Archives for category: New York City

This article was written by an independent education researcher who requests anonymity. It is unfortunate that the politics of education have become so intermingled with powerful forces that researchers remain silent or hide their identities to escape retribution. In this case, everything in this article is carefully documented.

Lessons Learned:

How the Nation’s Most Powerful Mayor Lost His First Battle Against Corporate Interests and How He Can Win the War

Mayor Bill de Blasio has lost his first battle against the status quo corporate education reform policy machine. In attempting to lessen the influence of charter schools, which often comes at the expense of public schools, he made a number of key tactical errors. This led to the passage of a new law in New York State that now forces New York City to either co-locate every new charter school or pay for its rent in private space. De Blasio was also forced to overturn his decision not to co-locate three Success Academy schools. A review of the tactical errors made can serve as a roadmap for future policy changes that will benefit all of New York City’s children.

Be transparent, and engage communities. Prior to leaving office Mayor Bloomberg had the Panel for Educational Policy vote and approve of over 40 co-locations including 17 charter co-locations. Historically these votes were held in March, but they were moved up to October in order to force de Blasio’s hand. Upon entering office de Blasio should have immediately begun a transparent process of re-evaluating these decisions. Instead he delayed addressing the situation and when he did a single employee at the NYC Department of Education (and former de Blasio deputy at the public advocate’s office) seems to have been primarily responsible for the reviews. Future policy changes should follow a clear process with open avenues of community and stakeholder input.

Be bold. Universal Pre-K is a bold move. But policy changes must not stop there. Instead of deciding to overturn only three co-locations, which left him vulnerable to accusations of a personal vendetta, de Blasio should have stopped every single one that did not meet community needs. Instead of stacking a new space-sharing committee with charter supporters de Blasio should assign them seats based on number of students served (6%) rather than number of dollars in the bank accounts of their backers. A lack of boldness and a reluctance to make waves has also interfered with attempts to re-organize Tweed (the NYC DOE’s headquarters). Besides the departure of a sole deputy Chancellor all the officials in Bloomberg’s DOE are holding onto their positions. This may explain why, as of yet, there have been no changes to the test-centered promotion policy, no changes to test-centered school accountability metrics, and no changes to the test-centered teacher evaluation system. Without significant changes to the ranks of central office managers, progressive educational reforms will have no chance of success.

Communicate the values, figures, and facts used in making policy decisions. Bloomberg was a master at this. He used numbers to bludgeon opponents into submission. Although careful analysis and review of the data showed that many of the numbers were false, the charts in the powerpoints at every press conference lulled the media. In the empty space created by the lack of communication on the part of de Blasio’s City Hall, others stepped in to address some of the falsehoods that de Blasio’s political adversaries were spreading. Eva Moskowitz, the $475,000 CEO of Success Academy, was the loudest and boldest of the de Blasio attackers. Her claims, made on national television, were debunked, but not by City Hall.

We know that countering lies with the truth works because Success Academy has recently changed its multi-million dollar political advertising campaign. They no longer claim to have the highest 5th grade math test scores in New York State. They now claim to have a school with the highest 5th grade math test scores in Harlem. Even this claim does not pass the smell test. There are 32 school districts in New York City. Out of those 32 districts Harlem is but one neighborhood (not even a full district). There are four Success Academy schools in Harlem. Out of those four schools we are asked to focus on a single one. There are three elementary grade levels where students are tested. Of those three grade levels we are asked to pay attention to only one. There are two main subjects in which students are tested, English and Math. Again we are asked to consider only one. The data in fact show that even on this narrow view there are four schools in Queens and four schools in Manhattan that have higher average 5th grade math state test scores than this Success Academy school. And they got these scores without kicking out 50% of their students as Success Academy does.

As de Blasio comes to terms with the constraints that the New York State Legislature recently imposed on his decision-making around charters, he must not accept defeat. He must initiate a conversation about the practices of the charter sector in New York City. He must use his bully pulpit and ask the legislature to address the questions that charter school advocates refuse to confront.

*How will charter schools be held accountable for suspending large numbers of students leading to those students leaving the school?
* How will charter schools be mandated to stop their selective attrition approach whereby they keep the high-performing students and kick out the low-performing students (making comparisons to schools with natural patterns of attrition unfair)?
*How will charter schools be forced to address their unwillingness to accept the neediest students?
*How will charter schools be subject to basic oversight regulations going forward (such as the grading of their state exams by a 3rd party)?

Now is not the time to run and hide. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to have an honest discussion about the charter sector.

The research cited below can get us started. charter schools have high suspension rates and shrinking cohorts of students suggesting that charters suspend and expel challenging students and as a result their test scores increase. reviews data from “state of the sector” report on NYC charter schools. Charter schools in NYC serve a less needy student population (fewer ELL students, fewer students with disabilities, fewer students in poverty), have higher teacher and principal turnover, and have declining middle school enrollments. Harlem Success and Harlem Village charter schools serve more privileged student body than the district in which they are located and have very high (up to 68%) attrition rates “Using 3 recent years of data from the New York State School Report Cards and analyzing the charter population at the school level, the authors found that English language learners are consistently underrepresented in charter school populations across 3 academic years.” reviews above study. Points to some issues (such as including less than reliable high school data) with their finding that charters serve a proportionate number of free-lunch students finds that charter schools in NYC serve a more privileged student population, spend more money per student, and have smaller class sizes. UFT study finding that NYC Charters ”serve significantly fewer than the average of the City’s poorest children, and 10 to 25 percent fewer of such children in the charters’ own neighborhoods. Charters serve on average less than four percent of English Language Learners (“ELL”), rather than 14 percent of such children in the City’s district public schools (the “district schools”). Less than 10 percent of charter pupils are categorized as special education students versus a citywide average of more than 16 percent in the district public schools. In addition, despite their concentrations in highly diverse neighborhoods, charters as a group admit substantially fewer Hispanic and/or immigrant students. As a result, charters contain a heavier concentration of African-American students than is true in the City as a whole or even in the neighborhoods charters are supposed to serve.” Also raises questions about the financial practices and “outsize “management fees”” and the transparency of charter schools. UFT study finding that NYC charter schools do not serve the same percent of students with disabilities as non-charter schools and serve significantly fewer of the higher need students with disabilities. Daily News story claiming that charter schools serve same students as public schools in districts 7 and 23 is false. There are in fact 500% fewer high needs special education students, 50% fewer ELLs in charter schools. KIPP has fewer of the highest need special education students although the media claims otherwise compares Democracy Prep Charter School to co-located district schools and finds that the charter schools serves over 30% fewer students with disabilities with self-contained special education students and fewer students eligible for free lunch. it seems likely based on the data that charter schools are removing students from testing cohorts and that might account for some of their test outcomes claims that the New York City Department of Education attempted to conceal information that should be available to the public regarding the numbers of students with disabilities served by charter schools. And “is failing to provide the most minimal oversight of the education of students with special needs in NYC charter schools.” links to data on characteristics of students served by NYC charter schools. Notes that “virtually none of the information available for district schools is also available for charter schools” on schools’ public web pages.” looks at the performance of the Harlem Village Academy Charter School. Finds that “In 2010-2011, HVA had 55% free lunch and 13% reduced lunch. The district, that year, had 74% free with 5% reduced. In 2010-2011, HVA had 3% LEP vs. 11% for the whole district. In 2010-2011 38% of the students at HVA were suspended for at least one day while 7% were suspended for the whole district. Student attrition at HVA is huge. For example, the 66 5th graders in 2007-2008 have shrunk to just 16 9th graders in the 2010-2011 school year. This is a 75% attrition. In that same time, the district that the school is in went from 904 5th graders in 2007-2008 to 1313 9th graders in 2010-2011. That is a 45% growth.” Also notes “staff turnover was 2007-2008 53%, for 2008-2009, 38%, and for 2009-2010, a whopping 61%. By comparison, the teacher attrition for the entire district in 2009-2010 was just 19%.” Not a single student took the New York Sate Trigonometry exam. more on Harlem Village Academy Charter School. cites research showing that charter schools do not educate the same type of students as district schools. For example, KIPP charter schools in NYC serve fewer poor students than the district middle schools. tracks high attrition rate in NYC KIPP school. “58% of district schools got an A or a B in 2010, compared to only 34% of charters. In Districts 4 and 5 in Harlem, more than half of district schools got either an A or B (27 out of 53), compared to only 8 out of the 21 charters in those neighborhoods.” “Based on the data charters reported to the state last year, the city-wide difference in poverty between charters and district schools almost doubled — from 2.5 percentage points in 2008-09 to 4.3 percentage points in 2009-10. In addition, poverty at public schools rose 2 percentage points from 2008-09 to 2009-10, while at charters the increase was only a tenth of one percent. Across the city, 15 percent of district students were English Language Learners, while in charters, English Language Learners made up only 5 percent of students.” discusses evidence of creaming at Democracy Prep charter school at both the initial application stage and later on as students are dropped from the school’s roster. “no excuses” charter schools have very high suspension rates which, in some cases, violates legal regulations. the populations of Democracy Prep Charter School and its co-located public show that their populations are dramatically different with the charter school having fewer poor, limited English proficient and special education students average attrition rate for charter middle schools examined is 23% between 5th and 8th grades. Students appear to be removed from the school rather than being left back a grade. As students are removed from cohort proficiency on state exams goes up. an examination of charter school data shows that they “have smaller classes… spend much more than surrounding district schools … serve much less needy student populations than surrounding district schools… have 4th grade students with relatively “average” to below average scale score outcomes compared to schools serving similar population… in some cases, have 8th grade students with high average scale score outcomes compared to schools serving similar populations… where data were available, have value-added scores which vary from the citywide average in both directions, with KIPP being the lowest and Uncommon schools the highest (in the aggregate). Notably, Uncommon Schools also have consistently smaller class sizes and the fewest low income students.” study of KIPP doesn’t fully account for high attrition rates at KIPP middle schools and other external factors that influence student outcomes. demographic comparison showing that KIPP middle schools in NYC have fewer poor students than other district middle schools. charters in NYC have fewer poor students and fewer English Language Learners than district schools.

Valerie Strauss clearly explains who were the losers in the bruising battle between the billionaires and de Blasio: students with disabilities.

Leo Casey, director of the Albert Shanker Institute, writes here about the recent report of the UCLA Civil Rights Project. That report found that Néw York has the most racially segregated schools in the nation.

Casey writes:

“Last month saw the publication of a new report, New York State’s Extreme School Segregation, produced by UCLA’s highly regarded Civil Rights Project. It confirmed what New York educators have suspected for some time: our schools are now the most racially segregated schools in the United States. New York’s African-American and Latino students experience “the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools.”

Driving the statewide numbers were schools in New York City, particularly charter schools. Inside New York City, “the vast majority of the charter schools were intensely segregated,” the report concluded, significantly worse in this regard “than the record for public schools.”

And he adds:

“Interestingly, while New York City charter schools are more segregated by race than the district schools, they are less segregated by class; this pattern reflects a recruitment of students from inner city communities whose families possess more economic resources. Such recruitment also has the effect of intensifying the economic class segregation in the city’s high-poverty community schools.

“New York City schools that are doubly segregated by race and class end up with extraordinary concentrations of social and economic need – with high numbers of students who are homeless, who suffer from untreated health conditions, who have special needs, and who are English language learners. In a very real way, these schools are actually more segregated than were southern schools during the Jim Crow era, when racially segregated African-American schools still contained the full spectrum of economic classes and educational need found in the community.”

In a few weeks, our nation will mark the 60th anniversary of the Brown Vs. Board of Education decision. Separate but equal can never be equal. It is a sad commentary on our society that the very people who claim to be leading “the civil rights movement of our time” are creating the most racially segregated schools of our time.

The segregationists of the 1950s made “school choice” their battle cry. Now it is treated as “reform.” What a hoax.

Imagine if Arne Duncan had used the $5 billion in discretionary funds that Congress gave him in 2009 to reward states and districts that devised feasible plans to reduce racial segregation. Five years later, that money would have made a huge difference. Instead, we have closed schools, battles over Common Core, high-stakes testing, demoralized teachers, more states adopting vouchers that will produce more segregation. A truly wasted opportunity.

Parent leaders from across Néw York City are rallying tomorrow at 4 pm to protest Governor Cuomo’s deal to give more space, more money, and free rent to the charters that enroll 6% of the children in the city’s schools. This giveaway to billionaire-funded charters occurs at the same time that many public are overcrowded, and class size is at its highest point in 15 years.


Rally at NY Public Library and March On Governor Cuomo’s Office Tomorrow to Draw Hundreds of Outraged Parents from All Over City

Elected Parent Leaders from Citywide and Community Education Councils Across five boroughs Unite Against Gov. Cuomo’s Attacks on Public Education and Demand Fair Treatment of Public School Students

In an unprecedented show of unity, elected parent leaders and public education advocates from all five boroughs will gather to say all kids matter and to protest the selling off of public school buildings by Governor Cuomo and the State Senate leaders to the charter school lobby, by giving preferential rights and funding to the 6% of New York City students in charter schools while the needs of 1.1 million public school students remain unmet.

WHEN: Thursday, April 10, at 4 PM.

WHERE: Steps of the NY Public Library, Fifth Ave. at 41st Street. Following the rally participants will march to the Governor’s Office at 633 Third Avenue at 40th Street.

VISUALS: Parents, advocates, and students holding balloons, signs and flashing fake money.

WHO: Council Education Chair Danny Dromm, State Senator Bill Perkins, NAACP Head Hazel Dukes, former Council Education Chair Robert Jackson, other Council Members, parents, advocates and students, led by Community Education Councils and Citywide Councils from all five boroughs, elected by parents to represent their 1.1 million public school children.

WHAT: Community Education Council members, parents, advocates, and students, educators and elected officials protest how Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders are creating a two-tiered education system, in which the charter school lobby will now be given veto power over New York City’s public school buildings, and any new or expanding charter will be provided free on-demand public school space or private accommodations paid for by the city. Meanwhile, public school students – a majority of whom sit in overcrowded classrooms, buildings and trailers – have no such rights, and still wait for the equitable funding from the State as promised by the state’s highest court in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision.

Co-sponsored by Citywide and Community Education Councils; Alliance for Quality Education (AQE); Brooklyn New School PAC; Change the Stakes; Class Size Matters; ICOPE (Independent Commission on Public Education); MORE; New York Communities for Change (NYCC); New York Lawyers for Public Interest; NYCORE;; ParentVoicesNY; Parent Leaders of Upper Eastside Schools (PLUS); Partnership for Student Advocacy; Teachers Unite; Time Out from Testing, WAGPOPS (list in formation)

In a big step forward for real school reform, Néw York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina announced that promotion would no longer be based in a single standardized test, but on multiple measures. This is a major change from the Bloomberg era, when test scores were the single most crucial determinant of whether students would be promoted or failed.

Here is the announcement:


Multiple Measures to Replace State Test as Driver of Promotion Decisions

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced changes to the Department of Education’s promotion policy for students in grades 3-8 with standard promotion criteria. The proposed new policy, upon approval of the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), would go into effect this school year in order to comply with recent changes in State law and to allow educators to make decisions about the students they know best while maintaining high standards. The policy will be voted on at the PEP meeting in May.

“We have listened and worked closely with families, teachers and principals to establish a new promotion policy that complies with State law and empowers educators, takes the temperature down around testing, and keeps rigorous standards in place,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “This new way forward maintains accountability, but mitigates the unintended consequences of relying solely on a single test. Through a comprehensive evaluation of student work using multiple measures, our new policy is a step forward for students, parents, and schools.”

“It’s absolutely vital that students are ready to succeed in the next grade when they are promoted. The best way to do that, as the governor and legislature have affirmed, is to use multiple measures to make sure students are ready for promotion,” said New York Education Commissioner John King. “We’ll work together with NYCDOE to make sure all our students are on the path to college and career readiness.”

Ten years ago, the DOE implemented a student promotion policy based on State exam scores. That approach, while intended to raise expectations for all students, often led to teachers “teaching to the test” and caused a great deal of anxiety in school communities.

Going forward, instead of having student promotion from one grade to the next based solely on exam results, teachers and principals will now determine which students are at risk of not making sufficient progress based on a more comprehensive, authentic review of their classroom work in addition to their test scores. This shift to multiple measures represents another important step toward aligning our teaching with the more rigorous Common Core standards. This new approach will bring New York City in accordance with other districts in the State and with the recent changes to the State law.

To develop the new policy, the Department consulted with and gathered feedback from families, teachers, principals, and education advocates. Many identified that, under the current policy, a student’s body of work over the course of the entire year was overlooked in favor of a single, standardized exam. To remedy those concerns and incorporate multiple measures in accordance with State law, the DOE plans to implement several important changes:

· Empowering Educators – Based on a review of student work from the year, teachers and principals will identify the students they believe may be at risk of not being able to succeed in the next grade, even with support. State test results for the lowest-performing students will continue to be shared with schools in June. Schools may use this information as one of multiple pieces of evidence to assess student readiness for the next grade level, but they may not use it as the primary or major factor in those decisions.

· Authentic Student Work – Teachers will complete promotion portfolios for students identified for possible retention. The guidance provided to schools about this process will be revised so that student promotion portfolios align to the Common Core, represent real classroom learning, and incorporate student work already completed throughout the school year.

· Consistent, Rigorous Standards – The reviews of student portfolios in schools across the city will be judged against clear, consistent, criteria aligned to the Common Core. Superintendents will oversee this process for their schools.

“The NYC Department of Education’s new promotion policy reflects the best available research and is good common sense,” said Dr. Linda Darling Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford Graduate School of Education. “Students are more than test results, and this sound policy reflects that fact. Promotion decisions will be based on multiple measures and will consist of a comprehensive review of the skills they’ve learned in the classroom. In addition, children will receive more useful supports to improve their skills so they can progress on a solid foundation.”

“The new promotion policy recognizes the scientific consensus that promotion and retention decisions should never be based solely on a child’s performance on a single standardized test,” said Dr. Aaron Pallas, Professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College at Columbia University. “This change returns the responsibility of assessing a child’s readiness for the next grade to the educators most knowledgeable about his or her academic performance throughout the school year — the child’s teacher and principal.”

“Although the old policy was designed to end social promotion through grade retention, thousands of students were still entering high schools throughout New York City unprepared academically,” said Dr. Pedro Noguera, Professor of Education at Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Development at New York University. “The Chancellor’s proposal will provide schools with a broader range of tools with which to assess a student’s performance. If these can be combined with effective, early interventions, we should see a significant increase in the number of students who graduate from high school college ready.”

As in past years, students whose promotion portfolios demonstrate that they are not ready for the next grade level, even with support, will be recommended for summer school. Superintendents will review school-level decisions before they are finalized. In the past, when students completed summer school, their promotion was ultimately tied to a second standardized test in August. This year, student work from summer school will be incorporated into the promotion portfolio. Principals will review these portfolios in August and make a holistic promotion decision for each student. Superintendents will continue to review promotion appeals for cases in which a parent disagrees with the principal’s decision.

In 2013, consistent with prior school years, approximately 10% of students in grades 3-8 were recommended for summer school, with 2.5% ultimately retained. The DOE anticipates consistent levels of retention with this new approach.

Students with disabilities and English language learners who have different promotion criteria will not be impacted by this change in policy. Moreover, the promotion policy for students in grades K-2 and high school will remain consistent with previous years.

The new policy requires a revision to the Chancellor’s Regulation A-501, which will be voted on by the Panel for Educational Policy at its May 29, 2014 meeting. If the PEP approves the policy, the revised policy will go into effect this year.

Dear Public Education Supporter:

The CEC/Citywide Working Group is a coalition of elected District and Citywide Education Councils across New York City. We – along with numerous other public school parent and pro public education groups including the Alliance for Quality Education, New York Communities for Change, Change the Stakes, Parent Voices and many others – will be convening a rally on the steps of the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue and 41st Street at 4:00PM this Thursday, April 10th. We will then march to Governor Cuomo’s office, 633 Third Ave at 40th Street. (See attachments. This is the corrected time and location)

The rally and march have been called in the face of provisions in last week’s budget which promote the pitting of parents against parents and the willful destruction of public education in New York City by Governor Cuomo and the New York State Senate, all at the direction of the hedge fund-run charter school lobby.

Specifically, Governor Cuomo and the State Senate-led budget provide for the following:

- The de Blasio administration MUST offer space to EVERY charter school rubber-stamped in the final weeks of the Bloomberg administration. Mayor de Blasio previously approved 14 of 17 charters; now he MUST move forward with all 17 – regardless of the fact that autistic and severely emotionally disturbed children will be moved out of their own buildings, or public high schools must step aside to make room for elementary charters.

- EVERY charter now located in public school buildings MUST be allowed to EXPAND as much as the charter wishes. If public school class sizes and building enrollment increase to unsustainable levels, too bad. If it means giving control of entire buildings to charters by pushing out all public school students, so be it.

- ALL new charter schools requesting NYC public school space – and there will be dozens and potentially hundreds more – MUST be provided it or must pay for private space for the charters. No rent can be charged in public or private spaces. Public schools have no such rights.

- The Mayor, the City Council, the CEC’s and the Community are effectively removed from space decisions, giving the charter lobby more say over our public school buildings (and capital budget) than any of our elected officials.

- Per pupil funding will be increased to ALL charter schools despite the millions they receive from Wall Street and the fact that collocated charters already receive thousands of dollars more per pupil than our public schools. Meanwhile the State refused to fund the court ordered CFE decision whereby billions are owed to New York City schools. Instead the budget provides tax cuts to millionaires.

For the first time, parents across the City have united to make our collective voice heard. We seek to ensure that the 94% of New York City students in public schools are treated fairly and equally to the 6% in charters. We ask that you mobilize your parents, your students, your elected officials, your teachers and community members to attend this historic rally. Attached is a flyer with information, and multiple ways of reaching rally organizers, as well as some points of interest about our cause. Please contact us with any questions or information at as soon as possible.

Thank you in advance for your support of public education and all our children. We know you are bombarded with many invitations, but this rally will prove to our legislators that we stand as one.

The CEC/Citywide Council Working Group

Like us on FaceBook: Save NYC Public Education

noah eliot gotbaum
community education council district 3 (cec3)
twitter: @noahegotbaum

District 2 in New York City–one of the city’s highest scoring districts–plans protests this Friday against the poor quality of the ELA tests given last week. State officials tried to dismiss concerns from other districts, specifically from Liz Phillips, a respected Brooklyn principal who wrote a letter to all the parents in her school saying the tests were.”terrible.” More than 500 parents and teachers at her school joined to protest the ELA tests last Friday. The Néw York Times ignored Phillips’ informed judgment and accepted the assurances of state officials (and pupils–how large was their sample?) that the test was “easier” than last year.

District 2 principals agreed with Phillips.

Here is their statement:

Community Action:

Join Us in Speaking Out Regarding the NYS English Language Arts Exam

Friday, April 11th, at District 2 Schools

Dear District 2 Families,

Community School District 2 represents a richly diverse group of school communities and it is not often these days that we have an opportunity to join in a shared effort. Last week, and for several weeks prior, every one of our upper grade classrooms devoted hours of instructional time, vast human resources, and a tremendous amount of thoughtful effort to preparing students to do well on the NYS ELA exams and, ultimately, to administering them. Only a handful of District 2 families even considered opting out, and we are not advocating families do so, specifically because we believe our students are well prepared for the rigor and high expectations of the Common Core and our schools have worked hard for several years to adjust our curriculum and teaching to support students in meeting those expectations. We had high hopes for what this year’s tests would bring and assured families that they would reflect the feedback test makers and state officials had received from educators and families regarding the design of the test following last year’s administration. Our students worked extremely hard and did their very best. As school leaders, we supported teachers in ensuring that students and families kept the tests in perspective – they were important, but by no means the ultimate measure of who they are as readers, students, or human beings. We encouraged them to be optimistic, and did our best to do the same. Frankly, many of us were disappointed by the design and quality of the tests and stood by helplessly while kids struggled to determine best answers, distorting much of what we’d taught them about effective reading skills and strategies and forgoing deep comprehension for something quite different.

Last Friday morning, Liz Phillips, the principal of PS321 in Brooklyn, led her staff and her parent community in a demonstration objecting, not to testing or accountability or high expectations for kids, but to these tests in particular and, importantly, to their high stakes nature for teachers and students, and the policy of refusing to release other than a small percentage of the questions. 500 staff and parents participated.

By Friday evening some officials were dismissing the importance of their statement, claiming that Liz and her community represented only a tiny percentage of those affected, implying that the rest of us were satisfied. Given the terribly high stakes of these tests, for schools, for teachers and for kids, and the enormous amount of human, intellectual and financial resources that have been devoted to them, test makers should be prepared to stand by them and to allow them to undergo close scrutiny.

Many District 2 schools will be holding demonstrations this week, making sure our thoughts on this are loud and clear and making it more difficult to dismiss the efforts of one school. On Friday morning, April 11th, at 8:00am, we invite our families and staff to join District 2 schools in speaking out, expressing our deep dissatisfaction with the 2014 NYS English Language Arts LA exams and the lack of transparency surrounding them. Among the concerns shared by many schools are the following: The tests seem not to be particularly well-aligned with the Common Core Learning Standards; the questions are poorly constructed and often ambiguous; the tests themselves are embargoed and only a handful of select questions will be released next year; teachers are not permitted to use (or even discuss) the questions or the results to inform their teaching; students and families receive little or no specific feedback; this year, there were product placements (i.e., Nike, Barbie) woven through some exams. We are inviting you and your family to join together as a school community in this action, helping to ensure that officials are not left to wonder whether our silence implied approval.

Yours truly,

District 2 Principals

Adele Schroeter, PS59; Lisa Ripperger, PS234; Robert Bender, PS11; Tara Napoleoni, PS183; Jane Hsu, PS116; Sharon Hill, PS290; Amy Hom, PS1; Lauren Fontana, PS6; Jennifer Bonnet, PS150; Nicole Ziccardi Yerk, PS281; Susan Felder, PS40; Alice Hom, PS124; Nancy Harris, PS397; Kelly Shannon, PS41; Nancy Sing-Bok, PS51; Lisa Siegman, PS3; Irma Medina, PS111; Terry Ruyter, PS276; Medea McEvoy, PS267; Darryl Alhadeff, PS158; Samantha Kaplan, PS151; David Bowell, PS347; Lily Woo, PS130; Jacqui Getz, PS126; Kelly McGuire, Lower Manhattan Community MS

Andrea Gabor, the Michael Bloomberg Professor of Journalism at Baruch College of the City University of New York, has an opinion article in today’s New York Times, where she patiently explains that charter schools enroll a smaller proportion of students with disabilities, causing the neighborhood public schools to have a larger proportion of the students with the highest needs than the charter schools.


She writes:


In Harlem, there is a marked disparity between the special-needs populations in charter and traditional public schools, according to the city education department’s annual progress reports. In East Harlem, data for the 2012-13 school year shows that most of the public open-enrollment elementary and middle schools have double, and several have triple, the proportion of special-needs kids of nearby charter schools. At most of these public schools, at least a quarter of students have Individualized Education Programs, or I.E.P.s, which are required for children who receive special-education services.


Read that again slowly: the local public schools “have double, and several have triple, the proportion of special-needs kids of nearby charter schools.”


Noting that the latest legislative boon to favors allows them to expand at will inside public school buildings, pushing out the students who are there, Gabor asks the obvious question:


“Is there a point at which fostering charter schools undermines traditional public schools and the children they serve?”


Gabor makes a sensible recommendation:


If charter schools are allowed to push out existing public schools, they should, at the very least, be subject to the same accountability measures for enrollment, attrition and disciplinary procedures, to ensure that the neediest students are being treated fairly.


Gabor did not mention that charters do not accept the same proportion of English language learners, which causes the nearby public schools to have higher proportions of these students as well. One wonders why the reporters at the New York Times have not discovered these obvious disparities, which can easily be found in public records? Any school that manages to enroll fewer needy students and can push out those it doesn’t want will have higher scores than any school that must accept those that were unwanted by the first school. This is the charters’ secret sauce.


Gabor concludes, We should not allow policy makers to enshrine a two-tier system in which the neediest children are left behind. 


But with the latest favors to the billionaire-supported charter industry, that is exactly what New York legislators are doing. The legislature guaranteed that charters don’t have to pay rent, even though the latest legal ruling says that they are not “technically” units of the state and cannot be audited by the State Comptroller. The legislature guaranteed that if the charters rent private space, the New York City public schools must pay their rent. The legislature said that if they are already co-located in a public school building, they can expand at will and take public school space away from the children who are already enrolled there, who have far higher needs. The legislature also reversed Mayor de Blasio’s decision to deny approval to three charter proposals–all belonging to Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy–because she wanted to place elementary schools in high school buildings and because she wanted to grow an elementary school into a middle school in a Harlem public school, which would require the relocation of students with severe disabilities.


The legislature accepted the charters’ claim that the needs of children with high test scores trump the needs of children with disabilities. They assume that those with high scores deserve the right to kick out those with disabilities. There is an ideology behind this but I forebear from naming it.

Jeff Nichols appeals to State Commissioner King and Chancellor Farina to call off the math tests.

He writes:

Dear Commissioner King and Chancellor Fariña,

Events are moving very fast. You are no doubt aware that today the principal, staff and parents of one of the most highly regarded schools In New York City, PS 321 in Brooklyn, will be holding a protest outside their schools to decry the abysmal quality of this year’s ELA tests. You have probably read the astonishing comments from teachers and principals that continue to pour into the the New York City Public School Parents blog and other sites (

I have not yet heard your view of this situation, Chancellor Fariña. But as an opt out parent, I have to tell you frankly I was offended by your remarks earlier this week to the effect that while parents’ opinions should be respected, children should come to school prepared to meet challenges like the state tests.

Have you not realized that parents are protesting the tests precisely because we want our kids challenged deeply by real learning in our schools and these tests are obstructing that goal? Have you not realized that NYSED’s and Pearson’s claims that these tests represent new levels of “rigor” and “critical thinking” are demonstrably false?

There was no rigor applied to the development of these tests, nor does the practice of high-stakes testing in general stand up to critical analysis, so I fail to see how taking the state tests represents a worthwhile challenge for any child.

Moreover, Commissioner King, I cannot accept the state’s intention to keep the tests secret from parents. My wife and I are responsible for all aspects of our children’s upbringing. We would not permit a doctor to administer a vaccine to our children and forbid us from knowing what is in the shot. We will not let you subject our children to any exercise in school while forbidding us to know its contents, much less tests that are being used to determine their promotion and whether or not their teachers will be fired.

The forced, secret high-stakes testing of minor children is going to go the way of cane switches, dunce caps and forcing left-handed children to write with their right hands — practices that were once commonplace that we now regard as child abuse. It’s only a matter of time.

The question is, will our local and state education leaders join together and stop this travesty? Given the fact that the NYSED and the Pearson corporation have again utterly failed the test of earning parents’ and educators’ confidence in the quality of these exams, why should our schools proceed with administering the math tests later this month? Can you give me any reason other than obedience for obedience’s sake? All I hear from you, Commissioner King, is slogans about higher standards and career readiness. I have yet to witness direct engagement by you with the arguments made by the thousands of educators and parents in our state who are advocate abandoning high-stakes testing of young children once and for all.

I call on you, Commissioner King, to suspend the administration of this year’s state tests, and if you fail to do that (as I expect you will) I call on you, Chancellor Fariña to refuse to administer them.

We have lemon laws protecting consumers from egregiously faulty consumer products, but we no one is protecting our children from these worthless exams. Chancellor Fariña, they are state tests, so you can blame Commissioner King and the legislature for them, but you are ultimately responsible for our city’s schools. You must ensure that no one forces educational malpractice upon them. If NYSED continues to ignore the protests against the state tests that are exploding across the state, and you allow the math exams exams to go forward, the public will hold the DOE accountable as well as NYSED and the U.S. Department of Education.

We now have teachers in this city and beyond refusing to administer the state tests and parents refusing to allow their children to take them. Chancellor Fariña, will you stand with these disobedient citizens, or will you stand with Arne Duncan and John King and insist that the tests must go forward regardless of their quality, because an unjust law says they must?

I hope both of you will acknowledge that finally, enough is enough. Suspend the state tests and bring daylight onto the whole process that led to this debacle.


Jeff Nichols

Jeff Nichols
Associate Professor
Queens College and The Graduate Center, CUNY

A parent in New York City explained her family decision to opt out of state testing.

“This morning, our fourth grader refused the standardized tests.

“After months of research, debate, personal grappling and weighty discussions with our 9-year old child, we have decided that for our family, this mindful act of civil disobedience is the right choice — right for our kid, right for our parental conscience, the right stand to take, the right message to send.

“We are deeply concerned about the direction of education in New York City. Disproportionate emphasis on standardized testing, the influence of corporate interest, rampant data mining, and compromised student privacy are all issues undercutting the health and efficacy of our school system. But we believe the most urgent education issue we currently face is High-Stakes Testing; it’s ramifications are both broad and deep.

“We are in favor of rigor and high standards, we’re not strictly anti-standardized testing or anti-Common Core, we affirm the need for some baseline accountability metric in our educational system. However, we strongly oppose the unique double whammy situation we face in New York City, namely: Pearson’s problematic new Core-aligned curriculum/tests, combined with the overblown significance attached to these tests because we live in a school jurisdiction where standardized test scores have been used to determine grade promotion and student placement/admissions, as well as to evaluate teachers, and also have dire implications for schools.

“I have high hopes that Mayor de Blasio’s administration will rapidly bring much-needed change to education in NYC. I’m thrilled that he has spoken out against “teaching to the test.” Carmen Fariña was an excellent choice for Chancellor, and I’m very excited about her commitment to progressive principles, collaboration, and reworking Common Core in NYC. I recognize that they did not create the high-stakes climate, and to the extent that this situation reflects state and even federal mandates through Race To The Top, that it is not entirely in their control. We need more help from Albany.

“NYC schools have been even harder hit by high-stakes testing than their statewide peers. Nowhere is “the tale of two cities” more evident than in our educational system, where the ever-widening achievement gap is only exacerbated by the deeply flawed Common Core roll-out and the weight attached to the corresponding tests. The most vulnerable student populations are hit hardest; children living in poverty, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities are inordinately burdened. But even in high-performing schools, the culture of data-driven and test-focused education is pervasive and damaging.

“It is well established that the implementation of Common Core standards and curriculum in New York was hasty and reckless, and the resulting test materials convoluted, developmentally inappropriate, and inaccessible for most students. Teachers were ill prepared to implement the new standards, and the students given inadequate time to assimilate unfamiliar teaching methods, content, test format and language prior to testing. Due to insufficient and inferior field test methods, it is unlikely that this year’s exams will be much better.

“Our family is fortunate to attend a wonderful, nurturing school, with abundant arts and enrichment programs. We love and support our wonderful teachers and superb administrators, who are under unconscionable pressure from the city and the state. We stand in solidarity with our educators, and know they do not want our kids to endure an excruciating learning environment in the weeks leading up to testing. But even in our thriving community, the quantity and intensity of test preparation is overwhelming.

“Chancellor Fariña’s letter to principals last week, which stated, “Preparing for life is living it,” and advised schools to keep test prep in moderation, as well as yesterday’s legislation aimed at limiting test prep and decreasing the power of standardized tests, are encouraging signals that our leaders understand that change is necessary. But with all due respect, with testing beginning today, this comes too late to provide relief to our overwhelmed children, and the rather nebulous new guidelines fall short of eliminating the circumstances that have created the bubble of intensity which surrounds standardized testing. In fact, it seems that a most crucial point has been missed.

“Multiple high-stakes factors compel schools to spend weeks in test prep, taking the focus off authentic learning, to instruct and drill students in strategies for a test that nobody believes in, just so students stand a chance of passing, and their teachers and administrators do not suffer disastrous consequences. Student promotion and placement policies, school rank, and funding issues have been and are problematically attached to testing, but the most insidious aspect of the high-stakes system is a too-crude link between teacher evaluation/job security and student test scores.

Realistically, the high-pressure classroom climate that surrounds standardized testing will never be relieved, schools will not ease up on test prep, nor will the agonizing anxiety of our kids be diffused, as long as our educators fear for their jobs in relation to a set of dubious tests. And no matter what we adults say, or how we “spin” it, if schools abandon broader, deeper learning to spend a month or more preparing for the tests, it sends the message loud and clear that the tests are what we care about. This dissonance leaves our smart, intuitive children conflicted and afraid, and brings distrust into the classroom.

“The test preparation process is grueling and high-anxiety for all involved, and outrageous strain is being put on even our youngest, most vulnerable students. Many of them are suffering demonstrable stress — crying, illness, nervous behaviors, sleeplessness, irritability, shame and crippling self-doubt. It has diminished my son’s love of school and learning, and has eroded his relationship with his teachers. Furthermore, it’s teaching him that the keys to success are not curiosity, exploration, innovation, collaboration and passion for knowledge, but rather, the ability to use tricks to beat the system. This is of little educational value, and questionable ethics. Worst of all, because Pearson’s current Core-aligned standardized testing model rewards only one (very narrow) type of learner, it has caused our son to doubt his own abilities and intelligence, and not in any constructive way.

“The test scores, then, are invalid not only because the tests themselves are so unsound, but because they in no way reflect what our children are actually learning in school, or how well the schools are really doing – only how effectively students have been taught to “game the test.”

“In a multidimensional sense, our children’s educational futures are dependent on worthless data. That this coercive and punitive system is unethical seems self-evident.

“Until the situation is remedied, and in the absence of an official “opt-out” clause, many families, like our own, feel they are left with no choice but to refuse the tests. And yet, they face pressure to comply, and fears about what test refusal could mean for their schools. The right to protect one’s child from an abusive system is inviolable; no parent should have to refrain from doing what best serves their child due to the threat of repercussions for their schools and educators. This poisons school culture by creating competing interests for concerned parents and their conscientious-but-frightened teachers and administrators.

“Test refusal is a nerve-wracking decision; a lot hangs in the balance and there are many unknowns. But all acts of civil disobedience are risky; it is risk that makes them powerful — willingness to take a stand against something that is wrong, even if it means venturing into uncharted territory. I would not have chosen to be in this position, but since we find ourselves here, it’s a worthwhile lesson for our children that living in a democracy sometimes demands this type of engagement.

“We’re all in the position of having to make crucial decisions quickly, and tensions are running high. But whatever our collective adult stress surrounding standardized testing issues, our first priority must be to ensure that kids are not the victims of the debate. We need substantive legislative action and policy change to lift the burden of the High-Stakes Testing climate that reduces our teachers and our children to defective data, so that schools may return to the vital task of educating our children in a healthy, expansive learning environment.

Jenny Sheffer-Stevens”


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