New York

Panel offers school governance history lesson, calls for checks & balances

"All the levers are in the hands of two people... and they don't have to listen to any of us," historian of education Diane Ravitch said on Wednesday night at the first of five public forums about mayoral control sponsored by the Parent Commission on School Governance. Ravitch and her fellow panelists, community organizer and retired educator Jitu Weusi and New York State Regent and former educator Betty Rosa, provided an overview of the history of school governance to a crowd of more than 200 parents, education activists, teachers, and others interested in the future organization of the city school system. The current school governance law, establishing mayoral control of the schools, sunsets in June 2009; the state assembly will begin holding public hearings on the issue in January. The Parent Commission is planning monthly panels on different aspects of school governance to help answer the overarching question of what model will serve New York's children best. Ravitch launched her overview of 200 years of changing school governance in New York with the statement, "You're in school, here's your history lesson." You can read a detailed account in her paper advising the Public Advocate's Commission on School Governance, but here are a few highlights: In 1869 Boss Tweed took over the school system, shut down the existing Board of Education, and created a created a Department of Education run by the mayor. When Tweed was jailed in 1873, reformers returned power to an independent Board of Education, however, all members were appointed by the mayor and no school officials at any level were elected. The boroughs were consolidated in 1898 to form the City of New York, and a central board was created along with 4 boards representing the boroughs (Manhattan and the Bronx were combined). Conflict among these boards soon led the state to abolish them and create a large central school board and many small, powerless district boards. This system lasted until 1969, when, in response to the Ocean Hill-Brownsville conflict, a new 7-member central board was created, with 1 elected member from each borough, plus two mayoral appointees. Due to concerns about unfair representation since borough populations varied, elections never took place and instead borough representatives were appointed by the borough presidents. Finally, in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg took over control of the schools, created the Department of Education and reorganized the school bureaucracy. "At no time has there been so total an absence of democratic participation in control of the schools," Ravitch concluded,
New York

Weakening economy kills plans for middle school at 75 Morton St.

Last month, after an extended campaign to relieve overcrowding in Greenwich Village schools elicited a commitment from the DOE to try to use a state-owned building on Morton Street as a new middle school, families and elected officials held a festive rally. But as the economy falters, it appears now that the celebration was premature. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at the August rally The Empire State Development Corporation, the state agency that owns the building, has withdrawn plans to sell the building, at least for now, citing the too-low bids it received from private developers while the building was on the market, the Villager reports today. The state agency currently occupying the building will stay there for the time being, making it impossible to renovate the building for use as a middle school in the fall of 2010, when neighborhood activists had hoped a new school could open. In early August, the city said it would formally ask the state to use the Morton Street building as a public school rather than auctioning it off to private developers. But the Villager reports that ESDC officials say the city did not submit any request in writing by the time the bidding process closed on Aug. 13. Asked by District 2 activists at the Panel for Educational Policy meeting on Monday about the city's apparent failure to lobby for the building's use as a public school, Chancellor Klein said the situation was fraught with behind-the-scenes complications. “If there is a way for us to successfully navigate those waters, we will be interested in doing that,” he said. And according to DOE press officer Marge Feinberg, the DOE hasn't given up on building new schools in overcrowded areas.
New York

Improvement in progress report grades: real or random?

Last year, the first round of progress reports attracted anger and ridicule. Perhaps because far fewer schools received low grades, the response this year has been more muted, making room for measured, evidence-based discussion of the DOE's methodology in constructing the reports. Over at Eduwonkette, Harvard education professor Daniel Koretz offers a lengthy critique of the progress report methodology. He notes that test scores alone are not a legitimate way to evaluate schools; New York State's tests were not designed to be used in "value-added" analysis like that behind the progress reports; and the progress reports, like all accountability systems, place pressure on school administrators that likely leads to score inflation. In addition, he writes that the DOE's formula does not take into account "interval scaling," or the reality that different amounts of "value" are required to move students from one proficiency level to the next at different points on the proficiency spectrum. (In June, I wrote about how interval scaling might contribute to the finding that No Child Left Behind has helped high-performing students less than their low-performing peers.) But those problems exist in many test-based, value-added accountability systems — Koretz writes that New York's progress report system has its own set of errors. The tremendous variation in schools' grades from last year to this year probably has less to do with school improvement than sampling and measurement error, he writes. Here's an illustration of the effect of error. I first calculated the variation in schools' grades between last year and this year and then graphed it against their enrollments.
New York

80 percent of schools land top grades on DOE's progress reports

As early reports suggested they would, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein announced today that more than half of all elementary and middle schools received higher progress report grades this year than last year, the first that the reports were issued. In all, 79 percent of schools earned As or Bs, more than 20 percentage points higher than last year. (High school reports will come out later this fall, after data about August graduation and Regents performance is taken into account.) "We're just as proud of the F student who became a C student as we are of the A student," Bloomberg said, contrasting the city's accountability system against the state's, which condemns low-performing schools even if they are on the upswing. The DOE's press release is filled with impressive statistics about schools' performance on the reports. The reports released today are meant to highlight student progress, as opposed to raw performance, which the state uses to judge schools. Sixty percent of a school's grade is based on "progress," or how much individual students improved or fell behind in the last year. Schools also get "extra credit" if students with special needs — such as disabilities, English language learner status, or poor performance in the past — do particularly well. Raw student performance does make up 25 percent of a school's grade, and the results of the Learning Environment Surveys that parents and teachers took this spring make up the remaining 15 percent of the score. On each measure, schools are compared both to all city schools and to schools in their "peer group," made up of schools that have similar demographics. Bloomberg said the reports, which are available online, make school performance transparent and help administrators and teachers to focus their attention and resources on the students who need it most. Finally, he said, the reports are the only measure where schools are held accountable for improving student performance — and accountability, he emphasized, breeds success, with schools earning higher marks this year even though progress report grades were issued last November for the first time, just two months before state English tests and four months before state math tests. The DOE's chief accountability officer, Jim Liebman, who spearheaded the progress report initiative, cited a recent paper by Columbia economist Jonah Rockoff that concludes that new accountability systems can produce real effects in a very short time. Administrators at PS 5, the Bedford-Stuyvesant elementary school where the press conference took place, said their progress report grade last year pushed them to help their students more.
New York

No change in science testing climate this year

Example question from ##http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=2&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.emsc.nysed.gov%2Fciai%2Fmst%2Fpub%2F1interscisam.pdf&ei=JEPQSOijB6HsvAWQ6pn0Dg&usg=AFQjCNGMdZSTuqFOUMzvJCG5kGOo1s-18w&sig2=MguDDgU8bufQjg_o71zviQ##NY Intermediate Level Science exam## sampler. This year, the city is rolling out new science materials for grades 5, 7, and 8, building on the curriculum introduced last year in grades 3, 4, and 6. Yet new tests based on the curriculum have been delayed for the second straight year, the Post reported yesterday. A 2004 report by the City Council Committee on Education stated, "The most striking aspect of science in elementary schools is how rarely it is taught. Students are fortunate to get 45 minutes of science once a week for half the year." The report made a number of recommendations for recruiting highly-qualified science teachers, increasing the profile of science education, and holding schools accountable for science. In response to this and other reports that accountability in reading and math was pushing aside science and social studies instruction, the city introduced its new scope and sequence for science, based on state standards. Schools across the city select from a kit-based approach, a textbook-based approach, or a "blended" model which combines the textbooks and kits, or they may use approved alternatives. Yearly testing based on the curriculum was supposed to push school administrators to increase time spent on science and support teachers' implementation of the new curriculum. The delay in introducing the new tests poses a catch-22 for teachers fighting for attention, time, and resources for science education, but hoping to avoid the pressures and pitfalls of yearly standardized testing. Although many educators and students are undoubtedly relieved to avoid adding another exam to the already-full assessment calendar, others see the test as necessary to raise the profile of science education. At an August 2007 professional development workshop related to the new curriculum, some science teachers reported that their principals said they'd increase time for science once science tests started to matter for school accountability. Many teachers are also waiting to see what the tests emphasize. Will they focus more on content, reasoning skills, or laboratory skills? The state science exams currently given in 4th and 8th grade include multiple choice, constructed response (short answer), and performance (lab-based) sections. What will the new tests look like?