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February 8, 2011
NYC parent forms national group to push for ESEA change
Education historian Diane Ravitch spoke to the Parents Across America audience last night. One of New York City's most vocal parent activists is launching a national organization, enlisting parents in cities across the country in a fight against the Obama administration's proposed changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Called Parents Across America, the group was developed jointly by Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters in New York, and Julie Woestehoff, of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) in Chicago. Its formal launch was at a forum last night in a public school in Tribeca, where parents from as far as San Francisco and Seattle traveled to share their unfortunate experiences with local education laws and policies. Parents Across America's platform is against much of what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has done, such as his competitive grant program Race to the Top, and the federal School Improvement Grants he's given to states to turn around their lowest-performing schools. The organization also opposes Duncan's blueprint for what he wants out of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act's eventual reauthorization.
October 13, 2009
DOE likely to increase class size targets, official says
The city's Department of Education will likely lift the ceiling on class sizes this year, a department official said today. DOE chief operating officer Photeine Anagnostopoulos told the City Council education committee this morning that it was realistic to expect the city to "adjust" its class size targets. How dramatic the increases will be is still unclear, she said. "We have to go back and do some more homework," Anagnostopoulos said. Anagnostopoulous' comments came during a hearing on the department's use of state Contracts for Excellence funding. The funds are given to school districts that prove they will spend the funds in six key areas, one of which is class size reduction.
August 21, 2009
Klein's inner circle will include 4 educators this fall, up from 2
A frequent criticism of the Department of Education under Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is that it is run by lawyers and businessmen instead of by educators. In fact, the number of educators reporting to Klein quietly doubled in the last few months. A recent issue of City Limits carried a story under the headline, "Teachers Missing at the Top." Indeed, at the end of the last school year, just one quarter of the people reporting directly to Klein — two out of eight people — had extensive experience in city classrooms. Now, after Klein replaced one top administrator with a former principal and added a new top-level position, four out of nine top administrators have extensive experience in city classrooms. The remaining five hold positions, such as in finance and legal affairs, that are unlikely to be occupied by educators in any school district, according to a department spokesman, David Cantor. Asked about the shift by GothamSchools, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein called the new numbers "an interesting observation." But he said he had not changed the way he chooses his deputies.
August 11, 2009
City skipped mandatory public hearings on spending plan
The last months' governance craziness overshadowed what had become a summer ritual: The process by which the city proposes how it wants to spend state Contracts for Excellence dollars, and the public gets to respond with its thoughts at formal hearings. The hearings happen because Contracts for Excellence dollars are only doled out to districts that prove they will spend the money in certain kinds of programs pre-approved by state school officials. But this summer, the New York City Department of Education skipped over the mandated date for hearings, which are supposed to occur in all five boroughs, without holding them. A public comment period will be postponed until the fall, but New York state plans to send the city the funds anyway, before that happens. "Funds that are continuing last year's Contract can be used," a state education spokesman, Jonathan Burman wrote in an email. The "commissioner's approval is required before funds allocated to new purposes can be used." The state's grim financial picture has meant that the city won't receive any more Contracts dollars than it did last year. An official at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, whose lawsuit alleging that the city schools are historically under-funded by the state led to the creation of the Contracts for Excellence fund, said that the state's logic makes little sense given the tough fiscal climate.
August 11, 2009
Klein: "Everybody's behind" the city's retention policies
Joel Klein. (File photo) Joel Klein stayed positive about his reputation in an interview last night on NY1, even as host Dominic Carter played two different clips showing elected officials (both candidates for citywide office) criticizing the schools chancellor. Klein chalked up any complaints he's received to politics — and said President Obama is receiving the same kind of flak on the national stage, for implementing a similar education program. "He's putting those out there, and you know what's happening? You get push back," Klein said. (I put in a call to David Cantor, Klein's spokesman, and I'll write to Klein too, because I'm curious what push back he's referencing. Both teachers unions have largely supported the Race to the Top stimulus fund, if tentatively. Maybe Klein has in mind Diane Ravitch? Or could he have read Leonie Haimson's Huffington Post piece yesterday, "Arne Duncan Has Become An Embarrassment"?) Klein was particularly sanguine about the proposed extension of the city's so-called "social promotion" ban announced yesterday. "When I came on here in 2004, when the mayor ended social promotion, you had the pictures — everybody was demonstrating, and all the noise," Klein said. "Now it is 2009 and we have ended social promotion in every one of these grades, and you know what? You don't hear noise any more, Dominic. You know why? People know what's right for kids."
July 1, 2009
Klein urges CECs to keep meeting, though they don't legally exist
A day after mayoral control's expiration, the Board of Education has been resurrected, but there are no signs of life for community school boards. Instead, the Department of Education is planning to continue the Community Education Councils — despite the fact that they no longer legally exist. These parent councils replaced school boards in 2003 and, with the law's expiration, have been legally stripped of their authority and responsibilities. Chancellor Joel Klein, who was voted back into office unanimously today by the new Board of Education, sent a memo to principals today outlining his plans for the CECs. He said he is urging the CECs to continue meeting "at least until September when we hope to have more clarity." "If the Councils decide not to continue their work, we've asked them to notify us immediately," Klein wrote. The decision to create of a Board of Education and vote in a chancellor while leaving the rest of the power structure as it was under mayoral control has divided the system into old and new. The school system's top half is in compliance with pre-2002 law, while its lower quarters legally don't exist.
June 30, 2009
Critics of 2002 law hopeful Senate will pass a compromise bill
As Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg warn of "total chaos" and ominous "uncharted territory" if mayoral control expires tonight, another, less-frenzied possibility is emerging. The possibility hinges on the success of efforts underway right now to produce a compromise mayoral control bill in the Senate, according to a spokesman for the Campaign for Better Schools, which is pushing a compromise. A compromise would find a middle ground between the bill introduced by state Senator Frank Padavan, with the support of Mayor Bloomberg, and the one introduced by Senator John Sampson, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, who favors adding checks to the mayor's power. But it would still mean the June 30 deadline would pass without a new school governance law to replace it. That's because in order to become law, both houses of the legislature have to vote for the same bill. But a compromise bill would be different from the one the Assembly passed two weeks ago. "Our point is that schools will open up as usual tomorrow, even if mayoral control expires," said the spokesman, Shomwa Shamapande. "Let’s get the legislation right and make sure parents have a voice." Shamapande would not disclose details of the talks he said are underway, saying he does not want to jeopardize the effort. I asked him if he is confident the talks will produce a compromise. "We’re hopeful. I’m not going to go with confident," he said.
June 17, 2009
In capital plan fight, a reluctance to challenge the city's proposal
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is pushing back against opposition to the city's proposed school construction plan, saying there is no way for the council legally to vote it down. Quinn met today with about 30 parents who lambaste the plan as too conservative and an ineffective remedy to overcrowding. The parents are urging council members to vote against the plan when it comes up for a vote, probably on Friday. But Quinn said the city's chief lawyer has advised her that the state law governing the city public schools does not contain provisions for what to do if the council votes the plan down. "We have been informed by the Corporation Counsel of the City that if we were to vote no, the [Department of Education] would effectively be left with no long-term capital budget," Quinn wrote in a letter to the parents yesterday. In that situation, school construction could grind to a standstill, she said. The law she was referring to, Section 4 of Education Law Section 2590-p, says, "Following approval by the city board of a five-year educational facilities capital plan, the chancellor shall submit such plan to the mayor and the council of the city of New York for their approval."
June 2, 2009
Opponents of Bloomberg, Klein compile book of critical essays
According to Mayor Bloomberg, under his leadership New York City's schools have experienced rising graduation rates, soaring test scores, and unprecedented accountability. In blog posts, newspaper op/eds, and research papers, his critics have charged that the evidence doesn't support those claims. Now, those critics have collected their analysis in a single volume. The book, bluntly titled "NYC Schools Under Bloomberg and Klein: What Parents, Teachers, and Policymakers Need to Know," is intended to "to ignite a genuine debate and dialogue about the future of the New York City public school system," according to the introduction by Diane Ravitch, the education historian and Bloomberg foe. Published in conjunction with Class Size Matters, the nonprofit run by activist parent Leonie Haimson, the book contains essays by 17 scholars, advocates, and politicians who have long contended that the city is overstating how much schools have improved under the current administration. In some cases, the essayists argue that the city schools have actually deteriorated in the last seven years.
May 26, 2009
Control opponent on the left turns to lawmaker on the right
State Senator Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) will introduce his plan for mayoral control this week, and one of the ideas has an unusual source. According to…
May 5, 2009
For a broker of mayoral control, opposition from constituents
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver In the part of the city represented in Albany by the man who helped give control of the city schools to Mayor Bloomberg, both community boards are asking lawmakers to take some of that power away. Community Board 1, one of two boards in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's downtown Manhattan district, passed a set of resolutions last Tuesday that advise lawmakers to alter mayoral control in the city dramatically. In addition to calling on lawmakers to empower district parent councils and place checks on the mayor's authority, CB 1 endorsed the recommendations put forth in March by the Parent Commission on School Governance. The Parent Commission, which draws its members from across the city, is calling on state lawmakers to slash the number of mayoral appointees to the city school board and shift more power to parents. CB1's set of resolutions got a couple of press mentions last week, at the same time as another community board resolution against the current form of mayoral control slipped under the radar. Members of Community Board 3, which covers Chinatown and the Lower East Side, voted unanimously (with one abstention) to endorse the Parent Commission's recommendations. Together, CB 1 and CB 3 make up the entirety of Silver's 64th Assembly District. With just eight weeks until state lawmakers' deadline to decide what to do about mayoral control, the resolutions place Silver in the difficult position of having brokered the deal that gave Bloomberg control over the schools but representing politically engaged constituents who wish he hadn't.
April 30, 2009
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.
February 17, 2009
DOE stands firm: The economy is what caused class sizes to rise
Jonathan is already skeptical of the Department of Education's explanation for why average class sizes are going up across almost all grades, despite an infusion of $150 million over the past year in funds earmarked to class-size reduction. The DOE's argument, embedded in a Power Point released today: It's the economy, stupid. The idea also bothers Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, who pointed out to me earlier today that the state actually increased funding to schools this year, while the city's budget cuts came with a promise that classrooms would be insulated. "What they're trying to do is confuse people about the current economic situation to somehow excuse the fact that class sizes went up in the past," Haimson said. The economy explanation first arose in a Power Point released today, and the DOE is sticking to it. On the telephone this afternoon, a spokesman, Will Havemann, said the rising class sizes can be traced back to a cut to schools of about $100 million in October, on top of another $100 million cut to schools in the middle of last year. The idea is that, with less money to spend, principals have decided not to hire additional staff when people retire. Not replacing retiring teachers means class sizes get bigger. Havemann said the city this school year had 440 fewer teachers working directly with students than it had the year before.
January 29, 2009
A little lady who could end up having a big say on mayoral control
Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, leading a press conference. (Photo courtesy of Haimson) She is privately (and sometimes not-so-privately) loathed by allies of the Bloomberg administration, dismissed as a rabble-rouser whose loud protests represent just a tiny segment of parents. Yet Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, who targets the administration on the issue of class size and on other subjects, has powerful allies. Take just one case: At the State of the State address this year in Albany, Haimson sat in a seat many rows ahead of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Did she steal the chair from an unsuspecting innocent? No, it was the gift of Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, the chair of the education committee, who selected Haimson as her single guest. "I just love her," Nolan said. "I feel she’s a real honest advocate and a fellow parent."
January 28, 2009
Advocates urge school construction with federal stimulus funds
Speakers at a press conference to support school construction. From left to right: James Ahern of the Central Labor Committee, Leonie Haimson of the Campaign for A Better Capital Plan, Robert Jackson of the City Council, and Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers. Advocates who have been calling for the city to bulk up its school construction plan say the federal stimulus package could help the city do just that. A string of City Council members, public officials, and parents urged the city to use the new federal funds to build more schools at a press conference at City Hall today. The Senate is likely to approve a stimulus package today that includes $14 billion of dollars in funding for school modernization and renovation projects, as well as tax provisions to help school districts foot the bill for new schools. Where the federal funds will break down is not yet clear. But many are worried that whatever money the city does receive, it won't be prepared to use. They say the city's proposed five-year capital plan for school construction, first released in November, undersells the city's need for additional classrooms and suggests that the city isn't ready to make the most of new federal funds. Expanding the capital plan would allow the city to take advantage of the stimulus money, Leonie Haimson, a parent advocate who is one of the chairs of the Campaign for A Better Capital Plan, said at the press conference.
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