Looking back

On WNYC, chancellor defends city's presentation of test scores

Possibly taking a cue from today’s New York Times editorial, Chancellor Joel Klein took to the airwaves today to try and explain the drop in scores.

On WNYC, host Brian Lehrer asked Klein when he knew that the state math and reading tests had become too easy and why he continued to trumpet the yearly score increases. Klein defended the way the city discussed test scores, saying the mayor began calling for tougher standards in 2006. He added that whenever the city called press conferences to announce the test scores, “we always put it in context.”

Anyone who sat through those announcements likely remembers that over time, Klein began to emphasize comparisons of the city’s scores to the rest of the state’s scores, rather than focus on the proficiency rates alone. But unlike state officials, he did not caution parents that their children’s scores were inflated.

Last year, while Mayor Bloomberg told the New York Times “It’s time for a celebration,” State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch was full of warning. At the time she said:

“While on the face of things scores may be going up, a system where proficiency means you have at best even odds of not graduating, and will probably need remedial education, this is not a victory that we are defining in New York State.”

The following is a snippet of Klein’s exchange with Lehrer:

Lehrer: But then were you making claims of success based on the previous numbers, 69 percent, 82 percent, knowing on some level that they were a sham?

Klein: No but what we did time and again, Brian, is always compare New York City to the rest of the state and to other big cities.  So we always said, whether the tests got harder or easier, and there were arguments all over the place, we always said two things: that compared to everyone else New York City’s progress was indisputable.

If you look at the overall scores, if you look at the number of kids who are performing well in New York compared to other cities and the rest of the state. Second thing we said though is we need to raise them. We don’t set those benchmarks and the state does, but when we say under federal law and under state law that a certain number of kids are proficient, I think we are allowed to report that in good faith. By the same token, we were out there early saying raise the bar and the question becomes inevitably why did other people wait the time they waited.

Lehrer: In good faith you could trumpet the scores that you thought were less than 100 percent meaningful? Did you?  I don’t know. Did you have news conferences in 2009 saying, “Hey look we got 82 percent on the math passing?”

Klein: We did, but we always put it in context. You never saw us say…because this argument are the state tests too easy, are they too hard… And we were very clear about this: look at our gains compared to other large cities that are comparable to us in New York and compared at the rest of the state.

The chancellor also claimed that the city had closed the graduation gap — the disparity between black and Hispanic students’ graduation rate versus that of white and Asian students.

“We’ve closed the achievement gap with respect to graduation rates,” he said.

Perhaps the chancellor meant to say “closing” rather than “closed.” At best, the city’s graduation gap has slightly narrowed. In 2005, an average of 39 percent of black and Hispanic students were graduating from high school, compared to 65 percent of whites and Asians, a gap of 26 percentage points. Now the gap is 22 points.

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the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”