Tag Archives: Education Reform in NYC

Small High Schools are Better, Say Small School Advocates

Economists are the priests of capitalism, and education reform.

Economists are the priests of capitalism, and education reform.

Both the Daily News and New York Post touted a study carried out by researchers from MIT and Duke that found Bloomberg’s small high schools to be more successful than their larger counterparts. As someone who has worked in small high schools, the findings of this study do not have the ring of truth. So, I decided to slog my way through it to see what it says for myself.

The researchers at MIT measure “success” by Regents scores and college admissions. This means that they have a myopic focus on the core subjects. The fact that the arts have been disappearing from all high schools, especially the smaller ones, does not register a blip anywhere in this study. They also make no mention of the dearth of enrichment programs at smaller schools, a dearth caused by their small size. Smaller schools do not have the pool of talent and resources that larger schools used to have to build things like debate or football teams. The study makes much of the idea that smaller schools have “themes” but never assess whether or not these themes truly reflect what goes on in these schools. It is just taken as an article of faith that schools with “technology” in their titles teach students technology, or schools with “leadership” teach leadership and so on. While this faith is troubling, one must keep in mind this study was carried out by economists, probably the most faith-based of all the social sciences.

One glaring shortcoming of the study is that it does not measure the scores of students with special needs in smaller high schools. This includes English Language Learners. According to the paper:

“Students who were special education and limited English proficient were manually placed into programs that could accommodate them and were therefore  not always subject to assignment based on lotteries. As a result, no students who are special education and limited English proficient are in the lottery sample.”

The “lottery sample” to which they refer makes up the bulk of the small school students that are being measured. On the other hand, they did not exclude a similar proportion of special needs students and English Language Learners from their sample of students from larger schools. To say this might end up skewing the results of this study is an understatement.

One of the findings of the study is that students and parents felt safer in smaller schools according to the Learning Environment Surveys. They do not mention the percentage of students and parents who fill out these surveys, which is typically a very small amount of the overall population. Is it really reflective of the overall attitude towards the school if 5% of the families who attend it feel safe?

If the learning environment is so good in these schools, then how can this be explained?

“Small school teachers often had to take on administrative roles given the reduced staffing at small schools, and additional work requirements may have lead to higher turnover rates (Hemphill and Nauer, 2009). The estimate in Table 3 implies that 28% of teachers were not teaching at schools attended by offered complies in the following year, while 19% of teachers were not teaching at schools attended by non-offered compliers in the following year.”

So, the yearly turnover rate at these small schools is between 19 and 28 percent and the researchers backhandedly chalk this up to teachers at these schools having to take on administrative roles. This puts a shiny gloss on a much uglier reality. New teachers being unprepared for the classroom, systematic harassment, denial of tenure and expectations by administrators that teachers work overtime for free are not mentioned anywhere in this study, although they are pervasive problems throughout the system. This calls into question the rigor and objectivity of this study.

And what of the fantastic gains of the schools that were studied? According to the Daily News article:

” Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Duke University found that city students who attend small high schools established by Bloomberg are 9% more likely to receive high school diplomas and 7% more likely to attend college, compared with students who attend older, larger city high schools.”

Therefore, these schools in which the scores of special needs students and English Language Learners were not counted, were a whopping 9% more likely to graduate students and 7% more likely to have graduates who attend college. These numbers should be put into perspective.

First, many of the large schools to which these smaller schools were compared have become little more than dumping grounds for the Bloomberg administration. As is the case with Long Island City High School, many of the larger schools have much higher numbers of special needs students and higher rates of overcrowding. It has been the DOE’s tactic to set large schools up for failure in this way so that they have an excuse to close them down, chop them up and, in many cases, move in charter schools. Furthermore, as the study states, many of these smaller schools benefit from the largesse of philanthropic organizations like the Gates Foundation. The study did not take these funding disparities into account.

Therefore, after all of these advantages, and after all of the ways this study skews the playing field in the favor of small schools, they are still only 9% more likely to graduate students. They do this without providing the type of enrichment activities that were possible with larger schools. This makes these smaller schools little more than diploma mills, and not very effective ones at that.

Rising graduation rates or college admissions is in no way a measure of success. It is usually more indicative of lower standards, which we see in the increasing number of incoming CUNY freshmen in need of remedial classes. It is interesting that this study does not delve into which colleges the graduates of small schools are accepted. Are these two-year or four-year colleges? Are they being admitted to Hostos or Hunter? These are things that would have given a more accurate picture of the types of graduates coming out of the small schools.

The worst part of this study is not the obvious bias in favor of small schools. It is how the miniscule gains it finds in these small schools, gains in a very limited scope of categories, is seen as success. There is no attempt to put things into context. There is no attempt to ask the question: was killing off most of the large high schools, firing hundreds of teachers, shuffling around thousands of students and bringing in countless unqualified administrators all worth these 9% gains in graduation and 7% gains in college admissions? Or how about: was the destruction of the enrichment activities that came with larger schools worth it?

These are the types of questions that must be asked when assessing Bloomberg’s legacy for New York City’s public schools. Given the advantages heaped upon the small schools in this study, it is more likely the case that so-called “achievement” of New York City students is no different that it was 12 years ago. The study itself gives an indication of this when it mentions that SAT and PSAT scores, the only statistics not open to manipulation by the Department of Education, have remained stagnant.

That means the Bloomberg legacy is one of aimless destruction. It means that Bloomberg subjected the children of NYC to never-ending upheaval in their schools for what purpose? There are more administrators in the system than ever before. There is more teacher turnover than ever before. There are more no-bid contracts in the DOE than ever before. When all of these factors are put together, it means that Bloomberg oversaw the creation of a pliant teaching force under the thumb of unqualified administrators who helped institute a program of privatization in our public schools. He turned education in NYC into a gold mine for his billionaire friends.

The scariest part about all of this is that it only promises to get worse. Even if Bill de Blasio is the progressive white knight that many people think he is (which is quite doubtful), he can still do only so much to undo the damage of 12 years of Bloomberg. He still has to contend with reforms coming from the state and federal level over which he has very little control. Those reforms only promise to exacerbate the damage done by Pharaoh Bloomberg.

Economists all too often act as lickspittles for the moneyed elite. This study is just another example of that.

 

 

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The DOE’s Future and MORE’s Winning Strategy

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I became a tenured teacher in 2003. Between September of 2000 and June of 2003, I would walk into the main office of my school to see my name on the list of probationary teachers. These were the teachers who had yet to receive tenure. Then, at the start of the 2003 school year, my name was off the list. I did not throw myself a party nor did my principal make any type of to-do about it.

However, I think receiving tenure in the New York City Department of Education today is an accomplishment that calls for the throwing of a party, like a Bar Mitzvah or Confirmation. In fact, I cannot remember the last time a teacher with whom I have worked has received tenure. There is an excellent and dedicated teacher at my school who is in her 4th year and, not surprisingly, got her probation extended another year last year.

This is a trend happening all over the city. Teachers are being denied tenure one or two years in a row before they are unceremoniously herded out of the system. How dedicated or effective a teacher is matters not. Principals are obviously under pressure from the DOE to deny tenure as much as possible. Even worse, tenure is not what it used to be, especially with the Race to the Top evaluation system now in place.

Many veteran teachers, myself included, have expressed outrage over the lack of ownership demonstrated by NYC teachers over their profession and their union. The vast majority did not even bother to cast a vote in the most recent union elections.

Yesterday I ran into a former colleague who retired last year. She looked very rested and happy. I saw on her face the joy she must have felt for not having to be evaluated by exam scores or implement a set of ill-conceived standards. My words to her were “you got out at the right time” and she totally agreed.

This is a teacher of the baby boom generation, that massive sector of the American workforce who is starting to collect Social Security and Medicare. Many baby boomers in the DOE must feel as if they are sprinting through a mine field, hoping to make it to retirement safely before a bad evaluation hobbles their chances of a peaceful dotage.

With the exodus of the baby boom generation, as well as the revolving door of Gen Xer and Millennials brought about by the rampant denial of tenure, we should wonder no more as to why teachers in NYC are not taking ownership of their working conditions. The fact of the matter is very few teachers in the system look into the near and distant futures and see themselves working inside of a DOE school building.

So voting in union elections, going to union meetings, attending protests of the Panel for Educational Policy and the rest of the things that activist teachers do must seem like a whole bunch of useless work to young and veteran teachers alike. They cannot be blamed for this. There surely are many young teachers who intended to make education their life’s work, or many older teachers who would have wanted to stay on just a little bit longer, but cannot do so due to the efforts of Pharaoh Bloomberg and his Queen Consort, Dennis Walcott, to turn public school teaching into a temporary gig.

And then there is that other group of younger teachers who are working on their administrative licenses. Generally speaking, they tend to teach non-core or non-academic classes, tend to not be very dedicated to what they do inside of the classroom and tend to not be very good at whatever it is they do inside of the classroom. This is just what I have seen from my experience. I am sure there are plenty of exceptions. This young crop, many of whom are more likely to get tenure if they do not already have it, may not be longed for the DOE either.

With the prospect of a Bill de Blasio mayoralty starting in 2014, many people are expecting big changes to Department of Education headquarters at the Tweed Courthouse. De Blasio has never really been a fan of Tweed. I hear stories everyday through the grapevine of Tweedies and people from the various DOE networks jumping ship to other jobs in anticipation of the de Blasio era. There seems to be a general sense that he is going to clean house once he inhabits Gracie Mansion, which is certainly welcome news to teachers who care about public education. If this is indeed the case, where will these young people with administrative hopes go?

Years ago there was a young teacher at our school who fit the description of the bureaucracy-climber described above. He taught with us for one year before getting an assistant principal’s job somewhere else. He was an AP for around one year before going off to work at Tweed doing God knows what. From what I saw of him, the only skill he mastered was the ability to kiss the right posteriors, and he mastered this better than most anyone I have ever seen. What will become of him and those of his ilk? Will the ass-kissery that is their stock-in-trade be less of an asset (no pun intended) in de Blasio’s DOE?

Chances are, the field of administrative sinecures at the DOE will greatly decrease in the near future. That means these young teachers either have to be really lucky, really connected or really dedicated to making things work as a classroom teacher. Barring these things, they will have to find another profession or another school system.

That means that the next few months and years will be a time of great flux in the DOE. Current and aspiring Tweedies are going to be jumping ship. Principals will be trying to weed out the probationary teachers to whom they have refused tenure. More baby boomers will retire once they get the chance. And, finally, if the recent Daily News and New York Post hit pieces are any indication, Bloomclot is on one last push to get those teachers awaiting termination hearings out of the door.

So who is left in the system that has the most vested interest in improving our students’ learning conditions? First, there are teachers like me, the veteran 30-somethings to whom retirement is a distant prospect. Second, there are the first-year teachers who have come out of traditional teacher education programs (that is to say, not Teach for America), whose prospects for tenure might be better in three years under a de Blasio DOE than they are now in the Bloomclot DOE. Finally, there are the teachers of the Absent Teacher Reserve, the ATRs, who generally are veterans who continue to rotate from school to school without classes of their own.

If MORE wants a shot at winning the next UFT elections, these are the groups to whom they must appeal. These are the people who will most likely hunker down in the DOE for the long haul. If recent history is any guide the younger generation, the ones who elected Obama and de Blasio and started Occupy Wall Street, will be receptive to the “social justice” aspect of MORE’s platform. Social justice, however, must ride the coattails of bread-and-butter union issues and not the other way around.

MORE must paint for teachers a picture of what the teaching profession can look like. Solid workplace protections, small class sizes, a deemphasizing of standardized testing and a respect for the autonomy of educators as professionals, these are the things that will matter in the upcoming union elections. Thanks to a crop of new principals who have imbibed the Bloomclot method of systematic workplace bullying; thanks to the budget cuts that have swelled the size of our classes; thanks to the Race to the Top evaluations that have institutionalized the standardized testing regime; thanks to the prospect of Common Core that takes so much of the joy and creativity out of education, the imprint of over a decade of reformer philosophy will be felt in our schools for some time. MORE must attack each of these things head-on with an alternative vision of what the teaching profession in NYC can be.

Doing these things will paint MORE as a stark and highly desirable contrast to the Unity leadership of our union that has been complicit in this reformer legacy. They can paint the Unity method of caving to the reformers as the stuffy old status quo. Seasoning their rhetoric with the right amount of social justice will set them up to be the next wave of civil rights leaders, much like the reformers started using the language of civil rights over a decade ago to give their destructive policies a pious sheen into which the general public bought. MORE, by properly tailoring their message what promises to be the backbone of our union in the decades to come, can become a legitimate threat to the Unity stranglehold on power.

MORE will take a step towards building this new union coalition tomorrow with the “Win Back Wednesday” rally tomorrow at 4:00 pm outside of UFT headquarters at 52 Broadway. I will be there and hope to see you there as well.

SEVEN SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE FOR NYC PUBLIC SCHOOLS

New York City teachers come back to work tomorrow after an early Spring Break. Just in time too because rumblings of change are everywhere here in the city. The nation should have its eye on what happens in the New York City school system over the next year or two.

Together, the 7 Seals of the Apocalypse are on the horizon for our education system. This doesn’t mean that I think NYC public schools will disappear. It means that, if they were to disappear, these would be the things that will do us in.

First Seal – False Prophets 

“I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”

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Elections for new leadership in the union will take place shortly after we return to work tomorrow. The Unity Caucus, who has had a stranglehold on power from its inception, is facing a challenge from MORE this year. Don’t be surprised if MORE has some measure of success in this election.

The Unity Caucus has been running a non-campaign: not engaging with or acknowledging MORE in any way and not taking any public actions or stances recently so they don’t risk alienating more teachers. If we hear anything, it will be about how Unity brings us “experienced” and “competent” leadership.

Michael Mulgrew and the rest of Unity are the false prophets upon our land. They will speak about how they did not cave to Pharaoh Bloomberg’s impossible teacher evaluations, then they will cave soon after the elections are over. Unity will play nice with teachers over the next month, then will do a whole bunch of selling out once elections are over. Seeing as how they have three years before they face another election, they will try to get all of their selling out done over the next two years in order to give us a chance to forget before the 2016 elections.

Second Seal – War 

“Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.”

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New Yorkers will be voting for a new mayor this year after 12 years of the Reign of Pharaoh Mike I. The Democratic Party in NYC is locked in a battle over who will win the nomination and, thereby, the Mayoralty. Presumably, the favorite is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the woman responsible for allowing Bloomberg’s illegal third term to sail through the City Council. She is the person who many New Yorkers just assume to be a BloomClone.

The Red Horse of the apocalypse is supposed to be a good guy, but the red warrior in this election is most definitely fighting for the dark side. Quinn is the quintessential political operator who believes in nothing and stands for nothing. Her plan for the schools is Bloomberg Lite. She went out of her way to block the paid sick leave bill and then reversed herself when some of her biggest endorsers threatened to retract.

If Quinn ends up winning the war, our schools will not have proper leadership for the foreseeable future. This is the woman for whom the UFT wants us to wait because she would give us a “fair” contract, unlike Bloomberg. Unity’s entire “wait for the next mayor” approach to contract negotiations under the guise that the next mayor is going to be our Great White Hope is laughable.

Third Seal – Famine

“Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!’”

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The “economic crisis” is a term that hangs over us with a sense of permanence. Despite the fact that the federal government and private industry are throwing more money into the education world than ever, the poor state of the economy will continually be used as an excuse as to why less and less money finds its way into our classrooms.

We have seen the deterioration of most after school programs outside of bare sports funded by the Public Schools Athletic League. Art and music have been nixed, foreign languages are starting to feel the pinch and the handwriting is on the wall for Global History. Our curriculum will be streamlined based upon what is tested and the only subjects tested are the subjects that will keep us “competitive” in the 21st century. Everything will be cut away except testing and STEM subjects. The specter of “budget cuts” will be the handmaiden facilitating this bare-bones education.

Fourth Seal – Pestilence 

“I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.”

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The plague of standardized testing promises to grow and deepen over the next few years. A vast amount of resources have already been spent on reorienting the entire education system coast-to-coast around standardized exams. The richies who have plunged billions of dollars into the emerging testing economy will not abandon their precious investment without a protracted fight.

For high school teachers here in NYC, the new scoring policy for the Regents Exams will ensure chaos. Most importantly, it will lead to an across-the-board dip in all test scores. In his final year as the “Education Mayor”, Pharaoh Bloomberg will once again be embarrassed when the test scores by which he used to measure his own “progress” end up showing exactly the opposite. It will be a fitting kick in the pants for Bloomberg on his way out of the door.

On the other hand, it will be a sad development for the teachers who remain in the system because the Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse is:

Fifth Seal – Martyrdom 

“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of The Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’”

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Once UFT elections are over, you can be assured that a deal for a new evaluation system for teachers will be squared away. Although we can’t know the details, we do know for sure that it will cause an unspeakable amount of suffering everywhere in the city.

Teachers will be judged by their students’ test scores or, more accurately, by how much “value” they “add” to the learning of their students. We will also be forced to conform to the “Danielson” rubric, named for its inventor who has a questionable education background and questionable motives for pushing her rubric. Combined with the dictate that two “ineffective” ratings in a row is grounds for termination, many good and dedicated teachers in New York City will lose their jobs.

These are not even the things that concern me the most about the evaluation system to which our union leaders agreed. The most disturbing part is how it weakens an already anemic system of due process for teachers. Restoring the integrity of due process (making it harder for principals to trump up charges against teachers, making teacher investigations open and fair and having a rational standard for handing out penalties as decided by fair labor arbitrators) should be among the highest priorities of our union leadership. Instead, they have proven willing to allow due process to rot away until we are as protected as teachers in “right to work” states.

Sixth Seal – Signs from Heaven

“There was a great Earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.”

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It looms on the horizon like a conquering army. Every teacher in New York City knows that “Common Core” is coming in 2014. Everyone inside of every school building in the vast majority of the country will have felt Common Core’s presence by then, if they have not done so already. We did not ask for it. Parents were not necessarily clamoring for it. But, like every seal of the apocalypse, it came despite our wishes.

Some people like the Common Core and others believe it is a tolerable system. No matter what you think of the content of the Common Core, the intention is obvious: to institutionalize the standardized testing regime on a nationwide basis. Imagine a uniform standardized exam that every child in the country has to take every year? Can you imagine the windfall for companies like Pearson and Wireless Generation (whatever it is called now)?

The idea of national standards for public schools has traditionally been a goal of progressives. It was a policy originally devised to motivate states to uplift their worst schools to the level of their best schools. Despite the long-time progressive pressure for national standards, it only became a reality when businessmen realized there was money to be made and a working and consuming population to be dumbed down as a result.

Seventh Seal – Trumpets of the Apocalypse 

First Woe – “And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth.”

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Michelle Rhee recently invaded New York with her lobbying firm, “Students First”. Their machinations can be found behind the law empowering the State Education Commissioner to impose a new teacher evaluation system on NYC. They will continue to ravage our land no matter who the mayor or governor happen to be.

Second Woe – “It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number. The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breast plates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur.”

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The troops with the multicolored breast plates are obviously a metaphor for computers. 200 million is the amount of computers that stand to be manufactured if the idea of “e-learning” gains any more currency. The horses who blow fire and sulfur are the online classes that purport to “educate” students.

Learning is at risk of being perceived as something that can be done on the fly, at a distance and on the cheap just like “e-shopping” and “e-mailing”. Education is being commodified like cosmetics and fast food. First it was the boutique charter school with the hyperbolic name. Now, it is the online learning program marketed as a replacement for flesh-and-blood teachers.

In NYC, e-learning is the serpent that lays close to the heart. Programs like I-Learn are increasingly being used by schools as a cheap way to give quick credits to students who need to graduate on time. Very soon people will start to say, “if computers can help make up credits, maybe they can do everything else.” The destruction of public schools as a physical place will not be far behind.

Third Woe – “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet (see articles in our Prophecy section). They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day.”

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By the time all of the seals of the Apocalypse have set in, New York City schools will be ripe for the taking. The culprits will be “the Kings from the east… performing miraculous signs…” They will be the richmen who will reduce education to a series of prompts from the internet, a model which stands to make them a lot of money.

Online learning will be said to “perform miracles” with graduation rates and test scores. We will be told that the best way to get bang for our tax bucks is to shut down all brick and mortar schools in favor of online academies. We will also be assured that private firms will run these academies for less cost than the government can run them.

And then the destruction of New York City’s public education system will be complete.

While it is unlikely that all of these things will happen as I say it will, what is not arguable is that all of these forces will greatly reshape our schools over the next two years.

By the end of 2014, our children and our teachers will be operating under a whole new different set of rules than the ones in place today. It is up to us to make these rules as unobjectionable as possible.