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Citizens Union

Education

Dog Days For Summer School


 

When Maria Rosario's daughter, a first grader in the Bronx, was left back this June, Rosario wanted the girl to get extra help. But the Department of Education was not offering free summer school for first graders. And so Rosario, who receives public assistance, had to pay $220 for private summer school for the girl.

Two years after thousands of New York City parents received automated phone calls from schools Chancellor Harold Levy urging them to make sure their children attended classes in July and August, the Department of Education has apparently lost interest in summer school. About 255,000 students were given the chance to attend summer school this year, down from the Levy era, when more than 300,000 students were allowed to attend. Some 145,000 showed up for July and August classes this year.

Summer school's move to the back burner has had a real cost for the thousands of students who failed to make the grade during the regular school year and who are now either out of summer school or in half-hearted programs. Vincent Caneles, an 11th grader taking summer classes at Kennedy High School in the Bronx, says that in his un-air-conditioned classroom of 60 students, "the heat is unbearable. It's like child abuse."

Teachers such as Adam Bronstein, who has a class of third graders in Washington Heights this summer, say there is a shortage of the necessary books and materials.

Such woes have plagued summer school for years. But this year they have been exacerbated by bureaucratic confusion and budget cuts. The Department of Education has $18 million less than it had last year to educate students during the summer. Most importantly, summer school, like many an educational reform before it, seems to have lost its chic. During his time as chancellor, Levy told New Yorkers that summer school was essential to some students' educational success and key to ending social promotion -- the unofficial policy that moves students up a grade regardless of their academic achievement. Klein, though, has other things on his mind -- most notably instituting a uniform curriculum in the schools.

THE DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES

Summer school's popularity has always been linked to notions about promotion, with the pendulum swinging back and forth. Under Chancellor Frank Macchiarola in 1978, New York kicked off "Promotional Gates," a program that required fourth and seventh graders to pass citywide tests in order to be promoted, and mandated summer school for those students who failed the exam.

But after a decade, the Board of Education realized the program was not working: A third of students who were held over were still not able to meet standards at the end of the next year, and children who had been held back were not more likely to meet testing requirements three years later. Instead, according to the Board of Education, they had a greater chance than other children of having social and emotional difficulties.

In 1991, the system instituted "Promotional Success." It put the focus on providing students with extra help during the school year so that they would not have to go to summer school. Summer school enrollment began to ebb.

Another decade and another pendulum swing later, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Chancellor Rudy Crew tightened the policy on promotion. They made attendance one of the three promotion criteria, along with standardized tests and classroom performance, and had many students wait until summer to get extra help.

This culminated in 2000 when Levy gave students who did not meet the requirement for promotion the choice of attending summer school -- and doing better -- or repeating their grade.

But Levy could not make summer school live up to its promises. Each year only half of students required to attend summer school showed up for class, and only half of those who did attend passed the end of the summer exams. This, however, did not keep students from being promoted, according to reports by Metis Associates, a consulting firm.

SUMMER SCHOOL 2003

This year, 178,000 students in third through twelfth grades had to attend summer schools if they wanted to be promoted, while another 77,000 struggling students were given the chance to attend on a voluntary basis. But some students who would have been invited to summer school in the past were not able to attend this year. By far the biggest cutback was the elimination of summer programs for kindergarteners, first and second graders, such as Maria Rosario's daughter. No citywide promotion policy exists for the early grades, but districts can choose to keep those students back.

The reorganization of the school system has added to the complications. For one, no one really knows who is running summer school. The first day of summer school, July 1, happened to be the day the school system was reorganized from 32 school districts to 10 school divisions. It was also the day after the director of summer school, Brian Morrow, retired.

Summer school was left to the old districts, but because the district offices have all but disappeared, each district has one lone liaison overseeing summer school. "No one thought about this -- who was going to run summer school," says Fran Lawler, summer liaison for District 9, who is working out of an elementary school so she can have access to a phone and fax.

Jane Canner, of Classroom Inc., which provides summer curricula for the public schools, says, "If summer school is going to have an effect it has to be carefully thought out and there has to be an energy behind it." But this year, she says, "Regions were not focused on summer school."

THE NEXT WAVE

The chancellor's office has set no deadlines for reviewing promotion and summer school policies, but perhaps by next year summer school will have a clearer connection with the chancellor's reforms.

There are some indications that Klein will return to the model of Promotional Success and provide struggling students with additional help during the school year.

Kevin Ortiz, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, says that the chancellor is looking to revamp summer school under the direction of Deputy Chancellor Diana Lam, but the hope is to improve instruction during the regular school year so that no one will have to attend summer school. And, in a recent letter to parents, Klein wrote, "Summer school has never been the answer for preparing students to move on to the next level of work."

Jackie Kamin, a member of the Panel on Education Policy, for one would welcome such a change. "Kids are better off getting tutoring during the year," she says.

Whatever changes are made, parents like Robin Brown, chair of the Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council, hope that there will be "some process to see if summer school is effective," a hope certainly shared by students sweating it out in classes across the city.

Julia Kamin is a reporter with Inside Schools, a web site published by Advocates for Children.

Gearing Up For The Changes


School is out for most New York City students, yet many of the city's educators and school officials are still cramming. They will be hard at work all summer to try to get the newly reorganized school system up and running by the time students return in September.

Over the past month, the sketchy outlines of this new system have been filled in a bit. For starters, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein officially settled a lawsuit, brought by Senator Carl Kruger, Assemblyman Steve Sanders, and others, that threatened to stall reorganization plans. The suit charged that the restructuring was illegal because it eliminated community school district superintendents without permission of the legislature.

However, the terms of the settlement changed the new administrative structure of the schools very little. The old high school superintendencies and community school districts will still be subsumed into ten new instructional divisions run by regional superintendents. As planned, 113 “local instructional supervisors” will oversee instruction in clusters of schools within the divisions. Thirty-two of these "LIS's" (rhymes with kisses), as they are called by the Department of Education, will also be designated as community school district superintendents, will maintain a small district office, and will work with the parent and community members who will sit on the "district education councils,” which are the groups that will replace the community school boards.

All of the local instructional supervisors have now been appointed. Former principals, district instructional personnel, staff developers, and superintendents are among those who were tapped for the new positions. Each supervisor has charge of a network of ten or so schools.

The groups of schools that make up each new network have also been announced. In composing the networks, as well as in assigning local instructional supervisors to them, the regional superintendents were given broad discretion. Chancellor Klein and the Department of Education asked only that the groupings ease the transition to a system that runs more seamlessly from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

The ten regional superintendents interpreted this in different ways and took a variety of approaches to creating the networks. As a result, some networks mix elementary, middle and high schools under the same local instructional supervisor. Others consist mostly of same-level schools. Some mix schools from different community school districts or mix high- and low-performing schools. Other networks consist of similar schools or schools that are geographically close.

Many parents, educators, and advocates support the principle behind the new networks. They like the idea of having administrators responsible for a manageable number of schools and focused on instruction. They saw potential in networking neighborhood elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as in clustering schools with similar philosophies so they could support one another. But, in the weeks since the networks have been created, some have expressed skepticism about the methods used to cluster schools and disappointment with the results. They worry that some schools' special qualities, once supported by their district offices, will be neglected or get homogenized within the new structure.

The official role of parents and community members in the governance of school system has also been determined. On July 9, Governor George Pataki signed legislation replacing community school boards with community district education councils. The new district councils will each have nine parent members selected by the parents associations from that district. Each council will also have two community members who are to be appointed by the borough presidents and a nonvoting student member, appointed by the district superintendent.

As with the boards they replaced, the councils' duties are largely advisory. They will hold monthly meetings with the superintendent to discuss the district's educational progress, submit an annual performance evaluation of the district's leadership to the chancellor, hold a hearing on the district's annual capacity needs and review the districts' educational programs and their impact on student achievement. No one is yet sure how (or how well) the councils' district-defined responsibilities will relate to the new network structure.

Parents with questions about how all these changes may affect their children's schooling can go to the Department of Education's Learning Support Centers for a full range of information and service or they can visit their district office. They can also call the Chancellor's Parent Hotline, 718-482-3777. Parents of high school students should call the Chancellor's Parent Hotline or go to their Web site to find the instructional division in which their high school is located.

Jessica Wolff is a public school parent and Director of Policy Development at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a not-for-profit coalition working to reform New York State's education finance system to ensure adequate resources and the opportunity for a sound basic education for all students in New York City. The views expressed are her own.

Arts Education


Arts education means many different things across the city’s 1200 public schools, as a recent City Council report makes clear. Dancers might be hired to teach “movement” to first graders to harness their excess energy; history teachers might take high school students to the Metropolitan Museum’s “Art of the First Cities” exhibition for a long perspective on the Middle East. In District 25, in Queens, students create multimedia works that do double-duty as lessons about technology and Shakespeare. Overall, however, the City Council concluded that funding, resources, and facilities for arts education remain woefully inadequate.

Though all schools receive funding through Project A.R.T.S. (Arts Restoration Throughout the Schools), each school principal chooses how to allocate the funds, whether for professional development, an arts coordinator, programming, or purchase of equipment and resources. Financially strapped schools often tap into Projects A.R.T.S. money for basic needs, since current regulations do not require that funds earmarked for the program are actually spent on arts. According to Department of Education figures, in 2002 only $12.5 million of the $52 million Project A.R.T.S. funding went toward arts education. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein wants to build more accountability into arts education. As part of his efforts to reorganize and streamline the system, Klein plans to implement a uniform arts curriculum by the fall of 2004. Standards will be created to assess arts programs, and the city will track how the $67.5 million Project A.R.T.S. budget is spent on a school by school basis.

Regional Arts Supervisors
From her “Office of Strategic Partnerships” at the Board of Education, Caroline Kennedy will oversee the new arts curriculum. According to Kennedy’s advisor, Leslie Koch, Kennedy will work to “strengthen the relationships between schools and the city’s many arts institutions and artists.” This will likely mean seeking private funding to supplement Project A.R.T.S. money; already, some of the most ambitious school arts programs are funded by the Department of Cultural Affairs, private foundations, or large cultural institutions. The New York City Arts in Education Roundtable estimates that 60 percent of funding for arts programming in schools comes from cultural institutions and community organizations.

With the shift from school districts to regions, regional arts supervisors will oversee as many as 100 schools and all age groups. Already, the average pupil-to-art-teacher ratio in is 610 to 1. Some arts educators worry that the supervisors will be overwhelmed under the new regional structure, but Koch argues they will have the advantage of “being able to think about the whole gambit of arts education, from kindergarten through graduation.”

Arts Standards
Standards-based assessment has become the new mantra for educational reform. A national review of arts education in 1997 revealed that most students’ exposure to the arts was sporadic and lacked any coherent plan. This finding prompted the creation of assessment tools for desired outcomes of basic arts learning, under the rubrics of creating, performing, and interpreting the arts.

The standards are surprisingly specific. In evaluating movement skills among students from kindergarten to fourth grade, they include: “students create movements at low, middle, and high levels” and “students use improvisation to discover and invent movement.” For theater education among the same age group, students are expected to “imagine and clearly describe characters, their relationships, and their environments” and “visualize environments and construct designs to communicate locale and mood.”

By high school, dance students are expected to be able to “project” (demonstrate movement and meaning to audiences) and theater students are expected to “design coherent theater management and marketing plans.”

Under the direction of Angelo Gimondo, the outgoing superintendent of District 30 in Jackson Heights who will become senior instructional manager for the arts, the city has just one year to come up with an arts curriculum and uniform standards to judge its success. Working committees made up of education and artists will focus on each of four disciplines -- visual arts, dance, theater, and music.

But, as demonstrated by the national effort, assessing the efficacy of something as subjective and varied as arts education is challenging (we’ve learned in recent weeks that even math tests can be flawed). In addition, arts learning is freighted with multiple expectations in a way that math or science are not. Research has found that involving students in creative activities can improve their overall academic performance. For troubled students, the arts can build self-confidence or provide direction. Particularly in New York’s diverse classrooms, arts activities are often the media through which discussions about racial or cultural difference occur. After 9/11, creative writing and role-playing became a kind of collective therapy for thousands of shell-shocked students. Art performances or programs are often a vehicle for involving parents or other community members in schools.

Ron Russell, the former education director for Theater for a New Audience and current artistic director of Epic Theater Center, says that art activities have virtue as a process of “consistent reflection.” When a young person tries to learn a song on the guitar, for example, they must pay close attention, check their progress, and assess the results. Russell has found that the repetition and revision of creative activity is often difficult for students to grasp (“I just did that,” his drama students when asked to read a line of dialogue again). Making art -- with its cycle of preparation, rehearsal, and production -- can be a useful model for most kinds of work.

Making Arts Part of the Core
During the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, arts programs were zeroed out from the city’s education budget, and there was no system-wide funding for the next two decades. It is a sign of the times that no one is considering doing away with arts education today, thanks in part to the high-profile role accorded to “creativity,” broadly defined, in the new economy.

Martha Hostetter writes for American Theatre magazine.

No Child Left Behind


Tatiana Sampson was thrilled to learn earlier this year that a new federal law would give her child a shot at a decent education. The law — the No Child Left Behind Act — allows parents of students at failing schools to transfer to better ones.

But when Sampson got back a list of schools she could choose from, she was first shocked then amused by what she read. Of the eight schools available to her child, the one near her home in Harlem's district 5 was no better than the current school, another was an hour's subway ride away, and the remaining six were in other boroughs, including Staten Island.

Sampson decided to stick with her child's current school. In doing this, she was responding like thousands of other parents whose children were supposed to be able to move out of failing schools. School choice, while nice in theory, has not become a reality for most families.

But while the New York City Council and much of the press have focused on school transfers, No Child Left Behind seeks to do far more than shuffle students from one school to another. The measure, signed into law by President George W. Bush in January, 2002, promises to hold states and schools accountable to improve instruction for all students.

This is not very different from what Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his schools Chancellor Joel Klein have vowed to do in their sweeping school reform program. But local educators and advocates worry the federal law may not provide the means or the money to deliver on its lofty promises. These shortcomings are almost guaranteed to become particularly evident in New York City, the nation's largest and most diverse public school system and one suffering from a lack of resources and hundreds of poor schools.

BEHIND THE LAW

Education is very much a state and local responsibility in the United States. Unlike many other countries, the United States does not have uniform standards for graduating high school or a national curriculum. Federal money accounts for a small percentage of school funding — only 11 percent in New York City.

But the federal government has claimed some role in educating America's children. The most recent effort, No Child Left Behind, is the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which Congress passed in 1965 to aid the nation's neediest students. Title I of the act gave money to schools with high percentages of low-income students, at first targeting that money to pay for extra services for youngsters falling behind, but gradually allowing that money to be used for the schools' overall curriculum.

After a campaign in which he vowed to be the "education president," Bush and his advisers proposed No Child Left Behind. The money for poorer schools stayed, but as the law is phased in, schools will be required to perform adequately on standardized tests. The act also tacked on a couple of life lines for parents stuck in the worst schools to keep children from languishing as educators struggled to improve instruction.

In brief, the law passed by Congress states that:

  • All students in failing schools, dubbed "schools in need of improvement," are entitled to transfer to better performing schools.
  • Low-income students in schools that "need improvement" for the second year in a row are entitled to free tutoring, termed "supplemental educational services."
  • All new teachers in schools serving lower income neighborhoods must be "highly qualified."
  • Parents have a right to know the qualifications of their child's teacher.
  • Victims of violent crimes have a right to transfer to a safe school.

 

In the coming years, the act sets out additional requirements, until by the 2013-2014 school year, 100 percent of students will have to be "proficient" in reading and math.

MAKING SCHOOLS ACCOUNTABLE

For many educators, the heart and substance of the law is that it holds schools accountable for improving education. Visitors to the federal Department of Education web site are greeted with a graph with two lines. One shows huge increases in the number of federal dollars that went toward education from 1975 to 1999, the other shows reading scores hardly budging. Accountability is about making that picture change — so more federal money translates into more kids reading on grade level.

The law takes aim at accountability from many angles, giving states a number of hoops to jump through. These include making sure that all teachers by 2006 are "highly qualified," meaning they must have at least a bachelors degree and have demonstrated — by passing a test or earning an academic degree — that they are qualified to teach reading, writing and math for elementary school and the specific subject for middle and high school. The law also requires that schools use teaching methods that research has demonstrated really help youngsters learn.

But the centerpiece of the accountability package is test scores. Based on how schools test, they can be placed on a series of lists from "schools in need of improvement" to "corrective action schools." Penalties for being a school in need of improvement include giving students the right to transfer out of the school. The state could take control of corrective action schools.

Although the law presented a monumental change for some states that did not conduct standardized tests or track school progress, New York State had been requiring standardized testing for years and putting schools in its own version of corrective action, which it called "registration review". Perhaps because of this, New York's accountability plan was among the first to win Washington's approval.

The huge shift for New York is in how scores will be reported. Starting this year, test scores have to be broken down by group, and schools will be judged not only on how well they do overall, but how their African American, Latino, low-income, English-language learners and disabled students perform. If schools cannot show they are making progress with each group, they can land on the list of needs improvement schools.

In that case, school officials must develop a plan to turn the school around and allow students to transfer out. And if a school does not make progress after five years it must be restructured — shut down, perhaps, or turned into a charter school.

Despite New York's familiarity with testing and accountability, the first list of schools in need of improvement, issued in September 2002, brought sobering news. Some 331 New York City schools — about one third the total — were on the list. The city accounted for two thirds of all the schools in the state cited as needing improvement.

Theoretically, students in all of these schools could transfer to other schools. The business of sorting out transfers was left to the community school district offices. Although some 220,000 city students were eligible to transfer under the law, only 6,000 students requested moves and, in the end, only about 1,500 students changed schools in response to the law.

A lawsuit filed by parents accused the school system of denying transfer requests, failing to notify parents of their right to transfer their children, and of not having a coherent policy for dealing with requests and transferring students.

Even Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed the first efforts to fulfill this requirement were a disaster. And schools Chancellor Joel Klein told the New York Times that the department "did not meet that challenge" of providing transfers.

Klein vowed to do a better job of following the federal law. The city Department of Education would run the show, and this time they would get it right. And indeed the department mounted an awesome effort to contact every parent whose child was entitled to a transfer. The schools mailed letters to 220,000 parents, stuffed kids' backpacks with notices and matched student needs to schools with available seats.

In the end, each of the 20,000 parents who requested transfers received a list of eight schools that they could ask their child to attend. Of those parents, 10,000 opted to take a transfer although it will not be clear until September how many will actually go through with it.

Even critics agree the city did a "much better" job — but not good enough, according to City Councilmember Eva Moskowitz, chair of the council Education Committee, who says that not enough parents knew about their right to get a transfer because the city failed to get the word out and to make the parents' options clear.

An investigation by the Daily News in February found that school officials frequently gave parents incorrect information — saying, for example, that a school was not on the "needs improvement" list when, in fact, it was. Some were unable to provide information in Spanish; others would try to talk parents out of requesting a transfer.

Moskowitz has drawn up a list of things the department should do to improve the transfer process. And she scheduled hearings and "a speak-out" on the issue on June 17 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Parents who do not accept the transfer option can request what is called Supplemental Educational Services tutoring. According to the Department of Education, as of the end of 2002, some 28,000 students had received this additional help.

TESTS AND MONEY

Even if transfers and tutoring go smoothly, it will not end the controversy over No Child Left Behind. Many see the law as fine in theory but flawed in practice, lacking what it takes to make real change in New York or elsewhere.

The law's supporters such as Laurie Hall Armstrong of Councilmember Moskowitz's staff believes that the crux of the law — publicizing testing information – will spur parents to demand better schools. "There's no way to fix [the problem] if you don't know what is going on," she says.

Some critics fault the entire notion of giving such weight to standardized tests, saying they are too limited. Skeptics such as Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, say teachers can raise student scores by teaching to the test but may not be fundamentally improving student learning. Of the federal law, Neill has said, "I like to call it the 'No Child Left Untested But Many Children Left Behind Act.'"

Whatever the merits of the test themselves, the federal law assumes that its carrots and sticks, such as the transfer provisions, will give educators an incentive to encourage their students to perform well, an idea based on the competitive model of the private sector. Doubters such as Noreen Connell of Education Priorities Panel, a local advocacy group, wonder whether "shame" will keep principals in line and whether even the most talented principal can turn around a school where there is huge need and not a lot of funds.

Eventually, says Joe Colletti of the United Federation of Teachers (the city's teacher union), some otherwise successful schools will be put on the "needs improvement" list because they fail to make progress for their English language learners or special needs students. That, he says, could punish those schools instead of helping them meet the needs of all their students.

The law's most ironic pitfall is that the more it focuses on test scores, the more it may make test scores meaningless. So far New York appears to have resisted the effort to dumb things down. But in other states — Connecticut for one — educators are relaxing their definition of what it means to be proficient. One can only expect the pressure to do this to mount as the countdown continues to the 2013-2014 requirement of universal proficiency.

Of the potential wrenches in the works, however, the biggest may be money. According to Education Week, the National Conference of State Legislatures has estimated that it will cost states a total of $1 billion each year to comply with the testing requirements. Money for the promised tutoring services and teacher training could also be tight.

New York City will receive $376 million less for the federal law this year than it was promised when the act passed, according to Representative Anthony Weiner. Although the city still gets $141 million more than it did last year for a total of $756 million, the shortfall in expected funds means that schools are asked to be doing more while their pockets are being pinched. In New York City — and many other financially strapped communities across the country — the city and state do not have the money to pour into meeting a new set of requirements.

The good news in New York is that No Child Left Behind's call for accountability comes at the same time that Mayor Bloomberg has gained control of the city's schools, making the public education buck stop at the mayor's office. The federal law can provide a framework for improvement, but it will be up to the mayor and governor to make it work for the city's schools.

As Ross Weiner of the Educational Trust, which works to promote high educational achievement, says, the next few years will present a challenge for public schools, a chance to "step up to the plate and show what public education can do." If the public officials and educators fail to rise to the challenge, at best our schools will stay status quo. At worst, the belief that public education cannot work will become more widespread, setting the stage for more radical reform.

LINKS:
No Child Left Behind Primer
(From Education Week)

Julia Kamin is a reporter with Inside Schools, a web site published by Advocates for Children.

Mayor's Education Plan Challenged; Also: School-Funding Case Continues


Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein are moving ahead with the "Children First" initiative, their ambitious and still unfolding plan to restructure, streamline, and improve instruction in the city schools. Meanwhile, their scheme faces a court challenge contending that the plan pushes changes beyond what the law allows. Launched by the principals union, New York State Assembly Education Committee Chair Steven Sanders, and other elected and school officials, the suit claims that Children First's de facto elimination of the community school districts is not in the best interest of city families and requires approval from the state legislature.

Though district lines remain intact officially under Children First, each of ten new instructional divisions subsumes up to four of the existing community school districts, as well as the high schools located within the geographic boundaries of the divisions. These ten divisions that will now administer the city's elementary, intermediate, and high schools have started to take shape. In contrast with the community school district bureaucracies they are replacing, all instructional divisions are to have a standard set of job titles and the same chain of command. The Department of Education has been busy reshuffling district personnel to fill new administrative and school-level positions.

The recently appointed regional superintendents, veteran city educators who will oversee the new divisions, have made their choices for the next tier of school system administrators. Each of these "local instructional supervisors" will supervise the principals of up to 12 schools. Under the new plan, school principals are set to receive leadership training and greater control over their own budgets.

In the restructured system, there is very little left of community school districts. Community school district superintendents', and high school superintendents', jobs no longer exist. District offices are getting ready to close by the end of the school year. The Department of Education recently announced that it would, however, retain an administrative presence in each of the old community school districts. In an agreement reached with State Senator Frank Padavan of Queens, another vocal critic of the restructuring, one local instructional supervisor will serve as district administrator to handle parent concerns and problems, monitor the performance of schools, and work with the new district councils, the parent and community bodies that are likely to replace the outgoing community school boards.

Steve Sanders says this is not enough. "State law requires a superintendent for each school district, a superintendent whose jurisdiction is solely that one school district," he says. "If the mayor wants school districts abolished, or their lines changed, then he must ask the legislature for such changes."

Assuming the suit doesn't force them back to the drawing board, Klein and company will soon turn their attention to hiring and training new school-level personnel. Under Children First, each school is to have both a math and a reading "coach" to work with teachers to improve instruction. Each school will also employ a parent coordinator to promote involvement by parents in the children's education. In addition, Klein and his colleagues have the daunting job of preparing teachers and administrators in 80 percent of the city's schools to work with the new required math and reading curricula before students return to school in September. To this end, they have added several staff development days to the beginning of next year's calendar, pushing the first day of school for students from September 4 to September 8.

Additional details of the restructuring plan emerge each week. Perhaps because the new system is being invented and implemented simultaneously, many specifics vital to public-school families are still undecided or under wraps. As a result, parents and students are in the dark and anxious about the future of policies that were previously set at the district level. They wonder, for example, how to register for pre-kindergarten, which gifted and talented and other programs students will be eligible for and how to apply, by what process students will now move from elementary to middle school, and whether successful district-level programs and practices will be preserved in the midst so much change.

State's Highest Court Hears Oral Arguments in School-Funding Case

On May 8, ten years since their school-funding lawsuit began, attorneys for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (where I work) presented their final arguments in their case in Albany before the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. The lawsuit, Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. the State of New York, seeks reforms in the way the state funds public education. It charges that the state's education finance system has, for years, shortchanged the New York City schools, and, as a result, has denied students in New York City their constitutional right to the opportunity for a "sound basic education."

City Council Member Robert Jackson, a founder of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, arrived in time to hear the arguments, having walked the entire 150 miles between the Appellate Division courthouse in Manhattan and the Court of Appeals in Albany. Jackson's "Walk a Mile for Your Child" march started on May 1, with a rousing send-off in Manhattan from Chancellor Joel Klein and a number of elected officials, along with scores of parents, teachers, advocates, and schoolchildren. Numerous supporters joined Jackson along the route, including Maria Behncke, a Rochester parent and Alliance for Quality Education regional director, who also walked the entire way. Jackson told the cheering crowd that greeted him as he reached the courthouse that he had "walked the walk" and now it was time for the lawyers to "talk the talk"

In their arguments before the six sitting judges, attorneys for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity called for the court to overturn the last year's ruling by an intermediate appellate court. The Appellate Division ruling held that providing only an eighth grade level of skills fulfills the state's obligation to its students. The campaign attorneys argued instead that the state constitution's guarantee of the opportunity for a sound basic education should ensure students access to a meaningful high school education, a 12th grade level of skills. The justices spent a nearly unprecedented 2 ½ hours listening to oral arguments from attorneys for both sides.  They asked numerous questions of both sides, many of which centered on how to craft a remedy that would produce real reform and avoid the lengthy legal entanglements that have plagued some other states. A decision in the case is expected this summer.

Jessica Wolff is a public school parent and Director of Policy Development at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a not-for-profit coalition working to reform New York State's education finance system to ensure adequate resources and the opportunity for a sound basic education for all students in New York City. The views expressed are her own.

Proposed Changes In Special Education


The New York City Department of Educationhas announced its proposed plan to restructure special education, the latest in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s and Chancellor Joel Klein’s far-reaching shake-up of the city’s school system. The plan, which is scheduled to go into effect by the next school year, will affect some 120,000 city students who are disabled or who otherwise require special education services.

Like the other education reforms that have been announced since February in the Department of Education’s “Children First” agenda, the special education plan is based on the primary goals of increasing efficiency in order to free up resources that will lead to higher student achievement; improving accountability; and standardizing instructional practices throughout the system.

Special education students in New York City are at the gravest risk of educational failure. (See previous topic page updates, “Special Education” and “The Policy, but not the Practice, of ‘Inclusion’” ).

The mayor and chancellor clearly recognized this record of failure when they announced their new package of reform proposals for special education. (For details see their press release)

Parents and others met their initial announcement with some skepticism. As noted in Advocates for Children’s bi-weekly Insideschools e-mail alert, special education advocates called the goals “worthy” but, before specific details were released, were also dubious about the potential for real long-term improvement based on the city’s poor track record in implementing previous reforms.

Instructional Reforms

The two most significant features of the Department of Education’s special education instructional reform strategy are: (1) the creation of 200 “Instructional Support Specialist” positions throughout the city and (2) the implementation of uniform, research-based curricular models in reading and math, similar to the new instructional models for general education classrooms in most city schools.

The 200 instructional support specialists will serve primarily to support special education teachers in teaching the new standardized curriculum. .

The first of the two standardized curricular models is the Orton-Gillinghamreading program, a national research-based model described by the department as “a multi-sensory reading approach that has proven successful with emergent readers [and] students with disabilities.” The Inside Schools update described the Orton-Gillingham method as “structured lessons in phonics” that encourage students “to see, hear, and even touch letters.”

The second instructional model is the Schools Attuned Program, described by the department as “a system of supporting strategies for accommodating diverse learners” and “effective both with children with disabilities and…struggling learners.” Both of these models are designed to supplement, not replace, the standardized citywide math and reading curricula that will be implemented in most city schools.

In addition to the 200 instructional support specialists, 1000 special education teachers will be trained in these two models in the 2003-2004 school year.

There is some concern among advocates because the Orton-Gillingham program has proven most effective when teachers are trained in costly small group settings. Questions have been raised about whether the city has the resources to provide small group trainings and about whether this strategy of training by teachers rather than by the program’s developers will be effective.

New Accountability

The department’s plan aims to improve accountability both on the level of the individual school and at the district level through a combination of support systems for school principals, funding targeted to poorly performing schools, and performance incentives.

The city plans to hire 50 “administrators of special education” to support principals in providing timely and effective services to special needs students and ensure compliance with various legal mandates. Five of these administrators will be assigned to each of the ten new regions, which replace the community school districts. Each administrator will supervise the special education programs in up to 12 schools.

Several million dollars will also be earmarked toward both poorly performing schools to develop corrective action plans and to reward high performance by schools that exceed the achievement benchmarks established in the plan.

Additionally, the existing school improvement program will be overhauled to include these clear new benchmarks and to provide other support to schools with the lowest performance levels.

One of the more controversial proposals in the plan is a proposed “streamlining” of the student evaluation process, which has two major provisions. Until now, special education students and their parents met with school officials to devise their individualized education plans, first at the school level and then at the district level with a Committee on Special Education. The first provision of the department’s plan will reduce the number of committees across the city from the current 37 to a proposed 10. To accompany this reduction, the second component of the plan will shift many of the responsibilities now held by these committees to the school level, and most students’ plans will be developed solely at the school level.

The district contends that these changes will improve efficiency, reduce redundancy, and make the student evaluation process less confusing for parents of special needs students. While this may, as the city hopes, increase convenience and eliminate “unnecessary bureaucracy,” some parents and advocates are not so sure. First, there is concern that even with reduced responsibilities, 10 committees on special education will have more responsibilities than they can handle and simply be too large—geographically and bureaucratically—making it more, not less, difficult for parents to navigate the system. Moreover, the increased concentration of decision-making at the school level has also raised eyebrows among those concerned that the potential costs of increased convenience will be too much control by individual school administrators (who may lack the time, expertise, or resources to meet students’ specific needs) and less flexibility in designing programs catered to students’ individual needs.

Governance changes: Status of District 75

With the major reorganization in the governance structure of the city’s schools and districts, there has been some question about the future of District 75, the special district that serves the city’s 20,000 most profoundly disabled students. The proposed plan, while making organizational changes to District 75 will leave the district intact as a separate entity. Most of the structural changes are apparently designed, however, to fit District 75 into the city’s new school governance system.

Among the key administrative changes in District 75, administrative staff will be reorganized into supervisory school clusters that will closely parallel the system-wide organizational structure. As in the other changes for both regular and special education, District 75 will also adopt standardized math and reading curricula for the small number of District 75 students who participate in standard assessments and will hire instructional “coaches” that will train and support teachers and administrators in curricular models, behavior management, and other instructional issues.

Joseph Wardenski is the senior research analyst at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. Any views expressed in this column are his own.

Talking To Kids About War


A child development specialist in Indiana was recently told by 40 percent of the children she interviewed that their parents had not spoken to them about the war. Is it possible that New York City kids are experiencing the same silence at home?

The New York City Department of Education has posted guidelines for parents and teachers for talking to children about war.

GUIDELINES FOR PARENTS

According to these guidelines, prepared by the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence at the Yale Child Study Center, adolescents need a variety of opportunities to talk about their feelings, when they are ready, without forcing them. School-age children, too, benefit from being asked about their feelings and what they’ve heard, and given accurate information in response to their comments and questions. For toddlers and preschool children, remaining calm and maintaining the ordinary routine of life is what helps.

As expected, watching too much television coverage of war, violence and terrorism, especially graphic images, can be harmful to children of all ages.

Parents need not worry about knowing exactly the right thing to say, according to the guidelines. "There is no answer that will make everything okay." But avoiding the discussion altogether can cause harm. "Silence won’t protect them from what is happening, but silence will prevent them from understanding and coping with it."

TEACHERS AND STUDENTS

The Board of Education guidelines for teachers stress that children with friends or family members involved in Iraq or in military service may have difficulty with discussions about the war, as will students with prior traumatic experiences (such as 9/11). Students might avoid telling their classmates or teachers that family members are in military service so teachers are encouraged to conduct all classroom discussions assuming that some of their students are personally affected.

Teachers are also urged not to impose their own political beliefs on students, to allow for differing viewpoints during discussions, promoting tolerance for different opinions.

Children may find it comforting if they can figure out ways to be helpful at this time. The guidelines suggest encouraging children to think about how they might want to do, allowing them to decide what would be most meaningful.

OPEN A DISCUSSION

The New York University Child Study Center has a similar set of guidelines, "Talking to Kids about Terrorism or War," written by Robin Goodman, Director of Public Education Programs, at NYU Child Study Center and Clinical Associate Professor at NYU School of Medicine.

Contrary to parents’ fears, writes Goodman, talking about violent acts will not increase a child’s fear. Having children keep scared feelings to themselves is more damaging than open discussion.

Regarding television and news reports, Goodman suggests watching or reading the news together as the best way for a parent to gauge a child’s reaction and open a discussion. The dialogue should allow for disagreement and airing of different points of view; feeling their opinion is wrong or misunderstood can cause children to disengage.

Adults can be honest about their fears, said Goodman, but must avoid distraught reactions so as not to scare their children or students.

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

Cornell University has also contributed to the literature on this subject with "In America at War: Children and Parents Under Siege," written by James Garbarino, professor of Human Development at Cornell University and Co-Director of the Family Life Development Center.

Parents and teachers can use the present circumstances, suggests Garbarino, to teach children about justice, compassion, and revenge.

"Protecting the stigmatized from scapegoating and guilt by association is an important goal of public institutions in a time of national crisis" writes Garbarino. "In the wake of Pearl Harbor at the start of World War II we rounded up Japanese-Americans and detained them as suspected enemies of the state... .Understanding and compassion in the face of hate and fanaticism are virtues, not something to be afraid of. It is more than a matter of our good and their evil. Dehumanization is the enemy."

WHO IS TALKING TO THE KIDS

While teachers and parents are finding their way to talking to children about the war, children are talking to each other, even if only sending their thoughts out into the ether. A visit to Voices of Youth, a bulletin board set up by UNICEF for children around the world to communicate on the subject of war, allows us to hear some of those young voices. Here is a recent one from the United States (they identify themselves at the site by first name, age, and country, not city or state), twelve-year old Charlotte: "Does anyone here understand why we are at war?"

Meanwhile, high school students, only a few years older than Charlotte, are being contacted by military recruiters. A little-known provision of the new federal education law, No Child Left Behind, requires public and private high schools to provide names, addresses and phone numbers of their students to the armed forces; only Quaker schools or others with religious objections to military service are exempt. Young men who reach the age of 18 are already required to register with the selective service, but the new law gives military recruiters direct access to even younger children. Incentives offered to these teenagers to enlist in the military upon graduation from high school are scholarships to college and, particularly enticing to immigrant children, the right to immediately apply for citizenship, waiving the standard waiting period of three years for those in the military and five years for citizens. Fifteen and sixteen year old New Yorkers have already begun getting these calls and letters.

Perhaps parents and teachers should be speaking to them first.

 

Teachers Who Quit


Three teachers who left the city's schools tell their stories.

Christina Young

Michael Burns

Daniel Ginsberg
Nearing the end of his second year as a math teacher at I.S. 90 in Washington Heights, 26-year old Michael Burns finally felt he was getting good at his job. He was no longer so overwhelmed by the administrative chores he had once found so demoralizing. "I had started to learn how to teach," he says.

Nevertheless, a year later, Burns quit.

Every year, more than 11,000 of New York City's 80,000 public school teachers stop teaching. Some simply retire. Others, like Burns, get fed up.

Indeed, according to the United Federation of Teachers, 45 percent of all New York City teachers either quit the profession entirely in their first five years on the job or leave for a teaching position outside the city public school system.

The loss puts a strain on the city, which is burdened with a constant demand for new recruits (and the money to lure them). It also puts many students at a disadvantage. Not surprisingly, studies have found teachers become more effective after they have a few years of experience. One study concluded that students whose teachers had five years of experience made as much as 30 percent more progress in reading skills than those taught by first-year teachers.

In New York, the city's poorest children are the most affected. Their schools exhibit the highest turnover rates, they are taught by the least experienced teachers, and with few exceptions, they score lower on math and reading tests than their more affluent peers.

The grim economic outlook makes it unlikely that the city will battle the high turnover with what is generally considered to be the most effective tool: pay increases. Though the teacher's contract signed last summer provided a 16 percent across-the-board raise, it expires this spring, and with hundreds of millions of dollars in education cuts looming with a budget deficit in the billions, the city will be hard pressed to provide any more substantial raises.

The good news is that money isn't everything. According to Richard Ingersoll, of the Center for the Study of Teaching Policy, teachers are less likely to leave their jobs – no matter how poor their students – if their school offers them:

Strong administrative support during their first two years on the job
Involvement in school decision-making
A well disciplined student body

Meanwhile, three teachers who quit explain why.

-- Yaniv Nord

 


Focusing on Appearance
By Christina Young

I taught fifth grade at P.S. 65 in the Bronx for two years, and I believe that if my administration had been different I would have stayed longer.

My first week, I arrived to 33 fifth graders in my classroom and not enough desks. I had a kid banging his head against the closet, one who ran away, one who hid under a table for an entire day, one who cursed at me. In all the cases, I called down to the office for assistance, and no one ever came up. A gym teacher who had been in the school for 17 years was placed in my classroom, but he just sat in the back and slept.

Eventually, a veteran teacher came to me and said, "When you need something, ask me, because the administration is never going to help you."

One of my main frustrations with the school was that I had chosen to teach at P.S. 65 after being told by the principal that her focus was on the kids, but in reality it was on the appearance of success and order, and on standardized tests.

I once got a phone call saying, "The superintendent is on the way up, take out "Success For All," a reading program that my class hadn't touched in weeks. When the superintendent arrived, we pretended to be working on the program. The kids, of course, knew exactly what was going on. It was horrifying.

Another time, there was a principal's conference in our school, and we were told to skip six weeks ahead in our math lessons in order to create the illusion of being on schedule.

The focus on appearance affected everything. A favorite topic of faculty meetings, for example, was the state of our bulletin boards. Charts, we were told, had to go up. Charts had to come down. Projects needed to be hung. Boards needed to have themes. Boards needed to match by grade. If your kid wrote a five-page paper that was going up, there could be no errors. New bulletin boards had to go up every 3.5 weeks. In my first year, I was publicly reprimanded for the appearance of my bulletin boards and would receive notes on the general state of my classroom.

Never once, however, was I asked about the projects we were working on, about the books my kids made, the poems they wrote, the food and clothing they saw when we studied westward migration, or the computer presentation they had created after I snuck them into the technology lab. My room had projects hanging from the lights, things to read, things to touch, work that the kids had made. It was exciting, it was ours, and we were so proud of it, but all my principal could say was, "Now, look around here, is this really as neat as it could be?"

In a school that averaged 18 to 23 percent of students at grade-level, 50 percent of my students were on track after my first year. I am not sure what all the factors that lead to this were, but I went from being the administration's she-devil to being praised in public in front of all the other teachers. Earlier in the year I had been yelled at during staff meetings and was told that I had failed my kids.

During my first year, I spent $5,000 of my own money on special project materials, museum trips, IMAX movies and books. I'm currently being audited by the Internal Revenue Service for declaring it as a business expense.

Christina Young was a New York Teaching Fellow from 1999 to 2002. She is now studying law and hopes to one day get involved in education policy.

 


 

Products of a Broken System
By Daniel Ginsberg

When I used to tell people in New York that I was a teacher, they responded as if I did volunteer work. If I had made more than $30,000 I might have argued with them.

My first year I made $29,800. I started late in October and was already the fifth science teacher my students had had that year. I did not teach a violent population -- they weren't bringing knives into the school or anything -- but they were tough, neighborhood kids who had grown up in New York City in the height of the crack epidemic. Some of their mothers were addicts; some had lived in homeless shelters. I had kids who were living in domestic abuse shelters. It was a tough population.

The kids I taught, as I saw it, were products of a broken educational system, and they were not prepared for classroom work. I felt like I had walked into a situation where I had to do eight years worth of teaching in one semester. It was a daunting task. The feeling I got was, "Do the best that you can with these kids," rather than, "Make these kids excel."

But that was the reality. You can't teach eighth grade kids about molecules when they read at a third grade level. You can't teach chemical equations if they don't know how to add. I was constantly getting to a point in my lessons, walking three miles back and then slowly returning to the starting point.

In my first year, I spent nearly $1,000 out of my own pocket. The science class had no supplies, not even the basic tools of measurement. I would buy magnifying glasses at dime stores, posters for the walls, clay to build things. We raised a lizard in the classroom, so every week there was lizard food to buy.

Also, I scavenged. Anything that I found, I brought to my classroom. I had closets full of junk. When kids got into trouble, I would have them organize it. In my physics class we were studying electricity, and out of soda bottles, wood, electric tape, nuts, bolts, miniature engines that I pulled out of things in the street, we made cars and boats that worked, with chopped up compact disks as propellers. Out of soda bottles, cotton puffs and balloons, we made molecules.

I would wander around to all the elementary school classes and ask for their stuff. I was a beggar. You got any crayons? You got any straws? And they knew that when I came around, they should start digging in their closets. But we built a greenhouse out of stuff I had scavenged.

What would have kept me in this job? If my master's degree had been paid for, I would have stayed, and if I was making a salary that was even remotely in line with the difficulty of the work I was doing, I would have stayed.

Daniel Ginsberg taught science at P.S.51 in Hell's Kitchen from 1996 until 1999. He now develops computer programs used by school districts across the country.

 


 

Discouraging Curiosity
By Michael Burns

Teaching is a life experience. From my first breath in the morning, to my dreams when I slept, it affected every part of me. I left, in the end, because I was completely burned out on the futility of the model that we use.

When I got my first assignment, the administration was just happy to have someone to keep the kids in the room. It was a complete throwaway class -- 18 kids with disciplinary problems bad enough that the school had decided they were too disruptive to be in regular classes. So they took them and put them all in one room, and because these kids were deemed "problem kids," they didn't get to move from class to class and subject to subject. I taught all subjects to them. It was ludicrous -- I was originally hired to teach math.

The kids fought, they cursed, they punched lockers, they spit on me, but I came to understand they acted in that way because all the messages they had received up until that point had told them to. They were just a reflection of their society at large. It wasn't their fault that public education was a mess.

The system discouraged intellectual development. It wanted rote answers, wanted everything to be nip and tuck, and as a result our lessons disregarded the "Why?" of learning. Intellectual curiosity and intellectual investigation had been completely removed. We had 44-minute teaching periods, split sessions, average class sizes of 33, terrible food in the cafeterias and completely confusing bell schedules.

By my third year, I was teaching my students out of an old college statistics textbook. I had them put their books away and photocopy pages out of mine. We developed hypotheses, collected data, plotted graphs and started to actually do research and case studies on other classes in the building. These were eighth graders who were going out and doing sociological and statistical inquiry --- just because I told them that they could, and so they believed that they could.

Everybody can learn, it's just a matter of the model adapting to them rather than them being forced to adapt.

In the end, I left because I couldn't grow to be the type of teacher I wanted to be in that environment. The public school system was too closed, too insular, too regimented and too standardized.

To be a good teacher is so much more than to stand up in front of a classroom. There is the saying "Those that can, do, and those that can't teach." That resonated with me the third year. I thought, "I don't know enough, I'm not mature enough, I have not experienced enough raw living to be able to stand in front of a classroom of kids and teach and be able to understand where they are coming from." And the public school system was too insular a place for me to gain that experience.

After I left the Board of Ed, I started working at Project Green Hope, which is a residential treatment program for drug addicted women, an alternative to incarceration. I went in and wrote a high school equivalency curriculum for them from scratch, and it is still being used.

Now, I am working in a bike shop in Brooklyn, playing music with a number of bands, I have gotten married and just had my first kid. I have started teaching again, too -- part time, at one of the city's welfare-to-work programs. I teach Adult Basic Education and General Education Development.

Michael Burns taught mathematics at I.S.90 in Washington Heights for three years. Originally from Arkansas, he arrived in New York City with Teach For America's class of 1996.

 

Making The List


Dozens of New York City public schools have submitted petitions to the New York City Department of Education asking to be exempted from the uniform curriculum soon to be required for most of the city's schools. By the beginning of April, these schools should learn whether or not they will be added to the list of 209 successful schools allowed to continue with their own reading and math curricula. Schools not on the list must adopt the new, system-wide comprehensive instructional approach mandated by the Department of Education to bring coherence to the schools and to ensure that all the city's schoolchildren progress in reading, writing, and math. (See my February column, "Shaking Up the School System," for a description of the proposed curriculum changes and other recent reforms.)

Exemptions for the 209 schools were based on academic achievement, including improvements in student performance, and student need. Chancellor Joel Klein and the Department of Education looked at school results on city and state tests, but they also took into account schools' percentages of special education students, English language learners, and students in poverty. Schools not making the list as well as specific programs within schools wishing to be considered for exemption were permitted to petition for a waiver of either the literacy portion or the math portion of the new core curriculum or both. Those petitions had to be filed by March 3.

Anticipating objections to the consequences of creating a "top-200" list based only on test scores, Klein and the Department of Education factored in student need so as to bring diversity to the list of exempted schools. In spite of this, they have been accused of relying too heavily on test scores and, therefore, of skewing the list toward largely white, middle-class schools and leaving out schools that serve a more academically diverse student population. Parents and staff from some of the middle-class schools who thought they had been bumped from the list by lower-scoring schools serving higher needs students have also registered frustration and disappointment. Many of these schools have reportedly taken action so that they will be added to the list.

Drawing a line between successful schools and others in New York City is a risky enterprise, despite the clear logic and political necessity of saying that schools already achieving need not be forced to change. Nevertheless, there had to be some worry about the reaction of stakeholders in schools not put on the list, no matter how constructive the consequences. And that reaction has been sharp. Parents, students, and school staff from schools not selected have expressed anger and anxiety about the consequences of not making the list. Without the endorsement, parents and students worry about the quality of their school; and administrators fear they will lose the confidence of middle-class parents who bring valuable resources to schools but can opt to send their children elsewhere.

Though the now-required math, reading, and writing programs are similar to those already in use in a number of the city's successful schools, many school communities are concerned about the changes they represent. The Department of Education has not been able to avert fears about "cookie-cutter" classrooms and overly scripted teaching.

The new curriculum mandate is especially worrisome to those schools that identify themselves as "progressive" or "alternative" and see the programs as a threat to a specific educational philosophy and practices they consider successful. They believe that the imposition of this new curriculum will prevent their schools from offering the type and quality of education their students need and their families expect.

On March 26, parents and other representatives of schools throughout the city that are members of the Progressive Education Network of New York (PENNY) demonstrated in front of Tweed Courthouse, the headquarters of the Department of Education. Objecting to the narrow use of standardized tests and other statistics to measure schools' success, they advocated for the development of a new definition of "successful" schools which recognizes their schools' work with diverse populations of students. They believe that any imposed curriculum deprives teachers of the independence they require in order to develop their own curricula in response to the needs, interests, and abilities of their students. "We want autonomy that allows us to continue with small class sizes, bridge classes, parental and child involvement in all aspects of the school. This can't be boiled down to a single curriculum," said Carol Barton, a Muscota New School and Computer School parent. Few of the schools represented by the Progressive Education Network of New York were included on "the list," but they are hoping to secure waivers so that their schools' work can continue unimpeded.

Similarly, in the face of a uniform curriculum and district restructuring, parents, school staff, and administrators are fighting to preserve the alternative high schools superintendent position. The district that runs a number of high schools designed to meet the special needs of target populations of students -- gifted and talented, at risk, and special education students; drop outs; newly arrived immigrants; incarcerated youth, and pregnant and parenting teens -- is scheduled to be eliminated and its schools absorbed into regional superintendent districts.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACTIVISM

Adequate Funding for New York's Schools: A Community Conversation on What Our Students Really Need to Succeed.

On April 3, from 6:30 to 9 pm, at Campus Magnet High School Auditorium, 207-01 116th Street, in Cambria Heights in Queens, and on April 30 from 6:30 to 9 pm in the IS 44 Auditorium, 100 W. 77th Street, in Manhattan, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (where I work) and the New York State School Boards Association will play host to public meetings as part of an independent costing-out study being undertaken to determine the actual costs of ensuring that all New York students can meet Regents Learning Standards. Come to learn more about the study and to provide input on the challenges of schools in your community and on the programs and services that children need to succeed.

Public Hearings of the Senate Task Force on School Governance

On April 4 from 11 am to 4 pm at Kingsborough Community College in the Leon M. Goldstein Performing Arts Auditorium, there will be another opportunity to have your voice heard on the not-yet-settled issue of what should replace community school boards. To testify, e-mail requests to Senator Frank Padavan: padavan@senate.state.ny.us.

March for Public Education: Pre-K Through Post-Grad

Public education this year faces grave challenges to its ability to secure adequate funding so that the academic gains that have become evident in recent years can be sustained. If you're concerned about the future of public education, then mark your calendar for Saturday, May 3 for a march on Albany for public education. The event begins at 1 pm at the Empire State Plaza in Albany and is sponsored by the state Education Conference Board, the Higher Education Conference Board, and a host of others, including parents, teachers, school superintendents and administrators, school boards, college students, and community groups. The gathering is intended to be the largest event in support of public education Albany has ever witnessed. It comes two weeks before statewide school budget votes.

Jessica Wolff is a public school parent and Director of Policy Development at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a not-for-profit coalition working to reform New York State's education finance system to ensure adequate resources and the opportunity for a sound basic education for all students in New York City. The views expressed are her own.

The Governor's Proposed Budget And Its Effect On NYC Schools


In his attempt to plug looming gaps in the state budget, Governor George Pataki has proposed in his new executive budget a series of measures that, by the New York State Education Department's estimate, would cut state aid to New York City schools by more than $462 million. This is nearly nine percent of the city's state education aid. By contrast, the governor's proposed cut to the overall state budget comes to just three percent.

As nine-year old Israel Payero put it to the Daily News: "He's hurting my future."

Both Democratic and Republican members of the New York State legislature have expressed dismay in the governor's plan to balance the budget disproportionately on the backs of schoolchildren. Yet if the governor continues to refuse to increase revenue through taxes, it may be that at least some of the proposed cuts will go into effect. Since 45 percent of the New York City schools' budget comes directly from the state, any cuts in state aid to education would have an impact on city schools greater than it would on most nearby suburban districts, which raise much more of their school budgets from local taxes.

The governor's proposed budget (For more detail, see pages 18 to 30 of this pdf file) would eliminate funding for some programs specifically designed to benefit New York City and other poor urban school districts.

This includes universal pre-kindergarten, which currently provides a half-day of pre-school for some 43,000 four-year-olds in New York City.

It also would eliminate the class size reduction program, which currently keeps classes to 20 students or fewer for more than 120,000 New York City schoolchildren from kindergarten to the third grade. Class size would now be increased to 25 students.

It would eliminate the minor maintenance and repair program, which focuses on the kind of older and larger schools that especially plague New York City (where some school buildings still in use were built a century ago).

"Even as an initial negotiating stance, [we find] it objectionable that the governor should want to eliminate programs that work so well and to create such havoc," testified Martine Guirrier of the Educational Priorities Panel (where I also work), at state budget hearings.

Funding would be reduced for special education services, technology (computer hardware and software), and textbooks.

By changing the funding formula for nine specific aid programs, the governor would be in effect reducing their funding by hundreds of millions of dollars statewide. These include Extraordinary Needs and Operating Standards Aid (both going mostly to high-need districts); Gifted & Talented; Limited English Proficiency Aid; Summer School Aid; Academic Support Aid; Public Excess Cost Aid (which provides most of the funding for special education); and Operating Aid.

Pataki has also floated a proposal to make the governor himself the head of the State Education Department. Because the current system in which the education department is overseen by an appointed Board of Regents was specifically established in the state's constitution in order to shield the state's school children from the vagaries of politics, it is unlikely that the governor's proposal will be embraced. However, one attempt to limit the Regents authority may draw support because of its name: "Mandate Relief.

The higher Regents graduation standards led the way for school districts all over the state to argue for additional financial assistance from the state. While many welcomed the increases, some state leaders privately rued having to spend additional state funding on schools. The governor's proposed "mandate relief" is a thinly-veiled attempt to ensure that the educational needs of children not drive spending. Specifically, the Board of Regents would have to receive approval from the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform for new regulations that would involve any costs.

Only one of the governor's education proposals might actually wind up improving the situation in New York City schools (at least relatively), by creating a fairer means of distributing school construction aid.

(Please read chapters six and 7 of the Educational Priorities Panel report, Castles in the Sand (in pdf format) for an explanation of how the current system of state aid for school building is skewed against New York City, and has had a negative impact on city schools.)

Currently, nearly all school building projects submitted by local school districts throughout the state receive some form of aid. The governor is proposing a single albeit complex formula that would put a priority on projects according to need and the resources of the district to meet the need (New York City has moderate resources but the highest student needs of any district), and would take into account the building's age.

Even here, though, there is a bitter coating. Ironically, even if the new school building aid formula has the effect of righting a previous imbalance, it comes as part of the governor's effort to reduce drastically the amount of money spent on school building in general. And the executive budget proposal explicitly limits New York City to between 40 and 60 percent of all state building aid. The only reason this may not matter in the near term is because building aid is already limited by the explicit budget deal made between all legislators each year: i.e., so much money will go to rural upstate regions, so much to small cities, so much — or so little — to New York City.

Sarah Arnold is director of research for the Educational Priorities Panel, a coalition of 27 civic groups working to improve public education in New York City.

Shaking Up the School System


Acknowledging that New York City provides an inadequate education to most of its schoolchildren, Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a speech on Martin Luther King, Jr.´s birthday announced a set of dramatic changes to the city's school system. Intended to bring educational opportunity to every child, these changes, part of the New York City Department of Education's "Children First" reform agenda, include restructuring the administration of the school system; adopting a uniform curriculum in all but the best 200 of the city's 1,200 schools; and creating new initiatives to improve parent involvement in the schools. (For more background and details, as well as initial reactions to the plan, see the Gotham Gazette's guide to the mayor's program.) The mayor also called for the whole city to take responsibility for the schools and to make the financial, moral, and political commitment necessary to improve them.

ADMINISTRATIVE RESTRUCTURING

Bloomberg's reform plan does away with many of the school system's current administrative structures. The city's elementary and middle schools are now divided into 32 separate community school districts, each administered by its own district office, superintendent, and community school board. This system, originally designed to give local communities a greater role in the running of their schools, has resulted in notoriously uneven educational opportunities for children from district to district. The city's high schools are run separately in five borough-wide superintendencies, and the lack of administrative continuity has been blamed for many rough transitions from middle school to high school. A separate administration, the Chancellor's District, manages the city's lowest performing schools. Under the restructuring announced, all of these administrative entities will cease to exist.

In their place, the mayor and his hand-picked chancellor, Joel Klein, have created 10 new "instructional divisions,". Each of these encompasses from two to four community school districts. Each of the 10 newly named regional superintendents, veteran educators chosen from within the school system, will supervise instruction in all the elementary, middle and high schools located within their assigned division. The regional superintendents will report to the deputy chancellor for instruction, Diana Lam. Within each division, there will be 10 deputy superintendents called "local instruction supervisors" in charge of instruction for a network of 10 to 12 schools.

School operations -- including budgeting, human resources, purchasing and the like -- will be handled separately by six regional operations managers in "back-office support centers." These managers will report to the deputy chancellor for administration, Kathleen Grimm. The mayor expects major savings from centralizing operations services.

Though they plan to close community school district offices, the mayor and the chancellor have not sought to dismantle the districts officially, a step that would require legislative approval. This move, though, did apparently not appease a group of Republican state senators from New York City. They have challenged the restructuring plan, saying that it violates state law.

CURRICULUM CHANGES

Stating a commitment to providing quality instruction in every city classroom, the mayor and the chancellor have also announced plans to implement a uniform curriculum in all but the 200 most successful schools. In place of the dozens of different approaches now being used in the city's schools, they plan a coherent, system-wide approach using reading, writing and math programs that they insist are not "cookie cutter" methods but will provide direction to teachers while still allowing them to be creative. Bloomberg and Klein have also committed to providing ongoing professional development for teachers with reading and math coaches in every school.

The new reading and writing curriculum, which includes extended periods of reading and writing every day, classroom libraries from which students can chose their own books and supplementary phonics instruction, will start in September 2003. The new math curriculum was chosen to balance basic math skills with "conceptual, problem-solving capabilities." Most schools are expected to adopt it by September 2004.

The Department of Education has not yet announced the top 200 schools that will be free to use their own curricula, nor has it revealed how it will choose them. This is a matter of concern to some education advocates who worry that, if choices are made on test scores alone, many innovative schools will be forced to compromise successful programs.

PARENT INVOLVEMENT

Finally, the mayor's reform package includes plans to improve parents' involvement in their children's education and to generally make schools more "parent-friendly." To this end, the chancellor has said that he intends to hold all principals accountable for engaging and being responsive to parents. Every school will have a "parent coordinator." Klein plans a parent academy that will do outreach and offer workshops a parent support center in each instructional division with extended and weekend hours to accommodate working parents. He has also pledged his support for strengthening school leadership teams, the school-based planning groups comprised half of parents and half of school staff.

To replace the community school boards, scheduled for elimination at the end of June but now expected to be extended for another year, the chancellor has proposed "parent engagement boards." Only parents of children in the schools could serve on these boards. Klein envisions a board for every community school district, though these districts will in practice no longer exist.

The duties and responsibilities of the boards have not yet been fully spelled out. The chancellor has said that the boards would serve an "ombudsman function" for parents and would "comment on" school and district educational planning and budget priorities, as well as on proposed changes in the geographic boundaries determining which children attend what schools. Parents and advocates have raised questions about the proposal. Some criticize the exclusion of community members other than parents, as well as the lack of independent authority it confers on the boards.

MAYOR TO FILE BRIEF IN SCHOOL-FUNDING LAWSUIT

Days after the introduction of his system-wide reform plan, Bloomberg announced that the city will file a friend of the court brief in support of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's school funding lawsuit, CFE v. State, which will be heard on May 8 by the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. According to the New York Times, the city will file its amicus brief this month and argue that the Court of Appeals should uphold the trial court decision (pdf) that found the state's school funding system unconstitutional for failing to provide all students with the opportunity for a sound basic education.

Jessica Wolff is a public school parent and Director of Policy Development at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a not-for-profit coalition working to reform New York State's education finance system to ensure adequate resources and the opportunity for a sound basic education for all students in New York City. The views expressed are her own.



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