Friday, November 29, 2019

Talk out of School is back! Please tune in next Wednesday to hear from Diane Ravitch on the resistance to corporate education reform

Update:  My interview with Diane Ravitch on Dec. 4 was postponed to next week, Dec. 11 - pre-empted by the impeachment hearings. 

After an extended hiatus, the "Talk out of School" radio show I host on alternate weeks with Carol Burris has resumed on WBAI radio.

On Wednesday, it featured a fascinating interview with Naftuli Moster, the founder of YAFFED, about his efforts to ensure that ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth receive their legally-mandated right to an adequate education. You can listen to it here.

Earlier shows can be streamed here.

Next Wed. at 10, on WBAI 99.5. or online at, my guest will be none other than Diane Ravitch, talking about the Presidential politics and her new book, "Slaying Goliath" about the resistance to privatization and corporate reform.   Hope you'll tune in! -- Leonie Haimson

Friday, November 22, 2019

Has the city learned its lesson about not holding early voting in schools, and are their assurances enough? The PTA at PS 116 says no.

As discussed on this blog earlier, 33 public schools were selected as early voting centers this fall in NYC, out of a total of 61 voting sites- though there were none selected in Queens and only one public school in the entire rest of the state.  One problem is that state election law allows other buildings to opt out from being a poll site, but does not give public schools the same authority.

Another problem was the fact that for some reason, the city proposed 168 schools out of a total of 222 potential sites to the Board of Elections earlier this year.

Putting early voting sites in schools caused serious security concerns as well as the loss of lunchrooms, auditoriums and gyms in many schools for a full school week. According to Brigid Bergin of Gothamist, there will be four elections in New York City next year.  If early voting continues to be held in schools, this would cause a total of 20 days in which these conditions would prevail, including during one week when schools are required to administer the state tests.

Because of the widespread criticisms of many parents and concerns expressed by principals about the risks and disruption caused by early voting in schools, the Mayor has apparently learned a lesson, and now city officials say that they will make an effort to see that no school is an early voting venue in the future, according to Gothamist/WNYC:

“We’ve heard from parents, we’ve heard from principals and we think there is a better way,” Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune, the city’s Chief Democracy Officer....If you look at the borough of Queens, no schools were used for early voting... We see cultural institutions, we see community centers, we see CUNY. Those are the institutions that should be used for early voting,” she added.

But this is not good enough for many parents, including those at PS 116.  Though they support early voting in general, their children suffered through the first round of early voting this year, and they want schools legally barred from being identified as early voting sites altogether.

Below is the testimony of Erica Rand Silverman, the PTA president of PS 116, given at a joint Assembly/Senate hearing on early voting on November 20. If you'd like to learn more and/or join the campaign to end early voting in NYC public schools, you can email their PTA at

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Letter to WSJ re big errors in David Osborne's pro-charter op ed

credit: @CoopMike48
Update #2 (11/22/2019):  After a protracted debate on Twitter, David Osborne has modified his claim that NY "cushions the blow" for districts experiencing charter expansion, writing: "In Massachusetts, New York (outside New York City) and Illinois, the state cushions any revenue loss."  At the end of the article there is also this retraction:

New York state cushions the revenue loss when students transfer to charter schools only for school districts outside New York City. An earlier version misstated this. 

Yet even in the original version, he had added, "By law, Massachusetts districts should be reimbursed 100% of the state money for the student for a year, then 25% for the next five years—though the state has only met about 60% of that funding since 2015."

So it is clear that this cushion pertains neither to NYC, which has the largest share by far of charters in the state; nor to MA, where this promised reimbursement has not ever been fully funded.  We have yet to hear if  the claim is true for IL.  

See also links to analyses below from CA, PA, and NC, which show that the fiscal impact of charter growth affects public schools nationwide. Moreover, Osborne still hasn't corrected his claim in the oped that public schools can "lease" empty buildings to charters - while as my blog post points out, NYC is obligated to provide space for all new and expanding charters either for free in public school buildings, or help pay for their rent in private space, which last year cost the district about $100 million.

Update (11/21/19): For more on the significant negative impact of charter school growth on public school budgets via "stranded costs", see economist Gordon Lafer’s report  focused on CA, or this Research for Action analysis of  Pennsylvania, or Helen Ladd's study of the evidence from North Carolina

From: Leonie Haimson
Sent: Wednesday, November 20, 2019 10:52 AM
Subject: Fact check on David Osborne op-ed in WSJ

To the editor:
There are at least two major errors in David Osborne’s WSJ oped, entitled “The Big Lie about Charter Schools,”  dated November 19.
First he writes, In Massachusetts, New York and Illinois, the state cushions any revenue lossfrom the growth in charter enrollment.
Nothing of this kind happens in New York, and the NYC Department of Education is paying more than $2.1 billion annually directly out of its budget to charter schools with no reimbursement.
He also adds: Once their schools are down to 75% capacity or below, they can lease the extra space to charter or private schools.” 
In NYC, the Department of Education is forced to give charter schools space in public school buildings for free or help pay for their private space, which is costing the city more than $100 million per year.  This is fully documented in our recent report, "Spending by NYC on Charter School Facilities: Diverted Resources, Inequities and Anomalies” and posted here:


Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

NYS Allies for Public Education asks parents to urge Tish James to investigate the College Board's potentially illegal practice of selling student data

Is it accurate to say that charter schools are the "boogeymen" of progressive Democrats, as Cory Booker and some reporters claim?

In a NY Times oped this week, Senator Cory Booker argued that the expansion of charter schools had a positive role in improving Newark’s school system and by extension, nationwide.  In the process, he described charters as "boogeymen" for other Democratic politicians:
“The treatment by many Democratic politicians of high-performing public charter schools as boogeymen has undermined the fact that many of these schools are serving low-income urban children across the country in ways that are inclusive, equitable, publicly accountable and locally driven."
One could easily challenge his claim that in Newark, the expansion of charters was “locally driven” since Newark’s locally elected school board was disempowered and their schools were being run by Gov. Chris Christie at that time.
But in any case, the main point of this op ed appeared to be to allow Booker to strongly reconfirm his commitment to privatization after some ambivalent statements this summer,  presumably in an attempt to strengthen his lagging campaign.  In the process, Booker was implicitly criticizing rival Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who have both come out publicly against the continued funding of charters by the federal government:
Yet what struck me the most was his use of the word “boogeymen” in connection with charter schools, which rang a bell. 
Indeed. this was the second time this same analogy has been used in the New York Times in the context of the presidential campaign.
Earlier this spring, on May 23, reporters Dana Goldstein and Sydney Ember used the term “boogeyman” in describing the teacher unions’ position on charters,  in an article on Sanders’ education agenda:
Many Democrats and progressives send their children to charter schools, work within the sector or donate money to the movement. Teachers’ unions, an important constituency to Democrats, have long considered them a boogeyman, arguing that charter schools draw students and funding away from traditional public schools.
There is no evidence presented for the claim that many “progressives” work within the charter sector or donate money to the charter movement.  
Just six days later, on May 29, Michelle Hackman, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal used the term  again, describing how charter schools had become “a boogeyman of Democrats,” again supposedly because of the undue influence of the teacher unions.
The definition of a boogeyman, according to Webster’s, is “a frightening imaginary being, often one used as a threat in disciplining children.”
Whether one supports or opposes charter schools, to call their impact on the system as a “frightening imaginary being” is a condescending mischaracterization – given their potential impact on public school budgets  as they actually  do “draw students and funding away from traditional public schools.” 
Analysts at Moody’s, the credit-rating company, found the growth of charters contributed to a “negative feedback loop” on the finances of public school systems, “particularly painful” to school districts in the Midwest and Northeast.   
In NYC alone, charter schools continue to expand rapidly in enrollment, while taking up more and more space in public school buildings and an increasing chunk of the NYC Department of Education budget – more than $2.1 billion last year alone. 
Last month, we released a report showing that NYC Department of Education is also spending more than $100 million per year on helping to pay for charter school space in private buildings – an amount which if used to finance bonds, could instead pay for a 50% increase in the number of school seats in a system in which more than 500,000 students are crammed in overcrowded schools.
After googling the terms, I discovered that in recent years, the term boogeyman or boogeymen has been used literally thousands of times by charter school advocates in dismissing the arguments of critics, who point out some of their negative aspects, including their excessive disciplinary practices, student and teacher attrition rates, or budgetary impact on public schools. It is not surprising that Booker might invoke the term in order to revive his lagging campaign, especially when he himself has recently pointed out a need to improve its finances.   
One has to wonder when there is a growing recognition among many progressive Democrats of the negative consequences of the unchecked growth of charter schools, why political reporters who are supposed to be objective observers of this debate are adopting this patronizing and essentially incorrect term.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

What's really behind the city, state and national drop in NAEP scores

The results of the biennual national tests called NAEPs were released on October 30, showing stagnant or declining test scores in reading and math in nearly all states in the decade since 2009. 
“Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance, and the lowest-performing students are doing worse,” said Peggy Carr, the associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP. “In fact, over the long term in reading, the lowest-performing students—those readers who struggle the most—have made no progress from the first NAEP administration almost 30 years ago.”
The poor results are most likely a consequence of several factors, including the damaging double whammy experienced by schools in 2009-2011 – when the great recession hit, which led to thousands of teacher jobs lost and class sizes increasing sharply, and the imposition of the Common Core standards.
Concerning the recession, see the chart below from the Economic Policy Institute, showing a current shortfall of more than 300,000 public education jobs starting in about 2010:

Many states and districts, including NYC, still have not recovered from the sharp increase in class size that occurred starting in 2008.   Just as class size reduction benefits students of color and from low income families the most, increases in class size hurt their opportunities to learn the most, helping to explain the widening achievement gap over this period.
In addition, the corporate-style policies that proponents claimed would help narrow the achievement gap, including the Common Core standards and state exams aligned with those standards, adopted in nearly all states starting in 2010, likely contributed to the decline in performance on the NAEPs as well.
The Common Core emphasizes informational text rather than literature, and  “close reading” strategies, with students assigned to analyze short passages, often excerpts from literature, in isolation from any larger context.
In essence, Common Core led to a curriculum designed for test prep, but devoid of engaging relevance and content for many students. To make things worse, the assigned texts are often two or three Lexile grade levels above the actual reading level of the students to whom the reading is assigned, in a misplaced intent to provide more “rigor.”
Close reading involves analyzing and re-analyzing individual passages, focusing on details and interpreting the author’s particular choice of words, structure, and intent, without any reference to anything in the student’s own experience or prior knowledge: “Students go deeper in the text, explore the author’s craft and word choices, analyze the text’s structure and implicit meaning” etc..  It is a process that is more suited to a graduate seminar in literary criticism than elementary or even high school English classrooms, and has been imposed upon classrooms throughout the United States in a misguided effort to sharpen their analytic “skills”.  It is hard to imagine anything more boring, and more likely to turn off a young reader.
Here are some recent tweets from teachers around the country, in discussing the Common Core in relation to the latest NAEP scores.
From a second grade teacher in Louisiana:
And a special ed teacher in New York:
Strangely enough, the NY Times story on the NAEPs mentioned neither the recession nor the Common Core in attempting to explain why there has been no  progress since 2009. In a Twitter exchange with one of the reporters, she said no one had mentioned Common Core to her in years.   

I don’t doubt that few if any of its original proponents now mention Common Core  – given its abysmal failure to improve results in our schools -- but that doesn’t mean that millions of students and teachers aren’t still wrestling with its flaws every day in classrooms throughout the nation, as evidenced by the above tweets.

In any case, the last quote in the Times article was from Jim Cowen, the executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, an organization established to promote the Common Core standards, decrying how the state tests -- those explicitly aligned with the standards -- have become too easy and there was a need for "accountability" -- but not apparently for those who promoted the flawed standards themselves.

Moreover, the other experts quoted decried the emphasis on short passages rather than allowing students read longer books with richer meanings and larger contexts, without specifically mentioning the Common Core.

Peter Afflerbach, an expert on reading and testing at the University of Maryland, called the eighth-grade declines “troubling” and “precipitous,” especially for the lowest-achieving students saying that  "too many schools have assigned elementary students short passages instead of challenging them with longer, thematically rich texts and books.The new eighth-grade results show the students haven’t developed the reading comprehension to deal with text complexity."

Compounding the bad news was a just-released report from the ACT, showing that College Readiness levels in English, reading, math, and science have all decreased since 2015, with English and math seeing the largest decline.  
A recent study has provided further evidence for the negative impact of the Common Core. In those states whose original standards differed significantly from the Common Core, the adoption of the new standards had a significantly depressing impact on test scores which has grown over time, with the sharpest negative effect on fourth grade reading scores and especially on the achievement of students with disabilities, English Language learners, and Hispanic students.
Altogether, the falling NAEP scores, the ACT report, and this study represent a devastating indictment of the Gates/David Coleman/Arne Duncan reform agenda -- and yet despite all the evidence against them, and the fervent critiques from teachers, most states are sticking with the standards and the flawed pedagogy they impose.  As Susan DuFresne, a teacher in Washington state, proclaimed:
One more trend may have contributed to the decline in reading scores over the last few years. There has been a sharp increase in the use of digital reading programs across the country – with a survey from Common Sense Media revealing that 94 percent of English/language arts teachers say that they used them for core curriculum at least several times a month. This is despite a wealth of research that suggests that reading comprehension suffers when reading is done on screens. 

An Ed Week analysis of the just-released NAEP data found that in both grades 4 and 8, students who spent more time on digital devices in English class scored lower on these exams. Look at this astonishing graphic - showing that 65% of students who scored below basic on the NAEPs spent four hours or more of classroom time on screens per day.  Whether this association is due to correlation or causation, it is a highly disturbing trend:
As for NYC in particular, the much ballyhooed upward trend in state scores has now been proven to be illusory, as I argued last year, as was the Mayor's claim that the achievement of NYC students has  matched or surpassed average achievement in the rest of the state.  
According to the more reliably scaled NAEPs, in no subject or grade do the NYC scores come close to the average in the rest of the state – even though the state scores too have stagnated over the last decade.  Also confirmed was my prediction in 2016 that we have entered yet another era of state test score inflation.
And while in 2003, NYC students scored  above the large city average in all four NAEP exams, we have now slipped behind that level in three out of the four categories– and only equal it in one: fourth grade reading.  The same pattern exists with NY state’s NAEP scores, which were once ahead of curve nationally and have now fallen below it. 
What’s especially disconcerting, though, is how little seems to have been learned from the failures of the past.  A few days after the NAEPs were released, the NY State Education Department announced it was hiring to summarize the research and the public feedback on whether and how to revise the state’s high school graduation requirements, which rely on students passing five high-stakes exit exams. has been one of leaders in the Gates-funded push for the Common Core,
In addition, the NYSED public engagement process, which will involve a Commission and multiple forums, will be funded by the Gates Foundation, which has spent more than $400 million since 2009 on financing and goading states to adopt the Common Core, with hundreds of millions more spent to encourage the expansion of online learning.   
Eleven states out of 27 have in recent years dropped their high school exit exams, and many of them now allow high school diplomas to be retroactively awarded.  This trend follows research showing that the practice of requiring students to pass these exams leads not to higher achievement or college readiness, but instead to higher drop-out and incarceration rates.    

And yet for some inconceivable reason, the NY State Education Department has chosen to work with the primary funder of the Common Core, as well as  one of the organizations that set our nation’s schools on the wrong path, to help guide their deliberations on this important issue.