Thursday, August 29, 2013

Please contribute to help the final orphaned class at Christopher Columbus HS

credit: GothamSchools
Here is the somber request by an alumnae of Columbus HS in the Bronx to help students in the last graduating class at that school, being phased out by the DOE, receive college counseling and other basic programs that have been denied them by the powers that be, by donating to a fund at the Partnership for Student Advocacy.  Be sure to watch the heartbreaking video below with interviews of students at phase out schools -- their futures cut loose by the DOE, right under the invitation to their fundraiser.

Christopher Columbus H.S., in the Bronx, my alma mater, opened in 1938, so the school year beginning in a few days is its 75th anniversary year.  Unfortunately, thanks to M. Bloomberg, J. Klein and D. Walcott, the principal significance of this upcoming year for the school is that it will be its last -- despite the almost unanimous statements, opinions and pleas at hearings on the subject from teachers, students, parents, administrators, local elected officials and alums in each of those categories, that the school not be closed and that it deserved to keep going with more assistance from the D.O.E.  To say that this feedback fell on deaf ears is an understatement.  They stopped admitting entering classes after that (3 years ago), so that there is only the current senior class left.
To make matters worse, the D.O.E. has withdrawn services so that these last remaining senior's are not being provided with college help,  enrichment programs and other programs that they should be entitled to, like other high school seniors in the city are.
The program below is, working with the principal, trying to fund raise so that these services can be paid for and provided by outside contractors, so that this senior class will at least get some of what they deserve in their last year, even though interaction with a 9th, 10th and 11th grade won't be part of that.
I realize that many on this list are coping with, or already experienced similar tragedies and travesties at other schools around the city, but if there are Columbus alums/parents on this list who were unaware of this effort to help, or others who might wish to help some kids at a school they have had no connection with, consider getting in touch with the PFSA.
thanks,  Richard Barr

Sent: 8/27/2013 10:33:33 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time
Subj: Mary Conway-Spiegel, PFSA & Christopher Columbus HS Invite You To Attend

Partnership For Student Advocacy & Christopher Columbus High School Need your RSVP

September 17, 2013 at 5:30 PM
925 Astor Avenue, Bronx, NY 10469

Please RSVP to by September 10.

To fund resources and programs for the Last Graduating Class, please make a check out to our fiscal sponsor, Urban Dove, and send it to: 
252 W 30th Street #5A
New York, NY 10001 
or donate through PayPal at 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

MDRC report on NYC small schools and gaming graduation rates

The latest version of the Gates-funded reports from MDRC has been released, showing graduation rates for NYC students who were assigned to the new small schools through the supposedly random HS admissions process were 6 to 9.5 percent higher compared to those who “lost” the lottery and were assigned to large schools instead.  Overall, it has some of the same weaknesses that I notedalong with others in the previous report:  
1-The comparison groups are not necessarily equally matched – it does not separate out free and reduced lunch students, who are expected to have very different outcomes.
2 – The comparison also does not separate out special education students who are severely disabled – those that are taught in a regular classroom vs. those assigned to self-contained classes.
Indeed, though it claims comparable figures in both sets of schools, the authors admit that for both special education students and English language learners, “the sample sizes for these subgroups” at the small schools were so limited they could not compare outcomes between both sets of students.
3- Not all small schools held lotteries, as not all of them were oversubscribed – only presumably the more popular schools which may have been those with the most successful outcomes.
Assuming that there are real advantages to attending a small school, there could be many reasons for this higher rates unmentioned in the report:
  •  Peer effects:  given that a student has to attend an information session and apply to a small school, this screens out many of the most at-risk kids, including recent immigrants, those with unstable home lives and “over-the-counter” students – those who do not enter the high school application process and who, according to most accounts, are usually assigned to the large schools.  The effect of being in a class along with other more actively engaged students or those with more ambitious parents may in itself bring substantial benefits – apart from any quality inherent in the school itself.
  • Though the report cites no difference in 10th grade average class sizes (28), stats apparently drawn from the state report cards, this is highly unlikely, as many large high schools feature classes at the union contractual maximum of 34.  Generally small schools have been able to cap enrollment and thus class size at lower levels than the large schools.  In fact, the report says that the new schools were chosen by DOE according to whether they planned to have their teachers “responsible for a manageable number of students” with a “reduced teacher load” –which is unlikely to occur with class sizes at the contractual maximum.
  •  During the Bloomberg administration, there has been tremendous pressure placed on New York City teachers to pass at least 80 percent of their students, and to boost their scores on Regents exams – with schools graded and teachers evaluated on the results. Until this year, in fact, teachers graded the Regents exit exams of students at their own schools, with staff at small schools marking the exams of their own students. 
See the terrific book by John Owens who worked at one of the small schools, entitled  Confessions of a Bad Teacher – making clear the immense pressure imposed on teachers to graduate as many students as quickly as possible. Given that the small schools have younger teachers and those less likely to have institutional memories of the way things used to be, the more likely it is that they will be responsive to these pressures.  As the report notes, principals appreciated how their teachers were more “adaptable.”
  • Yet another issue that the report fails to address is how the rapid increase of small schools that are more space intensive and capped their enrollments at lower levels exacerbated conditions at the large schools– making them even more overcrowded with the highest need students, and significantly diminishing their educational opportunities.  Although the report notes that graduation rates have increased to a lesser extent at the large schools as well, many schools that had been relatively successful soon found themselves on the failing lists – including Lehman HS and quite a few others.
  •  Finally, data is a funny thing and graduation rates can be calculated in all sorts of ways.  The state and the DOE both claim that the city’s graduation rates for the class of 2010 was 61 percent. The MDRC report estimates graduation rates for the same year in their study for students at the small schools at 74.6 percent and 65.1 percent for the matched comparison group – suggesting that those who applied to small schools were a comparatively higher achieving group, even among those “randomly” assigned to large schools.
Yet the most recent analysis from Education Week published last June showed NYC graduation rates for the class or 2010 at 54 percent. Among the 50 largest districts in the nation, only Albuquerque, Denver and Detroit had lower rates; with NYC tied with Milwaukee. Why the difference? 
EdWeek’s methodology is complex, but it basically calculates the graduating rate by comparing the number of students that enter high school each year to those who are promoted to the next grade, and then graduate four years later with a regular high school degree – figures that are hard to fudge.  In contrast, the state and the DOE exclude all students who are said to have transferred out of district or to private or parochial schools or who are “discharged” – including those who leave for GED programs.  
The oversight for student transfers and discharges is notoriously lax.  In a report I co-authored several years ago, we found a very high and rising discharge rate in NYC schools.  This report led to a 2011 audit from the NY State Comptroller’s office, which stated that more than half of all discharges lacked proper documentation; and that even after extensive searches by DOE, 10-15 percent of discharges should have been reported as dropouts. There has been no audit since. The MDRC study reports that data for fully 19 percent of students who entered both small schools and large couldn’t be found four years later.
The EdWeek list of graduation rates of the largest school districts in the country for the class of 2010 are here and below.  Official DOE figures show that the rate has only declined slightly since then.  Almost as disturbing is that NYC is the only district listed among the fifty that failed to provide enough information for EdWeek to conclude whether its graduation rate is higher or lower than would be predicted, given the demographic background of the students.  So much for transparency at Tweed!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Do Korean students agree with Amanda Ripley about their educational system?

The NY Times has a review today on the front page of the Book Review--and a featured podcast --  of a new book called "Smartest Kids in the World" by New America Foundation fellow Amanda Ripley.  The review was written by another New America Foundation fellow Annie Murphy Paul. While through twitter, Paul says that she disclosed this connection to the NY Times book editors, they went ahead anyway in assigning her the review (and podcast.)
This violation of acceptable journalistic standards should be protested to the NY Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan at
Unsurprisingly, Murphy Paul has written a rave review of a book with a highly questionable thesis: that the South Korean educational system, in which students sleep in class because they have spent so many hours after school in expensive "cram schools" that families spend nearly 20 percent of their disposable income paying for -- and which causes huge stress on kids, is better than the US system because this strenuous competition makes them stronger and more able to succeed in a global economy.

I guess she doesn't  count all those Korean families who choose to uproot themselves and move here to escape the pressures of their educational system.  Or the fact that youth suicide rates are extremely high, attributed largely to academic stress -- so much so that suicide is the leading cause of death for South Koreans age 15-29. Here is an excerpt from Murphy Paul's NYT review:
Ripley is cleareyed [sic] about the serious drawbacks of this system: “In Korea, the hamster wheel created as many problems as it solved.” Still, if she had to choose between “the hamster wheel and the moon bounce that characterized many schools in the United States,” she would reluctantly pick the hamster wheel: “It was relentless and excessive, yes, but it also felt more honest. Kids in hamster-wheel countries knew what it felt like to grapple with complex ideas and think outside their comfort zone; they understood the value of persistence. They knew what it felt like to fail, work harder and do better. They were prepared for the modern world.” Not so American students, who are eased through high school only to discover, too late, that they lack the knowledge and skill to compete in the global economy.
Really?  Is this the best way to be prepare students for the modern world?    
Check out the photographs below of South Korean students, who were asked by Fulbright teaching assistants to comment on their lives. 
And let us know in the comment section below if you agree with Ripley that the South Korean school system is superior to ours. [credit photos:Buzzfeed]. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Your child's state test scores are now posted; read this advice first from Tory Frye

Dear Parents and Guardians,
Your child's scores are now available on ARIS Parent Link.  For what it is worth, there are a few things that I think we should all do:
1) Ignore the test results and do not tell our children what their "number" is, no matter how high or low;
2) Know that these tests are part of a movement to privatize public education by convincing parents that our children are underperforming, compared with other countries, and a massive restructuring of the public education system is the only thing that will save the future of the US; this would involve higher standards, better teachers (which requires a de-unionized teaching force), more charter schools, vouchers for private schools, and market-based methods to make parents consumers of "public" education; they say that this is needed because of the "new" US economy, where because of economic and labor policies, we have an increasingly bimodal distribution of jobs (you are either a Walmart Greeter or a Scientist, with few solid working- and lower-middle class options left);    
3) Recognize that no elite NYC private schools use high stakes standardized tests in this way and that the country that is held up as a model of universal, high quality public education, Finland, also does not use test scores in this way; 
4) Know that our state has purposefully set up our children to fail in order to "shock" us into submission and turn on our children's teachers and their unions;
5) Resist the urge to pressure our children's teachers and schools to do better on these tests; this will only totally eliminate the arts, sports, sciences, recess and other activities that have been diminished in the pursuit of high scores and that children desperately need; these are the things that keep some of our most vulnerable children in school;
6) Be aware also that our children's test scores are being given by the state to inBloom, a private company that will store all of children's data in a "cloud" and offer it to other private companies to make more educational "products" that are typically "personalized" and computer-based and designed to further undermine face-to-face instruction, classrooms and human teachers.  See here for inBloom:  See here for criticisms of it:
7) Consider opting out of the tests next year as a way of resisting corporate education reform and the monetizing of our children's school experiences.
So that is what I think we should do; feel free to agree or disagree!

Victoria (Tory) Frye, D6 parent

Monday, August 19, 2013

CEC 6 demands co-locations removed from October PEP meeting

August 19, 2013

Members of Community Education Council District 6 Demand Co-locations Be Removed from October Calendar of the Panel for Educational Policy

At the August 15 Community Education Council District 6 (CEC6) public meeting, the Office of Portfolio Management (OPM) verbally presented proposals to co-locate two new schools in already co-located District 6 (D6) buildings. They stated proposals would be voted on at the October 15 and 30 PEP meetings. This came after OPM released publicly plans for new technical schools throughout New York City; see link here for more information.
Although adding middle and high school grades to D6 is important, these new co-locations will create “tri-located” buildings in our district, which has a history of unsuccessful and divisive co-locations. Two elected members of CEC6 are parent leaders at the affected schools, MS 192 (located at 138th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway) and MS 52 (located at Academy Street and Broadway). At no point were parents consulted regarding siting two new schools in these buildings, although parents at both schools supported grade expansions for their existing schools, recently requested grade expansions were denied.
Despite explicit requests from CEC6, the August 15 OPM presentation was not accompanied by materials that detailed the proposed co-locations for the council or the audience. Further, CEC 6 requested this information in both English and Spanish for several weeks prior to the meeting, because a large proportion of CEC6 parents speak Spanish and several members of CEC6 are new.
The undersigned members of CEC6 are asking for your support in removing both proposals from the PEP calendar, until we as the Community Education Council of District 6 can engage the D6 public education community and understand fully what the potential effects of the co-locations may be. Until schools open in September, it is impossible for our CEC to “walk through” a school and complete the assessment required in order to advise the DOE, as required by state statute.  Our goal is to ensure that no child's education is negatively impacted by these proposed co-locations in District 6.
At the time of this release, the following CEC6 members gave consent: Victoria Frye,Yuderka Valdez, Shenell Evans, Miriam Aristy-Farer
We request your support and presence at the
September CEC 6 public meeting
Thursday 9/19
4360 Broadway, Room 430
We believe that it would make a difference in ensuring that the DOE sees that proper process is not being followed (given the timing of their presentations to parents) and the inability of CEC6 to analyze the proposals.

For more information please contact:
Miriam Aristy-Farer
MBP appointee
CEC 6 Interim President, 212-926-3130

Yuderka Valdez
CEC 6 Interim Secretary, 917-657-5042

An Evening with Diane Ravitch on Sept. 11; RSVP now!

RSVP at Here is a flyer. 

New Yorkers for Great Public Schools and Class Size Matters

Invite You To:

An evening with education historian and activist


On the release of her new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.”

Wednesday, Sept.11th
6-7:15 PM at Judson Memorial Church
55 Washington Square South, Manhattan
(Trains: A, B, C, D, E, F, M to
W4th St; N, R to 8 St.; #6 to Astor Place; #1 to Sheridan Sq.)
New Yorkers are ready for a new direction for public education, and as the whole country watches our mayoral election,  Ravitch will discuss how we can move away from failed policies of the past and towards a successful school system that will work for every student. 

A question and answer session will follow.

Call 212-328-9271 for more information