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More money woes this week: city funding for pre-K programs run by community groups was cut in half, leading to the overnight evaporation of about 300 seats. Yet Obama accepted the endorsement of the national teachers union (AFT) union, vowing his commitment to "quality, affordable early childhood education for all our children,” and McCain announced his intention to fully fund No Child Left Behind, offer private school vouchers and put tutoring funds directly in the hands of parents. Ambitious plans on all sides, given the current economic climate.

Meanwhile, NYC education bigwigs are going national: Joel Klein is hoping to advise the next president and UFT President Randy Weingarten was elected head of the AFT. She says she's staying in New York for now (and announcing fresh lawsuits on behalf of city teachers) but just might be grooming a successor. Klein, who claims accountability as his hallmark reform, might want to explain why it apparently took a newspaper article to stop the city school bus system from “losing” parent complaints.

Children's health came under fresh scrutiny: A new report confirms what parents have known for eons -- that America’s active kids morph into sedentary teenagers – and documents health risks that have led others to recommend cholesterol meds for kids. And each successive scandal that the Administration for Childrens Services (ACS) faces tragically impacts the city’s most vulnerable citizens.

Too many teens are stuck in middle school , according to a report released by Advocates for Children. While some kids in the Bronx are apathetic about keeping their neighborhood clean, juvenile offenders are helping restore and reopen classic American diners. And the Times celebrated high school theater geekdom at its best, which seems a lot more wholesome than the current crop of product-infused teen novels. But for now, ditch the screen, shut the book, and get out! It's summer.

Unpacking Klein-speak in D.C.

Written by Helen Zelon Friday, 18 July 2008 06:27

Here's a paragraph from Chancellor Joel Klein's testimony yesterday before the House panel on education; below it, some amplification on what the stats really mean, thanks to this handy PowerPoint from the DOE.

"In fourth-grade math, for example, the gap separating our African-American and white students has narrowed by more than 16 points. In eighth-grade math, African-American students have closed the gap with white students by almost 5 points. In fourth-grade reading, the gap between African-American and white students has narrowed by more than 6 points. In eighth-grade reading, the gap has closed by about 4 points."

First, the good news: Overall, nearly 80% of fourth-graders score at or above grade level in math. That's good. The race gap Klein highlights persists but is narrowing. Also good. But the 18-point split between black and white students leaps to 30 points by 8th grade, when math proficiency drops to 59% overall. So closing a gap by 5 points IS progress -- but the gap that remains is six times as wide.

In English Language Arts (ELA), 26 points separate black and white fourth-grade students who score on or above grade level; the gap endures, at 29 points, in eighth grade. But the overall average score plummets in parallel with the math score -- 61% score at or above grade level in fourth grade, but fewer than half, 43%, earn level 3/4 on their eighth grade ELA.

And two items worth the mention, although Klein elected to skip them: This year, grade 5 level 3/4 ELA scores were 69%; grade 6 level 3/4 scores plummeted to 53% -- roughly, a 20% drop. What happened in that transitional year? And top scorers on the Level 4 ELAs represent a very small slice of the New York City pie: Only 5.8% of fourth graders and 2.9% of eighth graders scored Level 4 on these critical standardized exams.

Head spinning yet? The numbers sure are...

Last night's Town Hall in Brooklyn was the first of many, according to City Council member Bill deBlasio, that will address issues raised by mayoral control of the city's schools -- a state law that's slated to sunset in 2009.

Most speakers described the erosion of public influence on public education due to mayoral control: Community Education Councils as weak substitutes for elected school boards; policy decisions (and PR disasters) enacted by remote DOE leadership; and the mayorally-appointed (and thus beholden) Panel for Educational Policy in lieu of the former Board of Education, whose antagonism to the Mayor -- any mayor -- was legion.

Parents brought specific and legitimate complaints about the high-school admissions process and the exclusion of special-education parents and students from many policy-level conversations. Martine Guerrier, head of the Office of Family Engagement, was present; more than a few charged her office with "Orwellian" practices and a dismissive, "we'll get back to you" philosophy. Notably, veteran school leaders said that parents are reluctant to step into leadership roles because of fears that their questions will lead to repercussions for their children.

In a practical reflection of the Mayor's corporate ethos, small-business providers of resources for English Language Learners said their bids were no longer welcome at the DOE, which restricted some bids to businesses worth $5 million or more. The irony is particularly stinging given that Local Law 129 provides preferential bidding practices for small businesses, especially those headed by minorities and women -- and that the DOE is apparently exempt from that ruling.

The UFT, ICOPE, ACORN/the Alliance for Quality Education, the Council for Economic Justice, Time Out From Testing and other advocates promise to keep the mayoral-control dialogue going.

UPDATED: C4E round 2

Written by Thursday, 17 July 2008 05:00

The DOE has set dates for a rapid second round of Contracts for Excellence (C4E) public hearings, where parents, community leaders and advocates can speak out on C4E funding, which by law must go to students with the greatest needs, particularly students living in poverty and English Language Learners (ELLs).

Chancellor Joel Klein's initial push to persuade Albany to redirect portions of C4E money incensed advocacy groups, including the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which stresses that C4E funds are meant to support and not replace city spending. But since the forceful resolution of the 2008-09 schools budget, the $63 million once in question is now budgeted "entirely within the mandates" of the law, according to the DOE.

This second round will take up school-based plans for spending developed by principals and school leadership teams. DOE sources say revised proposals will post to the DOE website next week; we'll let you know when the links are live, so you can see what's on deck at your child's school.

The second round is scheduled as follows:
* Staten Island on Tuesday, July 29
* Queens on Tuesday, July 29
* Bronx on Wednesday, July 30
* Brooklyn on Wednesday, July 30
* Manhattan on Wednesday, July 30

Got any questions? Let us know.

Mired in middle school

Written by Wednesday, 16 July 2008 13:03

After all the middle-school admissions brouhaha, disturbing reporting on students who can't get out of the middle grades was released today by the Out of School Youth Coalition, a network of social service and advocacy groups. Some of these 'overage' middle-schoolers are 16 or 17 years old -- in the seventh or eighth grade.

The DOE, in its wisdom, does not make data publicly available to discern citywide how many older teens are still stuck in middle school. In one survey of nine Bronx middle schools, more than a quarter of the 6,000 students were older than they should be for their grade -- due to repeated retentions, disruptions in foster care, and complications in safety transfers, among other factors.

Since 2005, the DOE has developed alternative programs for older, underachieving high school students via its Office of Multiple Pathways to Graduation. But comparable program options for younger students who've fallen behind are sorely lacking. It's hard to imagine the daily difficulty and frustration of being 17 in a sea of 13-year-olds; could we make it any harder for these struggling kids?

Bloomberg, Klein to school House panel

Written by Helen Zelon Wednesday, 16 July 2008 05:45

Quiet week in NYC? Head down to D.C.: Tomorrow morning, Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein will address a House panel on progress in urban education, along with D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Klein protegee D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and public school leaders from Chicago and Atlanta.

We bet we'll hear about test score gains and closing the achievement gap -- but we doubt the conversation will include troubling nuances, like the fact that race-based gaps between brighter kids widen over time, even as they narrow for kids with lower skills. And we bet we won't hear the nitty-gritty on why level 4 test scores have dropped for middle schoolers this year: Will anyone ask about the price bright students pay in a system so focused on raising low-level student skills?

We'll likely hear about charter schools and merit pay, about leadership pipelines and increasing accountability. We'll hear about rising grad rates -- but bet the numbers they cite will be based on old data, as the newly calibrated scores are yet to be made public.

Will we learn anything new? We doubt it, but we'd love to be wrong. As it stands now, though, our bet is on celebration over substance, and photo-ops over hard questions.

Tardy report cards

Written by Helen Zelon Tuesday, 15 July 2008 03:46

Over two weeks ago, we asked about delays in reporting the high-school graduation rate; why, we wondered, were school report cards and other data MIA at the end of the school year?

Today, Elissa Gootman's Times piece explores the question at length -- but guess what? There's no clear answer. Blame falls on pricey, whiz-bang data systems and on faulty reporting; fingers are wagged in many directions. But still, no data.

In an email earlier this month, Tom Dunn of the New York State Education Department said the report cards would probably post by late July. Well, we're halfway there. We're glad for the Times' muscle on this question, and hope that we'll know the grad rate before this year's rising seniors show up for school in September.

Weingarten moves up but not out

Written by Lindsey Whitton Christ Monday, 14 July 2008 11:19

This morning Randi Weingarten, president of the UFT, was officially elected head of the national teacher’s union, the American Federation of Teachers. Weingarten has wielded enormous influence over the past decade as head of the 200,000-member New York union, where she plans to remain, although some question whether anyone can handle leading both unions at once – even a work-horse like Weingarten.

Weingarten speaking in June with Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein.

In New York, she secured a 43 percent raise for teachers, fought for smaller class sizes, and railed against high stakes testing. Weingarten’s relationship with the mayor depends on the issue: she’s not afraid to make a joint announcement with him in the morning and then blast another of his initiatives later that afternoon. And although she has generally been very popular among New York teachers, her tentative support of charter schools (she has even opened two of them) and support for merit-based pay is controversial among union members.

In her acceptance speech today Weingarten – the daughter of a teacher and a former part-time social studies teacher herself – argued that schools should become multi-service community centers, offering a lot more than just classroom instruction. That does sound better than test prep, but what's her plan to make such a dreamy vision actually happen on a large scale? And how will Weingarten stay focused on New York, now that she has vaulted to the national stage?




The open-mic education Town Hall slated for this Wednesday in Brooklyn will include a number of city officials, according to Evan Stone, a public-school teacher in the Bronx who's 'summering' in Bill deBlasio's office. "We are expecting Senator Eric Adams, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, [City] Council Members [education committee chair Robert] Jackson, [David] Yassky, [Diana] Reyna, [James] Vacca, [Letitia] James and others."

"[Also coming are] ... representatives from the United Federation of Teachers, the Alliance for Quality Education, Time out from Testing, the Independent Commission on Public Education, ACORN, The After-School Corporation, The Office of the Public Advocate, the Citizens Union Foundation, and others." Quite the lineup.

The town hall will weigh the impact of mayoral control on community involvement in the city's schools -- and how to insure that parents' voices are heard as reauthorization looms.

RSVPs are still coming in. The DOE Representatives have been invited, said Stone, but "have not confirmed their attendance." Very diplomatically put, but that silence sounds a lot like 'no' to us.

Do-gooders are building 11 new playgrounds at Bronx elementary schools this summer, but parents of leaf-picking toddlers just might face summonses, like one unlucky mother in Chelsea. Five public school students, who grew up playing on city fields, were picked in the Major League Baseball draft and face a tough choice -- go pro or go to college -- while students at the Bronx Early College Academy, who'd hoped to earn college credits in high school, now learn that there may not be space for their high school at all come fall.The DOE and NYPD both report that crime is down in city schools, but a college-bound recent graduate was tragically shot and killed on the street in Rockaway yesterday. Brooklyn teens who gave their teachers a laxative-laced cake had their charges reduced while truly disturbing charges were filed against a teacher accused of abusing a disabled student.

Just when public hearings were scheduled on mayoral control of the schools, there is a bid for two new unions – one for public school parents and one for the students. Hard questions should be raised about bad record-keeping at the DOE and the ask-questions-later mentality of ACS workers. Outraged New Jerseyans questioned a superintendents’ golden retirement parachute, and some worry that questions about potential score inflation of New York standardized tests may never be answered.

Quiet week at Tweed and City Hall? Time for Times stories about higher education, like this one, this one, this one, this one, this one and this one. The Sun’s Elizabeth Green wrote about a well-regarded anonymous education blogger and the DOE’s “truth squad,” which monitors education blogs for net-speed inaccuracies.

Skewing to the summering-away crowd, the Times counsels parents not to worry if teens complain about the isolation of the family summer house -- once the kids go to college, they'll begin to enjoy the second home again. (Whew!) And in town, it seems that more parents are building mini-teen centers in their homes to keep their kids off the streets (and mini would be the operative word for most NYC apartments). But kids who created their own suburban summer fun are wrangling with lawyers instead of shagging wiffle balls. One, two, three strikes and we’re out! Have a great weekend.