Chancellor Dennis Walcott read to a group of 4-year-olds at the Bank Street Head Start center in November 2011.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten fueled mayoral candidate Bill Thompson's attacks on Public Advocate Bill de Blasio's plan to fund universal pre-kindergarten, calling Thompson a "doer" and de Blasio an idealist.
"We need a mayor in the city of New York who will take this idea and actually get it done and not base it on a tax that may never materialize," Weingarten said during a call with reporters that the Thompson campaign arranged.
Since last week, Thompson and his allies have been criticizing de Blasio's plan, which would raise taxes on New Yorkers earning over $500,000 a year to fund universal pre-K. They say de Blasio's plan relies too much on approval from Albany and does not consider that the state doesn't even use all of the state pre-K funding that it gets.
Their first point is a fair one. De Blasio's plan would require legislative approval, a step he says would come readily but which could be a heavy lift. The New York Times cited this shortcoming to explain why it did not endorse de Blasio.
But on the second point, about the unused state funding, Thompson's campaign's math does not add up. Calculating the true cost of expanding pre-K to all city 4-year-olds is a challenging task, pre-K advocates say, but no matter how the numbers are crunched, they suggest that the city would need more funding.
The city's spending bill for charter schools next year is likely to surpass $1 billion, a 24 percent increase that exceeded conservative estimates offered by budget officials earlier this year.
In January, the Department of Education projected it would spend about $70 million more on per pupil expenditures for the growing charter sector, which will increase from 159 to 183 schools, in the 2013-2014 school year. That figure swelled to $210 million when Mayor Bloomberg proposed his executive budget last month, a gap that caught come city lawmakers by surprise.
"I find it totally outrageous and unacceptable that you could be so far off," Councilman Stephen Levin said at Tuesday's education budget hearing with department officials.
The total spending plan proposed for education is $24.9 billion, a 4.5 percent increase that includes $19.8 billion — a 3 percent increase — to pay staff and operate schools, and $4.9 billion — a 10 percent increase — for pension and debt expenses.
City officials said it's not unusual for there to be a gap in projections between January and May budget forecasts, especially when it comes to charter school expenses. Enrollment for expanding charter schools still aren't determined and some proposals for new charter schools aren't finalized, they said.
"At that time, we still don't know the full extent of how the charters are phasing in," said Chief Financial Officer Michael Tragale. "That's why some of the projections were off."
The Independent Budget Office's latest suggestion for how to cut costs at the Department of Education is to cut a performance pay program for school administrators that the Bloomberg administration convinced the principals union to accept.
Since 2007, the department has distributed about $6 million a year to principals and assistant principals on the basis of their schools' progress report scores. Last year, 275 administrators — including some who were under investigation at the time — took home $5.7 million, with individual rewards as high as $25,000, for principals at the top 1 percent of schools. Department officials said today that this year's bonuses, based on 2011-2012 progress reports, are in the process of being paid out now.
In its annual "Options" report listing ways for the city to save funds and raise revenue, the IBO argues that the performance pay might be better off conserved. The annual report is meant to inform city government officials as they head into their final negotiations before adopting a budget for the 2014 fiscal year. The education department, which takes up about a quarter of the city's planned spending, was listed in 14 of the 80 suggestions this year.
For each cost-cutting idea, the IBO lists arguments that supporters and opponents might make. For the performance pay idea, the report notes, "Proponents might argue that the more weight that is placed on the Progress Reports, the more incentive there is for administrators and teachers to 'teach to the test' and even to manipulate data. Moreover, the remaining measurement problems in the Progress Reports might imply that the basis for awarding the bonuses is flawed."
The Independent Budget Office released a compilation of statistics today about schools facing closure, including their spending distribution and share of high-need students.
High schools up for closure this year actually serve fewer students with special needs than they used to, according to a new report by the city's data watchdog group.
But because the nine high schools are much smaller than they once were, students with special needs still represent a far higher share of their total enrollment, according to the report released today by the city's Independent Budget Office. All together, the high schools enrolled a third fewer new students last year than in 2006, the IBO found.
The report marks the fourth time that the IBO has compiled enrollment, spending, and performance data about schools that the city is trying to close. It also marked the fourth time that the office, which state law charges with scrutinizing Department of Education data, has concluded that schools up for closure have higher-than-average concentrations of high-need students.
Because the cost of city-funded after-school spots increased last year, the number of spots declined. After-school programs that the City Council restored are receiving less funding than city-funded programs this year.
An eleventh-hour effort by the City Council in June to maintain funding for thousands of after-school spots achieved its intended purpose — but it also inadvertently created a two-tiered after-school system in which only some programs can strive to meet higher academic standards.
That’s the conclusion of a report released last week by the Independent Budget Office about Out of School Time, a Bloomberg administration initiative to streamline publicly funded after-school programming. The report finds that the city’s simultaneous efforts to reduce costs and boost quality in OST programs induced Bloomberg's proposal to cut after-school spots dramatically this spring.
City funding for the program rose from $61 million in 2007 to $108 million in 2009, allowing the number of seats to grow substantially, according to the report. But this year, after half a dozen rounds of city budget cuts, the proposed budget for the program fell to $76 million.
At the same time, the city had embarked on an effort to raise standards in programs that had originally operated with offering “safe and developmentally appropriate environments” as its major goal. With an eye toward using OST programs to support academic instruction, the city told programs that they would have to hire “educational specialists” to develop curriculum and lessons — increasing the cost per participant by nearly 60 percent. The increase would required the number of slots to be cut in half, meaning about 26,000 children would have been shut out of OST programs this year.
For years, the city touted its improved test scores, saying that higher and higher percentages of its students were proficient on the standardized exams.
A new report by the Independent Budget Office, which tracked the change in year-to-year test scores of individual students for the same period, disputes the gains the city claimed.
That's because more than 60 percent of students from a single cohort who were tested from third to sixth grade between 2006 to 2009 on the English language arts exam didn't improve their proficiency levels, the IBO analysis found. Thirty percent ended up at a higher level and eight percent ended up at a lower level.
"At a time when the city was saying things were getting better in the school system, it looks different when you look at performances of the individual student," said Ray Domanico, director of education research at the IBO.
Domanico acknowledged that there were some limitations to looking at proficiency levels alone. He said comparing state test scores from one year to the next is less than ideal, because a proficiency level in third grade doesn't necessarily mean a student learned nothing if they earn the same level in subsequent grades.
But given the data, Domanico said proficiency levels — rather than raw scores — was the only possible metric to measure individual student progress, in an era when education officials are increasingly evaluating schools and teachers based on students growth on test scores. He added that proficiency level is the most relevant metric to the public, because the city uses that data to make decisions about student promotion and admission, and shares it with parents.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott testified earlier this week before the City Council about the city's preliminary education budget.
The city's early estimates of how much it will be spending on education next year are simultaneously too low and too high, according to an analysis released by the city's Independent Budget Office today.
According to the IBO's analysis, the city's preliminary education budget overstates the total increase in Department of Education spending next year. But it also understates how much it will spend on 26 new charter schools that are set to open in September, according to the IBO, which pegs those schools' costs at $51 million.
Overall, the report's basic thrust is the same as in the IBO's previous analysis of Mayor Bloomberg's November financial plan: Spending on instruction is poised to fall as spending rises in other categories, such as pension and transportation costs.
On Tuesday, Chancellor Dennis Walcott explained to skeptical members of the City Council that the department expects a $64 million shortfall in the preliminary budget to disappear by the time the official budget is proposed in May. Between now and then, significant adjustments are likely.
Walcott also told the council that the department is committed to preventing any cuts to individual schools' budgets, and the IBO's report doesn't affect that message, department officials said today.
A slide from the IBO's report about schools up for closure.
For the third year in a row, the city's data watchdog has concluded that the schools the city is trying to close serve especially needy students.
In 2010 and 2011, the Independent Budget Office put together longer reports about the city's school closure proposals on the request of Robert Jackson, chair of the City Council's education committee. But this year, the office, which has a special mandate to scrutinize the Department of Education's facts and figures, compiled details about the demographics, performance, and funding of schools on the chopping block on its own. Then it released the statistics in an easy-to-read, stand-alone format.
Among the many people who are receiving the IBO's 13-slide presentation by email today are the members of the Panel for Educational Policy, who are set to vote on the closure proposals tonight, according to spokesman Doug Turetsky.
"It's an accessible format so people can see the stats and come to their own conclusions," he said.
UPDATE: Department of Education officials disputed some of the data in the slides and said the budget office had not given them as much time to review the report before publication as an agreement between the two offices requires.
They urged the IBO not to release the report and then to retract it once it was published because data on at least one slide did not match information the city had provided. The budget office retracted one slide that showed change over time in the number of students with special needs at the schools.
But other slides showed that the schools up for closure enroll more than the average proportion of students who have disabilities, are overage, or are considered English language learners, confirming analyses published elsewhere.
The city's budget watchdog predicted less money making its way to classrooms next year, even as it said the city's overall economic outlook could be rosier than what Mayor Bloomberg has previously suggested.
The Independent Budget Office yesterday said that rising costs for contracts, employee benefits, and charter school payments appear poised to cut into the funds that the Department of Education is free to allocate to schools. The IBO analyzed this year's budget and Mayor Bloomberg's November financial plan and determined that spending for classroom instruction and school administration could drop by $300 million in 2013, a 3.3 percent decrease.
That's because funds would likely have to be redirected to other areas of the DOE where costs are soaring, according to the report: pre-kindergarten special education contracts with private schools are set to increase by 10 percent, to $100 million; fringe benefits for school employees are expected to increase 2.5 percent, to $68 million; and payments to charter schools, which are enrolling more students each year, will go up 5.6 percent to $46 million.
City officials disputed the IBO's projections of next year's spending as premature.
"It's impossible to say what we're spending next year because we haven't put out a budget, for schools or any other agency yet," said City Hall spokesman Marc LaVorgna. A preliminary budget for the 2013 fiscal year is expected in January or February.
Lawyers for the Department of Education were back on the defense in Judge Paul Feinman's courtroom on Thursday morning to argue a new twist on an old charter school co-location debate.
A new lawsuit argues that more than 80 charter schools sited in public school buildings have gotten free rides on facilities expenses such as utilities and building maintenance. Parent groups who brought the lawsuit earlier this summer are suing want the DOE to collect more than $100 million in rent money that they say should have been charged.
Today's hearing on the lawsuit, which did not yield an immediate decision, comes less than two months after the same judge rejected the United Federation of Teachers and NAACP's request to halt all charter school co-locations. That lawsuit argued that the co-location plans favored the charter schools.
In today's hearing, arguments focused on the city's policy, in place since 2003, that lets charter schools share space free of charge. Eighty two charter schools are now occupied in public buildings that house an estimated 27,500 students, according to court papers.
New York State charter law, first written in 1999, states that charter schools can be located within a public school building "at cost" based on what they are charged to rent, lease or own private or public space. How much "at cost" should be worth – if anything at all – was a major source of disagreement between the sides.
Arthur Schwartz, arguing for the plaintiffs, said in court that the charter schools in public school buildings should have to pay for the per-pupil costs because it provided them with inequitably favorable resources at a time when district schools are forced to cut their budgets.
"It gets at the heart of some of the disparities of the tales that we've heard in the schools," Schwartz told Feinman.
Two years after becoming the Department of Education's official data monitor, the city's Independent Budget Office has finished crunching a mountain of numbers.
The results, which include revelations about space-sharing arrangements, budget allocations, principal and teacher demographics, and student performance, are compiled in a comprehensive report released today.
The IBO received the data dump after state legislators designated the office as a DOE watchdog scrutinizing student achievement and financial information in the 2009 law reauthorizing mayoral control. Since then, the IBO's education unit has grown to eight people from "basically one," according to communications director Doug Turetsky. Raymond Damonico, the IBO's director of education research, supervised the report's creation.
The IBO also today launched a website that allows users to pull up the data for any city school. (Charter schools are not included in the analysis.)
Among the many highlights:
Poor students at relatively affluent schools outperformed relatively affluent students at schools with many poor students.
As of 2009-2010, school buildings housing co-locations were less crowded overall than buildings housing a single school.
The City Council is requiring the education department to provide more transparent reporting to support claims for two of its signature achievements: higher graduation rates and fewer failing schools.
In the midst of finalizing next year's city budget, the council managed to pass two bills that target the Department of Education's bookkeeping. One of them requires the department to disclose more detailed information about students who leave the system without graduation. The second mandates the release of information about students who do not graduate when their high schools close.
Under the first bill, the DOE will be forced to provide more detailed data about student discharge rates, which critics say is overused by schools in order to inflate graduation rates. In 2009, Leonie Haimson, of Class Size Matters, released a report that found discharge rates steadily climbed since 2000. That prompted a state audit that concluded the dropout rate was in fact higher than claims made by the DOE.
Out of 88,612 students from the 2004-2008 cohort, 19 percent - or 17,025 - were discharged and 10 percent - or 9,323 - dropped out, according to the audit.
"This bill will for the first time allow us to know what happened to the thousands of students every year who are discharged from high schools," Haimson said. "It will make it possible to see if they're honestly reporting discharge rates.
Spending going directly to schools would decrease along with the number of teachers in the city, while spending on instructional administration, transportation, and school food would all increase if Mayor Bloomberg's proposed 2012 budget is passed.
Those are among the findings of an analysis of the mayor's proposed 2012 budget released by the Independent Budget Office today.
The budget also calls for cutting spending on general education and special education instruction by between 1 and 2 percent and making large cuts to funds for school facilities and safety. The cuts to classroom spending include the loss of more than 6,000 teaching positions, with more than 4,600 of those positions lost through layoffs.
Meanwhile, spending on the DOE's central administration would grow by 10 percent from this school year, though it would still be lower than it was between 2005 and 2010.
The IBO analysis also predicts that the city will have a slightly smaller surplus to roll over into next year than the Bloomberg administration has estimated, $2.9 billion compared to the mayor's estimate of $258 million more. The surplus has attracted attention from the teachers union, which points to its existence to argue that the mayor shouldn't have to lay off teachers.
But the analysis shows that neither surplus would be enough to use to plug the projected 2012 shortfall.
Chancellor Cathie Black showed what she has learned and what she hasn't in her first month on the job on NY1 last night.
Chancellor Cathie Black's interview on Inside City Hall last night is worth watching in full. The interview exposes just how much Black has been able to absorb in her first month on the job — and how much she hasn't.
In a moment first highlighted by NY1 education reporter Lindsey Christ on Twitter, Black declared, "The public school system in New York City has been unbelievably successful since the birth of our nation." She was responding to a question from host Errol Louis about why she chose to send her children to private rather than public city schools.
Black did not elaborate, but the statement is confusing given that public schools in New York City did not emerge until the early 1800s.
Another moment of exposure had to do with teacher attrition. After a discussion about the "last in, first out" policy, Louis asked Black if she was concerned that almost half of New York City school teachers leave after 6 years in the classroom (PDF link).
Here's how Black responded:
Well you have to know, like, what's really at the heart of the issue. I don't know that we know what's really at the heart of the issue. Teaching is a hard job. We want the ones who are committed. We want the ones who make a difference. We want the ones who want to work hard and really change the lives of these young people. They're there on a mission. So, you know, some are going to leave.
She then returned to the "last in, first out" question, arguing that perhaps teachers would be less likely to leave if they weren't concerned about being laid off. "Right now there have to be a lot of teachers thinking, 'Maybe I don't have a job next year.' Can we afford to have thousands of teachers think to themselves, 'I have to leave the system now because I may not have a job in a few months?' That's going to be a catastrophe," she said.
For years, researchers have asked why teachers leave schools — particularly struggling schools. A 2007 paper by a group studying New York City teachers, the Teacher Pathways Project, summarized the major findings this way:
"Teachers are more likely to stay in schools in which student achievement is higher and teachers — especially white teachers — are more likely to stay in schools with higher proportions of white students."
"Teachers who score higher on tests of academic achievement are more likely to leave," as are teachers from out of town.
Less-qualified teachers are more likely to stay at a school than teachers with higher qualifications, "especially if they teach in low-achieving schools."
Before voting to renew Mayor Bloomberg's control of the city's schools last summer, New York's legislature demanded that an expert be brought in to sift through the Department of Education's data.
Critics of his administration felt the city had juked its school stats. To address their concerns, money was set aside for the Independent Budget Office to hire a DOE data watchdog. Nearly a year later, Raymond Domanico has arrived as the IBO's Director of Education Research. Prior to joining the IBO, Domanico worked for 11 years as the Senior Education Advisor to the Industrial Areas Foundation - Metro NY, a network of community organizations.
What about being the IBO's director of education research appealed to you?
Back in July, I was hosting a group of people from Germany, from Berlin, who had come to visit our schools. At the close of dinner they said to me, "Ray, if you were in charge, what would you do with the school system?" And I gave them the same answer I've been giving a lot of people over the last year and a half. I said, "You know, there's been so much change in the New York City schools and it's happened so quickly, and we really don't have a very deep sense of what worked and what has not worked."
And so I found myself unable to answer the question as to what we should do going forward. It seems to me that given the amount of change that's gone on, this is the appropriate time to step back and to do some in-depth analysis.
After all that hand-wringing about "checks and balances" and "mayoral accountability," the school year has arrived, and the way the system is run is completely unchanged.
A revised law has been on the books for nearly a month, but the new system is still a mystery. Though the law calls for a new parent center, greater oversight of the Department of Education's contracts, and an independent auditor of the department's education data, all of these alterations are in their infancy, and none have been put in place.
Won as part of a deal between a group of runaway senators and Mayor Bloomberg, the parent center is perhaps the most concrete change with the least clear future. It will be housed at CUNY and will cost the city and state $1.6 million, but education officials have yet to define its role or how it will differ from the DOE's current parent outreach, the Office for Family Engagement and Advocacy. Asked how far along the center's development is, a DOE spokesperson had no comment.
Photo of Tammany Hall taken from ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/3544114515/##Flickr##
A city government regulator is poised to become the Department of Education's new watchdog, but as the Assembly moves to extend mayoral control, details of how this will work are scarce.
In New York City and Albany, momentum has been building behind the idea for an independent body to check the DOE's math. Currently, three proposed bills, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's bill, introduced last night, call for the Independent Budget Office and the comptroller to monitor the department.
A challenge in implementing the proposals is the IBO's relative inexperience.
Created during the Giuliani administration to function as a publicly funded, neutral check on the mayor's Office of Management and Budget, the IBO regularly issues reports on the mayor's proposed budget and city taxes. Should Silver's bill become law, the organization would be forced to grow a new arm devoted solely to scrutinizing the city's education data.
"While we have statistical expertise we don't necessarily have expertise around issues around test scores and how to sort them and weigh them," a spokesman for the IBO, Doug Turetsky, said, adding that the organization has studied things like class size and school construction. "We doubled our number of education analysts last week when we hired a second one," he said.
A new report says raising class sizes by two students per class would save the city $187 million a year. (Via Flickr Creative Commons.)
Raising class sizes by two students per room and making a slew of paid parent coordinators part-time employees are among a slate of options the Independent Budget Office is recommending to City Hall for how to plug the city's projected $4 billion budget gap.
The IBO list, which went out in a report released this morning, includes 70 ways to cut costs or raise revenue and puts a dollar tag on each option. The city would save $187 million annually by reducing class sizes by two students on average, a change that would require the city to eliminate 2,100 teacher positions, according to the report. Moving parent coordinators who work at schools with fewer than 500 students to part-time status would save $14.9 million, the report says.
The report does not recommend following the options one way or another, instead laying out arguments for and against each one. Those in favor of increasing class sizes, the report says, would argue that research on the costs of marginally larger classes is inconclusive, while opponents would cite research on the benefits of lower class sizes in early grades and the potential risk of driving qualified teachers out of the system.