Primary Sources

Chancellor Klein's testimony, for those playing along at home

Were you somehow unable not to make today’s mayoral control hearing? Don’t worry! You can still read Chancellor Joel Klein’s testimony in its entirety right here on GothamSchools, courtesy of the Department of Education:

TESTIMONY OF CHANCELLOR JOEL I. KLEIN ON MAYORAL CONTROL OF NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS BEFORE THE NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY EDUCATION COMMITTEE

Good morning, Speaker Silver, Chairwoman Nolan, and members of the Education Committee. Thank you for inviting me to testify today, and thank you for holding this series of hearings. I’m honored to be part of a process that is so important to our children and our City. I’m joined by my deputy, Kathleen Grimm, who will discuss our Capital Plan. The president of the School Construction Authority, Sharon Greenberger, is also here to help answer your questions.

Seven years ago, when Mayor Bloomberg took office, everybody agreed that the City’s public school system was in crisis. Its schools were failing many of its students—especially the neediest ones. Since then, we’ve come a long way—thanks in large measure to your bold decision to support mayoral control, and, I would add, the significant infusion of funds that you have delivered. What we’ve created is not perfect, our work has not been without mistake, and the transformation we have worked to engender is not complete. But the results show how far we’ve come. Today, more than 10,000 additional students are graduating than when we took over in 2002. Today, many more students are meeting and exceeding standards in math and reading. And today, the gap separating African-American and Latino students from their white and Asian peers is shrinking.

So, let me jump right in and start with what I think is most important. Whoever the mayor is, you should continue to provide him or her with the authority and accountability for public education in our City. Nothing is more important than education to our City and its families, and our City’s highest elected official should have the responsibility for this core function, just as he or she does for the safety, health, and the economic well being our City. Some have proposed that we should dilute the mayor’s authority over education policy and budget decisions, by changing the composition of the Panel for Educational Policy, for example. But if we do, we undermine the mayor’s accountability to the City, and that would be a mistake. If he cannot pursue his priorities, he cannot fairly be responsible for what happens in education.

We don’t need to speculate about this. That’s precisely the way it was before you authorized mayoral control in 2002. There was divided authority, a school system in distress, lots of finger pointing and blame passing, and a new chancellor every two or three years. Today, there are people who disagree strongly with our priorities and who focus exclusively on the mistakes we have made. But whether they agree or disagree, no one questions that the Mayor and I are accountable for the state of our City’s schools.

There is a second reason why the Mayor should be both responsible and accountable: when it comes to education, someone has to watch out for all 1.1 million students. Divided authority—and a local, rather than a citywide focus—often leads to interest group politics in education, and those with power, or access to power, typically prevail. There are, in short, as is often the case, winners and losers. But we cannot afford losers in education. For example, there are many parents in our City who know how to navigate the system to find a good school for their children, parents who can call someone who is well connected to find out how to play the game. But who looks out for the students who are not so well connected, the children of our poorest families, the children of color, and the children of parents who recently arrived here in America? In New York City, indeed throughout our Nation, those students have typically gotten the short end of the stick in public education. And that’s a significant reason why we have the shameful racial and ethnic achievement gaps that we do. The mayor and chancellor must advocate for those children—and set priorities in a way that will ensure they too get an equal educational opportunity—or their needs will continue to be neglected.

Our experience over the past seven years in New York City demonstrates that mayoral control provides the necessary ability to make real changes in the largest school system in the country. The sorts of reforms we have implemented would not and could not have happened in the absence of such authority. By definition, such reforms are often controversial. You certainly don’t have to agree with every program we’ve undertaken or policy we’ve implemented, but I think it’s clear that to get the job done—and get it done right—we need real reforms, not the feel-good stuff that so often characterizes education reform. Everyone wants more money for education—our children need and deserve it. But more money alone, as experience throughout the Nation sadly demonstrates, hasn’t solved the challenges we face.

I know Deputy Mayor Walcott outlined our results last week. I’d like to just highlight a few points:

We have made substantial progress in attacking the achievement gap. For our fourth graders, we have cut the achievement gap in half in math since 2002 and we’ve reduced it by about 20% in English. Progress in the eighth grade is less substantial, but it is still in the right direction. On the national tests, our African-American fourth graders are beating out African Americans throughout America and in virtually every other large city in both math and English.

Overall, our students have made sustained progress in math and reading since 2002. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding State standards is up almost 30 points in fourth and eighth grade math. In ELA, the percentage is up almost 15 points in fourth grade and 14 points in eighth grade.

In every area, New York City’s students’ gains have outpaced gains in the rest of the State, where students are taking the same tests and not making remotely the same progress.

And most importantly, as I said, many more students are graduating from high school. The City methodology, which was in effect long before mayoral control, shows that we have increased the four-year graduation rate by more than 2 points per year after a decade of stagnation that preceded us. And, under the State’s new methodology, in existence for the past three years, we’ve gone up almost 3 points per year from 2005 to 2007.

Because of our steady progress in improving student achievement and reducing achievement gaps plaguing poor and minority students, we won the country’s most prestigious education award, the Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2007.

Today, we are working together, as one City, to address the needs of our students. We have one system that sets clear expectations for our schools and our students. No longer do we think of ourselves as 32 separate fiefdoms, divided along income and zip code lines. We are the City of New York. WE know that success in some communities with sustained failure in others hurts all of us.

Today, we focus relentlessly on student achievement, something you heard far less about before mayoral control. Look at the first page in the folder we provided. Students’ advancement to and beyond proficiency is directly linked to the rate at which they graduate from high school on time with a Regents diploma. Small increments of growth in proficiency produce large increases in the probability of success in high school. As the chart illustrates, only 23% of students finishing eighth grade with a proficiency ratings of 2.50 in ELA and math graduate four years later with a Regents diploma. But students leaving middle school with a rating of 3.50 graduate at a rate of 81%—58 points higher. For every tenth of a point gain in proficiency within that range, the probability that a rising ninth grader will graduate in four years, college ready, increases by about 5 points.

These are big differences and that’s why mastering the materials on New York State’s standardized tests matters and why the gains that we have made on those tests that I’ve described will have significant life-time effects.

As is obvious, I strongly believe that mayoral control is the best governance system for urban public schools. I said that publicly and often long before Mayor Bloomberg decided to run again, and I have repeatedly urged lawmakers throughout this Nation—especially big-city mayors in cities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.—to adopt a system of mayoral control. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that you shouldn’t seek to improve the statute. I recognize that it is not a sacred text. Like the work we do every day, now is the time to focus on what we can learn from our experiences and make modifications that will benefit our schools and students. But as we strive toward that goal, there is a real danger that the debate over the statute becomes a debate over specific policy decisions that were enabled by it. Even if you don’t like some of the decisions we have made, it would be a grave mistake to constrain, now and long into the future, the fundamental ability to make the kind of transformational change our kids need by dividing up decision-making in the law. No matter what how it is labeled, that is not changing or tweaking or improving mayoral control, it is ending it—and that is a line that, for our kids’ sake, we can’t afford to cross.

Before I close, I would like to address the issue many people who question mayoral control have raised as a problem, and that is the issue of parental involvement. First, let me provide some independent data. A survey by the Community Service Society—a well respected advocacy group known to all of you—found that the percentage of public school parents “grading” their children’s school with a B or higher has jumped significantly under our administration. Among our City’s poorest parents, this figure rose from 24% to 64%. Among the “near poor,” it rose from 47% to 64%, and among the “moderate-higher” families, it rose from 59% to 66%.

And just last week, a Quinnipiac Poll found that voters with children in public schools support the continuation of mayoral control by a margin of almost 20 points—57% to 39%.

Yet, although I believe that we’ve made strides with community and family engagement over the course of the administration, I also know that we can do a better job. This is a complex education system to navigate and we can, and must, do a better job helping our families navigate it. We also need to give families and communities more information in a more timely fashion so that we can do a better job of getting their input. Working together with you, and learning from our experience over the past several years, I’m confident we can build a better process.

In conclusion, let me again emphasize that the conversation we are having today is one of the most important conversations facing us as a City. There are things we’ve learned since 2002, things we could no doubt have done better with the benefit of hindsight. But we have a duty to make sure our City continues to have the tools it needs to further transform education for the benefit of our children, especially those children who, almost 55 years after Brown v. Board of Education, remain profoundly shortchanged. I look forward to working with you to learn from the experience of the past seven years to construct the best possible education law for our students and their families.

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.