Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Commissioner Elia resigns; let's hope for a better one next time!

The serious concerns we expressed yesterday and shared with the Board of Regents about NYSED's new proposed privacy regs were overwhelmed in news of Commissioner Elia's sudden resignation.  What wasn't reported on in the media crush, at least as far as I've noticed, is that the Regents were set to discuss whether to fire her during their annual retreat that started yesterday afternoon.  Clearly, Elia jumped the gun with her announcement and as a result, she was able to control the narrative, with many of the news stories featured overly positive review of her regime.

Last year, the final RAND report on the teacher evaluation project was released, showing that the initiative she led in Hillsborough County before she was fired by that school board and came to NY had no positive results and in fact, resulted in less access to effective teachers for high-needs kids.  In addition, the initiative left the district in severe fiscal disarray.

I recall when NYSAPE members and I met with her after she was first appointed in 2015.  We detailed the issues with the invalid, overly long and developmentally inappropriate state tests and Common Core standards, as well as many other problems ranging from the state's refusal to oversee the increases in NYC class sizes to their laggardly pace in enforcing the 2014 student privacy law.  She said very little, but ended by claiming that somehow, all the problems with the tests would be solved by putting them online. Never did I suspect it would take four more years for them to issue regulations to enact the 2014 student privacy law, and when they did they would attempt to eliminate the ban against selling student data or using it for marketing purposes.

During her time in NY, she never seemed to grasp just how awful the tests were, and compounded their abusive nature by administering them untimed, which led to some children spending up to six hours or more a day trying to make sense out of them, until they collapsed in frustration. Nor did she make the changes in the standards that many of the early childhood experts on her own advisory committees demanded. Her modus operandi seemed to be to form myriad committees and advisory boards, and post numerous surveys, but then pretty much ignore all the public input she received.

As the NYSAPE press release says, let's hope the Board of Regents work with parents and other stakeholders in the appointment of  a new Commissioner this time who will steer the state in a better direction; the last four have been pretty awful.  The press release has a hopeful title.  We shall have to see whether indeed this the end of the state's long-lasting, damaging corporate reform agenda.

Monday, July 15, 2019

NYSED attempts to radically weaken NY Student privacy law to allow for the selling of student data

Here and below is a letter that NYSAPE, Class Size Matters and the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy sent to the Board of Regents last night.  
The Regents were set to discuss newly revised proposed student privacy regulations this morning which considerably weaken the state's student privacy law passed in 2014, NY Education § 2-d , that was approved by the Legislature as a result of the controversy over inBloom.  At that time, the Legislature blocked the state's plan to hand off a a wealth of personal student information to this Gates-funded corporation and also passed a new law modeled on CA legislation , which wisely prohibited the sale and use of personal student data for marketing purposes under any circumstances.  
Instead, the new proposed regulations  posted here would allow for the sale and use of student data for marketing purposes as long as there was “consent” on the part of parents and/or eligible students, by claiming that it would no longer be defined as marketing.  This radical redefinition of the law was made presumably at the behest of College Board and ACT.  
The College Board, which makes millions of dollars from selling student data while claiming that it does not, was recently exposed by the NY Times as selling the information to third parties which in turn sell it to even more unscrupulous organizations to make money off unsuspecting families.  The College Board harvests much of this data off students deceptively before the administration of the PSATs and SATs, without parent knowledge, a practice that we have written about extensively and more recently has been criticized by the US Department of Education.
There are many other problems with these proposed regulations that would further restrict the ability of parents to keep their children's information safe from abuse, as we had pointed out in our comments on the regulations as originally drafted.
In addition, according to the state law, NYSED Chief Privacy Officer is supposed to produce a report each year on the progress made in protecting student privacy, including the results of investigations of breaches and parental complaints.  And yet NYSED officials have refused to provide any such reports, even after being asked for them. 
Here is the agenda of today’s Regents meeting – the early morning session  were live-streamed but unfortunately not the session starting at 10:30 AM where these regulations will discussed.  
The letter was quickly drafted over the weekend because as it points out, we had no advance warning that these regulations were being released until they appeared on the Regents agenda; apologies if there are some grammatical errors.  More soon.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Comments on the Citizens Budget Commission report on alleviating school overcrowding

Today, Citizens Budget Commission came out with a new report , entitled Cut Costs, Not Ribbons, suggesting ways the city could help alleviate school overcrowding without building more school seats.

Using data from the DOE’s annual school utilization report from 2017-18 school year, otherwise known as the Blue Book, the author Riley Edwards concluded there were 618 overcrowded schools lacking about 96,000 seats. Building new schools is expensive and slow, and rather than rely purely on new school construction to address overcrowding, they made several useful proposals.

I agree with two of the proposals: School re-zonings should be undertaken far more frequently by DOE, especially when two or more adjacent elementary schools diverge radically in terms of utilization rates. The report’s author estimates about 16,000 additional seats could be obtained in this manner.

And since DOE completely controls the enrollment process at most high schools (only 22 of 432 high schools are zoned, according to the report), far more effort should be made to equalize high school overcrowding across the city, which the author estimates could add about another 31,000 seats.

I would slightly amend the latter proposal to suggest that it is especially important to cap enrollment at struggling high schools to be able to lower class size in these schools. It is especially outrageous that certain high schools that have been on various “failing” lists over the years, including most recently the Renewal list, should still remain so overcrowded: for example, Long Island City HS (at 108%) and Flushing HS (at 137%).

Two of the CBC proposals, though, are unrealistic and/or inadvisable. Since many middle schools are rated as underutilized, they suggest creating new elementary schools to be co-located with middle schools. It is far from ideal for elementary kids to share space with middle school students, for either educational and social reasons. More importantly, the creation of more co-located schools is not a good strategy, since they are costly in terms of extra staffing and eat up previous classroom space with the need to add replicated administrative and specialty rooms for each new school.

The next proposal made in the report seems to admit to the inefficiencies created by co-locations: the authors suggest requiring co-located schools to share administrative spaces, such as principal offices, to free up more space for classrooms. This is unrealistic. One cannot expect an administrator of one school to share his or her office with an official from another school; moreover, this would create all sorts of privacy issues and potential violations of FERPA. It would be especially unworkable in the case of the hundreds of charter schools that now share buildings with our public schools.

The report also suggests putting more schools on split sessions - which is already used by 42 overcrowded high schools and has negative impacts on the ability of many students to participate in sports, clubs and other after-school activities.  This method should only be used as a temporary stopgap method, in my opinion.

An overarching weakness in the report is it does not really address the issue of future enrollment growth. While it states that overall, the DOE projects citywide enrollment decline, this ignores two critical factors: The DOE and their consultants have often been wrong in their predictions of enrollment decline in the past, and even now, their projections show continued increases in many neighborhoods, especially in Queens and Southern Brooklyn, which cannot be addressed via re-zonings because most of the elementary schools in these areas are already overcrowded.

Thus the actual need for seats is likely to be more than the 96,000 shortage the report now assumes, and will likely take a more aggressive capital plan to address. It doesn’t help that the DOE removed any assessment of current or future seats needs from the new five-year capital plan released last year, for the first time since 2011, even as the City Council and advocates had urged them to provide a more detailed explanation of how they make these assessments.

If one assumes the need for smaller classes than the school utilization formula now assumes – especially in grades 4-8, where the formula assumes classes of 28 students per class and in high school, which assumes 30, the need for even more school space is even more clear.

One more thing: we did an analysis of the seats built under Bloomberg vs de Blasio, and found that during de Blasio's first term, the School Construction Authority created fewer school seats than in any of Bloomberg’s three terms, and will likely build even fewer during his second term. See below chart, using data collected from Mayor Management Reports and the new five-year capital plan.

The CBC report has a slightly different chart but shows much the same trends.One caveat: none of these figures include the many school seats lost annually, as we pointed out in our 2014 Space Crunch report, whether to lapsed building leases, the elimination of annexes and/or removal of trailers. The number of seats lost have been considerable in number --with many thousands of seats lost annually, and yet this figure has never been reported on or accounted for in any capital plan by either administration.

Our more recent 2018 report, The Impact of PreK on School Overcrowding in NYC: Lack of Planning, Lack of Space, pointed out how more than 350 elementary schools in 2016-2017 became even more overcrowded as a result of de Blasio’s rapid and often haphazard expansion of preK and 3K -- which should also have led him to finance a more aggressive capital plan but didn't -- further diminishing the educational experiences of more than a quarter million students in grades K-5.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

High levels of lead dust found in city schools via an independent WNYC investigation

photo: WNYC/Gothamist

Yesterday Christopher Werth of WNYC radio posted a story online at Gothamist and broadcast on WNYC about an investigation he undertook in four NYC schools in which he found high levels of lead dust on the floor and windowsills from peeling paint. WNYC had emailed the principals and PTAs at over 30 public elementary schools built before 1960 — the year lead-paint was banned in New York City --  and gained entrance to only these four.

Werth took samples in preK to second grade classrooms and in common areas shared by students age six and below -- who are at the greatest risk of lead poisoning. In each of these schools,  there were serious violations that exceeded limits adopted by the City Council for floors -- currently at 10 micrograms per square foot, to be lowered to five micrograms by 2021.  Some samples contained lead 1000 times above this limit.

The reality is there is NO safe amount of lead in the blood; and the lowest levels that can be detected have significant negative impacts on a child's cognitive abilities and behavior.

Similarly, a recent audit by the NY State Comptroller  found preK classrooms in CBOs and in public schools with "potential fire and safety hazards,  toxic cleaning supplies" - and in at least one case, peeling lead paint.

DOE has a poor history when it comes to testing for lead.  For years, district officials insisted on using a discredited method to test in school water, by flushing the water first -- even when this method violated EPA guidance and by 2016, a new state law.

As Dr. Morri Markowitz, lead expert at Montefiore hospital, says in the Gothamist article, “Do I trust the New York City Department of Education to conduct a fair, objective study in their schools? I would say that this is not an agency that has a long-term record of credibility on this particular issue.”

To make things worse, the city's most rigorous public health laws that regulate lead do not apply to DOE schools, as Werth explains:

"Since 1997, for example, child care programs — which also enroll 3K- and pre-K-aged children — have not been permitted to have “lead-based paint on any interior surface,” according to Article 47 of the NYC Health Code. And under Local Law One, private landlords who are renting a newly-available unit are required to fully abate lead paint on doorways, windows and other high-impact surfaces, which tend to create significant amounts of lead dust.

Neither of these provisions apply to schools."

This is in part because the Council has uniquely limited authority over DOE, which is legally still considered a state agency even under Mayoral control.  Yet the Department has been expanding 3K and preK programs and assuming more authority over child care services, which is slowly but surely further whittling away the ability of the Council to make law and provide checks and balances.

A recent audit by the NY State Comptroller also found preK classrooms in CBOs and public schools with "potential fire and safety hazards,  toxic cleaning supplies" and in at least one case, peeling lead paint.

In response to the WNYC investigation, Mark Treyger, chair of the NYC Council Education Committee commented,

“There's a gap in terms of our ability to legislate over the DOE directly on this issue.  Quite frankly, they don't like when the City Council has certain power over their policies and regulations and rules. However, I will not accept resistance from DOE on this front.”

The reality is that since DOE is not under municipal control, new state laws may have to be passed to require stricter scrutiny and remediation for lead paint in NYC schools, even as DOE is absorbing more and more power over childhood services that used to be given to other city agencies, such as Early Learn.

And yet there has been little push back by the Speaker or the City Council as a whole to ensure adequate checks and balances which would require advocating for municipal control.

More on the WNYC findings and the Mayor's response in the twitter "Moment" below.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Our annual Skinny dinner honoring AG Tish James and NYC Kids PAC was a success!

Attorney General Tish James and me

On Wednesday night, Class Size Matters held our annual Skinny award dinner at Casa La Femme in Greenwich Village.  This year we honored NY Attorney General Tish James and NYC Kids PAC for giving us the real "Skinny" on NYC schools and supporting and amplifying the voices of  public school parents and students.

The food was great and the company sublime.  The Attorney General, Diane Ravitch and Chancellor Rosa all delivered wonderful speeches and it was great fun to share experiences and catch up with allies, friends and colleagues from the past year.

There are lots more photos on the Class Size Matters Facebook page and a few below.

Brooke Parker, Shino Tanikawa,  and Fatima Geidi receiving the Skinny award on behalf of NYC Kids PAC.

Diane Ravitch, education historian and activist, Susan Ochshorn of ECE Policy Works and Carol Burris, executive director of Network for Public Education.

Two of last year's Skinny winners: Fred Smith, testing expert and critic, with Norm Scott, retired teacher, blogger, reporter for The Wave and all-round education activist.

Anita Coley, principal of PS 25 in Bed Stuy with AG Tish James and educators Audrey and Gerri Baker, alumnae of PS 25.

Attorney General Tish James with Alex and Marcus of Teens Take Charge.

 Naftuli Moser of Yaffed, Bronx Borough President education adviser Monica Major with Kim Major Walker and Michael Oppenheimer.

Jeanette Deutermann of LI Opt Out, Lisa Eggert Litvin of NYSAPE, Barbara of New York Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, Jake Jacobs of Badass Teachers Association and Gary Rubinstein, teacher and blogger.

Thanks to everyone who came !  -- Leonie Haimson, Executive Director