Archives for category: New York

During the gubernatorial campaign in Néw York, the Working Families Party planned to endorse law professor Zephyr Teachout to challenge Cuomo, but at the last minute Cuomo won their endorsement by promising to campaign for Democratic control of the State Senate. Isn’t that a strange promise from a Democratic governor? He immediately broke it, did not campaign for Democratic candidates, and Republicans held control of the State Senate.

Teachout–a complete unknown with no money–ran against Cuomo in the Democratic primary and won 1/3 of the vote. She did not endorse anyone in the general election.

Now she and the Working Families Party have teamed up to release a report that will blast Cuomo for his support of charter schools. Today “they plan to release a report entitled “Corruption in Education: The Hedge Fund Takeover of New York’s Schools.”

“Many of Cuomo’s top donors are funding the charter school lobby, Teachout charges, singling out in the report Carl Icahn, Paul Tudor Jones and Dan Loeb for pouring “more than $10 million into state lobbying and election campaigns since the beginning of 2014, with electrifying results.”

How refreshing to have a clear, independent, unbought prominent figure speak truth to power, fearlessly!

Ben Chapman of the Néw York Daily News reports on a study by the Center for Popular Demcracy, which reviewed audits of charter schools in Néw York state.

62 of the state’s 248 charters have been audited. The review showed $28 million misspent since 2002. “The Center for Popular Democracy’s analysis charter school audits found investigators uncovered probable financial mismanagement in 95% of the schools they examined…..”

“Kyle Serrette, executive director of the progressive, Washington-based group, said the review of previously published audits showed the schools need greater oversight.

“We can’t afford to have a system that fails to cull the fraudulent charter operators from the honest ones,” said Serrette. “Establishing a charter school oversight system that prevents fraud, waste and mismanagement will attack the root cause of the problem….”

“All told, Serrette’s group estimates wasteful spending at charters could cost taxpayers more than $50 million per year.”

About 9% of New York City’s charters were audited. “Each audit found issues.”

“A 2012 audit found Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School was paying $800,000 in excess annual fees to the management company that holds its building’s lease.

“A 2012 audit of Williamsburg Charter High School revealed school officials overbilled the city for operations and paid contractors for $200,800 in services that should have been provided by the school’s network.

“A 2007 audit of the Carl C. Icahn Charter School determined the Bronx school spent more than $1,288 on alcohol for staff parties and failed to account for another $102,857 in expenses.

“The city spends more than $1.29 billion on charters annually.”

It now turns out that the lead applicant for the new Rochester, NewYork, charter school has no degrees, or none that can be verified. He did not graduate from Rochester’s School Without Walls. He did not obtain a bachelor’s degree from online Western Governors University. He did not obtain a master’s or a doctorate from Concordia University.

But the charter school will open anyway. The head of the Board of Regents disclaims any responsibility. The review is conducted by the State Education Department, she says. Who runs the SED? Dr. Tisch selected the State Education Commissioner, Dr. John King, her classmate at Teachers College. Maybe he is responsible? But who is accountable? Anyone?

Dr. King is fast to hold teachers and principals accountable. Will anyone be held accountable for granting a charter and a guaranteed stream of public money to a young man with no experience or education credentials.

The Greater Works Charter School will open in September. As Dr. Tisch says, board members come and go. So do charter schools. No problem. The demolition of public education continues.

Zephyr Teachout, who ran against Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary and won 1/3 of the vote despite no money and no name recognition, has written a brilliant column in The Daily Beast, warning that the millionaires and billionaires who bought the State Senate now are aiming to take over public schools.

She compares their strategy to “The Hunger Games.”

“The same hedge-fund managers who bought the New York State Senate now want to take over public education in the state and strip it bare, while they celebrate excessive wealth in high style. They’re pushing for a special session in Albany this December to cement the takeover of education policy….”

“In New York’s Hunger Games, just like in the books and movies, those in the Capitol live in a very different reality than the rest of us. In our Capitol, Albany lawmakers enjoy a flood of money, personal accounts, and protection for incumbents against attacks. In the Districts—the cities and towns of New York—the reality is bleaker. Citizens must work to survive and make do with the limited resources afforded to them by the Capitol….”

“Like President Snow, who starves the Districts, tests the residents with the Hunger Games competition, and then sets out to destroy them, the hedge-funders want to take over our schools with the same three steps: Starve, Test, Destroy. Budgets are cut severely, tests reveal “poor performance,” and then public schools, having been thus gutted, are replaced by privately managed charters.

First, the starvation: The state of New York is being sued again for funding public schools below constitutional levels. Cuomo’s budgets have stripped grade schools of art, music, sports, and counselors. Without money, classrooms grow so large no teacher can manage them, and kids can’t learn. Billionaires benefit as the money “saved” by not funding schools goes to tax breaks for the rich….”

“Second, the testing: Children are subject to a ridiculous battery of tests that lead to huge profits by corporations like the testing company Pearson but does little to improve the lives of the children. We’re talking about high-stakes, high-stress testing, including testing of the controversial Common Core. These tests prod and poke the children, creating lots of anxiety and taking away from the joy of learning.”

“Third, the destruction: These hedge-fund managers want to eliminate all limits and oversight of charter schools. They want to take control of New York City schools away from Mayor Bill de Blasio and let privatization run rampant. And they want billions in new funding from taxpayers to build new charter schools everywhere across the state, taking even more resources away from hard-pressed public schools.”

Read it all. It is amazingly insightful.

The 22-year-old who received a charter from the New York Board of Regents said he graduated Rochester’s School Without Walls when he was 16, received an online bachelor’s degree at 18, then earned a master’s and doctorate in four years.

The following email just arrived:

Hi Diane.

I was the principal of Rochester, New York’s School Without Walls from 1987 to 2010. Ted Morris, the young man awarded permission to open a charter school in Rochester, NY, and claiming to be a graduate of School Without Walls in 2008, attended SWW for less than a year and then voluntarily left to be home schooled. He never graduated nor received a diploma from School Without Walls.

Dan Drmacich

It was surprising to learn that the Néw York Board of Regents awarded a charter to a 22-year-old prodigy with no educational experience. Peter Greene did some research and found that the young man and his supporters first applied for a charter when he was only 18 and had just won his bachelor’s degree online. He went on to receive a master’s and a doctorate in the next four years, subject not specified, possibly online but not clear. Peter thinkshe may also be an ordained cyber minister.

The question is, why did the Regents refuse to grant him a charter when he was 18? Andre Agassi has lots of charters, and he is a high school dropout. Like, what’s the standard here? Age, money, charisma, experience, or what?

Jonathan Pelto blows the whistle on Steve Perry’s expansion plans, which Pelto says are illegal under Connecticut law.

Perry is principal of Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford. He has received permission from the state Board of Education to open a charter in Bridgeport and from Néw York’s Board of Regents to open a charter in Harlem. He will remain principal of the public magnet school in Hartford and will use materials and personnel from the public school for the charters.

Pelto writes:

“The proposals for both schools openly admitted that the plans were based on Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford, that the materials used will be the same as those used at Capital Prep Magnet School and the management team that will run the Bridgeport and Harlem charter schools will be the same group of senior administrators and teachers that are presently running Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford.

“The proposals even included many of the written materials that can be found on Capital Prep Magnet School’s present website.

“But of course, Steve Perry and his team know perfectly well that such a move is blatantly illegal.

“The law is very clear, materials and concepts developed by public employees during the course of their work belong to their employer – the government that pays them and its citizens.”

Pelto says:

“Perry will collect $2.5 million per year for the first five years as a charter operator.”

We know that states have granted charters to rappers (Pitbull in Florida) and to Andre Agassi, a high-school dropout), but this is the first instance where a state approved a charter led by a 22-year-old man. Given his resume, it appears that he has never taught or run a school. Perhaps he will prove that no experience is necessary to run a charter school.

 

It was only six years ago that he graduated from School Without Walls at age 16. Now, at 22, he’s armed with a freshly minted doctorate degree in education and permission from the state Board of Regents to open a charter high school in Rochester in 2015.

 

“I remember being in school and feeling I was a bit more advanced and (not having enough options),” he said. “I wanted to grow up and open a school that’s predicated on each student’s needs and interests. … I did it sooner than I expected.”

 

It will be called Greater Works Charter School, accepting about 100 ninth-graders in its first year and eventually expanding to about 400 students in grades 9-12.

 

One of the key tenets will be extensive use of online learning. Each class will have two certified teachers, or one teacher and one teacher’s assistant; at any given time, each of them will be working with a third of the students and the remaining third — in particular, the more advanced students — will be working on computers….

 

After graduating from School Without Walls in 2008, Morris got a bachelor’s degree at age 18 from Western Governors University, an online college based in Salt Lake City. He then received master’s and doctoral degrees from Concordia University near Chicago.

 

Morris has an educational consulting firm and said he has worked with the Rochester Prep schools, among others. He also helped start three non-profit organizations, he said: Sparq Rochester, a youth arts outfit; Greater Works Education Network, a fledgling statewide charter advocacy group; and Victory Living Christian Faith Center.

Alan Singer says it is time to protest the inequitable conditions in East Ramapo, NewYork, where Orthodox Jews control the school board. The school board starves the public schools of resources, but is very generous to the private religious schools their own children attend.

He writes:

“Nine thousand Black and Latino children attending East Ramapo, New York public schools are warehoused in over-crowded, under-funded failing schools because a school board controlled by a White religious group is using public school dollars to subsidize their own children who attend religious schools. District school budgets have been defeated four of the last five years and eight of the last eleven, the highest rate of budget rejection in New York State. Meanwhile Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York State, Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor of the State Board of Regents, the governing body for education in New York, and John King, the Education Commissioner, have all remained silent. That is why it is time to march against racism in East Ramapo…..

“The district is now bankrupt because of all the money channeled to private religious schools despite major cuts in public education spending…..”

The state-appointed monitor, Hank Greenberg, “Prior to delivering his report to State Education, Greenberg told reporters he did not believe the East Ramapo school board acted “out of base or venal motives.” Rather, their concern about the children from their own religious group had “blinded them to the needs of the entire community.” This is surprising language from a lawyer given that Greenberg’s job was to investigate legal and financial impropriety, not determine whether the school board was moral but blinded by good intentions. However, I am not a lawyer. Greenberg found the district’s funding pattern to be “unique” in New York State and charged the faction in control of the East Ramapo school board of “abysmal” fiscal management and noted the district was teetering “on the precipice of fiscal disaster.” This is an example of institutional racism, whether school board members think they are acting in good faith to meet the needs of children from their own religious community. That is why it is time to march against racism in East Ramapo.

“Since 2009, the non-venal majority in control of the East Ramapo school board has eliminated 245 public school positions, including special education teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, and elementary school assistant principals. It replaced full-day kindergarten with half-day, eliminated instrumental music for younger children, ended transportation for field trips, reduced athletic and extra-curricular activities by fifty percent, closed the summer school, and depleted the district’s emergency reserves, money it is legally required to maintain for insurance, liability and unanticipated costs. That is why it is time to march against racism in East Ramapo.

“Meanwhile, district spending on programs benefiting private religious school students have increased substantially. From 2006-7 to 2013-14, district spending on transporting private school students specifically increased nearly 77 percent. From 2010-11 to 2013-14, the cost of providing special education for students enrolled in private religious schools increased by 33 percent. More than 23,500 students are transported daily to private religious schools in East Ramapo, 18,000 by private companies that are essentially subsidized by the school district. Special education students receive services in forty different religious schools, which are also essentially subsidized by the school district. These subsidies to families that send their children to private religious schools make up over one-third of the district budget.”

The state may be reluctant to intervene because it has poor record of taking over entire districts (e.g., Roosevelt in Long Island), but the state should take over to protect the children from a school board that doesn’t care about them.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Alan Singer when he wrote about the district, the East Ramapo board sold a closed school for use as a religious school at what appears to be less than its fair market value. The state did not object.

This is a post by Justin Williams, an educator and resident of Uniondale, Néw York. Uniondale is a highly segregated school district on Long Island in Néw York. 98% of the students in the district are Aftican-American or Latino. Neighboring districts are 95% or more white.

 

Justin Williams writes:

 

Rising Violence in Schools Serving Predominantly Black and Latino Students

 

Over the last ten years, I have worked as a certified English teacher in a high school in Long Island, New York, a suburb of New York City. I am in my seventeenth year working in public education. I have taught various courses in four different school districts on Long Island that range from grades six to twelve. Children and adolescents, whether they are school shooters or gangbangers, do not become violent without cause. None of them were born violent.

 

I tend to connect the rise in school violence in my suburban school district, 95% of which is African American and Hispanic, to the recent economic downturn and education policy insidiously devoted to teacher, principal and school evaluations tied to standardized testing of students. These students have been exposed to school curriculum, said testing, and “raised” standards (Common Core) conceived by politicians, economists and billionaires, not professional and long-time education practitioners who would know much, much better how to make our public schools the envy of the world (again). They have also been victimized by inflexible “zero tolerance” policies with mandatory minimum suspension periods, as well as increased in-school surveillance and security measures that prepare chocolate and caramel students much more for the realities of prison than they do a safe existence.

 

I have noticed great family uprooting provoked by the trickle-down effects of the predatory mortgage-lending thievery that targeted chocolate, caramel and other relatively poor folks, all over America. This crime against humanity precipitated global economic catastrophe. American school children were affected too. My students were affected.

 

Largely (but not only) because of this dreadful event in our history, violence escalated in my community (I live in the town where I work), inside and outside of our schools, largely made up of the same demographic hoodwinked by bankers and lawyers who knew exactly what they were doing yet, remain unpunished. So many of these kids do not or cannot live with their parents (realistically homeless) that new categorical terms like “displaced” or “unaccompanied youth” have been recently coined for them in schools. These kids are angry, don’t feel protected by any adults, yet we’re asking them (forcing them) to do coursework and take tests they cannot and do not wish to do. They need therapy. And skills with which they can function in the workforce.

 

 

There have been numerous fights and assaults over the last decade in the secondary settings of my district, steadily escalating in severity. Adult professionals have been grabbed, groped or assaulted. A troubled young man, a recent graduate of our high school, shot himself in the head in a backyard next to mine. I heard the shot clearly. A kid was stabbed in a cafeteria. About two-dozen young men have been killed in our community or neighboring community, school districts with no more than seven thousand kids. I could not find many of these incidents in the local news. I’m talking about a middle class town where the median income is $70,000. This is not a stereotypical ghetto.

 

Presently and throughout the past two years, a huge influx of Central American kids with harrowing stories to tell of their journeys to New York have and are adding to the socio-emotional quagmire of the schools (students, teachers and administrators are emotionally, morally and ethically drained, strong as we try to be) in my district. Gangs like MS-13 are replenishing their ranks with Hispanic boys adrift in an American ocean of ambivalence aimed squarely in their direction. Others wish to learn enough English so they can work. Too many received little education in their native countries. Few of them are that interested in coming to our schools for anything else, save food. The Common Core has zero relevance to them. Z.E.R.O.

 

If my students find irrelevant the Common Core, as well as for-profit corporations like Pearson who greatly benefit from its ill effects, then Pearson and the Common Core are irrelevant to me.

 

I don’t need “the state” telling me how and what to teach. By paying close attention to the dreams, goals and/or likes and dislikes of my students (they always tell you or show you when they know you care), I know precisely what I need to teach, how I need to teach it, and when I ought to do so. When you can get ten or fifteen re-writes on a research assignment from kids prone to extremely disturbing, violent episodes, not only do you have fodder for great work, but you also have young people who are not thinking about being angry (for the time being).

 

Every teacher cannot and will not become a master teacher. Every doctor cannot and will not become a brain surgeon. Every lawyer cannot and will not become a famous defense attorney. Every mechanic or welder cannot and will not gain his or her own business. Every politician cannot and will not become Commander in Chief.

 

There is no profession, organization or country that thrives because of its talented tenth. Though often driven by the talented few, average, hard-working people are the engine that makes progress happen. Most teachers are average, hard-working, women committed to educating the children of others. You do not need to be a Marie Curie to teach, any more than you need to be Babe Ruth to be a professional baseball player.

 

The big failure of the current school reform debate is that creating great teachers is talked about much more than the creation of great homes. But even the very best teachers are unable to perform consistent miracles with our most angry, violent students; no more than a doctor can treat an emotionally volatile patient or a lawyer adequately interview a hostile witness. In these scenarios, the doctor and lawyer are not typically viewed as the areas to be addressed.

 

Angry, violent, aggressive students, on average, do not come from stable, healthy homes. Schools full of violent kids and fearful adults are rare in societies that are generally non-violent. But blaming professional educators is easy. Re-energizing and empowering the American family unit is harder.

 

But not impossible.

 

Justin holds a B.S. in English education and a M.Ed. in education administration from The Pennsylvania State University, a certificate of advanced studies (C.A.S.) in educational leadership from Hofstra University and he is working on a doctorate degree (Ed.D.) in educational and policy leadership at Hofstra University.

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