 in Manhattan.
As explained by a NYC DOE spokesperson, “"Over the last decade, communities across the city have been cut out of decision-making processes that undermined the voices of educators and families. That approach is now gone—and we're replacing it with one that reflects a genuine desire to engage with communities.  With new leadership that will listen, it's a new era for our system. Families and educators need to know that we're going to seek their feedback and engage with them as much as we can."
The Blue Book Working Group made its first round of proposals that were accepted by the DOE in June 2014, including that trailers would no longer be counted in estimating school capacity.  In December 2014, the Working Group proposed thirteen more changes to the formula, including that the DOE should align the school capacity formula to the smaller class sizes in their original, state-approved Contract for Excellence class size reduction plan.  This would require a formula that assume no more than 20 students per classroom in grades K-3, 23 students in grades 4-8 and 25 students in high school, to ensure adequate space to lower class size to those levels. 
On July 28, 2015, without explanation, the City sent an email to reporters, in which the seven recommendations that were accepted were noted, as well as three proposals it would “study.” The email omitted any mention of the three proposals it had rejected outright, including the one that several members of the Working Group said was the most important: to align school capacity with smaller classes.
As Lisa Donlan, a member of the BBWG and the President of the Community Education Council in District 1 said at the time, “Certainly for me and for many of us, the class size issue was the biggest issue that we felt would have the greatest impact on bringing us to painting an accurate picture of reality and making sure that all kids got access to an adequate education — hands down.”
When reporters asked why the City had rejected the proposal on class size, the only answer offered by a Department of Education spokesman was that schools would "continue to work toward this critical goal" of reducing class sizes.
Following up on an earlier Freedom of Information request by Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, Brooke Parker filed a FOIL request in on January 24, 2018 seeking “The City Hall 2015 decision memo about which proposals of the Blue Book working group to accept or reject, with the reasons for this decision included.” 

On February 2, 2018, the Mayor’s office sent in response an eight-page document entitled “Decision memo” that was almost completely blacked out, with no mention of the proposals rejected and no information provided on why certain proposals were accepted and others not.  The rationale offered for the redactions was that the items redacted were “inter-agency discussions” and thus exempt from FOIL, pursuant to Public Officers Law § 87(2)(g).  

Yet this law also states that any “final agency policy or determinations” are not exempt from FOIL, as this memo certainly was.  It also makes clear that any inter-agency materials that contain factual data or instructions to staff that affect the public are not exempt, and it is extremely unlikely that no data or facts were cited in the discussion of these decisions. Ms. Parker appealed the redactions to the City, and on March 15, 2018, Henry T. Berger of the Mayor’s Office responded, “Your appeal is denied because I have determined that the redactions were proper.”  Thus, she had no further option but to file an appeal in court.

As Ms. Parker points out, “The decision made by the Mayor’s office to reject the recommendation of the Blue Book working group to align school capacity with smaller classes was terribly unfortunate, and will make it far more difficult to achieve the smaller classes that NYC children need to receive their constitutional right to a sound basic education, according to the State’s highest court in the CFE case.  But then to suppress any of the reasons for this decision and black out the entire discussion explaining the reasons for it makes the original decision even worse.“

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, adds: “When he was running for office, the  Mayor promised parents that he would reduce class size and align the school capacity formula with smaller classes.  He also promised to bring more transparency and community involvement to decision-making, especially when it came to our schools.  He has so far failed at all three.  Hopefully, the Court will agree that his administration can no longer hide their damaging decisions in a flurry of redactions, but will have to spell out the reasoning behind them.  New York City parents and other stakeholders deserve no less.“

The verified complaint is posted here.