Saturday, October 27, 2018

A growing class divide in education: small class size vs. computerized learning; how Silicon valley is very aware that the ed tech they're foisting on our schools is dangerous to kids

Three articles in today’s NY Times well worth reading, with some excerpts below, explore the growing class divide between the private schools for rich children where real personalized learning is provided via small classes and computers are rarely used, as opposed to schools for middle class and poor kids, where ed tech is all the rage, pushed by corporate interests and fauxlanthropists like Gates and Zuckerberg.

For those who want to see the presentation we did at last weekend’s NPE conference on this issue, including a video and power point, check out Outsourcing the classroom to machine learning & ed tech; why parents should resist. 

Is the explosion of ed tech in the classroom a massive hoax or a dangerous experiment on kids?  Offer your comments below.

“I am convinced the devil lives in our phones.”
SAN FRANCISCO — The people who are closest to a thing are often the most wary of it. Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them.
A wariness that has been slowly brewing is turning into a regionwide consensus: The benefits of screens as a learning tool are overblown, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high. … Athena Chavarria, who worked as an executive assistant at Facebook and is now at Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic arm, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, said: “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”… For longtime tech leaders, watching how the tools they built affect their children has felt like a reckoning on their life and work.
Among those is Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now the chief executive of a robotics and drone company. He is also the founder of
“On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine,” Mr. Anderson said of screens. …“This is scar tissue talking. We’ve made every mistake in the book, and I think we got it wrong with some of my kids,” Mr. Anderson said. “We glimpsed into the chasm of addiction, and there were some lost years, which we feel bad about.”
His children attended private elementary school, where he saw the administration introduce iPads and smart whiteboards, only to “descend into chaos and then pull back from it all.”

The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected

America’s public schools are still touting devices with screens — even offering digital-only preschools. The rich are banning screens from class altogether.
The parents in Overland Park, Kan., were fed up. They wanted their children off screens, but they needed strength in numbers. First, because no one wants their kid to be the lone weird one without a phone. And second, because taking the phone away from a middle schooler is actually very, very tough.
“We start the meetings by saying, ‘This is hard, we’re in a new frontier, but who is going to help us?’” said Krista Boan, who is leading a Kansas City-based program called START, which stands for Stand Together And Rethink Technology. “We can’t call our moms about this one.”
For the last six months, at night in school libraries across Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City, Mo., about 150 parents have been meeting to talk about one thing: how to get their kids off screens….
It could happen that the children of poorer and middle-class parents will be raised by screens, while the children of Silicon Valley’s elite will be going back to wooden toys and the luxury of human interaction….

Technology Is a Huge Social Experiment on Children

Some parents, pediatricians and teachers around the country are pushing back.
“These companies lied to the schools, and they’re lying to the parents,” said Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in Kansas City. “We’re all getting duped.”…
“Our kids, my kids included, we are subjecting them to one of the biggest social experiments we have seen in a long time,” she said. “What happens to my daughter if she can’t communicate over dinner — how is she going to find a spouse? How is she going to interview for a job?”
As those working to build products become more wary, the business of getting screens in front of kids is booming. Apple and Google compete ferociously to get products into schools and target students at an early age, when brand loyalty begins to form.
Google published a case study of its work with the Hoover City, Ala., school district, saying technology equips students “with skills of the future.”
The concluded that its own Chromebooks and Google tools changed lives: “The district leaders believe in preparing students for success by teaching them the skills, knowledge, and behaviors they need to become responsible citizens in the global community.”
Dr. Freed, though, argues these tools are too relied upon in schools for low-income children. And he sees the divide every day as he meets tech-addicted children of middle and low-income families.
“For a lot of kids in Antioch, those schools don’t have the resources for extracurricular activities, and their parents can’t afford nannies,” Dr. Freed said. He said the knowledge gap around tech’s danger is enormous.
Dr. Freed and 200 other psychologists petitioned the American Psychological Association in August to formally condemn the work psychologists are doing with persuasive design for tech platforms that are designed for children.
“Once it sinks its teeth into these kids, it’s really hard,” Dr. Freed said.

Silicon Valley Nannies Are Phone Police for Kids

Child care contracts now demand that nannies hide phones, tablets, computers and TVs from their charges.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Elected and parent leaders urge the Mayor to fully fund need for school seats in soon-to-be released capital plan

Mayor promising to fully fund need for seats in next five-year Capital plan
For immediate release: October 26, 2018

Contact: Leonie Haimson, 917-435-9329;

Elected and parent leaders urge the Mayor to fully fund need for school seats in soon-to-be released capital plan
They warn that school overcrowding will worsen without a focused effort to expand capacity
The new five-year capital plan for schools for 2020-2024 is expected to be released next month. Earlier this week, a letter was sent to the Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza, asking them to fulfill the promise the Mayor made last year that the new plan would fully fund new school space according to the Department of Education’s own estimate of need. At that time, the need was projected by DOE to be 38,000 seats in addition to the 44,000 seats in the current plan, to alleviate school overcrowding and accommodate projected enrollment growth.

The letter was signed by Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, newly-elected State Senator Robert Jackson, along with leaders of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, many Presidents of President Councils and Community Education Councils, the Education Council Consortium, and Class Size Matters.

“We know that when our schools are overcrowded, our children are deprived of the attention they deserve,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “Supporting our schools and ensuring our children have the resources they need to succeed should always be top priority and that starts with fully funding this capital plan to accommodate the growing number of students in New York City. Every child deserves access to a quality education and we cannot wait to act.”

As Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters explained, “According to the DOE’s data, about 575,000 students are crammed into overcrowded NYC schools. The current capital plan is only about half-funded in terms of new school capacity compared to the need identified by the DOE. Meanwhile, the city’s population is growing fast, there’s a residential building boom in every borough, and thousands more 3K and UPK students are enrolled in our district’s schools. All this is contributing to worsening school overcrowding, especially in elementary schools which average 104% utilization citywide.”

Shino Tanikawa, co-President of the Education Council Consortium, composed of Citywide and Community Education Council members, pointed out, “The ECC unanimously voted to sign on to this letter, because too many kids have lost their art rooms, access to gyms and cafeterias at reasonable times, and are subjected to excessive class sizes. We know that as it is, the DOE’s estimate of need is too low. For one thing, the school utilization formula is not aligned to the smaller classes required for a truly equitable chance to learn, despite the recommendations made by the Blue Book Working Group which I co-chaired. The Mayor should fulfill his promise to fund and build at least the schools that the DOE admits are required.”

The letter also urged the Mayor and the Chancellor to accelerate the process of school siting and construction so that the additional seats are built within five years, rather than trailing years behind enrollment, as occurs now.

Naila Rosario, President of the NYC Kids PAC, explained: “Too often, even those school seats that are funded take twenty years or more to site and build. Meanwhile, class sizes swell out of control, as high rises and new developments sprout up all over the city. Most of the seats funded in the current capital plan won’t be built until 2020 or later, long after the plan is over. We need to accelerate this process of school planning and construction and make it far more efficient.”

Concluded Celia Green, newly-elected President of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council and a parent of special needs students, pointed out, “Students with disabilities have repeatedly been forced into too-small rooms, shunted aside in trailers, and often receive their mandated services in hallways or closets. This is unacceptable, especially in the richest city in the country in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Parents know that their children’s opportunities are partly shaped by the environment in which they are educated, and it is past time that the city acknowledge that fact, by providing them with the space they deserve.”

A copy of the letter is posted here.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Our Educator toolkit presentation from the NPE conference

Melissa Tomlinson and Marla Kilfoyle of the Badass Teachers Association along with Rachael Stickland and Leonie Haimson presented the new Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy at the Network for Public Education Conference in Indianapolis last Saturday, October 20, 2018. Check it out below.

Since the Toolkit was released on Thursday Oct. 18, it was covered in Ed Week and has been downloaded more than 2000 times! You can download the entire toolkit yourself at

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Class size in the UFT's current vs past contracts & the history of More Effective Schools

For more on the lack of attention given to class size in the UFT contract, see the commentary from MORE, the UFT progressive caucus, and from James Eterno, long-time teacher leader of the ICE, the Independent Community of Educators. 
I was just at the Network for Public Education's annual conference, where Alex Orosco, the treasurer of the United Teachers of Los Angeles spoke about how lowering class size is the union’s top priority in negotiations that have been going on for months now– above even salary increases.  In fact, he said, the Superintendent tried to buy the union with offering them higher salaries, which they rejected.  According to the UTLA, his offer was a 3 percent salary increase with another 3 percent contingent on district finances, but the “proposal on class size is unacceptable, and makes no improvements for 90% of our schools.” From their press release:
“Beutner’s proposal does nothing to make our schools better. This is an insult to our members, to our students and to our parents,” said Arlene Inouye, Chair of the Bargaining Team. “This stunt reveals he is more interested in fighting against educators at any cost than saving our school district.” An oped about the fight for lower class sizes in LA schools is here.
Meanwhile there are no moves to lower class sizes in the new proposed UFT contract, with caps that have remained the same for nearly  fifty years. The existing caps remain far too large at 25 students per class in K, 32 in grades 1-5; 30-33 in middle schools (depending on whether it’s a Title One school), and 34 in high school.
When the UFT first became the teachers’ bargaining agent in 1961, lowering class size was already one of the union's top priorities. The specific demand submitted to the NYC Board of Education that year was that all classes should be capped at 30, with classes of struggling students capped at 25, and special classes limited to 15.
In 1963, the first class size caps were first imposed, along with higher salaries, under the leadership of Al Shanker and the threat of strike.  In 1964, these caps were reduced and even smaller classes were instituted through the contract in a select group of schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods, called the “More Effective Schools."
These schools capped class sizes at no more than 22 students and also offered preK classes limited to 15 students, in a visionary program, truly ahead of its time. The schools also provided "teacher specialists, grouped classes heterogeneously and emphasized school-community relationships. 
A $5 million fund was dedicated to be spent on these schools as well as other “intensive” programs, and a “work group” made up of the UFT, the BOE and parents would “make appropriate studies and to submit recommendations” to the BOE on how the program would be expanded.
A 1967 independent study found exceptional gains in these schools, which enrolled 18,000 students.  The schools offered an average class size or 20.5, more than 8 students fewer than the citywide average. Improvements were noted in student achievement, speech fluency, school climate, and survey responses from parents and teachers and administrators. 
“Standardized test results in reading and arithmetic show favorable gains in ability and skills by the More Effective pupils, whether or not they are compared in growth with national norms or with a comparable control group of schools.” The study also found that significantly fewer teachers transferred out of these schools than the city average.
In 1970, a consultant concluded that “The program’s major objective was realized to a considerable degree, especially in instilling in the pupils a desire for learning, a likely for school and increased respect for themselves and others.” When the Board of Ed cut funding and discontinued these  schools in 1972, the UFT unsuccessfully sued in Brooklyn Supreme Court keep them going.
Since that time, the evidence on the importance of class size to improving student achievement, school climate, student engagement, disciplinary problems, graduation rates and teacher attrition has only grown.
Yet not only have class size caps not been reduced, they have actually been increased in recent years.  Starting in 1986, class sizes were capped at 28 in grades 1-3, because of a UFT “side agreement" or sometimes called a “capping circular,” created with special funding from the City Council under then-Speaker Peter Vallone.  When the DOE began to ignore this agreement in 2010  and raised classes to 32 in these grades in hundreds of schools, it provoked very little protest from the union.
An archived page from 2011 on the UFT website acknowledged these lower caps, missing from the current page dealing with class size caps:  When specific funding is provided, as has often been done for the early grades, lower caps may apply. In recent years, 1st and 2nd grades have been capped at 28 students per class. Ask your UFT chapter leader if lower limits apply to your class. 
In 2015, Chancellor Carmen Farina instructed principals to ignore the class size cap in Kindergarten, probably the worst grade to allow this to happen, according to research.  The UFT belatedly responded by agreeing that in a class that exceeded 25 students, the teacher would receive an extra prep period or a classroom aide assigned to the classroom for part of the day. Neither of these measures took effect until after December in 2015, far too late into the school year, and neither would be expected to provide the same benefits to students as a small class.  In recent years, too often the resolution for class size violations in other grades as well has been to award teachers an extra prep period or some other concession – with no benefit to the 35 plus students in their classes.  
In 2016, the DOE and UFT created  a labor-management committee to focus  “on resolving overages in schools with a history of oversize classes”.  At the  time, it was claimed that this would lead to the speed of addressing class size in schools in which class sizes violate the limits year after year, without any resolution for months at a time.     
The proposed UFT contract puts forward a new bureaucratic process that will supposedly further “expedite” the process,  by referring them first to the district leader and the superintendent, and then to this same  central labor-management committee, but only after a delay of a full month or more of the school year -- which is already far too slow for students whose education should not have to disrupted by switching teachers or classes so late in the year: 
Under the new process, remaining oversize classes that the superintendent and the UFT district representative cannot resolve by day 21 will be turned over to a class size labor management committee. That central committee will meet at least three days a week every week until it has reviewed the remaining oversize class issues in every school.
The new process is different for a “chronically out-of-compliance” school — a school that has had oversize classes for four or more of the last six years, including the most recent year.[emphasis added] The central committee will meet no later than the 10th day of school to determine a school-specific solution for each of these schools. The central committee will reconvene in June to update the short- and long-term plans for each of these schools to head off trouble in September.
Schools for which the central committee fails to find a solution will be fast-tracked [after months have already passed?] to arbitration. Under the new process, the arbitrator will have the authority to determine the appropriate remedy. 
Meanwhile, according to the contract, any resolution to address violations in schools with chronic violations, as well all discussions in the Class Size Labor Management committee “are non-precedential, and the parties agree that they will not be used in any other forum or proceeding except to enforce their terms.”  This implies an untoward level of secrecy for an issue with such importance to parents and students. 
Instead of addressing the need to lower the caps, the contract creates lots of new out-of-classroom positions, especially at the high-needs schools branded as “Bronx Collaborative Schools.”  These new positions will have questionable value to students, as I explained here:

These new higher-paid positions are also supposed to reduce teacher attrition at these schools, but there is little or no evidence that supplementing salary will work – as opposed to reducing class size, which has been shown to improve teacher retention rates in many studies, including as noted in the research on the More Effective Schools.
In an article in City Limits, David Bloomfield, education professor,  pointed this out: 
“David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, expressed surprise that the UFT agreed to differential pay for teachers in different locations. He also stressed that salary issues were not often at the forefront of teacher’s concerns in high-need schools and districts.
“The main issue is the difficult working conditions in some of these schools brought on by large class sizes with concentrations of students with the greatest challenges,” he says. “Whether a salary increment will increase the staffing stability or improve the learning of those children is open to question.” 
A teacher with the initials JTS left this comment: Agree with the final comment. Working in a tough school can be a completely different job than in a school with few problems. Its not worth your sanity for an extra $5000-8000. They should increase that amount or better yet, change working conditions, such as by reducing class sizes or having more effective discipline and support systems in these hard-to-staff schools. 
The Renewal schools, the previous program for struggling schools which the previous Chancellor Carmen Farina created has had inconsistent results. As part of a $4.9 million teacher-leadership program, these schools were provided the opportunity to raise salaries by  $27,500 for top teachers willing to take on leadership roles; yet  a Chalkbeat investigation found  that nearly 40 percent of teachers at schools in the Renewal Program in 2014 had left after two years. 
According to the new UFT contract, the Bronx Collaborative schools will not only be offered new categories of higher paid mentor teachers, but will also “priority consideration for centrally funded initiatives such as Equity and Excellence initiatives, air conditioning, physical education and others that align to the schools' goals. " 
But apparently not class size reduction, which would give them the greatest opportunity to engage their students, leading to more learning and better outcomes.  Our analysis of Renewal schools showed that the ones with the smallest classes were most likely to succeed.
In a UFT teacher survey from 2013 – the most recent one publicly available - 99% NYC teachers responded that class size reduction would be an effective reform  to improve NYC schools.  About 90% said that this would be a “very effective” reform – far outstripping any other proposal.  

If the UFT leadership was doing anything else to push for smaller classes, either through court action or advocating for targeted funding for class size reduction through the state or city budget, their lack of attention given to reducing class size in the contract would be more understandable.  Sadly, for too long, they remain Missing in Action on this crucial issue.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Parent of autistic child on how bill requiring tracking on school buses could be improved

The below testimony on school busing was submitted to the City Council by an Inwood parent with an autistic daughter who prefers to remain anonymous for the purpose of preserving her child’s privacy.  she is commenting on Int 1099-2018, a bill to be discussed today at Council hearings requiring tracking devices on all NYC school buses.

Dear Members of the NYC Council,
I submit the following testimony to be included in the official record of the NYC City Council re Int 1099-2018:
Thank you for taking the time to read my testimony. My name is [removed].  I am a parent of a elementary school-aged child with an IEP in District 6 in the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. I have intentionally left her name and diagnosis out of my testimony to protect her privacy. Please help guard her privacy by referring to me and my testimony by my middle name, Nicole.
Busing my child to school has been a challenge. Chancellor’s regulations allow one-way bus times of
90 minutes for in borough and 180 minutes for out-of-borough transportation. Given a 6 hour school day, this means that a child may spend 40% of his or her school day actually in transit on a bus. It is thus a vital part of a students learning experience.
The proposed ‘school bus tracking app’ could be very beneficial to many students and their parents if implemented conscientiously.
It is my personal experience that the $40 ($75) initial investment in Verizon’s LG Gizmo Pal 1 (now 2) plus $5 monthly charge have enabled my child to have the benefit of this proposed legislation. It uses both GPS and cell-phone tracking to allow me to check my child’s progress to and from school. This tool has kept my mind at ease those days when her in borough route has stretched into 100 minutes or longer — no crash, just late. It has flagged the days when the bus got her late to school, and she missed out on vital learning time. It has illustrated poorly planned, inefficient routes. It is a tool that should be available to all parents.
I hope this legislation will provide an opportunity to improve school transportation for all students.
I think that the current draft needs to improve in the following ways:
(1) GPS is too narrow of a definition for a bus tracking device. The technology for this type of tracking device can be challenging in a dense metropolitan area such as New York City. I suggest requiring the tracking device to have at least 2-fold technology: 1:GPS as well as 2:GSM/CDMA (cellular phone triangulation). Moreover, the legislation should be written in such a way as it ‘grows’ with the technological standards for tracking.
(2) It is not clear who the owner of the cellular phones referenced in Int1099-2018. The mandate should clarify that these are owned by NYC DoE, and the hardware used / software installed should be highly regulated.
(3) The protocol for use of cellular phones / radios by bus drivers should be clarified.  Is it permissible to use these while driving? Only while stopped? Are these intended for the bus matron instead?
(4) There is no explicit treatment for how the data gathered by these tracking devices will be protected from unintentional distribution (hacking) or regulated/prohibited for intentional distribution (3rd party data sharing by NYC DoE, OPT, busing companies). Will students’ privacy be protected?
(5) I suggest that the following be added to the top for context and to emphasize the importance of school busing to students getting a free and appropriate public education: “Transportation is a related service for special education students as defined by the Federal IDEA 2004 law — 34 CFR §300.34(c)(16)”
(6) There is no protocol for how the data will be used to improve student transportation: *Will too-long (out of IEP compliance) routes be flagged automatically?
*Will ‘lemon’ buses (those with chronic break-downs) be flagged automatically? 
*Will drivers be penalized for speeding?
*Will drivers be penalized for waiting an extra minute when a child has trouble transitioning onto the bus?
*Will the efficacy of the route be assessed and poorly designed routes flagged for improvement?
*Will adjustments be automated for predictable traffic conditions (i.e., garbage pickup times on narrow streets)?
*Will there be an automated process to give students ‘make up’ time when the bus is late getting the student to school?
*Will special education students continue to be segregated from non-special education students during transportation? (Will they be allowed to integrate with supports?) Or will there continue to be dual, segregated routes?
I do hope that you can incorporate some of these suggestions into the current draft. I also note that, if transportation is required to adhere to the IEP guidelines wrt limited time transportation that NYC DoE may be compelled to operate schools in more wide-spread locations. I think that this change would also benefit many students.

Thank you.