Archives for category: New York City

I did not write the following post. It was written by a high-level official at the New York City Department of Education who–for obvious reasons–requires anonymity. The story he tells is instructive. It is about how “reformers” claim victory by manipulating statistics. This is not an accusation directed at the de Blasio administration, but at their predecessors who regularly boasted that the new small high schools got better graduation rates that the large schools they replaced. The Gates Foundation bought this lie and has lauded its “success” in New York City.





Reformers Caught Lying. Again. This Time About Graduation Stats.


High school graduations are upon us. This is the time of year when parents, students, families, educators and communities celebrate the accomplishments of our high school seniors. It is a time to honor the work the graduates have done and to collectively share their hopes and dreams for the future.


At the same time, certain players in the world of education attempt to co-opt this time of year to propagandize for their favored reform policies. The latest example of this is a story about Frank McCourt High School, a small high school in New York City that “will send 97 percent of its first graduating class to college.” The story goes on to note that this school, along with 3 others, replaced a larger high school “which suffered from dismal academic and attendance records.” The reader is asked to believe one little and one big lie.


Let’s first take a look at the little lie. Does this school, in fact, have a 97% graduation/college going rate? The truth is that, on any reasonable calculation, it does not. According to the New York State data the cohort started with 100 freshmen. By sophomore year only 88 students remained. By junior year only 80. And by senior year only 69. Of these 69 survivors 67 are graduating. Seems more like a twisted version of the Hunger Games than a school for all students. One wonders: Where did the other 33 students go? Why does the media publicize such meaningless numbers without giving the full story? By now this trick should be well-known. A school that removes large numbers of students from its cohort should not be celebrated for its test scores or graduation rate. It is an artifact of arithmetic. If a school kicks out students with low test scores, it will have high test scores among the surviving students. If a school culls the students not on track to graduate it will have a high graduation rate among the surviving students.


Let’s move on to the big lie. Does this school, in fact, show that the reform strategy of closing large schools and replacing them with other smaller schools works? The full range of data show that it does not, as a number of facts pop-out.


There are 4 high schools co-located in the building that used to house Brandeis High School. One school, Innovation Diploma Plus (a “second-chance” school), had a 50.8% graduation rate last year. Another school, the Global Learning Collaborative, had a 52.7% graduation rate last year. Yet another school, the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers had a 39.8% graduation rate last year. We have already examined the claimed 97% graduation rate of the Frank McCourt High School, which also happens to screen its students before admissions.


The schools with the lower graduation rates retain almost all of their students. Unlike the school that boasts of its 97% graduation rate, the other three schools stay committed to all their students. Why do reformers refuse to evaluate schools based on their sticking with all their students? We know the answer. It is because charter schools and “miracle” schools will then be publicly exposed as largely frauds. So the metrics used to evaluate schools are deliberately constructed in ways that do not capture cohort retention in order to keep the myth alive. And the media agrees to overlook the tremendously high attrition rates at charter schools and other so-called “miracle” schools.


It may come as little surprise that the school with the lowest graduation rate has over 22% more English Language Learners, over 14% more students entering high school already overage, and over 40% more Black/Hispanic students than the school with the highest graduation rate.[i] This sheds some light on another reformer strategy. They like to tout free-market principles as they destroy community schools and create choice systems where students end up sorted into schools based on demographic characteristics and prior academic performance. This is not a solution. It does not improve education for all students. All it does is stick students in different containers, isolated from one another, thereby perpetuating a system of haves and have-nots. It is shocking that the reformers, who proclaim education the civil rights issue of our time, would support such an inequitable approach.


The total enrollment of all the high schools in the Brandeis High School building is 1,350 students. The shuttered school, Brandeis High School, had over 2,000 students. Where did the missing 600 students go? We know the answer. The missing 600 students were the more challenging students and students who did not get accepted to one of the small choice-in high schools. These students were deliberately sent to a specific group of, usually large, high schools that were then labeled “failures” too and shuttered. The Gates Foundation, an organization that has yet to meet a free-market education reform strategy it doesn’t like, has admitted that the national small school initiative was largely a failure. Despite this, MDRC, a research group in New York City, continues to publish Gates Foundation funded reports claiming that the small schools in New York City work.[ii]


It is now clear what New York City was doing during the Bloomberg era. Given the humungous size of the district they were able to play a shell game with students by passing the buck. Instead of figuring out how to reach the most challenging students and helping them succeed, the students were passed from school to school. This inevitably led to a domino effect of school closures. A shell game like this can be played in a district with almost 500 high schools, over two and half times as many as the next largest school district. Since there is a very long chain of dominos the “bad apple” students can be isolated into a specific group of schools making the remaining schools, which don’t accept those students, look good. But, as smaller districts have found out, it is not a workable long-term strategy when there is not an endless supply of schools to be used as sacrificial lambs.


Sooner or later the lies about numbers that reformers tell will catch up to them. Educators need to continue to advocate for approaches that are equitable and genuinely seek to improve the educational experience of all students. This includes developing curricula personalized for different students and improving wraparound services that extend beyond school walls. Ultimately, when the accounting fraud that is behind so many education reform initiatives collapses upon itself


[i] Frank McCourt has 55% Black/Hispanic students, 1% ELL students, 20.4% IEP students and .7% overage students. Global Learning has 90.3% Black/Hispanic students, 14.7% ELL students, 23% IEP students and 8.5% overage students. Green Careers has 95.6% Black/Hispanic students, 23.6% ELL students, 23.8 IEP students, and 15.15% overage students.


[ii] It is worth noting that the combined graduation rate of the 4 schools in the Brandies Building is 58.5% which is lower than the city-wide average of 72%.

Only one charter chain gets special treatment in New York City, and that is Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies.

Principals have beenr told they had 24 hours to clear and clean the space where her schools will co-locate rent-free. The city hired hundreds of workers to get the space in order.

The 1 million children who attend public schools are second-class citizens.

Eva’s 7,000-10,000 students are extra-important and privileged. After all, Eva not only gets free public space, she may expand and kick out kids with disabilities if she wishes. Her billionaire friends on Wall Street control the legislature. She can hold a dinner and raise over $7 million on a single night.

Really, she should be chancellor and show what she can do to raise scores and work her miracles for all children. Why limit her magic to only those who win the lottery? Let her take responsibility for the kids with disabilities, the English-language learners, the homeless kids–all of them, not just the ones she chooses.

A report by the nonpartisan Independent Budget Office in New York City has found that the New York City public schools are experiencing extensive overcrowding, even as federal and state funding has diminished.


Nearly 450,000 students were enrolled in overcrowded buildings, defined as those at greater than 102.5 percent capacity, in the 2012-13 school year, the most recent covered by the report from the agency, the Independent Budget Office. The average class size is rising, too, particularly in the lower grades: The average elementary and middle school class had 25.5 children, up from 24.6 just two years before. This was true even as the total number of students in traditional and charter schools has hovered around 1.1 million for more than a decade, and as the city has created tens of thousands of new seats. Advocates have fought for years to get the city to use more state aid, known as Contracts for Excellence money, to reduce class sizes. Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, an advocacy group, said the problem of overcrowding persisted for several reasons. First, she said, the city has been in the habit of placing more than one school into the same building — known as co-location — which leads to classrooms’ being converted into administrative offices or specialty spaces. Also, she said, the number of teachers has dropped — a topic the Independent Budget Office report also touched upon. The report said the ranks of general education teachers declined by about 2,300 between 2010 and 2013, but it noted that the number of special education teachers rose by about 1,400 in the same period. Ms. Haimson said more than 330,000 students were in classes of 30 or more last year. “That really shows how extreme the situation has become,” she said.


The number of homeless children increased from 66,000 to 77,000. The number of principals soared as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg closed 102 schools and replaced them with 432  small schools, each of which has its own principal and administrative staff.

New York City and Néw York State have enthusiastically embraced the Common Core standards.

In the background, however, is a simmering–one might say boiling battle between literacy guru Lucy Calkins of Teachers College and Common Core architect David Coleman about teaching reading. Calkins supports balanced literacy, Coleman supports close reading.

The city and state adopted materials based on Coleman’s model lesson about teaching the Getysburg Address by analyzing the text.

Calkins described Coleman’s model as “a horrible lesson.” She called him “an expert in branding.” She points out that Coleman is not an educator and has never taught.

NYC Chancellor Carmen Farina has experience with balanced literacy. Her support may tilt the balance to Calkins, who has a devoted following and whose work was in favor during the Klein administration when Farina was deputy chancellor.

New York State is a hotbed of parent opposition to Common Core standards, but no one in charge in the state or in the city of New York seems aware of it. Governor Cuomo loves the Common Core, as does State Commissioner John King, most of the state Board of Regents, and the di Blasio administration. The conventional wisdom is that “the implementation was flawed,” but it may be more than implementation that is flawed. Can we really have “national standards” that are “rigorous” and “common?” The more rigorous they are, the bigger the achievement gaps. The more rigorous they are, the more failures there will be among children who are not doing well now. The idea that children will jump higher if the bar is raised doesn’t make sense. If they can’t clear a four-foot bar, they won’t clear a six-foot bar. Word on the street is that the state will report higher test scores, and this great accomplishment will happen by dropping the “cut score” or passing mark. At some point, the public or parents will wise up and realize that the passing rate is utterly arbitrary and depends on an arbitrary decision about where to set the cut scores.

Arthur Goldstein, a high school teacher in Queens in New York City, who blogs as “NYC Educator,” explains here why he does not like the Common Core standards.

“I don’t care how much PD is provided and how many CC-aligned lesson plans are sent along, I don’t want the Common Core. I don’t want test companies and data companies profiting off of the misery of little kids. I don’t want to teach to someone’s test today, tomorrow or ever, to save myself from professional annihilation–when I already know students living in poverty with language deficiencies and many special needs will never on average surpass the scores of children in wealthy suburbia.

“As I think about it, I am sure that America has not so much bought the Common Core as been handsomely paid to adopt it. As states begin to realize the federal morass in which they are now mired, I am sure many more will agitate for withdrawal…

“I have always believed education should be a reserved power, as the Founders intended. The states must be in the driver’s seat. I believe the closer education comes to the grassroots, the better it will serve community needs and our larger democracy. Our federal government already has enough business and thorny issues to keep it occupied. And, I am very worried about much of that business. Why would I want our federal government taking on even more? We are not communist and we are not a dictatorship. We do not need federal hands in every pie. In my mind, the Common Core is a recipe for one rotten pie and we would all do well to keep our hands and those of our children clear of it!”

EduShyster interviewed Jose Luis Vilson, New York City teacher and blogger, about his new book, “This Is Not a Test.”

Vilson has woven together the story of his own life with narratives about his students and classroom experiences. My impression, when I read his book, is that he has a fresh voice, a style all his own, and a compelling way of bringing together issues and personal stories.

In response to a question, Vilson says he is determined to be hopeful, no matter what is thrown his way. Frankly, anyone who could survive the harsh Bloomberg years is a determined optimist. EduShyster asks about his optimism, and he replies, “The way I look at it, there’s really no choice. Educators need, NEED to have some kind of hope because otherwise we’re powerless. Once we start to feel less hopeful, that fire we start out with gets extinguished. I do have pessimism and skepticism as drivers but I always have optimism right next to me because I’m always hoping things will get better. Our kids are our driving force. If you don’t have the kids you teach in mind, then why be hopeful? If you’re teaching as a career, than optimism is the way to go.”

Simply opposing the current reform movement with all its flaws is insufficient, he says. We must have a vision for the future that is far better than “the good old days,” which weren’t good at all for many people. That new vision must be far more inclusive than in the past, especially for those at the margins of society.

In her last question, Edushyster posed this challenge:

“ES: For those who like their wisdom distilled into bite-sized 140 character portions, you’re also quite a presence on Twitter. Here’s a challenge for you. Can you boil down the central argument of your book into a single Tweet?

JV: *It’s not about the salary; it’s all about reality.*

Leonie Haimson of ClassSizeMatters calls on NYC parents and concerned citizens to attend public hearings about allocation of money.

Starting Tuesday of this week, the NYC Department of Education will hold mandated hearings in each borough on the use of more than $500 million in state Contracts for Excellence funds – which, according to state law, is supposed to include a plan to reduce class size.

Right now, class sizes in the early grades are the largest in 15 years, despite the fact that smaller classes are the top priority of parents in the DOE’s own surveys, and the constitutional right of NYC students, according to the state’s highest court.

Yet instead of allocating specific dollars for this purpose, the DOE has left it up to principals to decide which among five programs they would like to spend these funds. To make things worse, in an Orwellian bit of doublespeak, the DOE will allow principals to spend these funds not to lower class size – but if they merely claim that they will be used to minimize class size increases.

Please attend these hearings and speak out; more information and a schedule is here, and a petition you can sign is here.

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

Thanks to legislation recently passed in Albany with the strong support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, Eva Moskowitz announced that she will seek another 14 charter schools, expanding her network significantly. This August, according to her website, she will have “9,450 scholars at 32 schools” in the city. She is applying to the State University of New York, which is a friendly authorizer. The public schools of New York City are now required by state law to give her free space or pay her rent in private space. Thanks, Governor Cuomo!

This is how her press release began:


“June 10, 2014 (New York, NY) — Success Academy Charter Schools announced today that it is submitting applications to SUNY Charter Schools Institute to establish 14 new public charter schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens. Community demand for these high-performing schools reached an all time high this year, with more than 14,400 families applying for fewer than 3,000 open seats. An outgrowth of the charter-friendly legislation championed by Governor Cuomo and other state leaders this spring, the planned schools will provide educational equity to thousands of families in communities currently without viable school options for their children.”

“Chancellor Fariña recently noted that it is important to listen to the community. That is what we are doing in applying for these charters because the community is demanding more high quality charter schools,” said CEO Eva Moskowitz. “These families — representing more than a dozen neighborhoods — are desperate for great schools. Even with 14 more schools, we will not make a dent in the demand we are seeing.”

Testing expert Fred Smith explains here why New York City Chancellor Carmen Farina should say no to the Pearson field tests.

The field tests waste instructional time. They benefit the publisher, not the students.

“Here are some arguments the chancellor could use:

*Because students know the stand-alone field tests don’t count and are of no consequence to them, they are not motivated to do well, especially in lovely June weather. This skews the data and fails to provide Pearson with reliable “intelligence” needed to furnish good exams.

*Proof that stand-alone field testing is an unworkable approach to test development lies in the poorly constructed ELA and math exams that were given in 2012 and 2013. Witness the criticism from teachers and parents across the state on both exams.

*The field tests have proceeded because the state has created a top-down system that inhibits principals and teachers from telling parents about them or seeking permission for their children to take them.

*A definitive analysis of federal legislation and state rules and regulations has found no legal basis requiring schools to give, or parents to go along with, the tests.”

During the decade or so in which Mayor Michael Bloomberg totally controlled the public schools of New York City, he relied on test scores as the measure of students, teachers, principals, and schools. His was a managerial mindset devoid of any philosophy of education or of any concern for the lives of individuals or communities. Collateral damage was unimportant, and many people fell under his wheels. His primary strategy was to close schools with low scores and open new schools. He believed in small schools, even though few of these schools had the facilities or staff for English language learners, students with disabilities, or advanced classes in math or science or anything else. After he had been in office for a number of years, he was closing some of the new schools. The central office could literally murder a school by directing large numbers of low-scoring students to it, which was a death sentence. As schools began to die (and he had a particular hatred for large schools), good students moved out and the death cycle was accelerated as the stats looked worse and worse.

What happened to the teachers in the schools marked for closure? Some got out as fast as they could, others stayed in their post, either because they were devoted to the school and hoped it would be saved if they tried harder or because they felt committed to the students. When the school at last was closed, many tenured teachers were set adrift. They could apply to other schools but because they were experienced, they were expensive and many principals preferred to have two new teachers than one veteran. So the teachers without a school were placed in what was called the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), where they stayed on salary but floated through the system as substitutes or short-timers. The press regularly ridiculed them as incompetents, although most had lost their job through no fault of their own, and some or many were expert teachers.

In this post, Lynne Winderbaum tells the story of the ATRs. She is a retired ESL teacher.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 104,884 other followers