Wednesday, August 28, 2019

de Blasio continues to favor the privatizers by not requiring parent consent before giving charters access to DOE mailing lists

NeQuan McLean at April 15 protest vs charter mailings; credit: NY Daily News
Update:  NYC parents can opt out of the charter school mailings by entering their information online here To do so, you have to know your child's student ID number (OSIS number) which you can get from your school secretary or parent coordinator.

After vehement parent protests and a FERPA privacy complaint submitted to the US Department of Education, the DOE announced they will allow parents to opt out of charter mailings in the future, as the Daily News reported today.  This is NOT good enough, either from a policy or privacy standpoint.
Best practice to ensure student privacy would require parental consent, as the US Department of Education notes -  especially as many parents will not notice the opt out forms in backpack mail or their children may forget to share it with them.  
Best practice from the standpoint of good policy would be for the DOE not to allow charter schools to buy access to this information at all – which only helps them market their schools and expand their enrollment.
NYC is the ONLY district in the entire country that voluntarily helps charter schools expand in this  manner; even ostensibly pro-charter districts like Chicago don’t make this information available to charter schools. 
 At the recent NEA forum for presidential candidates, Mayor de Blasio aggressively postured about how he opposed charter schools:
“I’m going to be blunt with you, I am angry about the state of public education in America…“I am angry about the privatizers. I am sick and tired of these efforts to privatize a precious thing we need — public education. I know we’re not supposed to be saying ‘hate’ — our teachers taught us not to — I hate the privatizers and I want to stop them,” he said.

Charter schools already drain more than $2.1 billion from the DOE budget as well as take up valuable space in our overcrowded public school buildings.  Too bad that the Mayor continues to favor the privatizers in his actions, if not his words.

The email about this from Hydra Mendoza, DOE Deputy Chancellor is below.
---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Mendoza Hydra <>
Date: Tue, Aug 27, 2019, 3:22 PM
Subject: Charter mailings
Hi All,
Per my “heads up” text regarding the changes to charter mailings through Vanguard, below please find more specific information.
  • Today we are announcing that parents will be able to remove their address from the parent contact list DOE shares with Vanguard.
  • Over the past several months, we've heard concerns from families about unsolicited outreach from charter schools as well as concerns from families who want access to this information. 
  • We believe creating an avenue for families to remove their addresses meets the needs of all.
  • Families will receive a letter and removal form in their back to school packet on September 9th informing them of their ability to remove their addresses. Families will be able to return the removal form within 30 days. 
  • Additionally, families will be informed that they can go on the DOE website at any time to remove their addresses from the list.  We will have a direct link.
  • Vanguard services for charter schools will be temporarily suspended until October 25 while refusal forms are collected and files are updated accordingly.  Charter schools will still be able to buy mailing lists as other organizations and companies do.
  • The DOE will refresh the refusal list  4x per year –  October, December, February and April. 
  • This information will be provided to all principals through the PWeekly.
Please let me know if you have any further questions!  Hope everyone is well and ready for the first day of school!

Thank you,

Hydra Mendoza
Deputy Chancellor
Division of Community Empowerment, Partnerships and Communication
New York City Department of Education
52 Chambers Street| Suite 320 |NY, NY 10007 | (212) 374-2486
Follow us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The NYC School Survey: Changes over time leading to possibly skewed results and how the survey could be improved

The following was written by the new research associate for Class Size Matters, Emily Carrazana. Take a look!

Since 2007, the NYC Department of Education has issued something called the “Learning Environment Survey,” administered to students, parents, and teachers to collect their views about each school's quality and the system as a whole. Every year between 2007 and 2014, when parents were presented with ten choices, class size came out as the top priority of 21% to 24% of parents when they were asked “Which of the following improvements would you most like your school to make (Choose ONE)?”  

In 2015, this question related to parents’ top priority was completely left out of the survey, possibly because then-Chancellor Farina seemed uninterested in listening to parents in general and especially on the need to lower class size. In fact, her peculiarly unique view was that class sizes in NYC schools were too small 

  After significant pushback from Class Size Matters and others, this question was resurrected the following year, but with a few other "tweaks". While class size was still offered as one of the choices, options relating to more or less state test preparation were removed, and “a safer school environment” option was added. The phrasing on the choice of more enrichment programs was expanded from “Stronger enrichment programs” to “Stronger enrichment programs (e.g. afterschool programs, clubs, teams)”. 

This choice now became the only one that provided any additional descriptive information, including specific examples of what might qualify as an enrichment program. Before that point, the percent of parents choosing “enrichment programs” as their top priority had significantly fallen, from 19% in 2007 to 12% in 2014.  Unsurprisingly, in 2016 for the first time, the number of parents who chose enrichment exceeded those who chose class size –with enrichment the top choices of 23% to 27% of parents from that year onward, compared to class size at 20% to 21%.

Which of the following improvements would you MOST like your school to make?

(Take note of the sharp uptick in enrichment programs in year 2016, the same year that the wording changed)

This is not to downplay the importance that schools should place on improving their students’ access to extracurricular and afterschool programs, especially to parents, many of whom work a full day; but to highlight the way in which the question seems to have been altered that might have skewed the results.

For instance, it is reasonable to assume that had the option for smaller classes been elaborated on in a similar fashion, for instance - "Smaller class sizes (e.g. more small group instruction, one-on-one feedback from teachers,  resulting in a more cohesive class culture and fewer disruptions, all of which have been proven to result from class size reduction), more parents might have chosen this option as their highest priority. Admittedly, expanding each option into a long-winded description is not optimal or efficient for a survey design, and might have led to even more slanted results. Instead, all options should be presented in a manner that does not persuade respondents to distort their own priorities. 

Another change that may have resulted in smaller class sizes being knocked down from first place citywide was the rapid expansion of the preK program starting in the 2014-2015 school year, and the inclusion of the responses of thousands more parents whose children attended preK that year and the following one.  Moreover, only in 2015 did the DOE begin to include the responses in the survey results of parents at hundreds of private preK centers operated by community based organizations. 

PreK classes  are strictly limited by state law to class sizes of 18-20 students per class, depending on whether there are one or two teachers plus an aide; so it is not surprising that preK parents would not choose class size reduction as their top priority. The survey data also includes the responses from hundreds of thousands of parents of students with special needs who are in self-contained classes and/or attend District 75 programs, whose class sizes are limited to only 8 to 15 students.  

It is therefore understandable to see why these parents might not view lowering the size of their children’s classes as important as those whose children are crammed into classes of 25, 30 students or more; conditions which are quite common in NYC public schools.  To be more informative, it would be preferable to disaggregate and report separately the priorities of parents of students in District 75 programs and especially those enrolled in preK classes.

Information on how DOE officials analyze or use these survey results, if at all, is virtually untraceable. Any follow-up conducted by school administrators seem to be done on an entirely voluntary basis. While the DOE provides a few pre-populated worksheets and  PowerPoint decks with suggestions on how the overall results can be presented to and discussed by parents, nowhere in these documents can you find any mention that their priorities as reflected by their responses to this key question should be addressed. 

This is a disappointing omission, especially for an administration that claims to base their policies on a “Framework of Great Schools” centered on mutual respect and strong family ties,  and a Chancellor who often insists he wants to focus on “parent empowerment”.

If the Chancellor really wants this survey to be more useful, the actual structure of the question might also be changed. Parents are asked to choose from a list of nine options, all of importance, and select only one that they would most like to see improved in their child's school.  Instead of asking them to do the mental backflips needed to weigh the pros and cons of a safer school environment vs. more arts programs or hands-on learning, the question might allow them to assign corresponding priority levels to each area. For instance, 5 = Highest Priority, 4 = High Priority, 3 = Priority, 2 = Somewhat of a Priority, 1 = 1 Low Priority. This would be advantageous for administrators to inform decision-making at their schools.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

High levels of lead in water still at many NYC schools; check to see if your child's school is on the list!

In all the news about peeling lead paint in schools, there has been little attention given to the fact that there were more than 500 NYC public schools and/or preK centers in which lead was found in the water above the “action” level of 15 parts per billion. 
The DOE spreadsheet showing the lead test results of water outlets in 534 schools is posted on this page.  DOE says that “One third of all schools were tested in this round, with the remainder of schools scheduled to be tested in 2019 and 2020.”  Of those 534 schools, more than 80% had at least one outlet with elevated levels of lead.  The detailed DOE spreadsheet is here

We created a new spreadsheet, adding tabs for fixtures found to have lead above the action level of 15 ppb sorted by district and by concentration (with outlets found to have the highest levels at the top).  The new spreadsheet is here.
Some of the schools with the highest levels are listed below, showing outlets with lead at 54 to 873 times the action level, with the most alarming results from a cold water faucet in the 4th floor boys bathroom in Prospect HS.  This outlet emitted water with lead at an incredible 13,100 parts per billion.  In that same school as well, a hallway fountain (or “bubbler”) on the 3rd floor was found to emit water at 3,070 parts per billion. 

But there are schools in every borough showing extremely high levels of lead. The districts with the highest counts include District 31 on Staten Island with 171 elevated outlets, District 28 in Queens with 167 outlets; and District 17 and District 22 in Brooklyn with 151 and 140 outlets respectively.  You can check the spreadsheet for your child’s school and classroom.
Remember that these outlets either did not show elevated levels of lead last time or have been remediated at least once.  Someone really ought to ask DOE officials why there are still so many outlets releasing water at such high levels if they took corrective action on all affected outlets already, and what if anything they plan to do differently at this point to ensure that their methods of testing and/or addressing the problem are more effective.
NRDC has a model state bill that would require remediation through water filtration, which as far as I know, DOE has not done.  Their model bill would also significantly lower the action to 1 part per billion.  As NRDC water expert Joan Matthews pointed out to City and State, and as research shows, “There is no safe level of lead in drinking water for kids.”  
The model bill is posted on the NRDC website here.  Illinois has ordered that parents be notified if their children’s schools report levels of lead in water about 5 ppb; and D.C. has lowered the action level for lead to 5 ppb and requires filtration systems in all schools.  Vermont has lowered the action level for remediation to 4 ppb for all schools and child care providers.
In the meantime, NYC parents should probably send their children to school every day with a bottle of water every day, and get their blood checked for lead annually.

Please add your comments below if your child's school is affected; if the DOE or your principal has informed you of this fact, and what if anything they've advised you to do.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Letter to City Council and Speaker Regarding School Siting Task Force

For more on the School Siting Task Force, including its second and final meeting see our blog here , as well recent articles in the Daily News and Wall Street Journal.  More on the controversy as to whether its meetings should have been open to the public to begin with see our blog herean article in City Limits , an advisory letter providing guidance from the NY State Committee on Open Government, and a letter from the City Comptroller Scott Stringer.  

We will update this post when we receive a response from the Speaker and/or the Council.

August 6, 2019

Dear Speaker Johnson and members of the City Council:
We are very disappointed in the process and outcome of the School Siting Task Force, created by Local Law No. 168 in Sept. 2018.  The law mandated the creation of  aninteragency task force” to facilitate the acquisition of publicly and privately-owned sites for schools.  Over 500,000 students are crammed into overcrowded schools,  and in some communities, it has taken over 20 years for the DOE and the School Construction Authority to find suitable sites.  The law also mandated that this task force should provide a report to the City Council no later than July 31, 2019 on their findings.

One of us, Shino Tanikawa, was appointed to the Task Force by the DOE, and the first meeting was held privately on Feb. 26, 2019. Yet according to the expert opinion of the NY State Committee on Open Government, any task force or advisory body created by law to have a specific governmental role is subject to Open Meetings Law.  City Comptroller Scott Stringer also sent a letter to the Chancellor and Lorraine Grillo, President of the SCA, urging them to comply with the law and allow members of the public to attend. In our experience, such a critical issue as facilitating school siting and planning to alleviate overcrowding deserves transparency; and it is our experience that it is parents and members of the community who often have the best and most useful suggestions when it comes to these issues.

On May 2, Chancellor Carranza and SCA President Lorraine Grillo responded to Comptroller Stringer’s letter, saying the public would be allowed to attend future meetings, though they refused to concede that they were legally obligated to do so:

Although we disagree with your position that the Task Force is subject to the OML, we do not object to opening Task Force meetings to the general public, consistent with our commitment to community input and engagement. Accordingly, future meetings of the Task Force will be open to the public.

Yet we heard nothing more about the Task Force until Shino received a message on July 22 that the second and final meeting of the Task Force would be held on Monday, July 29 at City Hall from 3-5 PM, and that this meeting would be open to the public.

Five months had gone by between Feb. 26 and July 29, without the Task Force meeting once.

During that final meeting, Lorraine Grillo and her staff from the SCA projected some spreadsheets, listing thousands of city-owned properties and privately-owned land, the vast majority of which they had ruled out as unsuitable for schools, because they were too small, not in the right areas, or strangely configured. They said they had found only two sites out of more than 7,000 properties owned by the city that might be good sites for schools. In addition, they said, they were continuing to explore and analyze some of the privately-owned properties.

Their presentation only lasted about 15 minutes, and then Liz Hoffman of the First Deputy Mayor’s office, who was running the meeting, opened it up to questions. She was asked if the public could receive a copy of these spreadsheets and she said no. She was asked if the public would receive a copy of the report, and she said no that it would be sent to the City Council on July 31, as specified in the law.

According to Shino and Kaitlyn O’Hagan, the City Council representative to the Task Force, neither one of them had even seen a copy of the task force report or was asked for any input before a draft was provided to the Council on July 31.  Shino requested that the draft report be shared with her and was told the final report would  be shared only after the City Council reviewed it.  It was not until City Council staff stepped in that the report was sent to the entire Task Force. In any case, the report is only one and a half pages long. 
Whether or not the deliberations of this Task Force and this report comply with the intent and/or language of Local Law No. 168, it is hugely regrettable that rather than welcome collaboration with parents and advocates, the city continues to restrict it.
We urge you to re-start the entire process of this Task Force, ensure that it holds regular meetings open  to the public, includes representatives from more stakeholder groups, releases all the relevant data,  and solicits input from parents and community members. 
If the Mayor’s office objects, we urge you to amend the legislation to require these provisions.  We would be happy to work with you to finalize the language of an amended law.  Tackling the problem of school overcrowding is too important an issue to let this Task Force end with a one-and-a-half-page report from the SCA.
Yours sincerely,

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters

Shino Tanikawa
Education Council Consortium*
(*Affiliation for ID only)

Naila Rosario