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The Year's School Report Cards
September 23rd, 2011

In what has become an annual ritual, the Department of Education has today released its latest school progress reports, often called school report cards, today. (For links to summaries and individual school reports, go here.)

Today’s release covers only elementary and middle schools. The department will issue high school reports next month.

Once again the department has tweaked the oft-criticized annual reports. For one the grades seem to have stabilized somewhat from the time when the results would gyrate wildly from year to year, completely baffling parents. This year, according to the Times, 79 of the 1,219 schools dropped by two or more letter grades and 55 rose by two or more.

As part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’ s initiative on black and Latino males, a school now gets extra points for making significant progress with students in that group whose prior performance has put them in the lowest third academically. (A school, though, does not lose points if it fails miserably with black and Latino boys.)

The number of schools with low grades has increased again. Based on their 2010-11 performance, the department says, 25 percent of the schools received an A, 35 percent B, 30 percent C, 7 percent D and 3 percent flunked. This still might seem generous, but it certainly represents a change from 2009 when, in the midst of the mayor’s re-election campaign, his Department of Education decided 84 percent of elementary and middle schools deserved As and only two – that’s two school, not 2 percent – flunked.

This time around, according to Gotham Schools, the city decided in advance how many schools would get each grade.

The increase in schools getting D’s and F’s means more schools could be considering for closing, thought the departments says that that will not necessarily translate to more schools being shut down. Earlier this week, School Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he would look to close persistently failing middle schools as part of his efforts to bolster education in grades 6 through 8.

By on September 23, 2011, 3:02 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Walcott Takes on Middle Schools
September 20th, 2011

It’s no secret to anyone who has spent time in city schools, had an adolescent or been one that middle school is where things begin to go awry for many students. Test scores fall, behavior problems develop and many students begin to fall so far behind that they never catch up – and simply leave schools a few years later.

The city has mounted various, often half-hearted efforts to combat this – and none have accomplished much.

In his first major policy speech as chancellor, given this morning at NYU, Dennis Walcott focused on the issues of middle schools, ticking off a panoply of problems in grade six through eight and acknowledging his department must do more to address them. (This post is based on the prepared text of Walcott’s speech, available here.) To do that, Walcott plans borrow a page from the Bloomberg administration approach to high schools by closing failing schools and opening new ones. The administration claims success with this, but the policy has been controversial and has many critics.

In his speech, Walcott vowed to open at least 50 new middle schools in the next two years. Some will be charter schools, Walcott said.

On the flip side – closing schools – Walcott said, “We will hold our middle schools to the same tough standards we hold our high schools. If a school is failing, we will phase it out.”

More on the plan after the jump.
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By on September 20, 2011, 12:15 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Levy's Legacy at Bronx Science
September 16th, 2011

The Times yesterday had an interesting story on the exodus of teachers from the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. According to Anna Phillips, eight of the school’s 20 social studies teachers decided not to return this year, sending the turnover rate at what one would think would be a desirable to teach to 19 percent, five percentage points higher than for the city as a whole. Phillips traces the discontent back at least as far as 2005 – but actually it dates before that to the pre-mayoral control days and the region of now largely forgotten Chancellor Harold Levy.

Back in the Giuliani administration in 1999, Stanley Blumenstein announced his retirement as principal of the selective public school. A search committee unanimously recommended William Stark, an administrator and social studies teacher serving as interim president, to fill the post.

Levy, a graduate of Bronx Science, balked, reportedly wanting a scientist to fill the post, not an educator — although there was never an indication that any top scientist even wanted the job. Levy asked the committee to find someone else.

Levy was a corporate lawyer when he was named chancellor and, like Cathie Black a decade later, needed a waiver to become chancellor. (He now works in finance and raised eyebrows in 2009 for a $500,000 contribution to Al Sharpton.)

To many observers his handling of the situation at Bronx Science was a classic indication of what can happen when people with little experience running schools control them. Faculty and parents disputed Levy’s notion that a scientist would be the best pick for the job. “Running a public high school, they say, is more like running a fine restaurant than a political campaign, a foundation or a college. At Bronx Science, they say, the importance of spin and public relations pales compared with the mundane ability to deal with cantankerous union officials, powerful custodians and 2,700 needy, if talented, adolescents,” the Times wrote.
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By on September 16, 2011, 3:19 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 8 Comments »

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More Testing for Schools
August 31st, 2011

In the wake of the closing of a Bronx schools contaminated with a toxic chemical, two advocacy groups and eight members of the City Council have written to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott demanding immediate testing of city school on leased property and a public disclosure of he results.

Earlier this summer, the Department of Education shut Bronx New School, which had operated in a leased former industrial site in Bedford Park. Walcott has admitted the department knew of the contamination since January but did not tell parents until eight months later. The school had apparently never been tested before – although students attended classes there for two decades.

While other cases may not be quite that egregious, as Melissa Checker reported in Gotham Gazette last month, Bronx New School, also known as PS51X, is hardly an isolated case. The city now leases more than 90 properties ––many of them former industrial sites — for schools, and the regulations regarding leased properties, as opposed to those for sites the city owns, are lax, to say the last. Schools on leased sites, Checker wrote, do not have to undergo environmental review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, and the city does not have to keep the public – including parents, staff and students –- informed about its plans for building or monitoring those schools or remediating any hazards at the site.

In the letter, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, New York Communities for Change and the council members seek to address some of these issues, focusing on 31 schools whose leases are up for renewal. The city does inspect school when their leases come up for renewal, although a schools spokesperson told Checker only that the inspections would take plan within eight weeks – not necessarily before the school year begins.

More and the letter after the jump.
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By on August 31, 2011, 12:44 pm
In category: Education,Environment,Gotham City | 9 Comments »

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DiNapoli vs. Murdoch
August 28th, 2011

You might have missed this as you were taping your windows yesterday: The Daily News reports that State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has rejected the state Department of Education contracts with Wireless Generation. The educational tech company is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. — and as a result under the purview of former Schools Chancellor, now Murdoch consigliare Joel Klein.

In rejecting the $27 million deal, DiNapoli cited the phone hacking scandal that has shaken Murdoch’s British newspaper empire — and Britain’s government as well. “In light of the significant ongoing investigations and continuing revelations with respect to News Corp., we are returning the contract with Wireless Generation unapproved,” DiNapoli’s office wrote to the Education Department.

The education department blasted DiNapoli’s move, with a spokesperson accusing the comptroller of having “allowed political pressure to get in the way of vital technology that would help our students/”

The state was prepared to use part of its federal Race to the Top money to pay Wireless Generation to develop software to track student test scores, achievement and so on, creating a system similar to the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, or ARIS, that it developed for the city schools.

Even before the phone hacking scandal, the deal did not meet the smell test for many. The contract was a no-bid deal, even though many other companies reportedly expressed interest in it.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on August 28, 2011, 12:53 pm
In category: Albany,Education,Eye on Albany,Public Finance,Tech | 1 Comment »

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Walcott Promises More Testing for Toxins
August 19th, 2011

By all accounts last night’s meeting in the Bronx between schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and parents is unlikely to settle the rising concern about the contaminated site of the Bronx New School –- and the problem of polluted schools overall.

Three weeks ago, the Department of Education announced it would shut the Bedford Park building because high levels of trichloroethylene, or TCE, had been found on the site.

The department learned of the unsafe levels in January; it did not tell parents, the principal or the staff until this summer. And although the school has been on the former industrial site for about 20 years, no record exists of it ever having been tested before. And there may be other untested schools as well.

Walcott has said the city is checking another 31 schools whose leases are now up for renewal and plans to complete the tests by early next month. It has not released the names of those schools.

Melissa Checker wrote in Gotham Gazette this week that, while the city must conduct environmental reviews of any property it purchases for a school, it does not have to check out land or buildings it leases. As a result, Dawn Philip an attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest told Checker, “Parents, school staff and community members often have no idea that a leased school site sits on top of contaminated property and, more importantly, what the [Department of Education] has done to eliminate any health risks.”
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By on August 19, 2011, 1:42 pm
In category: Education,Environment,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Slight Rise in Test Scores
August 8th, 2011

In 2011, the second year of more rigorous scoring of state standardized tests, achievement dipped slightly across the state, according to figures just released by the state education department.

After taking a battering last year, when the state recalibrated the scoring, the city saw a slight increase this year. Some 43.9 percent of students in grades three through eight met or exceeded the state standards in English — up from 42.4 percent last year. In math, 57.3 percent met or exceeded the math standard, an increase from 54 percent in 2010. This is still far less than the number meeting standards under the old – allegedly dumbed down – system.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is set to provide more details – and undoubtedly some healthy spin – later today. We’ll bring you ore then.

By on August 8, 2011, 12:01 pm
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Murdoch in the Schools
August 5th, 2011

The city and state teachers union are stepping up their opposition to the awarding of a state education contract to a company owned by Rupert Murdoch.

The unions have not been big fans of the beleaguered press mogul – or of former Chancellor Joel Klein, who now heads education technology (and damaged control?) for him. And the deal has been raising eyebrows since June when the Daily News’ Rachael Monahan reported that the state Department of Education was about to award a $27 million no-bid contract to Wireless Generation to develop a system for the state similar to the city’s Achievement Reporting and Innovation System or ARIS.

Klein had been a big promoter of Wireless Generation during his days as chancellor. Two weeks after he left the city to take a mega-lucrative deal with News Corp., the Murdoch company bought Wireless Generation. Admittedly Klein himself worked for the city, not the state. But the ties are there –- and the former chancellor certainly stands to benefit from a deal that, in the view of a Forbes blogger, “smack of cronyism.”

The phone hacking scandal has raised further doubts. In their letter to Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, and state Education Commissioner John King Jr., state United Teachers president Richard Ianuzzi and Michael Mulgrew, head of the city teachers union, stressed those concerns. Parents and educators, they wrote, question “the wisdom of allowing a News Corp.-owned company to have access the the personal data of students from all across New York.”
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By on August 5, 2011, 1:08 pm
In category: Albany,Education,Gotham City,Governing,Public Finance,Tech | Comments Off on Murdoch in the Schools

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Bloomberg and the Achievement Gap
August 4th, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement earlier today of a major initiative to help young black and Latino men today, includes a big focus on education. Few would debate the wisdom of that.

Bloomberg has long patted himself on the back for narrowing the gap in academic achievement between the city’s white and Asian students on one hand and blacks and Latinos on the other. Today Chancellor Dennis Walcott sounded the theme. “We’ve come a long way in improving achievement for black and Latino young men, helping to narrow the racial gaps in state exams and graduation rates,” he said.

But as Bloomberg basks in praise (and some almost fawning press coverage) for tackling a truly tough issue, his record on ending education disparities is — to put it charitably – mixed.

The mayor noted the city had narrowed the gap in high school graduation rates between the races. And the evidence backs that up. But in myriad other areas — test scores, admission to elite high schools, admission to gifted and talented elementary programs, suspensions — the gap has remained essentially the same or widened under the Bloomberg regime.

Let’s looks at the numbers – after the jump.
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By on August 4, 2011, 3:34 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Demographics,Education | 3 Comments »

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Regents Relief
August 3rd, 2011

High school students disappointed they could no longer take Regents exams in January will get a reprieve this year. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this morning that Bloomberg Philanthropies and five anonymous donors have each agreed to pony up $250,000 to privately fund the creation and giving of the subject tests in January 2012.

The state announced last spring it would eliminate the January test date to save money. High school students need to pass five of the exams to get a Regents diploma. Some 150,000 Regents exams were give last January in the city.

Not having the opportunity to take the exam midyear, Bloomberg said, “put thousands of prospective graduates in a bad spot and even puts their graduation in jeopardy.”

The donations, though, will only pay for one year; after that, Bloomberg said, the state will have to figure out how to pay for this service.

What was a good news announcement, though, turned prickly as reporters pressed Bloomberg to disclose the names of the donors. He refused, though did own up their being individuals who he had approached, not in government and without young children.

As to their names, “I don’t think it’s anyone’s business,” Bloomberg said. “They don’t want to be dragged through the press.”

He continued, “They don’t want their name out there. … They just want to help, not give you a story.”

Bloomberg said he had revealed his own name only because he’s a public official. Once he no longer is, he said his largesse will remain anonymous as well.

By on August 3, 2011, 11:18 am
In category: Education,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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Summer School, Summer Scores
July 29th, 2011

(Jason Lewis filed this post.)

With the beginning of the school year only a little more than a month away, thousands of New York City public school students remain unsure whether they’ll be promoted to the next grade in the fall.

Back in June, the New York City Department of Education recommended some 34,000 students in grades three through eight attend summer school based on the city’s preliminary analysis of the statewide math and English language arts exams. Students who do poorly on the exams have to try to improve their performance in summer school or face having to repeat a grade.

Some 39,244 elementary and middle schools students were mandated for summer school – though not all of those had to attend in order to move up a grade — and registered. Of those, about 84 percent actually attended class last week.

The determination of who faces being left back, though, remains a bit fuzzy since the city education department still has not received final test scores from the state.
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By on July 29, 2011, 12:48 pm
In category: Education | 11 Comments »

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Teachers on Tenure
July 27th, 2011

Following Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement on the results of the city’s new teacher tenure process (see below) the United Federation of Teachers is expressing reservations about how the city now awards, or denies, teachers tenure. In a brief statement issued this afternoon, union president Michael Mulgrew said, “The process of granting tenure must be rigorous, but it also must be consistent and transparent. We have serious questions about how the DOE reached these conclusions and concerns that they failed to base these decisions on pedagogy or job performance.”

The major change under the new system is that many more teachers are having their tenure decision delayed, or, as the UFT puts it, their probation period extended.

The union released a letter it sent to Chancellor Dennis Walcott earlier this month saying it has received “troubling reports of teachers and other pedagogues having their probation extended for reasons entirely unrelated to performance.” The letter went on to cite reports of teachers who did not receive a final tenure decision because the principal did not complete the classroom observation or was new to the school. It also accused the department of using teacher data reports, which, the union charged, are “based on flawed tests and [have] a margin of error of more than 50 percent.

The delays in the process, the Daily News reported a few weeks ago, has the greatest effect on the same high-quality new recruits whose jobs Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he wanted to save during this year’s fight over how to determine teacher layoffs.

By on July 27, 2011, 4:23 pm
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Delaying Teacher Tenure
July 27th, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long criticized the almost automatic granting of lifetime tenure to teachers in the New York City school system. Today he announced results of his efforts to change tenure as we know it -– and, while there are significant changes, the effort falls a bit short of a revolution.

Using what the city calls a “new framework for measuring teacher effectiveness” instituted in December, principals approved fewer teachers for tenure this year — 58 percent of 5,209 teachers as opposed to 97 percent of those eligible in 2006-7. Looking at the figures, it seems apparent that many teachers who might previously have gotten tenure after three years, saw their decisions delayed. Thirty-nine percent of the teachers fell into that category, compared with 2 percent in 2007. While the number of those denied increased, it remains small: 3 percent this year, as opposed to 1 percent four years ago.

Bloomberg expressed pleasure with the results, saying in a prepared statement, “Making tenure an earned distinction rather than an automatic right will help our teachers get better and ensure that more of them can develop into not just good but great teachers. That’s what our kids deserve and our parents expect.”

All teachers are eligible for tenure review after three years.

Under the new system, principals evaluate teachers based on classroom observation, student work, test scores, student attendance and feedback from students and parents. They receive ratings on a four-point scale in three categories: teacher practice, student learning and contributions to the school community. To get tenure, the teacher must score at the top two levels – effective or highly effective – in all three areas for two consecutive years.

By on July 27, 2011, 12:57 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City,Work and Labor | Comments Off on Delaying Teacher Tenure

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A New Chief for Parent Involvement
July 26th, 2011

Probably no aspect of the Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education changes has received as much criticism as the Department of Education’s attitude toward parents. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein wanted parents to help kids with their homework – and vote for the mayor – they saw real parent input as an inconvenience, possibly threatening their reforms.

Consulting with parents can create “gridlock,” Klein once said. “For every issue in which you think there is parent agreement … there are wide ranges of very different views.”

Bloomberg and Klein even went so far as to try to stop parents from baking cookies.

Upon becoming chancellor last spring, Dennis Walcott vowed to change that, while at the same time praising the department’s efforts during the time Klein was chancellor (and Walcott deputy mayor).

Today the Department of Education announced yet another retooling of the Office of Family Information and Action. Walcott made the executive director of the office a “cabinet-level” post and appointed Bronx native Jesse Mojica to fill it.
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By on July 26, 2011, 3:11 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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It's a Budget!
June 29th, 2011

By a vote of 49 to 1, the City Council today approved a $66 billion budget for New York City for fiscal year 2012. The measure contains no teacher layoffs and does not shut any fire companies — but it does include layoffs for at least 1,000 other city workers and cutbacks in some popular programs, such as scholarship for student at the City University.

Despite that most council members clearly thought they had done a pretty good job.

This is, Speaker Christine Quinn said, “not a perfect budget. It would be impossible to have a perfect budget when the city and our tax revenues are still feeling the effects of the recession.”
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By on June 29, 2011, 2:31 pm
In category: City Hall,Crime & Safety,Education,Gotham City,Public Finance | 1 Comment »

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Tapping a Labor Fund
June 14th, 2011

Talks are continuing over whether the city labor unions would give the city money from a rainy day healthcare fund to go avert layoffs of 4,100 teachers and other city workers, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said today. Any money might also go to save some fire companies and seniors centers now slated to be shut.

At a press conference before today’s scheduled council meeting, Quinn made it clear the idea of using money from the fund had come from the Municipal Labor Committee and its chairman, Harry Nespoli.

“I want to be vey clear how very grateful I am to Harry Nespoli and the Labor Council that they are even entertaining” helping the city government in this way, Quinn said.

She said the idea came up after “I said to Harry, ‘we need help,’… Harry said, “‘yes, let me see what we can do,’ and they got back to me.”

Currently, Quinn said, the labor group is considering what its specific proposal might be. Once they do, discussions can proceed from there, she said.

Nespoli and the committee are reportedly planning to discuss the idea tomorrow.
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By on June 14, 2011, 5:56 pm
In category: City Hall,Education,Gotham City,Public Finance,Work and Labor | 2 Comments »

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Klein Cashes in on Race to the Top
June 9th, 2011

The Daily News’ Rachel Monahan has an eye-opening story today that the state is about to award a chunk of its federal Race to the Top funds to the company now run buy former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. It’s hard to imagine a tale more rife with seeming conflicts of interest.

First the news, according to Monahan: The state Department of Education is about to award a $27 million no-bid contract to Wireless Generation to develop software to track student test scores, achievement and so on. The system would be similar to the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, or ARIS, developed for the city schools when Klein ran them.

The state, according to the News, said the no-bid contract is justified because ARIS already cover a third of the state (i.e. the city) and the system has received national recognition.

Recognition, yes, — but not all of it positive.
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By on June 9, 2011, 5:09 pm
In category: Albany,Education,Gotham City,Tech | 2 Comments »

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Bing Takes Cuomo Appointment
June 8th, 2011

Assemblyman Jonathan Bing made a lot of enemies in the labor movement when he authored a bill that would have gotten rid of last in first out. He made so many enemies that his re-election to his seat was very much in doubt.

“As it is now we can’t get rid of teachers who perform unsatisfactorily after giving them due process,” Bing told the Gazette of his bill earlier this year. “I think there is a better system out there than the one we have now. I am not trying to bust any union.”

Bing’s stand prompted an election challenge from a candidate backed by the United Federation of Teachers. It also won him the endorsement of — and at least $4,000 from — Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has made ending “last in, first out” a key goal. Bing won re-election with 65 percent of the vote.

But now thanks to Gov. Andrew Cuomo Bing has a new gig–special deputy superintendent of the New York Liquidation Bureau. If that doesn’t sound like a plum gig that is because it simply isn’t.

Bing put out this statement to supporters this morning: Read the rest of this entry »

By on June 8, 2011, 12:58 pm
In category: Albany,Education,Eye on Albany,Work and Labor | 3 Comments »

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Another Vacant Assembly Seat
June 8th, 2011

Correction: As a reader points out, there is a fourth open Assembly seat: the one previously held by Audrey Pheffer, who let the legislature to become Queens County clerk. The post has been corrected.

It looks as though there will be another opening in the city’s delegation in the State Assembly. Gov Andrew Cuomo has announced the appointment of Manhattan Assemblymember Jonathan Bing as special deputy superintendent of the New York Liquidation Bureau.

The agency’s mission, according to its web site, is to protect policyholders and creditors of insurance companies that have gone bankrupt. Bing would replace Dennis J. Hayes.

The city already has twothree unfilled Assembly seats: District 54 in Brooklyn, which became vacant when Cuomo named Darryl Towns CEO for Homes and Community Renewal; District 27, left vacant by the retirement of Nettie Mayersohn; and District 23, which became open when Audrey Pheffer resigned to become Queens County clerk.

So far, no special election has been scheduled.

By on June 8, 2011, 12:35 pm
In category: Albany,Education,Electoral Politics,Eye on Albany | 2 Comments »

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Walcott Fires Back
May 18th, 2011

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott sharply criticized the United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP for their latest effort to block city school shut-downs, calling it “unacceptable.

Earlier today the union, the civil rights group and other individuals and groups announced they had filed suit to block the Department of Education’s plan to close or phase out 22 schools it considers to be failing. (See below.)

Walcott charged that, y trying to block the closures, along with18 so-called co-locations of charter schools and traditional public schools, the suit was “trying to perpetuate once again the status quo” that harms students and protect adults.”

He expressed particular irritation that the UFT et al had gone to court so late in the year when most eighth graders have already selected high schools for next years and some — he did not say how many — had opted for the new schools slated to go into space now occupied by the schools facing closure .

“This lawsuit will hold hostage these individuals,” he said indicating there would be a ripple effect throughout the system.

Last year the groups filed their successful suit against the school closing on Feb. 1. Since that time, the city has introduced new procedures for school closings, holding public hearings and releasing information to comply with state education law. The union and the NAACP, though, argue it is still in violation of the law and its own agreements.

By on May 18, 2011, 4:34 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City,Law | 1 Comment »

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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