Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Talking points for class size hearings starting tomorrow Wed. May 22 in the Bronx; make your voices heard!


 The just-released DOE class size plan for next year fails on every account. Class size borough hearings begin this Wednesday May 22nd.   Make your voices heard!

  • Bronx – Wednesday, May 22, 2024 (6:00pm)
  • Manhattan – Thursday, May 23, 2024 (6:00pm)
  • Staten Island – Tuesday, May 28, 2024 (6:00pm)
  • Queens – Wednesday, May 29, 2024 (6:00pm)
  • Brooklyn – Thursday, May 30, 2024 (6:00pm)

To register and receive the Zoom link, go to https://learndoe.org/contractforexcellence/ The links will be available by 5 PM the day of the hearing.

Our talking points are available as a pdf here, and below.  But feel free to draw from your own experiences or that of your child, and your perspective.  Thanks!

Talking points for class size hearings

The state passed the class size law nearly two years ago, yet the DOE has still taken no steps to ensure compliance with the law. Instead, their policies have caused class sizes to increase due to repeated cuts of school budgets, while also slashing their spending on more space. Their draft class size “plan”, posted May  7, makes insufficient investments in new teachers and space, and is bound to fail without significant improvements.

Lack of funding to hire enough teachers:

  • DOE fails to invest sufficient funding to hire additional teachers to lower class size. The DOE says they will spend $137 million in “targeted” schools for this purpose, though they do not report which schools will receive this funding and how many more classes will meet the legal class size limits as a result.
  • We estimate that this amount would allow for the hiring of only about 1,350 additional teachers, out of the 10,000 to 12,000 teachers the DOE itself says will be needed to comply with the law over the next four years. The longer the DOE waits to hire additional teachers, the more difficult it will become to ensure their quality and certification.
  • Yet DOE plans to cut the budgets of as many as 760 schools due to projected enrollment decline and to impose a hiring freeze and vacancy reductions systemwide that could easily undo any positive impact from that $137 million. In fact, the city’s Financial plan projects a decrease of nearly 1,000 teachers next year, which would increase rather than decrease class size.
  • At the same time, they fail to allocate any of the more than $800 million of Contracts for Excellence funds specifically for the purpose of reducing class size, or the $1.8 billion dollars the city has received in additional Foundation funding that they will have received since 2021-2022 school year. In addition, the Independent Budget Office projects a city surplus of more than $5 billion.

What the DOE should do instead to hire more teachers: 

  • The DOE should provide funding to add at least 3,000 more teachers next year — one fourth of the additional number needed over over the next four years, at a cost of about $300 million. They should also promise to refrain from cutting any school’s budget, and not to impose a hiring freeze or vacancy reductions.

Lack of spending to create enough space

  • The DOE refuses to create sufficient space for smaller classes. Principals at 650 schools reported to DOE in their survey that they currently cannot comply with the class size limits due to inadequate classroom space. Yet the new proposed five-year capital plan cuts more than $2 billion for new capacity compared to the current plan and would create only about 22,000 additional seats – one tenth of the number that the School Construction Authority itself claims will be necessary.
  • A provision in the state budget passed in April requires the DOE to “increase planned spending on classroom construction by $2.0 billion” in order to be able to achieve the class size limits. Yet Instead of building more schools, the Mayor is planning to spend at least $6.8 billion for new jails –$2.7 billion more than the $4.1 billion currently dedicated for new school construction.
  • The Queens jail will cost at least $3.9 billion, which is far more than the plan has for new schools in Queens; the Bronx jail to cost at least $2.9 billion. Yet there is not a single dollar specified in the capital plan for new schools to be built in the Bronx.
  • The plan only Identifies new seats in six districts (2, 25, 27, 30, 31) plus one new high school in Brooklyn & one in Staten Island. 77% of the new seats remain unidentified as to borough, district, or grade level.
  • Without an expanded and accelerated plan to build more schools, the DOE will never meet the timelines to achieve the class size limits in the law.

What the DOE should do instead to create more space:

  • Immediately add at least $2 billion to the five-year capital plan, specifying where the new seats will be built by district, sub-district, and grade level, and explain how these additional seats will allow all schools over four years to reach the class size limits in the law.

Other problems with the DOE’s plan

  • DOE proposes that every superintendent increase the percentage of classes in their district schools at or below the class size caps by 3%. Yet forcing superintendents and principals to lower class size without providing any more funding or space could create problems in many schools. Instead, it is DOE’s responsibility to ensure that every school has the resources needed to lower class size without negative tradeoffs to the overall quality of education students receive.
  • The DOE also cites as an option to achieve the class size limits by expanding online learning. Forcing more students into remote classes, given the dismal results of this strategy during the pandemic, seems especially unwise and would likely undercut any of the benefits to student learning and social connection provided by smaller classes.

What the DOE should do instead:

  • The DOE must create and implement an actual multi-year plan, showing which schools will receive additional funding to hire additional teachers to lower class size each year, and detailing where additional space will be created to allow the approximately 650 schools that do not currently have sufficient space to achieve the class size limits within the within the mandated time frame. If the DOE refuses to create this plan, the State Education Department should require them to do so.

 

Monday, May 6, 2024

ECC Statement Condemning the Undemocratic State Budget Process That Used Mayoral Control as a Political Bargaining Chip


 To see if there's a way forward on this very critical issue, despite the Governor's insistence on cramming a two-year extension of Mayoral control into the state budget, join us for our Parent Action Conference on Saturday May 11 at 10:30 AM-- more info here.

ECC Statement Condemning the Undemocratic State Budget Process That Used Mayoral Control as a Political Bargaining Chip

April 25, 2024

New York State’s 2024-25 budget shows an utter disregard of parents, students, educators and advocates in New York City. When Governor Hochul made school governance into a political bargaining chip by including a 4-year extension of mayoral control in her Executive Budget in January, she knew well that the state legislature mandated report on school governance in New York City, which she called for, was due to be released near the end of March. 

After first agreeing to remove mayoral control from the budget, the governor put it back in the eleventh hour to use mayoral control for horse trading. The final budget agreed upon by the Governor, Majority Leader and Speaker includes a 2-year extension and some superficial changes to the Panel for Educational Policy.  It is as if the report by the Commissioner of the NYS Education Department never existed. 

We condemn this disregard for parents, students, educators and advocates, many of whom made clear in public testimony recorded in NYSED’s report, that we do not want mayoral control. We condemn the Governor’s hypocrisy in her statement, “governance mechanism that’s been in place for many, many years will not be politicized,” when she is the one who politicized it by using it to horse trade in the budget. 

While we recognize the Majority Leader and Speaker fought to keep mayoral control out of the budget, we are disappointed that they conceded in the end and seemingly listened only to the Mayor and the union leadership, neglecting the voices of the parents, students, educators and advocates. 

Mayoral control needed to be debated separately from the state budget. It should never be used as a pawn in budget negotiations, particularly in a year when a comprehensive report assessing the effectiveness of mayoral control was released. The Governor and the legislature are forcing children of NYC public schools to suffer a dysfunctional and grossly inequitable system for two more years without any future possibilities for a new governance system. 

We thank the legislators in both houses who advocated until the last moment on behalf of parents, students, educators and advocates. We will continue to fight for a democratic school governance system in New York City. 

Education Council Consortium Board of Directors

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Sign up now for our Parent Action Conference on May 11th!

 



You're invited! Class Size Matters will hold our annual Parent Action Conference co-sponsored with NYC Kids Pac on May 11th. Keynote speakers will focus on Mayoral control: the way forward with New York State Senator John Liu, Chair of the NYC Education Committee, and CUNY Law Professor Natalia Gomez Velez, who co-authored the New York State Education Department's report on Mayoral Control.

We'll be hosting several workshops on important issues such as Class size compliance in NYC, Dealing with ACS, How to protect the rights of your special needs child, Problems with the mandated literacy curriculum, Understanding the charter school industry, and Safeguarding your child's school records. You can sign up for the conference here, or by scanning the QR code in the flyer above.


Sunday, April 21, 2024

Post mortem on a disappointing state budget


 The state budget was finalized on Saturday, more than two weeks late, and to the surprise of many, Mayor Adams was successful in getting Mayoral control renewed within the budget.  He did not get four years, as he and the Governor wanted, but he got two years, which flies in the fact of what nearly all the Legislative leaders had said about the importance of keeping school governance outside the budget.  As Sen. John Liu said,

The proper way to do this is a thoughtful deliberation and hearing more voices in the process — taking into account more opinions from education stakeholders — and that’s exactly what we had planned to do immediately after the enactment of the budget. As it turns out,, the governor was very insistent on including this issue, and the governor has a great deal of influence during the budget making process. So this decision making was clearly rushed. It’s not best practice, but this is where we are.”

Instead of giving the thoughtful consideration the issue deserves, especially after weeks of public hearings on the matter, where hundreds of parents and teachers came out to speak about why mayoral control was  inherently flawed and needs badly to be reformed, the Governor apparently insisted the issue be shoved into the budget as part of a backroom deal. 

Extending mayoral control for two more years represents not only a slap in the face to all those parents and teachers who spoke out, but also to the State Education Department, that made a real effort into holding hearings in every borough, and commissioning a 500 page report on Mayoral control, released just 11 days ago.  That report analyzed the public comment, looked at how Mayoral control in NYC differed from school governances systems elsewhere in the country, and recommended several significant changes, including reconstituting the Panel for Educational Policy so that the Mayor no longer has a majority of appointees, and establishing a Commission to come up with more fundamental reforms.

But all of that effort was for naught, as Albany reverted to its usual bad habit of wheeling and dealing, with only three people in the room making the final decision on this issue of monumental importance: Governor Hochul,  the Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and the Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Steward Cousins.

Knowledgeable sources say that while Hochul’s insistence was crucial,  Speaker Heastie was favorably inclined towards renewing mayoral control, and Majority Leader Cousins could not withstand that pressure from the other two. 

At the very first borough hearing in the Bronx, John Collazo, chief of staff for the Assembly Education Chair Michael Benedetto read aloud statement from Benedetto that the Assembly as a whole recommended mayoral control should be renewed in its present form  “at least six more years.”  As shown on the video (see about 1.11 hour in), his speech was booed. While it is unlikely that the entire Assembly held this consensus, it seems probable that on such a high profile issue, Benedetto would not have issued this statement without checking it first with Speaker Heastie. 

The only apparent change to the governance system or the composition to the Panel for Educational Policy will be that from now on, instead of the Panel for Education Policy electing its own chair, Legislature leaders and the Chancellor Lester Young of the Board of Regents will produce a list of nominees for the position, from which the mayor will select one.  This seems to be a supremely silly idea, as well as being somewhat insulting.  Rather than lessening the Mayor’s power, this will add yet another mayoral appointee to the Panel to the 15 out of 23 that he currently controls.   It is hard to understand what such a trivial change could possibly mean in terms of providing checks and balances or lead to any more accountability in policymaking or minimizing waste and fraud.

Governor Hochul said “I want parents & children & teachers to know that governance mechanism been in place for many years will not be politicized. It will not be a political football for the next few months.”

Except it was she  who politicized the issue by cramming mayoral control into the budget where it did not belong.  No parents or teachers I know of will be assured by this backroom deal, which instead was engineered presumably to satisfy StudentsFirst and the charter school lobby, which had threatened to spend millions on ads pushing for the continuation of mayoral control, in a campaign funded by Bloomberg, the Walton family, and other billionaire supporters of privatization.  Though charter schools are NOT under mayoral control, and these ads never mention charter schools, the billionaires who really exert outsize influence with the Governor and the Mayor, and in fact funded Adams mayoral campaign want to make sure that he will be able to continue providing favors to the charter school sector in the future. 

While the sensationalist ads created by the charter lobby trumpeted the corruption of the pre-Mayoral control days, since Mayoral control was instituted there have been many much larger, multi-million dollar corruption scandals at the Department of Education as I detail in my presentation to the NYC Bar Association.  And cronyism and conflicts of interest seem endemic to this administration, as evidence by a NY Post expose today, as well as here, here, and here.

In any case, it appears that once again, public school parents and teachers and community members lost out, and the charter lobby won.  There is no other reason the Governor should have to support the Mayor in this way, who himself is experiencing record low popularity according to polls – if it were not to keep her big donors happy.

This brings me to another point – one of the reasons that elected schools boards were instituted in the first place was to try to insulate them from the horse trading that goes on in ordinary politics, so that children’s education is run by people singularly focused on this issue alone, which is too important to be traded away for some other monetary or policy issue.  But the back room deal, at least when it comes to the fate of NYC students and schools, lives on in this budget.  One can only imagine the constituent outcry if the Gov. tried to eliminate elected school boards in the suburbs or the rural areas of the state and impose a system where the Mayor had unilateral power over their schools, with a chair of their school board  appointed by the State Legislature, the Chancellor, and the Mayor.   

Yet the views of NYC residents are not given the same respect or consideration as the residents of Scarsdale or Allendale, or even voters in Detroit, Newark, and Chicago, all of which have moved away from mayoral control in the past few years.

The state budget also includes complicated language around class size, which says that the Mayor and an independent auditor must certify the city’s annual education budget to ensure that it includes sufficient funding to meet the annual targets in the class size reduction law.  Now “independent auditors” are a dime a dozen, as we saw in the Enron case.  But there is another wrinkle in the law: if the required class size targets are not reached by the end of October, the City Council must add whatever additional funding is needed to meet those targets in the November budget modification. As we saw in the recent lawsuit over the cuts to school budgets, it is difficult to get a court to overrule the Mayor and the Council, even when they clearly violate state law.

How effective this will be in fencing in Mayor Adams is difficult to predict,  Adding another budgetary provision to state law is like a parent saying to a misbehaving child, “I really mean it this time.”  In any case, as Ben Max pointed out on twitter, it is “quite something that the state passed a class size law and due to the mayor's opposition to implementing it the legislature feels it necessary to add new legal mechanisms to make the city follow the law.”

The state budget also specifies that the DOE will have to add two billion dollars for classroom construction to the proposed five-year capital plan, over and above the $4.1 billion currently proposed new capacity.  That amount is sorely needed, especially, as the DOE cut more than  $2 billion to new capacity after the class size law was passed.  But whether that will mean dividing existing classrooms or common spaces to even smaller spaces, or building and leasing new schools is unclear, as well as whether the amount is enough, especially as the head of the School Construction Authority testified at recent Council hearings that it would cost an estimated $22 to $25 billion to create enough new space to comply with the law, which is six times the amount they will now be obligated to spend.

We  have long argued that the estimates of the DOE and SCA of the capital costs for compliance are inflated.  Just a few weeks ago, after all, the Chancellor and Deputy Chancellor claimed that it would cost $32 billion to $35 billion for that purpose.  But how much it will actually cost is ,  is unclear, as I discussed in my testimony to the City Council, because of a chronic lack of transparency by the SCA and DOE, who refuse to share their methodology, despite both state and city laws that require them to do so.  In the end, how much more space is needed will depend on whether the DOE agrees to implement other changes recommended in the Class Size Working Group report, including capping enrollment at lower levels in overcrowded schools when there are underutilized schools nearby, or moving some school-based PreK and 3K programs into nearby community based organizations or Early Childhood Centers, which currently have thousands of empty seats.

At the last minute, according to several sources, Hochul also tried to include in the budget amendments to the state law that attempts to ensure that all non-public schools, including ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas, provide an equivalent secular education, include  sufficient instruction in English, math, and science.  Negotiations on this issue continued until late Friday night, and was the last item holding up the finalization of the budget. Like the billionaires who fund charter schools, the ultra-Orthodox leaders have outsized political influence with both the Governor and the mayor, and as a result, their schools continue to receive millions in state subsidies while graduating many students unable to speak English or do basic math.   Luckily, in this instance she failed to get her way.

There is also a poison pill in the budget, that so far has not been reported on, to my knowledge.  The State Foundation formula that largely determines school aid has not been updated since 2007, and there has been a move  to ask the State Education Department to commission a study on how it might be revised.  Yet instead, Hochul insisted that this study be done instead by the conservative Rockefeller Institute, run by Cuomo’s former budget director Robert Megna.  The Institute’s Director of Education Policy Studies is Brian Backstrom, an ed reform consultant who used to run the Foundation for Education Reform, a charter lobbying organization, and is still serves as the board co-chair of the Henry Johnson charter school in Albany,  and also sits on the Brighter Choice Foundation board that funds charter schools. His bio below boasts that “he is one of the founders and chief architects of New York’s early charter school movement” and he advocates for various forms of school vouchers, including private school tuition tax-credits.  It is likely that whatever the Institute recommends in terms of school funding will be biased towards further privatization, rather than supporting public schools.

In other more welcome news, on Friday the Mayor agreed to restore $500 million in planned cuts to the education budget ,including many programs that had been previously funded through federal stimulus dollars during the administrations of both de Blasio and Eric Adams.  The Mayor now has agreed to increase funding for PreK and 3K programs, including PreK for students with special needs, as well as to pay for  guidance counselors, community school services, and other programs that were on the chopping block.

What the Mayor did not agree to do is to reverse  planned cuts to restorative justice programs, or to make any commitment that schools will not face cuts in their budgets, especially for those schools that may have lost enrollment since the pandemic.  This means that many schools can expect to  see their budget for staffing cut,  leading to increases rather than decreases in class size.  As I also pointed out in my Council testimony, the size of the full-time K12 teaching staff has already shrunk by over 4,000, and the city’s financial plan outlines a further reduction of 3,000 teachers over the next two years.  Whether the language in the state budget that earlier described will be effective in preventing further class size increases from happening  is unclear to me at this point.   We will just have to see how this ongoing battle over class size and trying to persuade the Mayor to comply with the law plays out now that he has gained Mayoral control for the next two years --- the rest of his first and perhaps only term in office.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Hear about how you can protect your child from having their data sold by College Board & ACT

Online Forum: No More Student Data Sales!

Test companies like College Board and ACT, Inc. are illegally profiting from the sale of student personal data when their tests are assigned to students to take in school. Learn how this were stopped in New York State, and what we can do to push other states to end this practice too.

Virtual Forum
No More Student Data Sales! 
How Test Companies Profit from Illegal Student Data Sales & How We Can Stop Them

Monday May 6 2023
8pmET - 7pmCT - 6pmMT - 5pmPT

Register online at: bit.ly/5_6_24_webinar

Sponsored by Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Illinois Families for Public Schools and Class Size Matters

no_more_data_sales.png

Join us on Zoom on May 6th for a webinar where we'll cover:

This webinar will answer your questions, help you protect your child's data, and connect you to other student privacy advocates. Register online here.


Saturday, March 23, 2024

DOE's irresponsibility in employing AI products regardless of whether they protect student privacy


A week ago, the NY Post featured an article about a new AI program call Yourai sold by a company called LINC, or The Learning Innovation Catalyst, that the DOE is piloting in some Brooklyn schools.  The product is supposed to help teachers develop their lesson plans.  On Twitter last week, I pointed out the idiocy of the DOE administrator who claimed this would help teachers "think creatively."

I went on to point out that two of the three testimonials on the website from NYC teachers appeared to be fake, as I couldn't find their names in a list of DOE employees.

Today, the NY Post followed up with another article, pointing out that there were apparently eight fake testimonials from NYC teachers on the website, and that after being asked about this, the company said their names "were anonymized for compliance purposes," and have now been taken down..

Apparently, the co-CEO of the company, Jason Green, is a close pal of the Chancellor, and he and his family vacationed with the Chancellor's family on Martha Vineyard last summer.  The article added that LINC has received $4.3 million from DOE since 2018 for "professional development and curriculum," including $2.3 million so far  this school year.

What they did not mention is that, aside from the likely shoddiness of the product and the fake hype surrounding it, there are real concerns about these sorts of products including the risk to student privacy, as I pointed out on twitter.  

AI products are  well known for gobbling up huge amounts of personal student data, and then using it to improve their products and create new ones.  Yet this is specifically prohibited by the regulations of NY State's student privacy law, Ed Law § 2-d.

These regulations clearly state that "Third-party contractors shall not sell personally identifiable information nor use or disclose it for any marketing or commercial purpose" and that "Commercial or Marketing Purpose means the sale of student data; or its use or disclosure for purposes of receiving remuneration, whether directly or indirectly; the use of student data for advertising purposes, or to develop, improve or market products or services to students [emphasis added]."

I also pointed out that any district vendor or other third party with access to personal student data by law is supposed to have a specific privacy addendum to its contract.  This addendum is supposed to be posted on the DOE website here, but none can be found for LINC or YourAi.  Sadly, DOE continues to flout the law when it  comes to protecting student data and the transparency required by Ed Law § 2-d, as we have noted in the past.

On twitter, I highlighted specific weaknesses in LINC's online privacy policy, including that they allow other companies to track user behavior, including “3rd parties that deliver content or offers” meaning marketing.

I also noted that the Privacy Policy said that the company reserved the right to change it at any time for any reason without prior notification to users by changing wording online.  This violates FERPA, because then, districts are not in control of how student data may be used or disclosed.


 

After noting these red flags on twitter, the co-CEO Jason Green DMed me:

We are a minority company that has been partnering with NYCPS for years. Our mission is to help teachers better support learners. I am also recently married and a dog-lover. Would you be open to learning more about us? I would love to better understand your perspective as well.

I said sure, and then asked to see his contract with DOE, to ensure that it contained the required data privacy and security protections.   I didn't hear back until yesterday, when he said he was "working with his team" to get the contract, but assured me that they don't "directly" collect or use student data.  

When I asked what "directly" means, he said they don't collect student data at all.

Then, later that day, on Friday March 22, I went back to look at the company's Privacy Policy and noticed it had been updated that very day:


Low and behold, there was a bunch of new sections added, including that the company indeed "may have access to student data" or "teacher or principal data" as defined under Ed Law § 2-d


They had revised the section that previously said the company may change the Privacy Policy without prior notice.  It now says  "We will send advance notice of any upcoming changes to our Privacy Policy via e-mail."  The section about allowing other companies to use user data for marketing purposes was taken out, but this passage that replaced it is not much more reassuring:

Also, Third Party Companies may want access to Personal Data that we collect from our customers. As a result, we may disclose your Personal Data to a Third Party Company; however, we will not disclose your Personal Data to any Third Party Company for the Third Party Company’s own direct marketing purposes. The privacy policies of these Third-Party Companies may apply to the use and disclosure of your Personal Data that we collect and disclose to such Third-Party Companies. Because we do not control the privacy practices of our Third-Party Companies, you should read and understand their privacy policies.

So what does it say in the actual, DOE contract with LINC, that  legally binds their use and protection of student data?  Sue Edelman of the NY Post FOILed the contract from the NYC Comptroller and sent it to me on Friday.

To make a long story short, the only LINC contract the Comptroller's office had was this one from 2020, which never mentions Ed Law § 2-d, though law was passed in 2014, and doesn't contain its required provisions.  

Instead, the contract glosses over the entire issue of student privacy, and says instead that it complies with Chancellor’s Regulations A-820 "governing access to and the disclosure of information contained in student records." Yet Chancellor's Regulations A-820 has not not been updated since 2009. 

In his blog today, Peter Greene has one of his excellent take downs of the whole notion of AI producing better lesson plans than actual living teachers.  He includes this   quote from Cory Doctorow:

We’re nowhere near the point where an AI can do your job, but we’re well past the point where your boss can be suckered into firing you and replacing you with a bot that fails at doing your job.

But beyond the lamentable mechanization and degradation of education that is being promoted by NYC and other districts nationwide, in the name of mindless innovation, the DOE apparent lack of interest in protecting student privacy and following the law remains appalling.