Archives for category: New York City

Gary Rubinstein reviews Thomas Sowell’s recent book about charter schools and their enemies.

Thomas Sowell is an economist and a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution. He is African American and has long been highly critical of affirmative action and anything that smacks of lowered standards for black students. He is a hard-right libertarian. Many years ago, we were friends, and I invited him to lecture at Teachers College, where his views were not well received. He is 90 years old and still fighting, which I respect.

Rubinstein writes that the first four chapters of his six chapter book are a rehash of “Waiting for ‘Superman’” myths, such as the long discredited claim that the children in charters are precisely the same as those who are not in a charter. He loathes teachers’ unions and thinks that their opposition to charters is purely greed and self-interest. He identifies Mayor Bill DeBlasio as a fierce enemy of charters, which is absurd, since he gave up fighting them in 2014, after Governor Cuomo and the hedge funders defeated DeBlasio’s efforts to limit their expansion.

I gather from Gary’s review that Sowell singles me out as a critic, appropriately, but I have no idea what motive he attributes to me since I have no financial interest or self-interest in opposing charter growth.

After the first four chapters, he segues into a different mode, acknowledging that students who enter charters are more motivated than those who are not.

Gary concludes:

Chapter 6, the final chapter, is called ‘Dangers’ and it is about other ways that politicians and teacher’s unions undermine charter school growth. There are unfair charter caps. There are people who want charters to teach social justice to their students which he calls ‘indoctrination.’ He also does not like charters having to teach ‘sex education’ or ‘ethnic studies.’ Finally, he resents that some charter critics want the charters to have their meetings open to the public and to have their records open to public scrutiny. He says that this will make the board members targets of smear campaigns and have their homes vandalized.

All in all, this was quite a strange read. I don’t imagine that many reformers want to be identified with his arguments from the last two chapters and since the first four chapters have already been done in 2010 with “Waiting For Superman”, this book is not one that I imagine will be remembered for being very relevant.

Still it is interesting to see how little is left in the reform defender’s arsenal.

It is interesting too that this most recent defense of charter schools comes from an economist who has long been recognized as a hard-edged rightwinger.

Leonie Haimson writes that charter schools in New York City cleaned up with the Paycheck Protection Program, even none of them lost their secure government funding.

Payday!

Leonie writes:

In NY State there are 144 charter schools and management organizations that received PPP funding, the vast majority of which are in NYC. Fully 108 NYC charters and charter management companies received between $102 million and $236 million in these funds, with an average of between $940,000 and $2.2 million each.

The Charter Management Organization of New Visions and its assorted charters received between $6.7 million and $15 million dollars, despite the fact that they receive public school space free of charge and services from DOE. In 2018, they also received a $14 million grant from the Gates Foundation to “work with” NYC public schools — which to this day have not been identified. Coincidentally or not, the Gates Foundation director of K12 schools Robert Hughes came to the Gates Foundation from New Visions.One of their schools, New Visions Charter HS for the Humanities II, will be receiving an extra amount of between $2,000 and $4,000 per student, based upon their total enrollment last year of 496.

Harlem Children’s Zone was awarded between $4 million and $10 million, with Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy II receiving between $1,800 and $4,500 per student, based on their total enrollment last year of 1,093. The Hebrew Language Academies, heavily subsidized by billionaire Michael Steinhardt, received between $2.8 million and $6 million. One of their schools, Harlem Hebrew Language Academy, is receiving between $1,400 and $2,900 per student, based on their planned enrollment of 696 last year. Harlem Village Academy West Charter School received between $2 million and $5 million, from $2,200 to $5,500 per student based on last year’s enrollment of 902.

Williamsburg Charter High School was given between $2 million and $5 million, a total of $2,000 to $5,000 per student based on their enrollment last year of 963. Brilla College Preparatory Charter Schools received between $1 million and $2 million, $1,400 to $3,000 per student based on their enrollment of 677. Pave Academy Charter School, founded by the son of billionaire Julian Robertson, was awarded between $1 million and $2 million, equaling about $2,000 to $4,000 per student based on their enrollment last year of 490.

KIPP charter and KIPP LLC (which I guess is its Management Organization) is getting between $3 million and $5 million, despite also receiving $86 million from a federal charter school grant in 2019, and many millions more previously. Uncommon Charters, which has been criticized for its abusive disciplinary practices, received between $2 million and $5 million in PPP funds. The full state and city list is below.

So are charter schools public or private? Depends on where the money is.

Chalkbeat reports that many parents are calling on Mayor DeBlasio to endorse outdoor classes.

A Brooklyn lawmaker has joined the growing chorus of parents and activists calling on the city to close streets around school buildings for use as car-free space for recreation, lunch, small group instruction and other activities.

In just two days, City Council Member Brad Lander received proposals from 14 schools from his district — stretching from Boerum Hill and Park Slope to Sunset Park and Kensington — to use surrounding streets. He called on the Department of Transportation to establish an “Open Streets: Schools” program to help coordinate and oversee a citywide operation.

“Families, teachers, school staff and many others are deeply concerned about the safety of sending students back to indoor school in the fall, about whether their school facilities can be made safe (e.g. what about the schools where windows don’t open),” Lander wrote Thursday to the transportation department.

Lander’s letter is part of the effort to maintain social distance guidelines while providing in-person learning this year. Schools are figuring out how to safely hold socially distant classes for their hybrid of in-person and remote schedules, opting to repurpose cafeterias, auditoriums and even office space as classrooms. The push to look outdoors comes as much of the scientific evidence points to less transmission of the coronavirus outside, and as many families remain concerned about the ventilation inside classrooms despite promises from city officials that HVAC systems and ventilation upgrades are underway. Schools are also grappling with how to figure out how to follow social distancing rules with limited space, which means that most children will attend school next year between one and three days a week.

“This is especially dire for students in our most crowded schools, who may end up with up to 66 percent fewer school days simply by virtue of where they live,” Lander wrote.

The letter suggests that blocks could be closed to traffic during school hours to make room for students. Temporary tents could be set up for shade or rain protection, or in some cases, blocks could be fully closed to allow schools to set up semi-permanent tents and outdoor classroom spaces.

K.A. Dilday is a parent and journalist who lives in Central Harlem.

She wrote critically about efforts to integrate the selective high schools. Putting your child into an academic pressure-cooker is the wrong definition of success, she believes. She wants something better for her child.

She writes:

This weekend, nearly 30,000 eighth graders in New York City will take the Specialized High School Admission test (SHSAT). About 5,000 of them will score high enough to get an offer to attend one of eight of the city’s prestigious specialized high schools.

When the classes are compiled, the demographics at these schools do not resemble New York City, and they certainly do not mirror the demographics of its public-school students. The three schools that serve the bulk of SHSAT-admitted specialized high-school students have populations that are disproportionately Asian, white, and male.
For 50 years, admission to this trio (The Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Technical high schools) has been determined by this test. The five other specialized schools were created in the 2000s; together, these eight institutions serve about 6 percent of the city’s high school population. There’s been a fierce debate locally about whether the specialized schools should look more like the city’s general population, and if you agree with that (some don’t), how to accomplish that.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his own plan to diversify them, which involves admitting the top students from every city middle school, and expanding the 50-year-old Discovery program, which is designed to prepare low-income students to gain admission. (So far, that program has primarily benefitted low-income Asian and white students). Some have pushed back, arguing that such reforms will unfairly penalize Asian students, and that the schools will change if admission methods are altered.
But there is a disturbing acceptance by all sides in this debate that there is one form of success and achievement, of happiness and fulfillment—that there is a “best” defined by a conventional measure. Admission to these schools unlocks it, and we all want it, or should.

I can’t get behind this: It affirms a supremacist mentality. I thought we were done propping that up.

As a New York City parent and a journalist, I have been closely following this debate, and many studies about the systemic exclusion from success, and a good life, for blacks and Latinos in the United States. The people who fight to change the admissions believe they are fighting for the cause of black and brown children, including my 9-year old daughter. In reading these debates and studies, I’ve learned a few things. First and foremost: I am a failure, and I am setting my daughter up to be a failure.

Just by living in this neighborhood—one which has about the same ratio of blacks and whites as the one I grew up in—I’ve knocked two points off my daughter’s IQ score, as a cute little graphic in this Vox article shows.

Oh, wait: There was a murder within seven blocks of our home. This same article relies on NYU research to tell me that my choice of apartment knocked seven more points off my daughter’s IQ. (Although I do wonder if there is a neighborhood anywhere in Manhattan where there hasn’t been a murder within seven blocks during a five-year period.)

In other words, I started off strong as a child but I am a failure who is failing my daughter, and here’s the kicker: Despite the studies that tell me that I live here because racism did the dirty to me, I claim agency in this. I chose it all. I chose not to have my daughter tested to enter kindergarten in the gifted and talented programs that feed to specialized high schools. Nor do I want her to attend a specialized high school. I am choosing for my daughter to be “left behind.”

With her father, I made these choices in location and education because we find beauty and value in our neighborhood, and reward in schools where students leave with a broad idea of what achievement looks like, an expansive idea of the path to happiness, success, societal contribution, and fulfillment—and the capacity to choose their path.

The Times offers a few clues to the criteria they use. “These schools have a vital mission, to challenge the city’s sharpest young minds.” Referring to the criticism of the mayor’s plan from alumni, the op-ed concludes that “the very intensity of the response underscores how formative an experience it is to attend a specialized high school.”

The first criterion I understand but disagree with; the second makes little sense. Passion about changing admissions indicates that it is such a formative experience? I think it’s more that admission confers bragging rights, something very important in highly competitive New York City.

“They all but shut out black and Latino students,” the article states, “leaving untold numbers of New York’s brightest children behind.” The Times seems to know who is “bright” and who isn’t: Like the SHSAT, they feel confident this can be assessed. And where is this “behind?” Those “shut out” students are left to attend many other good schools in New York. “Behind” implies that the specialized high schools are in front, and that schools that don’t earn that honorific by choosing a student body based on that narrow form of achievement are lesser.

Let’s dial back a bit. As I said, I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood, but I didn’t mention that it was in Jackson, Mississippi, 1972 to ’87. I fully understand that my parents—first-generation college attendees—gave me choice. My background and private-college degree helped open up a world of opportunity. I was able to choose a rewarding but not well-remunerated (compared to working graduates of a university like mine) job. I was able to choose where I lived, and I knew I didn’t want to live in a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses neighborhood, whether it was mostly white or brown, or Asian. I chose my neighborhood because of its mixed-up income and mixed-up races.

So why do so many people who lament what is called white supremacy—and who hate the fact that it is guarded so jealously—reaffirm its values? Our lives are diminished because we are “shut out” of specialized high schools; our lives are limited because we live in majority black and brown neighborhoods. Our proximity to too many poor people, after having started life in middle-class communities, is evidence of slippage.

Until I read all of these school debates and articles about the drawbacks of my area, I was happy and pleased with the life I was providing my child. I thought that, through her neighborhood and education, she’d have what I had wanted from mine: familiarity, ease, and appreciation of an incredibly wide range of people; capacity for hard work; intellectual and moral rigor; and a desire to do something good in the world. But to academics and reporters, black, white, Latino, etc., my child and I are tragic: We are black American retrogression.

Jason Warwin, a New Yorker who came through the New York City public school system, graduated from Central Park East Secondary School, a small progressive 7-12 school in East Harlem. I met him while fighting to preserve my daughter’s progressive public elementary school when the New York City Department of Education was insisting that a more rigid form of education was the only one suitable for brown children in Harlem.

Warwin recalls being set extra work at Central Park East Secondary and being annoyed sometimes when he was asked to work with other students to teach them something he had already mastered. But it didn’t take him long to appreciate what the teachers and administration wanted him to realize.

Warwin went on to an Ivy League university, Brown, where he met a fellow student from New York City, Khary Lazarre-White. As undergrads, they created an organization they still direct called Brotherhood Sister Sol, a mentoring, academic, and social support organization primarily for black and brown students in Harlem. When we spoke this fall, Warwin was only slightly aware of the current demographics of the specialized schools. I can only guess that this is because it is marginal to his students’ experience, and to what he hopes for them.

“Supporting people who are trying to live moral lives is not something you hear as a focus of these [specialized] schools,” Warwin told me. “Of course, we [at Brotherhood Sister Sol] are very happy when a young person gets into an Ivy League college. But our primary objective isn’t to get them into elite schools. We want them to develop in a positive direction in how they interact with the people in their lives.” He said he’d rather see the city develop more consortium high schools, similar to the one he attended, and particularly in low-income neighborhoods like West Harlem where Brotherhood Sister Sol is located.

And I myself, can get only so enthused about discussing initiatives to diversify these schools: To me, the families who want the brand enough to submit their children to the hours and hours of homework and intensely competitive environmentof these specialized school hothouses and send their children for hundreds of hours of test prep(and many of the families who do are of modest income) are welcome to it. I lump these schools in the same category as I put Gucci handbags and Patek Philippe watches: expensive trophies for the status conscious. I can get something that does as good a job or better, for a fraction of the monetary or human cost.

The parent of one of my daughter’s school friends disagrees with me. He’s a black man who attended one of the big three and went on to earn Ivy undergraduate and graduate degrees. He says that this fight is important because any chance people get, they will discredit the intellect and achievement of people of color: More of us need degrees from these institutions because they serve as irrefutable counter to such claims. But I wonder: If the admissions processes are changed, will it continue to have that validating power?

Ani also went to Brown. She was ashamed that she wasn’t accepted to Harvard; her father, who immigrated to New York from China, always wanted her to go to whatever he thought people perceived as “the best.” She became an M.D.; only now, after her father and his parents have died, has she begun to retrain as a teacher. “I had told my dad that I wanted to teach young children, and he said, ‘Well, if you want to work with young children you should become a pediatrician.’” She also asked that her full name not be used, because “my father’s family still don’t know that I’m leaving medicine.”

Ani also chose not to have her children tested to enter the city’s gifted and talented (called G&T) program in kindergarten. Instead, she enrolled them in a progressive, non-test-focused public elementary school. “Kids bring all different kinds of things to school and that those are equally valuable,” she says. “In G&T, they are only kids who do well on a test.”

Schools in high-poverty neighborhoods would be remade and neighborhoods recast. Perhaps this long-standing idea that the specialized schools serve the city’s best and brightest would retreat. (It’s happened before: As The Atlantic recently pointed out, the number of white students dropped at the specialized schools as good alternatives emerged around the city.) Most important, these children would not only be surrounded by highly academic peers, but others from whom they might learn other, perhaps equally important, lessons.

My wan support for the quest to diversify New York City’s specialized high schools is not because I don’t believe that there is racism and inequity in the design and implementation of the New York City Public school system. I do. But the battles that are fought and the studies that are published in our names constantly affirm institutions and ideals that affirm hierarchy, convey a narrow definition of worth and success, and, by exclusion, diminish other values.

There is more honor and civic value in fighting to create graduating classes of youth whose focus is co-existing, supporting and contributing, than in facilitating the entry of more black and brown youth to a school of competitors driven to win and dominate.

It’s time for everyone—but particularly people of color and poor people—to stop directing this fight against racism and inequity toward equal access to what conventional wisdom says is most worth having.

Teachers in New York City are fearful about returning to classrooms without adequate protection for their health.

Some educators and union leaders say fear and mistrust over the partial reopening plan is pervasive…

“There’s a lot of fear and anxiety out there,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “A lot of school staff passed away. And they’re like we’re not going back unless the rules are followed, and that’s what happened in March — the rules weren’t followed.”

Mulgrew said the city has a lot of work to do before any in-person classes are viable, including its promised upgrade of school HVAC ventilation systems….

Educators say they are deeply concerned about the quality of remote learning. But some say the city would be better off allocating all its time and energy over the summer to providing training and support for online teaching rather than moving full throttle ahead with reopening questions.

“I feel like we could use this time to advantage,” said Alexander-Thomas. “Arguing doesn’t get us anywhere.”

Even teachers who are comfortable in theory with returning to school buildings this fall say the devil is in the details — many of which are still being worked out.

“I would show up in my hazmat suit,” said Liza Porter, a middle school teacher at Public School 99 in Brooklyn. But she worries about logistics like how staff will safely share a bathroom.

“We literally share a bathroom with 20 other adults the size of the smallest closet in your apartment. They would have to have buckets of sanitizer for us,” she said…

City officials have acknowledged they’ll need extra staff to handle the smaller groups of students. Schools chancellor Richard Carranza said the Education Department is scouring its ranks for central office employees with teaching licenses who may be able to step in. But with hiring freezes and layoffs on the horizon following a more than billion dollar cut to the Education Department budget over fiscal years 2020 and 2021, the staffing shortages could grow worse.

Emily Hoefling was principal of Leadership Prep Canarsie in Brooklyn, which is part of the Uncommon Schools charter chain. She was fired because she dared to express views that ran counter to the authoritarian culture of the chain.

Yes, she writes, it is an authoritarian regime, and it always was.

When she led a professional development session, she encouraged teachers to express their views. That was her first mistake. Their views conflicted with the company line, and she did no5 correct them. She was marched away, lectured, yelled at, and fired.

She writes:

Make no mistake about it, Uncommon Schools is an authoritarian organization from top to bottom. And dissent is dangerous for everyone — no matter your age and no matter your position.

As an Uncommon principal, I developed a reputation for being ‘unaligned to the mission’ of Uncommon Schools. And the iron fist that deals with ‘disobedient’ students and ‘difficult’ teachers is the same iron fist that deals with rebellious leaders.

Brett Peiser and Julie Jackson have not only designed and maintained the culture of Uncommon Schools, they have also created a system that will step on, silence, and erase anyone who dares to step out of line or tarnish the Uncommon brand.

Even after she was fired, she was threatened with legal action if she dared to write about what happened to her.

She did, so you should read what she wrote.

A group of New York City teachers argue in The New York Daily News that the best way to restart the schools, especially for young children, is to hold classes outdoors. They do not address the problems of rain and freezing weather.

Liat Olenick, Darcy Whittwmore, and Heather Costanza see many virtues in outdoor learning.

Holding classes indoors in a city with over one million students, they write, will create dangerous and unhealthy conditions. Why not grab this opportunity for creative solutions?

Move the younger children outdoors, they say, while keeping high school students online.

Outdoor learning is a tried and tested fit for early childhood. There are all-day outdoor kindergartens in wintery Maine and Vermont, in which children dress for the weather and learn outside nearly every day. Vaunted models of early childhood education like Reggio-Emilia emphasize outdoor exploration because ages 4-8 comprise the crucial stage in which multisensory, interactive learning is essential for children’s cognitive growth. Outdoor learning offers children authentic, stimulating experiences that foster skills like creative problem solving, independence, flexibility and resiliency as they form a deep connection to the natural world. Learning outdoors also offers possibilities for culturally responsive, place-based learning, giving students hands-on, meaningful opportunities to engage and connect with their communities.

In the context of COVID, outdoor learning becomes even more appealing. Elementary students are more likely to live near school, making finding a space that works for families without needing public transit more feasible.

And per current guidelines, the requirements of indoor learning — sitting six feet apart, no contact, no sharing materials, and staying in one enclosed space for hours on end — are not developmentally appropriate for young children.

If we move outdoors, kids will have room to be kids without fear of punishment or infecting someone they love. Given the ongoing criminalization of students of color in schools, we fear the consequences of imposing new, high stakes social-distancing rules on all, but particularly on our youngest students.

We have the space to make outdoor learning work. New York City is home to 28,000 acres of public parkland, more than 1,100 school and community gardens, plus schoolyards, rooftops, cemeteries, beaches, private outdoor space and even parking lots or closeable neighborhood streets which could be spruced up with benches and planters.

These investments in public space might even foster greater equity in our city; experiences in nature are essential for children’s mental health, but green space is often concentrated in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.

Transforming our streets and playgrounds into possibility-rich outdoor classrooms could be a way to equalize access to nature at a time when many outdoor programs serving children of color have been shuttered.

Outdoor learning will not be perfect. It will require support from schools, parks, neighborhood institutions and families to plan for site-specific challenges. But compare that with our other two options: Fully remote learning, which means zero childcare for caregivers and especially fails our young students, or a blended, classroom model for 1.1 million students that is likely to put our most vulnerable communities in grave danger.

This is our clarion call. We hope it spurs intrepid leaders to consider outdoor learning as a viable option for all of our youngest students during COVID and beyond. Organizations around the country, including New York private schools, are already developing proposals to take learning outside. With a little imagination and support from our city, we could make it happen here — not just for the privileged few, but for all.

Olenick, Whittemore and Costanza are public elementary school teachers in Brooklyn.

Josh Bell is a New York City public schools parent. He wrote this article for the New York Daily News. The article reminded me that New York City public school officials in the early 20th century conducted outdoor classes for students with tuberculosis.

He writes:

Last weekend, the city started closing down sections of dozens of busy streets for several blocks in all five boroughs so that restaurants could set up more tables outside. If the city can do this for dining, surely it can do the same for learning. Schoolyards and athletic fields, of which there are hundreds, could be repurposed as well.

It’s really not that complicated. Put up tents — the big ones used for weddings, with sides that roll down for bad weather — add desks, chairs and a whiteboard, and boom: you just made a classroom. The bonus is that air circulation would be much better than indoor classrooms, a major concern for teachers and parents alike.

For schools with already adjacent outdoor space, and there are many, a big part of the solution is already on their doorsteps. And just think of how much street space there is on one block with no parked cars: It’s thousands of square feet. The classrooms could be separated with simple dividers.

In parks and elsewhere, we had field hospitals when we thought we needed them to treat a coronavirus surge. Why not field schools?

Brilliant.

Outdoor classrooms would be a snap in regions with mild weather. As Josh Bell points out, they would work anywhere.

The healthiest place to be is in the open air.

Leonie Haimson writes here how New York Coty hopes to reopen its public schools, which enroll more than one million students.

Haimson has chided the city for years about its failure to reduce class sizes, and that long history of neglect is making it even more difficult to find space to reopen with small classes.

DOE officials have determined that to maintain proper social distancing, a range of 9-12 students per classroom will be allowed, varying according to the size of the classroom.

Because class sizes are much larger than this in nearly every school, schools will have to separate their students into two or three or sometimes four groups who will take turns attending school in person, to be provided with remote learning when not in school. Families can also choose full-time remote learning with their children never attending school in person.

As a result of vastly different levels of school and classroom overcrowding across the city, some schools will be able to offer about half of their students in-person instruction each day; while others may only be able to allow each student to attend school one or two days a week. Or alternatively, different schools will opt for different groups of students attending school every other week or every third week.

For the most overcrowded schools, there will likely be three cohorts of students with complex schedules (not counting the group who stays home for full time remote learning) as shown to the right.

As usual with most such DOE documents, it provokes as many questions as it answers:
How will the existing number of teachers be able to teach three or four different student groups at the same time, including the ones who are present in school, the ones who are home receiving online instruction part-time, and those receiving full-time remote instruction –– particularly with planned budget cuts and a staffing freeze to schools?

If schools are encouraged to repurpose gymnasiums and cafeterias to allow for more classes to be taught at once, as the Chancellor has suggested, what additional personnel will be used to teach those students?

Will the same teachers be assigned to teach the same groups of students over time, whether in person or remotely?

What will working parents do when their kids are learning from home and cannot be in school?

How will busing and after school be handled?

If children attend school 1-3 days a week, parents will need to make arrangements for them when they are not in school.

Anna Bakalis of United Teachers of Los Angeles writes a clarification:

Got this from the LASPD site:  Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD)is the largest independent school police department in the United States, with over 410 sworn police officers, 101 non-sworn school safety officers (SSO), and 34 civilian support staff dedicated to serving the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). It is the fifth largest police department in Los Angeles County, and the 14th largest in California

The NYPD officers in New York City public schools are part of the New York Police Department, not an independent school police department.