Archives for category: New York City

Strange as it may seem, the best education reporter in New York City works for Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post. Her name is Susan Edelman, and she regularly reports on what is happening in the city’s schools without fear or favor. Unlike the New York Times, where reporters cycle in and out of the education beat, Sue has been writing on the subject for many years.

One of her best articles appeared in 2011, when she revealed the source of the non-existent “New York City Miracle.”

The title: “New York’s School Testing Con.”

Mayor Bloomberg trumpeted the 2009 scores as proof of the success of his mayoralty, as proof that the Legislature was wise to give him total control of the school system, and as reason #1 to re-elect him to a third term (which broke the City Constitution’s two-term limit).

Edelman began:

In a stunningly short time, from 2006 to 2009, New York schools celebrated what was presented as a tremendous turnaround. The number of city students passing statewide math tests in the third through eighth grades surged from 58% to 82%. At the same time, the Big Apple graduation rate rose from 49% to an all-time high of 63% last year.

The figures were miraculous.

They were also, for the most part, a lie.

While the scores have risen, real achievement has lagged. Behind the curtain, an erosion of standards has led to a generation of New Yorkers who have been handed high school diplomas but can’t handle the rigors of college or careers.

A new state report finds just 23% of city grads leave high school ready to succeed in college or the work world. About 75% who enrolled at CUNY community colleges flunked the entrance exam, and must take one or more remedial classes in math, reading and writing.

Many blamed State Commissioner Richard Mills, who set graduation standards so high that he had to lower the bar or face the possibility that most students would not get a diploma.

But others saw a coverup of huge proportions when the 2009 scores went through the roof. In response to the spectacular scores, Regent Betty Rosa asked,

 “Why are we celebrating these scores as a miracle, when there is no miracle?” Rosa said she asked.

Another insider said Big Apple officials were urged not to “exaggerate” the results. But Mayor Bloomberg hailed the increase in 2009 as an “enormous victory.” At the time, he had a lot riding on the scores — he was seeking a third term and pushing for legislation to extend mayoral control of the schools.

City officials “got very angry,” the insider said, when Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch publicly downplayed the results, citing “troubling gaps” between the stellar state scores and lackluster outcomes on national exams.

Mills has maintained the scoring was backed by his panel of experts. But Rosa and other members of the Board of Regents say he kept them in the dark.

“I basically asked, ‘Who sets the cut scores? How is this determined?’ ” said Rosa, who joined the board in 2008. “There was no real explanation. I never got a straight answer.”

Mills and his testing chief, David Abrams, had rebuffed requests in 2008 to investigate the inflation. Faced with a lack of confidence, Mills was “encouraged” to leave in June 2009, insiders said. He declined to comment last week, saying, “I have nothing to add.”

Many city students soon discovered their Big Apple diploma was little more than a piece of paper.

Jasmine Gary, 18, a graduate of Port Richmond HS on Staten Island, was surprised when she scored a 70 on the Regents math exam.

“I don’t know how I passed, because I failed a lot of math classes,” she said.

She applied to CUNY but bombed on the entrance exam. Now she’s required to take a no-credit, $75 remedial class at Borough of Manhattan Community College, but is catching up. “I learn more here,” she said.

Rossie and Angely Torres, 18-year-old twins from The Bronx, earned 76 and 75 respectively on the math Regents at Philip Randolph HS in Harlem. They, too, take remedial classes at BMCC.

“In high school it was just people talking and the teacher would just give us an assignment. It was just to graduate. But here, people work hard and the teacher is more serious,” Rossie said.

Former Chancellor Joel Klein, who left office several months ago to join News Corp, which owns The Post, declined to be interviewed. But he defended his eight-year record via e-mail sent by a city DOE spokesman.

“We’ve long called for higher standards and . . . we still made real gains,” Klein said.

For instance, city fourth-graders have boosted their scores on national reading tests since 2003, though eighth-grade scores have remained flat.

And NYC has outpaced the state’s other big cities, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers, the DOE says. In 2002, New York City’s fourth-grade math results were 27% lower than the statewide average, while the other four cities showed a 31% gap. In 2008, New York City was just 8% behind the rest of the state, while the “big four” were 25% behind.

But the more spectacular results have vanished.

The Board of Regents commissioned a study, led by Harvard professor Daniel Koretz, which concluded in 2009 that the statewide grades three-eight tests had become too easy. Mills’ successor, David Steiner, recruited for his experience in teacher development as dean of Hunter College of Education, was charged with making the 2010 tests more comprehensive and less predictable. He also hoisted the cutoff points, requiring students to do more to pass.

Scores plunged. Just 54% of all city students in grades three-eight showed proficiency in math tests last year, compared with 82% in 2009. Reading proficiency citywide fell from 69% to a dismal 42%.

Even so, the tougher tests continued the practice of giving “partial credit” for wrong answers — or no answer at all — if the kids showed some understanding of the concept or did one step right.

On the fourth-grade test, for instance, a kid who answered that a 2-foot-long skateboard is 48 inches got half-credit for adding 24 and 24 instead of the correct 12 plus 12. “They were giving credit for blatantly wrong things,” said a teacher hired to score the tests.

A state report released this month delivered a new blow. It found that most kids who earn less than 75 on the state Regents English test or 80 on the math exam — 65 is passing for both — must take remedial classes before starting college.

That 65 score is misleading as well. It’s based on an adjustable scale — and the state has whittled down the points needed to pass. Back in 2003, students had to get 61.2% of math questions right for a 65 score, the minimum required for a Regents diploma, and 50.5% of questions right for a 55 score, enough for a “local diploma.” Today, students need just 30 points out of a maximum 87 — or 34.5% — to get a 65 score.

“When Johnny or Jenny comes home with a 65 or 70, their parents might think they’ve mastered about two-thirds of the material. In fact, it’s slightly more than a third,” said Steve Koss, a retired city math teacher who has railed against the bloated test scores. “Sadly, most parents don’t understand how the scoring works. If they knew the truth, many would be outraged at what amounts to a fraud perpetrated against them by state and local education officials.”

Last month, the state launched a shorter English Regents exam, cutting it from two days to one, six hours to three, and four essays to one. Instead of three other essays, kids have to write two “well-developed paragraphs.”

To bring matters to the present, the Regents are now debating whether to retain or discard their storied exams, which students must pass to graduate.

But that’s a topic for another post.

When Rudy Guiliani was planning to run for mayor of New York City in 1993, he commissioned a study of his vulnerabilities so that he would be prepared to respond to attacks.

The vulnerability study compiled a long list of his deeds and misdeeds that would give ammunition to critics.

After he read it, Guiliani ordered that it be destroyed, lest it fall into the wrong hands.

Apparently, one copy was not destroyed, and it was handed over to Guiliani critic Wayne Barrett, who wrote a biography of the Mayor. Barrett has since died, but he turned over his copy to the author of this article, Fred Smith. 

Smith and his co-writer Jarrett Murphy contend that the Guiliani of 1993 is the same as the one we see today, with all the same flaws.

 

Fred Smith was the testing expert at the New York City Board of Education for many years. After he retired, he became a relentless truth-teller about the flaws of standardized testing and the clever means of distorting the stats to produce the desired results. He currently acts as an unpaid advisor to opt-out parents.

Smith sent this article from 2007 that shows how Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein played games with the data, in this case blaming “immigrant kids” for a drop in test scores.

Mayor Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, have reaffirmed that old Mark Twain saying about the three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.

Using a PowerPoint presentation filled with glitzy graphs and color charts, Klein reached a new low yesterday by attempting to blame a sharp drop in this year’s third-, fourth- and fifth-grade reading scores on thousands of immigrant pupils.

According to the chancellor, the drop in the lower grade scores was solely because of the federal government’s new requirement that all children classified as English-language learners, or ELLs, must take the regular state tests after being in the country just one year.

Because of that requirement, some 30,000 more ELLs took the state test this year than in 2006, Klein said, and their lower scores dragged down overall city results.

Fred Smith was outraged when he heard Klein’s explanation. Smith, you see, spent three decades analyzing tests for our city’s school system, so he knows a thing or two about how chancellors paint the prettiest picture for the public.

“They never told you that back in 2005, during the mayoral race, the school district quietly increased the number of exemptions for ELL kids and then claimed a record boost in scores,” Smith said.

In 2009, with Bloomberg’s fellow billionaire Meryl Tisch, in charge of the New York Board of Regents, test scores in the city went through the roof. After the mayoral primary election was safely past, the Regents commissioned a report by professors Daniel Koretz and Jennifer Jennings showing that the test questions had become familiar, leading to score inflation, and that the dramatic rise was not real.

Also, in an amusing turn of events, New York City won the Broad award in 2007 as the most improved urban district, right before the NAEP gains were released, showing that the city had made no gains on NAEP.

In 2010, Jennifer Medina of the New York Times wrote about the perils of over reliance on standardized tests and how it affected New York City in particular. 

She wrote:

When New York State made its standardized English and math tests tougher to pass this year, causing proficiency rates to plummet, it said it was relying on a new analysis showing that the tests had become too easy and that score inflation was rampant.

But evidence had been mounting for some time that the state’s tests, which have formed the basis of almost every school reform effort of the past decade, had serious flaws.

The fast rise and even faster fall of New York’s passing rates resulted from the effect of policies, decisions and missed red flags that stretched back more than 10 years and were laid out in correspondence and in interviews with city and state education officials, administrators and testing experts.

The process involved direct warnings from experts that went unheeded by the state, and a city administration that trumpeted gains in student performance despite its own reservations about how reliably the test gauged future student success.

It involved the state’s decision to create short, predictable exams and to release them publicly soon after they were given, making coaching easy and depriving test creators of a key tool: the ability to insert in each test questions for future exams. Next year, for the first time, the tests will not be released publicly.

It involved a national push for numbers-based accountability, begun under President George W. Bush and reinforced by President Obama. And it involved a mayor’s full embrace of testing as he sought to make his mark on the city, and then to get re-elected.

“They just kept upping the stakes with the scores, putting more pressure on the schools but not really looking at what it all means,” said Pedro Noguera, an education professor at New York University who has worked with the city’s Department of Education to help improve struggling schools.

New York has been a national model for how to carry out education reform, so its sudden decline in passing rates may be seen as a cautionary tale. The turnaround has also been a blow to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his chancellor, Joel I. Klein, who despite warnings that a laserlike focus on raising scores could make them less and less reliable, lashed almost every aspect of its school system to them. Schools were graded on how much their scores rose and threatened with being closed if they did not. The scores dictated which students were promoted or left back, and which teachers and principals would receive bonuses.

Even now, the city believes that the way it uses the tests is valid. The mayor and the chancellor have forcefully defended their students’ performance, noting that even after the changes this year, student scores are still better than they were in 2002. They have argued that their students’ progress is more important than the change in the passing rate, and that years of gains cannot be washed away because of a decision in Albany to require more correct answers from every student this year.

The test scores were even used for a new purpose this year: to help determine which teachers should receive tenure.

“This mayor uses data and metrics to determine whether policies are failing or succeeding,” said Howard Wolfson, the deputy mayor for government affairs and communications. He also helped run Mr. Bloomberg’s re-election campaign in 2009, using the city’s historic rise in test scores to make the case for a third term. “We believe that testing is a key factor for determining the success of schools and teachers.”

“Under any standard you look at,” he added, “we have improved the schools.”

But given all the flaws of the test, said Prof. Howard T. Everson of the City University of New York’s Center for Advanced Study in Education, it is hard to tell what those rising scores really meant.

“Teachers began to know what was going to be on the tests,” said Professor Everson, who was a member of a state testing advisory panel and who warned the state in 2008 that it might have a problem with score inflation. “Then you have to wonder, and folks like me wonder, is that real learning or not?”

New Generation of Tests

The problems that plagued New York’s standardized tests can be traced to the origin of the exams.

In 1996, New York set about creating tests for fourth and eighth graders as a way to measure whether schools were doing their jobs. A precursor to the widespread testing brought about by Mr. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, the tests replaced more basic exams that had been given in the same grades, which simply determined whether students needed remedial instruction. (The city had also given its own tests for many years.)

Teachers pushed back, saying they could gauge their students’ performance better than any mass-produced tests could. “There was a lot of resistance from throughout the education community to having the tests,” said Alan Ray, who was the chief spokesman for the State Education Department in the 1990s and in 2000, and retired this year after overseeing data for the office.

But education officials in New York, and many other states, were coming to the conclusion that some measurement system, no matter how limited, was necessary.

The officials sought advice from dozens of educators across New York to figure out what the tests should encompass, Mr. Ray said. Teachers and principals asked that the standards be specific, to make it clear what they were expected to teach at each grade level, and superintendents pleaded to keep the tests relatively short so that students would not spend days filling in bubbles. The state obliged both requests.

The decision to keep the tests narrow and short — the fifth-grade math test, for example, had 34 questions this year — would have a lasting impact, said Daniel Koretz, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education who specializes in assessment systems. The same types of questions would be trotted out every year, he said.

“In many cases you could not write an unpredictable question no matter how hard you tried,” Professor Koretz said. He oversaw the study of New York’s tests that led to the state’s conclusion that they had become too easy to pass.

The state also continued making tests public after they were administered. Coupled with the questions’ predictability, the public release of the tests, which started long before the nationwide accountability movement, provided teachers with ready-made practice exams….

A Mayor Chases Results

The state tests’ flaws would not become evident for years. But by 2001, the tests had a champion.

During his first campaign, Mr. Bloomberg said that education was his top priority. He pledged to take control of the city’s public schools, then under the supervision of the Board of Education, which had been ridiculed for budget troubles and stagnant academic performance.

Projecting the image of a bottom-line-oriented, pragmatic businessman, Mr. Bloomberg latched on to test scores as a clear way of seeing just how well students were doing.

“If four years from now reading scores and math scores aren’t significantly better,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a radio interview in 2001, “then I will look in the mirror and say that I have been a failure. I’ve never failed at anything yet, and I don’t plan to fail at that.”

After Mr. Bloomberg persuaded the Legislature to give him control of the schools, he appointed Mr. Klein, a former Justice Department lawyer and media executive, as his chancellor. Mr. Klein was seen as a technocrat who was eager and able to produce tangible results, the kind that could be measured.

Scores in the city and state were on their way up. In 2004, for example, the proportion of fourth graders in the city meeting math standards increased to 68 percent, up 16 percentage points since 2001. Only 42 percent of eighth graders met that mark, but that was still a significant improvement from just a few years earlier. By 2009, that rate would jump nearly 30 points.

“What is encouraging is that for two or three years in a row now, the tests have gone in the same direction — up,” the mayor said on a radio show in October 2004. “So there’s reason to believe we’re headed to the correct place.”

In 2003, Mr. Bloomberg ended the practice of “social promotion” in certain grades, requiring students performing at the lowest levels on the tests be held back unless they attended summer school and showed progress on a retest. That year, Mr. Klein released a list of 200 successful schools, the only places where teachers would not have to follow the citywide math and English curriculums. The list was primarily based on test scores.

More and more of the mayor’s educational initiatives were linked to the scores. They were used to help decide which schools should be closed and replaced with new, smaller schools. The new A-through-F grading system for schools was based primarily on how their students improved on the tests. Teachers and principals earned bonuses of up to $25,000 if their schools’ scores rose. Teachers’ annual evaluations and tenure decisions are partially dependent on test results.

Each new policy was met with denunciations from the teachers’ union or from education experts like Diane Ravitch. Ms. Ravitch, a supporter of standardized testing when she was an adviser to the Clinton and Bush administrations, became one of the biggest critics, arguing that schools were devoting too much time to the pursuit of high scores.

“If they are not learning social studies but their reading scores are going up, they are not getting an education,” Ms. Ravitch said in 2005, as the mayor coasted to re-election.

The mayor and chancellor dismissed these criticisms as the hidebound defenses of an old, failed system devoid of meaningful standards. But some questions were also being raised by people close to the administration.

In the Education Department headquarters on Chambers Street, some officials argued that the A-through-F system of grading schools should incorporate not only the English and math tests, but also the science and social studies exams given by the state. “We wanted to draw this as broadly as possible,” said a former school official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid publicly disagreeing with Mr. Klein.

But after months of running models and tweaking formulas, Mr. Klein decided to stick with the two core subjects. After all, he often argued, if students could not master essential math and English skills, it would be impossible for them to grasp other concepts.

Dr. Noguera, the N.Y.U. education professor and adviser to the city, applauded Mr. Klein for creating a grading system that rewarded improvement from year to year so that schools in poor neighborhoods had the same chance of achieving a good grade as those in wealthier areas.

But it also was risky, Dr. Noguera said. “That got schools fixated on how to raise scores, not looking for more authentic learning,” he said.

Dr. Noguera expressed his views publicly and to some of Mr. Klein’s deputies, but never directly told the chancellor, he said.

Mr. Klein said in recent interviews that while the tests were imperfect, they were still the best measurements available for a school system that previously had no yardsticks. They also were not the only signs proving the city had been making progress, he said: On more difficult federal tests given to a sample of fourth and eighth graders, the city had steadily improved.

And the city’s main goal, he said, was not simply giving out laurels for students’ scoring 3s (“proficient”) and 4s (“advanced”) on the state tests.

Instead, its system of school grades and teacher incentives gave considerable weight to scores that showed improvement from year to year at all levels.

“Nobody else was doing this,” Mr. Klein said. “We never said it was good enough to get to passing and just stay there.”

In 2006, the state added tests for the third, fifth, sixth and seventh grades, in order to align with the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Scores jumped in 2007.

There were improvements at every grade level across the state and in New York City, where 65 percent of all students met state standards in math, an improvement of eight percentage points in one year.

“I’m happy, thrilled — ecstatic, I think, is a better word,” Mr. Bloomberg said at the time. “The hard work going on in our schools is really paying off.”

After Mr. Bloomberg’s first full term as mayor, the new scores seemed to ratify his claims of success. They also raised more alarms.

As a superintendent in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Kathleen Cashin had seen several schools improve throughout the early part of the decade. But when she saw the sudden jump, she said, she was shocked.

“I said to my intimate circle of staff, this cannot be possible,” Ms. Cashin recalled. “I knew how much effort and how much planning any little improvement would take, and not all of these schools had done any of it.”

But Ms. Cashin, who retired in February, held her tongue at the time. Asked why she did not take up her concerns with Mr. Klein or his deputies, she said, “I didn’t have their ear.”

A Proposal for a Fix

The following winter, Professor Koretz, of Harvard, and Professor Everson, of CUNY, who was a member of a state testing advisory group, sent a memo to state education officials.

“Research has shown that when educators are pressured to raise scores on conventional achievement tests, some improve instruction, while others turn to inappropriate methods of test preparation that inflate scores,” they wrote in the Feb. 5, 2008, memo. “In some cases, the inflation of scores has been extreme.”

The researchers proposed to devise a kind of audit. While tests tended to be similar from year to year, they would add to each exam some questions that did not resemble those from previous years. If a class performed well on the main section of the test but poorly on the added questions, that would be evidence that scores were inflated by test preparation. If a class performed well on both, the researchers wrote, that teacher might have methods worth emulating.

In addition, they wrote, such a system would give teachers “less incentive to engage in inappropriate test preparation and more incentive to undertake the much harder task of improving instruction.”

State education officials, the professors said, did not give them a hearing.

The 2008 results showed even more large gains — 74 percent of city students were deemed proficient in math, an increase of nine points in one year; and the city’s passing rate in reading was now 58 percent, up from 51 percent two years earlier. Statewide, the passing rates jumped to 81 percent in math and 69 percent in reading.

Professor Koretz and Professor Everson wrote another memo in September 2008, again proposing to create a way to make test results more reliable. But the idea went nowhere….

The city’s Department of Education constantly mines test score data for patterns to show where improvement is happening and where it is needed. In 2008, it noticed an incongruity: Eighth graders who scored at least a 3 on the state math exam had only a 50 percent chance of graduating from high school four years later with a Regents diploma, which requires a student to pass a certain number of tests in various subjects and is considered the minimum qualification for college readiness.

The city realized that the test results were not as reliable as the state was leading people to believe.

Mr. Klein and several of his deputies spoke by phone with Merryl H. Tisch, the vice chancellor of the Board of Regents, and Mr. Mills, trying to persuade them to create a statewide accountability system similar to the city’s, one that gave improvement at least as much weight as the score itself.

The state said it would consider moving to such a system, but would need more time.

Neither the city nor state publicly disclosed the concerns about the scores. By then, students across the state were preparing for the 2009 tests, filling in bubbles on mock answer sheets, using at least three years of previous state tests as guides.

The scores arrived in May, and with them, the bluntest warning yet.

Just before the results were released, a member of the Regents named Betty Rosa called Ms. Tisch, who had recently become chancellor.

Ms. Rosa, who had been a teacher, principal and superintendent in the Bronx for nearly three decades, said the unprecedented high scores simply seemed too good to be true. She suggested the unthinkable: the scores were so unbelievable, she said, that the state should not publicly release them.

“The question was really are we telling the public the truth,” Ms. Rosa said in a recent interview. Ms. Tisch, she said, relayed that she, too, found the scores suspicious, but that it would be impossible to withhold them. “It was like a train that was already in motion and no way to stop it,” Ms. Rosa said.

The English test scores showed 69 percent of city students passing. Mr. Bloomberg called the results “nothing short of amazing and exactly what this country needs.”

“We have improved the test scores in English,” he continued, “and we expect the same results in math in a couple of weeks, every single year for seven years.” Four weeks later, it was announced that 82 percent of city students had passed the math tests.

Because of the widespread improvement in the scores, 84 percent of all public schools received an A in the city’s grading system, something Mr. Klein said he later regretted. This year, the city limited the number of A’s to 25 percent of schools.

The 2009 numbers came out as the mayor was trying to accomplish two goals: to persuade the Legislature to give the mayor control of the schools for another seven years; and to convince city voters that he deserved a third term.

Mr. Bloomberg’s opponent, Comptroller William C. Thompson, had once been president of the Education Board.

“Mike Bloomberg changed that system,” said one of the mayor’s campaign advertisements. “Now, record graduation rates. Test scores up, violence down. So when you compare apples to apples, Thompson offers politics as usual. Mike Bloomberg offers progress.”

In his debates, Mr. Bloomberg hammered home the theme. “If anybody thinks that the schools were better when Bill ran them, they should vote for him,” he said in one face-off. “And if anybody thinks they’re better now, I’d be honored to have their vote.”

Indeed, according to exit polls, 57 percent of those who said education was their primary concern voted for Mr. Bloomberg, who won the election by a five-point margin.

Mr. Wolfson, the deputy mayor and 2009 campaign strategist, said the mayor had no regrets about focusing on the exams as a matter of policy, and during the election.

“What’s the converse?” he said. “The converse is that we don’t test and we have no way of judging success or failure. Either you believe in standards or tests, or you don’t — and life is not like that. There are tests all the time.”

Ms. Tisch, in releasing the 2009 test results, had not heeded Ms. Rosa’s radical request. But the very day she put out the English test results, she began openly acknowledging doubts about the scores, irking the mayor and chancellor, who privately seethed that she was seeking to undermine their success. “As a board, we will ask whether the test is getting harder or easier,” she said.

Although the Regents did not immediately opt to create an entirely new test, Ms. Tisch and David Steiner, the new education commissioner, asked Professor Koretz, who had been rebuffed in previous requests, to analyze the ones that were in use. His conclusion — and that of another researcher, Jennifer L. Jennings — was that the tests had become too easy, and hence the scores were inflated. That led the State Education Department to raise the number of correct answers required to pass each test.

The state intends to rewrite future tests to encompass a broader range of material, and will stop publicly releasing them.

“We came in here saying we have to stop lying to our kids,” Ms. Tisch said in a recent interview. “We have to be able to know what they do and do not know.”

Bloomberg was first elected to the mayoralty in 2001. There was a two-term limit. He ran again in 2005, for what should have been his second and last term, and won easily. In 2009, he used his vast resources to persuade the City Council to vote to give him and themselves a third term. And that he is how he qualified to run for a third term and used his education record as a reason to be re-elected.
Now, after all this investment in testing, test prep, interim assessments, etc. what were the results?
New York City has shown no gains in reading on NAEP from 2003-2019, in either fourth or eighth grades.
Make of it what you will.
If Bloomberg is the Democratic candidate against Trump, I will vote for him.
But please don’t believe the boasting about the New York City education miracle.
It never happened.
An update on some of the individuals mentioned in the New York Times’ 2010 article. Betty Rosa is now Chancellor of the State Board of Regents. Kathleen Cashin is a member of the Board of Regents. Meryl Tisch is now on the board of the State University of New York (which has the power to authorize new charter schools, including those of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain). David Steiner–now a professor at Johns Hopkins University– served for two years as State Commissioner, during which time he approved Mayor Bloomberg’s choice to succeed Joel Klein as NYC Chancellor, a retired magazine publisher named Cathie Black, who lasted three months. Steiner was also in charge of the State Education Department when it won a Race to the Top grant and committed the state to using student test scores to evaluate teachers, increasing the number of charter schools, and adopting the Common Core standards. These changes, in turn, created the parent-led Opt Out movement, in which parents refused to let their children take the state tests and grew to represent 20% of the eligible students. John King succeeded David Steiner and eventually replaced Arne Duncan in the last year of President Obama’s second term. When Joel Klein stepped down, he hired a Department of Education vendor named Wireless Generation and created a technology company called Amplify. Rupert Murdoch bought Amplify and invested a reputed $1 billion; newspaper stories predicted that Amplify would usher in a new age of hardware and software. However, the biggest sale of Amplify tablets and software was made to Guilford, North Carolina, purchased with Race to the Top funding; it turned into  a disaster when chargers melted and other problems emerged. Guilford canceled the contract. Murdoch, having lost about $500 million, put the company up for sale. Laurene Powell Jobs bought it, and Amplify is now part of her Emerson Collective, selling “personalized learning.” Klein works for an online healthcare company called OSCAR, co-founded by Joshua Kushner, brother of Jared Kushner.

Four years ago, Michael Bloomberg spoke candidly in Aspen about his stop-and-frisk policies that targeted young black  and Hispanic men, but he immediately requested that it not be released to the public. Although he was proud of his policy, he knew there was something that wasn’t right about targeting young minority males.

Charles Blow of the New York Times wrote about the racist, disastrous policy of stop and frisk.

Let me plant the stake now: No black person — or Hispanic person or ally of people of color — should ever even consider voting for Michael Bloomberg in the primary. His expansion of the notoriously racist stop-and-frisk program in New York, which swept up millions of innocent New Yorkers, primarily young black and Hispanic men, is a complete and nonnegotiable deal killer.

Stop-and-frisk, pushed as a way to get guns and other contraband off the streets, became nothing short of a massive, enduring, city-sanctioned system of racial terror…

In 2002, the first year Bloomberg was mayor, 97,296 of these stops were recorded. They surged during Bloomberg’s tenure to a peak of 685,724 stops in 2011, near the end of his third term. Nearly 90 percent of the people who were stopped and frisked were innocent of any wrongdoing.

A New York Times analysis of stops on “eight odd blocks” in the overwhelmingly black neighborhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn found close to 52,000 stops over four years, which averaged out to “nearly one stop a year for every one of the 14,000 residents of these blocks.”

In 2009, there were more than 580,000 stop-and-frisks, a record at the time. Of those stopped, 55 percent were black, 32 percent Hispanic and only 10 percent white. Most were young, and almost all were male. Eighty-eight percent were innocent. For reference, according to the Census Bureau, there were about 300,000 black men between the ages of 13 and 34 living in the city that year.

Not only that, but those who were stopped had their names entered into a comprehensive police database, even if they were never accused of committing a crime. As Donna Lieberman, then the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in 2010, the database became a place “where millions of completely innocent, predominantly black and Latinos have been turned into permanent police suspects.”

The state outlawed the keeping of these electronic records on the innocent, over the strong objections of Bloomberg and his police chief…

Bloomberg’s crime argument was dubious. The Columbia Law School professor Jeffrey Fagan produced a report that became part of a class-action lawsuit against the city in 2010. It found that: “[s]eizures of weapons or contraband are extremely rare. Overall, guns are seized in less than 1 percent of all stops: 0.15 percent … Contraband, which may include weapons but also includes drugs or stolen property, is seized in 1.75 percent of all stops.”

Michael Mulgrew is president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers, the largest local in the nation and in the American Federation of Teachers.

He published this article in the New York Daily News, which is strongly pro-charter and often writes about the “success” of the city’s charter schools compared to its public schools. Mulgrew explains here the secrets of charter “success.”

The research behind his article is here. 

Careful selection, exclusion, and attrition are keys to charter success.

Mulgrew writes:

Cheerleaders for New York City’s charter school sector typically trumpet the academic achievements of charter school students.

But there is an inconvenient truth about these schools that charter supporters rarely discuss, or even admit. The schools’ “success” is due not to any superior instructional strategy but rather to segregation — segregation based on students’ academic and social needs.

Though charters are open to all by lottery, as a group they enroll a significantly smaller percentage than public schools of our neediest children, such as English language learners, special education students or those from the poorest families. Children like these typically have the largest learning challenges.

For the 2018-19 school year, for example, the latest for which data is available, charters as a group enrolled half the citywide average of ELLs (6.9% vs. a citywide average of 14.6%) and a third of the special education students with the highest level of need (1.7% vs. a citywide average of 5.4%).

But the charter sector average turns out to be only half the story. An analysis of individual charter schools clearly shows that the schools most successful at excluding these kinds of students turn out to be — no surprise — the charters with the highest test scores.

As measured by the most recent state English language exam, the most academically successful charters (those with a pass rate of 67% or higher) had even fewer English Language Learners and special ed students.

That’s not a bug in the charter world; it’s a feature. Throughout the charter sector, as the number of children with academic and other needs grows, the average proficiency rate on the state test declines, to the point that the nearly 50 charters with the highest percentages of needy children don’t even reach the citywide average on the state reading exam.

How do many charters — particularly those most successful on standardized tests — find ways to minimize the number of pupils unlikely to contribute to that success?

They start with highly committed families, those with a knowledge of the system and the motivation to enter their children in the charter lottery.

Robert Pondiscio, who has many sympathies for charters, wrote most recently that the idea that essentially the same kinds of students attend both public schools and charters, while “deeply satisfying to charter school advocates…is also misleading and even false” because of the critical nature of this parental motivation.

The next step in the charter success strategy is to find ways to ease out kids less likely to be successful. A key tactic is using suspensions to persuade students who do not fit well to find other schools.

Our analysis shows that less academically successful charters actually gained students over time. However, the most academically successful charters also showed significant attrition — a loss of more than one-quarter of the pupils who started in the cohort that began in 2010.

Were all those pupils who left the top charters academic stars? Or, as is much more likely, are the top charters consciously shedding weaker students and reaping the benefits in terms of higher test scores?

State data shows that charters as a group suspended students far more frequently than public schools did, and that the top charters — with a suspension rate of more than 8% — led the way.

Public school students in more than 100 schools have given up labs, libraries, music rooms and other facilities to charters that have been co-located in their buildings.

The bill for charters continues to grow. Some $2.4 billion in city Department of Education funds will be diverted in the coming fiscal year to charter operations, and current charters, even with no further regulatory or legislative action, are scheduled to expand their grades in future years.

Enormous public investments are going to too many schools that fail to educate the neediest students, and then rely on such exclusion to fuel their claims of success.

 

 

 

 

Carol Burris wrote about Michael Bloomberg’s education ideas several years ago when she was a high school principal on Long Island in New York.

You have to love New York City’s mayor. Michael Bloomberg speaks his mind, never holding back. While most self-proclaimed school reformers do the Dance of the Seven Veils, slowly revealing their agenda, the mayor jumps up on stage and gives you the ‘full monty.’ He’s sure he has the solution for all that ails New York’s schools, and he is not shy about sharing.

Last Thursday, he told an MIT conference audience how to quickly improve public schools. “I would, if I had the ability – which nobody does really – to just design a system and say, ‘ex cathedra, this is what we’re going to do,’ you would cut the number of teachers in half, but you would double the compensation of them and you would weed out all the bad ones and just have good teachers. And double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for the students.”

Now that’s an interesting proposal to promote college readiness: lecture halls for third graders.

The mayor never cites any research to support his claims about what’s a good deal for students. Nor does he explain a sensible way to determine the bottom half of teachers — the ones who would be sent packing. But he should be forgiven on this point since there is, in fact, no such research and no such sensible way.

Yet as astounding as his statement might be, the mayor’s solution is not pulled from thin air. In fact, his assumption is the foundational belief on which the State of New York has designed its teacher and principal evaluation system.

The evaluation system, APPR, actually assumes that half of all teachers are not effective (ineffective or developing), although there is no evidence that that is the case. In fact, the State Education Department has created a bell curve evaluative system on which to place teachers to make it so. Now that, Mayor Mike, is ex cathedra.

Mayor Mike loved test scores and data. The fact that New York City made no more progress on national tests than any other city during his twelve years in office says something about his shallow knowledge of education. He left behind a school system that had gone through four major reorganizations; that relied on business consultants rather than educators for major decisions; that fired many teachers and principals and closed many schools; that introduced dozens of new selective schools; that won the title of the most racially segregated school system in the nation. He was really good at disruption, not so much at actually improving education.

It was a curious fact that when billionaire Michael Bloomberg was mayor of New York City for 12 years, he had complete control of the public schools yet did not have any fresh ideas about how to improve them.

This should not be surprising, because he was never an educator. He hired another non-educator–Joel Klein–to be his chancellor. The two of them relied heavily on McKinsey and other consultants to guide them. They hired lots of MBAs to staff top  positions. They hoped to adopt a corporate style of organization, which made sense because they had low regard for actual educators.

He adopted every aspect of No Child Left Behind: high-stakes testing, closing schools, firing teachers and principals. He loved opening small schools, and when they failed, he reopened them with a new name so they could start over.

New York City was a faithful replication of NCLB, with punishments and rewards leading the way.

His main idea was to hand schools over to private charter operators, assuming that they would have better ideas about how to run schools than he did.

Some of the charter operators made a point of excluding low-performing students, which artificially boosted their test scores.

Some closed their enrollments in the fourth grade, so they would not have to take in new students after that point.

Some kicked out kids who were in need of special services.

Bloomberg’s favorite charter chain was Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy, which used all of these tricks to get astonishingly high test scores.

Bloomberg was obsessed with data and test scores. He even adopted Jeb Bush’s policy of letter grades for schools (which his successor Bill DeBlasio abolished).

The New York City charter industry practiced all the tricks of raising test scores by manipulating the student population.

In addition, the charter sector mastered the ability to organize mass rallies, flooding legislative halls with students and parents, pleading for more funding for new charters (which they could not attend since they were already enrolled in charters).

So pleased was Bloomberg with his charter policy that it is now the centerpiece of his national education agenda.

He doesn’t care about the nearly 90% of kids who are enrolled in public schools.

He believes in privatization.

If elected, he could retain Betsy DeVos as his Secretary of Education and maintain continuity with Trump’s education agenda.

Liat Olenick was a charter school teacher. Fatima Geidi was a parent of a charter student.

They write in a joint article that proposals by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren should not be controversial. Charter advocates have reacted fiercely against any effort to regulate the privately-run schools. But, say the authors, charters will improve if they are both accountable and transparent, as Sanders and Warren propose.

They write:

 

As a former charter school parent and a former charter school teacher, we support these proposals – and we believe, that if implemented both at the federal level and with a similar approach at the state level, this agenda would actually improve charter schools while also limiting some of the harm they have done to district public schools.

First, a little about our experiences, which are, sadly, far from unique. 

I, Liat, spent my first year teaching at a Brooklyn charter school that was started by non-educators and suffered from extreme turnover in administrators and staff. We had six principals over the course of the first year, and ten teachers either quit or were fired. We also lost special education students because our school wouldn’t or couldn’t provide the services they needed. Instead, they were sent to nearby public schools. Now that I work in a public school in District 14, we experience the reverse process — my school has no choice but to accept the many students pushed out by charter schools when they don’t conform to their rigid academic or behavioral expectations.

I, Fatima, am a single mother whose son was suspended over 30 times by his charter school, Upper West Success Academy, starting in first grade, including for very minor issues, such as walking up the stairs too slowly. He was also denied his mandated special education services, which worsened the situation. The school demanded that I pick him up so frequently in the middle of the day that I was forced to drop out of college myself. When I finally pulled him out of the school, his therapist told me he suffered from symptoms of post-traumatic stress. 

Then when my son and I were subsequently interviewed on the PBS Newshour about how he had been treated at the school, Success Academy officials at the network sent copies of his disciplinary files, full of trumped-up charges, to every education reporter they could find and posted it online. Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy CEO, also recounted false stories about his behaviorin her published memoirs. 

Although the US Department of Education eventually found her and the school guilty of violating the federal student privacy law called FERPA more than three years after I filed my initial complaint, Success officials have refused to comply with the law and continue to retaliate in the same way against other parents who dare to speak out against the unfair treatment of their children by releasing their confidential files to reporters. Meanwhile, the New York State Education Department has confirmed that Success Academy has systematically failed to provide students with their mandated special education services, even after having been ordered to do so by hearing officers.

Since my son left Success Academy, he is slowly recovering, and is now doing better in high school, but it took him years to undo the damage he experienced. I have met many other parents whose children suffered similar or worse fates. Success Academy charters are currently facing five different federal education lawsuits for violating student rights, and yet are the fastest growing charter chain in the state of New York, having received more than $60 million in grants from the federal government since 2006 to aid in their expansion and replication.

New York City investigators began examining the city’s yeshivas in 2015 in response to complaints from graduates of the Yeshivas that they had not received an education that met state requirements. It is 2019 and there is still no report. Leonie Haimson writes about the growing suspicion that the de Blasio administration sat on the investigation in order to win key votes from Orthodox Jews and their allies in the Legislature on the renewal of mayoral control.

The report was finally released on December 19, four years after it was initiated.

Only two of the 28 ultra-orthodox yeshivas visited by the city Education Department over the past three years are providing an education that meets state legal standards, according to a long-awaited report released Thursday.

Schools examined by the city ran the gamut from teaching a full range of subjects in English, to offering no math or English courses, and providing students with no access to textbooks written in English. Of almost 140 elementary and middle school classes officials attended, about a third were taught exclusively in Yiddish, with the remainder taught in a mix of English and Yiddish.

The DOE classified 8 of the 28 schools as well on their way to meeting the state standard of providing an education “substantially equivalent” to the one offered in public schools. Another 12 met parts of the criteria, and five schools had almost no overlap with the requirements.

Naftuli Moster, the executive director of YAFFED, a group dedicated to reforming ultra-orthodox yeshiva education, said the report “reaffirms what we already know: That tens of thousands of children in New York City, including those in nearly 40 Yeshivas the city investigated and those which the city failed to monitor for decades, are being denied a basic education as required by law.”

Here is another report, this one in The Forward, a Jewish-oriented newspaper. 

The mixture of religion and the state is always volatile.

The Yeshiva graduates who demanded the investigation said they had not learned secular subjects, they had learned most of the curriculum in Hebrew, and they were ill-equipped to function in contemporary society.

Why did it take four years to investigate 28 schools?

The NYC publication Gothamist reported:

Probe Finds De Blasio Administration Stalled Report on Academic Standards at Yeshivas

The de Blasio administration engaged in political maneuvering to stall the release of a report on education standards in Hasidic yeshivas, according to city investigators. A joint report from the Department of Investigations and the Special Commissioner of Investigation for city schools released Wednesday found representatives of the mayor and state legislators took part in “political horse trading” in 2017 as part of a ploy to delay an interim Department of Education report on whether the yeshivas were proving education on par with the city’s public schools.

The effort was part of a plan to secure support for extending mayoral control for city schools, investigators found, which was approved by the legislature in 2017. But investigators determined the agreement “had no substantial effect on the inquiry’s conclusion or the progress of the inquiry,” which was delayed by several other factors, according to a statement from the Department of Investigations, including a generally accommodative stance by the DOE to the yeshivas it was attempting to investigate.

Investigators did not determine whether the mayor personally approved the delay of the DOE report, but the statement noted, “the totality of evidence did indicate the Mayor was aware that the offer to delay had been made.” The report concluded that no laws were violated. The final report from the DOE has still not been released, though de Blasio administration officials indicated it would be coming soon, years after it was promised.

In a statement following the revelations Wednesday, Naftuli Moster, executive director of YAFFED, an educational advocacy group operating in Orthodox Jewish communities, said, “What a disgrace. The DOI/SCI investigation shows the City is willing to trade away the education of tens of thousands of students for power and political influence. These findings also raise concerns as to whether the City will provide an accurate assessment of what is happening inside Yeshiva schools when it finally releases its report.”
*****

Haimson writes:

It is hard to know which is more toxic – the system of autocratic mayoral control which I and others critiqued at Assembly hearings this week;  or the damaging political deals the Mayor has made to keep it – which include not just a delay in issuing a report on the Yeshivas in 2017,  but also that same year, his agreement to an increase in the number of NYC charter schools. 

Before that, as part of the deal to extend mayoral control in 2014 , de Blasio agreed to either co-locate charter schools in public school buildings or help pay for rent in private buildings – a legal obligation which no other district in the state or the nation has been saddled with, and that the DOE is now spending more than $100M per year on.

A question which the DOE/SCI statement does not answer is why the DOE inquiry into the Yeshivas was still in its early stages in June 2017 – given that the initial complaint was made in the July 2015.  See Yaffed’s timeline here.

Another question is what is now holding up the release of the DOE’s final report, given that that the DOE visits to Yeshivas concluded last spring and that  “Although the DOE has now visited all 28 yeshivas [originally named in the complaint that are still open], more than four years after the initial complaints, the DOE’s Inquirycontinues.”

If the visits ended last spring, why does the DOE Inquiry continue and why has no report has yet been issued?  No explanation is provided.

All this makes one suspect that the political influence of the ultra-Orthodox community with the Mayor and City Hall continues to hamper DOE’s actions and reporting on this issue.

If the United States Supreme Court rules against state prohibitions on vouchers for religious schools in the coming term, the public will fund many such schools, including those governed by all religious groups that will step forward to claim their share of the public purse.

If the Supreme Court decides that the state must pay for religious schools, will the state also have the power to regulate those schools and require that they teach subjects in English and meet the same academic standards as other publicly-funded schools?

Attached are four statements that were delivered (in person or by email in my case) to the New York State Assembly Education Committee Hearing on Mayoral Control. The hearings won’t result in immediate action since mayoral control was recently renewed for three years.

It is hard to believe but there was a time, about a decade ago, when corporate reformers believed that mayoral control would lead to a dramatic transformation of schools. The problem, they believed, was democracy. When people have a chance to elect a board, the “reformers” said, they make bad choices, the unions have too much power, and the result is stasis. Chicago has had mayoral control since 1995, and the newly elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot has agreed that the city should have an elected board. Here is a list of mayoral-controlled school systems.

In New York City, Michael Bloomberg asked the Legislature to give him complete and unfettered control of the New York City public schools in 2002, soon after his election in 2001. He received it, and he promised sweeping changes. He closed scores of large schools and broke them up into four or five or six schools in the same building (escalating the cost of administration). Parents, students, and teachers objected passionately, but the mayor’s “Panel on Education Policy” ignored them. Bloomberg favored charter schools over the public schools he controlled, and their number multiplied. He tightly centralized the operations of the system and appointed a lawyer with no education experience (Joel Klein) to be his chancellor. Bloomberg was all about test scores and data and privatization.

When Bill de Blasio was elected in 2013, he embraced mayoral control.

What follows are three views, all concluding that mayoral control as presently designed should end.

And here is a fourth view, a dissent from the other three, by veteran education watcher Peter Goodman, who wonders whether an elected school board would be controlled by parents or captured by a billionaire, or by charter advocates (the latter two have far more money to spend than parents).

 

To see Kemala Karmen’s footnotes and the other two views (including mine), open the PDF files attached.

TESTIMONY submitted by KEMALA KARMEN on 12/16/2019 

For NYS ASSEMBLY EDUCATION COMMITTEE HEARING ON MAYORAL CONTROL

My older child, who just returned home from her first semester of college, was five years old when I attended my first city council hearing. Michael Bloomberg was mayor and Joel Klein was his chancellor, and a fellow kindergarten parent had encouraged me to attend the hearing. I no longer remember the precise topic of the hearing. What I do remember is that council member after council member spoke passionately and convincingly against some DOE policy, and yet, when all was said and done, and the mayor’s “accountability czar” had spoken, it was clear that the chancellor would do exactly what he had wanted to do all along, undeterred by the opposition of a room full of people who had been directly elected by their constituents. 

I was floored.

I am a relatively privileged person in terms of my class and education, and while my color, gender, cultural, and religious background have marked me as “other” for most of my life, I had never felt as disenfranchised as I did at that moment, when I realized that when it came to my children’s public school education, I had NO voice, and neither did anyone I could vote for, apart from the mayor, whom one must vote for based on an array of issues in addition to education.

In fact, even if you were a single-issue voter, investing all of your hopes in a candidate based on that candidate’s professed positions on education, you could still find yourself unrepresented. Take our current mayor.  At an education forum held in 2013, at the time of his initial run, Candidate de Blasio said, among other things, that he opposed high-stakes standardized testing and its stranglehold on our schools. As mayor, he would stand with parents like me who called for more teaching and less testing. 

In reality, our now second-term mayor, presides over a Department of Education that has recently instituted even more tests for our city’s public school children. Facing mounting evidence that a generation of test-based “reform” has not improved the academic standing of America’s students, other municipalities, including Boston, are starting to cut back on the number and frequency of tests they impose on students. Here, however, mayoral control lets the mayor and his representatives do whatever they want, even if it flies in the face of evidence or reason. The city council can ask questions about NYCDOE policies, but they are powerless to actually do anything other than ask questions, collect data, and maybe bring to light what otherwise might be happening without public awareness, never mind input. 

As a parent stakeholder in the schools, I find mayoral control, as currently practiced, and as outlined above, profoundly undemocratic. At this particular moment in our country’s history, that is especially demoralizing. Moreover, it makes a mockery of the supposed progressivism of our city. Here again, I can use high-stakes testing to illustrate that point, this time referring to the annual state testing of 3rd-8th graders. Rates of state test refusal or “opt out” are in the double digits or even high double digits in most of the rest of the state, but in NYC, although opt out rates have doubled over the last few years, they still remain in the low single digits. Why is that? Do parents in NYC just love standardized testing more than their counterparts elsewhere? Or could it be that everywhere else in the state elected school boards are responsive to the parents who elect them, so when parents make it clear to their boards that they reject a test-centric focus their boards actually listen, and do things like send home form letters where a parent can check a box that says, “Yes, my child will take the state test” or “No, my child will not take the test?” In NYC, by contrast, many parents don’t even know they have a right to refuse and those of us grassroots-organizing against the tests must contend with directives from the DOE that tell would-be test refusers that they need to meet with their principals if they want to opt out. This is little more than intimidation and it works; parents are reluctant to go against the authority figure who controls their child’s day-to-day environment. The City Council tried to counter this in 2015 by unanimously passing a resolution that called on the NYCDOE to inform parents of their opt out rights. Again, because of mayoral control, the NYCDOE can, and did, ignore the wishes of every single council member elected by the people of NYC, from the Bronx to Staten Island. To this day, almost 5 years later, the NYCDOE has failed to implement the resolution.

I’ve focused on the suppression of parent voice under mayoral control, but there are so many more problems I could list. For example, as a tax-paying citizen, I believe the system of mayoral control leads to a lack of transparency in financial matters, which could mean that my tax dollars are being spent unwisely or even fraudulently. I serve on the steering committee of New York State Allies for Public Education, and when I mentioned the new NYCDOE tests in an email to my fellow committee members, some of whom are elected school board members or trustees in their districts elsewhere in the state, the very first reply I received was, “How will they pay for that?” Indeed, how will they? Or even how much will it cost to administer computer-based tests multiple times a year to tens of thousands of students–or perhaps hundreds of thousands? What other things is NYCDOE forfeiting for our children that could have been paid for with that money? And why does no one know the answers to any of these questions?

We have no avenue for objecting if the mayor decides to appoint a chancellor who has never worked a day of their lives in a school, or that chancellor appoints a superintendent who has never been a principal. We have no protection from a mayor who might go so far as to hand over our schools to the opaque private management of the charter sector. 

I am a parent, not an expert in governance, and I realize that school boards aren’t perfect. All over the country, we are seeing money from outside a district swoop in, essentially buying seats, often to advance a school privatization agenda. That’s twisted, and if we did go back to an elected  school board, we’d have to be attentive to things like that, perhaps strictly regulating campaign contributions. 

I can’t wrap this up with a neat solution as to what the best course of action forward is. Nonetheless, I do know that the mayoral control that we have now is fundamentally flawed, and should not continue in its present form if we value democracy.

 

For Leonie’s statement click here.

For Kemala’s statement click here.

For my statement click here.