Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Deadline this Friday to sign up for remote or in-person learning next year -a difficult decision for many parents to make

Late last week, the DOE released the outline of a plan for school reopening in the fall, to be submitted to the State Board of Health.   They promise more details at the school level will follow. They released a rubric and protocol for individual school closures if Covid cases emerge among students or staff. The Mayor also announced that he will not reopen schools unless the positivity rate citywide remains under three percent by early September, while the Governor’s benchmark is a less restrictive five percent. As of today, the city’s rate is one percent – one of the lowest in the country. According to the Governor, there were no Covid deaths in NYC for three days in a row this week.
The DOE is also letting parents decide whether they want to keep their children home for 100 percent remote learning next fall. Parents need to decide by this Friday, August 7 by registering their decision online.  Families can change their mind to choose full-time remote learning at any time, but if they alter their original choice to opt for in-person learning, this can happen only a few times a year.
This will be a difficult decision for many parents to make, especially as much information is missing in the DOE’s reopening plan, which does not say whether all schools will have nurses; doesn’t say how widely available busing will be; and doesn’t allow parents to know how many days per week their kids will be able to attend school if they opt for in-person learning. The disparities across the city regarding how little in-person learning will be available result from the awful inequities of class size and school overcrowding that plague our public schools.
Parents also do not know yet what full-time remote learning will look like and whether it will be improved from the version their children were subjected to this spring. The model used in summer school has apparently not gone well.
Rather than the DOE’s current plan, with all students offered “blended” learning and attending school only 1-3 days per week, other officials including City Council Education Chair Mark Treyger and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams issued proposals recommending that DOE should focus in-person instruction on elementary school children and those students 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 youngest students generally do worst with remote learning. If middle schools and high school buildings were closed with their students engaging in full-time remote learning, then younger students could theoretically be provided with smaller classes in those buildings and attend school nearly full time – if there were enough teachers.
Neither the UFT nor the CSA is satisfied with the current plans, and their opposition may prevent schools opening at all. Infection rates may also rise higher as the fall progresses, with schools closing at that point, but at least some kids will then have had the chance to meet their teachers and each other in person before that happens, as this epidemiologist points out.
In any case, no one can possibly fault you whatever choice you make for your child and family. Again, here is the link to fill it out by this Friday, August 7.

Today's "Talk out of School": the need for more nurses before reopening NYC schools, and how the COVID shutdown threatens the future of public education

In today's "Talk out of School" podcast, I spoke to Kim Watkins, NYC parent leader, about the need to ensure all schools have nurses before they can reopen safely next year. Then Prof. Johann Neem joined us to explain why he fears that the Covid shutdown of schools could hasten the end of support for public education nationwide. 

You can listen here. Links to more resources, including Kim Watkin's piece for Gotham Gazette and Prof. Neem's oped in USA Today are below.

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!