Sunday, March 17, 2019

Queens forum with AOC on how our schools must make every child feel like they matter

There was an amazing education forum yesterday with standing room only. Thanks to Jackson Heights People for Public Schools for organizing it. Among the wonderful speakers were Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents the district in Congress,  NY Senators Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, who represent the district in the Legislature, as well as Senators Robert Jackson and John Liu.
Among the terrific education advocates who spoke were Johanna Garcia of NYC Opt out, Maria Bautista of AQE, Carol Burris of Network for Public Education, Diane Ravitch, Kate Menken  of the NYS Association for Bilingual Education and me. 

I was thrilled to be there and meet AOC, who spoke eloquently about how her family had moved out of the Bronx for good schools, and how no one should ever have to move from their home or to a charter school because the public schools aren't good enough.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the Jackson Heights education forum from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the Jackson Heights education forum from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

My presentation on the fundamental inequities of NYC schools and what we need to do to make every child feel like they matter by lowering class size is below.

Aimee Horowitz, former head of Renewal schools, now working at a charter school chain

Aimee Horowitz, who formerly ran the mostly ineffective Renewal school program under Chancellor Farina and resigned from that post a year ago, is now a Senior Education Specialist with Integration Charter Schools.  Horowitz was a favorite of Carmen Farina's and was said to have transitioned into helping co-located schools improve their collaboration, but this is position is not mentioned in her LinkedIn profile.

Ironically, Integration Charter Schools, based on Staten Island,  boasts in their teacher recruitment materials how class sizes are capped at 18 students:

In November 2015, when she ran the Renewal school program ,  I asked Horowitz about whether they had reduced class size in the Renewal schools as the DOE had repeatedly promised parents and the state:

The City Hall briefing consisted of a long power point from Aimee Horowitz, the Executive Superintendent of the Renewal school program and Chris Caruso, Executive Director of Community Schools.  For more than an hour we listened to all the various programs and services that are planned, with no mention of reducing class size in either presentation.

Finally I got a chance to speak.  I asked Ms. Horowitz: "In which renewal schools are class sizes reduced this fall, to what levels, what resources and strategies are being used, and how was the list of schools selected?"  

My question followed from the DOE claim to the state  last December and again this fall, in their Contract for Excellence presentations, that they would be focusing their "Class Size Reduction planning efforts on the School Renewal Program."   This was a repeat of questions that CEC members and I have been asking DOE officials for months; without any response. We already have heard of several Renewal schools this year where class sizes have risen to 27 students per class in Kindergarten, 31 in 1st grade and 35 or more students in high school. 

Ms. Horowitz replied that there was no separate list of Renewal schools slated for class size reduction, and that all 94 schools were expected to lower class size by use of their increased Fair Student funding and help with "programming." When I asked if that meant we should see smaller classes in all of these schools when the data is released on Monday, she nodded yes, but then said "proper class sizes."  I followed up with an email asking her what  she means by "proper class sizes", but I am not hopeful of a substantive reply.

Of course, she never did reply and most of the Renewal schools never did lower class size (though those that did were more likely to succeed.)

Now that she has entered the charter school world, perhaps she is more interested in what proper class sizes for NYC students might be.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Mayoral control hearings and video: It's time for a change

I just came from the NY Senate hearings on mayoral control, where Senator Shelley Mayer, chair of the Education Committee, Senator John Liu, chair of the NYC Education Committee, and Senators Robert Jackson, Velmanette Montgomery and others asked piercing questions of parents, advocates, community members, as well of Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza.

To cut to the chase: the Mayor said that he and the Chancellor are "working on being more responsive to parents" and  plan to be more systematic about this in the "next couple of weeks."  This is after he has been in office for five years.

Meanwhile he insisted on a three-year extension of mayoral control to the end of his term; no change in the composition of the Panel on Educational Policy, no change in his ability to fire PEP members at will, and no change in the selection process of the Chancellor to make it more transparent or provide more public input.

Several times the Mayor claimed he had never fired a PEP member for disagreeing with him, which is untrue.  Elzora Cleveland was fired last year as reported here and in City Limits below, for voting against school closures.

Both the Mayor and the Chancellor said they had made terrific progress in "empowering" parents and "listening to them," though no specific examples were given in terms of new policies adopted or decisions made.

Jumaane Williams, our new Public Advocate-elect, spoke concisely and well about the need for municipal control - meaning that the City Council should be empowered to provide checks and balances when it comes to our schools, as they do with all other city agencies but DOE.

Brooke Parker of NYC Kids PAC and I spoke after Jumaane; my testimony is below.  We agreed that municipal control would be an improvement,  as well as giving more authority to CECs to approve school closings and co-locations and changing the composition of the PEP.

After me, Community Education Council District 3 President Kim Watkins and Shino Tanikawa, the co-chair of the Education Council Consortium, the collective of all the CECs, explained how the current system is essentially undemocratic and that parents continue to be shut out of important decision-making when it comes to their children's schools.

Shino, a parent activist for at least 15 years, said that she vehemently opposed mayoral control without checks and balances.  She pointed out that there is no accountability, as the supporters of mayoral control maintained, because there is no real transparency and voters do not vote on education alone.  Moreover, as de Blasio is now in his second term, what choice do voters even have at this point?  We cannot vote him out. She added that all the things that others praised de Blasio for doing, including expanding preK,  could have done with or without mayoral control.
Senator Liu and Senator Jackson asked whether they would support a Commission that could deliberate over the course of one or two years to devise how an improved system of school governance might be structured.
Shino said perhaps, but only if the Commission including CEC members and other parents.  "We need a real conversation that includes parents students and teachers and that results in a system that is truly democratic...We need a system that doesn’t depend on the individual temperament of the mayor."

The most infuriating testimony came from Bob Lowry of the NY State Council of Superintendents and Julie Marlette of the NY State School Boards Association.  Both said that they supported an unrestricted three-year extension of mayoral control with no changes;  not for their own districts of course, but for NYC.  The districts they represent have elected school boards that offer parents and community members real input as opposed to our essentially dictatorial one-man rule.
In my testimony, I tried to counter many of the myths surrounding mayoral control, including great improvements in student outcomes, less corruption and waste, etc. etc..  Our Kids PAC video is at the top of the page.  Our mayoral control fact sheet is here.
Take a look and let your legislators know how you feel.  At this point, it appears that the best chance we have for making a real change is for the State Legislature to create a Commission to examine both the benefits and drawbacks of mayoral control and propose a better system for the future.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Mayoral Control of NYC Schools Needs to Change

I testified before both the NYS Assembly and Senate Committees on Education in 2009 as a sitting member of the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) appointed by then Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.   As the legislature considers renewal of the law imposing mayoral control on our schools, I again provide my comments to the Senate Education Committee. 

Little has changed since I testified in 2009.  The Chancellor no longer has a vote and PEP has somewhat expanded powers but they are rarely put to use.  

The lack of fixed terms of the PEP members leads to political pressure on members or the pols who control them to refrain from rocking the boat, especially with regard to waste, fraud and abuse.  When I was the appointee of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, he was told I was a problem because my questioning of spending "embarrassed" the DOE management.  Stringer was repeatedly approached by senior administration officials offering political favors in exchange for my termination.  He refused, and also refrained from directing my vote but his respect for the necessary independence of this role was unique.  The legislature should provide PEP members with fixed terms and only allow their removal for cause.

Corruption has increased under mayoral control, contrary to the popular folklore about the old Board of Ed.  The concentration of power in the mayor's appointees and corresponding decline in scrutiny of contracting has permitted corruption scandals far exceeding anything seen in "the bad old days".   For example, here's a trio of multi-million dollar scandals:  Future Technology Associates, Custom Computer Specialists and Champion Learning.  The largest scandal of all was a wasteful contract that, once challenged, was renegotiated for a $163 million in savings.   A balanced board with fewer mayoral representatives and fixed terms would promote tighter scrutiny of spending and produce a reduction in this type of large-scale fraud.

Finally, my objection to mayoral control lies with its disenfranchisement of the public school community and its supporters.  Across the US, school boards are elected by citizens to oversee and champion public education.  Why should we be different?  

Here's how I closed my testimony ten years ago.  I hope the Senate and Assembly can do better for us this year.

In its current form the Panel for Educational Policy does not make policy or even meaningfully advise the chancellor. Those roles are reserved for the chancellor's management consultants and the distant foundations of wealthy men: the Broad Foundation, Gates Foundation and Dell Foundation. But we parents know better. The real insight into the challenges of urban education lies in the communities, school leadership teams, PTAs, community councils. We will never have real improvement in our schools until we embrace parents as real partners in the education of their children. I urge you to restore balance, order and even simple decency to the governance of our schools.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

John Pane of RAND writes to correct my post on Teach to One and my response

About two weeks ago, I posted a history of the program Teach to One (TtO): how it had first been developed in NYC Department of Education as a blended learning math program called School of One, how after it had spun off from DOE as a separate company called New Classrooms, the developer Joel Rose had promised never to charge NYC schools a fee to use it, instead granting them with a “royalty free, perpetual, non-exclusive license”, but then how the company has continued to charge a license fee to NYC schools anyway. The main focus of the piece was to describe how the huge hype surrounding the Teach to One program and the suppression of the findings of negative or null evaluations of its results has allowed it to expand to more schools, despite disappointing  results and a 60 percent school attrition rate.
In a single paragraph towards the end of this rather lengthy post,  I summarized the findings of a RAND report on the Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC) schools, assuming that schools using Teach to One were part of the evaluation, since TtO is a grantee of the NGLC program.  Diane Ravitch subsequently ran excerpts of my blog on hers.
John Pane, the lead researcher on the Rand report, wrote to Diane that New Classrooms / Teach to One was not one of the programs included in this evaluation.  I have posted a correction on that matter on my original blog post.   
He also critiqued the way I reported his remarks to Education Week about “personalized learning” schools in general, that “the evidence base is very weak at this point,” and said that the paragraph in which I described the results of the Rand report had “numerous false and misleading statements,” including my summary of survey results that suggest that the students at NGLC schools “were more likely to feel alienated and unsafe compared to matched students at similar schools.”

He has granted his permission to quote his letter in full below, which I have done, along with my response to the points in his letter.   

On Thu, Mar 7, 2019 at 12:17 PM Pane, John <> wrote:
Dear Diane, 
On March 4, 2018 you published this blog entry, “Leonie Haimson: Reality Vs. Hype in “Teach to One” Program,” excerpting from Leonie Haimson’s blog. Your excerpt included this paragraph about my own research (with colleagues) and my public statements:
“The most recent RAND analysis of schools that used personalized learning programs that received funding through the Next Generation Learning initiative, which have included both Summit and Teach to One, concluded there were small and mostly insignificant gains in achievement at these schools, and their students were more likely to feel alienated and unsafe compared to matched students at similar schools. The overall results caused John Pane, the lead RAND researcher, to say to Ed Week that ‘the evidence base [for these schools] is very weak at this point.’“
 This paragraph by Haimson has numerous false and misleading statements. Here I summarize my critique, excerpting the original paragraph: 
“The most recent RAND analysis of schools that used personalized learning programs that received funding through the Next Generation Learning initiative, which have included both Summit and Teach to One, …”
None of the schools in our sample reported using Teach to One (TtO) among the 194 education technology products they mentioned. Our sample includes schools in the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) wave IIIa and wave IV programs, a subset of all the NGLC initiatives. Haimson points to blog posts by NGLC about Summit and TtO, but that does not mean our study included them.
“…included both Summit and Teach to One, concluded there were small and mostly insignificant gains in achievement at these schools, …”
Our conclusions were about the whole sample of schools, and did not single out any particular schools as is implied by juxtaposing “Summit and Teach to One” with “these schools.” Our concluding remarks related to achievement did not say “small and mostly insignificant.” What we actually said was, “Students in NGLC schools experienced positive achievement effects in mathematics and reading, although the effects were only statistically significant in mathematics. On average, students overcame gaps relative to national norms after two years in NGLC schools. Students at all levels of achievement relative to grade-level norms appeared to benefit. Results varied widely across schools and appeared strongest in the middle grades.” 
 “… and their students were more likely to feel alienated and unsafe compared to matched students at similar schools”
This was not a conclusion of our report. In a supplemental appendix we did compare results from our sample (again, the whole sample of schools in the study, none of which reported using TtO) to a national sample. Our method did not use “matched students at similar schools.” Given data limitations, we were able to make the student samples similar (through weighting) only on grade level, gender, and broad classifications of geographic locale (e.g., urban vs. suburban). Even after weighting, we suspect the high-minority, high-poverty schools in the NGLC sample may be located in more distressed communities than the national survey counterparts, and that this could be related to feelings of safety. Indeed, fewer NGLC students (78 vs. 82 percent) agreed that “I feel safe in this school,” but this small difference cannot be attributed to personalized learning and has no direct relevance to TtO. None of our survey items or reports used the word “alienated.” Possibly related, 77 percent of NGLC students agreed that “at least one adult in this school knows me well” and “I feel good about being in this school,” 76 percent agreed that “I care about this school” and 72 percent agreed “I am an important part of my school community.” 
The overall results caused John Pane, the lead RAND researcher, to say to Ed Week that ‘the evidence base [for these schools] is very weak at this point.’“ 
This EdWeek article clearly states that it is about “what K-12 educators and policymakers need to know about the research on personalized learning” broadly. Quoting accurately, “RAND has found some positive results, including modest achievement gains in some of the Gates-funded personalized-learning schools. But overall, ‘the evidence base is very weak at this point, Pane said.” There is no justification for Haimson to insert “[for these schools]” into my quoted remark. It appears as though Haimson is attempting to give a misleading impression that I was specifically talking about Summit and TtO rather than the entire body of personalized learning research. 
I find it very unfortunate that you accepted Haimson’s claims without fact checking, and increased their visibility and attention through your own platform. 
I am requesting that you please issue a correction in a way that previous readers of your March 4 post will likely notice. You may include this letter if you wish.
 With regards,
 John Pane, RAND Corporation
My response:  
I have now posted a correction on my blog post about the NGLC report – which  was only a small part of my post on TTO which is here .
 It is unfortunate that the names of the specific online program that were evaluated were left out of the RAND evaluation.  I had wrongly assumed that  TTO was included, since it is one of the most heavily funded and promoted by Gates and others of the Next Generation Learning Challenge “personalized learning” programs. 
I would also like to point out that the following survey statistics that John Pane includes in his letter about the NGLC schools omit the results from the comparison schools, as cited in the appendix of the Rand  report:
Possibly related, 77 percent of NGLC students agreed that “at least one adult in this school knows me well” [compared to 86% of the national sample] and “I feel good about being in this school,” [vs. 89% of the national sample] 76 percent agreed that “I care about this school” [vs. 87% of the national sample] and 72 percent agreed “I am an important part of my school community.” [compared to 79% of the national sample.]
In addition, the  students at the NGLC personalized learning schools were more likely to say that that “their classes do not keep their attention, and they get bored” compared to the national sample (30% to 23%). Only 35% of students at the NGLC schools said that “learning is enjoyable” compared to 45% of the national sample. With results like this it is difficult to see what was wrong with my statement that students at these schools were more likely to feel alienated and unsafe.
Now we know that TtO students aren’t included in these surveys, but there is no reason to assume that their responses would be significantly different until and unless New Classrooms releases their own survey results.  And we do know that from the survey of students at the Mountain View school, which used TtO, showed a 413% increase in the number of students who said they hated math as a result.
 Nor does John Pane’s response relate to the larger question which I discussed in my post, about how problematic it is to use MAP scores to evaluate these programs, especially scores from students  that aren’t disaggregated by race or economic status.  One might expect that with all the data that NWEA has by now they would have done that by now.
Finally, it is extremely unfortunate that Gates, Zuckerberg etc. haven’t bothered to commission any truly randomized  small-scale evaluation of Summit Learning, TtO or any of the other personalized learning programs that they so heavily fund and promote before expanding their reach and subjecting hundreds of thousands of students to them.   Summit has rejected  any independent evaluation of its results.  One can only speculate why.