Education
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 head of the school system is the chancellor, who is appointed by the mayor. The chancellor is advised by the Panel for Educational Policy on which sit five parents appointed by the borough presidents and seven mayoral appointees. The city's elementary and junior high schools are administered by 32 community school districts, each with its own superintendent who works out of Department of Education offices in the Tweed Courthouse. The district superintendents and each borough's high schools superintendent all report to the chancellor. 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

No Child Left Behind

This fall, the New York State Education Department released its list of schools "in need of improvement" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. All of the schools on the list receive federal anti-poverty funding and are therefore the first to come under the scrutiny of the new law. Of the 487 schools in New York State cited for failing to meet test-score targets for two or more consecutive years, 331 are in New York City. This accounts for almost one third of the city school system.

No Child Left Behind is the most recent version of the federal law on elementary and secondary education that was originally enacted in 1965. The new law, passed with bipartisan support in Congress, requires states to set academic progress targets or face various consequences.

Billed as a sweeping reform, No Child Left Behind aims to improve overall student performance and to close the achievement gap experienced by minority and disadvantaged students. It was accompanied by the largest ever increase in federal education aid: This year, New York State will receive about $470 million more in total federal education funding than it did last year. Schools under Title I, the government═s program that provides school aid for disadvantaged students, will receive about $260 million of this with the majority of it going to New York City.

Expanded testing is a key part of No Child Left Behind. By the 2005-06 school year, states must test students in grades three through eight annually in reading and math. By 2007-08, students must also be tested in science three times before they finish high school. States set their own standards and choose their own tests. However, some students from each state will be required to take a federally administered test to help the government compare state tests. Test results for states, districts and individual schools must be broken down by race, income, gender and other categories to help schools measure and close any achievement gaps.

Within 12 years, all students are supposed to meet state proficiency requirements. With that goal in mind, schools must make yearly progress both for the school as a whole and for demographic subgroups of students. Title I schools that fail to make adequate progress for two years in a row must allow students to choose a different school. Title I schools failing for three years must also offer students extra educational services, including private tutoring. (See related article on the effects of this program in New York City). School districts have to reserve 20 percent of their Title I funding to pay for this. Schools not making progress after four years must make staff, curricular, or other changes, and a fifth failing year leads to a total school overhaul.

As part of No Child Left Behind, as of this fall, teachers in all schools that receive Title I funding must be "highly qualified" and competent in the subjects they teach. If they are not, parents must be notified. By the 2005-06 school year, teachers in all public schools must be highly qualified and competent in their subjects.

No Child Left Behind sets welcome goals for the New York public schools. Yet, as the law goes into effect and details emerge, many New York City educators, advocates and parents have started to doubt whether it will really help schools meet those goals.

For one thing, the federal government plays only a marginal role in public schools. In the United States, local control of education is sacred, and the federal share of most schools' budgets is less than 10 percent. Most decisions about education, as well as about how to pay for it, are left to states and localities.

Under No Child Left Behind, each state must translate the law into policies and practices for its own schools, which may result in vast differences from state to state. The federal government will have only limited means to monitor states' compliance or enforce penalties. For New York City, the New York State Education Department will interpret the federal law and implement it.

When New York City is held accountable for the performance of all subgroups in the school system, including non-English speaking students and minorities, as well as for overall performance, the number of its schools in need of improvement is likely to rise considerably. Some fear this could distract attention and resources from the schools that really need help to meet the needs of the majority of their students. "We need a balance between identifying only those most egregiously in need -- as we did under the state's own Schools Under Registration Review system -- and a list of schools that is so large that it offers no guidance in how to direct improvement efforts," says Deborah Widiss, an attorney at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (where I work as well) and an expert on the new law

How the state develops its technical and financial assistance for schools "in need of improvement" will be crucial for New York City. Current state assistance for low performing schools reaches only the worst of the worst -- a fraction of the schools that really need support. To what extent the state is able to expand this type of support will be key to the law's success here.

The early effects of No Child Left Behind in New York City are not promising. Because of the large number of schools identified as in need of improvement, and also because of overall school overcrowding, only a small number of students entitled to transfers have been able to get them. City rules about how to get tutoring and a lack of funding will limit the number of students able to get the extra academic help to which they are entitled.

In addition, educators and parents complain that the new law will apply more pressure on schools to raise test scores. Though New York shows no sign yet of fudging its standards, other states have considered lowering requirements so more students can meet the proficiency standards called for in No Child Left Behind.

No Child Left Behind's lack of attention to resources, Widiss believes, is its biggest flaw and the largest obstacle to its achieving its objectives in New York City. "The premise for holding schools accountable is that they have enough resources but that they are not using them well enough," she says. "If schools do not have enough resources to meet the objectives, there is no mechanism in this law to ensure that they get the resources they need."

Every Teacher a Grant Writer, Every Citizen a Philanthropist

DonorsChoose is a new nonprofit organization whose mission is to "connect those on education's front lines directly with those who give to good causes." It begins with a teacher who wants to provide his or her students with an activity that school funds do not cover. Teachers' project proposals are vetted by DonorsChoose staff and volunteers who verify the teacher's identity, confirm the existence of requested materials, negotiate discounts, attach a cost to the proposal and, finally, review the proposed project. Approved proposals are posted on the group═s web site, where civic-minded individuals can browse teachers' submissions. A donor can make a tax-deductible contribution that fully or partially funds a chosen proposal.

When a proposal is funded, DonorsChoose buys the materials and delivers them to the teacher's school -- along with a disposable camera and stamped envelope in which to enclose photographs of the project taking place, student thank-you notes and a teacher letter. Upon receiving this feedback, DonorsChoose attaches receipts, and forwards this package to the donor.


Sites For Beginners:

  • NYC Department of Education - By far the easiest way to get information from the city's Department of Education. Check out this site for NYC public education facts and figures, policy news, and "school report cards" -- annual reports on the performance of each NYC school.
  • 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 class work 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:

  • Advocates for Children of New York, Inc. - A loud and consistent voice for city students at greatest risk including children with disabilities, ethnic minorities, immigrants, homeless children, foster care children, limited English proficient children, and those living in poverty. Advocates For Chilcdren provides free legal advocacy and advice and training for parents, students, and professionals about children's educational rights. It also launched a greatly needed website, Insideschools.org. The site offers parents important advice and resources for choosing schools; getting children the services they need, understanding students' and parents' rights, and pursuing complaints effectively. Its interactive component allows parents and school personnel to share their own comments about school life as well.
  • Campaign for Fiscal Equity - Learn about the coalition in the midst of a lawsuit 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 editorials from around the state urging Governor Pataki to bring fairness to school funding, and learn about CFE's upcoming public engagement programs.
  • TeachNet - A resource-filled web site from Teachers Network, an organization that connects innovative teachers nationwide and works to help teachers become policymakers in their schools.
  • NYU Institute for Education and Social Policy - The Institute studies and is working to improve public education in NYC and other US urban areas. Its current projects include policy studies, evaluations of school reform initiatives, and community involvement programs. Its web site provides details of its work and links to important local, state and national education data.
  • Educational Priorities Panel - The current mission of this 26-year-old organization is to improve the quality of public education for New York City's children so that there is no longer a performance gap between city schools and those in the rest of the state. The panelĂs web site is a gold mine of research and information on the New York City public school system. Want to know who was chancellor in 1901? It's here under historical facts. Can't figure out the difference between a CPT and an IEP, there's a useful "Lingo Translation." Plus, there's a whole library of important reports and publications, including up-to-date and easy-to-understand education budget information.
  • National Center for Education Statistics - Comparing schools in different areas around the country is difficult, but this center can help. Download "The Condition of Education, 2001" for performance trends, educational attainment data, and stats on school quality around the United States. If you're a believer in standardized tests, check out the Nation's Report Card at the National Assessment of Educational Progress web site.
  • United Federation of Teachers - The teacher's union, never shy about its opinions on current policy issues, maintains a wide-ranging site.
  • Least Restrictive Environment Coalition - This group of organizations advocates for New York City students with disabilities; its web site offers important resources for parents, educators, and advocates.

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