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

Chancellor Klein So Far

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg exercised his hard-won right to appoint the city schools chancellor and selected Joel I. Klein, a former Justice Department antitrust attorney, Klein took over the school system with unprecedented powers and protection from public scrutiny. He reports only to the mayor. The seven-member Board of Education, which formerly had the power to remove the chancellor and oversaw many aspects of the school system, was sent home, and an advisory group, the Panel for Educational Policy, installed in its place.

This panel, chaired by the chancellor, is made up of five public-school parents appointed by the borough presidents, and seven other members appointed by the mayor. The borough presidents' appointees range from seasoned parent activists to a former city superintendent. The mayor's appointees include a number of educators, a museum director, and representatives of the private sector.

When announcing his appointees, the mayor spoke plainly about his expectations for the group, "In terms of the panel members, their job is to give advice to the chancellor, not advice to the press. I do not expect to see their names ever in the press answering a question either on the record or off the record.... I would not tolerate it for 30 seconds."

The policy panel convened for the first time on September 23rd and adopted its own by-laws. The 4:30 p.m. meeting at a high school in the Bronx scheduled no time for public comment and seemed, to some parents, to be designed to minimize public participation. The lack of discussion among panel members also left parents worrying about whether the parent representatives would voice parents' needs and concerns.

Chancellor Klein was also granted exclusive authority to hire and fire the city's district superintendents. He made quick use of this power to make permanent three interim acting superintendents, in Districts 1, 6, and 24, whose appointments had been opposed by those districts' community school boards-a problem that had vexed former chancellor Harold O. Levy.

Other major announcements from the chancellor's office recently include:

  • a program to use privately raised monies to award large bonuses to superintendents who increase student performance as shown by test scores;
  • the appointment of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg to raise private monies for the city's schools;
  • an agreement with the teachers union to use the extra work time teachers exchanged for raises to increase the length of the school day for students, rather than to provide professional development to teachers.

The chancellor has not yet tackled the problem of how to provide students in the city's failing schools with the educational alternatives they are entitled to under the new federal "No Child Left Behind" Act. Some 331 of the city's schools were last month identified as failing to meet state performance standards. The new law gives parents of students in these schools the right to transfer their children into successful schools or get them free tutoring. With nearly a third of the city's schools identified as failing, however, many parents have been unable to secure a place for their child in a better school. Mayor Bloomberg has asked parents to be patient while he and Chancellor Klein fix the schools.

Klein has announced a thoroughgoing study of the school system, which will be conducted by paid consultants with nearly $4 million of private funding from two foundations. To build support for needed changes, he plans to seek input from a wide range of stakeholders in the public schools, including parents, educators, community groups, and business. He expects to announce some major changes within 100 days.

Help for Parents: Insideschools.org

Advocates for Children of New York has launched a new website, Insideschools.org, that should be useful to parents and others seeking to be well informed about public school issues-especially if the new educational regime turns out to be as tight-lipped as many now suspect. Spearheaded by Clara Hemphill, author of a series of books on the best public schools in the city, the site offers parents important advice and resources for choosing schools; getting children the services they need (including the free tutoring to which they may be entitled), understanding students' and parents' rights, and pursuing complaints effectively. The site is free, easy to navigate, and also offers parents the opportunity to sign up for twice-monthly email alerts on timely or critical school topics like testing dates, school-related events, recent research studies, and advocacy opportunities. The site is also accessible, school by school, under individual City Council districts in Gotham Gazette's Searchlight.


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 panelÍs 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.

Visit the Topic Archives!