Archives for category: New York City

Over the past few days, the New York Post (owned by Rupert Murdoch, who hates public schools and loves charter schools) has been flogging a scandal. The Post published a story by a young woman who said she got a high school diploma from a New York City public high school when she should have been failed. She hated school, she skipped classes, she should never have been allowed to graduate. Then the Post “discovered” that many students were graduating by taking “credit recovery” online classes, where they could make up for a failed course in a few weeks. In other words, the soaring graduation rates of which the Bloomberg administration boasted, are fake.

But the Post didn’t want to blame Bloomberg, whom they regularly hailed for expanding charters and cracking down on the public schools. They wanted to blame Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom they frequently ridicule as a hapless fool, and his schools chancellor, Carmen Farina.

Here is the sordid story, told by Perdidostreetschool blogger. The story is told by Harris Lirtzman, former Director of Risk Management for the New York City Retirement Systems in the NYC Comptroller’s Office from 1996-2002 and former Deputy State Comptroller for Administration from 2003-2007. Lirtzman was an untenured teacher in the Bronx from 2009-2012 and was pressured to pass unqualified students to boost the high school graduation rate to at least 70%. That was the target.

Credit recovery became widely accepted during the Bloomberg era as a way to raise graduation rates. The New York Post applauded Bloomberg’s reforms, especially charter schools, but they ignored the use of credit recovery to inflate the graduation rate. Many critics–such as Leonie Haimson–complained about credit recovery, but they were ignored by the Department of Education and the media. In 2011, she testified about credit recovery and other means of playing with data to make the graduation rate go higher. The New York Post didn’t report her testimony or show any subsequent interest in credit recovery. What the Post–or the New York Times– should do now is an in-depth investigation of credit recovery. When is it valid, when is it not? How many students rely on simple online courses to make up for semester-long or year-long courses that they failed? Which firms are profiting by supplying this quick fix? Some might justify credit recovery by saying that it is better for the student to have a high school diploma that was obtained through credit recovery than to be a dropout. If so, let’s have that discussion.

Arthur Goldstein teaches English as a Second Language students at Frances Lewis High School in Queens, New York. He blogs as NYC Educator. In his letter, Goldstein refers to a meeting that Chancellor Farina had with a local superintendent, where she recognized that highly rated teachers were likely to get lower ratings in high-poverty schools. The blogger Perdido Street School wrote: “The dirty secret of education reform is that the problems in schools and districts with high poverty/high homelessness demographics are NOT caused by “bad teachers” – they’re caused by all the effects that poverty has on the psychological, emotional, physical and social development of the children in those schools and districts.”

Arthur Goldstein writes:

Dear Chancellor Fariña:

First of all, I applaud you for acknowledging that a highly-effective rated teacher entering a troubled school may suffer a reduced rating as a result of changing schools. I very much appreciate that you’ve taken a personal interest in this teacher and plan to attach an asterisk and follow her ratings. It’s inspirational not only to me, but also to teachers nationwide, that the leader of the largest school district in the country would acknowledge that a school’s population is a major factor in teacher ratings.

This, in fact, has been a major objection many of us, including experts like Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris, have had toward value-added evaluation programs. In fact, the American Statistical Association has determined that teachers impact test scores by a factor of 1-14%. They have also determined that rating teachers by such scores may have detrimental effects on education.

I am struck by the implications of your statement. If it’s possible that a highly-rated teacher may suffer from moving to a school with low test scores, isn’t it just as likely that a poorly-rated teacher would benefit from being moved from a low-rated school to a more highly-rated one? And if, as you say, the teachers are using the same assessments in either locale, doesn’t that indicate that the test scores are determined more by students themselves as opposed to teachers?

For example, I teach beginning ESL students. Teaching these kids is one of the very best things I’ve ever done, but I now consider it a very risky business. Kids who don’t speak English tend not to achieve high scores on standardized tests. I’m sure you also know that acquiring English takes a few years, varies wildly by individual, and that it can take 5-7 years to acquire academic English. The new NYSESLAT test seems to focus on academic English rather than language acquisition. Still, it would be irresponsible of me to neglect offering basic conversation and survival skills. (In fact, NY state now requires that we offer less standalone ESL., which is neither helpful to my students nor supported by research.)

Special education children also have specific needs and disabilities that can inhibit their ability to do well on tests. It doesn’t take an expert to determine that teachers in schools with high concentrations of students with disabilities already are more likely to incur adverse ratings. Who is going to want to teach in these schools? Who will want to teach special education or ESL?

Attaching high stakes to test scores places undue pressure on high-needs kids to pass tests for which they are unsuited. For years I’ve been hearing about differentiation in instruction. I fail to see how this approach can be effectively utilized when there is no differentiation whatsoever in assessment. It’s as though we’re determined to punish both the highest needs children and their teachers.

Since the advent of high-stakes evaluations, the morale of teachers I know and represent has taken a nose dive. Teachers, regardless of ratings, are constantly asking me about their ratings, and live in fear of them, as though the Sword of Damocles were balanced over their heads. Though the Danielson rubric is heralded as objective, in practice it’s very much in the eye of the beholder. As if that were not enough, ratings are frequently altered by test score ratings. Diane Ravitch characterizes them as junk science. (I concur, and having music teachers rated by the English Regents scores of their students pushes it into the realm of the ridiculous.)

Personally, I found the older evaluation reports to be much more thorough and helpful. Supervisors used to be able to give detailed reports of what they saw, and specific suggestions on what could be improved. ThoughI can’t speak for everyone in this, I found them easier to read than the checklists we currently receive. Just like our kids, we are not widgets. We are all different, and are good or not so good on our own merits.

Of course no one wants bad teachers in front of children. The current system, though, seems to focus on student test scores rather than teacher quality. It seems to minimize teacher voice in favor of some idealized classroom that may or may not exist.

It’s a fact that test scores are directly correlated with family income and level of special needs. There is no reliable evidence that test scores are indicative of teacher quality or lack thereof. Teachers are the second-best role models for children. It’s quite difficult for us to show children that life is a thing to be treasured when we have virtual guns placed to our heads demanding higher test scores or else. Just like our kids, we are more than test scores.

On behalf of children and teachers all over New York State, I ask that you join us in demanding a research and practice-based system of evaluating not only teachers, but our students as well.


Arthur Goldstein, ESL teacher, UFT chapter leader
Francis Lewis High School

The New York Times has a fascinating article today about how a handful of very wealthy people invested in Andrew Cuomo and the Republican majority in the State Senate to gain control of public schools in Néw York City and state. The article says they want to continue former Mayor Bloomberg’s policies of closing public schools and replacing them with charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to test scores.

The leader of this effort, the story says, is former chancellor Joel Klein, who now works for rightwing media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Unmentioned is the undemocratic nature of this purchase of public policy. There was a mayoral election. Bill de Blasio won handily, after making clear his opposition to Bloomberg’s education policies. So, the reformers lost at the polls but used their money to nullify the voters’ choice.

A few years back, the New York legislature tasked the Independent Budget Office to act as an independent monitor of New York City’s schools, both public and charter.


The IBO’s latest report shows the phenomenal growth of charter schools in the city since the election of Mayor Bloomberg. When his successor Bill de Blasio tried to curb their growth, Governor Andrew Cuomo responded with legislation that gave the charters free rent in the public schools and eliminated the Mayor’s ability to curb their growth.


The report has other interesting insights. The public schools enroll more than twice the proportion of English language learners than the charter schools. The public schools have many more students with severe disabilities. These are groups that most charters avoid. Kids like that drive down test scores.


The report shows that Success Academy charters have the highest test scores of any charter chain, by far. Success is known for attrition, high teacher turnover, and refusal to “backfill” (i.e., admit students to fill places after third grade or some other arbitrary year). However, Success Academy is an outlier.


An article by Eliza Shapiro at says:


The findings are likely to boost Success’ reputation as one of the city and state’s highest-performing charter networks. However, the report notes that while Success is often portrayed as the face of the city’s charter sector, it is hardly reflective of the sector as a whole. Independent charters, for example, have lower standardized test results but often focus on high-needs populations, and other networks with similar “no-excuses” discipline styles to Success still record lower exam scores.


On average, charters are still producing mediocre standardized test scores, though they are performing better than many district schools.


The author of the report, Raymond Damonico, worked in the 1990s for the Center for Education Innovation at the conservative Manhattan Institute and also for the Public Education Association, both of which were advocates of charter schools.







After a lengthy investigation, NYC Chancellor Carmen Farina fired the principal of John Dewey High School for faking graduation rates.

Teachers at the school had complained about the principal for years. They had also reported the fakery.

The Bloomberg administration had selected the principal Kathleen Elvin to lead the “turnaround” of 33 schools but the courts blocked the closures. She then became principal of John Dewey, where teachers frequently complained about her harsh methods.

Geoffrey Decker of NY Chalkbeat writes:

“When Kathleen Elvin took over troubled John Dewey High School in March 2012, she had a mandate to turn it around. And by at least one measure, she pulled off the job in barely two years.

“But Dewey’s soaring graduation rates, which increased 13 points under Elvin, were bolstered by an illicit credit recovery program, a city investigation has found. A long-awaited report on the probe, released Wednesday by the city’s Office of Special Investigations, concluded that Elvin supervised the set-up, in which students received credits toward graduation with no instruction from teachers.”

One of the boasts of the Bloomberg-era “reformers” was the city’s rising graduation rates. To what extent was that due to similar tactics?

Campbell’s Law rules again. When test scores or graduation rates become the basis for rewards and punishments, people go to extraordinary and sometimes unethical lengths to reach the target.

For two years, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has shredded Mayor Bill de Blasio’s legislative agenda and imposed his own wishes on the city. De Blasio tried to rein in the free-wheeling charter sector, and Cuomo responded by expanding it and forcing the city to give free public space to charters or pay their rent in private space. This year, de Blasio sought permanent extension of mayoral control. He ended up with only one year.


Until today, de Blasio has faithfully supported Cuomo, despite the rebuffs and slights. He helped Cuomo get the nomination of the Working Families Party, which threatened to endorse Zephyr Teachout. He gave the premier nominating speech for Cuomo at the State Democratic convention, showing progressive support for a governor who has governed as a conservative.


Today, de Blasio finally let loose on Cuomo.



“Mayor Bill de Blasio, in candid and searing words rarely employed by elected officials of his stature, accused Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday of stymieing New York City’s legislative goals out of personal pettiness, “game-playing” and a desire for “revenge.”


“In an extraordinary interview, Mr. de Blasio, appearing to unburden himself of months’ worth of frustrations, said that Mr. Cuomo — who, like the mayor, is a Democrat — “did not act in the interests” of New Yorkers by blocking measures like reforming rent laws and allowing a long-term extension of the mayor’s ability to control the city’s public schools.


“I started a year and a half ago with a hope of a very strong partnership,” Mr. de Blasio said of the governor, whom he has known for two decades. “I have been disappointed at every turn. And these last couple of examples really are beyond the pale…..


“I’m not going to be surprised if these statements lead to some attempts at revenge,” Mr. de Blasio said, his voice even. “And we’ll just call them right out. Because we are just not going to play that way.”


Teachers know how vindictive and petty Cuomo can be. He fancies himself qualified to dictate how teachers should be evaluated, a subject about which he is totally uninformed.

Testing expert Fred Smith sends out a warning to parents in Néw York City: Pearson field tests begin Monday.

But keep it a secret. No one knows. The scores don’t count because the tests are testing the questions, not the teachers.

Should parents be told? Shouldn’t they give consent? Should Pearson pay the students?


David Bloomfield, professor of educational leadership, law, and policy at CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, examines what he calls “the myth of failing schools.” Schools with low test scores usually reflect a concentration of students who enter the school far behind, who have disabilities that interfere with learning, who are English language learners, or who have other obstacles to overcome. The “failing schools” tend to have more of these students than other schools. Bloomfield writes that it was the policy of Mayor Bloomberg to close schools with low scores, as if this were a solution to the problems of the students. The students from the closed schools were sent to other schools that then became “failing schools.”

Bloomfield says that Mayor de Blasio has fallen for the same myth, but instead of closing schools, he has promised to turn them around with extra services within three years. He faults the Mayor for not recognizing that schools “fail” not because of their teachers or their practices but because of systemic policies. He sums up the myth as the belief that:

failure is the fault of individual schools, not the school system. His proposed solutions — community services, extra instructional time, and increased professional development, timed to a three year deadline prior to closure — treat these schools as isolated problems rather than the natural result of insidious central policies.

He proposes:

Now, the city needs to take ownership of solutions, instead of blaming the students, teachers, and principals triaged to benefit others. If de Blasio only tries to staunch the bleeding by creating a series of temporary fixes for select schools, instead of repairing the system’s inequities, his plan will fail.
One place to start would be to diminish the number of latecomer students, who are known as “over-the-counter” students and who often have more severe academic and social needs, enrolling at struggling schools. The city has already put those limits in place at Boys and Girls and Automotive high schools, but the other struggling schools need that benefit as well so that those students are spread more equally throughout the system.
Another goal should be to develop a system of choice that avoids concentrations of haves and have-nots in city schools. As stated by Baruch College Professor Judith Kafka, “Our school system already concentrates poverty. Does choice interrupt this process? It can when the school system makes integration a priority and enacts what is often called ‘controlled choice’ as described in the work of the Century Fund’s Richard Kahlenberg.” Those policies focus on admissions rules that emphasize choice and also aim to create stable, economically diverse student populations.
Real solutions will require politically difficult changes to budgeting and enrollment policies, as well as a concerted effort to help schools improve their reputations. Such solutions would involve trade-offs, and some schools would likely benefit more than others. But the varied recommendations for solving our struggling schools crisis put forth so far by Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, the New York City Charter Schools Center, and even Mayor de Blasio, fail to adequately address the systemic causes of school failure.

The charter school industry in Néw York City is well-supported by hedge-fund billionaires, but they used their riches and political clout to compel the city to pay the charters’ rent in private space.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio had the temerity to suggest that amply-funded, privately-managed charters should pay rent (based on their ability to pay), the hedge-fund managers poured millions into a TV ad campaign attacking de Blasio and invested millions in Governor Cuomo’s campaign, assuring his loyalty to charters.

What a smart investment for charters, even though it robs the 1 million children who are not enrolled in charters.

“It’s huge,” said Great Oaks Charter School founder Michael Duffy, who became the first school leader to test the nascent law’s limits this summer. Duffy estimates his Lower Manhattan school stands to receive about $300,000 to cover rent for about 109 students in seventh grade this year.
Great Oaks is one of 46 city charter schools in private space that added grades, according to the New York City Charter School Center, and more than 3,600 students from those schools were enrolled in new grades. Most of those schools successfully appealed to the State Education Department for rental assistance over the last several months.”

Duffy ran the city’s charter school office from 2007-2010 when Joel Klein was chancellor.

“But the city’s costs are certain to continue to add up, as more schools open and enrollment increases at expanding schools. Next school year, the charter center’s enrollment projections would put the maximum tab just for expanding schools at $17.8 million.

“One of those new schools, South Bronx Early College Academy Charter School, will be due more than $300,000 for 110 six graders next year, according to the founding principal.

“It’s a heck of a gift,” said the founder, Ric Campbell.

“The city is obligated to spend $40 million to cover rent costs of eligible charter schools if they are not given space inside of a city-owned building, according to the law. Once the bills hit the $40 million ceiling, costs will be split with the state.”

Those hedge-fund managers are very smart. They even figured out how to get the city to pay the rent for their hobby schools.

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

But some disregarded the threats.

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


Press Contact:
Liz Rosenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 156,283 other followers