Friday, July 31, 2020

DOE plans for the reopening of schools and critiques from CM Treyger, Public Advocate Williams & former Superintendent Matt Bromme

UPDATE:  Late on Friday, the DOE released its more detailed plan for school reopening -- submitted to the State Board of Health.  

Rather than the DOE's current plan for "blended" learning for all students whose parents want them to attend school, Council Education Chair Mark Treyger released a proposal about how the DOE should focus in-person instruction on elementary school students and those with special needs, English Language Learners and living in temporary housing.  This makes sense as especially as children under ten are believed to transmit Covid  less effectively and these students generally do worst with remote learning. As he pointed out, if most middle schools and high school buildings are to be closed with their students engaging in full-time remote learning, then younger students could be provided with more classroom space in those buildings.

Public Advocate Jumanne Williams came up with a similar plan, but with more emphasis on funding and outside learning.  Both Treyger and Williams also advised delaying any reopening to later in the fall to allow for more planning time.  I was quoted in El Diario generally in agreement with these ideas, but concerned that if we delay further, infection rates may rise later in the year.

Then the city came out with a  complex rubric and protocol for individual school closures if Covid emerge among students or staff, and the Mayor just announced that if the positivity rate citywide increases to 3 percent by early Sept. he will not open schools at all, while the Governor's metric for school closing is 5 percent.  To make things even more complex, NYC's current COVID positivity rate is 1.1 percent according to the state and 2 percent according to the city, with their figures differing for unexplained reasonsUPDATE: As of Aug. 3, the state and city rate for NYC's positivity rate have converged at 1 percent though they may diverge in the future.

Michael Mulgrew, President of the UFT, said that none of these precautions are sufficient as far as he's concerned:

"We need randomized testing of school communities throughout the year and a vigorous contact tracing system that gives schools test results and a course of action with a 24 hour turnaround. What's more, even if there are stronger safety standards in place, we still have grave concerns about the city's ability to enforce them in every school. Right now, this is not enough to protect students and staff."
Mark Cannizzaro, head of the the principal and administrator's union, was only slightly less critical:

And parents have to decide by August 7 if they choose to have their children to stay home  and learn via remote learning 100% of the time.
Below are former Superintendent Matt Bromme's comments on Council Member Treyger's plan:

            The Councilman has proposed several good ideas that may or may not come to fruition.  I agree with him regarding the delaying of the opening of the schools.  We have too many staff members on every level who have preexisting conditions and will want to teach virtually.  We also have many students whose parents will have major concerns about sending their children into school and need to be reassured regarding health and social protocols.

            The DOE has yet to address how they will have sufficient staff to cover the new day care centers, hire enough teachers to take the place of those teachers opting to do only virtual learning and where they will get the funding for salaries, benefits, supplies, books, etc. The city and state are in dire financial circumstances. Where will they get the money? As of today, I do not see a positive federal response for more funding.

              As a former middle school Principal in a school with close to three thousand students, I am very concerned about bus and subway transportation and social distancing when students arrive and are dismissed from school. In terms of transportation, how do you social distance children on school buses? How do you enforce the wearing of masks on all modes of transportation? 

              There are issues with emergency drills and how students will attempt to socialize even in the cafeteria.  The early grades are even tougher.  You cannot ask Pre-K 3 and 4 year olds, as well as the other early grade students, to do the things we adults can do easily. This includes issues regarding hygiene and wearing masks all day.  This will be a great challenge.

              His suggestion for synchronous learning is also a contractual issue. When first approached to teach in a distance learning system, the teachers’ union informed the teachers they did not have to do that.  There were numerous reports of students not receiving any real instruction. Therefore, there has to be a buy-in by the UFT. The DOE must ensure that high poverty communities have better access to the Internet. They must also consider how to train and use paraprofessionals to be part of the distance learning program. Paraprofessional are not licensed teachers, therefore they cannot be in charge of classrooms whether on site or in the virtual world.

            The current DOE plan is unacceptable and totally lacking in so many ways.  The current plan truly hurts those families with two or more children in the school system. How does a parent handle child care issues if her children’s school schedules are in conflict with each other? What about the single parent who must work to pay bills, but has no one to take care of the child and does not make it into day care facilities?

            Council Member Treyger deserves credit for at least putting ideas out there for people to comment and try to implement. However, the first day the schools were shut down, was the first day the Chancellor should have started to plan for their reopening. He and his staff should have been devising multiple scenarios in consultation with all of the communities they serve]\ I would hope as the Council Member has suggested that the opening of the schools physically is delayed so a real plan can be put forward. 

-- Matt Bromme

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

108 NYC charter schools received a windfall averaging $940,000- $2.2 million each in federal PPP funds; check the list here!

UPDATED 7/29/20: We've added PPP per student amounts for some of these charter schools.

The Network for Public Education sifted through the companies and organizations receiving federal funds through the Paycheck Protection Program, meant to keep small businesses and non-profits afloat.  More than 1,300 charter schools and charter management companies received between $925 million and $2.25 billion from the federal government in the last few months, though public schools are not eligible to receive these grants and charter schools so far have not lost any government funding.  This doesn't count an unknown number of charter schools that may have received less than $150,000 in PPP funds, which have not been identified by the government.

What is particularly ironic is that when it suits them, charter schools call themselves public schools, but when its convenient, they admit they are private corporations and thus eligible for business loans and subsidies.

Meanwhile, in NY State there are 144 charter schools and management organizations that received PPP funding, the vast majority of which are in NYC.  Fully 108 NYC charters and charter management companies received between $102 million and $236 million in these funds, with an average of between $940,000 and $2.2 million each.   

The Charter Management Organization of New Visions and its assorted charters received between $6.7 million and $15 million dollars, despite the fact that they receive public school space free of charge and services from DOE.  In 2018, they also received a $14 million grant from the Gates Foundation to "work with" NYC public schools -- which to this day have not been identified.  Coincidentally or not,  the Gates Foundation director of K12 schools Robert Hughes came to the Gates Foundation from New Visions.One of their schools, New Visions Charter HS for the Humanities II, will be receiving an extra amount of between $2,000 and $4,000 per student, based upon their total enrollment last year of 496.

Harlem Children's Zone was awarded between $4 million and $10 million, with Harlem Children's Zone Promise Academy II receiving between $1,800 and $4,500 per student, based on their total enrollment last year of 1,093. The Hebrew Language Academies, heavily subsidized by billionaire Michael Steinhardt, received between $2.8 million and  $6 million.  One of their schools, Harlem Hebrew Language Academy, is receiving between $1,400 and $2,900 per student, based on their planned enrollment of 696 last year. Harlem Village Academy West Charter School received between $2 million and $5 million, from $2,200 to $5,500 per student based on last year's enrollment of 902.

Williamsburg Charter High School was given between $2 million and $5 million, a total of $2,000 to $5,000 per student based on their enrollment last year of 963. Brilla College Preparatory Charter Schools received between $1 million and $2 million, $1,400 to $3,000 per student based on their enrollment of 677. Pave Academy Charter School, founded by the son of billionaire Julian Robertson,  was awarded between $1 million and $2 million, equaling about $2,000 to $4,000 per student based on their enrollment last year of 490.

KIPP charter and KIPP LLC (which I guess is its Management Organization)  is getting between $3 million and $5 million, despite also receiving $86 million from a federal charter school grant in 2019, and many millions more previously.  Uncommon Charters, which has been criticized for its abusive disciplinary practices, received between $2 million and $5 million in PPP funds. The full state and city list is below.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

"Talk out of School" podcast on Outdoor Learning with Liat Olenick and John Allgood

In my latest podcast, I spoke to Liat Olenick and John Allgood, both NYC teachers who have led students in outdoor learning, who explained how this would be a great option for schools to adopt next year, both for health and safety reasons and for its educational benefits.

They also discussed issues related to school funding inequities, the need for higher taxes on the ultra-wealthy, the importance of smaller classes, and the inadequacy of the Common Core standards, especially for younger learners.


Teachers' plea for outdoor learning -  NY Daily News by Liat Olenick, Darcy Whittemore and Heather Costanza

Schools Beat Earlier Plagues With Outdoor Classes. We Should Too   New York Times by Ginia Bellafante

Petition for Outdoor Schooling Now!

Contact your legislators now – schools desperately need funding to reopen safely next fall!  Action Alert from Class Size Matters

Monday, July 20, 2020

Please urge your legislators now to support our schools so they can reopen safely next year!

Last week, Governor Cuomo, the State Department of Health, and the NY State Education Department all came out with detailed guidance on what measures schools should take to reopen in the fall to ensure health and safety as well as provide instructional and emotional support to their students. If the COVID positivity rates of all regions of the state remain under 5%, as they do currently, their schools  will be eligible to reopen if they adopt the recommended protocols.  

Yet little or nothing was said in these instructions about how schools can afford the expensive health and safety measures, as well as the extra staffing and space necessary to keep students engaged in learning while attending school in person in shifts to ensure social distancing.

As the National Academy of Sciences pointed out, “Many of the mitigation strategies currently under consideration (such as limiting classes to small cohorts of students or implementing physical distancing between students and staff) require substantial reconfiguring of space, purchase of additional equipment, adjustments to staffing patterns, and upgrades to school buildings. The financial costs of consistently implementing a number of potential mitigation strategies is considerable.”
Even to do an adequate job with full-time remote learning requires funding for additional devices, faster internet access, and more teachers and counselors, to provide more individualized and ongoing support and to keep group sizes small.

Our schools’ desperate need for more funding has been aggravated by the fact that Governor Cuomo hijacked the extra dollars that were funded by Congress in the CARES ACT to fill holes in state aid, instead of sending these dollars to schools to help them address the COVID crisis.

Now is the time for the Governor and our State Legislators to stand up for our schools and protect our children by providing them with the funds that are badly needed. They could do that easily by boosting taxes on the ultra-wealthy,  including the Ultra-millionaires Tax on residents who earn above $5 million annually (S.8164 / A.10364), or above $1 million annually (S.7378/A.10363); and the Pied-a-Terre tax (S.44 / AA.4550), a surcharge on non-primary residences worth over five million dollars.

There is no doubt that the ultra-wealthy can afford this. In NY State,  118 billionaires saw their wealth increase by $77.3 billion during first three months of the pandemic. Michael Bloomberg saw his net worth increase by $12 billion during this period alone.  All New Yorkers, including the ultra-wealthy, need to pitch in during this time of need, to ensure the health, safety and education of our kids. Below are links to your Legislators’ contact information and a script you can use. They will be back in session starting tomorrow. 

Directions: Call your Legislators in their district offices – unless their phones are busy and then please call their Albany offices.

You can find your Assemblymember’s  phone number here and your State Senator’s phone number here.

Script: Hi, my name is ________ and I am a constituent.
Our public schools desperately need more state aid to deal with the pandemic. I want to urge [Elected Name] to support the Fund Our Future package, including the Ultra-Millionaires Tax, the Billionaire Tax Shelter Tax and the Pied-a-terre Tax, so our kids can attend school safely next year. Can I count on [Elected Name] to sign onto these bills, and to ask the Legislative leaders to bring them to a vote? 

Afterwards, if you have time, please enter their responses into our Google form here. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Talk out of School with Beth Ellor & Brad Lander: REC centers, safe reopening of schools, and need for child care & wraparound services next year

In today's podcast of Talk out of School, I spoke to Beth Ellor, a former Kindergarten teacher and preschool director, who described what it’s like working at the REC centers, which opened up to serve the NYC children of essential workers when schools were shut down in mid-March, including the various health and safety protocols they have followed. She discussed how the conditions in the REC centers relates to the safeguards that schools must use if and when they reopen in the fall.

I briefly summarized recent guidance from Gov. Cuomo, the NY State Department of Health and the Board of Regents for the reopening of schools, and explained how if NYC schools do reopen, to ensure social distancing most students will only be able to attend school in person 1-3 days a week, depending on how overcrowded their particular school is.

Council Member Brad Lander then joined us, to explain how the city needs to provide child care and wrap around services for young students on days when they are not attending school.  We discussed where the funding will come from and the need for more federal and state aid.

Resources and links:

Governor Cuomo’s announcement of the metrics that will determine whether schools can be reopened in NY state in the fall.

Guidelines from  the state Department of Health and the Board of Regents.

Class Size Matters and NYC Kids PAC proposals for the safe reopening of schools; letter to the Board of Regents and Summary of ideas from our June 20 conference.

How the need for social distancing brings in sharper focus the inequities of class size across the city.

Council Member Brad Lander’s oped and draft childcare plan.

Information on the increase in wealth among NY state billionaires during the pandemic.

NY Legislature bills that would raise revenue to support our schools during the pandemic and help pay for child care and wrap around services, by increasing taxes on the ultra-wealthy.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

How the city's "plan" for re-opening schools highlights the cruel inequities of class size as never before

Yesterday, the DOE released the preliminary outlines of a “plan” for how schools will be restructured in the fall is they are reopened next fall. DOE officials have determined that to maintain proper social distancing, a range of 9-12 students per classroom will be allowed, varying according to the size of the classroom.

Because class sizes are much larger than this in nearly every school, schools will have to separate their students into two or three or sometimes four groups who will take turns attending school in person, to be provided with remote learning when not in school. Families can also choose full-time remote learning with their children never attending school in person.

As a result of vastly different levels of school and classroom overcrowding across the city, some schools will be able to offer about half of their students in-person instruction each day; while others may only be able to allow each student to attend school one or two days a week. Or alternatively, different schools will opt for different groups of students attending school every other week or every third week.

For the most overcrowded schools, there will likely be three cohorts of students with complex schedules (not counting the group who stays home for full time remote learning) as shown to the right.

As usual with most such DOE documents, it provokes as many questions as it answers:
  1. How will the existing number of teachers be able to teach three or four different student groups at the same time, including the ones who are present in school, the ones who are home receiving online instruction part-time, and those receiving full-time remote instruction --– particularly with planned budget cuts and a staffing freeze to schools?
  2. If schools are encouraged to repurpose gymnasiums and cafeterias to allow for more classes to be taught at once, as the Chancellor has suggested, what additional personnel will be used to teach those students?
  3. Will the same teachers be assigned to teach the same groups of students over time, whether in person or remotely?
  4. What will working parents do when their kids are learning from home and cannot be in school?
  5. How will busing and after school be handled?
At a Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council meeting this morning, Chancellor Carranza said DOE will be identifying all individuals who have teaching certification -including himself – and may thus be redeployed and assigned to teach students. This would be an extremely smart move. While according to DOE, the average class size across all schools is 26, the teacher-student ratio is only 14 .

Carranza also said that a minimum of live instruction will be required with remote learning, and that he is working with union right now to ensure this, though with the caveat that he realizes it’s not healthy for students to be on computers too many hours a day.

Clearly the problem of how to maintain social distancing is exacerbated because of the chronic overcrowding of NYC public schools. This fall, at least 275,000 students were crammed into classes of 30 or more, and more than 55,000 students were in classes of 34 or more. 514,450 students attended overcrowded schools (at 101% capacity or more) according to the latest Blue Book from 2028-2019—the annual Enrollment, Capacity, and Utilization Report.

Here is a list of the 92 schools with utilization rates of 150% or more. As of 2017-2018, 42 over-utilized high schools across 41 buildings were already forced to adopt split-sessions in scheduling because of overcrowding, according to a DOE report on Space Overutilization the District planning webpage What this suggests in these severely overcrowded schools, most students will likely only be able to attend school one or two days a week, or one or two weeks out of five.

What is impossible to imagine is how learning next year will be provided equitably, despite the protestations on the DOE planning webpage that “Our vision of educational equity and excellence for all students persists even during this time of crisis.”

First of all, our school overcrowding is worse and our class sizes far larger than those in the rest of the state – meaning students elsewhere will likely be provided with far more face-to-face learning and support . See this chart with the latest available data from the NYSED website:

Decades of disinvestment in class size and school facilities by successive Mayors and Chancellors have led to inequities, not just in NYC compared to the rest of the state, but also within the city, with some schools having much larger class sizes and levels of overcrowding.

To make things worse, during both the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations, DOE officials have tried to squeeze more students into smaller spaces to facilitate school co-locations. The more schools are put into a building, the less instructional classroom space is available to students, because of the need to replicate “redundant administrative or cluster room purposes,” as DOE admits in the Space Overutilization report cited above.

One way that DOE has squeezed more students into schools for the purpose of co-location by revising the “Instructional Footprint,” a document that is supposed to govern co-location decisions. In 2010, the DOE lowered the minimum size of all standard size classrooms in the Footprint except for Kindergarten from 600 square feet to 500 square feet . More recently, they lowered the definition of a standard size cluster room from a minimum of 1000 square feet to 500 square feet.

This is much smaller than the way in which most states define a standard sized classroom. For example, Georgia mandates at least 750 square feet for Kindergarten to third grade classrooms, 660 square feet for classrooms in grades four through eight, and 600 square feet for high school classrooms. In California, standard sized classrooms are even larger, and Los Angeles is currently planning to lower class size to 16 students per class instead of our 8-10 to achieve social distancing in a “typical 960 square foot classroom.” A summary produced by the School Design and Planning Laboratory at the University of Georgia says the recommended size of the elementary school classroom in the United States is approximately 900 square feet, and the average size of a secondary school classroom at 1024 square feet .

Over time, DOE made other changes to the Instructional Footprint to cram more students into smaller and smaller spaces. The original Footprint from 2008 assumed class sizes of twenty students per class in grades K-3, and 25 in grades 4-5, but in 2009, the DOE increased the class size standards for grades 4-5 to 28 students, and in 2011, they eliminated any class size standards in any schools, except in the case of alternative learning centers, transfer high schools, full time GED programs, and Young Adult Borough Centers. This elimination of class size standards from the Footprint was made without public input or explanation. [Much of this is explained in our Space Crunch report on p. 21]

In December 2014, the Blue Book Working Group appointed by Chancellor Farina proposed that the school utilization formula be revised to be aligned to the smaller classes in the DOE’s original class size reduction plan of no more than 23 students per class in grades 4-8th grade and 25 in high school, rather than 28 and 30 students per class, respectively. These revisions would be necessary if the DOE ever intended to build enough schools to implement a citywide class size reduction plan, as de Blasio promised to when he was campaigning to be elected Mayor. City Hall sat on the Working Group’s recommendations for six months and then rejected them, without explanation, in July 2015.

According to the DOE, parents will soon be forced to make difficult decisions on whether to send their children to school in shifts or keep them at home full time. The online portal to register this decision will open on July 15, with a deadline of August 7. Whether schools will be able to tell parents by then how many days a week their children will be allowed to attend classes in person is unclear, as this in turn may depend in part on how many families decide to opt into full-time learning.

The glaring limitations and complications of these schedules, driven by the excessive class sizes in so many schools across the city, should force the Mayor and the Chancellor to pay attention to the inherent inequities in the system, which weren’t created but exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. All stakeholders have been confronted in a way as never before with the overriding need to implement an effective long-term plan to reduce class size. As Deborah Alexander of CEC 30 wrote to our NYC Education news list serv, “If this doesn't make DOE wake up to the issue of class size, nothing will.”