Kathryn Wylde at a different NYU event (via Flickr) At today's coming-out party for the Research Alliance for the New York City Schools (party take two, as City Room points out), the person who seemed most attuned to the significance of the event was Kathryn Wylde, the president of the business community's lobbying group, the Partnership for New York City, and a board member of the alliance. In a short speech, Wylde referred to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein as "the person who really had to give something up in all of this." "Control of all the data is a lot of control," she explained. Indeed, the ambitiousness of the pledges being made — that the alliance will have free and open access to study the city's public schools, and that it will be a totally independent body, despite the presence of several political heavy-hitters on its board (Klein is one, and so is union president Randi Weingarten) — was so remarkable that it was the subject of quiet conversation in the audience. And despite the exciting promises, there was still some unfinished business. The data-sharing agreement that will be the core of the alliance has not yet been formalized, and so it is not yet clear precisely who will have access to the data and under what conditions.
In the opening salvo of what's sure to be a pitched battle over the next capital plan, activists today released a report (pdf) concluding that the city added fewer school seats during the first six years of the Bloomberg administration than it did during the six years immediately before. They estimate that the system needs 167,000 extra seats and dramatically accelerated school construction in order to ease crowding and reduce class sizes. The capital plan is a budget outlining all public school construction plans for the next five years. The current plan covered five years and will end in 2009. The School Construction Authority is due to present a first draft of the next capital plan, covering the years 2010 to 2014, in just a few weeks. In the report, released by the Campaign for a Better Capital Plan and written primarily by Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, backers of the campaign call for "a transparent, thorough, and open system of planning" that reflects the system's real space needs.
A bike courier (via Flickr) Chancellor Joel Klein is defending the estimated $5 million that the Department of Education will spend this year on couriers who hand-deliver documents between school locations. Juan Gonzalez at the Daily News reported on the expenses this morning. A large portion of the expenses, $2 million, are being incurred by the Office of Accountability, which uses couriers to deliver a new set of tests to a computer center in Queens, so that they can be processed, Gonzalez reported. The interim assessments are given out in English and math and are meant to give teachers an idea of which skills and information their students are absorbing and which they aren't before the annual standardized test. Speaking to reporters covering the launch of the new Research Alliance for the city schools this morning, Chancellor Joel Klein defended the accountability office's use of couriers. He said teachers deserve up-to-the-minute information on how their students are doing. Klein added that ARIS, the new data warehouse that will be re-launched next month, could ease the expenses of transporting paper score reports. Some schools already use online tests, which have a faster turnaround time for scoring and require no courier expense.
The research center that will aim to conduct apolitical research on the city's public schools is launching tomorrow, at long last. James Kemple, a former director of education policy at MDRC, a New York think tank, will be the executive director of the group, which will be called (after several other tentative names were scrapped) the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, according to a press release just sent out. New York University is housing the center. One thing to pay close attention to is the data-sharing agreement that will determine which researchers get what data and what kind of access to schools. Increasing access was one purpose of the alliance, and to that end, the people who set up the alliance — from luminaries like the former president of Princeton, William Bowen, to the layman executive director, Richard Arum — hammered out a formal agreement with the Department of Education dictating who can see what figures and under what circumstances. I reported on the terms of a tentative agreement over the summer, for the Sun: Under the tentative deal, the group would have a fixed set of data that would be kept constantly up-to-date. Some of that data, including figures such as schools' state test scores, SAT results, and attendance data, would be widely available to the press and public. A larger set, including student-level information would be instantly available to a "Research Corps" selected by the executive director. To ensure speedy responses to inquiries by the alliance, the Department of Education would also agree to appoint a person in charge of coordination, called a "senior data liaison." The liaison would be paid for by the alliance but work under the supervision of the department, Mr. Arum said. Another fun fact: On the name front, one long-time contender was the Research Partnership. Maybe not everyone at the center is ready to give up that name; it's still the URL address of the center's Web site and mentioned prominently on the site's home page, as you can see in a screen shot below the jump.