Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dep. Chancellor Chris Cerf will be at tonight's District 24 (western

Dear All:

Dep. Chancellor Chris Cerf will be at tonight's District 24 (western
Queens) CEC meeting to speak and answer questions about the DOE
reorganization and fair funding proposal. All are welcome to attend:
7 p.m. at PS 58, School of Heros (72-50 Grand Ave., Maspeth).

More importantly, I would appreciate input and additions to the
following list of questions we have already compiled for Mr. Cerf.


Marge Kolb
Member, CEC-D24


What is happening to the Regional Operations centers? Isn't this
where personnel, procurement, school food, pupil transportation,
school repairs, new construction etc. are overseen?

How are RISs (instructional specialists) being replaced and who will
perform their oversight duties? (e.g. the Physical Education RIS was
able to report to our CEC on how many schools in our district did not
have a Phys Ed teacher, and he worked with those schools to try to
get them to hire one, he oversaw the CHAMPS programs (middle school
sports program), etc.

Will all schools geographically located in a district report to the
District Supt, including empowerment schools (but not Charter
schools)? Will there still be LISs? Or how will one Supt. supervise
30 or more schools and principals?

What happened to the idea that LISs should oversee elementary, middle
AND high schools so that there would be some continuity in a child's
education? Are high schools now being jettisoned from the community
school district/region and back to a borough command?

Can the DOE require that School Leadership Teams (SLTs) approve the
principal's choice of which of the three networks to which the school

Will the city continue with a uniform curriculum and textbooks or
will each and every school be able to choose their own curriculum and

Special Ed. Questions:

What will happen to the Regional CSE (committee on special Ed)?

What will happen if a school can't approve a service on a child's IEP
and needs services allocated from above which have been previously
provided at the regional offices?

Where will initial evals of children referred to Special education
take place?

Where will Special Ed mediations take place (when a school, district
or parent disagree and a parent wants an impartial hearing)? The law
now requires the regions/districts to have a dispute resolution
meeting to try to resolve the issue and to ward off unnecessary
hearings that cost tax payers money.

Where will the RASE, Regional Administrator of Special education, and
the Chairperson be housed. (These people oversee the delivery of
special ed services at the schools and decision of resources and
class placements as well as special education decisions...what
schools have what class and what children in the region go to what

Where are records for Special Ed children going to be located and can
parents be provided with a full copy of the entire student file to
ensure that a copy is in existence? (Here is a quote from the Jan 8,
2004 New York Times about the formation of the new regional offices
in the last reorganization: "Special education services and
evaluations have been delayed, parents and educators say, because of
difficulties in finding records that were moved to new regional
offices from the old community school districts.")

Giving principals unfettered power is a dangerous thing

Here is a comment I made on Leonie Haimson's post on her listserve. Her original post is below that.

Over the many years I have been involved with the school system, my take is that giving principals unfettered power is a dangerous thing.

We have heard of too many tyrants, unbalanced egos, etc. that make BloomKlein look like pussycats.

When given extra positions, all too many principals will first use the money to make their administrative lives easier -- more assistant principals, pulling teachers from classroom teaching to do admin work (thus RAISING class size.) Ask teachers to chime in with stories of their schools and you will find lots of this stuff lurking. But I will also say that the ability to manage a school can be so difficult that there is a need for more personnel. No easy answers here other than truly funding schools.

Take the argument for lunch duty for teachers. Principals want this badly. But these activities can actually raise class size because especially in elem schools the teacher has to get lunch and a prep. If they do duty that comes out of a teaching period. Thus the 2005 UFT contract which reinstated duties.

Power corrupts and absolute--- well you know the drill. So shifting power from central to individual principals can also dangerous and difficult to challenge school by school.

That explains one of the reasons the UFT has throughout its history has lined up for centralization in deed (don't listen to what the PR machine says) and will continue to do so when it comes down to mayoral control. The leadership also need an enemy when necessary to rouse up the membership to support it. This is one of the reasons behind the UFT's opposing the reorganization plan.

Not that I am advocating centralized control either. Just as BloomKlein need checks and balances, so do principals. I've always maintained that the teachers in a school have as much a vested interest in the school running well as anyone, even parents. Parents need to play animportant part but in my experience, particularly in poverty areas where there is little parental involvement, it was very easy for principals to control the parents. Almost every PTA pres ended up with relatives on the payroll. Also, parents disappear from a school when their children do.

Teachers are a constant and should be given a major role in the schools. I was in Spain last year do a project at a middle school for a couple of days. The principal is elected for a 3 year term by teachers, parents and even students play a role. Seeing him in action (he still does some teaching -- very important) made it clear they chose wisely. Just one school in rural Spain. Was this a lucky meeting or a common thing?
Apparently, that is fairly common in parts of Europe. In all the governance schemes, we never hear that as a proposal.

With 1500 schools, one would think we could try this method in even just a handful of schools. I have asked my principal friends (yes I actually have some) it they think they would get elected by their staffs. It led to some serious thinking on their part. Of course they said yes. But then again I would hope any principal I would call a friend would be electable.


Bijou sent me an interview w/ William Ouchi, the professor of management at UCLA who first came up w/ the decentralized model of school reform that DOE is now proposing.

The interview is from strategy+business, and you can read it here: http://www.strategy-business.com/press/article/06212?pg=0 though you have to register on the magazine website first.

Ouchi claims great improvement in cities like Houston since adopting his system, which I don’t think has any basis in fact. He even says there were big gains in the NYC empowerment zone schools after one year – which DOE doesn’t even claim.

But one statement he makes which I agree w/ is the following:

Question: Why does giving principals control over the budget make such a difference?

We have a research project under way now in which we’re interviewing 527 principals with local autonomy and visiting their schools. We’re focusing on inner-city high schools, which have proven in the past to be the hardest schools to improve. We’re finding that control over the budget gives principals control over three key school decisions: the staffing mixture, curriculum, and schedule.

The most important single indicator of a school’s quality is a metric you’ve never heard of: total student load. It’s the number of classes a teacher teaches times the number of students per class. In New York City, by union contract, a teacher may teach up to five classes, and a class may have up to 32 students, for a total load of 160. English teachers at Bronx Science, one of the greatest high schools in America, have to figure out how to comment on the essays of 160 students.

In Los Angeles, the total load is 200; in some districts, it’s as high as 240. Then visit an elite private school, like those where many of your readers send their children. The total load is 55 to 60.

In October 2005, I visited pilot senior high schools in Roxbury and South Boston — hard-core, inner-city neighborhoods. Both had total loads of 53. Each teacher handles two classes of 20 students each and a writing workshop of 13 more students. The teachers meet three times a week and they discuss each student one by one, because they know every student well.

Though Ouchi focuses on teaching load, it is clear that he is talking about both class size as well. Both are clearly critical inputs for success. So why won’t his proposal work for NYC? Why must the decision to reduce class size and teaching load be made centrally rather than leaving it up to each principal’s discretion as Klein et.al. would argue?

First, most NYC schools do not have the room to reduce class size and teaching loads – especially our high schools, because 75% of them are overcrowded, and this administration has no plan to create enough room to allow for smaller classes in any grade higher than 3rd.

Second, though Klein, Nadelstern et.al. like to claim that 80% of the principals in the empowerment zone used their discretionary funding last year to hire additional teachers to lower class size, the empowerment team members I spoke to said that after class sizes were reduced, OSEPO (the office of student placement at Tweed) jjust sent their schools more students, which brought class sizes back up to previous levels.

Robert Gordon of DOE admitted that he had heard this as well at the CPAC meeting, and said they were still “looking into it.”

In NYC, the problems of class size and teaching load are systemic, just as they are in many urban school districts – and must be solved systemically.

Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, adopted the WSF system and decentralized decisionmaking over twenty years ago, and yet in 2003, Alberta decided to initiate a province-wide program to reduce average class size in all grades, to be phased in over five years. This makes it clear that neither weighted funding nor the flexibility that this system was supposed to provide solved the most basic problems in Edmonton’s schools.

Leonie Haimson

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sean Ahern on Tenure and Other Issues

Sean Ahern was a founding member of ICE. While many of us don't always agree with all of Sean's positions and he always doesn't agree the emphasis of some of ICE's stands, his powers of analysis are often insightful, if not brilliant. Here is a response to an email he received (I'm not sure from whom.)

Hi Leo,
I'd like to discuss this tenure issue more with you. is it a wedge issue employed by both Tweed and the UFT leadership? Both sides seek to torpedo the emergence of vibrant, independent school communities. This tenure issue seems like handy club for divide and control in schools.
I would bet that your SLT could come up with a more sensible and agreeable path to tenure than the experts at Tweed, the UFT leadership and all the Ed grad schools combined. Why not let functioning SLTs come up with school based plans for tenure? Why does it have to be one size fits all?
Tweed proposes to grant more autonomy to Principals while at the same time centralizing decision making on tenure, removing it from the Principal and from potential school based community influence.
What skill sets and knowledge and values are deemed to be of most value to the school community and how might that be reflected in the tenure process? What hoops, ladders, portfolios, achievement markers should determine a tenure appointment? A school might use this to attract teachers similarly inclined and build a common vision/mission statement beyond the usual banalities. Win/ win, no? Not for the educrats. where's their deciding role? I can hear them now; 'Tenure is too important to be left to the schools.' 'Oh no! What will become of standards!' etc etc.
Portal issues, the gateways in and out of the system, such as tenure, certification, curriculum, tests, school funding formulas, hiring and firing of teachers and principals are closely guarded educrat preserves or farmed out to the privatizers. Teachers, parents, students have less and less input at the school levels.
Principals always had the power to discharge a nontenured teacher with less than three years for unsatisfatory performance. The tenure stuff is a bit of a red herring. What is the connection between tenure and the low percentage of students who graduate? Fact is with the high turnover among NYC teachers and the lack of qualified principals (my own was in charge of the weight room for 8years before becoming an assistant principal ) there is a blame game and finger pointing in place of a real apprenticeship offered to new teachers. Turnover is still high and newly minted principals from Jack Welch's Leadership Academy sound even less qualified than the old weight room teacher .
I have heard Noguera speak. He is head and shoulders above most Ed school profs I have heard/read (Sam Anderson, Luis Reyes, Rich Gibson, Bracy, Ohanian and the Rouge Forum folks excepted) ) but I think he waffles on NCLB and sounds like he ducked at UFT bullying. I wish there were more members to challenge the UFT monopoly on teacher voices. But as you can see how nasty the UFT "suits" get in public when a prominent leader in the field dares express an opinion at variance with their own, it can be worse for a member who is outspoken in a school.
Maybe Noguera wants to avoid being labeled anti union? A decent sentiment, but in my view a misread of the the UFT leadership's role at this point in time.
The UFT leadership supported Mayoral control and was part and parcel of the old DOE that preceded it. It is disingenous for them to suggest otherwise in public forums or to the membership that they are somehow engaged in some epic struggle with "management" for the defense of tenure, due process, seniority, class size or other labor rights, all of which have been significantly weakened over the past three contracts and sold to the membership as a good deal by the UFT leadership.
The UFT leadership has grown into a management corporation with interests apart from those of us at the school level. They retain the facade of a labor organization without its mission. They have/can and do play a divisive and confusing role within the school community. The UFT leadership is more than the membership's problem.
Diverse holdings and overlapping board memberships in real estate (50 and 52 B'way), health insurance(GHI), Investment banking ($40 Billion Teachers Retirement System) and the Education complex, not to mention their own perks and privileges and incumbency, constitute their "bottom line" and "critical lense". This corporate model needs to be dismantled, not reformed.
Through exclusive representation rights and mandatory dues checkoff they have been granted a modern day equivalent of a fief in which dues are harvested from a hapless membership to the tune of $100 million per year. Together with the NYSED Bureacracy they control access to the schools through a bogus certification system thereby establishing a sort of pedagogical job cartel.
The UFT leadership's consistent white chauvinist opportunism from Shanker's day to the present is their strength and weakness at the same time. It is their weak link but successive waves of rank and file opposition have floundered here, too blind to see the difference that solidarity can make. Silence on the mass dismissals of the uncertified and the whitening of the staff these past five years is the most telling and consistent evidence of the UFT' leadership's collusion with Bloomklein and the opposition's weakness.
This latest reorg proposal from Bloomberg is a calculated response to increasingly critical and skeptical voices from parents and community based folks who were initially supportive of the Mayor's initiatives in the past.
Bloomberg's latest 'reform' to reinstitute community control , is a facade, but draws out the UFT's anti parent character and diverts attention from Tweed's own misdeeds.
As disenchantment with Mayoral control grows, the focus shifts to 'the people' who either come up with alternatives or cede the field. Meetings like the one you describe will become the new refrain. Who is bringing people together? Who is dividing them? See the UFT leadership at work? This is their mission; to perpetuate the status quo that has fattened their bureacracy. How? Keep the membership in a privileged ghetto where they can be controlled and divided. Convince them that they have no allies, no friends, save those approved by the leadership. This is a poison with a white chauvinist sub text that is strengthened by the Mayor's defacto if not intentional whitening policy.
The efforts by the UFT leadership to subsume parent/community voices is doomed as it was in '68 but that doesn't deter them. Their concern is to hold on to perks and privileges for their clique. As long as they manage teacher discontent, keep it apart and at odds with parent/community leaders and help to disorganize parents and community groups, Bloomberg et al are well served. Its a co dependent relationship between DOE and UFT that creates, relies on and reproduces dysfunctional school communities. (plenty more causes working against our kids and NYC's working class families)
My wife Donna was on an SLT at the invitation of the principal when our son started school at PS 134. The meetings were held early before classes started so Donna brought Dylan with her and he was well behaved and not disruptive. Who complains? The Chapter leader. "What do you think you get the stipend for, a baby sitter", she sneers. Just the sort of welcoming approach we need to build up our school communities right? Where do you find a baby sitter for a 7:30 AM meeting? Needless to say we and some other parents transferred our kids out to PS110 the following year. I recall Grandma Bickley's story and I'm sure there are loads more out there. You need all three elements, parents, teachers and admins on board for the SLT model to work. It needs an umbrella of support from above as well but I think the seeds can be planted and good stuff will grow where the three legs are in place.
What I like about IPO's approach is the focus on the third and most important leg here- the parent/student/community piece that both UFT leadership and the Mayor try to subsume under their wing as an appendage when they should be the leading voice. I don't think the Mayor speaks for the majority of parents and students nor do I think the UFT leadership speaks for the majority of teachers.
Am I deluding myself in believing that the large majority of people in the majority of schools throughout the city are not represented and never have been? So much for our 'democracy'.
What keeps people in the schools from coming together as a community and developing their own voice apart from the professional overseers? Exhaustion, no time, lack of concern, language barriers? Yes, but there are also physical and mental barricades constructed by the DOE and UFT over many years that need to be taken down.
Among those already in the school, there are barricades between them. You can make a list of the contradictions in a school, none of which need be antagonistic .
These contradictions become antagonistic when Klein makes teachers the whipping boys, when checks and balences are removed and decision making powers are increasingly centralized, when the UFT leadership sides with the Mayor or the old bureacracy to subsume and control parent voices and exclude them, when student misbehavior is criminalized, when the teaching and administrative staff is 'whitened'.
The UFT bureacracy benefits from antagonism because they can more effectively herd and control racially divided, scared teachers. At other times Tweed has cast parents as the "problem" necessitating collaboration between the 'professionals' (Tweed and UFT) to the exclusion of the community.
Just meant to thank you for the update. The monolouge sort of poured out. See you at 10.

Stevensfamilylrs@aol.com wrote:
Sean - Randi and UFTers in the audience were given undue participation to again, to the detriment of parent voices. Pedro Noguera, the afternoon keynoter, was brilliant and addressed the topic in a comprehensive yet laser like manner. Unfortunately, the moderator let a UFT suit rip him at length over his comment that one thing Bloomberg/klein was coreect on was making tenure something important professionally and his view that the UFT had an important role to play in the tenure discussion and self-regulation. Hardly a controversial concept to non-teachers. The source of the vitriol that sunk Eva Moskowitz was revelaed.
Let's talk about the week; via phone or Sunday @ 10?

Saturday, February 24, 2007



All UFT members vote including retirees.

PRESIDENT: Kit Wainer (CC)
SECRETARY: Camille Johnson (D)
ASST SECRETARY: Ellen Schweitzer (CC)
TREASURER: Marilyn Beckford (CC)
ASST TREASURER: Yelena Siwinski (CC)
VICE PRES (ELEM): Lisa North (CC)
VICE PRES (ACAD HIGH): Arthur Colen (CC)
VICE PRES (VOC HIGH): Gerard Frohnhoefer(CC)
VICE PRES (SPEC ED): Joseph Wisniewski
VICE PRES (AT LARGE): Ellen Fox (retired CC)


These names appear only on the elementary school ballots.

Haley Archibald
Renee Jones
Gloria Brandman
Andrew Rosenberg
Mary Hoffman
Steve Baldari
Joan Seedorf (CC)
Brian Jones
Ethel Mogielnicki
Patricia Dobosz
Victor Mogielnicki

These names appear only on the middle school ballots.

Frank LoCicero
Michael Mascitti
Angel Gonzalez
Edna O’Keefe
Glenn Rand

HIGH (6)
These names appear only on the high school ballots.

James Eterno (CC)
Jeff Kaufman (CC)
Peter Lamphere (Former D)
Sam Lazarus (CC)
Nick Licari (CC)
Marian Swerdlow (D)

These names appear only on the functional ballots - every category aside from division - including retirees, secretary, paras, social workers, teachers assigned to the region, etc.

Doreen Nash
Ellen Schoenfeld
Cary Abrams
Bill Palmer (D)
Victor Treschan
Vera Pavone
Robert Martini
Antonella Balsam
Ira Goldfine (retired CC)
Pete Bronson
Kimberly Partington
Maria Giamundo
Deborah Poleshuck (D)
Bob Norman (retired CC)

All UFT members vote including retirees.

Rachel Barr
Barbara Kaplan-Halper (CC)
Dave Poleshuck (D)
Jonathan Lessuck (former CC)
Pete Bobrick
Barbara Frazier (former CC)
Carolyn Eubanks (D)
Michael Fiorillo (CC)
Joan Heymont (former D)
John Lawhead
Maria Colon (former CC)
Tom Maher (CC)
Tom Crean
Louis Bedrock
John Elfrank-Dana (CC)
Megan Behrent (D)
Katherine Flori
Jeff Brace (CC)
Steve Gallo
Michael Krokondelas
Martin Haber (D)
Angela DeSouza
Diana Hrisinko
Diane Friedline
Norm Scott (retired CC)
Arthur Goldstein (D)
Al Zucker (D)
Joanne Hindy
Marcy Licari (CC)
Janet Iadanza
Bill Linville
John Yanno (CC)
Adam Mazor
Byron Licari
Shannon Ham
Andrea Miller
Kim Mussman
Joe Mudgett (D)
Louise Warren (retired CC)
Mike Wotypka
Eugene Prisco
Larry Taylor (CC)

In addition, there are a number of candidates for AFT/NYSUT delegates, voted on at-large by all union members.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Mayor Announces Schools/Stadium Initiative

Apparently there is an explanation for this, according to the following story:

Mayor Announces Schools/Stadium Initiative

February 23, 2007 (GBN News): Mayor Bloomberg, responding to reports of cost overruns for the city's new stadium projects as well as criticism that this money could be better spent on education, explained today that the cost was planned all along as part of an innovative new reform. The plan would involve combining the small schools initiative with the stadium projects by placing several small high schools within the new stadiums. While the Mayor released few details, he indicated that this project was developed jointly by Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and the consulting firm of Alvarez and Marsal.

Amid criticism by education advocates and City Council members that this group constituted a domestic "Axis of Evil", schools Chancellor Joel Klein defended the new arrangement. "This will be a true public/private partnership", the Chancellor declared. "and we are looking forward to having George Steinbrenner lecture at our Leadership Academy".

The schools/stadium initiative was questioned in several quarters. Yankee Captain Derek Jeter expressed concern that with Alvarez and Marsal involved, players might have to forgo their usual luxurious travel and would instead have to make due with Metro Cards. And Mets Manager Willie Randolph worried that with the ban on cell phones, he might not be able to put in a call to the bullpen when one of his pitchers gets in trouble.

In a related story, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and NBA Commissioner David Stern announced in a joint statement that, in an effort to set a better role model for the nation's school children, all teams, starting in 2014, will be required to finish the season over .500. Dubbed "No Player Left Behind", the policy would allow any player on a team finishing under .500 to transfer to a more successful team.

--- In nyceducationnews@

yahoogroups.com, "Leonie Haimson" wrote:
Mystery of Stadium Funds Continues

Nearly a month after Mayor Bloomberg issued his preliminary capital budget, the mystery http://www.villagevoice.com/blogs/runninscared/archives/2007/01/bloomberg_addin.php over cost overruns for the city's stadium projects remains. The mayor, it now appears, has attempted to tack on somewhere between $140 million and $226 million in added spending for the Nets, Mets, and Yankees projects-all without notifying the city council, let alone the general public.

To recap: When the sports troika was approved last year, the city indicated
> that taxpayers would be on the hook for $160 million in land and
> infrastructure costs for the new Yankees stadium (already a last-minute
> lineup substitution for the initial $135 million price tag), $98 million for
> the Mets, and $100 million for Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, which
> includes a basketball arena to bring the Nets to Brooklyn. (State spending
> and tax breaks would add at least another half-billion to the overall public
> tab.) In the mayor's new budget, however, Yankees spending is now projected
> at $209 million through 2009, Mets at $172 million, and Nets at $205 million.

The city Independent Budget Office already revealed http://www.villagevoice.com/blogs/runninscared/archives/2007/01/bloomberg_addin.php> last month (and city council sources have since confirmed) that the extra Atlantic Yards money is for such things as new water mains and roadways, which somehow weren't accounted for when the project was first
announced. As for city spending on the Yankees project, which will pay for building new parkland to replace that obliterated http://www.villagevoice.com/blogs/powerplays/archives/003097.php by the new stadium, as well as for demolition of the House That Ruth Built, the city at first insisted that it was still within its original budget.
> However, Parks Department spokesperson Warner Johnston recently told the Voice in an e-mail that an additional $35 million has been allocated to the project for "contingency funding and construction-related inflation"-in other words, cost overruns and the expectation of further cost overruns.

That gets us to $140 million. But what about the other $14 million for the Yanks, and $74 million for the Mets, that shows up in the mayor's budget? Johnston referred us to the mayor's Office of Management and Budget-whose officials declined to return a series of Voice phone calls and e-mails inquiring into the mystery money.
> City council officials are apparently getting no better treatment: One
> council staffer described OMB as "stonewalling" the council's own finance
> staff on the issue. Staffers for councilmembers Hiram Monserrate and Helen
> Diane Foster, who represent residents around the Mets and Yanks stadium
> sites respectively, said they knew nothing about the increased allocations.
> Lukas Herbert, one of the Bronx Community Board 4 members who'd tried to
> warn that the city would face likely cost overruns on its share of the
> Yankees project, says, "This is almost like an 'I told you so' - it just
> goes to show that once a big corporation like the Yankees gets an approval
> from government, the cost just goes up for the public." Not that, under the
> circumstances, being right is much comfort to Herbert, who lives three
> blocks from the stadium site on the Grand Concourse: "My alarm goes off at 7
> a.m., and within five minutes I start hearing the ping, ping of the pile
> drivers driving in those columns. And last time I checked, the school down
> the street was still falling apart."
> Leonie Haimson


The Department of Education hasn't listed our school in any of its press releases. So here's mine.

For over 17 years, it served as a literal beacon of light for some of New York's most disaffected youth. Now, after having established consistently strong scores on state exams, excellent graduation rates and after having created one of the safest school environments in New York City, the Dept of Education has decided to close the doors of Brooklyn Comprehensive Night High School.

Established as one of the first schools for over-aged and under-credited youth, Brooklyn Comprehensive Night High School has been a safe haven for disadvantaged youth 18-21 years of age. It has provided them with the opportunity to obtain a high school diploma -- not a GED --at night. These students have often attended more than one high school with limited academic achievement. Often they carry enormous adult responsibilities or have experienced profound personal loss. Take Daniel Laguer: early in his high school career, he lost one brother to an untimely death and one to prison. Without what he called, "his blueprints to life" he became despondent and the school he attended had poor control over its students, so he began to cut classes and then school altogether. With a failing average, he came to Brooklyn Comprehensive Night High School looking to re-build an academic career. And he did so far beyond his expectations, becoming an honors student who is now a sophomore at Brooklyn College.

While not all students developed such academic excellence, for many the school served as a place for them to begin to take pride in their studies and to develop the foundation of skills they never had. Students who came from abusive households, some in foster care, some living on their own, found the small school to be their substitute family. Assisting them in this process required patience and extensive individual attention. The school offered students tutoring before and after school, small classes, a safe and quiet environment and the understanding that they would have some of the time they would need to change. After so many years of academic difficulties, the school did not expect students to become instant successes. Nor did it make that success easy. However, the school's culture took it's cue from it's motto "Ad astra per aspera" --- "To the stars despite the difficulties."

The Dept of Education, in its meeting with staff and administration, acknowledged that there was no academic reason for closing the school. They criticized the school, rather, for its attendance. Simply put, the school does good work but for too few students. As the student population which the school has served comes with a history of little or no academic achievement -- most have averages below 60 -- it is difficult to imagine how the Dept. of Education could expect instant and immediate success. Frequently, students take time to build attendance-- often a student will not pass in his/her first term or even year at the school. Many of our students have experienced personal crises which do not stop just because they have signed up at our school. It may take a term or a year for the school to work with the student to help them to build their skills and try to assist them in stabilizing their lives. And as this population is comprised entirely of students who have poor records, it is inevitable that some of them will need more than the school can give. After all, statistically these are the lowest performing students with the least chance of graduation from any academic program.

Brooklyn Comprehensive, however, had a policy of trying to work with students even if they did not immediately make significant changes. In giving them the time to try to adjust, it risked having attendance records which reflected their absences. In its very premise, the school was betting against what their previous records seemed to indicate. A majority of the students presented undiagnosed learning disabilities and/or had missed significant portions of their schooling --their need for remediation was intensified by years of neglect. Often these students were also extremely intelligent and dedicated to the effort to change their lives -- a dedication which increased as they improved. For Brooklyn Comprehensive, therefore, the students' potential was worth the risk. The efforts of the school were rewarded by a student body which achieved more and more each year. Sadly, the Department of Education is unwilling to see that taking such a risk provides opportunities for students like Daniel to get the time they need to excel beyond what any statistics might have predicted.

Contact Floraine Kay

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Camille Johnson, ICE-TJC candidate for Secretary

View Camille's video as she speaks on the UFT Election.

Communications show pattern of meddling in ‘Reading First.’

Interesting reading in EdWeek, particularly on way US Dept. of Ed. tried to lean on Klein to adopt phonics-based curricula – to little avail. See sections esp. in bold below.

Published: February 20, 2007

E-Mails Reveal Federal Reach Over Reading

Communications show pattern of meddling in ‘Reading First.’

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Article Tools

The Reading First initiative’s rigorous requirements have earned it a reputation as the most prescriptive federal grant program in education. Now, an Education Week review of hundreds of e-mail exchanges details a pattern of federal interference that skirted legal prohibitions.

In the midst of carrying out the $1 billion-a-year program, which is part of the No Child Left Behind Act, federal officials:

• Worked to undermine the literacy plan of the nation’s largest school system;

• Pressured several states to reject certain reading programs and assessments that were initially approved under their Reading First plans;

• Rallied influential politicians, political advisers, and appointees to ensure that state schools chiefs stayed on track with program mandates; and

• Pressed one state superintendent to withdraw grant funding from a district that demoted a principal in a participating school.

In regular e-mail discussions, Christopher J. Doherty, the Reading First director at the U.S. Department of Education until last September, and G. Reid Lyon, a branch chief at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development until June 2005 and an influential adviser to the initiative, closely monitored states’ progress in applying for Reading First money, in issuing subgrants to districts, and in complying with the law’s provisions for scientifically based instruction. They also worked out strategies for intervening where they deemed more federal control was warranted.

“We ding people all the time in Reading First,” Mr. Doherty wrote in March 2005, after he pressured Illinois education leaders to pull funding from a district. “We don’t like to do it, of course, but we do it because otherwise RF turns to crap and means nothing, just another funding stream to do whatever it is you were going to do anyway.”

Some former federal officials and supporters of the program argue that such oversight was essential to its success, but a number of state and local officials took offense and questioned whether Reading First staff members exceeded their authority. Some policy experts say they came close to doing so.

“That’s an unprecedented level of interference,” said Christopher T. Cross, a policy consultant for Cross & Joftus LLC in Danville, Calif. Mr. Cross helped write the ban against federal intervention in curriculum and instruction into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the 1970s and later served as an assistant secretary in the Education Department under President George H.W. Bush.

The language was left in when the law was reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. It states that federal employees are prohibited from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system.”

“The intention when that language was put into the statute,” Mr. Cross said, “was that these were decisions that had to be made at the local level in connection with local standards. I think there’s no question what went on [in Reading First] is right on the border of crossing the line on that provision.”

Showdown in Rockford

A highly critical report issued by the Education Department’s inspector general last fall concluded that federal officials may have overstepped their authority in crafting the strict requirements. Inspector General John P. Higgins Jr. also said those officials seemed to favor a particular instructional method while discrediting others. ("Scathing Report Casts Cloud Over ‘Reading First’," Oct. 4, 2006.)

The crass and sometimes vulgar e-mail exchanges that underpinned the inspector general’s findings stunned many educators and policymakers. The findings led to a shakeup in the department’s Reading First office.

But advocates of the program, and allies of Mr. Doherty, protested that the report was overblown and had unfairly selected sensational e-mails to paint a dedicated and effective employee as a rogue operator within the department. The e-mail record, however, shows Mr. Doherty’s aggressive and arrogant tone repeated in messages to Mr. Lyon and other colleagues.

The e-mails were obtained by Education Week and a complainant in a case against the Department of Education through the Freedom of Information Act.

E-mail Excerpts

I am going to review all my [Indiana] files on Monday. Having done no subgrants yet, it may be hard to make something stick, but if they are trying to go soft with the requirements, they are just as good a candidate as any other state to show them/the rest that RF is NOT just another federal reading program that can be flouted.
—Reading First Director Christopher J. Doherty to G. Reid Lyon, a branch chief for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, citing concerns that Indiana officials may not be taking Reading First requirements seriously enough, March 2, 2003

Monitoring will be key as usual. They will game the system if they can. They think they have already done everything and are getting the RF bucks to shine shit. How strong should I be with respect to guidance at the highest state level. I will meet with Gov. [Kathleen] Sebelius in the morning. How detailed should I be with respect to the shortcomings.
—Mr. Lyon to Mr. Doherty regarding Kansas’ Reading First program, April 16, 2003

I have been in good, regular touch with Everett Barnes, pres. Of RMC Research Corp., which does both [Reading First Technical Assistance] and some [Comprehensive] Center work, too re: the Shaywitz report and I am very happy to learn that you find it scathing and clear in its conclusions/recommendations. Not happy that NYC is doing something this bad, of course, just glad that the report is not the usual equivocating ‘On the one hand,..but on the other…’ kind of stuff.…this is not a ‘dueling experts’ kind of thing. This has the Flat Earth Society on one side and people who own/understand globes on the other.
—Mr. Doherty to Mr. Lyon, referring to a review of New York City’s literacy plan, Aug. 29, 2003

Confidentially: …Well, I spoke to [a New Jersey official] with a roomful of others on their end and they are HALTING the funding of Rigby and, while we were at it, Wright Group. They STOPPED the districts who wanted to use those programs. We won in Maine, we won in New Jersey. Morale is sky high across the country. State plans have gone from–on average–crap, to each one being–at least on paper–strong and aligned with [scientifically based reading research], and we have lots of monitoring muscle to flex and [technical assistance] brains to provide. Strong law, great funding, solid, guiding science. We are winning.
—Mr. Doherty to Mr. Lyon, in reference to the rejection of reading textbooks that they viewed as not meeting federal requirements, Sept. 5, 2003

Just got off the phone (again) with Randy Dunn. He confirms that [Illinois] has frozen Rockford’s RF remainder of $638,633 and we are working on finalizing this together. Please, close hold. There are/will be be consequences for Rockford’s idiocy. And kids, unfortunately, are paying for the decisions of adults, again.
—Mr. Doherty to Mr. Lyon, Feb. 15, 2005

SOURCE: National Institutes of Health

Some state and local officials said they felt bullied by Mr. Doherty. One such case played out in Rockford, Ill., in early 2005, after federal officials received e-mail messages about a principal at a Reading First school there. The principal was reassigned after battling with district officials over reading instruction at Lewis Lemon Elementary School. The new superintendent, Dennis Thompson, and district director of instruction Martha Hayes wanted the school to supplement its direct-instruction model with more varied reading selections and writing activities after determining that students weren’t being prepared for the more rigorous coursework of the later grades.

The principal received help from a local supporter of the National Right to Read Foundation, which promotes phonics instruction. Robert W. Sweet Jr., then an influential senior analyst with the education committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and the founder of the NRRF, asked Mr. Lyon to look into the matter. Mr. Lyon corresponded with Mr. Doherty, a direct-instruction advocate, about the need to apply pressure to state leaders in Illinois.

In March of 2005, after numerous telephone discussions and a meeting with state schools Superintendent Randy Dunn, Mr. Doherty sent a letter to the state, expressing his dissatisfaction with Illinois’ implementation of the grant. Mr. Doherty cited the Rockford case and the state’s hiring of an employee for the Reading First program who he thought did not subscribe to scientifically based reading research. He informed Mr. Dunn that the state was being “designated in need of corrective action,” and would be subject to additional monitoring, consequently risking the loss of millions of dollars in future grant funding.

“Clearly, there were issues of program compliance in Rockford, and we were working to address them,” said Mr. Dunn, the state schools chief until last month. “But the situation with the principal there had given a great entree to the feds to start wielding a heavy hand. They took an opportunity with a situation that was kind of separate from the Reading First program to get ahold of us, the state, directly by the throat.”

Mr. Thompson, the district chief, said the issue was a personnel matter, unrelated to Reading First. He said he wasn’t even aware that federal officials were involved and kept apprised of the situation in Rockford until informed by Education Week.

Mr. Doherty and Mr. Lyon e-mailed each other repeatedly about the situation, sometimes in response to Mr. Sweet’s queries. They expressed outrage at what appeared to them to be mistreatment of the principal and district officials’ undermining of the direct-instruction program with “their ill-fated wrong turn to balanced literacy.”

Although “balanced literacy” is viewed by many educators as an approach incorporating a variety of skills- and literature-based reading methods, it is considered code for “whole language” by Mr. Doherty and others pushing more explicit and systematic instruction.

The field of reading instruction has been marked for decades by disputes over the best approach to teaching reading—generally speaking, a phonics-based vs. a literature-based approach. Over the past decade, a consensus has emerged that a combination of approaches is best, although there is still considerable debate over how much skills instruction is needed.

In response to Mr. Doherty’s demands, Illinois tried to send a monitoring team to investigate Rockford’s Reading First program. Mr. Thompson refused to cooperate with the state officials and federal consultants who visited, saying the short notice would have disrupted schools’ operations. Mr. Doherty then directed the state to freeze the district’s funding, and ultimately to withdraw the grant. Those actions prompted another e-mail from Mr. Lyon: “wow – Talk about a guy with smarts, integrity AND balls,” he wrote. “I am talking about you Chris.”

The principal at Lewis Lemon Elementary sued the district. District officials said a settlement was reached in the case, but could not discuss the details.

“They made all these judgments about us when they knew absolutely nothing about what we were doing,” said Mr. Thompson, who added that he was perplexed how the revisions to the reading plan could be perceived as whole language. “We ended up getting into a war of labels.”

Mr. Doherty would not comment for this story. Sandi Jacobs, who helped administer Reading First as a senior program specialist with the Education Department, said she and Mr. Doherty believed that the Rockford district was “severely and significantly out of compliance.” They then pressed state officials to deal with the matter.

New York Story

In New York City, federal officials jumped into the fray over reading instruction months before the state even applied for Reading First money. When city Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein unveiled his plans for a districtwide literacy framework in January 2003, his action drew criticism from a number of reading experts, who argued that a highly structured, phonics-based program would serve students better than the literature- and writing-based plan.

Rod Paige, the U.S. secretary of education at the time, asked Mr. Lyon to help city officials in understanding the research on effective instruction, according to an account of the events Mr. Lyon sent in an e-mail to a prominent reading researcher. A group of researchers associated with the NICHD, Mr. Lyon’s agency, then wrote a letter to Mr. Klein detailing why they believed his “balanced literacy” program was not sufficiently research-based. The researchers subsequently met with Deputy Chancellor Diana Lam and other district officials to discuss their evaluation.

“New York City was a big concern, and legitimately so,” Mr. Lyon said in an interview this month. “If you put in place a new program that changes the rules, and you have a city like New York get the money and flout the rules, then everyone else would want to do the same thing.”

After district officials added a stronger phonics text, one of the researchers involved in the review told Education Week she considered it a sound instructional approach. ("N.Y.C. Hangs Tough Over Maverick Curriculum," Oct. 15, 2003.)

Balanced Literacy Rebuffed

But later in 2003, as New York state was negotiating with federal officials over its final Reading First plan, federal officials and consultants took another stab at persuading city officials to take a different tack on reading instruction.

In the interview, Mr. Lyon said state officials requested guidance on how New York City could meet Reading First criteria. Sally Shaywitz, a Yale University professor and a member of the National Reading Panel—a congressionally mandated committee that issued an influential 2000 report on reading research—and two other researchers conducted the review.

Mr. Lyon helped arrange for those researchers to meet with Chancellor Klein to outline their findings and discuss how the city’s schools could benefit from a commercial core program for reading, instead of the customized framework the city had crafted.

A federal contractor for Reading First oversaw the review and recommended that a task force, consisting of Ms. Shaywitz and other key researchers, be appointed to help the district choose an appropriate program.

Mr. Lyon regularly checked in with Mr. Doherty of Reading First to ask, “Can you brief me on the status of the NYC RF application as I am getting Qs from higher.” The request continued: “Did they do the right thing?” Later, Mr. Lyon indicated that there was “WH interest.”

The former NICHD branch chief, who managed the $120 million grant program for reading research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., asked another researcher, an author of the Open Court commercial reading curriculum, to help him make the case for a structured, comprehensive core program. Mr. Lyon said he sought advice from the researcher, Marilyn Adams, because of her long-standing reputation in reading research. He did not consider her link to Open Court a conflict of interest because her commitment was to the research first. “I need good data fast,” Mr. Lyon wrote to Ms. Adams in August 2003, after describing Mr. Klein’s reluctance to adopt “an evidence based program like Open Court” because of the mixed results of the program in other big cities, and the alternative approaches being used in Boston and San Diego. “I think he will listen if we can show gains from evidence based programs.”

Mr. Lyon also acknowledges in the e-mail that the text was just one of the essential components, “teachers and implementation being as important.”

In e-mails to Margaret Spellings, who was President Bush’s chief domestic-policy adviser before becoming education secretary, Mr. Lyon discusses “NY City,” according to the subject line. All but one line was redacted under an exemption in the federal freedom-of-information law that considers pending decisions to be confidential. In the end, Mr. Lyon asks, “Let me know if you want me to do anything.”

In sharing the message with Mr. Doherty, Mr. Lyon commented: “Gees – this never stops – we have to win this one.”

When the Education Department inspector general’s report was released, now-Secretary Spellings said that the problems cited “reflected individual mistakes.” But at least one former Education Department official has suggested that Ms. Spellings was deeply involved in the program while working at the White House.

“She micromanaged the implementation of Reading First from her West Wing office,” Michael J. Petrilli, who worked in the department from 2001 to 2005, under Secretary Paige and Secretary Spellings, wrote in the National Review Online last fall. “She was the leading cheerleader for an aggressive approach.”

Mr. Petrilli, now a vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington think tank, has argued that Mr. Doherty did what officials in the White House and Congress expected him to do.

Ms. Spellings has not responded to the allegations about her role. The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment last week.

New York state was awarded it’s Reading First grant in September 2003. In the end, New York City relented and chose a commercial reading program—Harcourt Trophies—for its 49 Reading First schools, but stuck with the balanced-literacy program to guide reading instruction at other schools.

The 1.1 million-student district’s Reading First funding is considered vulnerable because the inspector general found its grant application should not have been approved, and recommended that the state take back its $107 million grant.

Chancellor Klein would not comment for this article. But in a August 2003 interview with The New York Times, he said: “I think it’s a ‘less filling/tastes great’ debate. I don’t believe curriculums are the key to education. I believe teachers are.”

Fingerprints Elsewhere

Many other Reading First details large and small came to the attention of Mr. Lyon and Mr. Doherty between 2003 and 2005, which they discussed by e-mail. Mr. Lyon also visited states to provide guidance on Reading First.

In March 2003, for example, he agreed to meet with a handful of Indiana legislators who requested his advice on ways to ensure that state officials adhered to Reading First mandates. Mr. Lyon suggested the state would need extra monitoring because of the potential for noncompliance, which could send a message to other states of the consequences of not adhering to the requirements. The legislators had suggested to Mr. Lyon that state education officials in Indiana were not ready to abandon its existing reading approach.

After meeting with officials in Louisiana and North Carolina, Mr. Lyon told Mr. Doherty that they needed to discuss various issues of concern, including the assessments and consultants that the states were planning to use under their Reading First grants. The two federal officials discussed Louisiana’s desire to use an assessment for Reading First schools that they did not deem research-based, and Mr. Lyon suggested to a North Carolina administrator that a textbook by a well-known reading researcher was inappropriate for use in Reading First training sessions.

Local educators, researchers, community leaders, or parents alerted them to some issues.

One New Jersey parent asked Mr. Lyon for help in July 2003, because state officials were allowing the use of a Wright Group reading program, owned by the McGraw-Hill Cos. She didn’t consider the text research-based. Mr. Lyon alerted Mr. Doherty. The Reading First director recalled that “we forced Maine to drop the bad program.” By September 2003, nearly a year after New Jersey’s grant had been approved, New Jersey officials disallowed funding for the text.

“As you may remember, RF got Maine to UNDO its already made decision to have Rigby be one of their two approved core programs (Ha, ha – Rigby as a CORE program? When pigs fly!) We also as you may recall, got NJ to stop its districts from using Rigby (and the Wright Group, btw) and are doing the same in Mississippi,” Mr. Doherty wrote in October 2003. “This is for your FYI, as I think this program-bashing is best done off or under the major radar screens.”

In May 2005, Harcourt Achieve Inc., which owns the Rigby Literacy program, issued a press release outlining changes it made to the program to ensure it aligned more closely with research. The changes were prompted, the company said, by deficiencies that were brought to light by the Reading First grant reviews.

And when a Texas consultant informed Mr. Lyon and Mr. Doherty of breaches in that state’s Reading First program by the interim state commissioner of education, they debated in a series of e-mail exchanges with a researcher how best to get state officials back in line. They discussed getting influential advisers to the Bush administration, and federal officials with Texas ties, to put pressure on the state education department.

Hypervigilance Defended

By many accounts, Mr. Doherty, a former director of a Baltimore-based organization that oversees direct-instruction reading, was a tireless leader for the program. Reading First, which has the support of many educators, was intended to bring research-based instruction to the nation’s underperforming schools. Mr. Doherty and Ms. Jacobs were essentially the only staff members assigned full time to the program.

Many state officials rallied to his defense when the inspector general’s report was released last fall. Reading First recently received the highest performance rating of all NCLB programs from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“It’s not that Reading First was over the top,” Ms. Jacobs said. “It’s much more that many programs [administered by the Education Department] are severely undermonitored.”

Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and an outspoken critic of New York City’s reading plan, also defends the hard-line approach.

“If Doherty’s sin was to lean on a state education agency or two to promote a reading program backed by science over one that wasn’t, well, that’s just what the Reading First legislation intended,” Mr. Stern, wrote in the Winter 2007 edition of City Journal, the institute’s magazine.

Mr. Lyon, who is designing a teacher-preparation program for the Dallas-based Best Associates, said this month that the “hypervigilant monitoring” was necessary, but that he did not anticipate how the Reading First mandates would be complicated by the issue of local control.

“Here you have local control, which historically has always been there, and then you have Reading First being very prescriptive,” he said.

“In my mind, Reading First has to carry the day,” he added.

‘Shameful Behavior’

Critics, other observers, and some stakeholders alike, however, say the results do not necessarily justify the heavy-handed management. Some vendors claim their reading programs were not given a fair shake. The nonprofit Success for All program, for example, has lost business under the federal initiative, according to founder Robert E. Slavin, despite its extensive research and documented results. Many of the e-mail documents were obtained recently by Mr. Slavin from the National Institutes of Health, more than 18 months after he submitted the request.

Some of the commercial programs that have been widely adopted by Reading First schools did not have any more evidence of effectiveness than others that were not as successful.

“The law said nothing about picking specific programs, it just indicated scientifically based programs. But when we looked at the other programs that were being approved, we saw very little evidence that those were more scientific than the ones we were trying to use,” said Gene Wilhoit, who as state superintendent in Kentucky sent letters of complaint to the Education Department questioning the pressure his agency received to reject certain reading programs and assessments.

Mr. Wilhoit, now the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said, “We didn’t feel like [the federal oversight] was just an attempt to hold onto the integrity of the program.”

Susan B. Neuman, who helped roll out the program as the Education Department’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, agrees. Some of the e-mails were also shared with Ms. Neuman, and in a few of the exchanges, Mr. Doherty indicated he was relaying Ms. Neuman’s views on how the program should be carried out.

But in one e-mail to her, Mr. Doherty suggests that she should not be involved in the talks over state applications and implementation. Ms. Neuman, who left the department in January 2003, has said that she was left out of many discussions with state officials.

“They far exceeded their mandate,” she said in an interview, referring to Mr. Doherty and other federal officials. “We wanted to figure out ways that we could make Reading First a more powerful intervention [than previous federal programs], but certainly not in micromanaging school districts.”

“In the beginning,” Ms. Neuman added, “this was an honest effort to make something better, … but this is shameful behavior.”

Vol. 26, Issue 24, Pages 1,18

The problem is that the federal government did not really do a good job of researching what really works for teaching reading. Now they say all reading programs must follow what their report says is "research based". There are many books and reports written by educational researchers that have shown how the so-called research was not done correctly. The truth is the government looked at very little research to come up with their results. Most of what they say students need was based on research of learning disabled students.
The government has now been pushing a phonics only approach to the teaching of reading. Yes, students of course need phonics, but they also need to understand what they are reading. It is amazing how many children can read the words, but are not able to put it all together to understand what they are reading. As a pretty good reader myself, I was surprised to find out as a teacher, that many children can read almost fluently, but can NOT tell you anything about what they just read. It takes more than just phonics to read.
Balanced literacy is suppose to teach BOTH phonics and comprehension. What we need to talk about here in NYC is HOW balanced literacy was introduced to the system. Most districts implement balanced literacy over a 4 or 5 year period as it takes time for teachers to really learn how to teach this way. That was not done here in NYC. That is the reason Carmen Farina wanted time for staff development. Klein did away with it.

Balanced literacy was forced---literally forced--on teachers in San Diego over a four-five year period of Tony Alvarado. Teachers had ample professional development, where they were told it was the only method that would be permitted. Teachers who did not comply were penalized by a variety of petty administrative punishments (e.g. being shifted arbitrarily to another grade or school). San Diego saw the same pattern we now see in NYC. A bump up in 4th grade scores (no greater, though, than the gains in the rest of the state), flat scores in 8th grade, no effect then or later in high school. Unfortunately in the monomaniacal focus on balanced literacy (and a lesser focus on math), they (Alvarado and Alan Bersin) completely forgot about history, science, anything else. At the time they started their program (on which Klein modeled his), San Diego was already a whole language district with better demographics than other cities.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Testimony on the small schools initiative

My testimony Friday on the small schools before the City Council is below.
Bob Hughes of new Visions spoke before me. He made two statements that I disputed in my oral testimony -- and added to the footnotes below.
First, he said that the rooms taken over by the small schools at Kennedy HS had been mostly unused or underutilized. I pointed out that the space he was referring to was used by the Automotive repair program -- one of the best such programs in the city, which kept kids in schools and guaranteed them good paying jobs after graduation.
Despite pleas by students and staff and a great column by Sam Freedman of the NY Times, the program was ruthlessly eliminated to make room for the new small schools. (for this column see http://susanohanian.org/outrage_fetch.php?id=231)

After astute questioning from Robert Jackson, Hughes also admitted that despite the claim in the WestEd report that the method used to calculate their graduation rates was the same as the state uses, students who were discharged from the small schools to GED programs or alternative schools were not counted as dropouts. Therefore the figures in the WestEd report are as fundamentally unreliable as the city's claim of a 58% graduation rate.
Leonie Haimson
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011
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Testimony on the small schools initiative

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters

February 16, 2007

The Department of Education and New Visions have been boasting about the success of their small school initiative, and the results of the first crop of small schools in the Bronx, called New Century High Schools, appear to bear them out, according to the recent report released by WestEd.[1]

But let us take a step back, to the independent evaluation of these same schools, completed in March 2005 by Policy Studies Associates, which New Visions attempted to suppress, until it was leaked to the NY Times nine months later. [2]

By gaining access to records for the entering high school class for which this new WestEd study examines outcomes, the PSA analysis substantiated what DOE officials to this day continue to deny: that these schools enrolled students with better scores, attendance, and grades than the students in the large schools who were left behind.

The students at the small schools had eighth grade math and reading scores significantly higher than their peers in the comparison schools; Only 10% of NCHS students scored below basic in their 8th grade ELA exams, compared with 35% at their host schools -- with a similar disparity in seen in math. Moreover, 97% had been promoted in the prior year, compared with only 59% of the students at the comparison schools.

They had better attendance records (91% compared to 81%), and were less likely to have been suspended. They were much less likely to need special education services. Only 6% of Bronx NCHS students had IEPs, compared with 25% at the comparison schools; and none of the NCHS students had the most serious disabilities.[3] Indeed, teachers at the new small schools praised their principals for "recruiting more high-performing students".

Moreover, since that study was released, more attention has been drawn to the fact that these schools are exempt from enrolling any special education or ELL students for the first two years of their existence. This led to a civil rights complaint by the Citywide Council on High schools, as well as recent reports by the Immigration Coalition, Advocates for Children, and the New York Lawyers for Public Interest, showing the discrimination against these students continues to this day .[4]

Our main concern, however, is the issue of class size, and that all students in NYC public schools receive the smaller classes they need to have a better opportunity to learn.

While class sizes at the larger high schools averaged 30 students or more, class sizes at most of the new small schools were between 13 and 20 students, as the first year PSA evaluation noted. As a result, according to observers, students were on task 82% of the time in any given time. [5]

The fact that these schools provided much smaller classes was observed by students to be their most valuable aspect: students “said that they liked the small class sizes, the willingness of teachers to provide extra help…” Another student said, “I like the close thing with teachers and that you can discuss your problems with them.” According to another, “I like that it’s small, and we each get attention. There’s not one person who doesn’t get attention from our teachers. And they treat us all the same. In a normal high school, they don’t talk to you when you have a problem. They don’t care.” [6]

This contrasted with the dreary picture of conditions at the large high schools. As a student interviewed for the second year evaluation pointed out, "the teachers I have had at other schools never knew me." Another: “My friends are in larger schools and have problems I don’t have, including the problem of teachers who are never available to give extra help.” Indeed, without smaller classes it's hard to see how these small schools could have succeeded in their mission at all. [7]

We now have official DOE class size data to confirm that class sizes are smaller at many of the new small schools than the large schools in which they sit. At Pelham Prep, for example, a school with an openly selective admissions process, most classes average 22-24 students per class, as compared to 27-28 at Columbus HS, in which it is located and has many more high-needs students.

The High school for Teaching and Professions provides classes that range from 20-25 students, as compared to its host school, Walton, which has classes of 29 in most subjects, even though it has been failing for many years.

Yet the small classes as well as the administrative and cluster spaces required by every new school put increased pressure on their host schools, as well as the system as a whole, already severely overcrowded. As noted by the PSA study, many of the host and neighboring schools began operating at 150% capacity as a result, since the “number of 9th graders entering the new schools did not match the number of nine graders being turned away from schools that were being phased out.”[8]

In the PSA report, both teachers and principals noted the hostility from staff and students at the host schools that followed: "According to them, the tension stemmed from host schools being overcrowded and resenting having to give up resources and space to the small schools...Another [teacher] said..."Our students fight with the students from the other schools --- that's the extent of [our relationship with them.]” [9] Clearly, the fact that most of the schools with smaller schools placed within them subsequently became Impact schools was not coincidental.

Many others noted the negative effects of the small schools initiative not only on their "host" schools but on nearby high schools as well -- as a huge influx of transfers, including many "at risk" and special education students who were being excluded from these schools flooded other schools nearby.

See for example, the comments of Robert Leder, principal of Lehman High school, who wrote that "one of the most serious negative results ”of the small schools initiative “ ....has been to transfer thousands of displaced students, often the most at-risk to other, already overcrowded schools."

He reported an increase in 50% of the number of special education students at Lehman, "because of the system's failure to include these students proportionately in the new school registers....In all candor, logic and reality, how can a school like Lehman be expected to absorb this tremendous increase in register and still remain a well-functioning, viable school?" [10]

Clearly, the smaller schools appear to have better graduation rates, though the actual figures cited in the WestEd report appear to be significantly inflated, just as DOE’s figures are.[11] But why should this be surprising? If, as we have seen, if the smaller schools enrolled stronger students and provided them with smaller classes, it should be obvious that their outcomes would be more successful than those of other schools.

The more meaningful questions one should ask are the following: is this initiative equitable, has it led to systemwide improvements, and is it sustainable?

I think we can now safely conclude that it is not equitable, if lower-achieving, special education and ELL students are unfairly excluded, and facing even more overcrowded conditions as a result.

Has it led to systemwide improvements? The evidence is not clear. Though the DOE claims graduation rates of 58%, the highest in 20 years, the State Education Department reports that the actual NYC graduation rate is closer to 43%. In addition, high school attendance continues to fall, and discharge and suspension rates have increased sharply over the last four years.

Is it sustainable? Indeed at this point, there is not even an explicit plan on the part of the administration to ensure that the smaller classes provided by these new small schools will survive. As a national evaluation of the Gates-funded schools observed, budget pressures and a lack of sufficient planning led to a sharp increase in class size at two thirds of the schools they studied nationwide in their second and third years, which severely undermined their chance of success.

According to this study, “In school designs dependent on close teacher-student relationships that enable personalized learning, these [class size] increases have a pronounced effect. Teachers frequently cited their ability to spend time one-on-one with students as what makes these schooling environments possible; with more students in each class, such personalized attention became much more difficult to deliver.”[12]

The DOE official class size data reveals that currently, in many of the new small schools, 9th grade classes are significantly larger than 12th grade classes, suggesting that the trend towards increasing class sizes may be occurring in NYC as well.[13]

And what about the majority of New York City students, who will continue to attend our larger high schools?

In a New Visions interim report, there is a timeline in which by 2010, "innovative educational methods from NYC's small high schools" are supposed to "improve teaching and learning at the city's traditional high schools." [14] This is critical, since even if its ambitious goal is achieved of 200 new smaller schools, fully two thirds of NYC students will continue to attend larger high schools.

As the class sizes of the small schools appear to be their most successful elements, without a plan to eventually provide smaller classes and more individualized instruction to all high school students, it is difficult to see how this will occur. And yet the administration has no plan to reduce average class size in any grade higher than third – even with more than $5 billion in additional funding. If there is no attempt to reduce class sizes in our large high schools, which average 30 students or more, the small schools initiative will continue to be a zero-sum game, with worse conditions for all of those students locked out and left behind.

I would be remiss if I were not to mention the fact that in the New York State legislature, a bill is about to be introduced by Assembly Members Nolan and Lancman, requiring that a minimum of 25% of the additional state funds our schools will receive over the next four years be used to phase in smaller classes in all grades to levels that exist in the rest of the state.

I hope that this committee, and the Council as a whole, supports this legislation, so that all our children, not just those who attend small schools, will eventually receive the smaller classes they need and deserve.

Thank you for your time.

[1] WestEd, Rethinking High School: Inaugural Graduations at New York City’s New High Schools, http://www.wested.org/online_pubs/gf-07-01.pdf

[2] Michael C. Rubenstein, Elizabeth R. Reisner et.al., “New Century High Schools: Evaluation Findings from the Second Year,” March 16, 2005.


David M. Herszenhorn, Study Raises Issues on Small High Schools

New York Times, November 4, 2005; http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/04/nyregion/04small.html

[3] None of the small school students had the most serious special education diagnoses (autistic, deaf, emotionally disturbed, or brain impaired) while 3% of them did in the comparison schools.

[4]Small Schools, Few Choices,” New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

http://www.nylpi.org/pub/High_School_Report.pdf and “So Many Schools, So Few Options”, a joint report by the New York Immigration Coalition and Advocates for Children, http://www.advocatesforchildren.org/pubs/2005/ellsmallschools06.pdf

[5] Elizabeth R. Reisner, et.al., “Evaluation of the New Century High Schools Initiative: Report on Program Implementation in the First Year,” December 15, 2003;


“Two classroom features emerging from the classroom observations offer promise for the schools’ future development, however. These are small classes and generally high levels of time on task. The English language arts classes observed for the evaluation averaged 16 students present per class, with most classes serving 13 to 20 students. The largest class we observed numbered 25 students and the smallest class served only one student. During the 249 instructional segments for which data were recorded, an average of 82 percent of students were on task in any given 10-minute segment.” (44)

[6] Ibid, 1st year report, p. 59. More comments from students about the class size at small schools: “Teachers listen to you and get your opinion.” “In a normal high school, they don’t talk to you when you have a problem. They don’t care.” Another student said, “Slipping through the cracks? Not at this school!”

[7] Second Year Evaluation, p.34 .

[8] Ibid., p.4.

[9] Second year evaluation, p. 44. There was good reason for the students at the large schools to feel resentful. Despite the claim made by Robert Hughes in his City Council testimony that there were many unused or underutilized spaces at Kennedy High School that provided space for the small schools, in fact there was a highly valued Automotive repair program at Kennedy, with a long waiting list. This program not only kept students in school but guaranteed them good paying jobs upon graduation. Despite pleas from students and staff at Kennedy HS, and even a column by Samuel Freedman in the NY Times about the situation, the program was eliminated to make room for a new small school.. See “As Cars Become More Intricate, Automotive Tech Class Is Junked”, June 2, 2004, posted at http://susanohanian.org/outrage_fetch.php?id=231

[10] See letter from Robert Leder, principal of Lehman HS, to Marlene Filewich, Local Instructional Superintendent, dated March 3, 2005. Deteriorating conditions were observed at many high schools throughout the city as a result of the way in in which the small schools initiative was implemented. See related article by David C. Bloomfield, Professor at Brooklyn college, “High School Reform: The Downside of Scaling Up,” Politics of Education Association Bulletin, Fall, 2005 at: http://www.fsu.edu/~pea/newsletters/pea_bulletin_fall_2005.pdf. Reportedly, many vocational schools have also suffered as a result, with their ability restricted from attempting to recruit students who were interested in their areas of specialization, as they were barred from HS recruiting fairs and the like, since DOE provides advantages to the small schools to recruit higher-performing students. As a result, the vocational schools have been flooded with students who have no interest in the fields in which they now are required to take courses and to pass special exams in order to graduate.

[11] In the WestEd report, there are many confusing and contradictory statements about the methods used to calculate the graduation rates of the small schools. At one point, the authors claim that “the calculations reported are for a four-year cohort as defined by NY State.” Yet according to the testimony of Robert Hughes of New Visions at the NY City Council hearings on February 16 , students discharged to GED programs were not counted in the cohort, which is contrary to the methods used by NY State, the US Dept. of Education, as well as every independent agency, and inflates the results.

[12] These researchers suggested that instead of continuing to establish more new schools, without a plan to sustain the features that make them successful, the Gates foundation and its grantees should instead “focus more of their energy and resources on protecting the schools that have already been started.” American Institutes for Research and SRI International, “Creating Cultures for Learning: Supportive Relationships in New and Redesigned High Schools,” April 2005; http://www.gatesfoundation.org/nr/downloads/ed/evaluation/Year%203%20Final%20Reports/Relationship%20Rpt%2010_21.pdf.

[13] The other possible explanation is that large numbers of students are dropping out or have been transferred out of these schools before 12th grade, putting into question their reported graduation rates.

[14] New Visions, “New Century high schools and the small schools movement in New York City,” Interim report, 2005; http://www.newvisions.org/downloads/NCHSinterimreport.pdf