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

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Disappointing budget as far as our public schools and class size are concerned

Some  news links: NY Times, NY Post, NY Daily News, Chalkbeat and Brooklyn Eagle

The new NYC budget deal was announced between the Mayor and the City Council on Friday.

In terms of our public schools, it included $41M more to hire about 200 new social workers for schools, especially those with lots of homeless kids and $857,000 for seven additional Title IX Coordinators to handle complaints of gender discrimination and sexual harassment.  The budget will also put $250M into an overall city budget reserve to be used during economic downturns that now totals $6 billion. 

The education budget will  include  another $25 million  for the Mayor’s top education priority: 3K expansion into 14 new districts, bringing the cost to around $100M.  If the pattern of previous years holds, the DOE will continue to draw kids out of existing preK centers run by Community Based Organizations  and pushing them into already overcrowded public schools, which in turn will contribute to higher class sizes for kids in grades K-5.
What the education budget doesn't include: any increase in Fair student funding (with many schools are currently at only 90%), no dedicated funding for class size reduction, and no amount to achieve CBO pay parity for preK teachers -- though the Council says they got a commitment from the Mayor to address this disparity though negotiations by the end of the summer.

The only elementary school initiative that I know of is the 2nd grade literacy coach program in high needs schools, which is  now in its third year, funding 242 coaches in 305 elementary schools, according to the DOE website.  The program is supposed to produce two-thirds of students reading on grade level by the end of second grade by 2022, and 100 percent of all second graders reading at grade level by 2026 (long after de Blasio has left office.)

Yet the first year of the program showed no positive impact and the administration has not yet released data from either its second or third year - which suggests it may have had disappointing results as I predicted. Though the news of the budget deal didn't mention this, it is likely that the initiative will continue to be funded next year at the level in the Mayor's executive budget of about $90 million per year.  (There are job listings for this position here.)

In any case we aren't giving up on our campaign to reduce class sizes.  More counselors are great but there this will do little to improve achievement in grades K-5 where class sizes in many schools are still sky high. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

NYC Parents, kids, advocates, union members and elected officials rally for smaller classes

For Immediate release: June 11, 2019
Contact: Leonie Haimson, leoniehaimson@gmail.com; 917-435-9329

NYC Parents, kids, advocates, union members and elected officials rally for smaller classes

On Tuesday June 11 at noon, more than one hundred parents, students, advocates, elected officials and union members gathered on the steps of City Hall to urge the NYC Department of Education and the Mayor to allocate specific funding in next year's budget towards reducing class size.

The rally was co-sponsored by Class Size Matters, NYC Kids PAC, the UFT, Local 372, the Education Council Consortium, and others.  Among the elected officials who spoke eloquently about the need for the Mayor and Chancellor to reduce class size were Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Education Chair Mark Treyger, Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, and Council Members Adrienne Adams, Inez Barron, Barry Grodenchik, and Brad Lander.  

Even though the state’s highest court concluded in 2003 that NYC public school classes were too large to provide students with their constitutional right to a sound basic education, class sizes have actually increased since then, especially in the early grades, where the research is strongest that smaller classes leads to higher achievement and better student outcomes all the way through college and beyond.

Among the other speakers on behalf of the need to fund for smaller classes were Kenneth Cohe,n Regional Director of the NAACP, Maria Bautista of AQE, Benny Lin of the Parent-Child Relationship Association, Eduardo Hernandez of NYC Kids PAC, Shino Tanikawa, co-chair of the Education Council Consortium, Anthony Harmon of the UFT, Donald Nesbit of Local 372 of DC 37,  and Lina Rosario, a 6th grade student in Sunset Park, Kathy Park of Citizen Squirrel and many others.

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, said: “The mayor and the chancellor talk a lot about bringing equity and excellence to NYC schools and some the moves they are making may bring us closer to that goal. But there’s a huge gaping hole in their agenda and that is class size.  Without lowering class sizes there can be neither true equity or excellence in our schools. This fall, more than 330,000 NYC students were crammed into classes of 30 or more.   NYC class sizes are 10-30% larger on average than in the rest of the state.  Classes this large are neither equitable nor excellent, especially as studies show that students of color gain twice the benefit when class sizes are reduced.”

 “Funding for class-size reduction has to become a priority for New York City. Parents and teachers know it has a huge impact on student learning, especially for our most vulnerable populations,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew.

"Class size reduction is one support that the New York City Department of Education has never fully implemented for students in NYC public schools," said NYC Council Finance Chair Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst).  "It only makes sense that when there are fewer students in a class, a teacher can individualize their instruction and give students extra support.  More than anything else, this is what our students need.  If we truly want to see our students succeed, we must reduce our class sizes."

“It’s common sense that smaller class sizes help set New York City students up for success,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “Funding must be allocated for this important cause—the time to stand up for our students is now.”
 “We urge the Mayor and the City Council to support parents, educators and the community at large by funding smaller class sizes.  Smaller classes have been proven to increase test scores and lowers the need for special education classes” stated Local 372 President Shaun D. Francois I.  “All our children deserve to have access to a sound basic education.  Fund smaller class sizes now.”

 “Many studies have indicated that smaller class sizes lead to better academic outcomes for students. School overcrowding and large class sizes have been a known problem in our school system for far too long. This is a basic equity issue for our students—classes that are too large make it impossible for teachers to provide differentiated instruction and individualized attention, which children need to do their best. I urge Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza to meet the mandates outlined under the CFE decision, and make a serious commitment to reducing class sizes,” said Council Member Mark Treyger, Chair of the Committee on Education.

Shino Tanikawa, co-chair of the Educational Council Consortium, which represents the parent-led Community District and Citywide Councils, said: “Reducing class size is always number one or number two among parent priorities on the Learning Environment Survey that DOE gives every year.  And yet every year, the issue is ignored by the city in terms of its funding priorities.  It is time for our elected officials to step up to the plate, and deliver for NYC children.”
"We know that smaller class sizes benefit many of our students -- indeed, the NYS Supreme Court determined well over a decade ago that NYC public school classes were too large to give our children the education to which they are entitled. We also know that parents consistently place reducing class size among their top priorities on NYC Dept of Education surveys. It's time to act -- we need to ensure that smaller classes are available for all of our children," said Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Manhattan, District 6).

“As the only NYC political action committee focused solely on the improvement of public schools, NYC Kids PAC looks hard at the record of candidates when it comes to lowering class size,” explained Naila Rosario, President of NYC Kids PAC.  “Progress must be made on this issue, which has not gotten the attention it deserves from either the Mayor or Chancellor.  Expanding Pre-K and providing 3K is fine, but as parents know,  kids need more help once they turn five and more feedback and support from their teachers.  This is impossible in too many schools right now because class sizes are too large. The number of students in the early grades in classes of 30 or more has increased by nearly 3000% since 2007.”

“Ensuring that our kids get the best quality education possible should be a topline priority this budget session and every budget session,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “Every student in New York City deserves access to an excellent public school education. Yet in schools that experience overcrowding, teachers are stretched thin and students cannot receive the personalized attention necessary to foster their educational and emotional wellbeing.  I am proud to support Class Size Matters in advocating for smaller class sizes which have been proven successful at increasing student achievement and help to narrow the opportunity gap.”

“When it comes to New York City public schools, something has to change in a very foundational way,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams. “We need specific funding allocated toward reducing class size as it has an effect on the ability to retain effective teachers, student engagement and overall student success. Reducing class size is the right thing to do for our students and we cannot make excuses when it comes to their future.”
 “New York State made it clear in 2003 that New York City’s class sizes were too large to provide students with the proper attention and resources they need to learn- a violation of their constitutional right. Since then the City’s public school class sizes have not shrunk- they have become larger; which leads me to believe the problem has only grown. I am proud to stand with Class Size Matters, UFT, my colleagues at City Council, and all of today’s local partners and parents to support allocating funding aimed at decreasing the student-to-teacher ratio,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen (Bronx, District 11).

Maria Bautista, Campaign Director of the Alliance for Quality Education, said:  “Parents know that class sizes are too large in NYC public schools for students to get the attention they need.  Research shows that Black and Latino students gain the greatest benefit from smaller classes in terms of achievement, engagement, graduating from high school and attending college.  It’s time that NYC ensured that our students receive the smaller classes they need for their best chance at success.”

 “Why is this administration singularly focused on birth to five to the detriment of all other learners? The biggest risk to our Pre-K students occurs when they enter grades K-3, where too often they’re expected to learn in classes of 30 or more. Yet the DOE insists on pushing more and more Pre-K and now 3K kids into elementary schools that are already overcrowded, which causes our CBO enrollment to drop and threatens our viability.  We implore Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Education to reduce class size in grades K-3 by shifting more Pre-K and 3K students back to CBOs. It would the right thing to do and a win-win for all,” said Brooklyn Pre-K director Alice Mulligan on behalf of CBOs for Equity.

As Diane Ravitch, education historian and President of the Network for Public Education concluded, “Reducing class size is the single most effective school reform. Wealthy parents pay large sums for small classes. We owe small class size to all children.”