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New York

Panelist's charter school link is criticized at 'Miseducation' event

Pedro Noguera and Karen Sprowal talk after the "Miseducation Nation" panel ended. Panel members at an event critiquing current school reform policies last night criticized  testing, large classes, and charter schools — and also a university professor sharing the stage with them. More than 100 people filled a school auditorium in Manhattan to attend the four-member "Miseducation Nation" panel, which was convened in response to – and got its mocking namesake from – NBC's "Education Nation" summit, a two-day event that wrapped up earlier that day at Rockefeller Center. Pedro Noguera, an NYU professor who studies urban education, was invited to speak on the panel and for most of the evening, he was on the same page as his fellow panelists, historian Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, and teacher Brian Jones of the Grassroots Education Movement. They all criticized policymakers for adopting reform ideas that they said were not working – and ignoring alternative ones, such as smaller class sizes and culturally-relevant curriculum, that they said would improve schools. The panel also criticized the media coverage, which they characterized as biased toward current reform policies. The event was hosted by Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, a national media advocacy group. "We feel beleaguered and we feel there is only one story told repeatedly in the mainstream media," Haimson said. More than 100 people, many of which were teachers and parents, packed into the auditorium at P.S. 66 School of the Future. When moderator Laura Flanders opened up questioning to the audience, criticism quickly turned on Noguera, a board member of the SUNY Charter School Institute, which oversees many of New York City's most prominent charter schools. Veteran teacher Michael Fiorillo first brought up the subject when he asked Noguera to explain how he could support opening charter schools, while at the same time being such a vocal opponent of closing the ones that they replace.
New York

UFT: Budget cuts lead to more oversized classes this year

John Elfrank-Dana, UFT chapter leader at Murry Bergtraum High School, says his history classes have as many as 37 students. After three years of budget cuts, the city's schools started the year with more oversize classes than at any time in the last decade, according to data collected by the United Federation of Teachers. Union members reported that on the sixth day of the school year, nearly 7,000 classes had more students than the teachers contract allows, mostly in high schools and a large number in Queens. That was almost a thousand more oversize classes than they reported at the same time last year. The union will soon file a grievance against the contract violations, and many of the classes will shrink as schools shuffle students around in the coming weeks, as typically happens at the beginning of the school year. But union officials said it appears that for the fifth year in a row, average class sizes have inched up again. "Our worst fears have now been confirmed," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew at a press conference announcing the numbers today. He urged Mayor Bloomberg to protect the city schools from additional budget cuts in the coming year. Now, nearly a quarter of all city students are spending all or part of the day in overcrowded classes, according to the UFT. The contract limits classes to 25 students in kindergarten; 32 students in elementary school; 33 students in middle schools and 30 students in middle schools with many poor students; and 34 students in high schools.
New York

Following one legal victory, city faces new battle on co-locations

The lead plaintiffs on a new lawsuit against the Department of Education stand on steps of Tweed (from left: Arthur Schwartz, of Advocates for Justice; Mona Davids, of NYC Parents Union; Noah Gotbaum, District 3 Community Education Council President; and Leonie Haimson, of Class Size Matters Just days after the city received some good news in a lawsuit targeting its policy on charter school co-locations, another legal battle has arrived. A group of parent activists filed a long-threatened lawsuit against the Department of Education today, charging that it is in violation of state law that requires school districts to collect rent and utility money from charters schools that occupy public school buildings. The state education law cited in the lawsuit, Section 2853(4)(c), asserts that charters may rent public space and be provided with basic maintenance services, such as custodial work, utility payments and safety measures. But the law also states that the expenses from these services should be provided to charters "at cost." The exact amount of "at cost" is not clearly explained in the law - and state education officials did not respond to emails seeking clarification - but the city currently charges $1 in annual rent to about 80 charter schools that operate in public school buildings. It also waives fees for utilities and provides operational services. The lawsuit estimates that these costs add up to $100 million per year and should be shouldered entirely by charter schools.
New York

Saying discharges are up, report demands grad rate audit

Six years after Schools Chancellor Joel Klein vowed to crack down on a bureaucratic loophole that allowed principals to hide students' failure to graduate high school, a new report (PDF) suggests that the loophole remains open and may be growing wider. The report calls for closer study of the students classified as "discharges" — departures from the system, but not dropouts — through steps including a state audit. The report says that 21 percent of students who entered high school in 2003 both never graduated and were never counted as dropouts, instead falling into a category known as "discharges." The percentage was up from 17.5 percent among the Class of 2000. The rate is especially high among special education students, and includes a remarkable jump in 2005, when the special education discharge rate shot up to 36 percent from 23 percent in a single year. Students classified as discharges can include those who left the school system for legitimate reasons, such as moving to another state, deciding to enroll in an outside G.E.D. program, or death. But some advocates have argued that principals can also misuse the discharge code, entering students who simply dropped out in order to inflate their graduation rate artificially. A recent audit of 12 high schools in New York State by the state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, found that high schools classified students as G.E.D. discharges who did not actually enroll in a G.E.D. program. "As a result," DiNapoli's audit concluded, "the report cards understated the number and percentage of dropouts and overstated the percentage of graduates for some of the schools we reviewed." The audit did not probe any New York City high schools. Two persistent critics of the Bloomberg administration compiled the report: the executive director of Class Size Matters, Leonie Haimson, and a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, Jennifer Jennings. Jennings was the author of the now-defunct Eduwonkette blog, whose analysis of New York City education data became (as I reported) a thorn in the Bloomberg administration's side. The report is being released at a press conference this morning held by a third critic, the city's public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum. City school officials were already disputing the report's claims yesterday, before it had been released.
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