New York

Defending cuts to some city services, Bloomberg cites Klein

The city Department of Education is spared the worst of city agencies' impending budget cuts, according to the executive budget proposal released by Mayor Bloomberg today for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Lots of city agencies are being asked to fire employees, and spending citywide on capital projects has been slashed by 27 percent, Bloomberg said at a briefing for reporters about the plan today. On the other hand, he said, "We have a school system that we are putting more money in than we did last year." The budget proposed today includes $10,810,000 in city funds for public schools. By the end of the current fiscal year, according to budget documents distributed today, the DOE will have received $10,462,000 in city funds.  The DOE is being asked merely not to replace teachers who leave, not outright fire teachers, Bloomberg said. Plus, he said, federal stabilization money will allow the DOE to escape the deep cuts in capital funds that other city agencies are experiencing. Although the new capital plan is smaller than the one that is now ending, the DOE is being spared the 27 percent capital budget reduction that other agencies are set to experience. Whether the DOE would be included in a citywide reduction in capital spending had been an open question. Responding to a reporter's question about cuts to other agencies that could impede their ability to help needy New Yorkers, Bloomberg cited the philosophy of his chancellor, Joel Klein. "You're never going to fix poverty until you fix public education," Bloomberg said. "I'm always happy to hear the mayor adopt my philosophy," Klein told me when I asked him what he thought about hearing the philosophy he has promoted as the founder of the Education Equality Project being used to explain cuts in city services that some have called "ruthless." Klein sounded less sanguine when discussing the school budget picture.
New York

Jon Schnur, "ideolocrat" poster boy, will not work for Obama

[This post has been updated to include a comment from Jon Schnur.] WASHINGTON, D.C. —  Jon Schnur, the education policy expert who has been working as an advisor to President Barack Obama and played a pivotal role in writing the federal stimulus plan for schools, will not serve in the Obama administration. He will instead return to running the nonprofit principal-training program New Leaders for New Schools group that he co-founded, according to an e-mail he sent recently to members of New Leaders. Schnur is one of the most high-profile members of the next-generation "reform" camp of Democrats, who push for dramatic changes in public schools, including strong accountability measures. He had been named as a likely chief of staff to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and was serving as a senior adviser to Duncan, helping him craft the education part of the stimulus bill. Schnur's close role in the administration had been seen as a signal of its direction on education, suggesting that the president was siding with the camp of education advocates that includes Schnur (and for which we singled Schnur out as a spokesman), rather than with the camp that is more skeptical of recent accountability efforts. As word of Schnur's plans spread around Washington, D.C., the major question I'm hearing people ask is why he is not entering the administration — and what that says about the administration's direction. (I am in D.C. for the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association, where I am becoming a board member.)
New York

On NY1, Weingarten floats making the word "tenure" optional

Teachers union president Randi Weingarten and one of her chief adversaries, charter school operator Eva Moskowitz, provided some of the conflict expected during their live television debate tonight. But by the end of the segment on NY1's "Road to City Hall," host Dominic Carter had gotten the pair to agree to visit each other's schools, and Weingarten had suggested that she's prepared to jettison the word "tenure" when it comes to negotiating with charter schools, which typically are not unionized. Moskowitz kicked off the debate with a trademark attack on the teachers union, saying that inflexible, "top-down" union contracts inhibit schools from flexibly meeting student needs. She said later in the segment that teachers are "fleeing" traditional public schools, noting that 7,000 people applied for just 52 teaching positions in the four Harlem Success charter schools that she runs. Weingarten appeared exasperated as she told Moskowitz that such a characterization of the teachers contract is outdated. "Maybe it's been a long time, in terms of you not looking at the UFT-Board of Education contract," she said. "There's a lot of flexibility in that contract these days." Weingarten repeatedly emphasized that she wasn't interested in making the conversation a debate about unions vs. charter schools. She said charter schools should be considered incubators for innovation, reiterating a statement she first made last week at an event hosted by the conservative Manhattan Institute. "Let's make them great laboratories of labor relations as well," she said. "I would love it if we could do some contracts in your schools," Weingarten said to Moskowitz. Later, Weingarten said, "Eva, listen, let's try to not continue a path of conflict. ... In your schools, let's find a way to do due process without the word tenure."
New York

After a DOE official tries to rebut her, Diane Ravitch responds

The Department of Education and Diane Ravitch, a former supporter who has emerged as one of the department's most vocal critics, have for years sparred over how to interpret DOE data. In their latest skirmish, the department and the historian have each issued memos refuting the other's claims about how well the city schools are performing. The DOE's memo went out by e-mail to all principals; Ravitch's appears for the first time in this post. The newest dustup stems from an op/ed Ravitch wrote for the New York Times earlier this month, in which she argued that data show the DOE is incorrect to say schools have improved significantly since Mayor Bloomberg took control of them. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein immediately fired back against Ravitch in a letter to the editor. But apparently some principals needed more convincing, because Klein wrote in a recent Principals Weekly newsletter that he had heard from "a number" of them with questions about whether Ravitch's op/ed was accurate. To answer the principals' questions, Klein said he asked Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, a senior DOE official who oversees testing, to fact-check Ravitch's claims. Bell-Ellwanger produced an 8-page memo, dated April 28, rebutting Ravitch point by point. Klein linked to the memo in his most recent e-mail newsletter to principals; I've also posted it in full below the jump. After I shared Bell-Ellwanger's memo with her, Ravitch composed a long response of her own, noting that her Times op/ed was thoroughly vetted before publication. "The editor at the Times required documentation for every single fact in the article, and I supplied it," she writes in her response, which I've posted just after Bell-Ellwanger's memo below.
New York

Saying discharges are up, report demands grad rate audit

Six years after Schools Chancellor Joel Klein vowed to crack down on a bureaucratic loophole that allowed principals to hide students' failure to graduate high school, a new report (PDF) suggests that the loophole remains open and may be growing wider. The report calls for closer study of the students classified as "discharges" — departures from the system, but not dropouts — through steps including a state audit. The report says that 21 percent of students who entered high school in 2003 both never graduated and were never counted as dropouts, instead falling into a category known as "discharges." The percentage was up from 17.5 percent among the Class of 2000. The rate is especially high among special education students, and includes a remarkable jump in 2005, when the special education discharge rate shot up to 36 percent from 23 percent in a single year. Students classified as discharges can include those who left the school system for legitimate reasons, such as moving to another state, deciding to enroll in an outside G.E.D. program, or death. But some advocates have argued that principals can also misuse the discharge code, entering students who simply dropped out in order to inflate their graduation rate artificially. A recent audit of 12 high schools in New York State by the state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, found that high schools classified students as G.E.D. discharges who did not actually enroll in a G.E.D. program. "As a result," DiNapoli's audit concluded, "the report cards understated the number and percentage of dropouts and overstated the percentage of graduates for some of the schools we reviewed." The audit did not probe any New York City high schools. Two persistent critics of the Bloomberg administration compiled the report: the executive director of Class Size Matters, Leonie Haimson, and a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, Jennifer Jennings. Jennings was the author of the now-defunct Eduwonkette blog, whose analysis of New York City education data became (as I reported) a thorn in the Bloomberg administration's side. The report is being released at a press conference this morning held by a third critic, the city's public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum. City school officials were already disputing the report's claims yesterday, before it had been released.
New York

Mystery deepens over state senator's mayoral control report

I spent nearly an hour earlier today trying to cobble together out of several askew, truncated, and fuzzy faxed versions a single shareable copy of State Sen. Martin Dilan's explosive mayoral control report. I should have spent my time on something else, because Liz Benjamin at the Daily News just posted an impeccable version on her Daily Politics blog; I'm sharing it below the jump.  Benjamin's copy of the report, which recommends that lawmakers place substantial checks on mayoral control when the school governance structure expires June 30, is easier to read than the one I just trashed. But the version I was working with looked about as muddled as debate over the report has been since it was first revealed in the Post yesterday. At issue is whose opinions the report contains and whether the report was meant to be released this week at all. Gail Robinson at the Gotham Gazette wrote yesterday that her copy of the leaked report didn't indicate anywhere that it was a draft version. But City Hall, which condemned the recommendations, told the Post that it considered the report to be in draft form, and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith's office said the report doesn't reflect his position on mayoral control. Later yesterday, Dilan, one of the two chairs of the school governance task force convened by Smith, issued a statement saying that the leaked report represented only his own opinions, not those of his fellow committee members.  This afternoon, I called the office of State Sen. Shirley Huntley, the task force's other chair, to find out how her position compared to Dilan's. A spokeswoman who works in Smith's office, Selvena Brooks, returned my call on Huntley's behalf. "The task force is still convening hearings," Brooks told me. "She feels it’s a bit premature to make recommendations."
New York

What Pedro Noguera told Joel Klein — and what Joel Klein heard

Pedro Noguera and Joel Klein appeared at a panel together last month about the achievement gap, sponsored by Channel 13. (GothamSchools) Pedro Noguera, the NYU professor and all-around authority on urban schools, had lunch with Chancellor Joel Klein the other day. The two aren't natural candidates for a lunch date: Noguera is a co-founder of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, a national effort to rival Klein's Education Equality Project. But they had recently spoken on a panel together and found that they agreed about a lot. So they decided to have lunch. There, Noguera urged Klein to visit an elementary school in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, PS 28, which Noguera said epitomized his thoughts on what makes a strong urban school. Noguera said that its extended school day (some children stay until 5:45 p.m.), social services, professional development for teachers, and focus on emotional as well as academic growth have helped it become an impressive school, despite being challenged by serving a large number of homeless students. Klein visited the school "the very next day," Noguera told me in a telephone interview. It made an impression on him, too, and soon he wrote a memo to all principals in the city urging them to visit PS 28 (The memo was included in the April 7 Principals' Weekly newsletter, and is reproduced below.) But Noguera told me on the telephone that he was struck by what Klein's memo emphasized about the school — and what it did not say. Namely, Klein talked about the importance of a strong principal and of analyzing students' test scores, but not about addressing children's non-academic needs, the focus of the other programs Noguera admired.