leonie haimson

New York

Leonie Haimson exits public school parenting but not advocacy

Leonie Haimson at a rally last month outside of the Tweed Courthouse. Leonie Haimson's career as a New York City education activist started when her older child was assigned to a first-grade class with 28 other students. That was in 1996, and since then, Haimson has advocated for public school parents — through her organization, Class Size Matters; the blog and online mailing lists she runs; and the national parent group she helped launch. But her personal stake changed last summer, when Haimson ceased to be a public school parent. Her younger child started at a private high school in September, following a trajectory from public to private school that her older child, now an adult, also took. Many of Haimson’s close friends and colleagues in the parent advocacy world have known for months about the change in her status. But she did not make it known publicly until today, after learning that GothamSchools planned to disclose the information in a story. “I myself don’t think it is either particularly interesting or relevant,” she wrote in a post on the blog she started in 2007, NYC Public School Parents, before going on to explain the choice. "It is a parent’s responsibility to find a school that they believe best fits their children’s needs," Haimson wrote in a statement she sent to GothamSchools before publishing her own post. The disclosure caught some other advocates off guard. "I'm surprised," said Sheila Kaplan, a student data privacy advocate who has worked with Haimson in recent months. “She’s never said anything about her kids being in private schools.” After shaping much of her identity around her role as a public school parent, decamping from the city’s public schools puts Haimson in a delicate situation. It also opens her up to questions from her many opponents in the polarized education policy debate.
New York

Advocates turn up pressure as city mulls overcrowding tallies

New York

As testing starts, critics plan post-teacher evaluation deal efforts

New York

New advocacy group with city roots enters state's reform fray

The latest entrant into New York's crowded field of education advocacy groups won't immediately be lobbying for new policies in New York City. Instead, the new nationally-backed group, New York Campaign for Achievement Now, or NYCAN, plans to push for a law that would enable parents to vote on ways to improve their struggling district schools. The policy was backed heavily by upstate New York reform groups last year, but a proposed bill did in the state legislature failed to garner enough support. The policy, known as parent trigger is at the top of NYCAN's 2012 legislative agenda, which the group released today as part of its official launch. NYCAN is one of four state affiliates of 50CAN, an organization founded on a model that started in Connecticut. The New York group is headed by Christina Grant, a former New York City teacher and a one-time director for the charter school office in the Department of Education. But despite her close ties to New York City, Grant said she planned to spend a lot of her time in Albany and focus primarily on statewide issues, something she said separates her group from other education reform groups in the state. "We have a huge state and NYCAN exists to be a coalition builder throughout the state," Grant said on a conference call with reporters this morning. "Our goal is to really draw attention to statewide issues." What exactly those issues are remained in flux in recent weeks, even as NYCAN pushed forward with its plans to launch. Grant said she wouldn't enter the battle over teacher evaluations, a debate that promises to be one of the biggest issues this spring in Albany.
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

In annual appeal, union urges vigilance against large classes

The United Federation of Teachers is gearing up for its annual struggle to wrangle classes down to their contractual size limits. As schools work to pinch every cent out of their compressed budgets, there are few safeguards in place to ward off swelling class sizes, and the UFT is asking members to be especially vigilant this year. In the Sept. 1 Chapter Leader Weekly Update, the union urged its school representatives to monitor class size closely from the first day of classes so that after an "informal resolution" period ends on Sept. 21, the union can begin filing grievances. One element of the UFT's bid to challenge the city's class-size efforts is in legal limbo. In 2010, the union sued the city over its spending of class size reduction funds, charging that the Department of Education had used the funds for other purposes. But this summer, an appeals court threw out the suit, ruling that the issue should be handled by the State Education Department. Dick Riley, a UFT spokesman, said the union was still weighing how to proceed. But he said that putting pressure on the DOE early has traditionally paid off for the union, with schools rectifying many class size violations as the chaos of the first days of class wears away. “In practice the DOE, particularly in high schools, often exceeds these limits at the beginning of the school year, but under pressure from the UFT, generally brings them down to the contractual limit, though it can take weeks for some schools to do so,” Riley said.
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.