In honor of the Educational Equality Project conference this week—you remember the Educational Equality Project, don't you? The unholy alliance between Rev. Al Sharpton and Chancellor Joel Klein, funded by a $500,000 tax-deductible gift from former Chancellor Harold Levy's Connecticut-based hedge fund to Sharpton's National Action Network that was laundered through Education Reform Now, a non-profit linked to Education Reform Now Advocacy Inc. (a lobbying group), and Democrats for Education Reform (a political action committee)? Throw in how the gift helped to offset Sharpton's personal and organizational IRS tax woes—a $1 million settlement last July—and Levy's lobbying City Hall on a range of horseracing initiatives worth hundreds of millions to his company and its partners, and you have the making of a John Grisham novel. All that's missing is a few hookers. The Educational Equality Project, which has garnered signatories from a large number of prominent politicians and education leaders, recently launched its website. At the top of the page is a rotating list of "facts," backed by a list of "all the facts," with links to references that presumably document or support the facts. skoolboy decided to fact-check some of the facts. Are they fact or fiction? Barely half of African-American and Latino students graduate from high school, while nearly 80% of white students do. Toss-Up: These figures are accurate if we limit consideration to on-time graduation rates. Chris Swanson of Editorial Projects in Education reports a Cumulative Promotion Index, an estimate of the four-year graduation rate, of 58% for Hispanics and 55% for African-Americans in the class of 2005. These rates would likely increase if we extended the possible time to completion to five or six years.
A group of parents is sharply criticizing the Department of Education for backing away from its decision to shut down struggling neighborhood elementary schools, saying Mayor Bloomberg should "take a hard line" and turn over the buildings to be used as charter schools. The parents, who are zoned to have their children attend two of the schools that would have been closed and replaced with charter schools, said that they want the mayor to shut the schools down because the schools are dirty, dangerous, and filled with teachers who are "just there for a paycheck." "I live across the street from 194," one mother, Melissia Daley, wrote of P.S. 194, a Harlem elementary school that would have been closed under the city's original plan. "Although it's a zoned school and very convenient for me and my child, I wouldn't even try to put my child in there because the children are well behind in grade." "If they are closing 241 to put a better school in its place, then they should do that," one parent, Martinique Owens, said, of another Harlem school, P.S. 241, in a similar situation. Their statements came in a press release issued this afternoon by a spokeswoman for the Harlem Success Academy network of charter schools, Jenny Sedlis. Two Harlem Success schools were planning to become the sole occupants of the P.S. 194 and P.S. 241 buildings after those schools closed. Those schools will have to continue sharing space with district elementary schools next year.
At an event with Chancellor Joel Klein and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today, the Rev. Al Sharpton turned his attention instead to another education activist in the room. "Nobody's supported us more financially than Randi Weingarten," he declared, speaking at a convention of the education group he runs with Klein. Sharpton then eyed Weingarten, the union president who was sitting in the audience, and ushered her onto the stage he was sharing with Duncan, Klein, and the local radio personality James Mtume. Weingarten stepped away from her spot in the audience and joined the men on the panel. Weingarten has had a warm relationship with Duncan so far, but she has vocally opposed the Sharpton and Klein's Education Equality Project, signing onto a rival effort instead. UPDATE: Weingarten told the Times reports that the union has given about $10,000 a year to Sharpton over the last eight years. The remarks came one day after the Daily News reported that he accepted a $50,000 $500,000 donation before working with Klein on the project that won them the title of "odd couple." Sharpton had kicked off the day, the first in a two-day convention his and Klein's group is throwing, with a warning. "I want some substantive discussion," he said before introducing Duncan and Klein to the stage. "But if you think this is your night for Star Time at the Apollo, the Apollo is on 125th Street." The rest of the event contained only the barest allusion to the Daily News column, by Juan Gonzalez.
Charter school supporters say they are on the brink of a victory in their battle to restore about $1,000 per student in funds that lawmakers tugged out of next year's state budget. They expect that Malcolm Smith, the State Senate majority leader, will restore the funds to charter schools through a last-minute appropriation of Senate funds. "We’re hoping that Senator Smith will be able to, through his good offices, get our funding restored," said James Merriman, the executive director of the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence. The message comes after charter schools spent the last two days badgering Smith, whom they had counted as a strong ally. One Queens school that says it is slated to face a $600,000 cut held a rally, while others sent in form letters to Smith declaring, "We thought you were a supporter of charter schools. This budget betrays that support." Charter lobbyists also rushed out e-mails urging "parents, trustees, and supporters" to call Governor Paterson and Smith asking for help. But the charter lobbyists reversed their position on Tuesday afternoon, sending out an e-mail declaring that the efforts had paid off. The full text of their letter is below the jump. A spokeswoman for Smith did not return a phone call immediately today. Merriman said he can't 100 percent guarantee that Smith will fill the funding gaps. "He hasn’t told me, but we’re certainly hoping that he will do everything he can," he said.
The Department of Education is dropping its bid to close three zoned elementary schools and replace them with charter schools, GothamSchools has learned. School officials informed the schools today about their uncharacteristic about face, which comes a week after the teachers union and a group of parents sued the DOE on the grounds that the plan to close the elementary schools represented an illegal alteration of zone lines. The three schools, PS 241 and PS 194 in Harlem and PS 150 in Brownsville, will enroll new students in the fall, John White, director of the department's portfolio office, confirmed. The DOE will phase out middle school grades at PS 241 and PS 150 as planned, White said, because the districts where those schools are located do not have zoned middle schools. White emphasized that parents will still be able to choose to send their children to charter schools. All of the charter schools that were supposed to replace the zoned elementary schools will continue to expand inside DOE space, he said. The charter schools will either share space with the existing elementary schools, as in the case of PS 150, which is getting two schools that are part of the Uncommon Schools network, or they will remain in their current spaces. The latter option is possible for Harlem Success Academy 2, which is currently located inside PS 123.
The New York Post's campaign for continued mayoral control of the New York City schools got a boost yesterday from a trio of puff pieces by reporter Carl Campanile. You could tie a rock to these stories and they'd still float away. skoolboy's favorite is about the Leadership Academy, the "corporate-style" principal training program "inspired" by Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Founded in 2003, and supported by $80 million in tax-exempt donations over the past five years, the Leadership Academy's Aspiring Principal Program has trained several hundred school leaders. Campanile's article states that there have been 336 graduates of the program, and that, as of January, 228 are principals, with an additional 80 or so working in other leadership positions in the DOE. You could derive an average cost per principal by dividing the $80 million by the 288 working principals—about $350,000—but not all of the Leadership Academy's expenditures have been on the Aspiring Principal Program. The Leadership Academy also provides support for first-year principals, technical support for principals opening new schools, and coaching for new and experienced principals. Still, the raison d'etre for the Leadership Academy is preparing new principals, and any evaluation of the program would likely focus on the effectiveness of the program in preparing new principals, and the costs of doing so.
Steven Taveras holds up a card indicating that he was the first student selected for Believe Southside Charter High School. Last week, most eighth graders in the city found out which high school had accepted them. Tonight, hundreds of eighth graders in Brooklyn learned whether they would be lucky enough to have a charter high school choice for this fall as well. I joined hundreds of the hopeful eighth graders for an admission lottery trifecta held in Greenpoint tonight, the first time charter schools could legally conduct their lotteries. The students had all applied for one or more of the schools in the brand-new Believe High Schools Network. The first school in that network, Williamsburg Charter High School, opened in 2004, and two more, Believe Northside and Believe Southside, are set to open this fall. Before the lottery, WCS founding principal Eddie Calderon-Melendez told me that over 700 students had submitted applications for the 500 available spots, some applying to two or even all three of the schools. "I can feel how nervous you are," said City Council member Diana Reyna, who ceremonially drew the first names in the lottery, to a chorus of agreement. "My heart is racing as much as yours." The first two names drawn were for students who weren't present. But when Steven Taveras heard his name called to be the first student selected for Believe Southside, he leapt from his seat and bounded to the front of the auditorium, where he was immediately pulled into a round of handshakes and photographs. A few minutes later, the IS 318 student was still beaming, but he said he wasn't sure why he'd be giving up his seat at nearby Progress High School. "Mommy picked everything," his mother, Maria Taveras, interjected.
The worst examples of overspending on DOE contracts, according to Comptroller William Thompson. Department of Education contracts routinely cost the city far more than initially estimated, according to an analysis that City Comptroller William Thompson issued just before today's City Council hearing. The under-estimations could be costing taxpayers a fortune in the price of things like Xerox machines and cafeteria equipment, whose prices could be negotiated at much lower rates if the city could accurately predict just how much schools would end up using them. One out of every five DOE contracts that ended in the last two years went over its estimated cost by at least 25 percent, according to Thompson's analysis. In the most egregious overrun, a contract with Xerox Corporation to lease copy machines to schools ended up costing the taxpayers more than $67 million. It had been estimated at a cost of $1 million. In a crossly worded letter sent to Chancellor Joel Klein today, Thompson, a mayoral candidate who has been highlighting public school issues as part of his criticism of Mayor Bloomberg, called the overruns part of a "troubling pattern of mismanagement" at the department. Department of Education officials strongly disputed Thompson's accusations and his figures in an interview and in testimony to the City Council today. The contracts at issue, called "requirements" contracts, can stretch above their estimated costs because they never actually set a total amount of services to be provided. Instead, they set a certain price for the service — say, renting a copy machine, or of placing a classified ad — and let the number of times the department will buy the service stay open-ended.
The New York City Department of Education produces an annual progress report for every school in the city for which there exists sufficient test data. The DOE website gives a good description of the reports. The DOE also makes available an Excel workbook with all of the results for the year 2007-08. I compared the results for the 46 charter schools with the 1,307 traditional schools. Here is the workbook with my additional calculations and results. Some conclusions:
Some advocates are saying that the state budget betrays the hard-won Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement, which declared the city schools need more money. But union president Randi Weingarten, a supporter of the case and the groups that filed it, is taking a different point of view. In a statement she just released, she declares that the state budget "reaffirms Albany's commitment" to the lawsuit. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, she says, "was deferred but not denied." The state budget erases two years of increases in funding that would have grown to more than $5 billion by 2011, postponing them until the future. Only 37.5% of the funds promised over a four-year period have been doled out so far. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity's executive director, Geri Palast, has repeatedly said that state lawmakers should give the city a "down payment" of funds for next year. Here's her full statement:
On the eve of what looks like an imminent vote by legislators to approve a state budget, two education advocates are asking Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to consider halting the process immediately. Their concern: That the current budget does not give enough of the stimulus dollars to needy districts like New York City. The budget erases two years of planned increases in funds to New York City and other needy school districts, postponing them to the future. In a letter sent to Duncan yesterday, the groups, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and the Alliance for Quality Education, also criticize the way the budget spreads out the state's pot of federal education stimulus dollars, a $2.5 billion total, between the state's school districts. The call for Duncan's intervention hinges on language in the stimulus law passed by Congress, which urges states to prioritize "equity and adequacy adjustments" passed in state laws when doling out their stimulus dollars to schools. The groups argue that New York's budget "appears to be in violation" of that language.
One confusing point in the ongoing saga between the KIPP charter schools and the city teachers union is exactly how many KIPP teachers actually want to belong to the union. While 16 teachers at the KIPP AMP school in Brooklyn submitted cards to the state labor board saying they want to join the United Federation of Teachers, at least one of those teachers changed her mind after submitting the card, and teachers at two other KIPP schools the union has tried to represent are resisting the push. Yoav Gonen described the union's effort at those schools as "meddling" in today's New York Post. But add at least one more person to the ranks of KIPP teachers who are actively seeking union help: A staff member on the payroll of KIPP Academy, one of the original KIPP schools, who turned to the union after the charter school network allegedly decided to move him to a new school and dock his pay. The teacher detailed his complaint in a January letter asking KIPP Academy's principal, Blanca Ruiz, for a meeting where he would be represented by a UFT official. The union sent me the letter but whited out the name of the teacher who filed the grievance, and the union did not make him available for an interview.
Lots of people nod at the idea that the biggest failing of mayoral control of the public schools has been a lack of parent involvement. The president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer, this week issued a proposal that lays out a roadmap he argues would change that. Rather than re-thinking the citywide education board, as other advocates have done, Stringer's proposal targets the elected parent councils that already exist. His idea is to inject gravity and authority into the councils, which are now beset by pitifully low participation rates and a reputation for powerlessness, by taking a hint from the real-estate and development world. In that world, groups of citizen volunteers called community boards work together to develop responses to proposals from developers and policy makers on everything from whether to tear down a building to concerns about dog excrement. City Hall can't make a decision without at least collecting a board's formal response. The idea is gaining some headway; Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz of Brooklyn intends to introduce a bill that would formally propose the idea to the legislature in the next few days.
As I predicted on Wednesday, most of the schools that didn't fill up in the main round of the high school admissions process are either brand new or have reputations that are mixed at best. But there are always hidden gems that still have spots open: either new schools led by educators with a strong track record or excellent programs inside middling high schools. In an article that it unfortunately must reprise every year, Insideschools runs down the options for the nearly 7,500 students who didn't get a high school match this week. The site is also asking its users to recommend schools on the Department of Education's three-page list of available spots. I see a handful of schools on the list that look like they might be solid choices for students still looking for a high school spot. One, The Cinema School, is the selective school in the Bronx that will be run in partnership with the Ghetto Film School. I was also impressed by Brooklyn's School for International Studies when I visited several years ago, and I've heard good things from students who have since attended. And the progressive Queens School of Inquiry, which is adding a ninth grade in the fall, was one of the more memorable schools I've visited; it was at QSI where I first encountered competitive speed-stacking. Do you see other schools you'd recommend on the list (which you can read in full below the jump)? If so, for what kind of student?
A play-based kindergarten class. Via Flickr Kindergarten used to be a time when children dressed up in costumes, built cities out of blocks, and pretended to cook feasts in play kitchens. But now 5-year-olds are more likely to spend their school days practicing basic literacy and math skills. In fact, kindergartners in New York City spend less than 30 minutes a day on creative play, several recent studies have found. The shift toward academic kindergarten might boost children's test scores in the short term but is not likely to make them successful in the long term, according to "Kindergarten in Crisis," a report released this week by the Alliance for Childhood, a coalition of child development researchers. From the report: The power of play as the engine of learning in early childhood and as a vital force for young children’s physical, social, and emotional development is beyond question. Children in play-based kindergartens have a double advantage over those who are denied play: they end up equally good or better at reading and other intellectual skills, and they are more likely to become well-adjusted healthy people. The trend toward academic kindergarten isn't news for anyone who's been paying attention to the city's public schools for very long. Back in 2006, my former colleague Clara Hemphill tackled the subject in a column in the New York Times.
A figure from Bill De Blasio's report showing how many teachers' salaries could be supported by each assessment expenditure. The Department of Education could foot the salaries of more than a thousand teachers with the money it spends measuring and promoting student performance, according to a report released today by City Council member Bill De Blasio. By reducing spending on developing, administering, and grading tests, and by cutting the department's media relations office, the DOE could save more than $57 million a year, De Blasio's office found. That would be enough to support the salaries of 1,038 teachers who earn an average of $50,000 a year. At today's City Council hearing about the DOE's budget, De Blasio, who is running for public advocate, told Schools Chancellor Joel Klein that he is "perplexed by the notion that assessment is somehow more valuable than front-line" school staff. The department's preliminary budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes potential teacher layoffs, but it does not call for substantial cuts to the DOE's accountability office. Klein defended spending on assessment even when budgets are tight, saying that teachers cannot do their jobs without good student performance data.
President Obama might have spoken too soon when he said the federal stimulus could prevent teacher layoffs in New York City. Depending on how state legislators choose to disburse the stimulus funds, the city could still be looking at a loss of 2,000 teachers, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told members of the City Council's education committee this morning. The city Department of Education believes it is entitled to 41 percent of the state's $2.4 billion in education stimulus funds because it receives 41 percent of state funds overall, Klein said today at the council's hearing on the DOE's preliminary budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. This formula would give the DOE more than $500 million in stabilization funds, allowing it to avoid teacher layoffs. But he said some lawmakers "are taking a different view," instead suggesting that the city should receive a third of the state's stimulus money for schools because it serves a third of the state's public school students. Under this scenario, the DOE would receive just $360 million in stabilization funds, and about 2,000 teachers would have to be laid off. Klein, who was in Albany yesterday to lobby for the city schools, declined to identify the lawmakers to reporters after his testimony, saying that the negotiations are internal and ongoing. Either way, cuts to schools' non-teaching staff would be severe, Klein said, with a minimum of about 2,500 positions being lost in the first scenario and as many as 25 percent of school-based non-teaching staff positions being eliminated in the second. These positions include school aides, family workers, and other school personnel.
The logo of the Brooklyn KIPP school where teachers have asked to join the union. From the school's ##http://www.kippamp.org/home/##web site##. In their first-ever appearance together since they became locked in an organizing dispute in January, the KIPP charter school network and the city teachers union remained at odds earlier this week over a petition by Brooklyn KIPP teachers to join the union. In a conference before the state labor board, the union implored a judge to make the teachers' petition official. KIPP officials asked instead that the state conduct a secret-ballot election of teachers before deciding whether to grant them a union. A wide majority of teachers at KIPP AMP have already turned in cards confirming that they want to unionize. New York state law only requires that card-check majority in order for public employees to form a union. "We think an election is a fair way to accurately decide, in a democratic process. We believe in an election," David Levin, the superintendent of KIPP New York told me in an interview yesterday. Leo Casey, a vice president of the union, called the move a stalling tactic. "The bottom line is that they’re trying to drag it out, and they still refuse to accept that their teachers want to have a union at this point," Casey told me in an interview yesterday. "But the law is the law." The Public Employee Relations Board is expected to make a decision in the next 30 days. The skirmish is part of a larger battle between charter school supporters who believe the schools' selling point is the fact that their teachers are not represented by unions — and teachers unions, which across the country are fighting to recruit charter school teachers into their fold.
Eighth graders at many middle schools this afternoon enacted one of the more emotional rituals of New York City public school life: Comparing their high school placement letters. Back in December, each eighth grader submitted an application ranking up to 12 high schools, joined by a handful of high school freshmen hoping to change schools for tenth grade. Then the Department of Education's computer system matched applicants to schools based on their qualifications and preferences. (Check out Insideschools for a more detailed description of the matching process.) Today, students found out what result the computer spat out for them. The DOE announced today that 86 percent of the 86,169 applicants matched with one of their top five high school picks, and that 91 percent matched with a school somewhere on their list. About 6,000 students found out their high school options last month by scoring high enough on the specialized high school exam to win admission to one of those schools, or by winning admission to LaGuardia, the city's elite performing arts school. The DOE delivers match letters to middle schools, and the schools pass them on to their students.
Next year, the state's English tests could be missing one crucial component: writing. That's the conclusion that educators are drawing after the Board of Regents weighed a proposal earlier this month to eliminate the open-ended question section of the state's standardized tests — the only part of the third through eighth grade testing regime that asks students to write out their answers in sentences. The proposal is one of several ideas the Board of Regents, the state panel that sets New York's education policy, is considering in order to speed up the test-grading process, following a new federal regulation ordering states to tell schools sooner whether or not they are meeting states standards. (State test scores play a large part in making that decision.) Changing the way the tests are graded could also cut costs. The Regents have been studying how to meet the new federal requirement for almost a year. The prospect of scrapping writing first surfaced publicly when the Regents published the findings of a survey the board conducted to study the question. Of 22,000 parents and educators surveyed, 85% said the essay questions should remain.