Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Education
Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
"Education" refers to the organization and performance of the public schools and public support institutions established for teaching children from pre-K-12th.
The Context
NYC's public education system is the nation's largest. Over a million pre-Kindergarten through 12th-grade students attend its 1,100-plus schools. The seven-member Board of Education and the Chancellor share custody. Thirty-two separate school districts manage their elementary and middle schools. Run by the superintendents, each district elects its own community school board to set educational policy. High schools report directly to the Board of Ed. There is extraordinary variety across the system: schools of every size and stripe, and at every echelon from first-rate to failing. Less than half of each high school class graduates in four years--and, even with extra time, only 70% of NYC kids can count on a diploma.
The Reporter
Jessica Wolff is a public school parent and Director of Policy Development at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a not-for-profit coalition working to reform New York State's education finance system to ensure adequate resources and the opportunity for a sound basic education for all students in New York City. The views expressed are her own.

by Jessica Wolff

The Edison Schools Controversy

(Feb '01) In the latest development in the saga of who will control five of the city's worst schools, Chancellor Harold O. Levy has given parents two extra weeks to weigh information and make up their minds about whether these schools should continue under the auspices of the Board of Education or be turned over to Edison Schools, the country's largest commercial school management company. For Edison to take over, a majority of parents in each school must vote to convert to charter status.

The debate about new management for the schools became especially heated in January, when parents in two of the five schools and other Edison opponents held meetings to protest the plan, which Chancellor Levy and which most of the members of the Board of Education support. Concerns about the plan range from opposition to putting public schools in private hands to fears about teachers' job security to worries about Edison's track record.

Here's how things got to this point. Toward the end of the last school year, the then newly-installed chancellor announced that he intended to accept proposals from for-profit school management companies who thought they could successfully turn around some of the city's failing schools. Levy said he was not committing to anything; he just wanted to see what they had to offer. Fourteen such companies submitted proposals in August 2000.

In December, the Board of Education announced that it would give Edison Schools alone the opportunity to try its hand at running some of the city's worst schools. Levy touted the additional resources that Edison would bring into the schools, up to $2 million per school for new programs in reading and math and training for teachers.

The five schools Edison would run are PS 161 in Manhattan, PS 88 in the Bronx, IS 246, IS 320 and IS 111 in Brooklyn, serving about 5,000 students all together. All of them are SURR schools (schools under registration review), which means they are on the state's list of the worst of the worst schools in the state. IS 320 and IS 111 were scheduled to be closed for failing to improve despite the extra attention and resources they received as a result of becoming SURR schools. IS 111 has been on the SURR list since 1989.

Edison Schools, which runs 113 schools in 45 cities around the country, works to improve student achievement through longer school days, student uniforms, and more computers in the classrooms, but its record for success is not consistent. And most of its evidence of student improvement comes from its own assessments.

Many parents initially seemed ready to give something new a try. But, as time dragged on and information about Edison and the conversion process remained scarce, parental doubts started to surface. Groups that opposed Edison, either in principle or in practice, began to organize and voice their concerns. Now angry accusations of foul play and defensive responses are drowning out the important conversation about what is best for students.

Parents are to begin voting yes or no to Edison during the second week of March.

Jessica Sounds Off:

It is hard to believe that parents and others concerned about children stuck in these abysmal schools are fighting to maintain the status quo there. These schools have claimed to be "turning around" for years, with no convincing evidence of improvement. In the meantime, thousands of children have come and gone without even a minimally adequate education. That parents in these long-failing schools have not embraced a change only attests to flaws in the Board of Education's planning and implementation of the conversion.

The Board. has been unable to improve these schools; Edison's track record is not strong enough to offer any guarantees. If Edison and the chancellor want committed families in the new schools, they should give parents a real choice and make enrollment there voluntary.

Sites For Beginners:

  • NYC Board of Education - By far the easiest way to get information from the Board of Education. Check out this site for NYC public education facts and figures, policy details, and "school report cards" -- annual reports on the performance of each NYC school. Also available is the Chancellor's Plan for School Leadership Teams, the current initiative for bringing parents in as partners in school decision making.
  • NY State Department of Education - Lots of info here about state policies that now drive city reform efforts -- learning standards, assessment requirements and results, universal pre-K, charter schools, registration review and more. The Office of NYC School and Community Services page posts city-specific info. Also available: curriculum resource guides to help teachers and families ensure classwork is aligned with state learning standards.
  • NY State School Boards Association - A good place to check for the status of the state budget and up-to-date information on legislation and legal issues important for public education. Also culls newspapers statewide for school-related articles.
  • Education Week on the Web - Great site for national coverage of education issues. Includes daily digest of education articles from newspapers around the country. "In Context" section decodes jargon and provides background for the week's education news.

Other Recommendations:

  • Campaign for Fiscal Equity - Learn about the coalition successfully filed suit against the New York State to secure adequate resources for a quality education for all NYC public school kids. Skim Justice DeGrasse's decision, read recent editorials from around the state urging Gov. Pataki to do the right thing, and learn about CFE upcoming public engagement events.
  • TeachNet - A resource-filled website from Impact II: The Teachers' Network, which works to help teachers become policymakers in their schools.
  • NYU Institute for Education and Social Policy - Find out about one of the most effective organizations currently studying and working to improve public education in NYC and other US urban areas.
  • National Center for Education Statistics - Comparing schools around the country is difficult, but NCES can help. Download "The Condition of Education, 2000" for performance trends, educational attainment data, and stats on school quality around the U.S. If you're a believer in standardized tests, check out the Nation's Report Card (the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) website).
  • United Federation of Teachers - The teacher's union, never shy about its opinions on current policy issues, maintains a wide-ranging site, including a page for the Emergency Campaign Against Vouchers.
  • New York Times on the Web Forums -- New York City's School System - Missed an article on the schools? You can read it here for free, plus post your own opinion, if you must.

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