Archives for category: New York City

In all Néw York state, Néw York City had one of the lowest opt out rates. Children and parents were warned by principals that their school would lose funds or might be closed. Immigrants didn’t want to have a run-in with the law. Children heard that they would not get into a good middle school without high test scores.

But some disregarded the threats.

In this post, some of the brave parents explain why they opted their children out.

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Press Contact:
Liz Rosenberg
917-697-1319
liz@girlray.com

Opt-Out Numbers in New York City Surge (a 64%+ increase from 2014) as Parents Question the Motives of Those Who Push High-Stakes Testing

Despite deep-pocketed corporate ad campaigns to discourage test refusal, the opt-out movement in New York City has grown exponentially in the past year. Parents who have collected statistics on opt out from their schools have calculated a 64%+ increase from 2014’s numbers, with 3124 refusals reported so far. This percentage, and the absolute number of refusals, is expected to rise, as it has every year, when the Department of Education delivers its official count in the months to come. Even more families are expected to hand in opt-out letters tomorrow, when NY State administers the Common Core Math tests to city 3rd-8th graders.

The public school families who gathered in sunny Prospect Park represented about 15 of the 93 city schools who have children opting out this year. Parent after parent—and one student—denounced the deleterious effects of a test-centered culture, and questioned the motives of those who insist on the propagation of such a culture.

Amy Plattsmier, who has children in elementary and middle school, underscored that the Opt Out movement is parent-led. “Contrary to what you might hear, this movement is not a creation of the teachers unions, nor are our children ‘caught up in the midst of a labor dispute.’ That narrative is trivializing, as it disregards the hard work of parents, who have been mobilizing against these tests in various ways for years.” Hitting a nerve with the other families present, Plattsmier asked, “Who is being enriched as our schools are increasingly stripped of enrichment?”

Next, Eleanor Rogers, a parent from Brooklyn’s P.S. 130, a Title 1 school, encapsulating a theme that echoed through the comments of all parents who followed, questioned the motives of those who enable the flow of corporate money into public education, “Stop enriching corporations who care more about making money than caring for our kids! We can’t match their millions. Their army of lobbyists, their radio commercials, their contributions to political campaigns… All we have is the power to opt out.”

Charmaine Dixon, a parent at PS 203 in Brooklyn, followed, “My school is a Title 1 school and our community has been sold a load of goods… We watch as test preparation and the focus on getting the right answer—not asking the right questions—crowd out real learning in our schools. I Question the Motive of those who would keep us from rising to our true potential.”

Katharine James, parent of a 2nd grader at another Title 1 school, Brooklyn’s PS 295, where 22% of the students are classified as ELLs, asked why the state tests are being given to students who are just learning English. “My daughter has several kids in her class who have only recently immigrated. I am not against high expectations for students, including ELLs. But if you are pretty certain that a child will fail a test–because 97% of all ELLs did just that last year–why would you insist on administering it? What would be your motivation?

Shiloh Gonsky, a 6th grader at MS 51 in Brooklyn, communicated her shock and disappointment when, on the first day of school her math teacher instructed students to pay attention “because what we were learning would be on “the test” in April. Wow. I was hoping to learn math because it’s interesting or cool, because I need math for life.”

Jody Drezner Alperin, mother of 2 children who attend PS 10, spoke about the secrecy that surrounds the tests. “I am diligent about what I feed my children, what activities they’re involved in, and even what movie I let them see at the theatre. I really question the test companies who claim their products are so great yet let no one vet them before they’re given to our kids. What are these companies hiding?”

She continued, “Before our school can’t give my kids aspirin without my permission. But imagine if the school announced that for two weeks every year, they were going to take our children out of their classroom — and no one, not parents, not the teacher, not the principal, NOT EVEN THE REGENTS THEMSELVES—would know what the children were doing instead of their regular classroom work. And there would never be any report on their activities afterward, no discussion or feedback on those two weeks except for numbers 1, 2, 3, or 4. Welcome to the state tests! When a Test Security Unit treats the administering of tests like a matter of national security, I Question the Motive.”

Reyhan Mehran, a PS 58 parent, talked about the ‘original opt outers’, “the rich and the powerful who have created high-stakes testing, have not only opted out of the test, they’ve opted out of public education altogether. They try to convince us that buying their test prep is necessary. Meanwhile, their children in private school have small class size, art, music, and creative project time. Believe me, I Question their Motive.”

Johanna Perez, whose children attend PS 146, Brooklyn New School, and PPAS in Manhattan, questioned the validity of the tests as effective measures. “When the American Statistical Association calls these tests invalid, as a parent, I Question the Motive.When my principal calls the tests developmentally inappropriate and intentionally confusing, I question the motive. When my 9-year old is given a test that is longer than the LSATs, I Question the Motive.”

Finally, Cynthia Copeland, whose child attends ICE, the Institute of Collaborative Education, asked why this untested assessment system would be pushed on schools in the first place when performance-based assessment, the alternative assessment used at ICE and the other schools of the NY State Performance Standards Consortium has a proven track record that “increases student curiosity, encourages teacher creativity and professionalism, and enhances our students’ education. Assessment that is instead based on high-stakes tests leads to an increase in dropouts, a decrease in student interest, and the trivialization of curriculum.” Copeland also asked if the myopic focus on testing was meant to distract from the massive underfunding we see in our city’s unequal, segregated schools.

WHO:

NYC OPT OUT is a loose coalition of parents throughout New York City who have come together to share information about the New York State tests and their effects on children, teachers, and schools. They support each other via the NYC Opt Out Facebook page.

PRESS ALERT
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Press Contact:
Liz Rosenberg
917-697-1319
liz@girlray.com

Parents from Schools Across the City Stand Together:
Announce Latest Opt-Out Numbers and Launch New Grassroots Campaign

WHAT: On the day before NY State administers the Common Core Math tests to city 3rd-8th graders—thousands of whom refused the English exam, with even more expected to refuse tomorrow’s tests—NYC public school families will gather in Prospect Park to celebrate the unprecedented growth of the opt-out movement and to launch their latest grassroots campaign.

WHEN: Tuesday, April 21st at 4 P.M.

WHERE: Prospect Park bandshell, closest park entrance @9th Street and Prospect Park West.

VISUALS: Parents and children playing in park, holding posters that question putting profits before children. Weather is supposed to be gorgeous!

WHY:
Despite threats and deep-pocketed corporate ad campaigns to discourage test refusal, the opt-out movement in New York City has grown, reaching an unprecedented number of schools in neighborhoods throughout the city. Parents, the David, in this David & Goliath scenario, are demanding that children receive an enriching education, rather than be used to enrich corporate profiteers, who care most about their own bottom line.

WHO:
NYC OPT OUT is a loose coalition of parents throughout New York City who have come together to share information about the New York State tests and their effects on children, teachers, and schools. They support each other via the NYC Opt Out Facebook page. On Tuesday, both families who have refused the tests and those who are considering opt out will be present and available to speak to press.

I received this from a principal in New York City. It was written by one of his teachers.

 

From a 3rd Grade Teacher

 

“I love teaching!! It fills my heart when my students make connections and get that light in their eyes when they become excited by what they’ve learned. I have some of the brightest bunch of kids this year. They come to school enthusiastic about the day, prepared to learn something new. They challenge me and my thinking, my pedagogy and I reciprocate. Today I saw some of the light in many of my students completely disappear and it broke my heart.

 

It’s been a grueling three days of testing. Their anxieties manifested themselves in tears, trips to the bathroom because of nausea and complete shutdown. Their self-confidence was stripped from them today and I felt them questioning their intelligence. I believe my 3rd graders were asked to think in ways that many of them are not developmentally ready for. When I could not decide between ‘a’ or ‘d’ and had to critically think and rethink how I would go about answering the questions being asked, I know that what was given to them today was not fair.

 

So now I will spend the next few days building my kids back up. Help them to forget the trauma of these past few days and remind them that it’s ok to be a kid and to think the way they do. I cannot find the words to express my disgust for this system and for the people in power who continue to allow this to happen.

 

We have to STAND UP PEOPLE!! We need to remind those test makers that we teach children, little humans who learn in different ways and who can demonstrate their learning in different ways. We need to change the face of assessment in this country. I’m ready… Are you??! “

New York State education officials released data showing that the top-rated teachers, based on student test scores, are less likely to work in schools enrolling black and Hispanic students.

Did State Education Department officials read the VAM reports showing that VAM is statistically flawed as a measure of individual teachers? Are they aware that less than 20% of black and Hispanic students met the absurd passing mark on the state’s Common Core test for the past two years? Are they aware that test-based accountability discourages teachers from working in high-needs schools? Interesting that the article cites the leader of Michelle Rhee’s organization, TNTP (the Néw Teacher Project), whose goal is to replace experienced teachers with new hires. At the rate these so-called reforms are accepted as credible (despite evidence to the contrary), TNTP will be able to place millions of new hires.

I have sometimes wished it were possible to have a completely candid conversation with a teacher at a Success Academy charter school. Last week, with no advance planning, it happened.*

 

A young man who is related to me asked if he could introduce me to his friend, Ms. Smith (a pseudonym). He told me she teaches at Success and wanted to meet me. I said, “Of course.”

 

I had no idea what the evening had in store. I have talked to SA teachers before, always in public, not in the privacy of home, and they were always pleasant, neither boastful nor defensive.

 

When they arrived, I opened a bottle of white wine and broke open a box of macaroons. “Betty” (that’s not her name either) told me that she had worked at SA for five years. She teaches fifth grade.

 

What is it like, I asked.

 

She said she loves the children, but the atmosphere is stifling for both teachers and children. She is looking for another job. Everything is about test scores, and the competitive pressure never lets up. Right now, they are getting ready for the state exams, and signs posted everywhere say “Slam the Exams!”

 

I asked how long the test prep went on, and she said they have been doing test prep for months. She said the kids would not take spring vacation until the exams were finished.

 

What’s so bad about test prep, I asked her. She said some of the kids explode or break down. They are very young, and the pressure gets to be too much for them. They might start screaming or crying, and they have to be removed from the classroom until they calm down. The children are assigned a color depending on their test scores, and every classroom posts the names of the children and their color–red, green, blue, or yellow. I forget which is best and which is worst, but the goal is to shame the lowest performing students so they try harder to move up into the next level.

 

The test prep plus the ” no-excuses” climate of tough and strictly enforced rules unnerves some children, she said. And she felt badly for the children who were humiliated. The harshly competitive environment, she said, was dispiriting and joyless.

 

What happens with the children who can’t adjust to the highly disciplined demands of the school, I asked. She replied that these children might be suspended repeatedly or their parents or guardian might be called to the school every day. Day after day. Eventually, the child’s parent or guardian will withdraw the child because they can’t afford to miss work every day.

 

She realized she had had enough. The money was good, she said, but the stress was exhausting. She was also troubled by the non-stop political propaganda campaign. This year, she didn’t get on the bus with thousands of others to go to Albany and demand more money so the chain could expand. She didn’t like the way the children, parents, and teachers were being used as political pawns.

 

When I told her that none of the eighth grade students who had attended Success Academy had passed the competitive exams to enter the elite high schools of NYC, either last year or this year, she was momentarily surprised. Then, she said, that explains why Success Academy is opening its own high school.

 

Our conversation continued for more than a hour. It was clear that the scales had fallen from her eyes. She felt certain that the hedge fund managers bankrolling SA charters know nothing about the children, nor do they care about them. They want to win. They want high scores, period. Just like Wall Street. They want to be able to say at cocktail parties and dinner parties that “my school” got higher test scores than “your school.”

 

Why have you stayed this long, I asked her. I love the kids, she replied. She said someday she hopes to work for a nonprofit that won’t require her to sacrifice her ethics and principles.

 

*I thought this story was a real scoop, but then Kate Taylor of the New York Times beat me to it with this story.

The New York Daily News reports that Karen Magee of the New York State United Teachers fought Cuomo’s toxic budget to the end, but that Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers did not.

 

According to the Daily News:

 

City teachers union president Michael Mulgrew angered NYSUT after he put out a statement Sunday night — before the education bill was even in print — claiming victory in beating back some of Cuomo’s more strident proposals, sources said.

 

While NYSUT President Karen Magee urged lawmakers to reject the measures, city lawmakers said they were told by Mulgrew’s team that voting for the package would not be held against them.

 

Magee has come out in favor of parents opting out of the state tests to protest their misuse. Will Mulgrew?

The issue of mayoral control of the schools in New York City is now before the State Legislature, as its authorization expires in 2016. The current form of mayoral control was established in 2002, when the Legislature responded to newly elected Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s request for complete control of the sprawling school system. Mayoral control was renewed by the Legislature in 2009. Bloomberg promised to bring efficiency to the system and managerial expertise. Now the Legislature must decide whether to renew mayoral control or to tweak it or to substitute some other form of management.

 

I have written about mayoral control on many occasions over the years. My first book, published in 1974, was a history of the New York City public schools, and a large part of the story consists of the search for a competent way to govern the schools of a huge city. The city as we now know it was created by popular vote in 1898 (many people in Brooklyn, who opposed consolidation, thought the vote was rigged). In the nineteenth century, New York City consisted only of what is now Manhattan. Brooklyn was a separate city, and the other regions were towns and villages in what are now the boroughs of Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.

 

I won’t recapitulate the history of governance here; I wrote a paper on the subject a few years ago. It is not necessary to go into the twists and turns of the nineteenth century other than to point out that there was only one time in the past when the Mayor took total control of the previously independent New York City Board of Education and turned it into a department of the city government. That was during the heyday of the Tweed Ring. William Marcy Tweed (Boss Tweed), then in the legislature, steered through “reform” legislation in 1869 that gave over the entire school system of New York to his crony, who packed the board with allies and steered contracts to favorites of the Tweed Ring. The Tweed board canceled all book contracts with Harper Brothers as punishment for its publication of Thomas Nast cartoons ridiculing Boss Tweed. In 1871, the Tweed Ring was exposed, and its members eventually prosecuted. In 1873. the legislature restored the independent Board of Education.

 

For most of the history of New York City’s public schools, the members of the central board were appointed by the mayor. Mayoral control was typical, not atypical. In addition, there were local boards where citizens could participate in the governance of their community public schools and make their views known. For a time in the nineteenth century, the central board and the local boards were elected. After the debacle of the Tweed takeover, both boards were appointed, not elected, in an attempt to insulate them from politics. It is clear, however, that politics can intrude on any arrangement, whether appointed or elected.

 

When the city was consolidated as the Greater Metropolitan New York City in 1898, each borough had its own school board. However, there were frequent conflicts over money, curriculum, hiring policy, and other issues. The city leaders agreed that uniformity was needed, so in 1902, the legislature established the New York City Board of Education as a single governing body for the large school system. The new board consisted of 46 members, all appointed by the Mayor, representing all the boroughs. The city was divided into 46 local school districts, each of which had its own appointed local school board.

 

True power in the new, consolidated system rested in the hands of the professional Superintendent of Schools and his Board of Deputy Superintendents. As it happened, New York City had an outstanding educator as its first Superintendent, William Henry Maxwell. He was a superb administrator and a visionary, who saw the responsibilities of the schools as extending beyond academics to the health and well-being of children. He served for 20 years in that post, setting academic standards, opening schools for children with disabilities, creating adult education centers, and producing a host of innovative reforms that benefited the city. The city also had a Board of Examiners, which tested those who wanted to teach in the system.

 

Over the course of the twentieth century, the size of the school board was reduced from 46 to 7 and then expanded to 9, but it continued to be appointed by the mayor. The system was highly centralized until 1969.

 

From the mid-60s until 1969, black and Hispanic activists engaged in demonstrations and protests to demand desegregation. When their demands were ignored, they sought community control of the schools. The Ford Foundation subsidized an experiment in community control in three districts. In 1968, the city’s teachers went on strike for two months to protest the firing of union teachers without due process in one of those districts, Ocean Hill-Brownsville in Brooklyn. Mayor John Lindsay sided with the black community leaders. In 1969, the Legislature passed a new decentralization law, establishing a seven-member central board and local community boards (which for a time were elected). The seven-member board consisted of five members appointed by the five borough presidents and only two members appointed by the mayor. This was most certainly a rebuke to Mayor Lindsay. Even under this new form of decentralization, the mayor still exerted considerable control, both through his control over the budget and his alliances with at least two of the borough presidents.

 

Almost every mayor subsequently asked for a larger role in the running of the schools but was ignored by the Legislature. When Michael Bloomberg was elected in 2001, one of his major campaign promises was to gain control of the schools and reform them. The Legislature complied and granted him full control in mid-2002. What was once the New York City Board of Education is now the New York City Department of Education, just another city agency, akin to the Police Department, the Fire Department, the Sanitation Department. The legislation kept a central board of 13, but the majority (8) was appointed by the mayor and serve at his pleasure (Mayor Bloomberg called it the Panel on Educational Policy, to signify its powerlessness). Local school boards were replaced by powerless community education councils. Mayor Bloomberg appointed attorney Joel Klein as his first chancellor (and subsequently replaced him with publisher Cathie Black, who had a brief and stormy three-month tenure, then replaced her with Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott). The system went through several reorganizations. The Bloomberg administration relied on test scores to close low-performing schools and to open many new small schools and more than 100 charter schools.

 

What should be done now? Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Mayor Rudy Guiliani have appealed to the state legislature to retain mayoral control and to make it permanent.

 

Here is what I think, based on what I know: I agree that there should be mayoral control. But it should be modified to add checks and balances. No one chief executive should have total control of the public’s schools. No one chief executive should have the unlimited power to change the schools without referring to anyone else. No one mayor should be able to ignore the views of public school parents.

 

The mayor should continue to appoint the members of the New York City Board of Education. Those who wish to serve should be vetted by a review panel composed of representatives of civic and educational organizations (this was the practice in the early 1960s). This prevents the mayor from stacking the board with campaign donors and friends.

 

Members of the Board of Education should serve for a set term of three or four or five years, to ensure their independence. At present, they serve at the pleasure of the mayor, making the Board a rubber-stamp.

 

The Board of Education, not the mayor, should select the Chancellor. The Chancellor should report to the Board of Education and seek their approval for his/her proposals and budget.

 

Local school boards should be elected by parent associations, with the approval of the borough presidents.

 

Mayor Bloomberg was right to restore mayoral control, but it should now be improved upon by inserting checks and balances. The mayor should appoint the Board of Education, and this board should serve set terms and be responsible for the appointment and replacement of the chancellor.

 

No one should imagine that mayoral control is a panacea. It is not. Cleveland has had mayoral control for many years, and it continues to be one of the nation’s lowest-performing cities (and also a city with extreme poverty). Detroit had mayoral control for a few years, until voters eliminated it (one of the city’s mayors went to jail a few years ago). Chicago has mayoral control, and this enabled the mayor to close 50 public schools and to ignore the outcry from the affected communities; no one (except perhaps Arne Duncan) would consider Chicago to be a national model. Boston has mayoral control, and performance varies with economics, as it does everywhere. The District of Columbia has mayoral control, and it also has the largest black-white, Hispanic-white achievement gaps of any urban district tested by NAEP. The highest performing districts on NAEP (Charlotte and Austin) do not have mayoral control.

 

Mayoral control, with the checks and balances I described, makes sense organizationally. By itself, it solves no problems. It still requires the hard work of school improvement, the hard work of creating good schools and a good working environment for students, teachers, and principals. And schools in urban districts still require the resources to meet the needs of the children they enroll, regardless of who appoints the central board.

 

 

 

 

If you saw the wonderful 2012 documentary “Brooklyn Castle,” you know about I.S. 318 (if you haven’t seen it, find a copy, it is a terrific film). The school is a racially and ethnically diverse, Title I middle school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that has a crackerjack chess team. It has won multiple chess championships. In 2012, it won the United States Chess Federation’s national championship.

 

It just won the 2015 New York State chess championship, beating excellent high school teams from across the state.

 

Go to @ChessNYC on Twitter to learn more and see a photo of the team, or open the link below.

 

From Twitter:

 

I.S 318 Wins The 2015 NY State Chess Championships! #chess #chessnyc #is318 #brooklyn #brooklyncastle https://instagram.com/p/ztM7SdJV0N/

 

 

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Governor Andrew Cuomo released a report which identified 178 “failing schools,” with more than half in Néw York City. His report was an implicit–if unintended–critique of mayoral control, since the schools in Néw York City have been under mayoral control since 2002.

Cuomo wants the state to take control of the schools he named and turn them over to private management organizations.

“The report aims to bolster Cuomo’s argument that the state should be allowed to seize control of the schools and hand them over to outside organizations. Cuomo’s takeover plan would allow “receivers” to restructure the low-ranked schools, overhaul their curriculums, and override labor agreements in order to fire “underperforming” teachers and administrators.

For another perspective, read Bruce Baker as he rips apart “Angry Andy’s” list of “failing schools,” most of which have been shortchanged by the state.

Baker writes:

“NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office has released a report in which it identifies what it refers to in bold type on the cover as “Failing Schools.”
Report here: https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/NYSFailingSchoolsReport.pdf

“Presumably, these are the very schools on which Angy Andy would like to impose death penalties – or so he has opined in the past.

“The report identifies 17 districts in particular that are home to failing schools. The point of the report is to assert that the incompetent bureaucrats, high paid administrators and lazy teachers in these schools simply aren’t getting the job done and must be punished/relieved of their duties. Angry Andy has repeatedly vociferously asserted that he and his less rabid predecessors have poured obscene sums of funding into these districts for decades. Thus – it’s their fault – certainly not his, for why they stink!”

“I have addressed over and over again on this blog the plight of high need, specifically small city school districts under Governor Cuomo.

“On how New York State crafted a low-ball estimate of what districts needed to achieve adequate outcomes and then still completely failed to fund it.
On how New York State maintains one of the least equitable state school finance systems in the nation.

“On how New York State’s systemic, persistent underfunding of high need districts has led to significant increases of numbers of children attending school with excessively large class sizes.

“On how New York State officials crafted a completely bogus, racially and economically disparate school classification scheme in order to justify intervening in the very schools they have most deprived over time.

“I have also written reports on New York State’s underfunding of the school finance formula – a formula adopted to comply with prior court order in CFE v. State.

“Statewide Policy Brief with NYC Supplement: BBaker.NYPolicyBrief_NYC
50 Biggest Funding Gaps Supplement: 50 Biggest Aid Gaps 2013-14_15_FINAL

“Among my reports is one in which I identified the 50 districts with the biggest state aid shortfalls with respect to what the state itself says these districts require for providing a sound basic (constitutional standard) education. Districts across NY state have funding gaps for a variety of reasons, but I have shown in the past that it is generally districts with greater needs – high poverty concentrations & more children with limited English language proficiency, as well as more minority children – which tend to have larger funding gaps.

“I have also pointed out very recently on this blog that some high need upstate cities in NY have had persistently inequitable/inadequate funding for decades……

“Personally, even I was shocked to see the relationship between my 50 most underfunded districts list and Angry Andy’s 17 districts that suck.
NY State has over 650 school districts, many of which may be showing relatively low test scores for a variety of reasons, including & especially due to serving high concentrations of needy students.”

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