Archives for category: New York City

Leonie Haimson, leader of Class Size Matters and Student Privacy Matters, maintains a terrific, informative blog for Néw York City and state issues called Here she comments on the release of NYC teacher ratings based on state test scores. The bottom line in some of the reports shown below is that low test scores are caused by bad teachers, who are obviously ineffective. If every school had only “great” teachers, every student would have high scores. If only.

Leonie writes:

“8.2% of NYC teachers rated ineffective or developing, compared to 2.4% in the rest of state; meanwhile only 9.2% rated highly effective in NYC compared to 58.2% statewide.

“Tisch [chair of state Board of Regents] etc. say rest of state figures should be more like NYC, and call for re-design of system.

“Meanwhile Daily News editors — as dumb as ever — say NYC’s results don’t find enough ineffective teachers, considering “The results are absurd when roughly a third of city students pass state English and math tests.”

“They want the state to take away power of districts to design their own systems, fire teachers who are rated ineffective for 2 years in a row, and take more power away from principals to rate teachers highly whose students don’t score well on tests.

The New York Daily News editorial recommends:

One: Empower state, not local, officials to set the grades that will label teachers ineffective, developing, effective or highly effective.

Two: Get local districts out of the business of rating teachers using measures that are designed to boost subpar performers.

Three: Put teachers who are rated ineffective for two consecutive years in fire-at-will probationary status, rather than giving them access to hopelessly bureaucratic hearings.

Four: Ensure that a teacher whose students bomb tests cannot vault into a top rating because, for example, a principal gives a high mark for lesson planning.

Speaking of tests, improving education in New York will be one of the biggest Cuomo faces.

[My note:] What the Daily News wants is to eliminate due process (“hopelessly bureaucratic hearings”) so that teachers can be swiftly fired if scores don’t go up.

More reporting on the evaluations:

New York Post,
New York Times,
New York Daily News,
Capital New York (Pro),
Wall Street Journal,

Summary here:

by Jessica Bakeman, Eliza Shapiro and Conor Skelding

EVALS AS EVIDENCE—Education leaders use NYC scores as grist for statewide changes—Capital’s Jessica Bakeman and Eliza Shapiro: New York City’s evaluation of its teachers’ performance, which resulted in only 9 percent earning the highest scores under the state-mandated rating system, is more reliable than other districts’ and underscores the need for changes to ensure results aren’t artificially high, education leaders argued on Tuesday. In the rest of the state, 58 percent of teachers were rated “highly effective,” according to preliminary data released on Tuesday. That statistic is considered suspect, especially given students’ low scores on state exams, according to Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch, outgoing education commissioner John King and education groups that have supported strict accountability measures for teachers and schools.

“There’s a real contrast between how our students are performing and how their teachers and principals are evaluated,” Tisch said in a statement. “The ratings from districts aren’t differentiating performance. We look forward to working with the Governor, Legislature, NYSUT, and other education stakeholders to strengthen the evaluation law in the coming legislative session.”

The education department report includes recommendations for how to improve the system. For example, if more than 75 percent of teachers or principals are rated “highly effective” or fewer than 5 percent are rated “ineffective” on the component of the evaluation system that is based on observations, the lead evaluators in that district should be retrained and an independent audit might be appropriate, the department recommended. [PRO]

—Despite the overall high scores, New York State United Teachers is calling into question the validity of the results. “On the whole, they may be spot on,” NYSUT president Karen Magee told Gannett’s Jon Campbell. “But for individual teachers, they can be spectacularly wrong—and that undermines confidence in the whole system.”

—At least 100 educators in Buffalo were erroneously rated “effective” or “highly effective” when their scores should have been lower, prompting a state probe. Buffalo News’ Sandra Tan:



Karin Klein of the Los Angeles Times wrote an excellent editorial about the disastrous decision to spend $1.3 billion on iPads for every student and staff member of the LA schools. It should be a cautionary tale for every school district that is about to invest hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in new technology.


The District’s Inspector General investigated the purchase and found nothing wrong. But he never looked at the emails that passed between district officials and the winning vendors (Apple and Pearson). The school board never released the results of that investigation. Now a federal grand jury has been impaneled to look at the evidence of possible wrong-doing, and that is a very good thing. The grand jury will also examined the botched computer system that cost millions of dollars and never performed as it was supposed to.


She writes:


When the school board reached a severance agreement with Deasy in October, it issued a statement that board members do “not believe that the superintendent engaged in any ethical violations or unlawful acts” in regard to the emails. That statement was completely inappropriate considering that Bramlett’s investigation into the emails was still underway—as it is now. The board has no authority to direct the inspector general’s investigations—but it can hire and fire the person heading the staff office, and controls his office’s budget. (In fact, just a week or so before the board made its statement, Bramlett’s office pleaded for more funding, according to a KPCC report.) The statement could be seen as pressuring the inspector general not to find wrongdoing; in any case, board members are in no position to prejudge the matter.


For that matter, none of us are in that position. The emails could be perfectly legal and appropriate—or not. It’s unknown whether even a federal grand jury will be able to ferret out the full picture, since many earlier emails were apparently deleted and aren’t available. And if it uncovers ethical rather than legal problems, the public might never know; the grand jury is looking for evidence of crime. Federal crime at that. This might not be the best mechanism for examining the iPad purchase. But the investigation at least ensures that an independent authority is examining the matter, unimpeded by internal politics or pressures.


Yes, the public has a right to know and a right to expect that public officials will act in the best interests of students. As for the huge purchases for technology, we in New York have learned that even the sharpest and most ethical city officials have trouble monitoring the technology purchases. The largest financial scandal in the city’s history occurred recently, when a company called Citytime won an IT contract for $63 million in 1998 which ballooned into a $600 million payout; the principals went to jail. The school system’s ARIS project, launched in 2007, was supposed to aggregate data on the city’s 1.1 million students; it was recently dumped because so few teachers or parents used it, at a loss of $95 million. There were other instances where consultants bilked the city, in large part because no one supervised what they were doing.


Is there a moral to the story? Choose your own. Mine is that these multimillion dollar technology purchases must be carefully monitored, from beginning to end, to be sure that the public interest is protected and served. The problem is that many school districts lack the expertise to know whether they are getting what they paid for, or getting a pig in a poke. When even New York City and Los Angeles can be misled, think how much easier it will be to pick the pockets of mid-size and smaller districts.

Former Mayor Rudy Guiliani has a unique theory about why Eric Garner died. It was not because a police officer choked him until he died. No, it was because the teachers’ union blocked charters, vouchers, and merit pay. I am not sure whether he wanted Mr. Garner to go to a charter school or the police officer. Maybe both. If there is an edge, he went over it.

His remarks reminded me of the incident during his term in office when police brutalized a man named Abner Louima, and one of them allegedly said, “It’s Guiliani-time.”

In contrast to the Bloomberg administration, which believed in closing schools with low test scores, the de Blasio administration is launching a “community schools” model, in which schools are paired with community organizations to help them improve. Here is a press release from the New York City Department of Education, a welcome departure from the past, when almost every school lived under threat of closure:



Each school to adopt transformative educational approach to address whole needs of children and provide targeted services such as vision care, mentoring, arts and sports education, social workers and other mental health services, youth leadership programming, and academic enrichment to help students catch-up or leap ahead

NEW YORK—Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Deputy Mayor Richard Buery today announced the first 45 Community Schools launched under the de Blasio administration have been matched with 25 local community-based organizations and approved to provide a slate of new services to help students develop and learn.

Under the $52 million four-year Attendance Improvement and Dropout Intervention (AIDP) grant administered in partnership with the United Way of New York, New York City will launch more community schools than any other city in the nation. Community Schools are a pillar of Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña’s education agenda, supporting social, emotional, physical and academic needs of students to support learning. The AIDP-funded community schools will include a specific focus on chronic absenteeism and drop-out prevention.

The research-based Community School model has a proven track record of improving academic achievement. It creates strong partnerships between schools and experienced community partners to provide social services, counseling and mental health supports, targeted academic interventions, and engage entire families and communities as part of a holistic approach towards elevating educational outcomes.

Each of the 45 community schools has been matched to an effective community-based organization and a full-time in-school Community School Coordinator. The Community School Coordinator’s role is to customize and organize the delivery of supports to students such as mentors, mental health professionals, academically enrichment services during and after the school day, optometrists and dental services, as needed.

“We believe in investing in the whole child. Every student comes to class with different challenges that can make it difficult to learn. Community Schools respond to families’ needs in innovative ways so that students become more likely to attend class, and better able to focus and succeed. We know that when this model is done right, it has a proven track record of strong academic results,” said Mayor de Blasio.

“For our students to succeed they must be in school learning, and within the community school model, the whole needs of students are addressed,” said Chancellor Fariña. “Not only can there be an eye clinic or additional guidance counselors to address the social and emotional needs of our students, but parent involvement and engagement happens every single day. When I visit schools and see parents volunteering in the classroom, sitting in a communal room having coffee and discussing how to support their kids, I know these schools will become anchors within their communities and our students are the winners.”

“Combined with Pre-K for All and after-school enrichment in our middle schools, these Community Schools are going to lift up thousands of students. These schools serve some of our most challenged communities, and that puts even more pressure on our teachers and principals to help kids succeed and build a better life. Having seen strong Community Schools in action right here in New York City, I know what a difference they can make. We cannot wait to roll up our sleeves and get started,” said Deputy Mayor Buery.

“United Way of New York City is proud to partner with the de Blasio administration on this visionary effort,” said Sheena Wright, President and CEO, United Way of New York City. “We firmly believe this Community Schools initiative will be integral in transforming the lives of New York City’s children, and UWNYC is fully leveraging our unique strength and over 23-year experience working with CBOs to help successfully launch the City’s strategy.”
Dozens of studies from the past two decades have demonstrated the positive impact of Community Schools on academic achievement. An analysis of 11 of Boston’s K-5 City Connects schools found students had significantly outperformed peers in comparable schools in academic work across grades 3-5. Students in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s most successful Community Schools significantly outperformed their peers in math by 32 points and in reading by 19 points, with poor students in those Community Schools erasing the achievement gap with students from more affluent families.

Across New York City, Community School development is in full swing. Community School Coordinators are being hired this month to oversee school-by-school planning. Parent, staff and community forums to solicit input will begin early in the new year, with each school’s service plan developed in March and most services beginning subsequently. Some services such as mentoring for chronically absent students and on-campus counseling may begin by January 2015.

Among the programs announced today is Manhattan’s High School for Media and Communications, which will partner with Catholic Charities to provide prep courses for the SAT and Regents exams, as well as after-school programming in theater and the arts. Rockaway Collegiate High School will partner with Family Health International to provide adult mentoring for students, staff professional development and mental health services on campus.

“This program has the potential to fundamentally transform our schools and will make a difference in the lives of so many children and families,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “Research clearly demonstrates that children who receive comprehensive services perform better academically, that’s is why I and my colleagues in the Assembly Majority have long supported AIDP initiatives and were proud to support Community Schools in recent State Budgets. Supporting the comprehensive social, emotional, physical and academic needs of students will pay huge dividends in the future and helps ensure our children receive the best education possible.”

“The beauty of a Community School is that it is built on the idea that we are stronger together,” said Karen Alford, Vice President for Elementary Schools, United Federation of Teachers. “Schools are stronger when they are paired with community partners. These organizations can bring targeted resources to answer the specifics needs of students and families at a particular school – a cookie-cutter approach won’t do. From our own experience, we know that strong community partners can make a real difference in the lives of students and in the climate of a school.”

“We welcome the opportunity to work in even deeper partnership with the Department of Education to make sure that all the elements needed for high-quality Community Schools are in place and strong,” said Phoebe C. Boyer, President and CEO of The Children’s Aid Society. “With City Hall’s full support, we can bring this proven strategy to more schools and ensure that even more New York City children have access to the supports they need to thrive in school.”
“We look forward to the opportunity to work with Principal Santi Taveras and the Dewitt Clinton community to provide counseling and enrichment services for all of the smaller learning communities that have been created at the school,” said Jim Marley, Assistant Executive Director of Good Shepherd Services. “We are also looking at partnerships to provide additional support to help students graduate ready for college or a meaningful career through Regents preparation and youth leadership training. Good Shepherd will lend its total support to help this school succeed and work in lockstep with the principal, staff and students to encourage families to take advantage of the new opportunities the school offers.”
“Phipps Neighborhoods is proud to be part of the Community Schools initiative,” said Dianne Morales, Executive Director and CEO of Phipps Neighborhoods. “Community Schools combine the unique strengths of schools and community-based organizations in partnership to create opportunities for students, families and communities to succeed and rise above poverty.”
“P.S. 15 is excited to partner with Pathways 2 Leadership, an organization that has demonstrated a commitment toward serving our youth through high-quality programming,” said Irene Sanchez, principal of P.S. 15 Roberto Clemente. “They bring with them an extensive
network of partners that will be invaluable to P.S. 15. They understand what it means to be a Community School. P2L has already brought on a full-time social worker and plans to offer a superior wrap around after-school program with P.S. 15 beginning in January. Our collaborative practices coupled with their expertise will support the creation of an exceptional community school.”

“CEJ is pleased that this administration recognizes the critical role of community-based organizations in supporting school success and combatting challenges like absenteeism that NYC schools have faced for a very long time. The deep local roots and expertise in community engagement and leadership development that neighborhood organizations like Make the Road NY bring to the Bushwick Campus high schools will be invaluable in creating Community Schools that build on neighborhood strengths and address challenges. These types of true community partnerships are the backbone of the Community Schools model,” said Zoraida Conde, a parent leader from Make the Road NY and the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice.

In addition to these first 45 schools, the City will launch another 83 Community Schools as part of its Renewal Schools plan to address historically low performing schools. Eleven of the newly designated AIDP Community Schools are also Renewal Schools.

The Department of Education is in the process of contracting with a third party evaluator for the AIDP Community Schools initiative and the administration is committed to studying the efficacy of the model over time.

For a full list of new Community Schools and to learn more, visit

Gary Rubinstein posted a review of Joel Klein’s book by someone who worked in Klein’s Department of Education central offices for many years.


I have not read Joel Klein’s book. I have had calls from two reporters asking if what he said about me was true. I asked, what did he say? They said: He claimed that I had turned against “education reform” (e.g., charters, merit pay, school closings, and high-stakes testing) because he refused to give a job to my partner or promote her or fund her program. I answered that I never asked Joel Klein to give a job to my partner; I never asked him to promote her or to fund her program.


When Klein arrived in 2002, she was executive director in charge of principal training at the New York City Board of Education. Just about the time Klein started as Chancellor, her program won a competitive federal grant of $3 million as one of the best principal training programs in the nation. My partner had been a teacher for many years, the chairman of social studies at Edward R. Murrow High School, one of the best in the city, and the founder and principal of a small public high school in Manhattan, affiliated with Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools and Deborah Meier’s network of small schools.. Chancellor Harold Levy asked her to create a program to help hundreds of new principals. Her program was built around the concepts of collaboration, mutual respect, and mentorship; she recruited some of the city’s best, most experienced principals to exchange regular visits with new principals, and she started a summer institute where the mentor principals taught the new principals whatever they wanted and needed to know. The members of her corps of principal-leaders were called the Distinguished Faculty, and principals were honored to be invited to join the Distinguished Faculty.


When Klein arrived, he had a deputy tell Mary he was disbanding her program, appropriating the $3 million federal grant her program had just won, and turning it over to his new Leadership Academy. He selected a businessman from Colorado with no experience in education to direct the Leadership Academy. My partner stayed on at the Leadership Academy for a year; she retired in 2003. It seemed that Klein wanted very few experienced educators in decision-making roles. He preferred young MBAs, businessmen, and management consultants to guide him. He did not respect teachers, principals, or others who had made a career in the school system.


Was his treatment of Mary responsible for my change of mind about “education reform”? He flatters himself. I remained on the boards of two conservative think tanks until 2009 (the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution). But at the same time, what I observed in New York City affected my views: the heavy emphasis on testing as the measure of all things; the favoritism showed to charter operators; the explosion of no-bid contracts; the contempt expressed towards parents who wanted to save their schools or wanted class size reduction; the gaming of the system by opening small high schools that were allowed to exclude students with disabilities and English language learners, then boasting about their success; the closing of large high schools that Klein turned into dumping grounds for the students excluded from the small schools; the school report cards based mainly on test scores; the endless reorganizations of the entire system; the exodus of highly-respected principals.


Yes, Joel Klein did influence my views, but not because of what he did or did not do to my partner. That is his pettiness and vaingloriousness speaking. He made me realize over a period of years that the business model was wrong for education; that experienced educators had more wisdom than his cadre of management consultants, Sir Michael Barber, McKinsey, and 20-something graduates of business schools; that data-driven decision-making can drive the heart and spirit out of education; and that testing is not a tool for equity but a guarantor of inequity when used to rate schools and students and teachers.


I had very little contact with Klein while he was chancellor for eight years. I think we met twice. Our meetings were cordial. I never wrote anything personal or petty about him. He did not reciprocate. I don’t recall the precise year, but about 2005, an emissary from the DOE came to my home to warn me that if I did not stop writing critical articles, I would be “outed.” In 2007, I noticed on several occasions a young man from the DOE press office sitting in the audience and taping my lectures. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was gathering material for a dossier called “Diane Ravitch, Then and Now,” which showed that my views had changed on issues like merit pay. According to a story by Elizabeth Green in the Néw York Sun, the DOE was unable to find a newspaper interested in writing about this revelation. Eventually, a piece appeared in the Néw York Post under the byline of the head of the Néw York City Business Partnership (our version of the Chamber of Commerce), accusing me of being an untrustworthy hypocrite. I promptly responded that I had indeed changed my views after seeing how poorly they worked in reality. By the fall of 2007, I no longer believed that NCLB would achieve its goals; that fall, I wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times called “Get Congress Out of the Classroom.”A month later, I attended a scholarly conference about NCLB in D.C. at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. It was my assignment to summarize a dozen reports from across the nation, all of which said that neither choice nor testing was making a difference. It was already evident to me that NCLB was a failure, and their reports confirmed my awakening. From conversations within those conservative think tanks, I knew that charters were no panacea, and many were failing schools. My change of mind was gradual, not sudden; it was evidence-based, not a fit of pique. Klein’s dictatorial and insensitive style had something to do with it, but not for the reasons he cites.

Katie Lapham teaches ESL classes in Brooklyn. What is really rotten in the schools, she writes, are the terrible tests that her first-graders must take. Their purpose is solely to evaluate the teachers. The tests were largely developmentally inappropriate. No teacher, she writes, would create such absurd tests.

She writes:

“Last month, it took me two and a half days to administer the 2014-2015 Grade 1 Math Inventory Baseline Performance Tasks to my students because the assessment had to be administered as individual interviews (NYCDOE words, not mine). The math inventory included 12 tasks, many of which were developmentally inappropriate. For example, in demonstrating their understanding of place value, first graders were asked to compare two 3-digit numbers using and =. Students were also asked to solve addition and subtraction word problems within 100.

“While I do not believe my students were emotionally scarred by this experience, they did lose two and a half days of instructional time and were tested on skills that they had not yet learned. It is no secret that NYC teachers and administrators view these MOSL tasks as a joke. Remember, they are for teacher rating purposes ONLY. “You want them to score low in the fall so that they’ll show growth in the spring,” is a common utterance in elementary school hallways. Also, there will be even more teaching-to-the-test as educators will want to ensure that their students are proficient in these skills before the administration of the spring assessment. Some of the first grade skills might be valid, but others are, arguably, not grade-level appropriate.

“The Grade 1 ELA (English-language Arts) Informational Reading and Writing Baseline Performance Task took less time to administer (four periods only) but was equally senseless, and the texts we were given had us shaking our heads because they resembled third grade reading material. In theory, not necessarily practice, students were required to engage in a non-fiction read aloud and then independently read an informational text on the same topic. Afterwards, they had to sort through a barrage of text-based facts in order to select information that correctly answered the questions. On day one, the students had to complete a graphic organizer and on day two they were asked to write a paragraph on the topic. Drawing pictures to convey their understanding of the topic was also included in the assessment.”

Lapham was surprised to learn that there is an alternative assessment that progressive schools use. She wonders why her school, in a poor neighborhood, was never informed about the option.

Be very careful about claims of schools that miraculously “turned around” in a matter of months or even in a couple of years. The usual formula is: fire everybody, hire a new staff, and the students become brilliant.

But then Gary Rubinstein investigates, and the miracle dissolves under his careful analysis.

Here is one. Gary writes that Joel Klein in his new book boasts of the amazing turnaround that happened when he shuttered Paul Robeson High School and opened P-Tech. Only a year and a half later, President Obama praised P-Tech in his State of the Union address.

But the high school scores were released a few days ago, P-Tech was one of the city’s lowest performing schools. Gary wrote, “This could be the most un-miraculous miracle school I’ve ever investigated.”

Another school in the news is Boys and Girls High School, also in Brooklyn. The media has been demanding that it be closed down because of low test scores. But its scores are much higher than those of the celebrated P-Tech!

Gary wonders whether reformers will start demanding that P-Tech be shut down.

In New York City, there is an effort to bring together teachers and principals in public schools to learn from high-performing charter schools. What are the secrets of their success?


Apparently the lessons from charter schools were taken to heart by the new principal of troubled Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. He has asked low-performing students, students who don’t have enough credits, to transfer out. Is this one of the secrets of charter success that should be used by public schools? In the few weeks that the new principal has been in charge, 30 students have been pushed out. One was a boy who had literally turned his life around and was elected junior class president:


Calvin Brown, Jr. enrolled at Boys and Girls High School midway through his sophomore year after falling behind at a nearby charter school. Though the Bedford-Stuyvesant high school is considered one of the city’s worst, Brown thrived there.
He became the junior class president last year and the captain of the debate team, which is set to travel to South Africa next month for a competition. He had entered the school with just seven credits, but as he started his senior year this September he had three times that amount — still half as many as he needs to graduate, but he was catching up.


Then, after the school’s outspoken principal resigned last month, the city installed a new leader to turn around the troubled school. Under new principal Michael Wiltshire, students who are missing many credits or otherwise unlikely to graduate this year have been encouraged to transfer out, according to Brown and staffers at the school. Brown was one of the students urged to leave.
“They made me transfer,” said Brown, 17. “They don’t want me on the Boys and Girls roster.”


The principal must have realized that the secret to having a high-performing school is to get rid of the low-performing students. Is this equality of educational opportunity? Is this public education?

Hi Dr. Ravitch,

I’ve been glad to see a couple of blog posts in the past few days about CCSS and early childhood. I am the mother of a kindergartener, and have been on a slow simmer about this since my daughter started school in Sept. My daughter is four, she’ll turn five Thanksgiving weekend. She woke up crying in the middle of the night last night from a dream, worried about not being able to learn to read.

She is in our very well rated zoned NYC school (Queens). Her homework load is ridiculous! As I am a working single mom, she goes to an afterschool program. I had to put my foot down with them about the amount of time spent doing homework. Capping it at about a half an hour. The pressure about learning to read is not coming from me. I don’t believe there’s anything that can be done to change the curriculum soon enough to help my daughter, but I would love to hear from you and maybe your readers about how to deal with this as a parent of a young child.

Thanks so much,

Rose XX

Let me say at the outset that I am neither for nor against small schools. Sometimes they work well, because they have small classes and extra attention, sometimes they don’t, especially when they don’t provide classes for English language learners or advanced courses or foreign languages. As always, it depends.

Recently a report by a research organization called MRDC asserted that New York City’s Gates-funded small high schools were surprisingly successful.

But an underground researcher in the NYC Department of a education says, wait a minute. Review the evidence.

He/she writes:


How to Reform a Portfolio District


In what has become an annual propaganda exercise, MDRC (yes, their corporate name is just the initials), a “research foundation” in New York City, has self-published a non-peer reviewed paper on their website claiming that the new small high schools created under the Bloomberg administration are a success.[1] The New York Times followed up with an editorial claiming that “the Bloomberg approach has been vindicated” and that de Blasio should continue the same educational policies.[2]


Is there any truth to these claims? Does the data support any of this? The answer is “no.” The papers self-published by the MDRC are shoddily researched with clear biases and poor grounding in reality. It order to keep the size of this essay to a manageable length let’s limit ourselves to a Top 10 list of the paper’s flaws.


  1. The Gates Foundation provides the funding for these papers. The Gates Foundation also funded many of the new small high schools in New York City. What we have here is a circular process of self-congratulation. The peer-review process might be expected to uncover the biases produced by this unholy alliance.[3] But these papers have, of course, never been peer reviewed. They are self-published by MDRC on their website and then touted in press releases and newspaper editorials.
  2. It is becoming standard practice for researchers to publicly post data-sets used in such studies. MDRC has refused to release the data-set. This makes it impossible for their results to be independently verified or questioned.
  3. The papers claim that the new high schools “are open to any student who wants to attend.” This claim invents its own reality and ignores the existing literature that has shown how schools manage their admissions and enrollment processes so as to selectively screen out more challenging students. [4] It also ignores the facts on how the lottery process for these new high schools actually worked. In reality the new high schools used such tools as required attendance at information sessions, applications with essays, student biographical data, and listing mandated uniforms in the high school directory to screen out more challenging students prior to the lottery process as well as post the lottery process prior to enrollment. [5] A review of earlier papers in the MDRC series concluded that “carrying out the lotteries using the method described in the report may have resulted in nonrandom differences between the study groups.” [6] MDRC has never addressed these issues and continues to self-publish these papers on their website. It seems MDRC is more interested in continued funding than actually figuring out what really works for all students.
  4. The new small high schools have been found to engage in questionable academic practices and the manipulation of data at a higher rate than other high schools. For example, the new small high schools represent about 25% of all New York City high schools, yet in one year they made up 60% of the schools with patterns of data so suspicious that the Department of Education did not give them a grade. This should raise some serious concerns that MDRC does not address.
  5. For mysterious reasons MDRC excluded 33 small new secondary schools, a potential 30% increase in the number of schools examined in their self-published papers, even though 9th graders also apply to these schools through the high school admissions process. This may lead to significant bias in the results, especially since 6-12 schools are included in the comparison group.
  6. The new small high schools were closed at the same rate as existing schools, raising serious doubts about claims that the new small high schools as a whole were an improvement over existing schools.[7] This reality, of course, also biases the outcomes of the MDRC papers. Since the closed and closing new small high schools cease to accept 9th graders, their lower student outcomes would have a smaller impact on outcomes in these reports. The closed and closing new small high schools include, Manhattan Theatre Lab, Gateway School For Environmental Research and Technology, International Arts Business School, Global Enterprise High School, High School of Performance and Stagecraft (renamed Performance Conservatory), Urban Assembly Academy for History and Citizenship for Young Men, and the School for Community Research and Learning. Interestingly enough about 7% of the schools in the MDRC sample have closed, which is very close to the effect sizes MDRC claims the new small high school have produced.
  7. The MDRC papers only examine what they term “oversubscribed” new high schools. Only about 85% of the new small high schools meet this criteria. Meaning that 15% of new small high schools did not have enough applicants to fill their seats. Remember this is in context of students listing up to 12 high schools on their application. This means that the comparison groups are not equivalent. The outcomes of the presumably much weaker new small high schools are excluded. In order to make the comparison equivalent, the 15% of comparison schools with the weakest outcomes that the matched students attended should have been excluded as well. MDRC did not, of course, make this correction.
  8. Even with their biased methodology the MDRC papers have shown that the new small high schools have no significant impact on mathematics outcomes for students. Given the greater constraints in scoring on math exams, this difference suggests that any positive effects in the new small high schools are due to more relaxed grading policies rather than true increases in educational attainment. There is a lot more evidence suggesting the same thing, none of which MDRC addresses. For example, examination of credit accumulation in New York City schools has shown that while new high schools grant more credits, the credits do not correspond to a rigorous college ready curriculum.[8]
  9. When analyzing outcomes of specific student populations the MDRC papers lump students into very broad categories such as English Language Learner and Special Education Status. Given the data showing, for example, that the new small high school serve fewer of the neediest special education students, such comparisons are clearly biased in favor of the new small high schools.[9]
  10. MDRC does not acknowledge the special “favors” that were granted to Bloomberg’s new small schools. This includes receiving a higher percent of their Fair Student Funding formula than other schools [10], having more available facility space than other schools [11], and excluding special needs students [12] and English Language Learners in their early years [13]. Any comparisons made in such an inequitable policy environment are ridiculous.


The current popularity of the portfolio district approach can be attributed to the following factors:


  1. a) Superintendents of urban districts and other district officials with no background in education- with zero expertise in education they have no clue how to improve teaching and learning.
  2. b) A reluctance on the part of districts to take ownership and responsibility for the success of their schools- this leads to the strange but increasingly familiar scenario of districts trashing the public schools they are actually supposed to be supporting and improving while praising and granting special favors to charter schools (see Newark, New Jersey and Camden, New Jersey).
  3. c) The short time-frame of most superintendents and other district officials in each posting. With no long-term accountability they can play the portfolio game for a couple of years- closing schools, opening schools, closing even more schools- giving off the impression of activity and hard work. Though no real progress is made, by the time this becomes obvious, they have transitioned into other positions at reform think tanks and foundations. [14]


Mayor de Blaiso and Chancellor Farina, please do not continue the education policies of the previous administration as the New York Times demands. Thankfully, you have already made very clear that you do not intend to, as the data show that the portfolio district approach employed by the previous administration was a failure.[15]


Here is what you should do instead:


+ Develop rich, engaging curricula that support student learning and train teachers in implementing these curricula with fidelity while having the flexibility to customize the curricula to the needs of their students.


+Return to a geographic approach of school support and governance based on feeder patterns between elementary, middle and high schools. This will allow for articulation and alignment of supports as students progress from one grade band to the next.


+ Improve the metrics currently used to evaluate teachers and schools. The current metrics penalize schools that serve more challenging students and are open to manipulation. The initial revisions to the school Progress Reports are a good first step in what needs to be an iterative and ongoing process.


+ Focus on equity and fairness at every level of the organization. Enrollment practices must be reformed so that all students are educated by every single school. Tracking practices must be reformed so that every student receives a challenging academic program. Funding practices must be reformed so that schools are funded at levels appropriate to the students they serve.


This is how New York City will progress and truly serve every single student.







[3] Peer review is, of course, not the perfect solution for identifying bias in research. For example, the famous Chetty et al. study that was used to support value-added measures to evaluate teachers and played a role in the California tenure lawsuits now appears to have significantly exaggerated its claims. See Jesse Rothstein’s working paper at where he notes:

“Like all quasi-experiments, this one relies on an assumption that the treatment – here, teacher switching – is as good as random. I find that it is not: Teacher switching is correlated with changes in students’ prior-year scores. Exiting teachers tend to be replaced by teachers with higher measured VA when students’ prior achievement is increasing for other reasons, and by teachers with lower measured VA when student preparedness is declining. CFR have confirmed (in personal communication) that this result holds in their sample as well.

The evidence that the teacher switching “treatment” is not randomly assigned implies that CFR-I’s quasi-experimental analyses, which do not control for changes in student preparedness, cannot be interpreted causally…

It is not clear that the association between VA and long-run outcomes can be interpreted causally. The evidence of bias in VA scores means that the association between a teacher’s VA and students’ long-run outcomes may reflect the student sorting component of the VA score rather than the teacher’s true effect. Moreover, even if this issue is set aside there is still a concern that students assigned to high-VA teachers may be advantaged in ways that are predictive of the students’ long-run outcomes, implying that the estimated “effect” of being assigned to a teacher with high estimated VA is upward biased. In both CFR’s district and the North Carolina sample, teachers’ measured VA is correlated with students’ prior scores and other observables. Neither CFR-II’s observational estimates nor their quasi-experimental estimates of teachers’ long-run effects control fully for students’ observed, predetermined characteristics.”

[4] See Jennings, Jennifer L. (2010) School Choice or Schools’ Choice? Managing in an Era of Accountability. Sociology of Education 83: 227-247 “Although district policy did not allow principals to select students based on their performance, two of the three schools in this study circumvented these rules to recruit and retain a population that would meet local accountability targets.”




[8] and

[9] See and for other significant demographic differences between older schools and the new small high schools.





[14] See, for example, the cases of Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, who now works for the Murdochs and of Marc Sternberg, former deputy chancellor of the now shuttered Division of Portfolio Planning at the New York City Department of Education, who now works for the Waltons.



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