Saturday, January 28, 2023

Hearings on DOE enrollment/admissions policies: testimony from Deputy Chancellor Weisberg, Jenn Choi, and me

On Wednesday, Jan. 25, the City Council Education Committee held hearings on the DOE's revamped admissions policies.  The parents and advocates who testified as well as the Council Members were divided.  Some said that the new policies that removed academic screens from many middle schools, while basing admissions in selective high schools on a lottery after separating students in four tiers determined by their grades in 7th grade, cheats academically advanced students of the challenges they need to achieve their best.  Other parents and advocates were disappointed that the administration expanded the gifted programs in elementary schools, and in too many middle and high schools, academic screens remain and clearly have a discriminatory and segregating impact. The Council Members also seemed split on whether the current system is equitable and fair.

Council Members Alexa Aviles and Shekar Krishnan questioned Deputy Chancellor Weisberg if the DOE would alter any of their admissions/enrollment policies to more evenly distribute students across schools, to lessen the overcrowding at schools over 100% so they will be able to meet the class size goals in the new state law.  Sadly, he said  no; and he argued that more evenly distributing students across schools would depend on principals at underutilized schools to make their schools more attractive to parents. 

My testimony (see below) dealt  with how how it is DOE's responsibility to ensure that all students and schools can provide a quality education and meet the class size goals in the law.  I also point out that by more evenly distributing students, it will help underutilized and thus underfunded schools provide the staffing and programs their students need.  Chalkbeat recently ran a heartbreaking piece on principal in the Bronx, desperately trying to avoid excessing teachers, by spending days distributing flyers and producing a video to post on Instagram to recruit more students and thus receive more funding, though he was ultimately unsuccessful.  

Why should any principal have to spend their time marketing their schools; isn't it the responsibility of the DOE to ensure that every school has the resources it needs to provide a quality education?  If enrollment was more equally distributed, many schools would likely become more diverse as well, as the most underutilized schools are those that tend to have the highest percentages of Black and Hispanic students.

Weisberg repeatedly insisted they have a plan to meet the goals in the plan, without producing any evidence for that claim, though at times he seemed to limit his comments that they will meet the goals in the first year.  Because of enrollment decline, it is likely that the DOE will be able to make the first year goals for 20% of classes meeting the new class size caps without any effort , and maybe even the second year goals of 40%, if they don't continue cutting school budgets and enrollment continues to fall. 

But it is very unlikely that the class size goals in the 3rd to 5th years in the law can be achieved, without a plan to create enough space, either through aggressive expansion of the capital plan, and/or efforts to more evenly distribute students across schools, by rezoning elementary and capping enrollment severely overcrowded middle and high school enrollment at lower levels. 

In my testimony I also explain how the current "school choice" policies with parents applying to up to ten schools and the schools essentially deciding who to admit are based upon a failed free-market model from the Bloomberg years, in that the best schools will "win" by attracting more students, and the others would be allowed to wither and die, with other new public schools or charter schools put in their place. 

I found the testimony of parents of students with disabilities also quite affecting as to the hurdles their children face in being admitted to high schools that will help them reach their full potential.  Discrimination comes in many forms, and below my testimony is that of Jenn Choi, the mother of a student with special needs who also works at Special Support Services, which advises parents on how to navigate the labyrinthine and often very frustrating special education system in the NYC public schools.

Mayor Adams preliminary education budget - bare bones & non-transparent

January 13, 2023

Yesterday, the Mayor released his preliminary budget for next year.  DOE as a whole would be cut by another $800 million, over and above a cut of an additional $176 million made in November.  Though more than $500 million of these reductions appear to relate to the decision to halt the further expansion of 3K (or as the budget document calls it, “3K right-sizing”), there are other budget lines so ambiguous as to be impossible to interpret.  I went over several of the budget docs with an education finance expert, and she was as confused as I was about some of the bullet points it contained.  You can check out the budget docs yourself,  if you are so inclined.

For example, there is a budget line in the Program to Eliminate the Gap (or PEG) of  DOE “savings” of nearly $100 million next year, added to savings of $40 million this year, entitled “Vaccine mandate school support funds re-estimate” and described this way: “Less than anticipated spending for schools addressing staffing changes related to vaccination mandate.”  What does that mean?

If this refers to schools losing positions due to staffers refusing to be vaccinated, shouldn’t schools be allowed to hire new staff to replace them?  And why are savings of nearly $100 million anticipated for next year, when presumably all the school staff who refused to be vaccinated have already left?

Here is an excerpt from the Daily News article, further showing the administration’s troubling and apparently purposeful lack of clarity:

“[Adams] blueprint shows 2024 spending for the Education Department dropping … However, in a briefing with reporters, Adams budget advisers, who only spoke on condition of anonymity, said the 2024 figures for most agencies should be taken with a grain of salt because they may not include federal grants that are baked in later on.”

Indeed, the usual black hole of the DOE budget has been made even darker by the fact that this administration claims they can move around federal money as they like, without any transparency. The only mention of schools in their brief budget summary is an increase of $47.5 million for “enhancing security measures to protect students at all Department of Education schools” – apparently  to install door locking mechanisms and cameras.  I see no mention in any of the budget documents of funding allocated for any of the other recent promises made by DOE, including adding 400 new special ed PreK seats, or the additional $12 million to support schools dealing with thousands of new migrant students.

Highlighted by many reporters is how the Mayor and his aides assured them that their original plan to make additional  cuts of $80 million to schools’  Fair Student Funding would not be imposed.  The administration also claimed that the $800 million in additional cuts they are proposing to DOE will not affect any existing teacher positions.  And  yet they made this exact same promise to the City Council  last year, and we all know how those cuts forced schools to excess hundreds of teachers, and/or found themselves unable to replace scores of teachers who had retired or quit.  As a result, class sizes increased substantially  in most schools, and many  lost teacher aides and essential programs like  art or music.

Yesterday, we re-ran the numbers on the Galaxy cuts to schools for this year, and the total net cuts at this point compared to last year are now at $823 million.  Fully 86% of schools have experienced cuts to their budgets totaling $893 million, averaging about $655,000 each.  To see how much funding your school has lost, you can check out the spreadsheet linked to on our website here.  The Comptroller’s figures, which have been widely cited by reporters and officials, only reflect the cuts to Fair Student Funding, NOT the cuts to entire school budgets, which have been far more extensive.

The fact that the city has no apparent plans to increase school budgets next year is even more unacceptable, given how they are due to receive about $600M in additional Foundation funds from the state, in what is slated to be the final increase of the CFE settlement

Every single dollar of that additional $600 million should go to schools to help them restore and add more positions, especially as the new state class size law comes into effect next fall, which requires them to start lowering class size. Already, according to the State Comptroller, the DOE has lost  4,815 positions since June 2020, and yet  according to a staffing budget document just released, the DOE is not planning to add a single additional teacher through at least June 2025.

In any case,  in their response to this preliminary budget, the City Council should not merely oppose these additional cuts but should fight to reverse the cuts already made to schools and substantially increase their funding, to ensure that the teaching positions already lost are restored and augmented, so that schools can start lowering class size.  As I am quoted in Gothamist, the administration should be “boosting school budgets,” particularly as the class size law is set to go into effect.

Council Members should also insist on far more budget clarity, so that the DOE include additional budget lines (called Units of Appropriation) that reflect actual dollars to be allocated to schools, making it less likely that they, along with some reporters, will be deceived again about what their proposed budget means when it comes to the quality of education that students receive every day in our schools.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

How DOE & FACE screwed up the elections for new PEP members

An article about DOE's terrible administration of these elections is here.
 
Dec. 22, 2022

Ms. Kenita D. Lloyd
Deputy Chancellor for Family and Community Engagement and External Affairs 

Dear Deputy Chancellor Lloyd,

The Education Council Consortium (ECC) denounces the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) 2022 Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) member election and calls for the reopening of voting. 

In June of 2022, the New York State Legislature amended the constitution of the PEP by adding 5 new members, to be elected by Presidents of Community Education Councils.  Despite the statutory timeline, DOE continuously delayed the process, resulting in confusion and chaos, ultimately leading to the disenfranchisement of eligible voters.  The DOE failed to provide sufficient notice of the election, providing less than 72 hours notice of the date of the election, and only sending notice via email.  The DOE held an unreasonably short voting period of less than 24-hours and did not provide an alternative method of voting for voters without access or needing digital accommodations.  These circumstances and more, served to disenfranchise CEC Presidents who were eligible and entitled to vote in the election of the borough PEP members.

The DOE did not provide sufficient notice of the election.  CEC Presidents were given less than 72-hours notice of the date of the election, and were only notified of the election via email.  As a result, eligible voters that didn’t check their email during that 72-hour period were not notified of the date of the election, and thus were not able to vote.  Additionally, the DOE’s decision to hold an election without providing at least one week’s advanced notice is a deviation from past practice.  For example, for the DOE’s bi-annual CEC member elections, notice is provided months in advance, and using multiple mediums (paid media advertisements, mail, social media, email, phone calls, text messages, etc.).  Even parent-run elections, like PTA board and Title 1 representative elections require at least 10 days of advanced notice.  In addition to the lack of timely notice, DOE should have supplemented the notification email with one other form of notice (e.g. call or mailing).  Voters should have had at least a 10-day notice period, similar to other parent elections, so that voters could schedule properly.

The DOE held an unreasonably short voting window considering the nature of the election.  The DOE provided voters with a less than 24-hour window to vote.  The notice regarding how to vote and the link for the ballot was sent to voters the night before the voting window began, and there were technical glitches in the system that had not been resolved at the time of the notice.  Again, requiring everyone to vote electronically without providing a reasonable period of time for voting is unacceptable.  The candidate forum, where candidates presented their campaign platforms, was held the night before the 24-hour voting window, and the DOE had not even made the recordings available for viewing.  Expecting voting to occur before DOE was even able to make all of the voting information available demonstrates the unreasonably short notice and voting window.

Similarly, new and arbitrary rules restricting voters’ ability to have a voting proxy disenfranchised voters who were unable to cast their ballot.  For example, a CEC 1’s President whose brother had recently passed away had appointed her Vice President to serve as her proxy, per the CEC’s bylaws.  The night before the voting window began, an arbitrary rule preventing proxy voting was issued via email.  CEC 1’s President did not receive the notice until after the election, and the CEC 1 Vice President was not allowed to vote.  The creation of new and arbitrary policies in the ninth hour had the effect of disenfranchising voters.

December is one of the busiest times of the year for many.  CEC Presidents juggle job responsibilities, and family and personal obligations, on top of their role as CEC Presidents.  Adequate notice for meetings and reasonable time windows for voting are required.  The DOE’s PEP member election should be held to the same requirements as those set for PTA, CPAC, and CEC elections.

 

In Partnership,

NeQuan C. McLean

President

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

For our radio show, please send us your thoughts on the best/worst events for schools in 2022 & as your hopes for 2023! 



As you know, I co-host a weekly radio show called Talk out of School on WBAI 99.5 FM that airs Saturday at 1 PM EST, switching off on most weeks with NYC teacher Daniel Alicea. The show is also a podcast.  

Our last show of 2022 will air this Saturday Dec. 31 at 1 PM EST, and will feature special guest Diane Ravitch, please remember to tune in!

 We'd like to include your thoughts on the best and/or worst events that affected NYC schools and public education in general in 2022, as well as your hopes for 2023. 

Please send your comments in the form of a short sound file no more than two minutes to danalicea@gmail.com. If you prefer to share your thoughts in written form, email them to me at info@classsizematters.org.

Either way, the deadline to send your thoughts in is Friday, Dec. 30 at noon.  Thanks!


Thursday, December 22, 2022

UFT On the Record Podcast: prodding the DOE to enact the small class-size law

 See my comments on this UFT podcast about the Department of Education's evident disinterest in planning for the class size reduction which is required by the new state law.  More on this here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

My comments at last night's PEP meeting in opposition to the co-location of a Success charter in a D22 high school building

Update 12.22.22:  At last night's Panel for Educational Policy meeting, Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg insisted that there will be enough space in the building for Origins HS to lower class size to mandated levels even after this co-location of a Success elementary charter school in the building; while providing no evidence to back up his claim. The proposal passed 10-5, with all the mayoral appointees voting to approve the co-location, joined by the Staten Island borough appointeeI was the last to speak after countless others -- after the DOE had left me off the list.

My name is Leonie Haimson, the Executive Director of Class Size Matters, and I’m here to speak against the co-location of Success Academy in Building K495, and in fact all the co-locations of Success charters that have been proposed for Queens, Brooklyn and Bronx. 

As many parents and teachers have pointed out during the public hearings, there is no mention in either the Educational Impact Statement or the Building Utilization Plan for this co-location or indeed any of these co-locations of the need to lower class size, according to the bill signed into law by the Governor in September.  Meanwhile, somewhere between 56%-80% of the 69 classes at Origins High School do not comply with the class size caps in the new law.     

In addition, more than 80% of District 22 high school classes in D 22 did not make the class size cap of 25.  This means that many more classrooms will be needed at Origins HS and in the district as a whole to achieve the smaller classes mandated by the law.  Yet the Instructional Footprint on which the EIS and BUP bases their estimation of space explicitly assumes current class sizes will continue into the indefinite future.  

In addition, neither this EIS nor any of the others actually describe any of the Educational impacts that these co-locations  will cause; in some cases, the loss to students of a science lab, the loss of intervention and support spaces for students with disabilities, or the loss of access to the gym,  or the cafeteria at reasonable times. 

·       In fact, no educational impacts are described in any of these documents, only an abstract accounting of how many rooms each school should get, according to an arbitrary formula that doesn’t allow for either smaller classes or require any of the other elements of a quality education.

Chancellor Banks, I was encouraged by your interview with Marcia Kramer on Sunday, where you appeared to embrace the opportunity to lower class size, and said you want "to ensure that our kids have a great school experience," and you realized that this would require the building of “dozens of new schools.” 

Then why are you proposing these co-locations that will take away necessary space, and why has the DOE cut the capital plan for new capacity by over $1.6 billion dollars and over 11,000 seats since you took office?

Instead, we need a real plan to ensure that all schools and all students will have the benefit of smaller classes in the time frame specified in the law;  rather than any more co-locations that will deprive NYC public school students of their long -awaited opportunity to be provided with their right, according to the state’s highest court, to a sound basic education.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Please help us ensure that DOE follows through & implements an effective, equitable class size reduction plan in 2023!

December 2022

It’s been something of a banner year for Class Size Matters, as we helped get a new law passed that will obligate NYC schools to lower class size in all grades, to be phased-in starting next fall.

This has been our top priority since we launched our organization over twenty years ago, and we truly believe this one reform will have a hugely beneficial impact on students and truly transformative impact on our schools.

But our work is far from done, and we need your help to make sure that the city actually complies with the new law. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to our organization, to help make sure the DOE follows through.

1. On Sunday, Chancellor Banks was interviewed by CBS reporter Marcia Kramer, and said that in order to achieve the smaller classes required by the new law, the DOE will have to build “dozens of new schools.” And yet the DOE and the School Construction Authority have cut over 11,000 school seats and more than $1.6 billion from new capacity since Mayor Adams took office. In their latest proposed amendment to the capital plan, they have also moved nearly 6,000 seats into the category of funded for design only.  

The Chancellor also continues to co-locate charter schools in existing school buildings, and five new Success Academy co-locations are planned for next fall – with apparently no thought of reserving sufficient space for the existing public schools inside those buildings to lower class size.

We will need to keep pushing the Mayor and the Chancellor to ensure that the DOE has an effective and equitable plan to lower class size, with enough space and staffing, and an end to charter school co-locations -- so that smaller classes become a reality in all schools. But we cannot do this without your help, and the resources to make this happen. Please make a contribution to Class Size Matters now.

2. The agenda for last month’s PEP meeting included a vote on a non-competitive contract for McGraw Hill amounting to $32M for textbooks with no discount from list price, and a 7% charge for shipping and handling. When I read the proposal Sunday night, I was outraged about the lack of any discount especially given that it was such a huge order, and started tweeting about this, pointing out that the DOE likely could have gotten a better deal from Amazon. Many others chimed in. At the PEP Contract committee meeting the following day, there was a discussion about this proposal, with pointed questions from several non-mayoral appointees. The DOE’s chief procurement officer admitted that the price “doesn’t make sense.” The Daily News published an article about the ensuring controversy, and the contract vote was pulled off the agenda.

Class Size Matters is also one of very few organizations that monitors and critiques DOE’s wasteful spending on contracts, consultants and bureaucracy. We were also one of very few organizations that early on, drew attention to the fierce budget cuts to schools this year. If you want us to continue this sort of consistent oversight and advocacy, please give today.

Happy and healthy holidays to all !

Jonathan Friedman on book-banning in our schools

 

This Saturday, after a brief summary of NYC education news, I interviewed Jonathan Friedman of PEN America, an expert on book-banning -- a movement sweeping across the nation that is successfully removing critical books off the shelves of schools and public libraries.  Jonathan explains why this disturbing trend is happening now and what parents and education advocates can do to fight it.  Take a listen!

Episode Notes

NYC Public School Parent blog on Horrible McGraw Hill contract  and Daily News on its temporary withdrawal

Panel for Educational Policy meetings on proposed charter school co-locations, scheduled for Dec. 21,  Jan. 5 and Jan. 25.

Gary Rubinstein on Success Academy student attrition

Pen America reports on book-banning and how to subscribe to their newsletter on the subject 

NY Times on A Fast-Growing Network of Conservative Groups Is Fueling a Surge in Book Bans

Judd Legum on efforts to ban 3600 books from schools 

 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Parents and advocates speak out against appointment of John King as SUNY Chancellor

See also stories from Politico, Daily News and NY Post that took quotes fro the press release. 

For immediate release: December 5, 2022

Contact: Lisa Rudley, nys.allies@gmail.com; 917-414-9190

 

Parents and advocates speak out against appointment of John King as SUNY Chancellor

 

Parents and advocates from throughout the state criticized the appointment of John King as SUNY Chancellor based upon his dismal record as NY State Education Commissioner.

Said Jeanette Deutermann, founder of Long Island Opt­­­ Out, “As Education Commissioner, John King was a disaster,  pushing the invalid Common Core standards and redesigning the state tests to be excessively long, with reading passages far above grade level, and full of ambiguous questions. He worked to ensure that the majority of kids would fail the state tests and be labelled not college-ready, including in many districts where nearly every student attends college and does well there.  His actions led directly to massive opposition among parents and the largest testing opt out movement in the country.  Many schools are still dealing with the destructive impact of his policies; I would be very sorry if SUNY students are faced with a similar fate.”

Lisa Rudley­­, the executive director of NY State Allies for Public Education, said, “SUNY Faculty and students should be forewarned! John King consistently ignored the legitimate concerns of parents and teachers regarding the policies he pursued as NY State Education Commissioner, by rewriting the standards, imposing an arduous high stakes testing regime, and basing teacher evaluation on student test scores, none of which had any research behind it and all of which undermined the quality of education in our public schools.  This led to a no-confidence vote of the state teachers union, and if the state’s parents had been able to carry out such a vote, you can be sure they would have done so as well.“

Leonie Haimson, the co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, explained, “Under John King, New York State was the worst state in the country in its failure to protect student privacy and the last state to pull out of inBloom, the hugely invasive data-collection and data-sharing corporation created with $100 million of Gates Foundation funds.  New York was the only state whose Commissioner refused to listen to the outraged cries of parents concerning the plan to share the most intimate details of their children’s educational records with inBloom, which in turn planned to share the data with other ed tech corporations to build their programs around.  New York was also the only state in which an act of the Legislature was required to prohibit this plan from going forward.  Has John King learned his lesson regarding the importance of protecting student privacy?  For the sake of SUNY students, I surely hope so.” 

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