Sunday, December 7, 2014

Joel Klein's failed record as NYC Chancellor

Whatever favorable reviews Joel Klein has gotten for his new book, "Lessons of Hope" have mostly been written by people who did not experience his failed policies as NYC Chancellor.  If you want to read illuminating accounts, I recommend Diane Ravitch, Helen Zelon in the Observer, or Gary Rubinstein's blog, all of whom offer important reflections on Klein's record. 

I could write about the tremendous waste and corruption of the many multi-million dollar contracts he handed off so recklessly, for example to Wireless Generation for ARIS and/or Future Technology Associates.  I could write about his obvious mismanagement style, re-organizing the governance structure continually, creating more chaos and confusion than the steady hand the school district needed and deserved.  I could also write about his evident contempt for parents, teachers, and the law itself, with one of his favorite phrases when challenged being, "So sue me." 

But in the below I focus on the evidence that Klein himself would recognize as damning if he were to be intellectually consistent in his emphasis on test scores as the best measure of accountability:  the fact that NYC made less progress than any other city as measured by results on the federal assessments known as the NAEPs, except for Cleveland, over the course of his administration.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Merryl Tisch, the State Education Dept and their epic fail when it comes to charter expansion

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Regents, has proclaimed in recent days that she believes in expansion of charter schools. On a Nov. 16 radio show, she said: “I personally am a great believer in charter schools ... I believe in opening them aggressively…I’d like to push more charter schools.”  She added that rather than support the Mayor’s preference for improving struggling schools rather than shutting them down, ”If we do not see movement on these schools, these lowest-performing schools, in terms of their ability to retool their workforce, by the spring, we will move to close them.”

The most recent Quinnipiac poll from November 19 revealed that 48 percent of NYC voters believe that the Mayor should freeze or reduce the number of charter schools in NYC, while only 43 percent think that the number should be increased  – despite millions spent by the deep-pocketed charter lobby on marketing and television ad campaigns. Fifty percent of voters believe charters should pay rent if housed in a public school vs. 41 percent who oppose this.  Sadly, both the authority to decide whether charter schools should expand and whether they should pay rent have been taken out of the Mayor’s hands, as the power to determine the number of charters rests with the Governor and the state Legislature. 

Moreover, the Governor already pushed through a new law last spring which obligated NYC to provide free space or pay their rent in private space for any new or expanding charter going forward – the only district in the state saddled with this burden, where we already suffer from the most overcrowded public schools and the highest real estate costs.  And now Cuomo, Tisch and their Wall St. buddies are working hard to raise the cap – especially in NYC, where we already have 197 charters, with 31 approved to open over the next two years, and 28 remaining under the cap. We are already paying $1.3 billion per year for these privately managed schools – and will likely be spending hundreds of millions of dollars more for their rent.  

On a subsequent radio show, Tisch said that the remaining open slots in the rest of the state should be shifted to NYC “where we are eager to have them.”  (See this radio interview, at about 32 minutes in. )  One wonders who is the “we” referred to here.  Is it the royal we, or does we mean the Wall St. pro-charter crowd with whom she socializes?  Clearly, it does not mean NYC voters or public school parents. 

Last spring, the hedge fund/charter lobby spent $5.95 million on ads to pressure the Mayor and the legislature to give free space to charters.  This fall, they spent another $4 million on TV ads to elect a Republican majority in the State Senate that would support raising the cap, without ever mentioning the word “charter schools” in their ads – because those words don’t go down so well in the swing districts of the candidates whose campaigns they were supporting. 

Today, there are only 51 charter schools in the rest of the state, and more than 100 slots remain under the cap outside NYC.  Suburban districts have mostly managed to resist the charter onslaught, but not here in NYC where the wealthy oligarchs have more influence with the Regents and the SUNY board than the hundreds of public school parents who appear at hearings in opposition. 

Last week, apparently as part of Tisch’s “aggressive” stance towards expanding charters, the Regents approved a Rochester charter school founded by 22 year old “Dr.” Ted Morris Jr., who lied about his resume, claiming he had degrees from a high school, college and even graduate schools that he had not attended and/or graduated from.  The State Education Department and the Regents did not do even the most minimal fact checking, as Morris’ resume in his charter application did not match his Linked-in profile, nor did it align with earlier charter applications he had submitted to NYSED, starting at the age of 18.  After his lies were discovered, “Dr.” Ted Morris resigned from the charter, but Tisch said that the school would be opened anyway, with a board recruited from Craig’s List. Subsequently, the approval was withdrawn, but only after bloggers and the media did the minimal research that NYSED had failed to fulfill in the first place.

At the same meeting, the Regents approved the Harlem charter application of Dr. Steve Perry, who runs a magnet school in Connecticut, even though his school enrolls far fewer poor students , those with disabilities, and English Language Learners than the other high schools in Hartford.  Perry is a controversial figure who has compared teachers to cockroaches and his bullying of parents led the Hartford Board of Education  president to call for an investigation against him. Now Jonathan Pelto has called for a new investigation – this time, into the fact that Perry admitted using Hartford district employees to prepare his charter application and to develop the educational programs to be implemented at his Harlem charter school.

Also at the same Regents meeting, NYSED released college-going statistics for districts and schools that were shown to be wildly inaccurate by Superintendents and principals throughout the state. 

A recent report, summarizing the audits of NY charter schools, concluded that millions of dollars have been wasted and/or improperly spent  by them, and there was “probable financial mismanagement in 95% of schools examined. “Another just-released report from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers found that NY is the 18th lowest out of 21 states for strong charter accountability laws.

Four years after the previous NY charter law was amended, that barred any charter school from being re-authorized or allowed to expand or replicate that has not enrolled equal numbers of at-risk students as the public schools in their communities, the state has failed to release any data that would allow one to assess their student attrition rates.   We know from the data that does exist that the student cohorts at many NYC charter schools, including Success Academy, lose many students along the way.  According to  Peter Goodman,

In the spring of 2013 a number of regent members asked the commissioner for a report on attrition: were the charter schools dumping low achieving and discipline problems especially before the state tests – a year and half later – no report.

Clearly, NYSED and the Regents have failed to be responsible for the charters that they have already authorized, have proven themselves incapable of performing minimal due diligence in authorizing new charters, and are certainly unable to provide proper oversight for the additional numbers of charter schools that Tisch wants to so “aggressively” expand.   It is time that the State Education Department and Chancellor Tisch stop recklessly throwing away taxpayer money in their campaign to privatize our public schools.  One has to wonder where the accountability is for them.

Students in 58 schools being given new surveys for teacher evaluation; check out if your child is due to get one, as you have the right to opt out!

Since last spring, I have served on a CPAC committee consulting with DOE on their Tripod student survey, which was given on a trial basis in 134 schools in grades 3-12 last year, after Commissioner King had assigned it to the city to be used for the Advance teacher evaluation system.

 I had and continue to have grave doubts as to the quality and utility of the Tripod survey for the purpose of teacher evaluation, as well as its $5.5 million cost -- not to mention the appropriateness of giving such surveys to children as young as eight years old.  The DOE officials whom we were working with last year had assured us that we would meet again over the summer, and have input  as to whether the Tripod survey would be used again this year.

Yet when we finally met again right before Thanksgiving, after much prodding from the parents on the committee, the officials who had previously been in charge of Tripod had now left the Department and there are now new ones in charge of this initiative.  These new officials told us that  it was too late to put out an RFP for an alternative survey, and that the Tripod would be given to all ALL students in grades 3-12 in ALL NYC public schools this spring, except for 58 schools in which students are going to be asked to take one of three alternative surveys this December and January.

The DOE officials also said they are negotiating to bring the egregious price of the Tripod down.  (The Tripod survey was developed by Dr. Ron Ferguson of Harvard, before being sold to Cambridge Education LLC, and is the favorite survey of the Gates Foundation, used in their controversial MET teacher evaluation studies.)  When we asked if there was any evaluation of the utility of the Tripod survey last year, DOE officials responded that teachers said it took too long to complete, and DOE has asked Cambridge to pare it down; but that no other analysis had yet been completed.  Private funds are being used for the three alternative surveys being given in December and January.

Parents are going to be allowed to see these new surveys in advance, and opt out of their children taking them, as is their right under the federal law called the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment.  A list of the 58 schools in which these three alternative surveys are being given this winter is below.

Here is the form letter schools are supposed to send to parents about the surveys, letting them know the survey is voluntary and how they can check it out in advance, and here is the opt out form, which all parents should be sure to sign and hand in to their children's teachers if they want to opt out of the survey. 

In the actual letter there is supposed to be an online link parents can go to to see the survey in advance, as well as letting them know they can check out a copy at the school office. If you are a parent at one of the 58 schools listed below, and are not given this link, please let us know at or if you have any other questions, concerns or observations after taking  a look at these surveys.

 Here is more information from Eric Ashton, Executive Director for School Performance of the DOE:

Thanks for writing and thanks for attending our session and providing feedback about the Advance student survey. I’ve attached the list of schools that volunteered for our fall pilot. The list indicates which school was assigned which survey. As I mentioned at our meeting, due to the limited budget of private funds we have to use for this we assigned the surveys in order of price where vendors with lower prices were assigned more schools.

More information about the surveys we are trying in this round can be found here:

I’ve also attached the informational letter that the pilot schools were asked to distribute. In addition to the opt-out methods we discussed at our meeting, we also decided to ask the pilot schools to distribute a paper opt-out form which is also attached.

If there is anything else, please let me know. Thanks! -Eric

Eric Ashton

New York City Department of Education

(347) 601-4525

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Our Co-Location Moratorium Letter to the Chancellor

On Nov. 18, along with many parent leaders and other advocates, we sent the letter below to the Chancellor, urging a moratorium on any more co-locations until all NYC children could be ensured of their constitutional right to a sound basic education, including smaller classes.  WNYC reported on our letter here.

It was reported yesterday that the DOE has turned down three new charters asking for co-located space, one in District 6 in Upper Manhattan, correctly stating there is no room in their schools, and the other two in Brooklyn, and is negotiating with them on leasing private space. 

Under the new state law, NYC has to provide free space for all new and expanding charters going forward, or pay them up to $2600 per student for leased space. After NYC reaches $40M in total rental costs, state will pick up 60%.

Under the existing charter cap, NYC already has 197 charters, 31 more have been approved to open over the next two years,  and 28 remain under the cap.

Governor Cuomo & Regents Chancellor Tisch favor expanding cap & will likely push for this in Legislature this year. We will be drafting a resolution, urging the Legislature to oppose any lifting of the charter cap, and asking the state to cover entire cost of charter rent in NYC.  Email us at if you’d like a copy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Our suggestions to the Blue Book working group; please write your own letter by November 26!

Please write your own letter to DOE's Blue Book working group about how to revise the much-criticized school utilization formula.  Their email is below and  the deadline for submitting comments is next Wednesday, November 26.  They plan to present their initial recommendations to the public in December.  Feel free to include any of the points below; most importantly please mention the need for the Blue Book to be aligned with smaller class sizes, or else NYC children will continue to suffer yet more overcrowding, more co-locations and larger classes in the years to come. 

November 19, 2014

Dear members of the Blue Book Task force:
Thank you for reaching out for suggestions on how to improve the school utilization formula. I urge you to reform the formula so that it takes into account of the following critical factors:
1. The need for smaller classes.  The formula should be aligned to smaller classes in all grades, with the goal of achieving the targets in the DOE’s Contract for Excellence plan of no more than 20 students per class in K-3, 23 students per class in grades 4-8, and 25 students per class in core high school classes.  Right now, the target figures in the utilization formula are much larger in grades 4-12 (28-30) and also larger than current class size averages in 4-12 grades, which are about 26.7-26.8.  They will thus tend to force class sizes upward.  In fact, there is a clause in the C4E law passed in 2007 that requires that NYC align its capital plan to smaller classes – which has yet to occur. 
2. The formula should include space for preK.  This year, there are more than 53,000 preK seats; with 20,000 more seats to be added next year.  According to news reports, 60% of the preK programs this year are in district school buildings.  Without an allowance in the Blue Book formula for preK, the city may be subtracting the space needed to reduce class size, or other critical space needed for a quality education, as noted below.  Our analysis revealed that there are at least 11,839 preK seats sited in buildings this year that were over 100% utilization last year, according to the 2013-2014 Blue Book.
3. The formula should include sufficient cluster and specialty rooms so that all children have the ability to take art, music, and science in appropriate sized classrooms. 
4. Subtract the number of specialty classrooms necessary for a well-rounded education in middle schools, for the purpose of calculating utilization rate, as was done in the 2002-3 formula.  Now, if a middle school specialty room or library is converted into a classroom because of overcrowding, the formula falsely portrays the school has having more space rather than less.
5. In order to maximize classroom occupancy (the current efficiency ratio assumes 90% in middle schools) ensure that teachers have an alternative space to do their prep work and store their papers.
6. Properly capture the need for dedicated rooms to provide services to struggling students and those with disabilities.  The formula now is inadequate and depends on an abstract figure, rather than the actual number of struggling students or students with disabilities enrolled in the school.
7.  Though students housed in trailers or TCUs are now assigned to the main building for the purposes of calculating the utilization rate, those students housed in temp buildings are not.  Neither are students in annexes or mini-schools, even though they often use common spaces in the main building, such as libraries, cafeterias and gyms.  According to our analysis, nearly half of schools with TCUs, annexes, transportables or temp buildings were wrongly reported as underutilized in earlier Blue Books.  The overcrowding caused by assigning all these additional students to shared spaces must be captured in the utilization figure. 

Reforming the Instructional Footprint

The instructional footprint must also be improved, as the DOE uses this highly flawed instrument to determine where there may be space for co-locations.  Here are some suggestions on how to do this:
1. Re-install class size targets into the Footprint.  There are no longer ANY class size targets in the Footprint, which will lead to continued class size increases unless this is remedied.  The original Footprint from 2008 assumed class sizes of 20 students per class in K-3 and 25 in grades 4-5, and none in any other grade.  In 2009, class size targets were raised to 28 in grades 4-5 and in 2011, all class size targets were eliminated except in the case of Alternative learning centers, transfer HS, full time GED programs and YABC programs. Why these changes were made, and why the DOE held that these were the only schools that should be provided with smaller classes was unexplained.  Instead the class size targets should be re-instituted and aligned with those in the Blue Book, as suggested above (i.e. class sizes of 20 in grades K-3, 23 in grades 4-8 and 25 in high school.)
2. Restore the definition of a full size classroom for grades 1-12 to at least 600 sq. ft.  In 2010, the Footprint reduced this to 500 square feet – even though in the building code requires 20 sq. feet per child in these grades; meaning only a maximum of 25 students could be in a minimum size room without risking their safety.  (For comparison, Georgia mandates at least 660-750 square feet for a minimum size classroom, Texas calls for 700- 800 square feet, and California at least 960 square feet or 30 sq. ft. per student.)
3. Special education students should be provided with even more space, according to the NYSED guidelines of 75 sq. feet per child.  Instead, the DOE Footprint specifies only 240-499 square feet for special education classrooms; if the city adhered to the state guidelines, this would allow for only three to seven students per class. 
4. Increase the number of cluster rooms which now are very minimal in the Footprint, especially for large high schools, calling for only two specialty rooms and one science lab, no matter how many students are enrolled in the school.
5. Ensure that the Footprint allows sufficient space for dedicated support services, resource rooms, administrative services, intervention rooms, and SETSS rooms.
I would be happy to answer any questions that you might have; more information about these issues is also available in our report, Space Crunch, available here:


Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011