Archives for category: New York City

I posted a delightful article by Jennifer Raab, President of Hunter College, celebrating the importance of public higher education, which has provided opportunity to so many students from low-income and immigrant families.

A faculty member of the City University of New York wrote to say that budget cuts are strangling the promise of public higher education.

He wrote:

Public education requires more than cheerleading: right now, we also need advocates who are willing to fight for it. And while Virginia may have been an impressive alumna of Hunter College, this year Governor Cuomo has held back 20% of CUNY funding based on an expectation of a dramatic state shortfall. While the shortfall has been much less than predicted, the cuts to public education have occurred anyways. 

At Hunter and other CUNY schools, those cuts have meant heavy lay-offs of adjunct faculty. Their courses have been cancelled and, as a result, students are being squeezed into over-crowded classes. A course that, a year ago, might have worked with 30 students in person, this semester will have 40 students in a Zoom room. That’s nowhere near the level of teaching and engagement that Virginia received. And that’s a real tragedy.


In a year in which our public officials have insisted they will fight for greater equity, we need leaders who will fight for the country’s largest public university to be fully funded and its students to be given the quality of education they deserve. We need leaders who don’t only celebrate CUNY’s past, but demand that its traditions of providing a first-rate education for all New Yorkers be maintained in the present and into the future. And if that requires fighting, let’s insist that they take up that battle.

This is a beautiful article by Jennifer Raab, president of Hunter College, which is part of the City University of New York. It appeared in the New York Daily News. When Virginia O’Hanlon attended Hunter College, the City University was tuition-free. In 1976, CUNY began to charge tuition, but it remains far less than private colleges and universities, and many students can piece together aid packages from state and federal funds.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” It may be the most famous sentence in the history of local journalism.

Virginia O’Hanlon of 115 W. 95th St. was just 8 years old when she composed a letter to the editor, writing: “Some of my friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

Yes, there is, the paper guaranteed her. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

Those in the know must have been shocked to learn that the words came from the pen of veteran journalist Francis Pharcellus Church, brother of the Sun’s editor. Known to colleagues as a hard-boiled cynic, Church had never written so sentimentally. Now he tenderly assured young Virginia: “Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders that are unseen and unseeable in the world.”

Soon enough, thanks to free public higher education, Virginia saw those wonders for herself. Many of today’s newspaper readers know about the editorial. It has been widely reprinted, in the Daily News among many other papers, each year since it first appeared. It has inspired musical pageants.

But few know what happened to Virginia — or that her path in life actually followed Church’s advice to imagine the best.

The daughter of an NYPD coroner, young Virginia soon began harboring dreams that stretched beyond St. Nick’s annual visits. She aspired to teach — and motivate — children herself. So 10 years after writing to the Sun, Virginia O’Hanlon enrolled at Hunter College, which then, as now, educated many of the teachers employed by the New York City school system. Crucially, Hunter offered higher education to women of all races and religions — a rarity at the time of the school’s 1870 founding.

Graduating in 1910, Virginia went on to earn a Master’s and Ph.D., lived through the 1918 influenza pandemic, and taught grade school for decades. Eventually, she became junior principal of PS 401 in Brooklyn, a school renowned for providing an early version of “remote learning” to chronically sick children confined to the borough’s hospitals.

In 1949, Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas returned to Hunter to address students at her alma mater (and of course, retell her Santa Claus story). She retired in 1959, and died nearly 50 years ago, in 1971.

Her life — both the storybook version and the equally uplifting reality — serves as a reminder not only of faith questioned and reignited, but of the opportunities New York public education continues to provide, even now, amid the most stressful and prolonged crisis in city history.

In fact, when CollegeNET recently released its annual Social Mobility Index rankings of America’s colleges, it did not look at all like the usual “Best Colleges” lists topped by Ivy League names. The index, which analyzes colleges’ success at graduating low-income students into well-paying jobs, was front-loaded with public universities. Hunter ranked 9th out of 1,449 schools.

More than a century after Virginia matriculated, Hunter’s student population still offers a springboard to opportunity. Hunter has already served as the launchpad for, among others, Bella Abzug, Martina Arroyo, Ruby Dee, Pauli Murray, Dr. Rosalyn Yalow — and from our high school, such luminaries as Elena Kagan and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Always, we’ve taken particular pride in students, from here and overseas, who are the first in their families to attend college.

Just look what the most recent graduating class is up to. Elliot Natanov, the son of immigrants who fled anti-Semitism in Uzbekistan, is now pursuing a career in sports medicine. Ahmet Doymaz, who immigrated from Turkey as a child, studies cancer and cell regulation. Evelyn Tawil, daughter of Syrian refugees, is pursuing a graduate degree in landscape architecture. Jennifer Dikler, whose parents fled Russia, won a coveted Luce Scholarship to study trade policy in Asia.

Among recent grads, Margarita Labkovich became a Schwartzman Fellow in 2020 and will spend a year at Beijing’s Tsinghua University before returning to medical school and resuming her career as chief operating officer of Retina Technologies (she already holds two patents). And Thamara Jean, daughter of a Haitian-born synagogue superintendent, now attends Oxford University as Hunter’s first-ever Rhodes Scholar. These remarkable young people are soaring above their circumstances, with Hunter’s full support at their backs — and no debt collectors at their front doors.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus: it’s called public education.

The organization Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting writes that the New York Times has become a “cheerleader” for reopening the schools as the COVID surges to new heights.

it is strange indeed because there is evidence to support reopening and equally impressive evidence against reopening schools. Yet the New York Times consistently lands on one side: reopen the schools.

Ari Paul of FAIR writes:

We’re still dealing with a pandemic of biblical proportions, and the scientific community is still conflicted about how schools reopening fits into the crisis. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top infectious disease experts, favors school reopening (Business Insider11/29/20)—as does the American Academy of Pediatrics, though it notes that “the current widespread circulation of the virus will not permit in-person learning to be safely accomplished in many jurisdictions.”

But the idea that children are not vectors, or are merely low-risk vectors, for spread of the coronavirus is in dispute (Healthline9/24/20AP9/22/20). The Journal of the American Medical Association (7/29/20) reported “a temporal association between statewide school closure and lower Covid-19 incidence and mortality,” saying that school closures between March 9 and May 7 were associated with a 62% relative decline in Covid incidence per week and a 58% decline in deaths per week.

Nature (11/16/20) cited JAMA’s finding to bolster its comprehensive statistical review of governmental “non-pharmaceutical interventions” against Covid, which found that school closures were one of “the most effective NPIs” in curbing the spread of the disease. A report in US News and World Report (12/2/20) based on data compiled by the Covid Monitorproject on the coronavirus in K–12 schools  concluded that “the data suggests schools are NOT safe and DO contribute to the spread of the virus—both within schools and within their surrounding communities.”

And that’s partially why parents and teachers are so worried about de Blasio’s plan. Individual schools in the city have to deal with budget shortfallsdeteriorating buildings and lack of supplies in the best of times, and now they suddenly must rapidly and safely implement in-person teaching. And as many New York schools advocates, like one-time gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, have argued, reopening schools tends to benefit whiter communities, as whiter, more affluent schools tend to have more resources to adapt to the current environment.

Paul identifies Times’ reporter Eliza Shapiro as purveyor of a consistent anti-union, anti-teacher perspective, who consistently supports reopening and ignores the voices of teachers who complain about the lack of funding for protective measures for both students and teachers.

Paul concludes that the New York Times, the newspaper of record, “should be playing a much more balanced and compassionate role.”

Leonie Haimson is host of a weekly radio program on WBAI, a Pacifica radio station.

In this podcast, she discusses “How Success Academy Charters Violate Their Students’ Civil, Educational, and Privacy Rights.”

The show focused on Success Academy charters, NYC’s largest charter school chain, which has repeatedly violated students’ civil rights while becoming known for high test scores and high suspension rates. Leonie interviewed Laura Barbieri of Advocates for Justice and Nelson Mar of Bronx Legal Services, two attorneys who’ve successfully sued Success Academy charter schools on behalf of students who have been mistreated at the school.

Then she spoke to Fatima Geidi, a former Success parent whose son’s special education, due process, and privacy rights were violated, the last after PBS News Hour interviewed Fatima and her son about the school’s abusive disciplinary practices. Dany Mangrove also related her experiences as a former operations assistant and teacher at Success Academy High School.

Mayor de Blasio has wavered about when and how to open the schools since the pandemic began. Now he has drawn a line in the sand and threatens to close all the city’s schools if the city reaches a certain level of infections. Some schools are in danger zones. Others are not. Some parents—and the New York Daily News editorial board—think the mayor should recognize that some schools are safe and allow them to remain open.

NYC Schools: A Double Crisis! A Forum on Thursday  Nov. 12 at 6:30 PM

How have pandemic and policy exacerbated the inequity in NYC public schools? What can be done? 

Thursday Nov. 12 at 6:30 PM

Join us at our next virtual event as we discuss these issues with our excellent panelists.

Speakers: (list to date; parent panelist will be announced)
Kevin Bryant — Principal at NYC DOE High Schools and current candidate for a PhD in Education at Harvard
Leonie Haimson — Executive Director of Class Size Matters
Jonathan Halabi –High School Teacher, DOE, & Chapter Leader, UFT
Tracey Willacey –Teacher for the NYC DOE for over 25 years

Co-Moderators: 
Gloria Brandman, Retired Teacher, activist with Move the Money/NYC;
Natasha Santos, Program Coordinator, Brooklyn For Peace

See it on Facebook. Please RSVP and invite your friends!

Register now

Carol Burris and Greg LeRoy analyzed public data about federal CARES Act funding and discovered that nearly 60% of the city’s charter schools received Paycheck Protection Program funding, which was intended to help small businesses survive the pandemic, when so many teetered on the verge of bankruptcy. Someone slipped in an opening for nonprofit organizations, and charters cashed in, along with their management companies, even though they suffered no loss in funding.

Consequently, public schools received an average of $720 per student (which was almost nullified by Cuomo’s budget cuts), while the charters with PPP got four times as much federal money, and their management company also cashed in.

Burris and LeRoy write:

Yet despite that windfall in extra funding, 59% of New York City charter schools that directly received PPP funds have not yet given kids the opportunity to come back to school. And 60% of the schools controlled by PPP-endowed CMOs have not opened for in-person instruction either. It’s ironic that, in the sector that touts the virtues of school choice, so many charter schools are failing to provide that choice to the families they serve.

Here are some examples. Six New Visions Charter High Schools each received a forgivable PPP loan. Four of them received between one and two million dollars each, while two received between $350,000 and $1 million. Board minutes for New Visions charters acknowledge accepting PPP for four schools, including a reference to a discussion regarding the risk to “public relations” of keeping the money. Those minutes, however, reveal neither the exact amount each school received, the PPP dollars received by two additional New Visions schools, nor the $2 to $5 million that the New Visions charter management organization itself received.

Based on student enrollment figures combined with mid-range dollar amounts, those six schools received, on average, $3,139 per pupil in ESSER plus PPP monies, versus the $720 per pupil given to New York City public schools by the CARES Act — a pro-charter bias of more than four to one. And that does not include the funding given to the New Visions CMO.

Other big CMOs cashed in as well. KIPP New York, LLC and Uncommon charter schools each received between $2 and $5 million. Their schools are still closed for in-person instruction. Aside from schools run by CMOs, we estimate that the New York City charters that directly got PPP plus ESSER funds received, on average, over $3,500 per pupil in emergency federal funding. As these schools save money by teaching remotely, it is reasonable to ask where that double-dip extra money is going.

There was a time long ago when public schools were thriving, and Catholic schools were also thriving. They were not in competition for students or money. But as our financial demands began pressing on both sectors, Catholic schools began closing and struggling to survive. Among rightwing ideologues, it became conventional to proclaim Catholic schools as “better” than public schools because they were free to kick out the students they didn’t want.

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly, an editor at Commonweal, calls on certain tabloids (i.e. Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post) to stop using Catholic schools to shame public schools. She hearkens back to that long-ago ethic when the different sectors served different populations and knew it.

The Post is unlikely to cease its attacks on the city’s public schools, because Murdoch loves school choice and lionizes charter schools. The Post eagerly prints press releases from Success Academy without ever bothering to fact-check or to acknowledge that SA is an exemplar of high attrition rates and high teacher-turnover rates.

O’Reilly writes (and this is only part of her article):

I can’t comment on the soundness of the decisions being made by the New York City Department of Education. But I know who I see using the pandemic to stuff their pockets, and it isn’t fat-cat maintenance workers. The Post’s implication that public-school educators are unconcerned with their students’ wellbeing is disgraceful. And while it is true that Catholic schools can be a lifeline for students served poorly by public education, I have also known families who have moved their children out of Catholic schools because the public system provides—is required to provide—services for learning disabilities and other special needs that Catholic schools can’t always accommodate. “Putting education first” is not as simple as it sounds.

Catholics should be standing in solidarity with all our neighbors as we do our best to cope with this crisis. We degrade our witness when we allow Catholic schools to be used in a propaganda campaign against public services—or against an honest reckoning with the facts. As the 2020 election approaches, conservatives are eager to exploit the Catholic school success story to advance the claim—let’s call it what it is, a conspiracy theory—that liberals are dishonestly playing up the threat of COVID-19 to make President Donald Trump look bad.

The truth is, my kids and their schoolmates are part of a broad experiment to find out whether masks and distancing and all the other safeguards in place are enough to prevent the spread of the virus. All of us, public and private, parents, teachers, and administrators, are looking for the best way forward in a highly unstable situation. That situation is not the fault of teachers’ unions, or lazy public-school janitors, or even (despite his many sins) Bill de Blasio. It is a direct consequence of the reprehensible failure of the Trump administration to protect Americans from COVID-19. We are all still scrambling, months after schools first shut down in March, because we have inadequate testing and tracing, no national recovery plan, and a president who undermines public trust and sneers at his opponent for wearing a mask. The real scandal we’re all facing isn’t the lack of a functional school system. It’s the lack of a functional federal government.

The New York Times reports that the public schools of New York City have been conducting random drug tests, and the results reveal a surprisingly small number of COVID-19 infections. The city might be a “national model.”

For months, as New York City struggled to start part-time, in-person classes, fear grew that its 1,800 public schools would become vectors of coronavirus infection, a citywide archipelago of super-spreader sites.

But nearly three weeks into the in-person school year, early data from the city’s first effort at targeted testing has shown the opposite: a surprisingly small number of positive cases.

Out of 15,111 staff members and students tested randomly by the school system in the first week of its testing regimen, the city has gotten back results for 10,676. There were only 18 positives: 13 staff members and five students.

And when officials put mobile testing units at schools near Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods that have had new outbreaks, only four positive cases turned up — out of more than 3,300 tests conducted since the last week of September.

New York City is facing fears of a second wave of the virus brought on by localized spikes in Brooklyn and Queens, which have required new shutdown restrictions that included the closure of more than 120 public schools as a precaution, even though few people in them have tested positive.

But for now, at least, the sprawling system of public schools, the nation’s largest, is an unexpected bright spot as the city tries to recover from a pandemic that has killed more than 20,000 people and severely weakened its economy.

If students can continue to return to class, and parents have more confidence that they can go back to work, that could provide a boost to New York City’s halting recovery.

The absence of early outbreaks, if it holds, suggests that the city’s efforts for its 1.1 million public school students could serve as an influential model for school districts across the nation.

In September, New York became the first big urban district to reopen schools for in-person learning.

Roughly half of the city’s students have opted for hybrid learning, where they are in the building some days, but not others. The approach has enabled the city to keep class sizes small and create more space between desks.

Since then, large school districts across Florida have opened for in-person learning, too. Some wealthier districts in the New York suburbs declined to take this step, worried that it was too risky and logistically challenging.

The city’s success so far could put much more pressure on other districts that have opted for only remote instruction to start considering plans to bring their children back as well.

“That data is encouraging,” said Paula White, executive director of Educators for Excellence, a teachers group. “It reinforces what we have heard about schools not being super spreaders.”

So far, it is also good news for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has staked much of his second-term legacy on reopening schools for in-person learning during the pandemic.

While public health experts said the data was encouraging, they also cautioned that it was still early.

In general, maintaining low levels of infection at schools would depend on how well New York City does in holding off a broader spread in the population.

Also, some experts have called for much more frequent random testing in all schools — something that city officials are considering — in order to increase the odds of discovering an outbreak early.

So far, most coronavirus testing for school workers has taken place at city-run sites outside the purview of the education department.

Out of 37,000 tests of staff members at city sites, 180 were positive, a city official said.

According to separate data reported to the state by local school districts, 198 public school students in New York City have tested positive since Sept. 8. (Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in early September ordered those conducting coronavirus tests to collect school information on children, but so far compliance has been spotty, state officials said.)

The city’s new schools testing regimen, which began Oct. 9, calls for 10 to 20 percent of the school population to be tested once a month, depending on the size of the school. The city is applying this testing to its 1,600 traditional public schools; the city’s 260 charter schools are not included.

Some researchers have questioned the efficacy of that approach, saying it could miss a large outbreak.

“It’s great that New York City is doing some level of random testing,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “It’s not at the level that would be ideal.”

One study recommended testing half the students twice a month.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the teachers union, said the city is looking to increase testing to as much as three times a month citywide. Such frequency, he said, would be “much more valuable” in terms of keeping the virus in check…

A positive test of a student or teacher causes the city to spring into action. Under the rules, one case can cause the closure of a classroom. Two or more cases in separate parts of the same school can prompt a temporary schoolwide closure. At least 25 schools have temporarily closed since classes began. But only three were closed as of Friday…

A positive test of a student or teacher causes the city to spring into action. Under the rules, one case can cause the closure of a classroom. Two or more cases in separate parts of the same school can prompt a temporary schoolwide closure. At least 25 schools have temporarily closed since classes began. But only three were closed as of Friday.

Right now, Mayor Bill de Blasio must be thinking that mayoral control of the schools is not such a great idea. Michael Bloomberg demanded mayoral control when he was first elected mayor in 2001. The State Legislature turned the schools over to the billionaire. Despite specious claims of a “New York City Miracle,” the problems remained serious. The mayor broke almost all the large high schools into small schools. He embraced charters as an engine of innovation, which they were not.

Now de Blasio is trying to deal with a major publuc health crisis that has hurt the city’s economy, and the dilemma of reopening is on his desk.

The Council of Supeervisors and Administrators passed a resolution of no confidence in both de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza.

Leonie Haimson explains why.