Archives for category: New York

Carol Corbett Burris was a teacher and principal on Long Island, in New York state for many years. After retiring, she became executive director of the Network for Public Education.

She writes:

Last spring, HBO released Bad Education, which tells the story of how a Roslyn, New York Superintendent named Frank Tassone conspired to steal $11.2 million with the help of his business officer, Pamela Gluckin.  Promo materials called the film “the largest public school embezzlement in U.S. history.”

I did not watch it. I am waiting. I am waiting for HBO to release a movie on how a crafty fellow from Australia, Sean McManus, defrauded California taxpayers out of $50 millionvia an elaborate scheme to create phony attendance records to increase revenue to an online charter chain known as A3. 

Or the documentary about the tens of millions that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) owes taxpayers for cooking the books on attendance. Or perhaps there will be a mini-series about the fraud and racketeering that charter operator Marcus May engaged in that brought his net worth from $200,000 to $8.5 million in five years and landed him a 20-year sentence in jail. 

The truth is, Frank Tassone and his accomplice are small potatoes compared to the preponderance of charter school scandals that happen every day. What is different is how lawmakers respond. 

When the Tassone case hit the news, I was a principal in a neighboring district. The New York State Legislature came down hard with unfunded mandates on public schools.

We all had to hire external auditors and internal auditors that went over every receipt, no matter how small. Simple things like collecting money for field trips or a club’s T-shirt sale suddenly became a big deal. Although there was no evidence that any other district was engaging in anything like what happened in Roslyn, every district transaction came under scrutiny.

Whether those regulations and their expenses were justified or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that despite the years and years of scandal in the charter sector, state legislatures never change laws or impose new rules. For-profits run schools doing business with their related companies behind a wall of secrecy, and lawmakers do not worry a bit. 

I am puzzled. Why can’t charter schools be as transparent as public schools?  Why is the ability to easily engage in fraud necessary to promote innovation? 

No one has been able to answer my question yet. 

The Ossining, New York, school district has a creative response to the federal mandate to administer tests at a time when children’s lives have been disrupted by the pandemic. The superintendent has asked parents to write a letter asking for their child to be tested, that is, to “opt in” to testing.

Gary Stern of the Lower Hudson news (Lohud) reports:

At a time when many school districts are peeved that they are being forced by Washington to administer standardized tests, the Ossining district is taking the provocative step of only giving the tests to students whose parents request it.

This “opting in” approach may mean that few students will take the state-run tests for grades 3-8, which are scheduled for April, May and June. But that’s fine with Ossining officials, who say the tests will be unacceptably disruptive during the pandemic and will yield little meaningful data.

“We’re in a pandemic, and there is a lot our students are going through right now, and our staff,” Ossining Superintendent Ray Sanchez said. “We’re fulfilling the requirements to administer the assessments, and we’re giving parents a voice in the process.”

Kudos to Superintendent Sanchez for recognizing that children belong to their parents, not the state, and that parents should make the decision about the tests, not politicians.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has yet to come up with a plausible reason for administering the state tests this year. The tests were suspended last year; there is no baseline data. The tests will not measure “learning loss.” If the Department wanted state and national data, it should not have canceled the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which gathers that data and has a 50-year timeline.

The Port Washington Union Free School District on Long Island in New York wrote an excellent letter to their representatives in Congress. It is a model letter that should inspire other local and state school boards.

We are the officials entrusted with overseeing the education of over 5.300 students in the Port Washington Union Free School District in Nassau County, New York. We arc writing to urge that Congress act ‘immediately’ to enact legislation that will waive all testing mandates under the Every Child Succeeds Act for the 2020-2021 school year. This would include not only the grades 3-8 ELA and math assessments, but also the 4th and 8th grade science assessments, any ELA, math, and science assessments required at the middle and high school levels, as well as any English Language Learner assessments required, and alternative assessments.

The pandemic has caused our country’s children immense psychological harm and stress. Children arc best served by face-to-face interactions and connections with teachers. staff. and know students, in a school building setting. Our school buildings arc our children’s ccosystem, and for many, it’s their primary source of emotional and social sup, (not to mention food and nutrition and sometimes even clothing). Last March. all of that was taken from them. literally overnight. Sadly. to this very day. many schoolchildren nationwide. including in Ncw York Statc, have yet to rctum to in-person instruction, and even for those who have rcturned. in-person instruction is often not full time and is plagued by constant quarantines of both students and staff.

Safely reopening our schools during this pandemic and creating a fully virtual K-5 school required spending to the mine of over S3.7 million – a staggering amount for any local school district. Yet. even with this immense expenditure. only our elementary school kids arc attending school in person full time, and our secondary students arc still in a hybrid cnvironmcnt that is less than ideal. Additionally. we have the constant quarantines of classes and teachers that further stalls Teaming.

These federally-mandated tests constitute an unfunded mandate. Many districts, such as Port Washington, have already dipped into reserve funds in order to safely reopen our schools. Administering the ESSA assessments is an incredibly wasteful endeavor, and a breach of our fiduciary duty to our taxpayers. Every moment that a teacher has with our nation’s children should and must be spent on substantive learning while focusing on their social and emotional well-being. Our students arc living in crisis. The very last thing these children need is to be subjected to assessments. Congress must act now to enact legislation that will waive all testing mandates under the Every Student Succeeds Act for the 2020-2021 school year.

New York State Allies for Public Education created sample opt out letters for parents to present to the school.

Click to access Refusal-letter-2020-21.pdf

For both English and Spanish, visit the NYSAPE homepage.

New York State Allies for Public Education has led the successful opt out movement in their state for years. As much as 20% of all eligible students have refused the annual tests in most years, in some schools and districts, a majority of students don’t take the test.

They reacted angrily to the news that the Biden administration plans to require annual testing after Joe Biden publicly promised not to.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 23, 2021More information contact:Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190nys.allies@gmail.com

Jeanette Deutermann (516) 902-9228nys.allies@gmail.com

NYS Allies for Public Education – NYSAPE

The Biden Administration Fails to Put Children First; NYSAPE Urges Parents to Opt Out

In a recent letter released by Ian Rosenblum, Acting Secretary of Education and former Executive Director of the reformer organization Education Trust NY, the USDOE and the Biden Administration have signaled that testing waivers submitted by the states will be denied this year. Although the ESSA accountability measures will be granted waivers, the insistence on forging ahead with ESSA-mandated student assessments completely ignores the damaging impact that administering state assessments in the midst of a pandemic will have on our children. 

Unfortunately, the Biden Administration believes that traumatized children, including those who have yet to set foot in their school buildings since last March, will be best served preparing for and taking standardized tests, even though this will only add to the stress they are already experiencing. 

However, parents are not without recourse. New York State parents can, and will, exercise their right to refuse to allow their children to participate in the grades 3-8 state assessments. NYSAPE’s New York State Test Opt Out parent letter can be found here.

NYSAPE applauds the New York State Education Department (NYSED) for announcing “Regents Exams would not be required to meet graduation requirements and to cancel any Regents Exam that is not required by USDOE”.

NYSAPE now calls on the New York State Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department to take immediate action to demand any and all flexibility on ESSA regulations, and provide clear guidance to school districts that they must inform parents of their right to opt out of the state assessments and prohibit any mixed messaging to coerce parents otherwise. 

NYSED led by Commissioner Betty Rosa & the Board of Regents are leading the way in putting our children’s needs first. 

NYSAPE is a grassroots coalition with over 70 parent and educator groups across the state.

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New York State education officials have agreed to request a waiver from the Secretary of Education from federally mandated testing this spring, due to the pandemic. State officials recognize that the pandemic has caused gross inequities in opportunity to learn and would serve no useful purpose. (Under normal circumstances the federally required tests serve no useful purpose, but they are a terrible burden this year, in addition to being worthless.)

The federal response may be delayed since the Senate is moving slowly to confirm President Biden’s Cabinet appointments.

Every state should seek a waiver. Students have been subject to trauma and daily disruption. Now is not the time to focus on test scores. It’s time to give students the social, emotional, and academic support they need. The most avid proponents of resuming standardized testing have never been teachers.

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.