Sunday, January 30, 2011
Teachers and parents from other public schools that share space with Harlem Success Academies, the other charter schools in this chain run by Eva Moskowitz, explain how their kids have lost preK, art and music, as well as space for special services, with their children pushed into rooms in the basement.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
New national organization, Parents Across America,
launches with inaugural education forum in NYC
featuring Diane Ravitch
NEW YORK, Jan. 24, 2011 – Diane Ravitch, a national authority on education policy, will be the keynote speaker at the kickoff event for Parents Across America (PAA), a new national public education advocacy organization, on Monday Feb. 7 in NYC. Ravitch will address the topic: “Are our schools going in the right direction? What parents should do.”
WHAT: Forum and discussion on public education featuring Diane Ravitch and a panel of parent activists from around the nation.
WHEN: Monday, Feb.7 at 6 p.m. Admission free. Reservations are required and can be made online at: http://bit.ly/h0Adv1
WHERE: PS/IS 89 – Liberty School, 201 Warren Street (Lower Manhattan), New York, N.Y. 10282. (Map here. Directions: take the A, C, E, 1, 2, 3 to Chambers; or the N, R, 4,5,6 to City Hall.).
WHY: This forum represents the first effort by a national grassroots parent organization to present their vision of positive progressive education reform –- a perspective PAA believes has been so far ignored in the national debate on education –- and what’s wrong with the current policies being imposed on our schools.
The evening will feature a talk by Dr. Ravitch, followed by comments from PAA panelists and a Q&A session with the audience. The PAA panelists will include: Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, Karran Royal Harper of the Pyramid Community Parent Resource Center and an education advocate in New Orleans, Rita Solnet of Testing is not Teaching in Florida, and Sue Peters of Seattle Education 2010. Other parent leaders participating will include Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) in Chicago, Dora Taylor of Seattle Education 2010, Caroline Grannan of San Francisco, Andrea Mérida, Denver school board member and a founding member of Democrats for Excellent Neighborhood School Education, Pamela Grundy, a parent activist from North Carolina, Sharon Higgins of Oakland, whose blogs include The Broad Report and Charter School Scandals, and Mark Mishler from Albany, N.Y.
Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University, an education historian and author of many books, including the bestselling "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education" (2010). She was recently awarded the Daniel Moynihan Prize by the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and the Charles Eliot Award from the New England Association of Schools & Colleges. From 1991-93, she was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the administration of President George H. W. Bush. From 1997- 2004, she was a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal testing program.
Parents Across America (PAA) is a new grassroots organization comprised of parent leaders throughout the nation who are advocating for positive and progressive educational reforms. Founding members hail from New York (Albany, NYC), California (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland), Florida (Boca Raton), Texas (Houston), North Carolina (Charlotte, Durham), Illinois (Chicago), Louisiana (New Orleans), and Washington State (Seattle).
PAA supports reforms that work, focused on strengthening public schools rather than closing them, providing smaller classes, increasing parent involvement, and a well-rounded curriculum, rather than the current policies of privatization and punitive test-based accountability. PAA believes that parent voices must be heard in the national dialogue on public education.
& the PAA Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=123352677681840&ref=ts
Our children, our schools, our voices.
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Friday, January 28, 2011
The leaked memo Rachel Monahan disclosed yesterday in the Daily News revealed a high number of special education students suspended in the Bronx, many of them emotionally disturbed, many of them from the new small high schools. These findings are in line with the NYCLU report, showing a sharp rise in suspensions under Bloomberg and Klein, with fully one third of those suspended special education students.
The leaked memo further points out that many of these students were placed in inclusion classes in the Bronx in small schools. These small schools by and large do not offer the 12-1-1 settings that these students often require and are mandated according to their IEPs.
This situation will likely worsen in the future as the DOE closes down more large high schools,and is simultaneously expanding CTT programs, while pushing for maximum class sizes of 34 in all CTT high school classes.
In addition, despite numerous pleas, the Regents ruled that there can be a higher percentage of special education students (exceeding 40 percent) in these classes.
Like the leaked Parthenon report from 2008, which revealed how DOE was informed in advance of how they had set the large high schools up for failure by sending them large numbers of overage students, this leaked memo shows just how careless those who work at Tweed truly are.
Sometimes, critics of DOE (like me) assume they don’t understand their policy errors, but often, they have even more evidence of their mistakes than we do, which they heedlessly ignore. It is shocking how careless adults can be with kids’ lives.
Finland’s schools weren’t always so successful. In the 1960s, they were middling at best. In 1971, a government commission concluded that, poor as the nation was in natural resources, it had to modernize its economy and could only do so by first improving its schools. To that end, the government agreed to reduce class size, boost teacher pay, and require that, by 1979, all teachers complete a rigorous master’s program. They also banned all standardized testing, as they figured out this takes too much time and too much money out of learning; and now they only give standardized exams to statistical samples of students to diagnose and assess school progress.
According to Abrams, the "only point at which all Finnish students take standardized exams is as high school seniors if they wish to go to university." The Finns "trust teachers" and allow them to "design their own courses, using a national curriculum as a guide."Abrams is writing a book on school reform for Harvard University Press and has researched the Finnish educational system extensively. I contacted him by email to thank him for his article, and this is what he told me about class size:
- Average class size in 1st and 2nd grades is 19; in grades 3 through 9, it is 21.
- These reductions in class size were won by Finland's teachers' union (Opestusalan Ammattijarjesto, or OAJ) as a concession from the government when education authorities nullified tracking. In 1972, authorities postponed tracking from fifth grade to seventh. In 1985, authorities postponed tracking from seventh grade to tenth. The response from the OAJ was acceptance of the termination of tracking as wise but only if class sizes were reduced, as it would be too difficult for teachers to teach heterogeneous groups if classes remained large.
- In addition to science classes, all classes that involve any machinery or lab equipment are capped at 16. This includes cooking (which all seventh-graders are required to take), textiles (or sewing), carpentry, and metal shop.
The Finns have made clear that, in any country, no matter its size or composition, there is much wisdom to minimizing testing and instead investing in broader curricula, smaller classes, and better training, pay, and treatment of teachers. The United States should take heed.Also, see this recent interview with Pasi Sahlberg, another expert on the Finnish educational system. Sahlberg was asked about the current push towards test-based teacher evaluation systems in our country:
If you tried to do this in my country, Finnish teachers would probably go on strike and wouldn’t return until this crazy idea went away. Finns don’t believe you can reliably measure the essence of learning. You know, one big difference in thinking about education and the whole discourse is that in the U.S. it’s based on a belief in competition. In my country, we are in education because we believe in cooperation and sharing. Cooperation is a core starting point for growth.
Recently, McKinsey consultants estimated that if the achievement levels of American students matched those in Finland, our economy would be 9 to 16 percent larger - with the nation's GDP enlarged by $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion.
And yet what lesson have the Obama administration and its allies in the DC think thanks and corporate and foundation world taken from the PISA results? That there needs to be even more high-stakes testing, based on uniform core standards, that teachers should be evaluated and laid off primarily on the basis of their student test scores, and that it's fine if class sizes are increased.
In a speech, Duncan recently said that "Many high-performing education systems, especially in Asia," Duncan says, "have substantially larger classes than the United States."
What he did not mention is that Finland based its success largely upon smaller class sizes; nor the way in which many experts in Asian education recognize the heavy costs of their test-based accountability systems, and the way in which their schools undermine the ability ofstudents to develop as creative and innovate thinkers -- which their future economic growth will depend upon.
As Jiang Xueqin, the director of the International Division of Peking University High School, wrote in the Wall St. Journal:
According to research on education, using tests to structure schooling is a mistake. Students lose their innate inquisitiveness and imagination, and become insecure and amoral in the pursuit of high scores. Even Shanghai educators admit they're merely producing competent mediocrity. ...This is seen as a deep crisis... A consensus is growing that instead of vaulting the country past the West, China's schools are holding it back.Nor do Duncan and his allies discuss the fact that many Asian education experts are calling for the need to reduce class size in their own countries. For example, a study from the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation revealed that South Korean students are highly disengaged from their classes compared to those in other nations. Their students also scored the lowest in respect or tolerance for others. The answer, according to the authors of the study? "To ...raise their interest in class, much improvement needs to be made including reducing the number of students per class.”
Many of the ideas of the Obama administration are based on a competitive business model, first developed by the right wing of the Republican party, leading conservative commentator George Will to call Arne Duncan and his policies "the Obama administration's redeeming feature."
The fear that many of us have is that these corporate-style concepts will be even more firmly imposed on schools, by means of a bipartisan consensus of the administration and the GOP majority in the House of Representatives.
In the current issue of Education Week, Amy Stuart Wells, a professor at Teachers College, bemoans the destructive group think reflected in this prevailing notion of education reform. She points out how it is "often difficult to distinguish Republicans from Democrats on key education issues, " and that:
"the most agreed-upon solutions—testing, privatization, deregulation, stringent accountability systems, and placement of blame on unions for all that is wrong—are doing more harm than good. Achievement overall has not improved, and the gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged has widened..."She points out how states now spend five to six times the funds on testing than before NCLB -- with more than 90% of this going to private testing companies.
Yet she also holds out hope, based upon the fact that parents are increasingly pushing back against these misguided, market-driven notions, and mentions the leadership of Chicago's PURE, headed by Julie Woestehoff, one of the founding members of Parents Across America.
It's time that parents provided that third force, to put forward ea positive and progressive vision of education reform, based on small classes, experienced teachers, a well-rounded curriculum, and evaluation systems that go beyond test scores. Check out what Parents Across America believe will improve our schools here and join us.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
On Tuesday, there were NYC Council hearings on the closing schools, featuring lots of heated discussion. The hearings were officially to consider two bills: one that would require DOE to report on student discharge rates at all schools, in which thousands of students leave the system each year and are never counted as dropouts. Jennifer Jennings and I wrote a paper about the rising discharge rates between 2000 and 2007, pointing out that over this period the rate and number of discharged students in NYC increased, and how this was a huge loophole that allowed schools to artificially inflate their graduation rates. The ninth grade discharge rate actually doubled over this period.
Another proposed bill would report on the fate of students at closing schools. One of the biggest tragedies is that among the students in a “phase out” school, only first time 9th graders who have accumulated sufficient credits are allowed to transfer to other regular high schools; other students who are not able to graduate over this period are fated to dropout, be discharged to GED programs, or take substandard credit recovery programs, with their chance at a meaningful high school diploma ended as well.Here is my testimony in support of both bills.
At the hearings, Jennifer Bell-Elwanger expressed DOE’s opposition to these bills, claiming that as written they violate student privacy, but one wonders if there are other reasons for their resistance to disclosing these figures.
During the hearings, Councilmembers Jackson, Dromm, Fidler, and Cabrera focused on the issue of school closings and class size, and angrily questioned Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg and Josh Thomases of DOE about why they hadn’t provided the large, low-performing schools with the same opportunity to reduce class size before closing them down that they provide to the small schools.
Dromm is a former public school teacher, and Cabrera is a former counselor at Walton and Evander Childs, two large high schools that have since closed. Both were insistent that the large schools had never been given a chance to improve, and were dealing with many of the most difficult, at risk kids in the worst conditions, with overcrowding, huge classes and few counselors –up to 700 students per caseload.
Cabrera said that it was not the size of schools, but the class size the quality of leadership and the amount of support that determined a school’s success or failure. And he pointed out that as new schools have opened, thousands of high-needs students have been diverted to other large schools, overcrowding them and propagating a vicious circle.
Thomases insisted that having a small class of adults under the direction of a principal (meaning fewer teachers at a small school) was more important than providing smaller classes for kids. Sternberg said “class size may matter but…” when Robert Jackson interrupted him:, “ You say, class size may matter? We know for sure it does, research shows that it does.”
Jackson finally got Sternberg to concede that “no one can dispute that class size can impact the quality of instruction.”
Council members Dromm and Koslowitz had recently visited Jamaica HS, slated for closure, and expressed dismay about how the school not only had much larger classes than the new, more selective small schools in the building, but also fewer counselors and less technology.
In addition to these clear inequities, there was discussion about how in many cases, DOE had left dysfunctional principals in their positions for years, despite protests from parents and teachers, as in the case of PS 114K – as if they wanted to undermine the schools intentionally. Even Special Investigator Condon has said he has no idea why the principal was left in her position so long, to run the school into the ground.
CM Leticia James was particularly angry about the plan to close MS 571, where, she said, there were three principals in recent years; one died, one retired and one moved on, with no stability and no direction provided from DOE.
Paymon Rouhanifard of DOE’s Portfolio Planning responded with the DOE buzz words that they “hold principals accountable” but essentially, there was no principal to hold accountable – and instead, by closing the school, they are punishing the kids.
Meanwhile, a new NYC Independent Budget Office report shows that the schools on the closing list have 50% more students who enter the school with special needs; significantly more homeless and low-income students, and more than twice as many entering 9th graders over age for their grade. Nine of the 25 schools on the closure list have special education enrollments of 20 percent or more; four have more than 10 percent of their students living in temporary housing, and the percentage of students in these categories have increased at a faster rate in recent years at these schools than in the city as a whole.
Yet as Parthenon consultants pointed out to DOE in a power point in 2008, it is possible to predict the likelihood of success or failure of schools, depending on how many overage students are sent to the school. Their analysis concludes by asking this poignant question,
“Should we consider constraints on the HS admissions process that take into consideration the predicted graduation rate of the school? (e.g. “don’t allow any school to have a predicted rate less than 45%”)
Yet to this day, DOE has ignored this recommendation, and continues to send disproportionate numbers of high needs students to certain schools, well aware of how this sets them up for failure. In fact, as the IBO study shows, as these schools decline in performance, the DOE overcrowds the school with even more high-needs students. The process of decline accelerates, under the willful direction of the DOE until the school is closed.
Check out Gotham Schools, which posted the Parthenon power point that I made available to them, and NY1, which reported on it as well.