Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/202 Mon, 11 Dec 2017 02:02:06 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Support, Not Trouble, for a School Successfully Teaching Students with Disabilities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7193:support-not-trouble-for-a-school-successfully-teaching-students-with-disabilities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7193:support-not-trouble-for-a-school-successfully-teaching-students-with-disabilities lenny cci opening

Opportunity Charter School leader Leonard Goldberg, middle, the author


A new report from the city's Comptroller showed once again that the City is unable to fulfill its responsibility to provide the necessary services to students with disabilities, failing to track $84 million allocated for disabled student services. Worse still, these findings come on the heels of the Public Advocate's report that revealed a troubling trend whereby the city offers parents vouchers instead of the necessary, required services for children with special needs. Troubling, but not surprising.

It’s no secret that the city’s public schools are not designed or equipped to properly serve the individual needs of students with disabilities, particularly those in low-income communities. In fact, while roughly half of all vouchers issued citywide go unused, this rate climbs dramatically in lower-income communities. District 8 in the Bronx, for example, has the highest rate of vouchers going unused at 91 percent.

This is why so many Bronx parents turn to Opportunity Charter School (OCS), a Harlem-based charter school that disproportionately serves children with special needs from communities of color. At OCS, we have been providing wraparound services since our founding in 2004, and focus on providing comprehensive clinical services to students and their families.

The majority of our students live in the Bronx, making the commute every morning because they can’t find the support they need in traditional public schools. And in spite of this, the city’s Department of Education has tried relentlessly to close our middle school, even after a Manhattan Supreme Court judge cautioned that the DOE would be wise to take a closer look at how to better evaluate a school as unique as OCS.

The trouble is there’s a gap between these schools in theory and in practice.

The students, who enter our middle school after years in the public system, are among the lowest performing in all of New York City, and well over 60 percent have a moderate to severe learning disability. These are the students who benefit most from the extra support OCS provides, and the same students that the city has previously failed to help.

At OCS, we work hard to help these students catch up, develop critical life skills and prepare for post-secondary success. Our individualized approach to learning pays off. In fact, this year, 86 percent of OCS students graduated on time, including 82 percent of students with disabilities. But the city, which is responsible for holding the 51 charter schools it authorizes accountable and renewing their charters, relies on a flawed system to make these judgements. The city bases decisions largely on the percentage of students in each grade that achieve “proficiency” on state tests, without acknowledging the makeup of the student body or how much progress individual students are making over time.

Meanwhile, the tests themselves are not designed to measure achievement among students with disabilities. Even DOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña acknowledged as much, going as far as to say that students with disabilities are ‘never [going to] get to a certain level on this kind of test’ and would consider opting out her own child if she were the mother of a student with a disability. This accountability system advantages students and schools with a history of academic success; bolstering charters that curate their student bodies and punishing those that take in struggling students. In other words, the current system is designed to enforce the status quo.

Each student with an IEP is different. Some have relatively minor disabilities, such as a speech impediment, but others face more significant obstacles, such as a severe learning disability. At our school, we don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, and neither should the city.

Better alternatives are available. For example, the State Education Department, as well as other state authorizers have created systems tailored to evaluate schools that focus solely on serving at-risk student populations. Authorizers can allow charter schools this flexibility in measurement and it is important that they use this function properly. The DOE, despite its rhetoric, chooses not to apply this sensible approach.

If the city really wants to help students with disabilities, its leaders are going to have to rethink their entire approach, from the supports they provide to measuring growth. It’s past time for the New York City DOE to concentrate its efforts on supporting the city’s most vulnerable children and getting them the help they need, rather than unfairly targeting the institutions that make these kids a priority.

***
Leonard Goldberg is the Founder and Head of School at Opportunity Charter School.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

Note: this column has been updated with more recent data than originally published.

]]>
Support, Not Trouble, for a School Successfully Teaching Students with Disabilities Thu, 14 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
‘Zombie’ Charter School Agreement Rests on Interpretation of Ambiguous Law http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7056:zombie-charter-agreement-rests-on-interpretation-of-ambiguous-law http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7056:zombie-charter-agreement-rests-on-interpretation-of-ambiguous-law de blasio law interpretation

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


A much talked-about provision of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 13th-hour deal to have his control over city schools extended was the agreement that 22 revoked or surrendered charter school charters could be reissued without counting towards the predetermined state cap on the number of charter schools.

In exchange for a two-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, de Blasio agreed to a series of charter school-friendly administrative maneuvers, including the “zombie” charter provision, as well as others around rental reimbursements and school space allocations. The mayor made the deal with state Senate Republicans, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and their charter sector allies.

What has not been widely noted is that language added to the state Education Law at the end of the 2015 Albany legislative session already allowed exactly 22 charters that had been “surrendered, revoked or terminated” on or before July 1, 2015, to be reissued, raising the question of why it was necessary to clarify that point at all.

The answer might lie around the ambiguity of the language. The law states that “such reissuance shall not be counted toward the statewide numerical limit” – the cap of 460 charters – but makes no mention of the separate limit of 50 charters issued after July 1, 2015, for cities of one million or more people, a criteria only New York City fits.

The mention of the state cap and omission of the city cap could be understood as affirming that charters which were revoked and then reissued in the city would continue to count towards that predetermined ceiling of 50, of which there are now 23 remaining aside from the defunct “zombie” charters. It seems that the mayoral administration’s concession was not to read the law that way.

In a brief phone conversation, Department of Education (DOE) spokesperson Toya Holness said Monday that the administration “agreed not to challenge the way [the law] was being interpreted,” but declined to offer examples of potential alternative interpretations.

Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, said that it was the Senate Republican majority’s “position that those 22 ‘zombie’ charters shouldn’t be counted towards any kind of cap.”

In essence, state authorizers issues the charters that allow applying entities to open charter schools, but for one reason or another some are revoked or the schools close down, leaving the question of whether those charter slots under either of the two caps are newly available.

Wrangling over the status of revoked charters has been going on for years; in 2010, before the law was changed to include specific directives on reissuing charters, an Assembly bill introduced by charter-friendly Democrats tried to establish that “that revoked charters will no longer count against the cap,” according to its summary. It didn’t pass at the time.

The reissuable charters won’t be separately marked, but simply added the available pool of charters under the cap, which now appears to stand at 45 for New York City, where 216 charter schools currently operate. Potential schools hoping to secure a charter must follow the normal application procedures through state authorizers -- New York City’s Mayor and Department of Education actually have very little control related to charter schools, less so given changes to the laws ushered in by Senate Republicans and Cuomo after de Blasio, a longtime charter foe, took office in 2014. Senate Republicans and Cuomo are supportive of charters and well-funded by charter allies, while de Blasio and state Assembly Democrats are close with and funded by teachers unions, who see largely non-unionized charters as anathema to their survival.

It is not clear why the law was amended to permit specifically 22 reissuances, nor who exactly included the language. It was part of the 72-page end-of-session bill passed on June 25, 2015 that includes a wide variety of measures.

Even if the de Blasio administration stands down from challenging the charter stipulation, the lack of legal clarity means that another entity could. Public school advocates and teachers unions in particular have been consistent opponents of charter school expansion, and have been willing to use legal tools to stop it.

In 2013, the United Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit against the DOE to try to stop it from offering space to charter schools in existing city public schools; the suit was eventually dismissed by a judge. The UFT, which is largely allied with de Blasio, did not return a request for comment about whether it would challenge the agreed upon interpretation of the charter school law.

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
‘Zombie’ Charter School Agreement Rests on Interpretation of Ambiguous Law Tue, 11 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Balanced Approach Awaits Lapse of Mayoral Control http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7029:balanced-approach-awaits-lapse-of-mayoral-control http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7029:balanced-approach-awaits-lapse-of-mayoral-control Bloomberg Walcott school visit

Mayor Bloomberg at a school (photo: Spencer T. Tucker)


Mark Twain’s reproach against “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics” could easily be reformulated against Lies, Damn Lies, and Statutes.  Such are the many inflammatory statements against reversion to the old Board of Education made by Mayor de Blasio and his allies as they seek renewal of mayoral control of New York City’s public schools. This fear-mongering against a return to the old system, so-called school decentralization or community control, employs caricature rather than truth to advance its purpose. In fact, a close reading of the old law – about to be resurrected if mayoral control lapses at the end of this week -- reveals a surprisingly cautious approach to balancing central, district, school, and parent interests. The true picture is a sharp contrast to the administration’s doomsday scenario.

The mayor has described “chaos and corruption under the old school boards.” The Chancellor predicted, “Our system is headed for disaster,” calling a lapse of mayoral control “devastating.” The president of Bank Street College, a former DOE official, further injured the former institution’s reputation by recalling “the system we had” when “in certain districts there was a going rate” for sale of administrative positions by local school boards. This unusually heated rhetoric is at odds with the professional experience of each since the mayor, chancellor, and Bank Street president all flourished -- apparently uncorrupted -- under the old system as a community school board member, superintendent, and principal, respectively.

But more importantly, the stereotype of community control they describe was long gone by the time mayoral control was implemented in 2002. Instead, the new system replaced a reform law enacted in 1996 that took pains to eliminate opportunities for corruption and substantially increased central power under the Chancellor while providing for important local roles. It’s that statute that will replace mayoral control if the state Legislature and governor fail to act.

Contrary to mayoral myth harking to earlier iterations of the law, the once-and-possibly future statute bans community school board members from most personnel decisions, subjecting them to removal by the Chancellor “for willful, intentional or knowing involvement in the hiring, appointment, or assignment” of school employees. The 1996 statute explicitly states that “community boards shall have no executive or administrative powers or function.” Instead they are confined to exercising “powers and duties to establish educational policies and objectives” consistent with policies of the central board and Chancellor.

The central board, now made up of seven members -- one each appointed by the Borough Presidents and two by the Mayor, thus without a mayoral majority -- is also limited to a policy role, similar to the original responsibilities of the mayoral control board, called for that reason the Panel for Educational Policy or PEP. (Its duties have since been somewhat expanded to allow for public decision-making on contract and siting matters.)

The exception to community school board members’ limited personnel role is in securing their own superintendents. But the law only provides for boards to recommend a list of candidates to the Chancellor under a model contract and regulations promulgated centrally.  Even the process by which the list is assembled is subject to sunlight, with the Chancellor empowered to establish an inclusive public process for the recruitment, screening, selection, and review of candidates.

The law, to take effect July 1, is very strong on educational accountability. Each Community Superintendent, once appointed by the Chancellor, is required to take action against the principals of failing schools. If not, the Chancellor may “remove a community superintendent who fails to comply with” all applicable laws, including “performance standards addressed by administration and effectiveness, and any requirements for continuing education and training.”

Presaging the Bloomberg-era emphasis on principal empowerment, the law reserves important powers to schools consistent with central and district policies. These include the authority to design and implement budgets; staff selection recommendations; curricula and syllabi; “teacher and staff development relevant to increasing pupil achievement, support extended day programs, school reform programs, and public support services;” make or arrange for minor building repairs; and purchase equipment and supplies if more inexpensive than system purchasing arrangements.

Parents, too, gain under the old statute which contains a number of explicit provisions making parent powers another key force in holding educators accountable and motivating them to act.  Parent involvement is one of three major criteria for evaluating principals’ performance, student achievement and school discipline being the other two.

I have my reasons for favoring mayoral control with changes. Part of the problem with the current debate over extension is its all-or-nothing posture. But advocates for mayoral control typically do a disservice to civic discourse by ignoring or mischaracterizing the reality of what would occur if mayoral control lapses. In its place would be a reform statute, curing many of the system’s previous ills, and setting forth a reasonable formula for educational accountability and effective management.

***

David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Educational Leadership, Law, and Policy at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center. Much of this analysis is based on his earlier study, co-authored with Bruce S. Cooper, “Re-Centralization or Strategic Management? A New Governance Model for the New York City Public Schools (Teachers College, Columbia University, 1998).

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
Balanced Approach Awaits Lapse of Mayoral Control Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Mayoral Control or Not, Calls Continue for Contracting Reform at City Department of Education http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7021:mayoral-control-or-not-calls-continue-for-contracting-reform-at-city-department-of-education http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7021:mayoral-control-or-not-calls-continue-for-contracting-reform-at-city-department-of-education 34245950295 dc5da482b5 z

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


New York City elected officials and independent watchdogs continue to voice concerns about the Department of Education’s transparency and contract procurement process. The issue became a flashpoint in the debate over mayoral control of New York City schools, which Albany lawmakers have yet to extend despite a June 30 expiration date. Like other powers over the schools, education-related contracting -- totaling billions of dollars per year -- has been centralized under the Mayor and the DOE through the mayoral control model of school governance.

In the recently adopted city budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, about one-third of the $85.2 billion of operating funding is allocated to the DOE. Most of that funding goes to personnel, but there is a significant sum, about $7 billion, which will be devoted to outside contracts. While there have been no major recent scandals, the process by which the DOE awards those contracts, as well as the availability of information about the contracts, continues to draw criticism.

Chief among those critics have been Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Contracts. They are joined by nonprofit leaders who have scrutinized DOE practices for years, including under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who first won mayoral control of city schools in 2002, ending the old Board of Education system. While there have been multiple high-profile contracting scandals, recently the concern has been a constant stream of smaller-scale, everyday contracts awarded without proper processes, critics say.

Stringer has repeatedly and publicly pressured the DOE to disclose more information and clean up its procurement practices. Most recently, Stringer did so in testimony to the City Council as the new budget was being debated. In part, Stringer said that as revenue growth to the city is slowing, there is heightened need for the DOE to be sufficiently scrupulous.

According to Stringer, the Department still does not pay enough attention to ensuring the DOE’s billions in contract funding is spent efficiently. “Time and time again, my office finds that current departmental processes are inadequate,” Stringer stated in his testimony, citing $6.7 billion for fiscal year 2018. “Whether it is through an audit of DOE or a review of DOE’s contracts, we find a lack of transparency and a lack of detail that is frightening when you are talking about billions of dollars earmarked for our children.”

“The DOE claims to have a system of checks and balances,” Stringer continued, “but if you dig into the details you will find a lack of independent review, a lack of accountability and whole lot of rubber stamps.”

Stringer also called the DOE “one of the least transparent agencies in the government,” adding he felt the DOE would “rather hide everything than open up their books." (Stringer’s statements were quickly used by state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, against Mayor Bill de Blasio in the mayoral control debate. The comptroller quickly reiterated his support for mayoral control in no uncertain terms.)

When pressed for specifics, a spokesperson for Stringer pointed to wasted funds on technology initiatives, failure to detect collusion to drive up prices by food suppliers, late release of 70% pre-kindergarten contract information prior to the 2014 school year, and overpaying on custodial supplies, which Stringer has pointed out over the last three-plus years since he took office as Comptroller and de Blasio became Mayor.

Along with these examples, there have been several other instances in which improper contracting practices have cost the city and harmed the DOE’s reputation. In 2008, the city Special Commission of Investigation (SCI) found the DOE had squandered $437,000 on payments to DynTek, a vendor for the DOE’s Department of Instructional and Information Technology which had been paying computer consultants employed by ERS Systems without the DOE’s authorization. “ERS billed DynTek for these services and DynTek, in turn, marked up these costs before billing the DOE,” according to the SCI. Three years later, a consultant Willard (Ross) Lanham was charged with funneling $3.6 million of DOE funds into his own pockets.

In 2015, Custom Computer Specialists, a contractor the DOE considered, almost received a $1.1 billion deal to provide hardware and software to schools despite questions about the size of the contract and process involved, as well as the firm's indirect connection to an overbilling scheme. Outcry, led by education activist Leonie Haimson and Council Member Rosenthal, killed the potential deal. Most recently, in May, the Comptroller’s office released an analysis that revealed that after spending over $347 million on upgrading internet services, 45 percent of teachers said their schools’ internet quality “did not meet their instructional needs,” a survey of middle school teachers found.

At a May City Council hearing regarding the 2018 budget, Rosenthal asked if the city Office of Management and Budget has unearthed similar problems to the ones in 2015, such as approval of “specious contracts.” “I would like to know that the OMB is doing a regular audit of its contracts,” Rosenthal said.

“I would want to know that the DOE is regularly being investigated,” said Rosenthal. “If we were to do that more systematically then we would have more available to us to spend on things we so desperately need.”

Rosenthal, who chairs the contracts committee and sits on the education committee, credits Haimson with calling attention to chronic DOE contracting deficiencies. As a response to Haimson bringing awareness to the issue, she has headed efforts to ignite change in the Department. Rosenthal, however, declined to explicitly comment on Stringer’s testimony, and separated herself from the Comptroller's narrative. The Manhattan Council member believes that the DOE has actually improved considerably of late in contracting and openness, especially since she's undertaken efforts to bend the department toward better practices.

“I do thank you for what’s been done,” Rosenthal said to Dean Fuleihan, Director of the OMB. She framed the situation by contending the previous mayoral administration had “dug a hole,” and the current one is in the process of getting New York City public education out of it.

"What I’ve seen is positive steps that have allowed for more oversight and transparency,” Rosenthal said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

The Upper West Side lawmaker emphasized that, in her view, DOE has allowed City Hall to both scrutinize the Department and collaborate with it. "They have made the contracting process more transparent...they have improved, I think, the oversight relationship with the city agencies,“ she said. Rosenthal noted that if capital and service contract costs rise, that information is now relayed to the City Council. "That's a big change.”

According to Rosenthal, contracting practice woes have been ameliorated and their details brought into the limelight in recent years, as evidenced by the Department beginning to post contract information online.

Still, while Rosenthal was clear that the DOE has progressed, there is room for improvement. "Is it perfect yet? Of course not,” she said. “But is it much better? Absolutely.” Rosenthal was optimistic about the prospect of additional improvements. She said the City Council and DOE have a “good constructive relationship moving forward.”

Nonetheless, Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit advocacy group, is not as satisfied with the DOE as Rosenthal. “The budget is still increasing with little or no transparency," Haimson said in an email to Gotham Gazette. By phone, Haimson expressed skepticism about how the DOE manages its enormous budget and its forthrightness in doing so.

“I am very disappointed in the whole process because we’ve been sounding the alarm for years now about the lack of transparency with these huge contracts that go through the PEP [Panel for Educational Policy],” she said.

The PEP is a body consisting of 13 members appointed by elected officials, predominantly by the Mayor. Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the Panel to replace the Board of Education after the city gained mayoral control of schools. The PEP is designed to conduct independent oversight of the Department of Education but has not necessarily functioned in that manner.

As the New York Post reported last summer, one former PEP member alleges the group is comprised of members who were not equipped to properly review the budget and were pressured into doing the Mayor’s bidding. And, in Haimson’s opinion, the PEP still does not properly vet contracts, allowing the DOE to act with impunity. "I don't think it’s ever turned down a contract in its existence,” Haimson said, referring to the reputation the PEP has as a rubber stamp, both on policy and contracting. "It hasn't gotten better in some ways and in many ways it has gotten worse," she said of the DOE overall.

The DOE engaging in sloppy, questionable dealings in secret is not new, said Haimson, who has worked as an education activist since the early aughts. Like Rosenthal, she alleges these problems became rampant under Mayor Bloomberg. “[A]s the budget rose dramatically and the oversight was more critical, Bloomberg didn't want any more scrutiny,” she said.

However, unlike Rosenthal, Haimson says the DOE’s forthcomingness has gotten worse, not better, with de Blasio at the helm. “Under Bloomberg, I was able to go to OMB meetings,” she said, alleging she had been barred from these meetings in recent years. "The fact that the Mayor’s Office has more oversight may be good. [But] [w]e don't even know," Haimson said. “There doesn't seem to be anyone looking over their shoulders," she said, adding that providing ample DOE oversight would necessitate an independent commission.

The Department of Education disputes claims that it is not careful or candid in its contracting processes. “Our procurement process is transparent and has strong oversight mechanisms, while delivering essential services to students and schools,” a DOE spokesperson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

Though not related to contracting practices, Council Member Ben Kallos introduced a bill in February that would require the DOE to more thoroughly disclose information about applications and enrollment to New York City public schools. The bill was pre-considered, and a hearing was held on it before it was introduced. 

"The bill has received some internal support, it has had its hearing and negotiations are ongoing to possibly move it forward," said a spokesperson for Kallos regarding the bill’s status.

A representative for City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the Committee on Education, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the status of the Kallos legislation, along with inquiries pertaining to DOE transparency and contracting practices.

“We have our own issue with DOE," Kallos’ spokesperson said. "Obviously Council Member Kallos wouldn’t have released the bill if [the DOE] was a model of transparency.”

Note: This article has been updated to clarify the status of the bill introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos.
Note: This article has been updated to more accurately depict the situation involving Custom Computer Specialists and a potential contract it was being considered for.

]]>
Mayoral Control or Not, Calls Continue for Contracting Reform at City Department of Education Thu, 22 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Taking the Wheel at Automotive High School http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6512:taking-the-wheel-at-automotive-high-school http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6512:taking-the-wheel-at-automotive-high-school KevinBryant1 800x658 

Kevin Bryant, the author


The challenges I’ve faced as both a teacher and a principal have not only shaped my approach to education, but they’ve defined my career and my accomplishments.

During my four years as the Principal of Frances Perkins Academy I always sought new ways to challenge myself, colleagues and staff, students, and their families. By setting high standards and pushing ourselves to meet them, our school realized our boundless potential to exceed our own expectations, and those laid out by others. This idea guided my tenure at Frances Perkins and it will continue to guide me as Master Principal of Automotive High School, where I’ll lead the day-to-day turnaround and still continue to support Frances Perkins. I’m at the point in my career where I know I can do this hard work.

Over the last two years Automotive High School has been under immense scrutiny as it was named one of the lowest performing schools in the city. As a principal on the same campus as Automotive, I’ve seen its staff and students in the hallways and in meetings. I’ve seen their strengths and the persistent challenges that exist. I see hope, promise, hard workers, and the tenacity to do better. I enter my new role clear-eyed, knowing full-well that the road to progress will not be easy, but that it starts with earning the trust of my new colleagues and students and setting specific goals that will challenge us as a school and help us strive toward excellence.

In setting these goals and benchmarks, we need to first acknowledge that economic, achievement, and opportunity gaps persist. These can only be bridged when our students, teachers, and parents have a safe and supportive environment that invites them to become active and willing partners in education.

At Frances Perkins, we implemented a program similar to an advisory, in which a student and teacher were paired and met regularly to discuss the student’s progress and address any issues the student might be facing, either in and out of the classroom. This program was rooted in trust and accountability: it offered a safe and consistent space where teachers expected their students to show up, and students expected teachers to be there for them. Ultimately, the program helped increase both student attendance and teacher retention. I also instituted an open-door policy for parents, ensuring they always had the opportunity to ask me questions, voice concerns, and remain up-to-date on their child’s progress.

At Automotive I again plan to address some of the school’s greatest challenges by strengthening the relationship between students and teachers, fostering greater collaboration with our community based organization, encouraging parents to play a greater role in our school.

I want staff and students to feel supported by the administration and by each other; I want parents to feel welcome in our school and invested in its success; and I want to instill in our school the idea that every student, regardless of their circumstances, is capable of excellence. I know from first-hand experience that these efforts will pave the way for stronger instruction, an increase in enrollment, higher teacher retention, and expanded career and technical education (CTE) programming—something Automotive has the tools and resources to truly excel in. These efforts will all address our shared goal of improved student performance, helping our young people open more doors for themselves in the future.

At times the tasks ahead will seem daunting and as the new principal of a Renewal School I expect scrutiny from our community and the media. However, I plan to use the attention we receive as an opportunity to challenge the perception of school turnaround and to highlight the change, progress, and growth that I know will take place at Automotive.

***
Kevin Bryant is Master Principal of Automotive High School.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
Taking the Wheel at Automotive High School Mon, 05 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
In the Age of De Blasio, A Bloomberg Era Small School Reunion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6502:in-the-age-of-de-blasio-a-bloomberg-era-small-school-reunion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6502:in-the-age-of-de-blasio-a-bloomberg-era-small-school-reunion reunion photo Andrea story1

reunion photo by Chrystina Russell, former principal of Global Tech


In July, I found myself back in the East Harlem cafeteria shared by Global Technology Preparatory and P.S. 7. The occasion for my visit was a reunion of Global Tech’s first class of eighth-graders, who were now, four years after their middle-school commencement, graduating from high school.

I was eager to return and see how the students had fared. I knew from my ongoing contacts with the school and its students that several had endured more than their fair share of tragedy, including homelessness, violence and depression, and yet many were getting ready to go to college. There were, however, at least two boys who would not make it to graduation because they were at Rikers Island.

Global Tech, as the middle school became known, was one of the first public schools that I began to follow as part of my research on how business ideas, especially those of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would influence K-12 education. I was curious to see how a school that was seen, in many ways, as a Bloomberg-era success story was faring under the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, and his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña. A number of changes, some driven by the new administration’s desire to merge small schools—a major departure from Bloomberg policy—foreshadowed significant shifts at the school.

I learned about Global Tech when I served on the New York State Regents’ Committee to redraft the ELA standards, and shared train rides back from Albany to the city with Jackie Pryce-Harvey, one of the few educators on the committee who was both African-American and who taught in the inner-city. (The committee’s proposal was jettisoned when New York adopted the Common Core.) At the time, Pryce-Harvey was getting ready to launch Global Tech with her friend Chrystina Russell.

Pryce-Harvey and Russell had met in the New York City Teaching Fellows program and hit it off immediately—though they were an unlikely team. Pryce-Harvey, an immigrant from Jamaica, was in her 50s when she and Russell launched the technology-focused middle school in East Harlem. Pryce-Harvey’s technological skills didn’t extend much beyond sending emails.

Russell, by contrast, was 28 at the time they opened their school, and came from Muskegon, MI, an affluent white town, and a family of staunch Republicans. When it came to education, there was little about traditional schooling that Russell wanted for her kids; poor, inner-city, children of color should have access to the best technology because once they learn how to use the web and become thoughtful consumers of online information, they don’t have to worry as much about not knowing the texts written by old white men, she was sure.

However, both women were part of a generation of educators who had developed their careers in the wake of New York City’s small-schools movement, which dates back at least to Tony Alvarado and Debbie Meier’s “Miracle in Harlem,” which began in District 4 in the 1970s, and was newly embraced by Bloomberg.

Global Tech joined the administration’s “Innovation Zone,” or iZone initiative, to use “new” approaches to education, including digital technology and more flexible class schedules, such as longer learning blocks and extended school days, to improve student engagement and performance. (Flexible class schedules had actually been pioneered in  New York City years before the Bloomberg administration.)

Many early iZone schools dropped out of the program. But Global Tech thrived, and the school eagerly signed onto Chancellor Joel Klein’s grand bargain of increased autonomy in exchange for accountability. But, in the Alvarado-Meier tradition, Russell and Pryce-Harvey also saw their school as a collaborative venture in which they would work closely with both teachers and their community.

Both women were also trained as special education teachers and were committed to welcoming kids with special needs and mainstreaming them. Surrounded by charter schools, the special needs population at Global Tech - as at many neighboring Harlem schools - climbed sharply, from about 30 percent its first year to over 40 percent in recent years. Global Tech is a universal Title I school full of students from low-income households; almost all its students are black and Latino.

Pryce-Harvey was willing to help mid-wife the new school and to serve as the unofficial assistant principal—at least until she completed the administrator’s certification she would soon start working on. But, she was already planning her retirement and was sure she was not prepared to run the show. Instead, she encouraged Russell, who had graduated from the NYC Leadership Academy, a Bloomberg-era principal training program, to take the lead at their school, which featured a one-to-one student-to-laptop computer model.

And so it was that during the summer of 2009 the two women began hosting Sunday brunches in Pryce-Harvey’s Harlem brownstone for about half-a-dozen teachers who were hoping to teach at the school. None would be officially hired until the end of the summer. As Pryce-Harvey’s frequent travel companion to Albany, she invited me to attend the brunches and watch the school incubate.

The brunch participants included Jhonary Bridgemohan, who had once dreamed of becoming a mortician, but was now teaching English-Language Arts, as well as David Baiz, who had been rated “unsatisfactory” at the South Bronx school where he was then teaching, and feared he would be unfairly forced out.

Both Baiz and Bridgemohan had been mentored by Pryce-Harvey at PS/MS 4 in the South Bronx, which all three described as utterly dysfunctional and were eager to escape.

Now, seven years later, Russell has moved on to other educational ventures. (She first helped launch a hybrid university in Kigali, Rwanda, for Kepler, an educational nonprofit, and recently became a vice president at Southern New Hampshire University.)

Russell’s tenure at Global Tech serves, at least in part, as a commentary on the limits of the Bloomberg/Klein efforts to rein in the educational bureaucracy. Making the most of the autonomy-for-accountability bargain the administration promised, she raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in private funding for Global Tech from companies like GE and Cisco and invested in a slew of opportunities for her kids, including an extended day program via Citizens Schools and an arrangement with Computers for Youth, which, for a time, provided a home computer for every Global Tech child.

An inveterate rule breaker, Russell also would field 27 bureaucratic investigations during her three years as Global Tech principal, though all but one would eventually be dismissed. The lone remaining charge—that fearing the loss of a treasured school secretary, an education-department veteran with both strong people skills and deep knowledge of bureaucratic arcana, when her family moved to Connecticut, Russell used privately raised funds to subsidize the secretary’s train tickets to work.

When I asked Russell, recently, if she could ever see herself back in the public school system, she responded elliptically: “The Bloomberg-Klein years were the ones for me.”

Russell groomed David Baiz as her successor. She had once said of Baiz: “David is skilled; he’s always moving forward.” “[H]e gives 125 percent” virtually every day, she added.

Baiz’s accomplishments at Global Tech were considerable. He helped win the school thousands of dollars in grants and served as its de facto technology guru. A nationally recognized math teacher, he won a prestigious Math for America fellowship complete with a $15,000-per-year stipend. And he was selected as one of six New York City teachers to be part of the Digital Teacher Corps, a Ford Foundation-funded collaboration among educators, technologists, and designers to develop interactive digital learning tools. He was also beloved by students and respected by his colleagues.

Meanwhile, Pryce-Harvey has taken over as principal of P.S. 7, the K-to-8 school that shares a building with Global Tech.

The promotions of Baiz and Pryce-Harvey are a testament to Global Tech’s reputation. During 2012-2013, the school’s third year, and the last year for which such data is available—the de Blasio administration discontinued school grades as well as test-score comparisons among “peer” schools—Global Tech’s student growth scores were far above “peer schools” in both ELA and math. The scores were especially high for kids in the “bottom third” of their classes.

In math, the “growth scores” of the bottom-third of Global Tech students almost equaled the performance of a comparable cohort of students citywide—that is schools with both affluent and poor children. Global Tech also enjoyed a 94 percent attendance rate, far above “peer” schools. The school earned an “A” for the student progress portion of the report card, which measures how much individual students improved over the previous year, and a “highly developed” on the academic rigor portion of the evaluation.

Moreover, virtually everyone loved the school. On its Learning Environment Surveys, Global Tech scored well over 90 percent on almost every measure of parent, teacher, and student satisfaction.

But the future of Global Tech also could turn out to be a referendum on the leadership of Carmen Fariña, who is not particularly keen on small schools, and is reputed never to have met a Bloomberg-era innovation that she likes.

Even as Baiz and Russell, who had just returned from Rwanda, were hastily putting together the reunion, the future of the school is uncertain.

For the reunion, close to half of the 60-or-so students in Global Tech’s first cohort showed up in the school’s cafeteria, as well as most of the teachers who taught that first year, including a few who have moved on to other jobs. Many of Global Tech’s alums have been visiting the school throughout high school for help with homework, SAT prep, or just a chance to visit with teachers who have served as their mentors since middle school. During close to two dozen visits to the school during the past two years, Global Tech alums have been a clear, regular presence.

Almost every alum at the reunion said she or he was going on to college—in most cases community college. Pryce-Harvey explained that four-year college was out of reach for most Global Tech alums unless they received hefty scholarships.

Kaira was a stand-out in her Global Tech class, and served as valedictorian of her graduating class at the iSchool, another flagship Bloomberg venture. She had dreamed of attending Stanford University, but as an undocumented student who has spent much of her teen years without a fixed address—and sometimes homeless—she is instead going to John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York.

To hear Kaira tell it, school, especially at Global Tech, has been a refuge and a beacon. “It may be that I’m struggling with a problem in English class or math, but it’s nothing like whatever struggle I deal with at home,” Kaira said. “It’s easier to find solutions” to those academic problems, than the ones she faces in her personal life.

“My education has always been a therapeutic experience,” she said. “That place where I can escape.”

Kaira sings the praises of her iSchool teachers who held regular after-school office hours. But in her sophomore year, when she needed help with her American history Regents exam, she turned to her old math teacher, Mr. Baiz. Later, he helped her with AP English, “which is bizarre,” says the 18-year-old with a big smile.

For Kaira, teachers like Baiz and Bridgemohan have been a much needed anchor. Global Tech is also the place where she learned to dream big and to believe that she might be able to go to college.

Tabitha, Kaira’s classmate both at the iSchool and at Global Tech, also leaned on her middle-school teachers when times got tough. When Tabitha landed in a homeless shelter in her junior year of high school and suffered from depression, she fell behind in her school work. But she kept showing up occasionally at Global Tech. Baiz worried that Tabitha might not finish high school and consulted with the iSchool’s administration. Tabitha, too, succeeded in graduating and is planning on attending community college.

Miguel said of himself, at the reunion, that he had been a “horrible student” at Global Tech, one who was “always suspended”—though the suspensions usually involved doing his school work in Russell’s office. He transferred in and out of high schools, but eventually got his GED. He’s now enrolling in CUNY’s BMCC and planning to major in business management.

Raimi was one of several Global Tech students who got into Manhattan Hunter Science High, which has an early college arrangement that allows seniors to take college courses at Hunter College during their senior year. Raimi now has a four-year scholarship to Hunter College.

Raven, another Global Tech student who got into Manhattan Hunter Science, regularly sought out Baiz both for help with her math homework and for much needed advice as, for example, when she decided to transfer to a less competitive high school. Raven is taking a gap year and thinking of joining the military.

Quentin went from Global Tech to Cardinal Hayes, which he described as a “really good” Catholic school; but when the tuition fees got too high for his mom, he transferred to Life Sciences Secondary School. He found the transition from private school back to public school “difficult,” he says. He “got too comfortable,” but snapped back at the “last second.” He says he’s going to Monroe College in New Rochelle. His goal, he says without prompting, is “to take my mom out of the ‘hood.” 

Ismauri attended Manhattan Business Academy High and is going to the College of Staten Island. Travis is going to New York City Tech, a four-year CUNY college. Kamarthi got a basketball scholarship to attend SUNY Buffalo. Adonia is going to St. Francis in Brooklyn.

Dariya and Dariel, a sister-brother duo, are both going to Dutchess Community College. Dariya is planning to become a cosmetologist. Her brother, Dariel, has been completing a vocational program in auto mechanics and working in an auto shop through high school; he plans to become a mechanic.

Several students who didn’t get word of the reunion in time or couldn’t attend also are headed to college, among them David and Derek.

“Global Tech is a real family,” said Maria, one of the only parents who attended the reunion, there with her daughter, Amanda, who will be attending Guttman Community College in the Fall. “Of all the schools Amanda went to, this was the one with heart,” Maria said.

Yet, not all Global Tech graduates have overcome the considerable obstacles these kids face—including the gangs that rule the housing projects where many of them live. Two boys from the inaugural Global Tech class are in jail at Rikers Island awaiting sentencing. News of what had happened to a boy named Franklin hit Russell and Pryce-Harvey particularly hard. “I'm devastated,” emailed Russell when she first got the news this Spring. “Love that kid. And wow did Jackie and I ever spend a lot of time with him and his family.”

Russell and Pryce-Harvey both visited Franklin at Rikers and Russell showed up in court. Russell, who says she considers Franklin’s incarceration a “personal failure,” has petitioned the judge to allow her to take Franklin with her to Boston—and away from bad influences in his neighborhood; she wants to enroll him in a GED program and, eventually, at Southern New Hampshire University. She is awaiting the court’s decision. Russell says of Franklin: “He has no hate in his heart. And he is so smart.”

In a letter he wrote to the judge while he was incarcerated at Rikers, Franklin pleaded for the opportunity to finish his education.

The reunion in the Global Tech cafeteria had the air of celebration. Most of the students had kept up with at least one or two teachers from the school. Some had attended earlier pizza parties for alums. But there were hugs and high-fives as kids who hadn’t seen each other in four years reconnected.

Yet, unbeknownst to its alumni, Global Tech faces an uncertain future. In a reversal of Bloomberg’s small-schools policy, Farina plans to merge dozens of small schools, arguing that mergers will create economies of scale and allow schools to offer more programs.

Rumors that a new District 4 superintendent, Alexandra Estrella, was planning to merge Global Tech and P.S. 7 began swirling over a year ago. At the time, P.S. 7 was run by Sameer Talati, whose once cordial relationship with Global Tech had begun to deteriorate. According to several people close to Global Tech, Baiz suggested to Talati that they propose merging the two middle schools under Global Tech’s leadership and that Talati continue running the P.S. 7 elementary school. Talati,  however, is said to have made a bid to run both schools.

Many educators familiar with Harlem schools consider Global Tech to be the stronger school, and urged Baiz to fight to lead any merger. Somewhat belatedly, Baiz, whose strengths as an educator do not include bureaucratic politics, was persuaded to make the case that Global Tech should be the lead school in a merger.

Talati eventually moved to DOE headquarters. Pryce-Harvey was appointed interim principal at P.S. 7. Baiz, for now, remains in charge of Global Tech.

But the ground under Global Tech continues to shift. The rumors of a merger still abound. Meanwhile, Baiz was turned down for tenure and the school’s most recent quality review, dated 2014-2015, was decidedly mediocre even though more than one experienced educator has referred to him as “one of the best principals in Harlem.”

On the only “quality review” posted by the DOE under Fariña, Global Tech earned a “developing”—the second lowest on a four-point scale—on two of five evaluation criteria, and a “proficient” on three criteria. The school did not earn a single “well developed”—the highest rating—not even for school culture, even though, since its inception, Global Tech has scored off-the-charts school-environment surveys.

By contrast, the administration gave P.S. 7, under Talati, six ‘proficients,’ four ‘well-developeds,’ and no ‘developings’ on his last quality review in 2013-2014, on a slightly more detailed rubric than the one used by the DOE the following year.

Similarly, on P.S. 7’s next quality review, which took place just two months after Pryce-Harvey took over, the school received four ‘proficients,’ one ‘well-developed,’ and no ‘developings.’

Baiz’s mistake, says one educator close to the school, was that he didn’t “play the game,” relying on the reviewer to look at the students “digital portfolios” where students keep copies of their work.

Russell also believes that Baiz’s reluctance to fight the planned takeover by P.S. 7 may have been “viewed as weakness” by the superintendent.

Whatever the case, Pryce-Harvey, at P.S. 7, had carefully prepared for her review, having her teachers refine lesson plans to show, among other things, how they reflected administrator observations and feedback and how that feedback had positively impacted student performance on, say, test scores. The revised lesson plans were then placed, along with other school data, in two binders, each three-to-four inches thick, neatly separated by tabs listing key elements of the quality-review rubric—including curriculum, parent engagement, and teacher evaluations.

New York City educators loved to hate the Bloomberg/Klein administration, with its penchant for serial reorganizations and its army of MBAs. At the same time, some of the city’s best principals conceded that the businessman-mayor’s school administration had made their lives easier. For principals who survived the New York City iZone’s many incarnations, or who had inherited the small-school mantel from Meier and Alvarado, the Bloomberg years were an opportunity to experiment with some relief from bureaucratic control.

However, the Bloomberg/Klein era was also one of creative destruction, which has been described by insiders as a deliberate Humpty Dumpty strategy—one designed to break the education bureaucracy such that it could never be put back together again. If so, the strategy has proved short-lived.

Under the de Blasio/Farina administration, according to many city educators, micromanagement is once again rampant. Even the most prized power conferred on principals by Klein—control over their budgets—has not proved sacrosanct. For example, when Baiz sought to promote Bridgemohan, his long-time colleague, to fill Pryce-Harvey’s shoes as assistant principal, Estrella is said to have nixed the plan. It was the sort of interference in principal decision making unprecedented in Global Tech’s seven year history.

Estrella did not return repeated requests for an interview.

Many seasoned educators have voted with their feet. Spurred by new testing and teacher-evaluation mandates, as well as dismay over meddling by a newly muscular central administration, several veteran principals retired or transferred to new jobs at the end of the Bloomberg administration and beginning of the de Blasio administration. Many of those who remain report feeling increasingly frustrated, especially by what they describe as the new administration’s micromanagement.

For Global Tech, one of the few certainties is that as long as Baiz and the school’s long-time teachers remain, they will continue to serve a much needed support for students and alums.

PRIOR COVERAGE OF GLOBAL TECH, THE IZONE, & MORE FROM ANDREA GABOR:

A Harlem Middle School Bets on Technology

City Schools Gamble on Going Digitial

In the Waning Months of Bloomberg's Tenure, A Signature Education Innovation is at a Crossroads

When Making a Great Teacher is a Team Effort

***
Andrea Gabor is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College/CUNY and is working on a new book on education reform. On Twitter @aagabor.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
In the Age of De Blasio, A Bloomberg Era Small School Reunion Sun, 28 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
DOE School Survey Shows High Marks, Contrasts with Public Polling http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6473:doe-school-survey-shows-high-marks-contrasts-with-public-polling http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6473:doe-school-survey-shows-high-marks-contrasts-with-public-polling de Blasio Farina student test scores

Mayor, Chancellor & Student (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


In 2007, New York City administered its first comprehensive survey on school satisfaction levels among students, parents, and teachers in the city’s vast public school system. That year, the Department of Education received just under 600,000 responses. In 2016, with the survey in its tenth year, the number of responses totaled over 1 million for the first time. It was also the first year that parents and teachers involved in the de Blasio administration’s new “Pre-K for All” program were included among the survey’s respondents.

The results of the survey are usually quite positive and this year was no exception, leading the DOE to celebrate the responses as validation of programming gone right. In the DOE’s press release announcing the 2016 survey results, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said, “As we work towards equity and excellence in every public school across the City, parents are our partners, and it’s great to see over one million New Yorkers – including a record number of parents – sharing their input. Together, we’ll continue the progress we’ve made and make New York City the best urban school district in the nation.”

While the DOE survey suggests students, parents, and teachers are highly satisfied with New York City public schools, a recent Quinnipiac poll conducted suggests that not all New Yorkers agree. According to the poll, 60 percent of New Yorkers are dissatisfied with New York City public schools while 25 percent are satisfied. (The remaining 15% answered that they don’t know.) A higher percentage of respondents said they prefer privately-run public charter schools to traditional public schools.

According the Department of Education website, the purpose of the survey is to aid schools in identifying aspects of its learning environment that need improvement and ensure that schools continue to foster elements of their learning environments that are satisfactory to students, parents, and teachers alike. While the survey provides the DOE with at least some helpful data, there are questions about its usefulness, format, and cost.

There are three different versions of the NYC School Survey -- one each for students, parents, and teachers. This year, 81 percent of teachers, 83 percent of students, and 51 percent of parents in community schools across the city responded to the survey. The response rates increased by one percentage point from the 2015 survey for both students and parents and remained the same for teachers.

Parents’ overall satisfaction with their children’s schools continued to be extremely high. When asked “How satisfied” they were with “The education my child has received this year,” 95 percent of those who took the survey responding that they are “very satisfied” or “satisfied.” That figure has remained constant at 95 percent since 2013. Students recorded high levels of satisfaction with their schools as well, with 80 percent of student respondents recording that they either “strongly agree” or “agree” with the statement, “My school offers a wide enough variety of programs, classes and activities to keep me interested in school.” Additionally, 80 percent of students felt supported by teachers in their preparations for their post-graduation plans.

Other specific questions relate to school environment (e.g. school cleanliness, personal safety while at school, bullying among classmates); the quality of academic instruction; level of support among teachers and school leadership; and ease of communication among all parties. While some questions appear on all three surveys with slight variations, some questions are particular to each group. For example, only parents are asked the question of what improvements they would like to see at their school (as in their child’s school).

Many survey questions ask respondents to note how much they agree with a series of statements. Other questions use a similar format but measure the frequency of a certain behavior or condition - for example, “How often do students in your class(es) work in small groups?” Some are formatted as multiple choice questions with specific responses to questions like, “Which improvements would you most like your schools to make?”

The cost of conducting the 2016 survey was approximately $1.85 million.

Elements of school quality are evaluated through the DOE’s Framework for Great Schools, a tool of analysis that looks at six aspects of a school’s learning environment -- rigorous instruction, supportive environment, collaborative teachers, effective school leadership, strong family and community ties, and trust -- to determine its ability to foster student achievement. The Framework for Great Schools was adopted in 2015, the 2016 schools survey reflects only the second year of results based on the new evaluation framework adopted by the DOE under Chancellor Farina.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on reducing class size in New York City schools, said that the Framework for Great Schools is a well-intentioned model, but she believes it is an ineffective tool in practice.

“The original concept, this Framework of Great Schools that came out of Chicago, was very useful…[it] came out of this study by Tony Bryk that looked at schools in Chicago, and he looked at which ones had strong Local School Councils and which ones did not, and the ones that had Local School Councils -- which really devolved a lot of decision-making to the school level and it included parents as the majority members -- had better results,” Haimson told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview.

“Now this administration has a lot of PR about parent involvement, but I can tell you that they have not empowered a School Leadership Team to the degree that they need to. School Leadership Teams -- unlike in Chicago -- do not have the power in New York City, don’t have any authority over principal selection or even really principal evaluation, and a lot of other things. They’re really disempowered.”

According to the DOE, research from the Chicago Consortium on School Research was one source used to formulate the Framework for Great Schools, but it was not the only source. And while the DOE’s Framework was created using research from outside sources, the DOE says that the final product is an analysis tool tailored specifically for the New York City school system.

Prior to the creation of the Framework for Great Schools the city school survey evaluated schools based on four elements of a school’s learning environment: academic expectations, communication, engagement, and safety and respect.

While the majority of the survey’s questions are designed to assess schools based on the six elements of the Framework for Great Schools, some questions are considered “informational.”

One informational question consistently posed to parents has garnered a largely consistent response since the survey’s creation. When parents are asked the question of what they would most like to see improved in their child’s school, “smaller class size” and “more enrichment programs” have been in or near the top two most wanted improvements almost every year that the survey has been given. Also featured at or near the top for many years are “more preparation for state tests” and “more hands-on learning.”

Despite consistently high satisfaction levels among parents with city schools overall, the fact that these improvements continue to be parents’ top requests year after year may be indicative of a lack of meaningful action taken on these requests by school leadership.

There are also questions about the consistency of the survey itself. In 2015, the question of potential improvements wasn’t offered to parents for the first time since the survey was created in 2007, but it was reintroduced in the 2016 survey, and, for the first time, the term “enrichment programs” was explained in the question using examples.

David Bloomfield, professor of education at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, questions the usefulness of survey questions posed to parents about improvements, such as smaller class sizes, given the constraints with which the Department of Education operates.

“The DOE is clearly not flexible about class size arrangements, which it makes because of the size of schools, the size of classrooms, the size of the budget. It’s a persistent problem that doesn’t change just because parents put it high on their list of priorities in a survey, so what use is that?” Bloomfield said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette.

While the survey serves to evaluate satisfaction by key stakeholders with individual schools and identify a school’s problem areas, the larger system that directly influences individual schools is left out of the equation. The questions posed to students, parents, and teachers on the surveys are related almost exclusively to the individual school and the members and leadership of that individual school. Only two questions asked of parents and seven questions asked of teachers were directly related to the wider New York City school system, run out of the Department of Education, under the Mayor, and there were no questions pertaining to statewide policies such as Common Core Learning Standards or teacher performance evaluations.

Haimson believes that while general questions about parent and teacher satisfaction with broader government and education policy aren’t necessary, asking specific questions on education issues that directly affect students, parents, and teachers would be useful.

“I think is an important question when so much of what’s happening during the school day are driven by these federal or state mandates,” said Haimson.

From 2012 to 2014, the survey given to teachers included questions on the implementation of the Common Core and state assessments, but starting in 2015, Common Core and assessment questions were no longer included. Additionally, on the 2013 and 2014 surveys, parents were asked to record how much they agreed with the statement, “My child’s school...helps me understand what the Common Core learning standards mean for my child…” The 2015 and 2016 parent surveys did not include this question.

According to the DOE, the questions about the Common Core that appeared on previous surveys were included to evaluate the implementation of the then new instruction method. On more recent surveys, there have been questions pertaining to Common Core instruction, though the specific term “Common Core” has not been included.

While certain questions have been changed or taken out of the survey in recent years, a new series of questions was added in 2016. Parents and teachers involved with Mayor de Blasio’s “Pre-K for All” program were given surveys this year for the first time in the survey’s history (the students are four years old and not given surveys, which only go to students in grades 6 through 12). While the rates of parent satisfaction on every aspect of the pre-K program exceeded 90 percent, the response rate for both parents and teachers was low, at 47 percent and 69 percent, respectively.

“The NYC School Survey is a critical, research-based tool for getting the feedback of over one million parents, teachers, and students, and using that feedback to improve our schools. This year’s results recognize the hard work and dedication of school leaders and teachers, and will guide schools as they continue to make progress and work towards equity and excellence,” said the DOE in a statement made available to Gotham Gazette via email.

High marks from parents on pre-K and the high marks recorded across all public schools in New York City may reflect general satisfaction, but Professor Bloomfield doesn’t believe they confirm with any certainty that the survey is a valuable tool for New Yorkers.

“I think there’s a bigger question as to whether it’s worth all the money, time, and effort that it takes to put out the survey as relative to its worth,” Bloomfield said. “It becomes a very hard thing and a PR problem for any mayor or chancellor who would cut back on the survey, but is it really worth it?”

***
by Libby Wetzler, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
DOE School Survey Shows High Marks, Contrasts with Public Polling Tue, 09 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Pre-K Offers Parents Opportunity at Economic Gain http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6326:pre-k-offers-parents-opportunity-at-economic-gain http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6326:pre-k-offers-parents-opportunity-at-economic-gain families queens library mayor's visit

Scene at the Queens Library (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Three years after Bill de Blasio promised universal pre-kindergarten in his mayoral campaign, New York City alone has more enrolled preschoolers than any other state except for Georgia. The city’s free Pre-K For All program received interest from 6,500 families on its first day of accepting applications in 2014. Now more than 68,000 children are enrolled in the rapidly expanding initiative.

Ninety-two percent of parents surveyed by a city-contracted research firm rate the Pre-K For All program as good or excellent, citing educational and behavioral benefits for their children. Years of research has found high-quality preschool programs to be especially beneficial to children of low-income families, children with disabilities, and children of color, since all often face learning gaps when entering kindergarten. Though there is concern about pre-K gains being lost by third grade, the de Blasio administration is attempting to run a program and larger education system that sets and keeps students on a stronger trajectory.

While the main focus of pre-K has been and will be student learning and development, a universal pre-kindergarten program also has significant potential benefits for working parents and the economy. It is a secondary positive that Mayor de Blasio and his team don’t often cite, but have referenced on several occasions over the years.

“Every child, regardless of their family’s means or the zip code they call home, will have access to a life-changing early education,” de Blasio said at a press conference on the first day of this school year, in September. “Because of Pre-K for All, tens of thousands of children will do better in school, be more likely to graduate high school, and be better prepared for college and beyond.”

UPK was de Blasio’s number one campaign pledge and a key cog in his promise to create more equity in New York City. The more immediate economic benefits for parents and the economy also stand to help shrink the socioeconomic and opportunity gaps that the mayor has targeted.

The pre-K program is “saving parents money and helping them work,” de Blasio stated in a press release urging families to apply to pre-K early this year, but only after saying that “This is one of the best choices any family will ever make for a child.” At several press conferences, though, de Blasio has mentioned this secondary benefit of the UPK program, stressing parents’ ability to save on child care expenses, find a job, or pick up more work hours.

In 2012, Pew Research Center found that New York was the most expensive state for four-year-old and school-age child care. “The average family saves $10,000 per year in childcare costs through the free Pre-K for All program,” the de Blasio administration says. For low-income families, the elimination of this financial burden is especially significant.

Middle-income families also benefit from UPK because they don’t qualify for federally funded programs like Head Start, and are still unable to afford tuition for private preschools or child care. Some have questioned if the city should be subsidizing upper-middle- or upper-class families’ pre-school costs by making the additional grade universal.

“If a family needs to cover child care for the day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., even if pre-K is only from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and they have to pay for after care, it still defrays the cost,” said Katie Hamm, Senior Director of Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress.

The Center for American Progress found that before the city’s UPK program existed, more than one-third of New York families waitlisted for child care assistance lost their jobs or were unable to work. A similar study in Los Angeles reported that a lack of affordable and reliable child care forces working parents to face lost hours and wages and low employment rates, which is estimated to cost L.A. County almost $600 million in economic activity every year.

The report also states that working mothers are disproportionately affected when there are no viable child care options. As Los Angeles preschools face steep funding cuts, the report estimates that the loss of affordable preschool seats will cause 6,000 working mothers to give up about 1.5 million work hours, costing them an annual total of $24.9 million in lost wages, or $4,150 per working mother.

With consistent child care, mothers are twice as likely to keep their jobs, according to research by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Another study suggests that government-funded preschool programs could increase the employment rate of mothers by 10 percent.

“Enabling more women to work by improving access to child care can help mitigate the gender wage gap and reduce a mother’s likelihood of going on public assistance,” wrote Center for American Progress researchers in a report on preschool and working mothers.

A working mother and Bushwick resident, Rocio Espada, says she was able to keep her job because of New York City’s pre-K program. Espada is a member of advocacy group Make the Road New York and a single mother of four children. She worked at a restaurant to support her family while her youngest daughter was enrolled in public preschool.

“Without public pre-K, I would’ve had to stay home with her or found a way to pay a babysitter,” Espada said in a phone interview. “Public pre-K is the best thing the city government has done so far. It’s a big relief.”

Espada found that public preschool was the best option for her daughter because she was not only taken care of while Espada had to work, but she was also beginning her education and learning how to interact with other children. Using babysitters or private child care does not have the same educational benefits for children. At the same time, many are eagerly waiting to more formally measure how much academic and social impact pre-K is having on the children who participate.

While the city has indeed enrolled almost 70,000 four-year-olds in pre-K, as of this past fall more than 6,000 are still in full-time child care instead, according to the Independent Budget Office. This care is provided through vouchers given to families with young children receiving cash assistance and participating in work training programs or qualifying low-income working families. The vouchers can be used for the child care option of the family’s choice, which lack the educational foundation that comes with preschool.

After criticism that the initial expansion of UPK focused on wealthier families, the city has focused outreach on low-income families, like those eligible for vouchers. Last year, children from low-income families accounted for more than half of the program’s enrollment. In a phone interview, Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack said the program will continue expanding until it can offer a seat to every child in New York City and give all families access to educational child care.

While the pre-K program continues to grow, the city has contracted Metis Consulting Group, Westat research firm, and researchers from New York University to track how the program is benefiting children and parents. Part of their research will include the economic well-being of families and their ability to participate in the workforce. With the second school year of the expanded pre-K program almost complete and enrollment for the third year continuing, more data is becoming available.

Many will be watching not only for metrics from those hired to track UPK, but for students’ third grade test scores - state standardized tests in English Language Arts and math begin in third grade - especially the comparison between UPK participants and nonparticipants from the same year or prior years.

The city and DOE view quality early childhood education as an investment in the public school system as well as an important aspect of developing the economy, Wallack said.

“Pre-K itself is an investment that the city is making in our children that will go on to help build the city going forward,” Wallack said. “It’s an investment that we’re making in the economy of New York City, both because of the immediate effects of helping families participate in the workforce, but also in helping a whole generation of students do even better in school and then go on to participate in the economy of New York City in the next generation.”

***
by Carmen Russo, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette @carmenjrusso

]]>
Pre-K Offers Parents Opportunity at Economic Gain Wed, 11 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Push for a Better Mayor's Management Report Continues http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6270:push-for-a-better-mayors-management-report-continues http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6270:push-for-a-better-mayors-management-report-continues 311-cust-serv 


The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations held an oversight hearing on Wednesday to evaluate the structure and content of two annual city reports that measure everything from the wait times on 311 calls and the conditions of city parks to the number of unsheltered homeless people and traffic crashes in the city each year. These key performance indicators help the City Council and the public keep city agencies and offices accountable. Those agencies, in turn, rely on these reports to improve their policies and functioning.

The administration releases two detailed reports each year - the Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report (PMMR), two weeks after the January financial plan, and the Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), in September. The reports include evaluations of annual goals set by 41 city agencies and 3 non-mayoral agencies that report directly to the Mayor, and whether these agencies are succeeding or failing to meet their objectives.

Wednesday’s hearing, the third one held by the governmental operations committee on this issue, gave Council members an opportunity to delve into the process of how agency goals are included in the reports and to reiterate their request for adding more data to future reports. Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee, highlighted some of the key concerns the Council has about a lack of clarity in certain agency goals, agency indicators with no set targets, and the need to directly link agency performance with corresponding budget allocations.

The PMMR and MMR are produced over six to eight weeks by the Mayor’s Office of Operations (MOO). About 10 MOO staff members work with more than 150 senior staff across the agencies, including deputy mayors and agency commissioners, and coordinate efforts with City Hall to release the final products, which detail agency goals and indicators of whether those goals are being met year after year.

There are 1649 metrics by which agency performance is tracked in the two reports. Examples include quality-of-life summonses issued by the New York Police Department, the number of people on the city’s cash assistance rolls, the average daily attendance in city schools, and the number of families entering the city’s homeless shelter system.

The report tracked the NYPD’s goal to reduce the number of quality-of-life violations, a critical indicator without a set target. The four-month numbers (the timeframe for the PMMR) fell from 142,434 in Fiscal 2015 to 125, 685 in Fiscal 2016.

Under the Department of Education’s performance, the report looked at average daily attendance in city schools, which surpassed the 91.7 percent target in Fiscal 2016 (93.2 percent) and Fiscal 2015 (93.5 percent). Similarly, the report showed that the Department of Homeless Services had been successful in reducing the number of adult families entering the shelter system from 521 families to 466.

The data, which is available on an interactive website, includes comparisons with previous years, five-year trends and a look at desired directions for performance. This year’s PMMR data was also available on the city’s Open Data Portal, providing public access to all the information collected under the report. Kallos, an ardent supporter of transparent and accessible information and technology, praised MOO for this effort.

“We really take care not to take a one-size-fits-all approach to targets and indicators in the PMMR and MMR,” said Mindy Tarlow, MOO director, at one point during Wednesday’s hearing. “We try to see each indicator and each agency as a complex diverse case that’s in some ways reflective of the complex diverse city that we’re monitoring and reporting on.”

City Council members took turns questioning Tarlow and her colleague Tina Chiu, deputy director for performance management. The members usually stuck with issues germane to issue committees they chair or sit on, but the larger concerns voiced at the hearing were about the lack of targets for many critical performance indicators and the ways in which targets are set and the reports are improved.

Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the government operations committee, commended MOO for changes they had made to the PMMR based on recommendations from a December 2015 hearing about how targets were defined in the reports. This year’s PMMR included a more nuanced description of targets, which can be numeric or directional. Numeric targets set expected performance levels including a maximum that should not be exceeded or a minimum level that should be met. Directional targets indicate whether an indicator should go up or down. Many indicators had no target at all, which gave cause for concern to Kallos and Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, who testified at the hearing.

When Kallos asked why certain indicators had no targets, citing the number of lawsuits brought against the city as an example, Tarlow clarified that many of these indicators are “neutral” statistics out of their control, such as certain population numbers, for which it’s impossible to set directional targets.

“Although the committee is pleased that some improvements have been made,” Kallos said in his opening statement, “our review of the most recent PMMR suggests that further changes could make both of these publications more helpful tools for the Council, the public, as well as  the agencies.”

The City Council, in its Monday response to the mayor’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017, identified 57 indicators across 18 agencies that they want included in the MMR going forward. Kallos brought this up at the hearing, specifically pointing to indicators for the Board of Standards and Appeals, which falls under the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which is under Kallos’ committee’s oversight. He also mentioned a City Council data study that found 107 indicators (70 critical ones) where there was a 28 percent discrepancy over last year’s PMMR and average performance over the prior three years.

kallos rules hearingKallos (pictured*) also questioned Tarlow and Chiu about indicators relating to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the 311 helpline system and the Department of Homeless Services, but his main concerns were about holding people accountable for changes to the PMMR and MMR, further clarifying how targets are defined, minimizing the number of indicators without targets, and linking performance indicators in the PMMR to the corresponding allocations in the preliminary budget, as the City Charter mandates for the PMMR.

“Who has ultimate responsibility for the changes that are being implemented?” Kallos asked Tarlow, frustrated that Council members’ requests for additional indicators in the past had been routinely agreed to by agencies but not followed through on. “Is it with the agency or Operations, and how do those changes actually end up happening?

Tarlow stressed that the creation and addition of indicators was a collaborative process with agencies. “We don’t dictate play to the agencies and the agencies don’t just unilaterally make changes,” she said, agreeing to consider improvements in communication with Council members. She also said that they had started to work with the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget to cross-reference and link the PMMR with the preliminary budget.

Kallos’ concerns were echoed by Dadey, who reiterated recommendations that Citizens Union had made in the past, which shows, he said, “a challenge that we face that we’ve been back here several times making the same recommendations and while some of them get adopted we think that some of the more common sense ones are not being embraced and we’re at a loss to understand why.”

Dadey floated three specific proposals: setting targets for half the indicators in the report which had no metrics to judge them by (the number of indicators with no target increased from 948 to 961 this year from last); providing more budget detail alongside performance indicators; and expanded reporting on cross-agency initiatives to track transparency (for instance Freedom of Information Law requests) and voting registration programs at agencies.

He called the lack of targets for half the proposals “disconcerting” as “it indicates one of two troubling possibilities. Either the agency experienced difficulty in setting goals in coordination with the office of the mayor or that these goals have been established and are possibly being concealed from the public. Neither is satisfactory,” he said.

To the administration’s credit, MOO has made effort to add sections on multi-agency initiatives, such as IDNYC, which was eventually folded into the report on the Human Resources Administration. “That’s what we want,” Tarlow said in response to questions from Council Member Carlos Menchaca. “To really feature a multi-agency new initiative and then have it be so routine that it becomes baked into the fabric of what we do on a day-to-day basis.”

Menchaca wanted to know how the PMMR and MMR reports evolve and about efforts to make the report machine readable. His larger concern, as chair of the Council’s immigration committee, was that the data be accessible to New York’s immigrant communities. “What do you do to get the report out in other languages?,” he asked.

Tarlow’s answer was unimpressive. “I actually don’t know,” she said.

Lisa Neary, general counsel for the Independent Budget Office, also testified, although less about the content of the reports than the process. IBO had testified at the December 2015 hearing as well, recommending legislation that would require citizen surveys to be included in the reports. The idea has been championed for a long time by Baruch Professor Doug Muzzio and a relevant bill has been introduced by Council Member Corey Johnson, though it has not received a vote.

On Wednesday, Neary focused on the timing of the two reports. She said the PMMR being released early in the year was inadequate since it only accounts for the first four months of the financial year (July to October).

“With only this partial picture in hand,” Neary said, “the Council lacks crucial information that would allow you to link objectives to resources, and resources to outcomes.” She cited the current PMMR’s data on Department of Education programs, where at least a dozen critical indicators were listed as “not available.” She said the MMR’s release was “even more poorly timed,” and should be some time between January and June to have maximum influence on budget decisions.

When Kallos asked her for suggestions, she said perhaps the MMR should be released with the executive budget in May and then a full accounting of the year should come out in October or November. “The key thing is to have as much information as you can at the time that you’re making resource allocation decisions,” she said.

Council Member Mark Levine, chair of the parks committee, questioned Tarlow and Chiu about PMMR indicators on park maintenance and capital park projects, as well as on the lack of information on eviction prevention and legal services. Council Member Vincent Gentile, in keeping with his position as chair of the oversight and investigations committee, asked MOO to consider tracking the performance of individual Inspectors General under the Department of Investigation. Tarlow had ready answers for both Council members and promised to discuss their concerns with individual agencies.

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

*Photo of Ben Kallos by William Alatriste

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization to Citizens Union.

]]>
Push for a Better Mayor's Management Report Continues Thu, 07 Apr 2016 19:34:38 +0000
Bill Mandates Board of Elections Emergency Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6214:bill-mandates-board-of-elections-emergency-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6214:bill-mandates-board-of-elections-emergency-plan treyger william alatriste

City Council Member Mark Treyger, left (photo: William Alatriste) 


New York City is no stranger to calamity, be it natural or man-made, and many city agencies have emergency response plans for varying levels of crisis. On Wednesday, City Council Member Mark Treyger will introduce a bill to ensure that the Board of Elections, which administers voting in the city, joins these agencies in formulating its own disaster-preparedness procedures for conducting the polls.

"We have to make sure that democracy perseveres through a crisis," Treyger told Gotham Gazette. The Council member represents parts of southern Brooklyn that were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, just a week before election day. Treyger's experience with the storm and his role as chair of the Council's Committee on Recovery and Resiliency give him a unique perspective on the issue.

"Every agency, NYCHA or DOE, are all in the process of updating their emergency response plans," Treyger said. "I'm curious to know what the BOE has done to better respond to emergencies post-Superstorm Sandy and what level of coordination exists between the City and the State."

Treyger's bill would mandate that the BOE be prepared for extreme situations by working with the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management to create a reasonable plan to conduct an election amid a crisis. In the interview, Treyger emphasized that he is sensitive about the primary goal during an emergency of protecting life, but wants to make sure that the democratic process isn't lost in the fray "once emergency relief efforts are concluded and all lives are accounted for." It would require, he said, coordination between multiple agencies, and between city and state authorities.

"Quite frankly, one crisis should not be an excuse for another crisis," Treyger said, citing New York's low voter turnout in past elections and how this record is worse in years when catastrophe strikes.

Superstorm Sandy had the Board of Elections scrambling to ensure that people could vote. Many polling stations were damaged by the floods and had to be moved with little public notice, which Treyger said affected at least 250,000 people. In response, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a day before the election, issued an executive order that allowed affected residents to vote with an affidavit ballot at any polling site. Treyger said these affidavit ballots started to run out at many sites. He insisted that these issues could have been averted if there had been a contingency plan and poll workers were trained on how to conduct an election during an emergency.

Of course, Sandy wasn't the first disaster to hit around election time. In 2001, the primary elections were scheduled for September 11, and were postponed by two weeks in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks.

"There is no cost too high," Treyger said, "to make sure that democracy is administered in a fair and just way for all New Yorkers." When Gotham Gazette asked about the financial implications of the bill, he said that could be worked out once the proposal is considered and that this is the right time to do so. "It is budget season," Treyger said. 

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Bill Mandates Board of Elections Emergency Plan Tue, 08 Mar 2016 22:45:06 +0000