Thursday, January 28, 2021

Reimagine our City Schools: alternatives to Mayoral control on Sunday at 8 PM

The deep flaws and persistent problems with Mayoral control are even more evident to many people, given the de Blasio’s push to have the Pearson contract for the gifted test approved, and when it failed last night at the PEP, even among many of his own appointees, his insistence to continue this controversial program anyway.  Teachers of NYC are sponsoring a discussion of what alternative governance system would be best on Sunday at 8 PM.

We continue our collective journey to build a coalition of community right-holders to Reimagine Our City Schools. 

This Sunday, January 31 at 8 PM we will discuss viable 21st-century alternatives to mayoral control that democratize school governance.  

This is a must-attend event if you want to reclaim our city schools for our New York city children and neighborhoods.

Join education activists and advocates from The People's Board of Education and the Parent Commission as they share their visions for schools FOR AND BY THE PEOPLE.

Meet like-minded educators, parents, and leaders championing fundamental change of our public schools that anchor our city's communities.

RSVP for the Zoom discussion at:

We only have 100 spots available if you want to be part of the interactive Zoom session. Register now!

You also be able to view the livestream on the Teachers of NYC Facebook Fan Page.

Last night's historic vote of the Panel for Educational Policy to reject the Pearson contract for assessing "giftedness"

 Last night was truly one for the history books, at least in the history of NYC public schools:  the Panel for Educational Policy, composed of a majority of mayoral appointees, voted down a DOE contract. 

After more than six hours of testimony by CEC members, elected officials, students and parents, most of whom opposed its renewal, eight panelists voted to reject the highly controversial Pearson contract to provide the "gifted" test, administered to kids as young as four years old; with only seven members voting yes.  This is despite the fact that the Mayor appointed two new representatives in the last two weeks and personally lobbied his appointees to approve it. Stories here: NY1, Chalkbeat, NY Daily News and Gothamist.  

It was the first time the PEP ever voted to reject a contract, since they were given this authority in 2009 -- which was meant to provide stronger oversight and a check on corruption. [As I testified in 2011, it didn't work and the panel has rubber-stamped many corrupt and wasteful contracts ever since.]  

 I wrote about this unsupportable Pearson contract for the Gotham Gazette last week, though I really didn't expect it would be rejected.  I also discussed it on my "Talk out of School" podcast with  Akil Bello of FairTest, who explained how the test had no validity or reliability, had clearly racially biased results, and to continue giving it especially during a pandemic was absurd.  

Even the Chancellor last night admitted that "There is no research, there is no pedagogical reason why one test to four-year-olds should be a sole determinant"  to entry to a gifted program, while tepidly urging the panel members to renew it for just one more year.

Of all the unprecedented events of last night, perhaps the most bizarre was that Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan was brought into the meeting  to justify it.  Fuleihan couldn't log on at first, so there were about seven minutes of empty time, but when he finally managed, he haplessly tried to explain that now, city officials were serious about changing the program and the screening method and would start planning this after this year.  They would go on "listening tours", and ask PEP members for their input, yada yada yada.  

This is after the DOE already had a full year to work on changing this process, which they promised they would do the last time they asked the PEP to renew the contract, sometime last year.  Also see the leaked DOE memo from  July - showing DOE had already been discussing how to proceed for many months.  

Chalk this down to more indecision and inefficiency of Mayoral control -- depending on one, very fallible person to make all decisions for nearly a million public school students.  The total ineptitude of the process recalls de Blasio's unconscionable delay in closing the schools in mid-March when the pandemic was at its height, and his failure to plan for their reopening till sometime in mid-July. (Check out my Myths of Mayoral control testimony for more on this point.)

Fulehain though in charge of the city budget has no background in education, so it was very strange that of all the people in the universe, he was the one brought in to defend the contract on the Mayor's behalf-- but perhaps it was to allow him to make the (unconvincing) claim that the DOE would be "reimbursed" for the five million dollars the administration of the test would cost.  Reimbursed by whom he didn't say.

There were so many eloquent, incisive, passionate comments from parents, students and advocates, it's impossible to recount them all, but here is a transcript of the entire night,  from the sometimes unreliable automatic transcription service used by DOE.  

Check out Lucas Healey's comments at 19:20:54, a District 75 student, and the points made by CEC 2 member Eric Goldberg . Here is the brief testimony on behalf of Class Size Matters by my assistant, Michael Horwitz.  Read Jessica Byrne, President of CEC 22's comments at 19.53, about how sick she was of the political manipulation leading to the night's vote.

Two different CEC leaders said it was outrageous  to spend $5M on this program, when hundreds of students in their districts still didn't have computer or other devices to be able to access remote learning, and thus were at risk of not graduating: Kaliris Salas Ramirez of CEC4 in E. Harlem, and Ayesha Irvin of D5 in Central Harlem.

Shino Tanikawa, another CEC2 member and a member of the Mayor's School Diversity Advisory Group that recommended dismantling the entire gifted program more than a year ago, called in from Japan and spoke at 20:40: 

It's actually unbelievable to me that we're having this conversation in the middle of the pandemic, when we have students who don't have devices. Who don't have internet connectivity. Who don't have food and whose parents don't have a job. Who might become homeless tomorrow.

And we are talking about G&T that serves thousands of students at most; in 2019 3,700 offers were made. That's it.

And we're spending so much time and energy and money and debate on this one, we really should be working on making sure that all our students but particularly those who are historically marginalized have what they need to thrive. Even in the pandemic. Instead we are here, pleading with you to just vote this down so we can move onto more important things.

$5 million. Just imagine what you can do with $5 million. Here's one idea. A lot of schools are going to own money back to central because of register loss. And a lot of families actually left the system it seems this year. Instead of making schools pay back what they owe, start using some of these $5 million. There are other places where we can use this $5 million I know of…Please vote No.

Here are the comments of  PEP members, extracted from the transcript,  who explained their positions on the issue,  many of them very emphatic and revealing, including the PEP chair, Vanessa Leung and co-chair Lori Podvesker, both mayoral appointees who nearly always vote in alignment with the Mayor.  

Lori specifically decried the pressure that had been put on her by the Mayor to vote yes. Shannon Waite spoke at length about the deep racial bias that this test and the entire gifted program represented.  She acknowledged that she had been appointed to fill the seat when another Black member of the PEP was forced to quit after she voted against the closures of two schools, and wondered if she too would be replaced after she voted no. Yet another Mayoral appointee, Gary Linnell said he changed his mind during the course of the evening, because of all the CEC members who spoke against the test.

The Bronx BP appointee, Geneal Chacon, and the Queens BP appointee, Deb Dillingham, explained that they were voting to approve the contract even though this was contrary to their personal views. 

The Manhattan BP rep, Michael Kraft, and a Mayoral appointee, Natalie Green Giles, voted to approve the contract without any comment; while the Brooklyn rep April Chapman and Staten Island rep Peter Calandrella voted against the contract without explanation either.  Here are all the votes:

Seven votes yes: Isaac Carmignani (mayoral appointee); Deborah Dillingham (Queens BP appointee) , Eric Henry (Mayoral); Geneal Chacon (Bronx BP), Natalie Green Giles (Mayoral); Michael Kraft (Manhattan BP); Larian Angelo (Mayoral)

Eight votes no: Tom Sheppard (CEC appointee); Lori Podvesker (Mayoral); Gary Linnen (Mayoral); Kathy Park Price (Mayoral); Shannon Waite (Mayoral); Peter Calandrella (Staten Island BP) ; April Chapman (Brooklyn BP); Vanessa Leung (Mayoral)

God knows what will happen now.  The mayor during his presser today said he was determined to go ahead with the program anyway:

...for the families and there's thousands and thousands of families. I think it's about 15,000 each year, typically, that want to get their kids in those gifted and talented programs. I'll tell them I'm a parent. I was a public school parent. You will have an opportunity to apply for those programs this year. We'll work on the right methodology and we'll announce it soon. But families can hear directly from me. Yes, you will be applying for the opportunity for your kids to be in those gifted and talented programs, and we'll get an update to folks soon.   

Why this Mayor, who ran on trying to ensure equity in our schools, chose this particular hill to die on is anyone's guess.  If you have a theory or a comment or would like to share your testimony from last night, please do it it in the comment section below.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

What the leaked DOE memo on the "gifted" test reveals

Update 1.27.2021: Daily News reported last night that the Mayor has hurriedly appointed two new PEP members whose seats had long been vacant and is personally calling others of his appointees to push the extension of the Pearson contract through.


In several of the articles on the controversy over the renewal of the Pearson contract for the gifted test, which will be voted on tomorrow Wed. night by the Panel for Educational Policy,  including in the Daily News and Chalkbeat, a confidential draft DOE memo from July 2020 is mentioned that was leaked to PEP members.  

The memo is embedded above and is also posted here.  Several things stand out about this memo.  First of all, it clearly points out that doing any testing at during the pandemic is likely to intensify the inequities of this program, that are already too evident:

 "Testing during this time could exacerbate inequities for an admissions program that is widely known to have disparate outcomes by race. Data shows that the pandemic has impacted poor and ethnically diverse New York neighborhoods at higher rates than wealthier, predominately White ones. The difference in performance by racial and/or socioeconomic group could be increased by the impact of the pandemic, as students face loss of loved ones, loss of family income, food instability, etc."

Also: "Funding used for this program could be redistributed to programs providing more essential services to students."  

This is surely true. Yesterday at the PEP Contract committee meeting, the DOE admitted that based on previous years, administering the test cost about $5 million, including the Pearson contract.  They also implied that it might be even more expensive this year, because of the need for PPE and other COVID safety precautions.

Yet instead of mentioning the possibility that the entire program should be eliminated, as the Mayor's School Diversity Advisory Group recommended, this memo expanding it via a "universal screening program" for all students, starting in  2nd grade.  This screening process could include "a standardized, group-administered, machine-scored test" as well as several other assessments, and would surely be even more expensive to purchase and administer, and take hours of classroom  time.

Rather than reject the whole notion of screening young students for "giftedness", these DOE officials propose:

Though young gifted learners are heterogeneous and may not be easily defined or assessed, a pattern of gifted behaviors and/or advanced performance can be seen as early as preschool. Using scales, checklists, and student portfolios gives teachers opportunities to elicit behaviors characteristic of giftedness. Identification tools should vary by population (e.g., ELLs/MLLs, SWDs), and any teacher-facing component should include anti-bias trainingand training on identification and norm-referenced identification tools.

Really?  I would have hoped that for an agency that says they are devoted to the goal of improving equity, more options might be offered, including that the DOE should focus on providing all students programs and services to expand upon their inherent talents,  interests and gifts, rather than selected a subset of students for special treatment, based upon a complicated, expensive and likely unreliable system of checklists, scales, portfolios, and assessments.

The leaked memo also explains why the DOE is asking the PEP to renew the Pearson contract into next fall , as they intend "use the Pearson as the universal screener for some time" because it will take several years to select and purchase new assessments. [Click to enlarge]

The memo predicts how the proposed change in assessments and screening process might produce a "negative reaction" among supporters of the current program, but not about how the many advocates, parents and experts who oppose the entire notion of testing and screening young children might respond,  including  members of the PEP as well as the Mayor's own Diversity Advisory group.

Perhaps the lack of foresight and consideration of equity evident here results from the fact that though the memo is purportedly from Linda Chen, the Chief Academic Officer, it seems to have been written exclusively by staff who work in the DOE Office of Assessment, (though neither of the two staffers with the most comments, Winnie Huang and Michael Ryan, appear to have any particular training or technical expertise in this area.)  Perhaps it is natural that people in this office would simply want to administer tests and more tests, rather than think holistically about the needs of the whole child or the best use of scarce education funds.  As the expression goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. 

Of course, this wasn't necessarily the final draft of this memo, and perhaps others at DOE provided more careful consideration of these issues subsequently. DOE officials told Chalkbeat that it was “one of many iterations of potential proposals and options considered.” though they refused to make the final version available.

A side note: it is peculiar that in the unmarked approval checklist of DOE officials  appended to the end of the memo there appears the name of Hydra Mendoza, the former head of Community Empowerment, Partnerships, and Communications, who  left the DOE in Sept. 2019 - nearly a full year before the memo was drafted.

Again, I urge the PEP members to reject the extension of the Pearson contract at tomorrow night's meeting, because, as the memo points out, "if the extension is not approved, the DOE currently does not have an alternative assessment available to assess gifted intellectual ability for admissions for SY 21-22". You can make your voice heard by tomorrow night by registering here, starting at 5:30 PM.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Why the DOE should cancel the unfair, unreliable and invalid "gifted" test now and forever & podcast on need to cancel all high-stakes testing this year

 Please read my piece published today at Gotham Gazette.  It explains why the DOE should cancel the "gifted" tests immediately; now and forever.  It makes no sense to continue this invalid, unreliable and biased exam, especially in the midst of a pandemic and the prospect of steep budget cuts to schools.  The contract will cost $1.7M and this doesn't even include the considerable but undisclosed DOE costs of administering this test to kids as young as four-year-old, one on one.  

My piece also deals with the horrific record of Pearson, who produces the test.  The renewal of the Pearson contract will be voted on next Wed., January 27 by the New York City Panel for Educational Policy.  Those who would like to speak on the proposal can register here, starting at 5:30 PM.  You can also email PEP members with your views.  Here are their emails:;;;;;;;;;;;;;

Below is my podcast from Wednesday on the need to cancel all high-stakes testing this spring, including the gifted tests, the state 3rd-8th grade exams, and the Regents high school exit exams, with guests Akil Bello of FairTest, Lisa Rudley of NY State Allies for Public Education, and Jeanette Deutermann of LI Opt out.


As discussed on the podcast, here is the NYSAPE petition urging the State Commissioner to cancel the Regents high school exit exams and to ask the US Department of Education for a waiver from having to administer the 3rd-8th grade exams this spring; also the FairTest petition to the US Department of Education and state education policymakers to suspend all high stakes testing this year. Finally, blog post and fact sheet on what’s wrong with the Regents graduation exit exams.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The impact of Covid on NYC schools and class size & critique of DOE's plans for next year

My testimony at the City Council hearings on the impact of Covid on education and class size. This exchange already occurred this morning:

Of course, they know very well how many students are in classes over 30, but prefer not to answer and have repeatedly delayed releasing any class size data as legally required by Nov. 15.  

On Oct. 26, at the Mayor's press conference, Chancellor Carranza reported that the DOE has been collecting attendance data and thus class size in "literally three buckets of attendance every single day": in-person classes, remote blended learning classes and full-time remote.

See my testimony below, which includes class size data from a parent survey undertaken by survey undertaken by Special Support Services LLC.  My testimony also critiques the administration's plans to double down on online learning next year.