Archives for category: New York City

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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





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


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


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


From Twitter:


I.S 318 Wins The 2015 NY State Chess Championships! #chess #chessnyc #is318 #brooklyn #brooklyncastle




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

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

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

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

Baker writes:

“NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office has released a report in which it identifies what it refers to in bold type on the cover as “Failing Schools.”
Report here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want proof that charter schools are not public schools? Public school principals would be fired if they closed their schools for the day and put the children on buses to the state Capitol to lobby for more funding. Imagine if NYC principals brought 1 million students to Albany to demand money for smaller classes, libraries, and the arts. It will never happen because it is illegal.

But next week, Eva Moskowitz will close her NYC charter schools and bring 9,000 children (mostly elementary ages) to lobby for more charters.

She may bring their parents as well. Certainly not to lobby for the children. They already attend a charter school. They can’t attend more than one.

The charters have chosen to lobby in the same day as the UFT. The UFT won’t produce their students; it would be illegal.

it is offensive to see children so callously used to promote “adult interests.”

Private schools can close their doors to lobby. Public schools can’t. The best private schools, however, would not use their students as political props. Their parents would never allow it.

Bloomberg News reports that Néw York City’s public employees’ pension fund is considering an investment in a hedge fund managed by one of Eva Moskowitz’s key backers.

“The board of the $54 billion pension for civil employees, including lunchroom workers and other school aides, plans a vote Tuesday on whether to invest in Joel Greenblatt’s Gotham Asset Management LLC, according to a copy of the executive agenda. Greenblatt is co-founder of Success Academy, New York’s biggest charter-school network. Its director, Eva Moskowitz, a former city councilwoman, helped block Mayor Bill de Blasio’s bid to cut aid to charter schools.”

Gary Rubinstein deconstructed the claim made by the NYC charter industry that 143,000 students are “trapped in failing schools.”

As Rubinstein shows, a billionaire-backed group called “Families for Excellent Schools” decided arbitrarily that any school where less than 10% passed the new Common Core test was a “failing school.” He points out that only 30% “passed” the Common Core tests (including charter schools, which had the same pass rate as public schools). If Families for Excellent Schools had used a 20% pass rate instead of 10%, he notes, then FES could have bemoaned the “Forgotten Three-Quarters.”

Rubinstein discovered that 90% of the parents in the 371 schools arbitrarily labeled “failing” would recommend their school to other parents. Obviously, the parents don’t believe their children are “trapped.”

The claim about “children trapped in failung schools” comes from a “report” by the Walton Family-funded “Families for Excellent Schools.” This is the same group that hastily raised and spent $5-6 million last year to stop Mayor Bill de Blasio’s effort to charge rent to charter schools using public space. With money spent so freely on the airwaves and in Albany, Governor Cuomo adopted charter schools as his cause (only 3% of the state’s students attend charter schools). With his support, the Legislature passed a bill requiring NYC to provide free space in public schools to charters and to pay their rent if they located in private space.

Chalkbeat uses state data to report on high suspension rates at many charters, where strict discipline is prized.

“New York City charter schools suspended students at almost three times the rate of traditional public schools during the 2011-12 school year, according to a Chalkbeat analysis, though some charter schools have since begun to reduce the use of suspensions for minor infractions.
Overall, charter schools suspended at least 11 percent of their students that year, while district schools suspended 4.2 percent of their students. The charter-school suspension rate is likely an underestimate because charter schools don’t have to report suspensions that students serve in school.

“Not all schools had high suspension rates. One-third of charter schools reported suspending fewer than 5 percent of their students, and many schools said they did not give out any out-of-school suspensions. But 11 charter schools suspended more than 30 percent of their students — a figure likely to draw added scrutiny amid a nationwide push to reduce suspensions and a debate over allowing more charter schools to open statewide.”

Bruce Baker of Rutgers University here analyzes the claims of a charter advocacy group called “Families for Excellent Schools.” Its latest “study” argues that New York City wastes money on low-performing schools as compared to high-performing schools. Baker points out that the “low-performing schools” have higher proportions of children with disabilities and others with high needs, as compared to the high-performing schools to which they are compared. Baker says the FES “study” is “totally bogus.” He has a few other choice phrases to describe this politically motivated analysis.


It is useful to bear in mind who the “families” for excellent schools are. Last year, this group spent $5 million or more to attack Mayor Bill de Blasio while demanding legislation to protect charter schools and to open more. This suggests that these are not your ordinary charter-school families. It is not that easy to raise $5 million in a few days or weeks. The “families” are the Walton family, the Eli Broad family, and the families of other extremely wealthy people. One may safely assume that none of these families has their own children in public schools or in charter schools.

Advocates for Children, a nonpartisan civic group in Néw York City, conducted a study of discipline policies in Néw York City’s charter schools. Every school had its own rules, and many of those rules violate state and/or federal law. If charter schools are public schools, they should abide by the law; if they are private schools, they can continue to diverge from state and federal law. As matters stand, when children enroll in charters, they check their rights at the door.


Here is a summary of the study that appeared in the NY Times.


Here is the executive summary:


Ms. Lopez rejoiced when her daughter, Mia, was accepted to a local charter school for kindergarten. Ms. Lopez believed that this school would provide her daughter with the best chance of getting a high-quality education. However, within the first month of school, the charter school suspended five-year-old Mia for disruptive behavior, claiming that she had hit another student. Ms. Lopez was very concerned about Mia’s alleged behavior and therefore requested that Mia be evaluated to determine if she had a disability and needed special education services. While evaluations were pending, the charter school suspended Mia another two times for impulsive behavior. Ms. Lopez tried to find out from Mia what had happened, but given Mia’s age and a delay in her communication skills, Ms. Lopez was unable to get an explanation that she could understand.


Ms. Lopez was devastated when the charter school principal then told her that, based on the charter school’s policy, because Mia had received three suspensions, the charter school was expelling her after just two months of kindergarten. The principal stated that the school would give Ms. Lopez a two-week “grace period” to return Mia to her preschool (for which she was no longer eligible) or enroll her at her zoned elementary school. During those two weeks, Mia could attend school if her mother stayed with her the whole time.


Ms. Lopez had chosen the charter school because it had touted the extra support it provided to students to help them succeed. But at the time when Mia needed support, the charter school told Ms. Lopez to take Mia someplace else. Ms. Lopez could not believe that the charter school was giving up on Mia so quickly.


Mia’s charter school expelled her without providing written notice of the charges against Mia and the school’s proposal to expel her, without scheduling a hearing to consider Mia’s actions and determine an appropriate penalty, and without following any procedures required to protect the rights of students with disabilities even though Mia was being evaluated for special education services. Without the opportunity for a hearing, Mia’s mother did not have the chance to ask questions about what had happened or to suggest a less severe response that would address Mia’s behavior and allow her to stay at the school. Because the school did not follow the required procedures for students with disabilities, Mia did not receive a behavioral assessment to determine the cause of her behavior and develop effective intervention strategies.


When Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) reviewed the charter school’s discipline policy, we found that, although it had been approved by the charter school’s authorizer and the New York State Board of Regents, it did not comport with the requirements of the law. The policy did not require notice prior to imposing suspensions or expulsions, did not require a hearing prior to suspensions or expulsions, did not place any limits on the kinds of infractions that could trigger an expulsion, and did not include any of the legal protections required for students with disabilities. Indeed, a school administrator acknowledged that, before AFC’s involvement in Mia’s case, she had not been aware of the need to follow additional procedures for students with disabilities, as they were not included in the charter school’s policy.


After AFC intervened, Mia was able to stay at the charter school and begin receiving special education supports and services, including an individualized behavioral plan, that helped to improve her behavior in class.


Over the past few years, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) has assisted an increasing number of parents who have contacted us with concerns about charter school suspensions and expulsions. In the past year-and-a-half alone, AFC has provided guidance or legal representation to more than 100 parents in charter school suspension and expulsion cases. Most of these parents had celebrated winning the charter school lottery and wanted their children to continue attending the charter school.


In helping parents with these cases, AFC found that charter school discipline policies were not always readily available.2 Parents often did not have a copy of the policies, and the policies were not always available online.


In June 2013, we sent Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the three New York City charter school authorizers,3 all charter schools operating in NYC during the 2012-2013 school year, and, to the extent possible, charter schools opening in NYC during the 2013-2014 school year seeking, among other things, copies of their discipline policies. Charter schools are required to comply with FOIL requests,4 and most charter schools responded. From the FOIL responses and charter school websites, we were able to review 164 discipline policies from 155 of the 183 charter schools operating in NYC during the 2013-2014 school year.5 These discipline policies came from large charter school networks as well as from small, independent charter schools.


(2) 82 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed permit suspension or expulsion as a penalty for lateness, absence, or cutting class, in violation of state law.


(3) 133 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed fail to include the right to written notice of a suspension prior to the suspension taking place, in violation of state law.


(4) 36 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed fail to include an opportunity to be heard prior to a short-term suspension, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, New York State Constitution, and state law.
(5) 25 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed fail to include the right to a hearing prior to a long-term suspension, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, New York State Constitution, and state law.


(6) 59 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed fail to include the right to appeal charter school suspensions or expulsions, even though state law establishes a distinct process for charter school appeals.


(7) 36 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed fail to include any additional procedures for suspending or expelling students with disabilities, in violation of federal and state law.


(8) 52 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed fail to include the right to alternative instruction during the full suspension period, in violation of state law.
While charter schools should be able to discipline their students, they must uphold the rights of their students and provide them with a fair discipline process. The Charter Schools Act requires charter school authorizers to ensure that charter applications include discipline policies and procedures that comport with the law.7 Yet, all three authorizers of New York City charter schools have approved charters for schools that have legally inadequate discipline policies.


Based on these findings and our work assisting families in charter school suspension and expulsion cases, we recommend:


(1) Charter school authorizers and the Board of Regents should ensure that charter school discipline policies meet the requirements of the law and are aligned with federal guidance. They should not approve or renew charter schools unless they have discipline policies that comply with the law.


(2) The State Legislature should amend state law to affirm that charter schools must abide by the requirements of Section 3214 of the New York Education Law and its regulations, ending any perceived ambiguity in the law.


(3) The State Legislature should amend state law to include explicit standards for expelling students to ensure that expulsions for all schools, including charter schools, are limited to the most severe and dangerous behaviors in accordance with decisions of the New York State Education Department (NYSED) Commissioner.


(4) The State Legislature should amend state law to require all public schools, including charter schools, to provide full-time alternative instruction when students are suspended or expelled. New York City district public school8 students are currently entitled to full- time alternative instruction when they are suspended for more than five days.


(5) The State Legislature should amend state law to require charter schools to report suspension and expulsion data. Charter school authorizers and the Board of Regents should consider suspension and expulsion data, as well as student attrition data, in charter school renewal applications.
(6) Because charter schools and the DOE both have responsibilities to students with disabilities who face suspension or expulsion, charter school authorizers should collaborate with the DOE to develop a memorandum of understanding delineating their respective responsibilities to ensure that these students are receiving protections required by federal and state law.


(7) Charter school authorizers and the Board of Regents, with input from parents, advocates, and students, should develop a model discipline policy to provide guidance to charter school leaders. In addition, authorizers should provide training for charter school leaders and staff in suspension procedures, discipline of students with disabilities, and positive approaches to discipline, such as restorative justice, peer mediation, social-emotional learning, or positive behavior interventions.


(8) Charter school authorizers and the Board of Regents should identify and promote best practices and innovative, positive approaches to discipline, as encouraged by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice.


(9) NYSED should post the Education Commissioner’s charter school suspension and expulsion appeal decisions on the NYSED website, alongside the district public school appeal decisions that are already posted.


(10) The State Legislature should amend the Charter Schools Act to require all charter schools to distribute their discipline policies to students and parents at the beginning of
the school year and post the policies on their websites along with contact information for the appeals/grievance process.


We make these recommendations in recognition that suspension and expulsion can have devastating consequences for the students involved. Suspended students are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, have increased behavioral problems in school, and come into contact with the juvenile justice system. This data is particularly troubling because, nationally and locally, African American students and students with disabilities are suspended from school at rates disproportionate to their peers. One year ago, the federal government called upon all public schools to curb reliance on suspension, expulsion, and zero tolerance policies and to increase use of positive interventions, such as conflict resolution, counseling, and other inclusive approaches to discipline, to address suspension disparities and to minimize the negative impact of suspension on students. Improving school discipline in these ways is integral to creating high- quality public schools, including charter schools, that work for students, teachers, and school communities.”



To read the full study and footnotes, open the link.

From our review, we found:


(1) 107 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed permit suspension or expulsion as a penalty for any of the infractions listed in the discipline policy, no matter how minor the infraction.

By contrast, the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) Discipline Code aligns infractions with penalties, limiting suspension to certain violations and prohibiting expulsion for all students under age 17 and for all students with disabilities.


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