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Gotham Gazette

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Citizens Union

Education

Arts Education


The principal of St. Nicholas School in the Bronx makes it clear what she thinks of arts education when one of her teachers enters her office unbidden.

“Who’s watching your class?” the principal, Sister Aloysius, asks her teacher, Sister James.

“They’re having Art,” Sister James replies.

“Art,” the senior nun snorts. “Waste of time.”

“It’s only an hour a week,” Sister James replies.

“Much can be accomplished in 60 minutes.”

This exchange is near the beginning of John Patrick Shanley’s hit Broadway play, “Doubt,” and serves in part to establish the principal’s rigid character. But while the principal and the school may be fictional (“a parable,” Shanley calls it), the attitude is for real.

“Many educational leaders in New York City…do not value art as a core academic subject that requires time and the attention of…principals, teachers and parents,” concludes a report on arts education in New York City public schools (in pdf format) released by the City Council in June of 2003.

That report and three hearings of the education committee of the City Council picture arts education as spotty and undervalued, with inequitable resources, inadequate instruction, insufficient facilities, and a shortage of qualified arts educators -- but also find much to feel hopeful about: In the New York City public school system, “you can find absolute state-of-the-art enlightened arts education,” Richard Kessler, executive director of the Center for Arts Education, testified at the third of the council hearings last month. “It’s the best of times and the worst of times.”

From Anti-Art To "The Arts Administration"

The still-widespread attitude that the arts are a “frill” helps explain why funding for them always seems endangered. A New Yorker cartoon in 2003 depicted one caveman complaining to another: “Why is the arts budget always the first thing to be cut, when you know damn well it’s the only thing that separates us from the monkeys?” This was no joke during the 1970s fiscal crisis, when the arts were virtually eliminated from the city’s public schools; all art, music, drama and dance teachers were laid off. Although the city’s cultural institutions and individual artists tried to fill in the gaps, with the aid of newly-created private non-profit organizations like ArtsConnection and the Center for Arts Education, it took more than two decades before City Hall and the school system itself committed to restoring arts funding and the arts curriculum. The New York City Department of Education says it spent roughly $250 million for arts education in the last school year (out of a total budget of some $13 billion.)

It is a sign of progress that Sharon Dunn, who is newly in charge of arts education for the Department of Education, officially acknowledged that an anti-art attitude is part of the problem, though she couched this politely:

“One of the areas identified as most in need of development,” Dunn testified last month, “is the need to acquaint school administrators with the benefits and elements of arts education.”

Dunn’s testimony at the October 31 council hearing was intended to emphasize that the Bloomberg administration, Dunn said, “has made arts education a priority.” She gave as one small example among many the creation of a “cultural pass program for school leaders,” with funding from the Bank of America, that enables school principals and other educators to attend cultural events for free (which would presumably seduce them out of any bias.)

But the “embodiment of a deep commitment” by the mayor, chancellor and school system, she said, is the “Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts.”

This echoes statements that Mayor Michael Bloomberg made during his re-election campaign. In answer to a questionnaire by an education advocacy group (question 17), he wrote that he was “dedicated to developing and improving access to quality arts education for every public school student in our city.” Evidence of this commitment, he said, was that his administration “created and implemented the city’s first comprehensive kindergarten through twelfth grade art curriculum in visual arts, music, theater and dance.”

The New York Times more or less reiterated this point, in a laudatory article on the front page of the Arts and Leisure section entitled “The Arts Administration” that asserted that the Bloomberg administration "has done more to promote and support the arts than any in a generation" and singled out its “development of a mandated arts curriculum for public school students...the first of its kind since the city gutted arts education during the 1970's fiscal crisis.”

But that article itself has been criticized for its omissions (mostly involving criticism of Bloomberg budget cutbacks to cultural organizations) and for its timing -- just two weeks before the election. And, as the most recent hearing made clear, some critics see a sharp disconnect between what officials say and what actually exists.

Why Arts Education Is Not A Frill

It should be self-evident that learning to play a musical instrument or to appreciate a painting or to know how to respond to performances at Lincoln Center would give students a sense of discernment and delight that would last their entire lives. But merely providing a lifetime of pleasure and fulfillment seems a hard sell at a time when there is so much worry that American youth (all Americans, actually) are ill-prepared for the economic challenges of the future. The result of such concerns has been a emphasis on teaching "the basics" -- and on test scores.

The arts can easily seem an "obscure" consideration, said Richard Kessler, "when you look at the push being made in reading and math...and [at]the ways in which school leaders are evaluated" -- i.e. by test scores.

But if it may be difficult to test and grade individual achievement in the arts, the arts have been shown to offer concrete and measurable scholastic benefits. Research studies (in pdf) indicate that involvement in the arts –- whether in school or after school; as a participant or a spectator -- enhances young people’s ability to learn in other subjects. Sustained participation in music, for example, was shown to be connected to success in mathematics; and participating in theater was correlated with success in reading. One study found that young people exposed to the arts are far more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, to participate in a math or science fair, and to win an award for writing an essay or a poem.

The arts have proven a reliable way of reaching students who, for one reason or another, were alienated from their studies. The arts involve parents and other members of the community in a way that other “schoolwork” usually cannot.

The arts also can develop empathy and instill confidence in young people, and (in the words of the City Council report) “provides them with a language to understand and contribute to the world around them.” This was demonstrated in an especially compelling way in Born Into Brothels, an Academy Award-winning documentary about the children of prostitutes, whose lives were transformed when they were taught how to take photographs.

To Xanthe Jory, executive director of the Bronx Charter School for the Arts, "the arts can be a catalyst for change, not only in individual students, but also in the life of the school."

The City's Blueprint For Teaching And Learning In The Arts

The core of the city’s efforts in arts education is called Project ARTS (standing for Arts Restoration Throughout the Schools), and the core of Project ARTS are the recently-completed blueprints for the arts -– there is one blueprint each for theater, for visual arts, for music and for dance.

In each of the four artistic fields, and in every grade, the blueprints offer five “strands” of learning that begin with the making of art, but go beyond it. A well-rounded arts education would mean growing mastery in all five approaches. To use the terminology that the blueprints use, the five elements include (with examples randomly selected from the blueprints to illustrate):

1. “Making Art”
In theater, for example, students are expected to achieve certain “benchmarks” in each grade, in acting, directing, designing, technical work and playwriting. Second-grade actors, for example, should be able to “make appropriate use of costumes and props in activities, sharings and performances” while fifth-grade actors should “demonstrate the ability to memorize spoken word and staging within a performed work” and eighth-grade actors would be able to “apply a knowledge of the characteristics of various genres in performance, including tragedy, comedy, farce, improvisation and musical theater.”

2. “Literacy in the Arts”
In the visual arts, a 12th grader would be asked to “identify issues raised by a controversial work of art,” and expected to know enough about art history and the vocabulary used in interpreting a painting to write both a review of a museum exhibition, and “wall text, labels, catalogues and promotional materials for a student-curated exhibition.”

3. “Making Connections”
A fifth-grade music student learning how to play “This Land Is Your Land” could be assigned to research the period in which Woody Guthrie composed the song, what issues engaged him, and how his song compares to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” The student, while improvising harmonies for “Ode To Joy,” could be assigned to explore other examples of harmony – in poetry, in painting, in architecture. The connections being made are to other fields and to society in general.

4. “Working With Community And Cultural Resources”
A dancer in the eighth grade would be asked to attend professional dance performances and report on them for her schoolmates, or use the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts to research American social dances.

5. “Exploring Careers And Lifelong Learning”
The point here, said Sharon Dunn, is to drive home to the student that “as you learn to look at art and find that you have a passion for it, there's actually a place at the end of this path [where] you can earn a living.”

But Dunn stresses that an arts education is for every student, not just those who might one day become professionals, and the blueprints should also function as resources for teachers in every discipline.

Falling Short

At the recent City Council hearing, Eva Moskowitz, the chair of the council’s education committee, seemed unimpressed with the blueprints. "I'm all for being ambitious," she said at one point, "but given...the fact that there's chaos in many of our schools, it just seems like I'll have great grandchildren before we'll have this implemented...I mean we barely have schools that have bands."

Moskowitz and other members of the council were especially taken aback when Dunn said she did not know what percentage of the public schools currently offer their students an excellent arts education -- nor, when pushed, would she offer an estimate or even hazard a guess.

"I find it profoundly troubling," Moskowitz said, "that either they don’t want to say that only five percent of their schools are meeting the standard...or they honestly don’t know."

While Bloomberg talks of having “created and implemented” a “comprehensive” curriculum, in other words, there’s proof only of the blueprint having been created, not implemented, and, to Moskowitz and others, the blueprint is not even really a curriculum (much less a comprehensive one) but a sometimes vaguely-worded and often obvious set of goals and guidelines.

At the hearing, and in its report, the education committee enumerated other concrete challenges, among them a lack of such facilities as art or dance studios, an inadequate supply of basic material and equipment such as musical instruments, and a shortage of arts teachers. Some 150 public schools –- more than one in ten -- still have no full-time arts teachers of any kind. (Currently, there are reportedly 2,343 licensed art teachers across the city, including only 136 teaching theater and 124 teaching dance.) While the school system is hoping to hire more, they are having trouble finding them, in part because schools of education (taking their cue from New York City’s long-time lack of interest) eliminated their programs to train arts teachers. To make things worse, Richard Kessler observed, “we are hearing regularly from schools where arts specialists are being let go.”

If there is one Web site that offers the most compelling information about the state of arts education in New York City public schools, it is probably not the Department of Education’s pages on the blueprint for teaching and learning in the arts, but DonorsChoose , a site that tries to match classroom needs with individual philanthropists. Here an elementary school teacher in the Bronx asks for help in taking her students on a trip to visit the Guggenheim Museum, and one in Brooklyn asks for help in funding a similar trip to the Brooklyn Museum. A middle school teacher in Queens asks for a few hundred dollars to build a theater library: “Our kids are talented, creative, and energetic. Most of them have never seen a play, much less been a part of one.” A high school teacher in Brooklyn asks for money for three-dollar magic markers. “Our markers have run dry. The students are eager to finish their intricate design work but there is no money for new markers… This is just one more frustration and disappointment in ... lives that are full of substandard supplies and facilities.”

 

School Choice, School Confusion


Upper West Side parents seeking to enroll their children in elementary or middle school have long run a gauntlet of confusing application procedures, and this year is no different. Parents who want their child to attend the zoned, neighborhood elementary school have it easy. No special application is necessary: All they have to do is register in the spring. But if a child is entering middle school, or hopes to take advantage of "school choice" or "gifted and talented" programs, the student must apply.

In Region 10, which covers the West Side from 59th Street to the northern tip of Manhattan -- and includes districts 3, 5 and 6, the exact situation varies from district to district ñ and from elementary school to middle school. But for many parents and children the next several weeks will feature school visits and important decisions.

Parents may now tour elementary and middle schools. (For a list of elementary school tours, click here; for middle schools, click here.) Applications in Region 10 are due December 16 or January 13, depending on the program.

The schools will inform parents of their decisions between February 27 and March 2, although children not admitted on the first round might be admitted later in the spring.

The notifications dates have been moved up to coincide with those of other selective public schools, such as Hunter College Elementary School, and of private schools, said Robin Aronow, a consultant who advises parents on school choice.

Elementary Schools

Many elementary schools in District 3, which stretches from 59th Street to 122nd Street, have room for children from outside their attendance zone. (A number of schools also have "dual language" programs with classes taught in both English and Spanish.) Principals used to have the authority to admit children and could accept applications from out of district as well as out of zone. Now, children who live in District 3 are given preference for kindergarten spots, and the regional office will conduct a lottery in February to determine who is admitted. Siblings of children currently enrolled will have preference.

The most popular schools admitting children under the lottery program are PS 87 and PS 75. Manhattan School for Children has its own admissions policy.

Children in Districts 5 and 6 may apply to District 3 general education programs, but District 3 children get preference, and regional officials predict there will be few seats available for out of district children. Applications are due January 13.

Children in District 5 in central Harlem don't have elementary school choice. (They may, however, apply to gifted programs.)

Children in District 6, covering Washington Heights and Inwood, have a number of school choice options, including Hamilton Heights Academy, Washington Heights Academy, The 21st Century Academy (PS 210), Amistad and Muscota. There is no entrance exam for these schools.

Gifted and Talented Programs

Two Region 10 schools -- the Anderson School and the Special Music School -- accept gifted children from all five boroughs. In addition, the Department of Education has set up "gifted and talented" programs at a number of elementary schools in the region. To be admitted, children must take an IQ test and their nursery school teacher must complete a Gifted Rating Scale assessment. For the most part, schools only accept students from within their district, although District 5 parents may apply to the dual language gifted and talented programs at two District 3 schools -- PS 165 and PS 163. Parents must rank programs in order of preference.

While children living in a school's attendance zone or siblings of students already in the program do not get any preference for the gifted programs, siblings are guaranteed a seat in the general education program in the same building. "The intent is not to break up families," said District 3 superintendent Judi Aronson.

Applications for gifted programs must be submitted by December 16, although test results may be submitted later. The region will test children between January 3 and February 10.

Middle Schools

Tours for middle school are in full swing now. Fifth graders have already received their applications and must submit them by December 16, although some guidance counselors want them sooner.

Inside Schools features profiles of individual middle schools.

A directory of District 3 middle schools is available at the office at 154 West 93rd Street, or by contact Walter Friedman at 212 678-2885.

In addition to the district choice program, District 5 students have a number of options to which they can apply directly, such as Kappa II, Kappa IV, and Frederick Douglass Academy. The district will hold a middle school fair on December 10, from 9 a.m. to noon, at Roberto Clemente Middle School, 625 West 133rd Street.

Students in District 6 will have some new middle school options of their own, including a school operating in conjunction with City College, but itĂ­s too soon to know what the new and expanded programs there will be like. For more information, contact parent support officer, DJ Sheppard at 212-678-2880, Ext. 1.

AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAMS

Working parents have long struggled to find quality care for their children after school and during school vacations. Now, the city has published an online directory of 500 free after-school and vacation programs. Just type in your ZIP code and find the program nearest you.

The directory is part of a new initiative that consolidates most free, city-funded after-school activities under one umbrella. Community organizations will run programs during school holidays and vacations ñ even those irritating half-days will be covered. The directory also includes some programs for teen-agers and some summer programs, such as arts classes, operated in the city parks.

The directory doesn't include all the after-school programs in the city, just those receiving funding from the Department of Youth and Community Development and the Department of Education.

Individuals schools may know about other programs, including private programs that charge a fee, or programs run by a school PTA. For additional options, especially for older children, parents should also consult the directory of Beacon schools on the youth department Web site. Beacons are the 80 schools that are open after school and evenings as well as during vacations. The free programs run by community organizations include community services as well as sports, homework help, and literacy classes.

Although the consolidation of the after school programs and the publishing of a new directory is mostly good news, there are some concerns. While the city has opened new after school programs in neighborhoods that sorely need them, such as Far Rockaway, it has taken funding away from those in neighborhoods where the need is not considered as pressing, particularly in Manhattan. That means that some programs that have to find other funding or close.

"The goal was a noble one," said Michelle Yanche, director of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition, a policy and advocacy organization. "The problem is that they tried to address is without additional funding. The result is that you are shifting resources from young people who truly need it in one community to young people who truly need it in another community."

This topic page has been adapted from articles that originally appeared on Insideschools.org, an independent guide to New York City public schools sponsored by Advocates for Children.

 

Charter Schools


The school playground is cramped, the day is bleak and chilly, but the kindergarten students are having fun, and one boy in particular resists going back inside. "You haven't made good choices," two teachers tell him. To his more cooperative classmates, the teachers say, "You have made good choices."

The use of the phrase "good choices" is no accident. "We believe in creating a democratic society where our children feel they have a choice," said school leader Rita Danis.

Related Stories in the Community Gazettes:
- A New Approach to Teaching Astoria's Kids?
- Testing Students For Success in the South Bronx

But "choice" holds another meaning at UFT Charter Elementary, a new school in the East New York section of Brooklyn run by the teachers union. It is a charter school. As such it is key to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein's campaign to give city parents more choices about where to send their children to school.

While Bloomberg has set more requirements for public schools, he has, in an apparent contradiction, sought to encourage charter schools, which function outside of those rules. He hopes to more than double the number of charter schools in the city, from 47 to 100. "It's time to clear away the barriers to the creation of charter schools," Bloomberg said in a recent speech.

But charter schools, such as One World in Astoria (see related story in the Community Gazettes) and Carl Icahn in the Bronx (see related story in the Community Gazettes), educate only about one percent of city public school students and only four percent in the nation as a whole. So why have they attracted so much attention? And why do some people think they can help solve New York City's education problems?

THE APPEAL OF CHARTERS

Charter schools receive public money but are independently and privately run. Though they must comply with certain state regulations and health and safety rules, they do not have to operate under union contracts, and they exist largely outside the Department of Education bureaucracy.

The charter school movement began in the 1970s, the brainchild of Ray Budde, a professor of education at the University of Massachusetts. He suggested that individual teachers could be given contracts, which he dubbed charters, to explore new approaches. United Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker then expanded the idea to call for granting entire schools charters (with union approval). The first charter school in the U.S. opened in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1992. Today about 580,000 students in the country attend 2,400 charter schools.

But New York was slow to embrace charter schools. The legislature finally approved them in 1998 as part of a political deal. Governor George Pataki agreed to support a legislative pay raise if the lawmakers approved charters. The bill included a rigorous application process for charter schools and a ceiling on the number of new charter schools.

As Pataki hailed the bill's passage, he noted that dozens of state schools were considered to be failing. "We're telling the parents in those neighborhoods, you have no choice but to send your child to a school that we know fails. Well, now they're going to have an option," Pataki said, "and I think all the schools are going to be better because of that."

Seven years later, New York City's 47 charter schools have a total of about 12,000 students - compared with about 1.1 million in conventional public schools. (Charter schools are considered public schools too.) Fifteen of the 47, including the UFT school, opened this fall. The vast majority are elementary schools and many are small, with fewer than 200 pupils.

A CHOICE OR A DRAIN?

While much of the adamant opposition to charters has faded, conflicts remain over their performance and how they should be controlled and regulated. In many ways, these disputes come down to a battle over who should control education, what some have likened to a "power struggle."

Charter schools offer parents choice, particularly in poorer neighborhoods. But they also provide a counterweight to the so-called "educrats" and unions, often derided by Bloomberg and others. The lack of the union and of longtime school administrators holds particular appeal for many on the political right. It is no coincidence that one of the leading academic proponents of charters schools is the Goldwater Institute in Arizona -- named for the founder of the modern American conservative moment.

"I see charter schools as, first, a source of needed education options for disadvantaged kids otherwise stuck in failing district schools and unable to afford private schools; second, a source of important external pressure on traditional school systems (and private schools); and, third, a preview of things to come for public education as a whole," as the big bureaucracies lose much of their power said Chester Finn, a charter school advocate.

Charter schools also benefit from being contrasted with vouchers, which give parents money to spend on their children's education as they see fit. "Instead of pushing private school vouchers that funnel scarce dollars away from the public schools, we will support public school choice, including charter schools and magnet schools that meet the same high standards as other schools," said the Democratic Party platform for 2004.

"The educational establishment has been willing to allow charters in some state just to forestall vouchers," Clint Bolick of the Alliance for School Choice told the New York Times.

Those who remain opposed argue that charter schools drain energy and resources from the public schools, while only educating a tiny percentage of kids. As evidence, some point to Albany, where the public school system has lost more than 1,000 students and must spend about $10 million a year on charters.

Instead of moving to create a new parallel school system, "parents are interested in improving the schools that they have," said David Ernst, spokesman for the state Schools Board Association.

DO CHARTERS WORK?

Most New York City charter schools have existed for only a few years, if that, and so information about their performance remains sketchy.

In general, the results appear promising. For example, on eighth grade tests, where the city's regular public school students tend to stumble, charter school students did better, according to figures compiled by the Center for Charter School Excellence.

But nationally the statistics are murkier. The first study comparing students in regular schools with those in charters, released in August 2004, found that charter school students often did not perform as well as students in regular public schools. Finn called the results "dismayingly low" and called for those overseeing charters to be more demanding.

On the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress test, charter school students did not do as well as public school students. They did, however, narrow the gap between the two types of schools. This prompted a pro charter group, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, to say the scores showed "real progress for charter schools," while the American Federation of Teachers declared that charters "continue to lag behind regular public schools."

WHAT PARENTS WANT

To many New York City parents, such arguments are academic. They are dissatisfied with their local public school and want something better for their child but cannot afford private school.

The city's charter schools are concentrated in poorer neighborhoods. Ninety percent of their students are black or Latino, and almost three quarters come from families poor enough that they qualify for a free school lunch. But the students are less likely than their regular school counterparts to need special education services, according to a state report.

Parents of students at the UFT school only have to look to I.S. 292, the public junior high school that resides in the same building as the charter school, to see what they are up against. Although a new principal has reportedly tried to turn the school around, in 2004, 28 percent of its eighth graders failed to meet even minimum state standards in reading.

And some charters offer services that go far beyond what public schools provide. At Harlem Day Charter, for example, students can stay at school until 5:30 p.m. at no charge. Some of that time is devoted to a program where artists supervise students in projects such as a felt mural showing how to count in Swahili. A fourth grade classroom boasts a bank of new computers, and a room set aside for parents offers computers as well as books that might be of interest. And the school takes advantage of a foundation program where students go to a local Barnes and Noble and get to spend $50 each on books of their own choosing.

Charter schools can adjust their programs to meet the wishes of parents in the community. And so many of the city charter schools stress academic basics, feature strict disciplinary codes and require uniforms. Some are single sex schools. Seth Andrew, who has applied to launch a charter school called Democracy Prep first looked at lots of other charter schools. He was particularly impressed by those that set "incredibly high expectations with plans for college for all kids" -- expectations that extend to behavior as well as academics.

To parents such an approach seems to have appeal. The charters select students by lottery and most, if not all, have more applicants than they can accept.

HOW DO THEY DO IT?

Harlem Day receives slightly over $9,000 per student from the Department of Education, less than the public schools receive for each child. But, many say, money goes further in charter schools.

For one, new charter schools do not have to be unionized. "The big Kahuna is the union contract," said Peter Murphy, director of policy for the New York State Charter School Association. "The contract dictates things beyond wages and salaries" and takes away the school leader's ability to manage.

And charter school teachers may make less than their public school counterparts or work longer hours.

It seems clear that the UFT launched its charter school partly to rebut the contention that a UFT contract hampers education. Instead, union officials blame the school bureaucracy for excess costs. They say that administrative expenses take up 11 percent of most schools' budgets; at the UFT school, that figure is four percent.

But cost savings are only part of the story. Most charter schools raise money to supplement what they get from the city. Educating a student at the Harlem Day costs $3,400 to $4,000 more than the school receives from the city, said its director, Keith Meacham. But real estate developer Benjamin Lambert founded the school, and he and his brother Henry Lambert have helped it find space and money. And the Carl Icahn School in the South Bronx got a $3 million facility from the businessman for whom it is named.

Flexibility contributes to the success of charter schools, according to Paula Gavin, executive director of the city Center for Charter School Excellence. But, in addition, she said, the schools benefit from having a clear mission and a drive to fulfill that mission. They are small, Gavin said -- "not just class size, but the overall school is smaller. The size of the school allows individual attention." And, she said, charters must be accountable for what they do and do not do.

SPREADING REFORM

New York City and state do more than many other cities and states to promote charter schools. The city provides some schools with space in Department of Education buildings and recently launched a $250 million program to help other charters build their own homes. It has also established the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence in partnership with several foundations to help charter applicants and to assist existing schools.

Charter school advocates praise many things about New York state's charter law. But they do not like the cap, which limits the number of new charter schools in the entire state to 100, with 50 for the city. As of last month, some 42 schools were competing for the remaining 16 spots left for charters statewide.

The original rationale for the cap was that the state should be sure charter schools would work before launching too many of them. But now that charters have a track record, charter proponents say, the cap has outlived any use it might have onces had.

Bloomberg wants the state to eliminate the cap entirely and give him the authority to create charter schools without going to the state. Others call for doubling the cap to 200.

Supporters of charter schools would also like to see the government boost its allocation for each child in a charter school. "At the end of the day, they're all our children," said Mimi Corcoran, executive director of Beginning with Children Foundation, an early sponsor of charters.

But, while every child's future is important, won't spending money for charters still leave behind the vast majority of student who remain in regular public schools?

Supporters say no, contending that competition from charter schools may spur public schools to do better. Charters can, the argument goes, function as laboratories, developing techniques public schools can adopt. For example, said Corcoran, charters developed the idea of lead teachers, paying senior teachers extra money to remain in the classrooms rather than go into administration. Now that concept has been incorporated into the new union contract.

But many of the approaches used in charter schools, such as smaller class size, have already proved successful. Public schools simply don't have the money or the freedom to implement them.

"Our members envy the autonomy charter schools have," said Ernst of the school boards association. While the state frees charter school from many regulations, he said, it subjects public schools to requirements that are "costly, onerous, time consuming and not always in line with good educational process."

Similarly, while Bloomberg and Klein encourage charters to be independent, they have imposed a uniform curriculum on most regular public schools, increased standardized testing and, critics charged, micromanaged teachers and principals.'

Brian Ferguson, the principal of One World, is reluctant to set up a conflict between charters and more conventional public schools. "I'm sort of always leery to say that we're doing it and the public schools aren't doing it, because that's not the case," he said. "I think that we're both trying to get from each other what the best practices are for educating our children."

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Organizations

New York City Center for Charter School Excellence
The city's public private partnership to promote charter schools

New York State Charter School Association

New York Charter School Resource Center

Charter School Institute, State University of New York

National Association of Charter School Authorizers

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Articles

Apples to Apples: An Evaluation of Charter Schools Serving General Student Populations (Manhattan Institute)

The Charter School Dust-Up Examining the Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement (Economic Policy Institute)

Charter Schools in New York: A New Era (Manhattan Institute)

Charter schools build on a decade of experimentation (Christian Science Monitor)

Charter school group takes New York deal (New Haven register)

Charter Schools Saturate City of Albany (New York Teacher)

Cloning a Charter School from Connecticut (Gotham Gazette)

A Guide To Enrollment And Success In Charter Schools (Kidsource Online)

Loophole 101: How Charter Schools Weaken the Teachers' Union (Village Voice)

Nation's Charter Schools Lagging Behind, U.S. Test Scores Reveal (New York Times)

Snapshot of New York City Charter Schools 2005 (in pdf format) (women's City Club of New York)

Teachers Union Gets Its Charter (New York Sun)

 

Underfunding City University


With nearly a quarter of a million students of diverse backgrounds, the City University of New York is one of the larger -- and certainly one of the broadest-based -- of the city's institutions. It carries with its educational mission the affection of its many alumni, some of whom have attained great prestige.

But, while there has been much public attention on the (apparently completed) negotiations between the Bloomberg administration and the United Federation of Teachers, a union that represents 60,000 teachers of public elementary, middle and high schools in the city, there has been much less about the stalled negotiations between the administration and the Professional Staff Congress, the 20,000-member union that represents the faculty and staff of the City University of New York.

As the New York Times reported last week, buried in a larger story about the mayor’s insistence on “productivity increases” in exchange for salary raises: “Some unions are angry because they remain without contracts. Most notable are the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the Professional Staff Congress, representing City University teachers.”

The negotiations have been stalled largely over economic issues, as the union has been offered a salary increase of only 6.5 percent over three years, a figure below the rise in the cost of living. The union and the university are discussing salary scales and other such details, but they are also, in a real sense, working out a larger struggle about the values and funding of public universities.

The social and political struggles in higher education take many forms, but they might be summarized as the battle over the move towards a corporate model. A corporate model calls for “productivity increases,” and for “accountability” to be measured by the administration’s assuming greater centralized decision-making power that once was considered a faculty prerogative. The university’s trustees, for example, (negotiating on behalf of the mayor and the governor) have demanded that any new contract strip department chairs of their union membership.

The impasse is just the latest example of a lack of commitment to higher education by City Hall (and New York State) that goes back three decades, a shortsighted under-funding that could cause lasting damage to the city.

A History of Poor Funding

Severe de-funding added immeasurably to the problems at CUNY, with both Governors George Pataki and Mario Cuomo slashing the university’s budget year in and year out. These budget cuts could not have come at a worse time, with various politicians and commentators engaged in a campaign to reshape the image of CUNY by denigrating it, even while supporters produced figures and anecdotes to show how it plays a crucial role in the culture and polity of New York City.

The conflict reached its nadir in 1999 when then Mayor Rudolph Guilani suggested that it should be burnt down. Others, like the would-be mayor Herman Badillo decried its low standards. Benno Schmidt, now the Chair of CUNY’s Board of Trustees, and at the time the CEO of a charter school company, referred to CUNY as an "institution adrift." (See Educating All New Yorkers At CUNY.)

The university struggled along, occasionally invoking its storied past (the Nobel Laureates from City College, for example), while trying to acknowledge in some useful ways the changed student body (many immigrants and public school graduates with less than sterling academic preparation.) Hovering over the struggle was the persistent image of "open enrollment" -- a noble social experiment that guaranteed admission to CUNY for all the city’s high school graduates - that imploded in the wake of the deep budget cuts and dragged the university's reputation down with it.

Despite verbal assurances that the university would be turned around, no fundamental budgetary improvement or long term commitment materialized. Increasingly the job description for a CUNY president included skill at fund-raising. This was a result of the logic of many in city and state government, who feel that private philanthropy should replace public funding. Thus, “privatization” has joined the agenda of those who would remodel CUNY.

But who would readily contribute to an "institution adrift", especially when it was a decades-long tradition that private philanthropy went to private colleges, and public institutions were funded by tax levy revenues? This two-part invention was in some ways directly responsible for the high standing of education in America. Ruling elites used private college successfully to recreate the managerial class that insured their wealth, while public universities generated openings in the professions and other fields that would be available to the poor and middle class families.

Publicly funded higher education, however, received less and less public support throughout the nation in the 1980's and 1990's. Public universities nationwide used to have 74 percent of their budgets funded through taxes; this has fallen in the last fourteen years to 64 percent. The difference must be made up by tuition hikes and private donations. (See "At Public Universities, Warnings of Privatization" and “The Money Crunch in Higher Education”)

The public has apparently been slow to awaken to this state of affairs. When CUNY's chief negotiator could introduce a pay offer several points below inflation and describe it with a straight face as "reasonable," it is clear that what was once a full-hearted civic commitment to the education of all the city’s citizens appears more and more to be changing to a quite different vision.

Charles Molesworth, who has taught for 36 years in the English Department at Queens College, serves as a union official in the Queens College chapter of the Professional Staff Congress.

 

The School Admissions Scramble


Unlike eighth graders in most parts of the country, New York City students must apply to go to high school – and not just Stuyvesant or LaGuardia Arts or the other well-known specialized schools. In many neighborhoods, including all of Manhattan, there is no neighborhood school to which students are assigned. So every fall, parents and students, with the help of teachers and counselors, try to navigate a system in which they must list up to 12 schools in order of preference in the hopes of getting into one high on their list -- or, indeed, on their list at all.

Even younger students are not immune to the city’s selection processes. Although most elementary school students attend a neighborhood school, some parents look for other public alternatives, particularly gifted and talented programs. At the middle school level, some local school districts have eliminated neighborhood schools, requiring students to apply to specific programs. And with many middle schools seen as academically questionable, many parents seek out programs for their children far from home.

While the specifics vary from grade to grade and from borough to borough, one principle drives the whole system. As school officials admit, there are simply not enough good, or even acceptable, schools in the city for all 1.1 million public school students. And so competition can be stiff for the good programs.

The scramble creates a high level of anxiety among parents and students -- after all, many of us did not have to confront rejection from a school until we were 18, not five. But it has implications beyond that, exacerbating the split between good schools and bad ones and inevitably favoring English-speaking affluent students, whose parents can unravel the intricacies of the system, take time off to attend meetings and information sessions, and know how to make their displeasure known if they fear that their child has been left behind.

But whatever their level of sophistication, many parents are often overwhelmed by the Byzantine system that they will confront in the weeks ahead.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Most five years olds still enter kindergarten at their local school. “If you have a good neighborhood school, chances are your child will do just fine there, even if he or she is very bright,” Inside Schools advises. “However, if your neighborhood school is disappointing, your child may be happier at a gifted program that attracts children from across the district or the city."

For now, getting into a gifted and talented program varies from program to program. The Daily News reported that some programs require children to take tests administered by private companies that may charge a lot for the service. The city plans by February 2007 to institute a uniform test for four and five year olds seeking admission to gifted and talented programs.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has repeatedly said he wants good schools in all neighborhoods. The city has begun adding gifted and talented programs in areas -- notably poor and minority sections -- that have traditionally not had many. And it has tried to strengthen instruction in traditionally weak schools. While experts disagree over how successful this has been, the administration points to recent test scores as an indication that they are on the right track.

Klein and others believe that allowing parents to bail out of their neighborhood schools weakens those schools, since families who leave are likely to be among the more committed and involved.

In 2004, the Center for Immigrant Families released a report finding that, while only 19 percent of student in District 3 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side are white, kindergartens in the sought-after schools had a majority of white students. "Admission can depend on parents’ connections, letter writing, phone calls, ability to fundraise or take time off work to attend meetings,” City Limits reported. “According to [the center], parents living outside a school’s zone or even the district use these skills to take spots what would otherwise go to children of immigrant families.”

In response, the city considered instituting a lottery for the popular programs but backed away from the plan under pressure from some parents. ''We cannot accept this notion that we are somehow out of bounds for trying to find the best schools for our children,'' Mark Diller, co-president of the parents association at Public School 87 told the New York Times.

MIDDLE SCHOOL

Upon graduating from fifth grade (the end of elementary school in New York), many students stay in their neighborhoods, attending a school that accepts students from several surrounding elementary schools. But, over the years, some parts of the city have done away with neighborhood middle schools, requiring students to apply to middle schools in their area. The schools provide different approaches and programs -- one might emphasize arts, while another science -- and vary widely in quality. Some of the schools allow applicants from outside the district and or even the borough.

In some cases, students must simply submit a list of schools they would like to attend, but some schools require an interview, audition or special essay. The fourth-grade standardized test scores loom large in deciding who gets in where.

With so many bad middle schools in the city, the competition for spaces in what are seen as good schools can be fierce. “Look beyond the super-selective schools,” Inside Schools advised parents last year. “There are more options than you might imagine.”

But many parents jamming the fairs and information sessions might not agree, leading the Web site to concede, “The fairs to introduce parents and children to programs can be nerve wracking. These tend to be jam-packed events, seemingly designed to raise your blood pressure."

Some students do not get into the school they want. Last year in District 15, which includes the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Park Slope and Sunset Park, many students who had test scores high enough to get into one of the area’s top schools were rejected anyway. The reason? The district had about half as many slots for the schools as they had students qualified to attend. One school, MS 51, had 1,700 applicants who exceeded standards on the fourth grade test, but could offer only 300 seats. The district added places, while some parents gave up in disgust. “Each year more high performing students stay in the district through middle school,” Councilmember David Yassky, who represents part of the area, told the Daily News. “This year the dam finally broke.”

HIGH SCHOOL

With the new small high schools, academically selective schools, schools that require a talent and others that few students want to go to, the high school selection system resembles not so much a patchwork as a crazy quilt.

Take three examples:

--Many schools that are even remotely desirable tell prospective students, that, if they want to get in, they should list the school as their first choice. But the Department of Education advises listing as many as 12 schools in order of preference.

--Applications are due in December, but new small schools are routinely hatched a couple of months later. Even though students are allowed to amend their applications to include these new schools, it is often too soon to know anything about the school other than its name and its good intentions.

--A number of the high schools are so-called Educational Option schools. Under a city formula, 16 percent of students admitted must score above average on a seventh grade test, 68 percent average and 16 percent below average. This, counselors readily admit, creates a paradox where a low-scoring student may have a better chance of getting into one of these schools than a top scorer. (The program was instituted as an integration measure in the 1980s but some critics say that in a system that is more than 70 percent black and Hispanic, it has outlived its usefulness.)

To apply to high school, some 90,000 eighth graders are now preparing a list of up to 12 schools, ranked in order of preference. Some schools also require students to take tests, have interviews, submit portfolios or audition.

The process is so complicated that the city issued its directory of high schools several months earlier than usual, offered summer workshops and fall fairs, open houses and tours. A huge citywide fair at Brooklyn Tech last month featured dozens of schools boasting of their programs.

In April, most students will be admitted to one, and only one, of the schools. This eliminates the situation several years ago in which some students got admitted to several schools, while others did not get in anywhere.

For many students, the system worked last year, with almost two-thirds being admitted to one of their top three choices. But another 10,200 (out of about 90,000) did not get into any of their choices. Those students then have to apply all over again, choosing among a limited number of schools that still have spaces.

Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of the system,some kinks have been smoothed out. Students get material earlier now, there is less confusion and by all accounts, there were fewer students without high schools this September than there had been a year earlier.

But the problem remains of too many students chasing too few places. “We’ve got a crisis in supply and demand in our city. And we should not kid ourselves about it,” Klein told the City Council last year. The chancellor admitted that, based on the number of applicants, 86 percent of the high schools are “not highly desirable.”

As Clara Hemphill of Inside Schools put it: "Any method of allocating kindergarten seats will be unfair as long as what should be a right -- a decent elementary education -- is treated as a rare privilege.”

 

The New New Math, And Some Old Debates Renewed


Baby boomers with bad memories of learning “new math” in elementary school can be forgiven if they get an unpleasant feeling of deja vu when confronted with their children’s arithmetic homework. As Tom Lehrer sang:

New-hoo-hoo-math,
It won't do you a bit of good to review math.
It's so simple,
So very simple,
That only a child can do it!

New math has grown old, but now there is new new math. It dominates the math curriculum in New York City schools and, like its predecessor, baffles parents and attracts controversy.

Earlier this month, the city announced that last year’s fourth graders scored far better on a state standardized math test than fourth graders the previous year. Most of the 2004-2005 fourth graders had had some of the new new math. But the results are unlikely to spur either side to call a truce in what some have called the math wars.

MATH CURRICULUM

For years, individual community school districts -- and sometimes even individual schools -- chose their own math curriculum. But after Mayor Michael Bloomberg won control of the school system in 2002, his Department of Education instituted uniform math and language arts curriculums in the vast majority of city schools.

Critics first attacked the idea of uniformity and then the Department of Education for the programs it chose.

The selection for the reading curriculum revived the decades old conflict between phonics -- in which students sound out words -- and so-called the whole language approach, where students learn to recognize words in books, often of their own choosing. To the chagrin of some, the city went with whole language, supplemented by phonics instruction.

Rote Calculations vs. Complete Math

A similar battle revolves around math. This bitter dispute pits proponents of a traditional approach where students eschew calculators and learn the fundamentals of rote calculations against advocates of what is called constructivist or complete math. In complete math, students learn concepts and several alternative ways of solving problems and try to incorporate problems from real-life experiences. This, its advocates say, helps students become mathematically functioning or “numerate.” The work can bewilder even a mathematically savvy parent whose mind boggles as their children discuss “strategies" for solving problems and, when subtracting, work their way from left to right (starting with, say, hundreds and moving to the tens and then ones) rather than the other way around, which is more traditional.

The city came down squarely on the side of reformers. It selected Everyday Math, a program developed at the University of Chicago in the 1980s. Almost three million students in grades kindergarten through six currently use it, according to its Web site. Thomas Loveless of the Brooking Institution has described it as “the most sensible” of the new new math programs and Everyday Mathematics has been endorsed by the National Science Foundation.

It also has attracted legions of critics. Some, including a number of mathematicians, have formed an organization called NYC HOLD (it is supposed to stand for Honest Open Logical Decisions on Mathematics Education Reform) to express concerns about the program. One member of its steering committee, mathematician Bastiann Braams, has written that Everyday Mathematics “offer[s] a hopelessly confusing potpourri of methods” for computation and, by introducing calculators to very young students “will contribute to the failure of many pupils to acquire proper facility with numbers and operations.”

But supporters counter that the traditional approach their critics remember so fondly did not work. To bolster their case, they note that U.S. students do not perform as well in math as their counterpoints elsewhere in the world. “In the field of children's learning of arithmetic, there is significant research to show that the force-feeding of computational procedures is harmful,” wrote Thomas C. O’Brien, a professor of education at Southern Illinois University. “But the critics continue to insist that arithmetic -- and knowledge in general -- is inert stuff to be transmitted and stored.”

Since neither Mayor Michael Bloomberg nor his school chancellor Joel Klein had any education experience to speak of, it is generally believed they relied on the advice of Diana Lam, then the number two person in the department, to select a program. As superintendent in San Antonio, Lam used Everyday Mathematics, and scores rose. After she left, though, the system dropped the program.

TEST SCORES

It would be nice -- and no doubt a relief to New Yorkers who simply want the city’s kids to get a good education -- if the test scores announced in late September could cast some light on this debate. Unfortunately, they don’t.

Some of last year’s fourth graders had more than a year and a half of Everyday Math when they took the test. But many others attend schools where the program had not yet been implemented.

Certainly the fourth grade scores seem like good news. New York City fourth graders saw their scores rise almost twice as sharply as did children in schools throughout the state as a whole with more than three-quarters of them meeting or exceeding state standards. And the scores for black and Hispanic fourth graders rose more than those for white students.

“If this isn’t good news, I don’t know what is,” Mayor Bloomberg said. Calling the scores “eye-popping,” the Daily News cheered, “clearly, something’s working.”

Many disagree, not all of them Democrats interested in unseating the mayor. These critics downplayed the significance of the results, seeing the cloud around the silver lining.

Eighth Grade Scores Declined

Many pointed to the poor eighth grade results. Scores for eighth graders declined by 1.6 points last year. The middle school version of Everyday Mathematics -- Impact Mathematics -- is being used, but the change came too late to affect last year’s eighth graders.

An analysis of the numbers by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum found that in 76 city schools, not a single eighth grader out of the more than 9,000 tested in those schools got the highest of the four grades on the test. (The tests are marked on a scale of one to four with four meaning that a child far exceeds the state standards.) In 39 of those schools, only 20 percent of kids met state standards. “Clearly, we need to invest more resources in our middle schools so that these students will be prepared to succeed in high school," Gotbaum said in a statement.

Election Year Statistics

Some questioned the validity of the scores, particularly in an election year. “New York State has historically overstated gains in the state,” Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at NYU, said in a radio interview.

“Double digit leaps should raise eyebrows” said Elizabeth Carson of HOLD, noting that large jumps in some individuals schools “cause us to be extremely cynical.” Problems could exist in how the text is scored, for example, she said.

And while math and reading scores may have gone up Ravitch said, all signs point to poorer student performance in other areas. “It’s not just a matter of having them [students] ready to take the test,” she said. “but having them able to read science and read history textbooks and make sense of them.”

Too Easy, Too Much Prepping, Taking Away From Other Subjects

Others, such as Clara Hemphill of Inside Schools, has said the test may be too easy . (You can judge for yourself by looking at test questions (in pdf format).

Even if the test scores are completely valid, it is difficult to use them to measure any single program among the many Bloomberg and Klein have instituted in the past three years. For better or worse, schools now spend more time on reading and math than they did previously -- and less on science, social students and the arts.

Schools have provided extra help to struggling students. “The remedial effort and the intensive effort for struggling students may be more effective than the core curriculum,” said Carson.

Again for better or worse, teachers and principals put a lot of emphasis on test preparation. Some schools offer supplemental classes or tutoring to help students bring up their scores. Students take practice tests and are told in no uncertain terms that the tests matter -- and matter a lot. For fourth graders, the test can pay a major role in determining what middle school the child will get into, spurring parents to hire tutors and buy test guides.

Is It Curriculums, Or Teachers?

Chancellor Joel Klein himself has said he is not sure how much difference a curriculum makes. “I think it’s a less filling/tastes great,” debate he told James Traub of the Times. “I don’t believe curriculums are the key to education. I believe teachers are.”

It will take years before we know what, if any effect Everyday Mathematics has on test scores -- and we may not know even then. Carson notes that the state is instituting new tests next year. That could make comparison between years -- and between the pre and post Bloomberg days -- largely meaningless.

BACK TO SCHOOL

The return to class for most of New York City 1.1 million public schools student proceeded calmly -- except for first-day jitters, anticipation and sometimes dread. The crises of previous years -- extreme teachers shortages or thousands of kids finding themselves without classes or even a school to attend -- appeared largely absent.

The city announced it would mark the new year by extending its new promotion policy, which requires a student to pass a standardized test, to seventh graders. The Department of Education said it had expanded gifted and talented programs to neighborhoods -- particularly poorer parts of the city -- that had had few if any such programs in the past. And it opened 53 new small high schools, at least one of which, Young Women's Leadership School in Queens, did not have a home. Sixteen charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded, also began operation, including one run by the United Federation of Teachers.

But while teachers teach and students learn, controversies continue outside the classroom. Education has been, and will continue to be, a key issue in this year’s mayoral campaign. The state is still fighting a court order that it provide billions more dollars for education in the city.

And teachers and principals entered their third academic year without a contract. Teachers union president Randi Weingarten has called on the mayor to reach agreement with the union and has threatened to either endorse Fernando Ferrer or go out on strike if he doesn’t. The latter would be illegal -- and would certainly end the calm that marked the start of classes.

 

Mayoral Issue Grid: Education



Mayoral Issue Grid

EDUCATION

-Top priority?
-Pay raise for teachers?
-Should city contribute to Campaign for Fiscal Equity?
-Charter Schools?
-Social Promotion

New York City has the largest public school system in the country with over 1 million students and more than 1,100 schools. When he was running for mayor, Michael Bloomberg promised to overhaul the city’s education system and told voters to hold him accountable for the results.

After taking office, he won control of the schools, abolished the Board of Education, and began instituting policies like the end of “social promotion,” advancing students on to the next grade even though they may not be academically prepared.

Recent test scores show that city students are making improvements, but by any measure, the schools still face many critical issues. Many classrooms are overcrowded. Less than half of each high school class graduates in four years. And teachers in the city make less than their suburban counterparts and many leave or quit.

The state’s highest court ruled that the city’s educational system is severely underfunded. It ordered the state to spend an additional $23 billion to ensure a “basic, sound education” for each child. Lawmakers in the state have appealed the decision and have not increased funding. Some believe the city should pay a portion of the needed funding.

In February 2004, Mayor Bloomberg implemented a plan to end so-called "social promotion," the practice of passing students on to the next grade even though they cannot perform at academic standards. Bloomberg instituted standardized tests for 3rd and 5th graders that are required to advance. He now plans to implement the same tests in the 7th grade. Some criticize the plan, arguing it puts too much pressure on students and that single test does not accurately reflect a level of education.

Fernando Ferrer

Fernando Ferrer promises to increase the number of high school graduates from New York City public schools by 50,000 in four years. Within the next eight years, he wants to lower the dropout rate below the national level.

He plans to improve school buildings, hire more teachers, and create a centralized tracking system to monitor student progress and attendance, which he says will identify children at risk of dropping out. He also promises to provide a laptop computer for each high school student.

Ferrer, who often mentions that his wife is a schoolteacher, promises to give public school teachers a pay raise.

To pay for all of this, Ferrer proposes using the $23 billion that a state court ruled the city should receive in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. Although he hopes the majority of the money will come from Albany, Ferrer said city should pay about 25 percent of it.

To do so, he proposed a half a cent tax on stock sales on Wall Street. He argues that it makes sense to require Wall Street to contribute to education because “they are the industry that benefits most in seeing that New York’s children are educated to the highest of standards.”

Ferrer supports increasing the number of charter schools - institutions that are allowed to run independently of the rest of the school system but still receive government funding - as long as they do not take away resources from the pubic school system.

(Read Ferrer’s education platform)

Ferrer said he would not reverse the mayor's action to end social promotion for third and fifth graders. But Ferrer said the real problem is that the mayor is too concerned about test scores.

"The problem in our school system is while the mayor is obsessing about some test score increases in the early grades, we're forgetting about collapsing scores in middle school and a dropout crisis - a level of dropouts of 50 percent and more in our high school grades," Ferrer said.

Michael Bloomberg

Even Michael Bloomberg’s opponents agree that abolishing the Board of Education and taking control of the city’s schools was a major accomplishment. Bloomberg has also instituted a citywide curriculum and increased city funding for the Department of Education by $2.5 billion since 2002. Bloomberg eliminated the policy of social promotion in the 3rd and 5th grades and points toward a 10 percent increase in reading scores for 4th graders as proof of its success. Bloomberg also created a Leadership Academy to recruit and train principals.

After giving the teacher’s a raise in his first year in office, Bloomberg and the teacher’s union were locked in a deadlocked over additional pay increases for three years. In September, the Bloomberg administration and the New York City teachers' union reached a tentative contract that calls for raises of 15 percent over 52 months, but requires teachers to work longer days, eliminates some seniority rights in staffing decisions and establishes a new master teacher position with higher pay.

Bloomberg supports the State Supreme Court ruling that city schools should get $23 billion in more funding. But he does not want the city to pay any more than it currently does. Bloomberg has argued that any increase at all in city education spending would require cuts in other areas that "would harm the very children this lawsuit is designed to help." Michael Cardoza, the Bloomberg administration's corporation counsel, has even said that the city would reject any additional state funds if it had to chip in part of the settlement.

Bloomberg says he is a “strong supporter” of charter schools, institutions that are allowed to run independently of the rest of the school system but still receive government funding. He has urged the state to increase the number that can be created. In the last three and a half years, the Bloomberg administration has opened 17 charter schools with 16 more set to open this fall. His five-year capital plan includes $290 million toward building charter schools in the city.

(Read Michael Bloomberg’s education platform)

Mayor Bloomberg implemented a plan to end social promotion in the third and fifth grades. He points toward a 10 percent increase in reading scores for 4th graders as proof of its success. Bloomberg is now wants to require standardized tests in 7th grade as well.


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Mayoral Issue Grid: Education



Mayoral Issue Grid

EDUCATION

-Top priority?
-Pay raise for teachers?
-Should city contribute to Campaign for Fiscal Equity?
-Charter Schools?
-Social Promotion

New York City has the largest public school system in the country with over 1 million students and more than 1,100 schools. When he was running for mayor, Michael Bloomberg promised to overhaul the city’s education system and told voters to hold him accountable for the results.

After taking office, he won control of the schools, abolished the Board of Education, and began instituting policies like the end of “social promotion,” advancing students on to the next grade even though they may not be academically prepared.

Recent test scores show that city students are making improvements, but by any measure, the schools still face many critical issues. Many classrooms are overcrowded. Less than half of each high school class graduates in four years. And teachers in the city make less than their suburban counterparts and many leave or quit.

The state’s highest court ruled that the city’s educational system is severely underfunded. It ordered the state to spend an additional $23 billion to ensure a “basic, sound education” for each child. Lawmakers in the state have appealed the decision and have not increased funding. Some believe the city should pay a portion of the needed funding.

In February 2004, Mayor Bloomberg implemented a plan to end so-called "social promotion," the practice of passing students on to the next grade even though they cannot perform at academic standards. Bloomberg instituted standardized tests for 3rd and 5th graders that are required to advance. He now plans to implement the same tests in the 7th grade. Some criticize the plan, arguing it puts too much pressure on students and that single test does not accurately reflect a level of education.

Fernando Ferrer

Fernando Ferrer promises to increase the number of high school graduates from New York City public schools by 50,000 in four years. Within the next eight years, he wants to lower the dropout rate below the national level.

He plans to improve school buildings, hire more teachers, and create a centralized tracking system to monitor student progress and attendance, which he says will identify children at risk of dropping out. He also promises to provide a laptop computer for each high school student.

Ferrer, who often mentions that his wife is a schoolteacher, promises to give public school teachers a pay raise.

To pay for all of this, Ferrer proposes using the $23 billion that a state court ruled the city should receive in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. Although he hopes the majority of the money will come from Albany, Ferrer said city should pay about 25 percent of it.

To do so, he proposed a half a cent tax on stock sales on Wall Street. He argues that it makes sense to require Wall Street to contribute to education because “they are the industry that benefits most in seeing that New York’s children are educated to the highest of standards.”

Ferrer supports increasing the number of charter schools - institutions that are allowed to run independently of the rest of the school system but still receive government funding - as long as they do not take away resources from the pubic school system.

(Read Ferrer’s education platform)

Ferrer said he would not reverse the mayor's action to end social promotion for third and fifth graders. But Ferrer said the real problem is that the mayor is too concerned about test scores.

"The problem in our school system is while the mayor is obsessing about some test score increases in the early grades, we're forgetting about collapsing scores in middle school and a dropout crisis - a level of dropouts of 50 percent and more in our high school grades," Ferrer said.

C. Virginia Fields

C. Virginia Fields promises to reform the school system and eliminate a “top down approach” that she says Mayor Michael Bloomberg has instituted.

She says she will increase parental involvement with an annual “Parent Power” conference. She promises to expand and improve pre-school options. Fields says she will reach out to business, unions, and non-profits to create high school job placement and counseling.

Fields promises to recruit more qualified teachers and give them a pay raise.

To pay for her education plan, Fields promises to secure the $23 that a state court ruled the city should receive in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. She said it is too early to say if the city should be required to pay any portion of the settlement. She criticizes Mayor Bloomberg for not doing more to demand the money from Albany.

Fields supports increasing the number of charter schools - institutions that are allowed to run independently of the rest of the school system, but still receive government funding - but she says her top priority is rebuilding the public school system.

(Read C. Virginia Fields education platform)

Fields said she would not reverse the mayor's action to end social promotion for third and fifth graders, but she said she would take a different approach than Bloomberg.

At a recent forum, Fields said, "I would take the approach of massive intervention very early on, beginning at pre-K, to make sure that we are putting the resources in our schools, assessing our students, providing them with the resources in every step along the way. We are investing in their academics and we can expect a greater performance overall."

A. Gifford Miller

Gifford Miller has made reducing class size his top priority. He has proposed a 20 percent reduction in all class sizes. This means limiting 17 students in kindergarten through third grade classes, 20 students in fourth through fifth grade, and 23 students in junior and senior high.

He also proposes eliminating quotas on the number of students a principal is allowed to discipline and providing after school programs for every child. Using new technology, he plans to foster better parent-teacher communication. And he wants to institute a service program so that every high school student performs community service.

Miller promises to give public school teachers pay raises. He says he will provide bonuses for teachers who agree to work in under-performing schools.

To pay for his education proposals, Miller proposes using the $23 billion that a state court ruled the city should receive in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. He believes the city should pay about 10 percent of this amount and has proposed an income tax on New Yorkers who make more than $500,000 a year to pay for it.

Miller supports increasing the number of charter schools, institutions that are allowed to run independently of the rest of the school system but still receive government funding

(Read Gifford Miller’s education platform)

Miller said he would not reverse the mayor's action to end social promotion for third and fifth graders, but that he does not believe it is the real problem.

"Giving tests does not transform our schools," Miller said. "What transforms our schools is lowering class sizes."

Anthony Weiner

Anthony Weiner says that the top priority for the education system should be ensuring school safety. He believes principals and teachers should be given more power to suspend unruly students. He also wants to replace the current school curriculum and give teachers more say in their lesson plans.

He promises to revamp school spending to ensure that more money goes toward the classroom. For example, he wants to eliminate Mayor Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy that trains principals.

Weiner promises to pay teachers more in order to keep them from moving to higher paid jobs in the suburbs.

To pay for his education proposals, Weiner proposes using the $23 billion a state court ruled the city should receive in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. Although he admits that the city will likely have to pay some portion of this, he has not committed to a specific amount.

Weiner supports increasing the number of charter schools, institutions that are allowed to run independently of the rest of the school system but still receive government funding

(Read Anthony Weiner’s education platform)

At a recent forum, Weiner said, "I believe that having a test substitute for a good teacher or having a test substitute for a reasonable debate in this city is just wrong. You know, I desperately want that third grader to pass but I also want that fourth grader who's an average student to become a great student. I want that seventh grader who's a great student to go on to become a scholar, to go on to Harvard and Yale and the other great institutions. This is what we should be focusing on."

Michael Bloomberg

Even Michael Bloomberg’s opponents agree that abolishing the Board of Education and taking control of the city’s schools was a major accomplishment. Bloomberg has also instituted a citywide curriculum and increased city funding for the Department of Education by $2.5 billion since 2002. Bloomberg eliminated the policy of social promotion in the 3rd and 5th grades and points toward a 10 percent increase in reading scores for 4th graders as proof of its success. Bloomberg also created a Leadership Academy to recruit and train principals.

Since giving the teacher’s a raise in his first year in office, Bloomberg and the teacher’s union have been deadlocked over additional pay increases. He has offered teachers raises of about 5 percent over three years in return for work rule concessions. The teachers union is demanding a 19 percent pay hike over three years.

Bloomberg supports the State Supreme Court ruling that city schools should get $23 billion in more funding. But he does not want the city to pay any more than it currently does. Bloomberg has argued that any increase at all in city education spending would require cuts in other areas that "would harm the very children this lawsuit is designed to help." Michael Cardoza, the Bloomberg administration's corporation counsel, has even said that the city would reject any additional state funds if it had to chip in part of the settlement.

Bloomberg says he is a “strong supporter” of charter schools, institutions that are allowed to run independently of the rest of the school system but still receive government funding. He has urged the state to increase the number that can be created. In the last three and a half years, the Bloomberg administration has opened 17 charter schools with 16 more set to open this fall. His five-year capital plan includes $290 million toward building charter schools in the city.

(Read Michael Bloomberg’s education platform)

Mayor Bloomberg implemented a plan to end social promotion in the third and fifth grades. He points toward a 10 percent increase in reading scores for 4th graders as proof of its success. Bloomberg is now wants to require standardized tests in 7th grade as well.


RELATED ARTICLES:
- After Mayoral Control, Rivals Call For More Changes
- Money, Class Size and Mayoral Politics
- Mayoral Candidates Debate - Education (a transcript)
- The Latest Round on School Funding

 

Campaign 2005: After Mayoral Control, Rivals Call For More Changes


Four years ago, candidates running for mayor saw an ailing public school system riddled with politics and failing most of its 1.1 million students. Many New Yorkers believed outgoing Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had done little for the city’s schools other than browbeat them. While some aspects of life in the city had improved in the previous decade, the schools had not. In fact, many parents believed public education had gotten worse.

In 2005, no one – not even his harshest critics – can say that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has ignored education. He made gaining control of the system one of his top priorities -- and accomplished the feat. Since then, he has remained active in school issues, selecting the chancellor, eliminating the Board of Education and community school boards, moving education headquarters across from City Hall, instituting policies to end so-called social promotion, and so on.

All of the major Democratic candidates, as well as Conservative Thomas Ognibene, praise the mayor for taking on education and trying to improve city schools. But they fault him on the effects of his reforms and question whether the changes have improved what takes place in tens of thousands of classrooms across the city every day. Among themselves, the Democrats differ largely in emphasis. While they all, for example, want smaller classes (so, the mayor claims, does he) Gifford Miller makes it his number one priority while C. Virginia Fields includes it as part of a larger package of changes that also include such items as improving vocational education.

The biggest difference among the candidates comes over funding for the system. All of the Democrats support the court’s ruling in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit which ordered that city schools receive billions of dollars more a year to provide students with a “sound basic education.” But they disagree over how much of this money – if any – should come from the city and how the city should pay for that share.

ASSESSING THE BLOOMBERG CHANGES

Success in education can be difficult to measure, particularly over the short term. When he won control of the city’s schools, Bloomberg reportedly said, “"If reading and math scores aren't significantly better, I will look in the mirror and say I've failed. And I've never failed at anything in my life."

Most test scores are up , but the mayor’s rivals argue the increase may not result from the mayor’s changes and that, in any event, tests scores may not accurately reflect what goes on in the schools. Eva Moskowitz, chair of the City Council Education Committee and a Miller ally, held hearings in June where experts questioned the reasons for the increase in test scores. They note that, while New York City had seen a sharp rise in scores on the fourth grade state-wide English test, scores had gone up even more sharply in Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers – school systems that had not had the benefit of Bloomberg’s leadership.

And others dispute how much weight one should give the scores. "The focus on test scores in the early grades and the rise in the test scores in the early grades is a very narrow measure," Ferrer said in unveiling Ferrer's education reform package last month. "The right measure for the success of our school system is how many kids who graduate on time have the tools they need to go on to higher education and get a steady job."

Miller still sees a litany of problems. “Attendance is down, teachers are leaving the system in droves, violence is an increasing problem in our schools, and parents feel more disconnected than ever,” Miller said this spring.

IN THE CLASSROOMS

More than any of the other Democrats, Miller has tried to carve out education as his issue. And Miller has focused largely on class size, calling for a 20 percent cut in the number of students in a class. This would mean, for example, a maximum of 17 children in all kindergarten through third grade classrooms in the city. "Every teacher, every parent and every principal can tell you that kids can't learn in classrooms that are bursting at the seams from overcrowding," Miller has said.

Miller has called for putting a proposal aimed at reducing class size on the November ballot. Bloomberg, though, will probably block the measure from going before voters this year. It could appear in 2006, though, by which time Miller will either be mayor or out of office entirely.

Ferrer would focus on reducing what he calls the “educational dropout crisis we have in New York City.” Ferrer's plan calls for a series of changes, starting at the pre-K level, because, he says, “children begin dropping out of high school when they start falling behind before school and in the early grades.”

So, like the other candidates, Ferrer would cut class size. He would also improve the system for tracking children’s progress as they go through the system, offer counseling and extra help for middle school students, provide all high school students with a laptop computer, and strengthen the high school curriculum in social studies, sciences and the arts. At one end, he would offer more challenging classes; at the other he would provide more math and literacy programs for struggling students.

Weiner, who frequently reminds listeners his mother was a long-time public-school teacher, has proposed a three-part program focusing on making schools safer; attracting and keeping good teachers; and spending money in the classroom, not at school headquarters in the Tweed courthouse. In going after spending on school bureaucracy and what he terms “political pet projects,” Weiner aims at two of Bloomberg and School Chancellor Joel Klein’s prized initiatives: the parent coordinators in every school and the “leadership academy” to train principals.

Fields has offered a plan dubbed SMART. The acronym covers smaller class sizes, massive interventions at the earlier levels, academic partnerships with universities, recruitment and retention for teachers, and technology and tutorial help.

All of the candidates call for reaching a new contract with teachers, something Bloomberg has failed to achieve in the two years since the previous accord expired. Weiner notes that teachers in New York receive far less money than their suburban counterparts, leading the Scarsdale school system to raid the city for teachers. Whatever the intrinsic merit of giving more money to teachers, the stand has a possible political payoff as well. The politically powerful United Federation of Teachers has not yet announced who it will back in the mayoral race, and all the candidates would undoubtedly like their support. This may explain Bloomberg’s apparent shift on the teacher’s contract. He has stopped publicly demanding sweeping changes in work rules, such as ending tenure, and instead says teachers will get a raise.

Lesser known candidates weigh in on education as well. Democrat Chris Brodeur’s 100 innovations for New York City only touch on education (there’s more about ending corruption, making more things free and requiring bathroom doors to open outward instead on in), but he does want to end bullying.

Minor party candidates chime in on some of the mainstream issues – but include a position or two reflecting their affiliations. And so, along with smaller classes, Green Party candidate Theo Chino wants to “include ethics, nonviolence, and environmental conservation in school curricula.” Libertarian Audrey Silk calls for more discipline, increased vocational training and, as befits a Libertarian, more free-market style competition. “We do a great disservice to our children by removing competitive sports and competitive academics,” she says on her Web site.“Similarly, we do a great disservice to our children when we force them to solve problems and reach solutions ‘by committee’ instead of teaching them self-reliance."

One candidate takes this a step further. Seth Blum, who teaches math at a public high school in Manhattan, has declared himself the candidate of the Education Party. Blum's platform would decrease the emphasis on tests, institute a curriculum written by city schoolteachers, and get money for education both through a surcharge on tickets to events held in new stadiums and a voluntary tax check-off for education. The group’s slogan trumpets, "The strongest democracy arises out of a most educated society.” For now, though, the party must grapple with New York democracy and get enough signatures to win a place on the ballot.

RUNNING THE SYSTEM

None of the Democratic candidates want to return to the days before mayoral control. But most charge the system has become too centralized and undemocratic.

“I hear the same complaint over and over again,” Fields says in a statement on education on her Web site. “No one at the Department of Education cares what we think and no one is listening.”

To change this, Fields said she would have an annual conference for parents and also pay more attention to the various education councils set up to replace the community school boards.

More than any other candidates, Ognibene focuses on the running of the system. He would cut the bureaucracy and give more power over budgets and some educational issues to individual principals. To ensure that this worked, all schools would be evaluated annually. But Ognibene would not surrender mayoral control. “If I were mayor, nobody would overrule me,” Ognibene said at an education forum. “That's the whole point of being mayor, isn't it?”

FUNDING THE SYSTEM

While the Campaign for Fiscal Equity ruling calls for an additional $14 billion for schools over the next four years, it does not dictate how much of the money should come from the state and how much from Albany. Bloomberg, though, has been adamant that the city will not pay a penny. Ferrer has staked out the opposite ground, saying the city will have no choice but to pay 20 to 25 percent of the $14 billion.

Weiner has criticized Ferrer on this, arguing that the former Bronx borough president could undermine the city’s negotiating position with the state. “Our position should be we don’t put in money because we’re the ones who have been victimized,” Weiner said at a forum ponsored by the Citizens Budget Commission. “Mr. Ferrer, you’re 100 percent wrong.”

“If you think zero is a sound negotiating strategy, that has gotten us exactly zero,” Ferrer said at the same forum. “And it will continue to get us zero.”

To fund the city’s share, Ferrer has proposed a small tax on stock transactions. While not committing himself to paying any set portion of the CFE settlement, Miller has proposed keeping the tax surcharge on people earning more than $500,000 a year. This, he says, would pay for smaller classes and would also put the city on the road to paying some of the money called for in the CFE ruling.

All the Democrats fault Bloomberg for not getting more state money for the schools – for not stopping fellow Republican George Pataki from stonewalling on the CFE ruling by filing appeals and refusing to budget money for the settlement. “The same kind of passion, determination, tenacity we have seen this mayor use to fight for a stadium on the West Side of Manhattan is missing when it comes to fighting Albany for funds for our schools,” Field has said.

Given Pataki’s intransigence – and Bloomberg’s apparent inability to shake it – the crucial vote on education in New York may not come in the September primary or even on Election Day but on November 7, 2006, when New Yorkers select their next governor.

 

Mayoral Candidates: Education


EDUCATION

-Priorities
-Pay Raises for Teachers
-Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Fernando Ferrer

Fernando Ferrer promises to the number of high school graduates from New York City public schools by 50,000 in four years. And within eight years, lower the dropout rate below the national level. He plans to modernize the schools, hire more teachers, and create a centralized tracking system to monitor student progress and attendance, which he says will identify children at risk of dropping out it can be prevented before it happens. He also promises to provide each student a laptop computer to engage them in learning in and out of school

Ferrer also promises to give public school teachers a pay raise.

To pay for all of this, Ferrer proposes using the $23 billion that the State Supreme Court ruled the city should receive in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. Although he hopes the majority of the money will come from Albany, Ferrer said city should pay 25 percent of it. He has proposed a tax of about a half a cent on sales of an average share of stock. He argues that it makes sense to require Wall Street to contribute to education, the former Bronx borough president said, because “they are the industry that benefits most in seeing that New York’s children are educated to the highest of standards.”

(Read Ferrer’s education platform http://www.ferrer2005.com/site/News2?abbr=eng_&page=NewsArticle&id=5859)

C. Virginia Fields

C. Virginia Fields promises to reform the school system and eliminate a “top down approach” to education. She proposes extending after-school programs and increasing parental involvement, with an annual “Parent Power” conference. She promises to expand and improve pre-school options. Fields says she will must reach out to business, unions and non-profits to partner in planning our high school job placement and counseling.

Fields promises to recruit more qualified teachers and give them a pay raise.

To pay for her education plan, Fields promises to secure the $23 that the State Supreme Court ruled the city should receive in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. She said it is too early to say if the city should be required to pay any portion of this and has said the mayor should demand the money from Albany before committing any money.

(Read C. Virginia Fields education platform http://www.newyorkers4fields.com/main.cfm?actionId=globalShowStaticContent&screenKey=cndIssues&htmlId=2153)

Gifford Miller

Gifford Miller has made reducing class size the top priority for education. Miller promises to reduce class sizes by 20 percent. This means kindergarten through third grade would have no more than 17 students, 20 students in fourth through fifth grade, and 23 students in junior and senior high. He also proposes eliminating quotas on the number of students a principal may discipline, provide after school programs for every child. Using new technology, he plans to foster better parent-teacher communication. And we wants to institute a service program so that every high school student performs community service.

Miller also promises to give public school teachers pay raises. He also wants to tie salary and advancement to performance and provide bonuses for teachers who agree to work in under-performing schools.

To pay for his education proposals, Miller proposes using the $23 billion that the State Supreme Court ruled the city should receive in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. He believes the city should pay about 10 percent of this amount and has proposed an income tax on New Yorkers who make more than $500,000 a year to pay for it.

(Read Gifford Miller’s education platform http://www.giffordmiller.com/issues/education.html)

Anthony Wiener

Anthony Wiener says that the top priority for the education system should be ensuring school safety. He believes principals and teachers should be given more power to suspend unruly students. He also wants to replace the current school curriculum and give teachers more say in their lesson plans. He promises to revamp school spending to put more money toward the classroom, for example eliminating Mayor Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy that trains principals.

Wiener promises to pay teacher’s more in order to keep them from moving to higher paid jobs in the suburbs.

To pay for his education proposals, Wiener proposes using the $23 billion that the State Supreme Court ruled the city should receive in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. Although he admits that the city will likely have to pay some portion of this, he has not committed to a specific amount of city funding.

(Read Anthony Weiner’s education platform http://www.anthonyweiner.com/speeches/show/3)

Michael Bloomberg

Even Michael Bloomberg’s opponents agree that abolishing the Board of Education and taking control of the city’s schools was a major accomplishment. Bloomberg has also instituted a citywide curriculum and increased city funding for the Department of Education by $2.5 billion since 2002. Bloomberg eliminated the policy of social promotion in the 3rd and 5th grades and points toward a 10 percent increase in reading scores for 4th graders as proof of its success. Bloomberg also created a Leadership Academy to recruit and train principals.

Since giving the teacher’s a raise in his first year in office, Bloomberg and the teacher’s union have been deadlocked over additional pay increases. He has offered teachers raises of about 5 percent over three years in return for work rule concessions. The teachers union is demanding a 19 percent pay hike over three years.

Bloomberg supports the State Supreme Court ruling that city schools should get $23 billion in more funding. But he does not want the city to pay a single additional cent. Bloomberg has argued, any increase at all in city education spending would require cuts in other areas that "would harm the very children this lawsuit is designed to help." Michael Cardoza, the Bloomberg administration's corporation counsel, has even said that the city would reject any additional state funds if it had to chip in part of the settlement.

(Read Michael Bloomberg’s education platform)

RELATED ARTICLES:
Money, Class Size and Mayoral Politics http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Education/20050520/6/1423
Mayoral Candidates Debate Education (a transcript) http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/fea/20050425/202/1389 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Setbacks and Successes for Education Councils


Despite frustrations and setbacks, the community education councils that replaced the 32 community school boards last fall were more effective in their first year than many observers expected, and parents say the councils may become more powerful as they learn to flex their political muscles.

The first year was difficult for the councils, which are made up mostly of public school parents and elected largely by officials of school parents association. Some council members complain about what they consider a dismissive attitude by the Department of Education. They are dismayed that Chancellor Joel Klein removed the one clear power the councils had -- to determine school choice and magnet programs. In poor neighborhoods in particular, the councils have had difficulty attracting enough members, and many don't have the full complement of nine parents.

The experiences of one council member, David Bloomfield, chair of the Graduate Program in Educational Leadership at Brooklyn College and first vice president of the Citywide Council on High Schools, reflect those of many council members. "My chief frustration was the perception that the Department of Education had created the council as window dressing," Bloomfield writes in an article for Inside Schools. "Rarely was there a sense of welcomed collaboration between the parents on the board and Department of Education officials."

Despite this, he says, there were successes. When the council publicized complaints it had received from parents, an article appeared in the Daily News. This, Bloomfield writes, prompted the Department pf Education to appoint an executive director for secondary schools and to revamp its policies on admission to high school.

Other councils point to success too.

On Manhattan's West Side, parents who thought admissions procedures discriminated against poor and working class Latino families were able to get a hearing. On the East Side, parents upset by the progressive math curriculum aired their concerns. And a community council member from Queens says he is impressed by the clout the council gives parents.

"I've been empowered to a degree I wouldn't have thought possible," Jeffrey Guyton, a council member from District 30 in Long Island City, said in a letter to the New York Times this spring. "I've helped to get a leaking roof repaired and am organizing a seminar on asthma at PS 2, among other things."

When the legislature gave the mayor control of the city schools, it dissolved the 32 community school boards and replaced them with 32 "community education councils" each with nine parents elected by parents associations, two ember appointed by the borough president and one high school senior, who does not get a vote. These councils are supposed to approve boundaries between schools, review educational programs, evaluate supervisors, and make recommendations on building use. The legislature also created the council on high schools and a council for special education. The first councils were selected for one-year terms, but the next set will serve two, starting in the fall.

There have been difficulties. Resignations, dismissals and unfilled vacancies meant that almost half of the 32 councils did not have their full complement of nine parent members on January 3, 2005, according to a report prepared by Carolyn Prager of Advocates for Public Representation in Public Education. Because a great many of those who did finish their terms did not run for re-election or were defeated, there will be a huge turnover in the councils in the fall. Almost as worrisome, the turnout in the election limited to three parent association officers in each school was dismal.

Indeed, in some poor neighborhoods parents feel as frustrated as ever. "We have no power at all," Glenn Simmons of the council for District 32 in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn told the Daily News. "Our members resigned because they were unhappy. If you want to make a difference in schools, community education councils are not the place to do it." Christian Rodriguez, a member of District 22 in Flatbush told the Daily News that many parents were chased away by frustration. "If you come into the situation cold, like a lot of parents did this year, it really is a shock to your system," he said.

The bureaucracy seemed to conspire against the councils. Members learned that they did not have the free access to schools that their predecessors on the community school boards enjoyed; rather, they could visit only if the principal agreed. They were upset when, without consultation, the chancellor revised a regulation -- A-185 -- on zoning to remove their ability to designate magnet schools and school choice programs in their districts.

By spring, members were grappling with onerous conflict of interest regulations that required them to disclose their personal finances - and perhaps be removed from the council - if they had even a remote connection to a group or company that does business with the Department of Education. A council member in District 13 in Brooklyn faced disqualification because she worked for Verizon, the telephone company, which does business with the school system. "You've got to be kidding," Carmen Colon, president of the District 13 council, told the New York Times. "She has nothing to do with contracts. She's a clerk." Colon said excessive paperwork discouraged civic-minded parents from running for office.

Despite these problems, some councils took on important issues. Darlene Vanasco, a parent, attended a District 15 meeting in Brooklyn on a middle school initiative and small class size. "The dedication of the people on the council has been incredible," she said. "They are tenacious, smart and informed and I do believe they can really make a difference over time."

District 3's council was instrumental in airing the Center for Immigrant Families' report on what it called de facto segregation in the gifted programs on Manhattan's West Side. District 2, also in Manhattan, held three forums on the math curriculum. Serena Brown, newly elected to the panel, said the middle school admissions process was greatly improved with the help of the council. According to Catherine Skopec, a parent who has attended nearly all District 2 council meetings, the panel really listened and there was some movement on some issues."

In December many of the councils banded together in an Association of New York City Education Councils to help solve their problems. They engaged civil rights attorney Norman Siegel as counsel. Besides public representation, the group provides members with technical assistance on such matters as how to read budgets, placing emphasis on the capital budget that councils are supposed to approve.

"I think the councils had a lot of great ideas," said Vanasco. "I also think they feel quite hobbled in instituting the ideas. The issue is not whether they could be effective. The issue is how. Some feel a lot of work was put in with not enough hard results to show for it. However, I do think we need to be patient. Change happens over time."

This topic page has been adapted from an article that originally appeared Inside Schools, an independent guide to New York City public schools sponsored by Advocates for Children.

 



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