Archives for category: New York

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

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

He wrote:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Ogozalek teaches in rural upstate New York. He wrote to tell me what’s happening during the pandemic:

You can’t make this stuff up….

Schools in Western New York are facing shut downs.

They’re in a “microcluster yellow zone” which requires 20% percent of the faculty and staff to be COVID tested each week.  Otherwise, in-person instruction is out the window.

The catch is: they don’t have the money to do the COVID tests!  And, no cavalry is riding over the hill to help them.

Earth to David Coleman, Arne Duncan, John B. King, and all the idiot school “reformers”.  We could sure use those billions of dollars you blew away on mountains of  fill-in-the-bubble, where’s your #2 pencil “common core” tests.

BTW….”microcluster yellow zones”?

Does anyone other than people making these rules even have a clue what the hell is going on at this point?

I try to explain the constantly shifting “plans” to my students. Fat chance.

Parents, educators, and other concerned citizens petitioned in opposition to adding a charter school representative to their school board.

PETITION: RCSD United Against Privatization 

Sign the petition against charter school affiliates being appointed to the Board of Ed here: https://forms.gle/uFScKtgxwk1SNo1N9

Write to the Board and tell them what you learned:

Van Henri White – van.white@thelegalbrief.com

This is the petition:

RCSD United Against Privatization 

In response to the announcement that Walter Larkin, current CEO of U Prep Charter School is a finalist for the open board of education seat:

We, the educators, parents, and citizens of the Rochester City School District stand united against the continued attacks on our public school system. We are opposed to the appointment of any charter school employees or affiliates to the board. Not only is this a conflict of interest, but the students and educators of the Rochester City School District deserve board members who trust and value PUBLIC education. Any affiliation with a charter school is a conflict of interest, and can only lead to the further privatization of our school district.

These attacks go beyond the appointment of a single board member. Our newest Superintendent has hired charter school executives such as Dr. Kathleen Black, as our new Chief Academic Officer.

We are also seeing gross inequity between what charter schools are able to offer, as they scoop up 6 times more CARES act funding than the RCSD was able to. Currently the students of the RCSD are being deprived of their right to a sound and basic education, while charter schools are able to offer in person schooling because they have access to funding that the RCSD does not.

The writing is on the wall, the Rochester City School District, which serves 80% of the students of this city, is being defunded and dismantled. Charter schools are being handed cash and are expanding exponentially. Not only have charter schools been shown to show NO better performance than traditional public schools, but they are also contributing to the immediate starvation of the RCSD, with over 80 million dollars coming from the RCSD budget to charter schools last year alone.

We demand a pro-public education replacement be chosen for the open board of education seat. We need someone who has shown a lifelong dedication to the success of public schools, and who has a vested interest in their continued success. Nothing else will be acceptable to the students, educators, and community members of the RCSD.

Open the link to see the names of the signatories.

The New York State Board of Regents (aka state board of education) announced that January’s Regents exams (required for high school graduation) would be canceled due to the ongoing pandemic.

The state education department has canceled New York’s high school exit tests that were scheduled for January, Interim Commissioner Betty Rosa announced Thursday. 

January’s Regents exams cannot be offered “safely, equitably, and fairly” due to the pandemic, as schools are offering only some days of in-person instruction, Rosa said in a memo to school districts. She did not, however, say what will happen with Regents in June and August, nor what will happen with the grades 3-8 English and math tests that are typically administered in March and April.

“We will continue to monitor applicable data and make a decision on other State assessment programs as the school year progresses, being mindful of the evolving situation,” Rosa said.

Typically, students must take five Regents exams in order to graduate. About 300,000 students statewide take January tests, while 1.6 million take tests in June, state officials said. 

State officials are proposing that students can be exempt from the January tests if they pass the related course by the end of the first semester of this school year. That proposal will go before the Board of Regents in December for approval.

I received this sensible email from Melissa McMullan, who teaches sixth grade students on Long Island in New York State.


I am a sixth grade teacher in Comsewogue School District, Port Jefferson Station, NY. I have a PhD in Literacy Studies from Hofstra University. You have previously published my writing on your blog as it pertains to 3-8 testing and APPR. This year it is imperative that the state suspend both so schools can focus on meeting the myriad of students needs in the face of this pandemic.

I want to begin by sharing what I see every day when I go to work. Having been a teacher for 20 years, I see the worst teacher I have ever seen. Every day I judge my performance based upon what I know makes a good teacher. I see little to no evidence of a strong teacher performance based upon existing metrics, and what I know are standards of good practice.

This is a heavy burden to carry. I remind myself I am teaching in the middle of a pandemic. I am working in a classroom that is not my own. All of the materials I rely upon to do my job effectively, are outside, locked up in a trailer. I can’t do the collaborative work that has always benefited students. I am teaching an additional subject, one I have never taught before. We try not to handle students’ papers. I do not have the hundreds of novels and picture books we traverse in a “normal” year. Every lesson must be constructed in a way that ensures there is no shared touching of materials.

There is a bright side. Students have yoga mats. We go outside to do work. We are experimenting with modes to collaborate, while maintaining the appropriate distance. We are developing ways to have class conversations where we can hear one another through our masks. I am working hard every day to reinvent myself as a teacher in order to teach in these times.

Little I am doing is anything I have ever done before. And I am one of the lucky ones. I only had to learn one additional subject this year. Some of my colleagues have had to learn five. I am assigned to the same grade level I’ve been with throughout my career, while many of my colleagues are not. I am in the same building, while many of my colleagues have been relocated. I teach in one room, the majority of my colleagues are travelling room to room every period, with only the most essential items from their classrooms crammed on carts that move with them.

There is an undeniable level of stress every day. We are teaching in a foreign landscape, while monitoring masks and distance and how long it’s been since our students have had a break. We watch as our custodial staff travels throughout the building with backpacks and respirators spraying disinfectant on the surfaces we touch. Every day, students exhibit COVID-type symptoms of sneezing and/or runny noses. We have to determine, while teaching, whether their symptoms require a trip to our auxiliary nurse to be triaged. There is the “Do Not Enter” list, that has to be checked every day, containing names of students we cannot permit in our classrooms until they are cleared by the nurse.

Everyone, at every level of public education, is doing everything in his or her power to continue to educate children, in the safest manner possible. I own my failure this year. I cannot measure up to pre-pandemic instructional standards. Nor can colleagues who have been shuffled around classrooms, buildings, subjects and grade levels to maintain appropriate social distancing in classrooms, amid a frightening and stressful teaching environment. Every ounce of energy we have is expended standing in front of our students every day with a smile (while wearing a mask), projecting a sense of calm, kindness and love, while simultaneously finding any way humanly possible to teach in this situation. 

New York State must suspend its three through eight high stakes testing schedule, as well as its teachers’ Annual Professional performance review (APPR). Both endeavors carry with them an inordinate level of stress, and costs in both materials and manpower, while having no ability to assess what students and teachers should be evaluated for this year. If New York State is unable to relinquish these tasks, I respectfully ask that both my students and I be registered as failures, so we can move on and use our time, energy and resources for devising ways to succeed in this environment.

I tell students we are a part of history. We are in school in the middle of a pandemic. Forever we will be judged by how well we took care of one another. Measure that.

Melissa McMullan, PhD

I am very excited because the Democratic nominee for Congress is Nancy Goroff, a chemistry professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island. Dr. Goroff bested three opponents to win the nomination and will face Lee Zeldin, the incumbent member of Congress who is one of Trump’s most faithful lap dogs.

Here is an interview with Dr. Goroff. She is articulate and well informed and will be a powerful advocate for an evidence-based approach to the critical issues of our day, like climate change and pollution.

I have lived on the North Fork of Long Island for more than 20 years, and I am very excited by the possibility that a brilliant scientist might represent this ecologically-challenged area of bays and waterfront in Congress.

I will do whatever I can to help her win election to Congress. Her knowledge, experience, and wisdom are needed.

Governor Cuomo slashed school funding across the state of New York. Other governors have found ways to protect their schools and children. Please sign the petition of the Network for Public Education Action, calling on Governor Cuomo to restore school funding. Schools cannot safely reopen with less money.

New York, like California, has a large cohort of billionaires. To be exact, there are 118 billionaire families in New York. Despite the desperate financial condition of the state, Andrew Cuomo refuses to raise the taxes on the top one-tenth of 1%. Cuomo says that if he raised taxes on the billionaires, they would move to another state.

Walker Bragman and David Sirota explain another reason why Cuomo won’t raise taxes on the billionaires: one-third of them are donors to Cuomo’s campaigns, and clearly he has aspirations to run again for higher office.

As that campaign to tax billionaires received a recent boost from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and New York’s Democratic state legislative leaders, Cuomo has insisted that he fears that the tax initiative will prompt the super-rich to leave the state. On Wednesday, he doubled down, warning that if the state tried to balance its budget through billionaire tax hikes “you’d have no billionaires left”.

But in defending billionaires, Cuomo is protecting a group of his most important financial boosters. More than a third of New York’s billionaires have funneled cash to Cuomo’s political machine, according to a Too Much Information review of campaign finance data and the Forbes billionaire list.

So the people who can easily afford higher taxes to pay for public services should be protected from higher taxes, which for them is chump change.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, wrote an open letter about the steps required before schools can begin to reopen.

She wrote:


Last week, Governor Cuomo, the State Department of Health, and the NY State Education Department all came out with detailed guidance on what measures schools should take to reopen in the fall to ensure health and safety as well as provide instructional and emotional support to their students. If the COVID positivity rates of all regions of the state remain under 5%, as they do currently, schools will be eligible to reopen if they adopt the recommended protocols.

Yet nothing was said in these documents about how schools can afford the expensive health and safety measures, as well as the extra staffing and space necessary to keep students engaged in learning while attending school in person in shifts to ensure social distancing.

As the National Academy of Sciences pointed out, “Many of the mitigation strategies currently under consideration (such as limiting classes to small cohorts of students or implementing physical distancing between students and staff) require substantial reconfiguring of space, purchase of additional equipment, adjustments to staffing patterns, and upgrades to school buildings. The financial costs of consistently implementing a number of potential mitigation strategies is considerable.”

Our schools’ desperate need for more funding has been aggravated by the fact that Governor Cuomo hijacked the extra dollars that were funded by Congress in the CARES ACT to fill holes in state aid, instead of sending these funds to schools to help them deal with the additional expenses caused by the COVID crisis.

Now is the time for the Governor and our State Legislators to stand up for our schools and protect our children by providing them with the funds that are badly needed. They could do that easily by boosting taxes on the ultra-wealthy, including the Ultra-millionaires Tax (S.8164 / A.10364) on residents who earn above $5 million annually; or above $1 million annually (S.7378/A.10363); and the Pied-a-terre Tax (S.44 / AA.4540), a surcharge on non-primary residences worth over $5 million.

There is no doubt that the ultra-wealthy can afford this. In NY State, 118 billionaires saw their wealth increase by $77.3 billion during first three months of the pandemic. Michael Bloomberg saw his net worth increase by $12 billion during this period alone. All New Yorkers, including the ultra-wealthy, need to pitch in during this time of need, to ensure the health, safety and education of our kids. Below are links to your Legislators’ contact information and a script you can use. They are back in session today.

Thanks Leonie

Directions: Call your Legislators in their district offices – unless their phones are busy and then please call their Albany offices.

You can find your Assemblymember’s phone number here and your State Senator’s phone number here.

Script: Hi, my name is ________ and I am a constituent.

Our public schools desperately need more state aid to deal with the pandemic. I want to urge [Elected Name] to support the Fund Our Future package, including the Ultra-Millionaires Tax, the Billionaire Tax Shelter Tax and the Pied-a-terre Tax, so our kids can attend school safely next year. Can I count on [Elected Name] to sign onto these bills, and to ask the Legislative leaders to bring them to a vote?

Afterwards, if you have time, please enter their responses into our Google form here. Thanks!

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011
phone: 917-435-9329
leonie@classsizematters.org
http://www.classsizematters.org
Follow on twitter @leoniehaimson
Subscribe to the Class Size Matters newsletter for regular updates at http://tinyurl.com/kj5y5co

Subscribe to the NYC Education list serv by emailing NYCeducationnews+subscribe@groups.io

Host of “Talk out of School” WBAI radio show and podcast at https://talk-out-of-school.simplecast.com/