It is that time of year again -- when DOE submits a totally inadequate Contracts for Excellence plan, which does little or nothing to reduce class size or move our schools forward. For the first time since the C4E law passed in 2007, I am not urging parents to attend the borough hearings, since there is no evidence that DOE takes the comments of those who show up in person any more seriously than those who submit comments through email. If you really want to attend a borough hearing, there is one remaining in Brooklyn on August 1, 2016 at the Wingate Campus at 7 PM; more info here. I instead urge you to send a letter to the DOE, the Commissioner, and the Regents about the fact that NYC students are still being denied their constitutional right to smaller classes and the myriad ways DOE is defying the law. A handy letter you can send, edit and/or add details of your own children’s experience is posted on the Action Network site here, you can also find the letter posted below.
Dear Chancellor Fariña:
I write to object to DOE’s proposed Contract for Excellence plan for 2016-2017. Again, not a dollar of the city’s targeted or districtwide expenditures is being spent on reducing class size. While as before, principals are being allowed to spend their discretionary C4E funds under the category of class size reduction, DOE provides no oversight to ensure that they actually do lower class size.
Indeed, many schools are merely filling budget cuts made by DOE in previous years rather than hiring new teachers to reduce class size, violating the prohibition in the law that C4E funds must “supplement, not supplant” district funding. In addition, DOE allows principals to openly use these funds not to lower class size but to “Minimize Class Size Growth.” Even worse, when principals do attempt to reduce class size, the DOE often sends them more students, undermining their efforts.
The result is predictable: class sizes continue to grow, as pointed out in this recent report from the Education Law Center. Classes are now significantly larger than when the C4E law was originally passed, especially in the early grades, and larger than when the state’s highest court ruled that NYC class sizes violated students’ constitutional right to a sound basic education.
The one commitment in the current DOE plan, repeated from last year, is that they will focus their class size reduction efforts on the Renewal schools. Yet even in the case of that limited commitment, DOE has not followed through. An analysis by Class Size Matters reveals that 40 percent of the 94 Renewal schools did not lower class size compared to the year before, 60 percent of these schools continued to have classes as large as 30 students or more, and only seven percent capped class sizes at the more appropriate C4E goals of 20 students per class in grades K-3, 23 per class in grades 4-8, and 25 in core high school classes. This year as last, no class size goals or targets are cited for these schools, and none of the “key elements” of their Renewal plan, according to DOE, even mention smaller classes. As a result, many of the Renewal schools are still struggling.
Only one significant change has been made from last year’s plan. DOE now explicitly claims that its original citywide class size reduction plan, approved by the state in 2007 and put on hiatus in 2009 by ex-Commissioner Steiner because of what he called the "current economic climate" is now officially "expired." Yet DOE has offered nothing in its place, despite the fact that the recession is long over, and both the state and the city currently enjoy billion dollar surpluses.
As a parent, I urge DOE to introduce a real class size reduction plan that will yield positive results for NYC children, and to stop ignoring its legal and ethical obligations. As the authors of the Education Law Center report conclude,
“DOE needs to issue a five-year class size reduction plan with specific annual class size targets along with sufficient funding to achieve those goals. The plan should first focus on lower grades, and schools with the greatest number of low-income children. In the longer term, the DOE should extend this plan to schools citywide, and for all grades, as the law requires, while adopting a school construction plan to ensure there is sufficient space.
The New York State Education Department should refuse to approve any city plan unless it includes specific targets in specific schools a long with sufficient funding to achieve them. The State should also maintain strict oversight to ensure that it achieves these goals.
According to the CFE decision, it is as much the State’s responsibility as the DOE’s to ensure proper class sizes in NYC public schools. If the DOE fails to achieve its annual targets and overall goals, the State should require the implementation of a corrective action plan, and consider withholding C4E funds if the DOE fails to improve its compliance.”
Name and address
Deborah Meier, founder of Central Park East, sent this letter this morning about the ongoing controversy about the principal at CPE 1. More on this here. CPE parents demanding the ouster of the principal have a website here.
I am frequently asked about the situation at Central Park East I that has recently made the news. Which side am I on, I’m asked.
I’m unequivocally on the side of those who wisely have concluded that the current principal must move on. She cannot do the job required. Bringing in someone to “help” her where she is weak is not a solution, but merely a postponing of the inevitable drift into more “standardized” practice and a more hierarchical school structure.
What is needed is an interim solution that helps pull the school together, hire new staff, set the tone and continue to improve the practices and approach that has marked CPE I’s 43 year history.
These include: staff governance, choice for families and staff, strong parental voice and advice, substantial teacher autonomy to develop curriculum, no admissions requirements re academic or social “fitness”, dedicated to serving predominantly low-income students of color, and the belief that a good open, progressive school should be able to serve all children together without separating them by so-called ability—by tracking in any form including social or racial indicators. CPE I’s form of progressivism was, on the spectrum, perhaps more inclined to emphasizing “play”—self-initiated cognitive activity--which often includes physical movement, as well as choice, sustained periods for uninterrupted work, peer collaboration, and demonstration versus standardized testing. Work and Play share common purposes and are, in fact, hard to distinguish. Play is at the heart of serious intellectual work, and observation provides teachers with the best means of support for further growth which rests, in professional jargon, in something called self “agency”.
CPE was dedicated to the task of creating a democratic community of citizens with different roles to play--students playing the role of citizens-to-be in some areas and equal citizens in others. It was based on substantial time set aside for children and their families to meet with their teachers, and open access to classrooms by family members.
It was also based on an agreement between the staff to meet together several hours a week, mostly during the school day as well as before and after the school year—plus a planning meeting for the fulltime professional staff in mid winter. If the faculty was responsible for the school’s work it needed time to effectively play such a role—on matters great and small.
For 32 years this process worked—serving largely District 4 families, plus a very small number of District 5 and others. We had a commitment not to seek a waiting list! When we had more applicants than spaces the District agreed to start other schools that worked together with us and had a single application process--thus CPE II and River East. The teacher-directors (and later principals) of these schools were almost always former teachers in the same or similar schools.
We were just three out of what became a District of 50 small schools during that same period, all with far more autonomy than generally found in urban public schools—including the neighborhood schools (only one was closed due to low enrollment in the district) and the new schools of choice.
A few years after we opened the District asked us to add white students to help the District to gain access to Federal integration funds—and to increase District enrollment. We liked the idea and set a kind of informal quota so that we’d still remain predominately for low income minority students. (Before that it was first come, first serve.)
When Jane Andrias left as principal in the early 2000s no one on the staff was prepared to take the job. Over the next 10 yeas, CPE I had 5 different principals, only one of whom had a professional background in any form of progressive education. During this period the school was largely held together by the commitment of its staff and the activism of its devoted families. It often faltered in terms of cohesion, shared time, and support for new teachers. In some ways, while classrooms continued to attract positive attention from parents, university educators and scholars, it lacked what a lead-teacher/principal (the former was the original conception) could do best. It remained the school I happily sent colleagues to visit—including those from Mission Hill which I started in Boston.
But this fall, after the last short-lived principal retired, it was clear that the newly appointed principal had no background knowledge or experience with elementary, early childhood and/or progressive education, much less functioning in the tradition of collective decision-making and belief that all children—not just privileged children—were well-served by our kind of pedagogy. We had data that proved it had worked for more than 30 years—why all of a sudden was this kind of school not sustainable by a principal who believed in such practices. Rather than wait to critique, the newly appointed principal almost immediately began to make changes in the way the school had practiced open, progressive education.
Many decisions were made without consulting staff from day One through Yesterday—on matters that have always been the purview of faculty and parents. Some of it was unavoidable given the circumstances but the practice continued even where emergencies didn’t require it. It was clear by word and action that the principal believed that she was the boss, the first and final authority. It appeared also, that she saw the kind of play that CPE always engaged in as frivolous and that the flexibility the school was accustomed to re rules and regs were henceforth taboo (we had followed our former Superintendent’s advice to practice “creative compliance”.) Above all she made clear that “some” children needed a very different kind of education than the school was accustomed to providing—i.e, Black and low-income children; in short, the very children we had historically served.
For reasons mostly out of the school’s control--the changed demographics of East and Central Harlem (gentrification) and CPE’s disengagement from District Four during the Bloomberg reorganization--the school’s demographics gradually changed during the past ten years. It became a school with a minority of low income children, although still substantially racially integrated in a city with few such integrated schools. If one included bi-racial families as students of color CPE has remained about 60% Black, Brown and bi-racial and 40% white and Asian. (About 2/3 of the families of color have signed the petition asking for the removal of the current principal)
To rectify the loss of low-income children the elected parent representatives made efforts to apply for the new Chancellor’s admissions initiative that would enable CPE to set aside spaces for low-income children. The new principal was uninterested. Thus while other progressive schools have applied in order to help them be more economically integrated CPE I has not. Unsurprisingly, by following the “rules” the latest lottery-based PreK will be almost entirely white and mostly District 4.
All our early dreams seemed to me unachievable if the mission we began with continued to be undermined—by misinformation or open disagreement. We lasted through many superintendents in District 4 and even more city-wide regimens for a very long time. I tended to despair as I learned more about the situation—including conversations with the new principal and the district superintendent. But committed parents and staff kept “pestering” me and I realized I could not avoid my responsibility to them. I had to take a stand.
We need to find a solution that is fair to the latest principal, who might well be fine in a different setting she is more in tune with, to those parents who agree with her, while also providing the majority of the community with the leadership that will enable the CPE we put so much of our hearts into to be restored. We need to embrace the spirit of democracy that CPE I was intended to demonstrate but which requires an unusual collegial form of leadership to restore, .
That’s where I stand.
Founding teacher-director of Central Park East
There has been much discussion of the recent amendments made to the Democratic platform. See the video below of delegates including Pennsylvania attorney Chuck Pascal , Troy LaRaviere, head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, Randi Weingarten, President of the AFT, and others proposing and approving changes to the original, highly flawed document
Clearly there have been substantial improvements, pointing out the destructive impact of high-stakes testing, particularly on students of color and the schools they attend, proposing that parents have the right to opt out testing, and describing the destabilizing influence from the unchecked rapid expansion of charters. See Valerie Strauss on the amendments
, as well as a transcript of the discussion that occurred here.
Some of the language seems to have been influenced by the petition to the Democratic Party posted
by the Network for Public Education Action. (Full disclosure: I'm on the board of NPE.) Corporate reformers including Peter Cunningham
, former press secretary to Arne Duncan, and Shavar Jeffries of Democrats for Education Reform
expressed predictable outrage.
At the same time, public school teachers and bloggers like Peter Greene
pointed out that the platform only opposes for-profit charters, even as the distinction between for-profit and non-profit charters is often hazy, as non-profits can contract with for-profit operations to run their schools. See also this excellent Pro Publica report
for more on this issue.
And although the amended platform specifically calls for charter schools to be obligated to "reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools
" this has been the law in New York since 2010 -- without any real attempt to enforce it.
Democrats on Charters and Testing
from Schoolhouse Live
There are other aspects of the platform that I find disappointing still. It contains a proposal to fund group mentoring, which is described as a "low-cost, high-yield investment that offers the benefit of building a supportive network of peers who push one another towards success…
I have checked the research on group mentoring, which is thin indeed. One report
looked at the benefits of group or peer mentoring, published in 2002. The concept is described as following: "volunteers who interact regularly with small groups of youth can fulfill the role of a mentor —to be a trusted counselor or guide—by developing a number of successful and productive relationships simultaneously. In this way, these programs can provide mentors to large numbers of youth without depleting scarce volunteer resources."
The study looked at three small programs, in LA, Erie County NY and Kansas City, and found that from self-reports, participants spoke of improvements in social skills, relationships with individuals outside of the group and to a lesser extent academic performance and attitudes. Yet there were no controls or attempt to quantify improvements. The study concluded that "Perhaps the most important issue to explore is whether these youth- and mentor-reported benefits translate into observable effects. ...outcome studies need to be conducted before we can conclude that group mentoring programs are, in fact, effective."
A meta-analysis of several group mentoring programs showed mixed results
; one large scale controlled study in 2009 found that mentoring did not lead to statistically significant impacts in any way --so much so that the Department of Education proposed eliminating funding
for mentoring from the federal budget for Fiscal Year 2010.
This is not to say that group mentoring is not a model worth pursuing. But for the platform to focus on this specifically as a "low-cost, high-yield investment" when the evidence base is so weak is unfortunate. Yes, group mentoring is comparatively cheap, but the "yield" is uncertain at best.
Compare this to how class size reduction was completely omitted in the platform- one of the few proven reforms shown to narrow the achievement/opportunity gap, and to improve student outcomes in a whole host of ways, including boosting achievement, morale, graduation rates, non-cognitive skills, and lowering the number of disciplinary problems. Moreover, lowering class size has been estimated at producing economic benefits twice the cost, and is strongly supported by parents and working teachers. See the Class Size Matters research page
or this new fact sheet from the National Education Policy Center
for evidence. Why was it neglected in the platform?
Update: Beth Fertig of WNYC/Schoolbook writes today that the DOE says "At every location where elevated levels persisted after a second test, the city said it turned off the source of the water and then started making repairs or replacing the fixtures."
The Mayoral spokesperson seems to imply something different, saying that "In the rare instance of any elevated sample, [emphasis mine] relevant fixtures and piping are replaced to the wall, and retested out of an extreme abundance of caution." This would imply that all 509 schools with elevated samples will be, not just the 153 in which the lead levels remained elevated after flushing, but Beth emailed me that she believes that they were speaking of only the 153 schools. In addition, as I noted below, Virginia Tech lead expert, Marc Edwards was quoted as now recommending a minimum of testing every three years - as opposed to the DOE's five year testing cycle. So three of my questions below remain unanswered.
Ben Chapman of the Daily News wrote about the latest on NYC school water today here. It turns out that when all schools were finally tested, 509 had elevated levels of lead in at least the first sample; though in most of these schools, the levels diminished after flushing the pipes.
It appears that 153 schools still had elevated lead on the second draw -- after sorting the list of NYC schools with elevated lead samples here . The worst off seem to be PS 14 in D24 in Queens, with 12 elevated samples in the first draw, and 7 in the second; and PS 127 in D30 with 10 elevated samples in the first draw and 6 in the second. But check to see if your child's school is on the list.
The DOE now says that every school will be retested for lead every five years; which runs contrary to the recommendations of the Virginia Tech lead expert, Marc Edwards, who exposed the Flint water tragedy, and recommends annual testing for lead -- at least in all schools built before 1986.
The below DOE press release claims that "Our protocol exceeds EPA protective guidance and involves regular flushing or fixture replacement." Actually EPA guidance calls for flushing as a short term measure, and replacements of fixtures or pipes as a permanent remedy. The DOE press release below begs the following questions:
Let's hope someone in the media asks DOE these questions.
- In which schools is the DOE going to replace the pipes and/or fixtures?
- What oversight will be used to ensure that regular flushing will occur in the rest of schools?
- Should parents be concerned about the ten years or more in which there was lead in the water in these schools and no flushing?
- Should parents have their children tested for lead who attended these schools?
FACT SHEET: LEAD TESTING IN NYC SCHOOLS' WATER SUPPLY
NYC WATER OF HIGHEST QUALITY, WITH EXTENSIVE MEASURES MEETING OR EXCEEDING ALL EPA RECOMMENDATIONS TO PROTECT STUDENTS AND FACULTY
Less than 1 Percent of Final Test Results for NYC Schools Tested Positive for Lead
This latest round of testing from the DOE, in partnership with DOHMH and the EPA, reaffirms that our efforts are highly effective at keeping the water in our schools safe. Of the 112,584 samples taken, only 1.0% were found to have elevated levels that exceeded EPA guidelines on the first draw (the first water out of the tap, which would include stagnant water); just 0.19% of samples were positive second draw samples.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has invested more than $10 billion over the last decade to maintain and improve NYC's water supply infrastructure; DEP also tests the city's water over 500,000 times each year at various points throughout the system. Between 2008 and 2010, DEP worked with the Department of Education (DOE) and other City agencies to identify and remove lead service lines to schools and other municipal buildings.
This year, DOE has tested the water in every public school building, regardless of whether it was built before or after the lead ban in the 1980s.
Since 2002, any building that has had even one outlet (e.g., a sink or a fountain) with levels that exceeded EPA guidance has been put on an extensive DOHMH protocol based on EPA recommendations, which includes some combination of equipment replacement, weekly flushing, and more to ensure the safety of students and staff.
The protocol is proven to protect students and faculty for two key reasons:
· The vast majority of elevated levels are found on first draw. Weekly flushing on Monday mornings or after school vacations - the only times at which water has been sitting in the pipes for those extended periods - is proven to quickly eliminate any elevated levels and ensure the water students and faculty drink is safe.
· Positive tests on second draw- after water has been running-are rare. If they do happen, they can almost always be linked to a specific piece of equipment which is immediately removed, repaired, or, in rare cases of bathroom sinks, designated as a handwashing only (no drinking) station.
"Families can rest assured that water in school buildings is of the highest quality and is safe for students and staff to drink," said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. "Schools are following the aggressive flushing and remediation protocols that the DOE has had in place for years, and we continue to update families and school staff throughout the process."
"New York City's tap water is of the highest quality, and not a source of lead poisoning," said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. "Parents should be assured by the joint efforts of our two agencies to increase transparency and accountability. Elevated lead test results in water are most often attributable to older internal plumbing and fixtures. When that occurs, schools sites implement corrective measures to reduce lead levels. Our protocol exceeds EPA protective guidance and involves regular flushing or fixture replacement. Flushing removes any built up lead in stagnant water."
This latest round of testing once again reaffirms that our protocols are protective and effective. NYC Water is of the highest quality, with extensive measures in place that meet or exceed all federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendations - measures that did not exist in other cities around the country that are now facing concerns about lead.
In fact, the number of children in New York City with lead poisoning has declined 80 percent since 2002; and in 2015, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) referred, based on blood lead test results, just 45 of the 1.1 million public school children in NYC to the DOE for investigation. In all 45 cases, EPA-certified consultants and the City examined every classroom and home and took appropriate action as needed; there were no cases in which water was determined to be the source of elevated lead levels.
Results for individual schools can be found on a first-of-its-kind web portal that allows families and faculty members to track the results of the lead testing and protection measures that have been in place in public schools since 2002. Final test results are immediately shared with families and posted on the DOE's website. Letters backpacked home to families with details regarding the results are available in nine languages, as requested by school staff, and principals are available to address any questions that may arise. In the rare occurrence that a school has elevated results, families receive a second letter with updates once remediation and follow-up testing are completed.
DOE, in partnership with DOHMH, will continue to test schools based on DOHMH and EPA recommendations - in fact exceeding the frequency of testing recommended in the EPA's guidance. For the limited number of buildings that had even one outlet above recommended levels in a previous test, this includes continued implementation of the DOHMH protocol and regular retesting thereafter - with three-draw samples taken within six months or one year of the initial tests to continue to confirm the effectiveness of flushing, and regular retesting every two years thereafter. Schools that have not tested positive for elevated levels will still be retested every five years. Schools with construction that could disturb, vibrate, or shift plumbing and/or fixture will be immediately retested. The City is also offering free guidance and testing to private nonpublic schools.
High Achievement NY put out a press release trumpeting a new poll from Achieve
-- both organizations funded by the Gates Foundation to promote the Common Core and testing. Though the poll did find that parents are concerned that their children may not be sufficiently prepared for college and career, there is little to show that the Common Core standards and more testing leads to better preparation.
The results of the poll itself is interesting and shows growing discontent with the testing regime.
See this slide, revealing that 13% of parents opted their children out of standardized tests last year.
Despite lower rates overall than upper-income suburban Moms (their words, not mine) African-America and Hispanic Moms intend to opt their children out in greater numbers next year -- with the number of African-American mothers nearly doubling.
Also, respondents give a variety of reasons for opposing standardized testing, with 49% saying the exams do a poor job capturing their children's true abilities, and 48% say that the exams yield no positive benefits to children taking the exam. Especially interesting is that 53% of African American Moms say their children are subjected to too many tests.
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