Friday, November 30, 2007

Florida Districts Having Trouble Paying Teachers And Bills

Well, it didn't take long for the financial problems involving a state-run investment pool in Florida that I posted about yesterday and today to hit teachers and other public employees right in the pocketbook.

Bloomberg News reports that school districts, counties and cities across Florida are struggling to raise cash in order to make routine expenditures like paying employees now that they have been denied access to the $15 billion dollars remaining in the state-run investment pool.

There had been a rash of redemptions from the fund by local governments, cities and school districts after it was reported that the fund contained at least $1.5 billion dollars of downgraded and defaulted debt.

Florida officials froze the fund yesterday after redemptions reduced the assets in the fund by 44%.

Here's how it affected some of the districts:

The Jefferson County school district was forced to take out a short-term loan to cover payroll for the 220 teachers and other employees in the system after $2.7 million it held in the pool was frozen yesterday. At least five other districts also obtained last-minute loans, said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association.

``The unthinkable and the unimaginable have just happened here in Florida,'' said Hal Wilson, chief financial officer of the Jefferson County school district, located 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of the state capital Tallahassee. ``What we just experienced here is a classic run-on-the bank meltdown.''

Thousands of school districts, municipalities, towns and municipal organizations keep their money in state- and county-run pools. These state- and county-run pools, similar to money market accounts, are supposed to invest in safe liquid short-term financial products like Treasuries and certificates of deposit from highly-rated banks.

But many of these funds have invested in high-risk products like structured investment vehicles (SIVs) backed by sub-prime mortgage debt or CDs from banks with a decent probability of failure (like Countrywide Financial.)

Hal Wilson says he should have seen the writing on the wall when other counties and school districts started withdrawing money from the fund earlier in the month.

But Wilson listened to state officials who told him the money would be safe.

He screwed up - he believed them.

Now he and his school district will have to scramble to raise cash to meet expenses until Florida state officials can find some way to fix this mess.

You can bet that if state officials don't fix the problems soon, teachers and other public employees will start to work without pay and local governments will start to default on debt service payments.

As for Jefferson County, Wilson says as soon as the fund is unfrozen, the county plans on pulling all of its cash out:

"They won't have to worry about little Jefferson County any more,'' he said.

That's why Florida probably won't unfreeze the fund any time soon.

The Bloomberg News article notes that there have also been problems with a state-run investment pool in Montana where school districts, cities and counties withdrew $247 million from the state's $2.4 billion investment pool in the past three days.

The Montana investment pool held $90 million in a SIV downgraded to a default rating by Standard & Poor.

With news breaking tonight that Moody's says $64.5 billion dollars of debt sold by Citigroup has either been cut to default status or placed on review for downgrade, you can bet that there will be more old-fashioned bank runs on state- and county-run investment pools in the very near future.

This stuff is getting scary.

UPDATE: The NY Times reported today that one scheme Florida officials are considering to shore up the state-run investment fund and help local school districts meet payrolls and other routine expenditures is raiding the state's $137 billion dollar public employee pension fund for cash.

The Florida public workers' union is understandably concerned about this proposal since it transfers risk to the pension fund.

I can understand why.

There's nothing like having to worry about the solvency of the investment funds that pay for both your salary and your pension.

Poor Leo

Leo Casey, Randi Weingarten's internet mouthpiece, is having a bad day. It appears that nasty old Mickey Mouse may have removed his name as teacher of the year (from back in one of those years when Mr. Casey was a teacher). Mr. Casey feels this is because he signed a letter protesting one of John Stossel's idiotic anti-teacher hatchet jobs (sponsored by ABC, which is sponsored by Disney).

I think Mr. Stossel ought to write the mouse personally and urge Mr. Casey's reinstatement. While Mr. Stossel can wave his mustache up and down and condemn teachers, it takes a guy like Leo Casey to really worsen their working conditions. And since Mr. Casey has been a UFT official, things have gotten way worse. So take this, John Stossel:

1. City teachers now report in August, and listen to several days of useless indoctrination that benefits no one.

2. Teachers now work an extra 30 minutes per day. High school teachers spend this time teaching a sixth class (that Mr. Casey maintains is not a class. After all, he doesn't have to teach it).

3. Teachers once had to do hall duty once every three semesters. Then, they were relieved from it permanently. In Mr. Casey's tenure, however, teachers have been assigned to do hall duty, lunch duty, potty patrol, and other equally important duties forever.

4. Mr. Casey's party cleverly negotiated a 2% raise this year, then just as cleverly found a way to give most of it right back to the city.

5. Mr. Casey's party put an end to the practice of teacher transfers without a principal's OK. Now scores of them wander about as permanent subs because principals would rather hire newbies for half the price.

6. Teachers can't appeal letters in their files, no matter how preposterously inaccurate they may be.

7. Though Rod Paige abhors teacher unions, he openly admires Mr. Casey's UFT.

8. I'm a working teacher. Yet Leo Casey had no qualms whatsoever about libeling me on Edwize, the UFT blog I'm compelled to support with my dues. Though he was factually inaccurate, Mr. Casey neither withdrew his statement nor apologized, preferring to side with a charter school leader who proudly opposes both tenure and seniority rights.

For these, and many other reasons, I think John Stossel should examine the situation in detail. Leo Casey is most definitely his friend. Without the cooperation of Leo Casey and his party, none of these things could ever have been achieved.

Related: EIA Intercepts thinks there's something fishy about Mr. Casey's claims. Could Casey be overreacting, like the time he accused a UFT opposition party of Nazism?

Thanks to Schoolgal

No Redemptions For You

Florida officials have suspended redemptions from that state-run investment fund I told you about yesterday.

Local governments and public school funds were pulling their money out after news broke earlier in the month that the fund is backed by at least $700 million dollars of defaulted debt and other high-risk structured investment vehicles (SIVs.)

After redemptions by local governments and public school funds reduced assets in the fund portfiolio by 44%, Florida officials put a stop to future redemptions.

Before the run of redemptions, the fund had $27 billion in assets. Now it has $15 billion remaining.

Calculated Risk posts that there are serious questions about the investment decisions made by the people running the pool. While only $700 million has gone bad so far, the fund has also invested $650 million dollars in CD's in Countrywide Bank, an institution that could very easily go belly-up at any time due to mortgage problems and credit crunch issues.

But if you haven't already gotten your dough out of that state-run pool before today, you have to sit tight and hope/pray the rest of it doesn't go bad.

The lesson learned?

With Wall Street awash in non-transparent complex structured investment vehicles that you have to be a lawyer, an attorney and a nuclear scientist to figure out and with the government and the Federal Reserve having encouraged the expansion of such speculative products over the past few years, many people, many pension funds, many local governments and even foreign towns are at risk of losing it all.

And unless you're one of the Wall Street shills or crooked fund managers who were hawking this fraudulent garbage (they called it "financial innovation" at the time), you probably have little idea how bad it can get.

I believe it was Bob Dylan who said "If you steal a little, they throw you in jail... if you steal a lot, they make you Fund Manager of the Year."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Our Hero

The NY Post reports today that Saint Rudy Giuliani billed various city agencies $500,000 to repeatedly visit his girlfriend in the Hamptons, while his wife and children sat in Graycie Mansion.

No wonder he couldn't afford to give contracts to cops, firefighters, or teachers.

More detail here.

Three-Card Monte

Bloomberg News reports that local governments and school districts have pulled $8 billion dollars out of a state-run investment pool after learning that the money market fund was backed by $700 million dollars in defaulted debt.

The withdrawals have been made since November 14 when the head of the agency that manages the state's short-term investments revealed the defaulted debt in a report delivered to the governor. About $19 billion dollars remains in the state-run investment pool.

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. sold Florida most of the now-defaulted asset-backed commercial paper. The defaults are related to sub-prime, near-prime and prime mortgage problems that have roiled the credit market in recent months.

When asked why Orange County in Florida withdrew its money from the state-run investment pool, Martha Haynie, the county's comptroller, said

"I want Orange County to be first in a lot of things, but I don't want Orange County to be the first to lose money in the state's Local Government Investment Pool.''

What Ms. Haynie is talking about is what happened to four little Norwegian towns near the Article Circle:

Officials in four northern Norwegian townships (Narvik, Rana, Hemnes and Hattfjelldal) went along with an alleged recommendation by Terra Securities to invest a total of NOK 451 million in what they're now calling "high-risk structured products" offered by Citibank and sold for Citibank by Terra.

The American commercial paper was also tied to bonds issued by local governments in the US, and Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that hedge funds were involved. To boost returns, the Norwegian townships also borrowed NOK 3.5 billion to invest in Citibank's products, which later lost as much as 50 percent of their value because of the US credit crunch.

News started leaking out about the troubled investments when the townships were ordered to pay in millions more, to satisfy guarantee requirements. Mayor Asgeir Almås in Hattfjelldal feels cheated.

"I wonder whether Terra had such a lucrative deal with Citibank that they found some fools to earn quick money," Almås told newspaper Aftenposten. His little township with a population of just 1,500 but solid revenues from power plants, invested NOK 100 million and since has paid in another NOK 20 million in guarantees.

Both Terra Securities, which said it would file for bankruptcy protection, and Citigroup, which itself has written down billions of dollars related to mortgage problems, absolved themselves of complicity in the matter.

Terra officials said they're sorry about the losses but the townships must be considered "professional players" who must take responsibility "for the investments they choose to make."

The Wall Street Journal reports
that Citigroup said it "
believed that the risks of investing in the notes were described in the materials provided to Terra."

The officials in the Norwegian towns say
they "asked all the questions we could" about risk levels, including currency valuations.

Nonetheless, the towns have taken big losses on the investments and must "throw good money after bad" to cover guarantee requirements.

The problem, of course, is that the Norwegian towns didn't get out of the garbage investment funds in time like the Florida townships and school districts have.

With banks announcing new write downs related to credit crunch and mortgage problems nearly every day (Wells Fargo and IKB are the latest to do so) and with the housing market continuing to tank nation-wide, you can bet that more homeowners will be defaulting on mortgages, more banks will be writing down losses and more townships, more school districts, more pension funds and more retail investors will risk losing their shirts in this financial mess.

It's all a big three-card monte game and investors need to remember that the game is rigged in favor of the Wall Street guys, the hedge fund managers and the multi-national banks that Helicopter Ben Bernanke continues to keep rescuing while little guys who were stupid enough to buy into what Wall Street was selling lose nearly everything.

Now you'll have to excuse me, I have to go and take a look at what toxic crap my own pension fund has been invested in.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Carnival of Education... up this week at Matt-a-mattical Thinking. Check it out.

Condos First

The housing situation in Manhattan has been tight for as long as anyone can remember. So the best thing, of course, is to build in areas with good public schools. Everyone knows there's nothing like a good public school to prop up real estate prices and help sell whatever's on the market. But Manhattan's expensive, and paying a $20,000 tuition or three, in addition to mortgage and maintenance fees, could be a deal breaker for some.

But schools like PS 199 are at the breaking point, with no place to put the additional students that new constructions will inevitably bring. And apparently, there aren't any toxic waste sites in the area for Mayor Bloomberg to build on. Still, neighborhood school PS 199 has to continue to accept kids who move into the area, no matter what.

This is nothing new to me. I've been teaching in a building that's exceeded 250% capacity for years, and God help us, really, if there's a fire. A fire, though, would be about the only thing that would garner enough outrage to halt the mayor's pattern of indifference toward learning conditions.

When a parent complained at a recent meeting, Chancellor Klein replied, “Send your kids to private school.” The DoE denies this is true, but they also deny that classes are overcrowded and that teachers are quitting in record numbers. On TV I see commercials that declare class sizes have been reduced, though sizes of 38 and 40 barely raise eyebrows in my school anymore.

Elsewhere in the country—in Florida and Georgia, for instance—developers have to pay impact fees when they build houses so new infrastructure can be created to serve the growing public. But no such policy exists here.

That would be anti-business, I suppose. But it hardly supports the administration's contentions of putting "Children First."

What's going to happen to PS 199? The same thing that happened to my school years ago, of course. In Mr. Bloomberg's New York, it's developers first, then condos first, then sports stadiums first, then billionaires first. And then, of course, it's children first.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Arts and Crafts with Mr. Bloomberg

A few weeks ago, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein graded every school in the city from A to F. 85% of these grades were based on standardized tests in English and math. While some assume that the mayor and chancellor collectively know everything there is to know about education, there are those who maintain that other factors determine how good (or bad) a school is.

For example, is it important for kids to learn music or art? Not really, according to these school grades. But there is another school of thought. Ask Richard Kessler, executive director of the Center for Arts Education:

Multiple studies show that learning in the arts enhances learning in other subject areas and contributes to a student's overall development. In addition to the skills taught in the individual arts disciplines -- visual art, dance, music and drama -- the arts provide students with unique opportunities to work collaboratively, to develop creative and critical thinking skills, to solve problems and develop innovative solutions -- all 21st century skills that employers in New York City and around the world want.

It doesn't take a genius to see, for instance, that regularly practicing a musical instrument develops personal discipline. Parents don't run to school concerts because they think their kids are wasting their time in all those school choruses and orchestras. Is it that hard to imagine that life requires skills that may not be reflected in multiple choice tests? How many kids actually receive instruction in art or music?
According to the Department of Education's parent survey for the 2006-2007 school year, 41 percent of parents surveyed say their children receive zero arts education. A 2006 department study found that hundreds of schools did not have a single certified arts teacher. Other studies have indicated that, even in schools where arts are offered, only a fraction of the students receive the instruction.

And why should principals offer instruction in the arts? How is that going to help them acquire those 20 or 30 thousand dollar merit-pay bonuses? How is that going to help them raise that D to a C and save their jobs? There's really little motivation for them to offer kids music, art, or theater.

Save that for the kids in private schools, I guess.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Candles In The Wind

Tonight the United Federation of Teachers will hold a candlelight vigil outside of the Department of Education headquarters at Tweed Courthouse.

The vigil, which will be led by UFT president Randi Weingarten, is the first public protest by the teachers' union against the NYCDOE and Mayor Bloomberg's reforms in months.

Ms Weingarten explains in today's NY Sun just why she is holding the candlelight protest downtown:

Today, teachers rightly feel that the school system still has little respect and appreciation for all their hard work making a difference in the lives of children. They will express their dissatisfaction this evening at a candlelight vigil at Department of Education headquarters in lower Manhattan.

What's behind their frustration? A growing sense that, after getting the school year off to a promising start, the department is relying on an unnecessarily punitive and counterproductive management style that is intended to create a climate of fear, rather than collaboration, in our city schools.

Weingarten goes on to explain that the city's announcement of a "teacher performance unit" - what she calls a "gotcha squad" - headed by a prosecutor and staffed by lawyers that will assist principals in ridding schools of "bad teachers," was the last straw that caused her to return to an aggressive stance with the city.

Weingarten claims that just a few weeks ago a different tone was coming out of Tweed and City Hall. She says that when she and the mayor agreed to bring merit pay to New York City schools back in October, she says she "touted this as a model of what can be achieved when unions and school management work together as equal partners toward common ground."

But now she says that Bloomberg and Klein are back to being hard-asses and she can no longer sit on the sidelines and let them run with the "'blame the teacher' routine."

What a joke Ms Weingarten is.

Does she really expect thinking members of her union to believe this candlelight vigil and her opinion piece in the Sun means she's looking out for us against the city?

After Ms. Weingarten helped Mayor Bloomberg gain total control of the schools in 2002 without having to be accountable to any other entity, after Ms. Weingarten conceded days in the '02 contract, after she conceded days, time, a sixth class, grievance rights, and seniority rights in the '05 contract, after she conceded health care "cost containment initiatives" (future health care payments by UFT members) in the '07 contract, after she signed off on the change in school financing that helps principals get rid of costly veteran teachers for less costly and more pliable Teach For America missionaries who will be around for a few just a few years, after she helped exile hundreds of good teachers into the abominable ATR system, after she ignored the hundreds of teachers in the DOE rubber rooms who have been taken out of their classrooms without knowing what charges have been levied against them, after she helped Mayor Bloomberg bring merit pay to the New York City school system, thus ensuring that the very issue which the NEA and the AFT opposes has received a stamp of approval from the nation's largest urban teachers' union, after she helped bring in the odious Green Dot education management organization to run charter schools in the city...after all this, she wants UFT members to believe that tonight's candlelight vigil and today's protest in the Sun signals a new era of UFT/Tweed confrontation.

Oh, pleeeeeaaaseeeee.

This is just another Weingarten dog and pony show to make it look like she's doing something aggressive against the mayor and the DOE while behind the scenes she continues to work with Uncle Mike and Uncle Joel to dismantle decades of benefits and job protections the UFT has won from the city.

As Whitney Tilson, education reformer/hedge fund manager, tells the NY Sun,
this vigil is an attempt by Ms. Weingarten to pacify her members - it's not meant to be a serious challenge to the mayor or to Tweed:

"Let them have their vigil, and then sanity will return," he said.

"Sanity" for Tilson and many of the other so-called education "reformers" means collaboration between the UFT and the city in dismantling the decades of hard-won UFT job protections and rights as Bloomberg continues his ideology-based movement to privatize the city school system and turn it into a quasi-corporation with principals/CEO's, quarterly standardized test balance sheets, annual performance bonuses, and a gutted, toothless union.

Never mind that as I posted here yesterday, students and teachers cannot be treated like industrial output if you want to have an effective education system.

Education is not just about test scores and data charts, no matter what Bloomberg, Klein and their corporate backers think.

Children are human beings and good educators know that we teach to the whole person - intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually - not just to a blot on a standardized test sheet that can be collected, collated and analyzed.

It's a shame that Ms. Weingarten has not done more to fight the damage Bloomberg, Klein and their ilk have done to the system.

This is not to say that there were not problems with the school system before Bloomberg gained total control.

There were.

But to totally blow up the system three times over, to continually reorganize and continuously add and subtract curricula, to increase the number of standardized tests per year by ten so that education becomes perpetual test prep, to create two different accountability methods - the school report cards and the school quality reviews - that are so antithetical that a school can do exceptionally well on one while receiving a failing grade on the other is not helping to create a better New York City public school system.

Instead, it's throwing ideas and plans at the wall and seeing what will stick.

As I said before, it's a shame that Ms. Weingarten and the UFT leadership have collaborated with Bloomberg and Klein in creating this mess.

But they have.

And holding a candlelight vigil tonight outside Tweed will do nothing to change that collaboration.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What A Bargain!

According to Sol Stern, the New York City public school system budget has increased by $7.2 billion dollars since Mayor Bloomberg announced his Children First reforms in January 2003.

Back in 2003, the school financing budget was $12.5 billion dollars, including pension costs and debt service. In the current fiscal year 2008, the budget is $19.7 billion dollars, including pension and debt costs.

The additional $7.2 billion dollars is a 50% funding increase in the last five years.

When Bloomberg first gained total control of the New York City public school system in 2002, he said that he was going to “make sure we get the most value for the school system’s dollar.”

Stern decides to take Bloomberg up on his challenge and see.

Stern examines the release of the 2007 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) of the federal government’s National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), which compares the fourth and eighth grade math and reading scores on the NAEP exam of 11 of the nation's largest urban school districts, to see just what the extra $7.2 billion dollars has bought.

Stern finds not much.

As has been noted here and elsewhere, New York City students showed little-to-no improvement on the tests.

New York City was the only 1 of the 11 urban districts to show no improvement on eighth grade math scores from 2003 to 2007. In fact, scores remained flat for every ethnic and racial subgroup in the city.

Fourth and eighth grade reading tests were even worse. There was no significant change in proficiency on the fourth grade reading tests between 2003 and 2007 while the reading scores for eighth graders actually fell from 2003 to 2007.

Only fourth grade math scores increased from 2003 to 2007.

Stern concludes:

These results may surprise people who have heard so much over the past five years from the Bloomberg administration and some of the media about New York City’s “historic” gains on the state’s math and reading tests. But the NAEP doesn’t lie; it measures achievement far more accurately than state tests do. No doubt the administration will put the best face on the latest test data. But the reality is that $7 billion in extra education spending has so far produced only pennies’ worth of academic improvement in most grades. The sooner the city faces up to the bottom line, the sooner we can start speaking honestly about how to remedy the situation.

So the additional $7.2 billion has bought a slight increase in fourth grade math scores, a slight decrease in eighth grade reading scores and no significant change in fourth grade reading or eighth grade math scores.

What a bargain!

So, what did Bloomberg spend all the extra money on?

Well, clearly some of it went to teacher compensation. By May 2008, the United Federation of Teachers says teacher salaries in New York City will have increased 40% between 2002 and 2008.

While the editorial writers at the Times, News, Post et al. like to call that increased compensation "raises," the truth is that teachers have given up days, time, a sixth class, grievance rights, seniority rights and other job protections to win the extra compensation.

Nonetheless, it is true that some of the $7.2 billion has gone to salaries for personnel.

Where did the rest of the money go?

Decreased class sizes?

Nope. In fact, Bloomberg and Klein fought the state to use additional state education money on anything but reduced class size:

City educrats have agreed to reduce class sizes in 75 failing, overcrowded middle and high schools in order to collect $258 million from Albany.

The state money was the subject of a dispute between the city and state until a final deal was announced Monday.

Gov. Spitzer had insisted the "Contracts for Excellence" money could be used only to reduce class sizes or support four other state educational priorities, but city officials wanted to support Mayor Bloomberg's agenda, including a program that gives kids standardized practice tests 10 times a year.

Now of course reducing class sizes in 75 schools is, as Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters told the Daily News, "totally inadequate compared to the critical need," but the fact that the state had to take on Bloomberg and Klein to force them to use the money on reduced class sizes in critically overcrowded failing schools goes to show just how little they care about the issue.

So if Bloomberg hasn't used the additional education funding for reducing class size or reducing populations at severely overcrowded schools, what has he used it on?

Well, there is the $80 million dollar ARIS computer system and the additional 8-10 standardized tests New York City public school children will be required to take every year starting in February 2008.

And of course you can't have 8-10 additional standardized tests a year without a testing contract handed out to McGraw-Hill to create those 8-10 additional standardized tests a year.

So far, nobody at the school level actually knows what these 8-10 additional standardized tests a year will look like or what they will test, but I'm sure they'll be great.

What else did the mayor and the chancellor spend the additional education funds on?

Well, there was the constant reorganization of the school system (we're now on our third reorganization in the past five years), the closing of the school districts and the opening of the school regions and then the closing of the school regions and the reopening of the school districts.

Then there was the city-wide reading and math curricula that were added after the mayor took total control of the schools in 2002. The rationale here was that every child in every classroom in every school across the city should be learning the same problem at the same time on the same day as every other child in the same grade.

The key to these curricula changes was "sameness."

So we had the city hire people to measure bulletin boards to make sure the margins were "regulation" and investigate classrooms to make sure they had reading rugs (teachers with irregular bulletin board margins or without the proper reading rugs were written up.)

The reading and math curricula have since gone away and were replaced with a mania about data.


The mayor and the chancellor brought in an outside entity to conduct "school quality reviews" that were heavy on the "what are you doing with your data" variety.

The mayor and the chancellor also took the $80 million dollar ARIS computer system and ran the testing and graduation rate data along with student, parent and teacher surveys through it and kicked out school report cards that managed to give D's and F's to many schools that did very well earlier in the year on the "school quality reviews." Many of these schools also have very good test scores, but the report cards measure "progress," not "performance," so schools with excellent test scores in math and reading still managed to receive very low or failing report card grades.

The 8-10 additional standardized tests to be added next year will be added to the ARIS stew and used for the school report cards in the future.

At least until the next mayor comes in and cleans up the mess this one has created.

But to get back to the matter at hand, the mayor has also spent budget money on merit pay for teachers and merit pay for students, closing large overcrowded schools and creating lots of small overcrowded schools in their place, turning toxic waste dumps into school buildings, doling out no-bid contracts to cronies like the Snapple company, holding teacher fairs to alleviate the high teacher turnover problem and let's not forget adding lots and lots of public relations to win over the public and the media to their reforms.

That's a ton of stuff that Bloomberg has spent education money on in the last five years and he sure has little to show for it.

The ironic thing is, if he had taken the $7.2 billion dollars and spent it on lowering class size, reducing overcrowded schools, fixing the existing school infrastructure and providing new and safe school infrastructure for the future, retaining quality veteran teachers and attracting new teachers who learn their profession and stay in the system beyond 3-5 years rather than hiring a bunch of Teach For America/Teaching Fellows missionaries who are trained for 3 months before they're tossed into the classroom to sink, Bloomberg could have done a whole lot more to improve the school system and the NAEP test scores.

But of course Bloomberg and Klein didn't really come in to improve education in New York City.

They came in with an ideology that what the public sector - especially public education - needs to improve is market-based, privatization solutions that will convert the public sector into a quasi-private sector run with a corporate mindset that privileges quarterly results, constant "progress", and ruthless efficiency over long-term results and realistic progress.

Let's call it the "Walmartization" of public education

Never mind that children shouldn't be treated like widgets and quarterly test scores cannot be used to measure school effectiveness the way quarterly profit margins can be used to measure a corporation's performance.

Never mind that constant reorganization of the school system and constant changes to the curricula hurt children who need stability and constancy the most.

Never mind that the Jack Welch/Mike Bloomberg way of treating employees (make them fear for their jobs) has created an environment of hostility and anger in the system rather than forged a partnership between school administration officials and teachers to try and move schools forward together.

You see, when you have billionaire businessmen, failed anti-trust lawyers and their wealthy private sector cronies making 100% of the calls on education policy with no say from anybody outside of their narrow circle, you get a school system that is heavy on the spending, heavy on the p.r., and heavy on constant change, but pretty light on actual results.

Oh well.

The mayor knows that nothing improves a school system better than additional money spent on public relations efforts to fool the public and the media into thinking the smoke and mirror reforms are working.

With Bloomberg set to run for president in '08 as an independent, you can bet we'll see a lot more TV commercials and print advertisements lauding Mayor Bloomberg's education reform record.

But it's all phony.

As Sol Stern and other education experts like Diane Ravitch have noted - the NAEP results don't lie.

There has been little-to-no progress since Bloomberg and Klein started their dog and pony education reform show back in 2002.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Big Picture

While Mayor Bloomberg's "reforms" do not appear to have improved test scores (the only factor of education he seems to consider important), they seem to have contributed in other ways. It appears teachers are resigning in record numbers. Doubtless the mayor attributes this to the work being too easy and the pay being too high.

However, there's little reason to think this upsets Tweed. Firstly, Deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf disputes the numbers. Typical of Tweed's M.O. , Mr. Cerf sees no need to provide alternate numbers or explain in any way whatsoever why the UFT's numbers are flawed.

Don't expect too much in the way of follow-up from City Hall. Transitory teachers are a bargain. They get the lowest pay, are replaced by others who get the lowest pay, and they never take sabbaticals or receive pensions. That they may never learn to teach is totally irrelevant.
Experience is reviled in this city, and it's all about filling wooden chairs for as little as possible. While this policy may preserve valuable funds for seats in sports stadiums, it reflects nothing less than contempt for this city's schoolchildren.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gobble Gobble

Welcome to the 146th edition of the Carnival of Education. Let's talk turkey:

Holiday Dinner

We'll begin with Elementary History Teacher, who's got a pretty good handle on what Thanksgiving is all about.

Math or multicultural mush? Joanne Jacobs knows what she wants on her plate.

How's about a nice side dish of hot potato parent?

Health Food

At Successful Teaching, they claim showing gratitude can make you live longer. Well, all I can say is thank you. Thank you very much.

Ryan from I Thought a Think asks what role schools should play in public health.

How do you motivate kids to be serious students of English? Over at Throughlines, they have a few suggestions.

Homeschool 2.0 offers some must-read books for teachers.

I'll Take This With a Grain of Salt, Please

Mister Teacher doesn't go for that whole turkey thing. He's partial to monkey, apparently.

Here's an alternative to the traditional turkey dinner--it's something called Daft Doggy.

Woodlass from Under Assault questions her union's leadership.

Ever-vigilant Eduwonkette examines how NYC's Education Department spins the test scores.

Home Cooking

Why are they opting for homeschooling over at Learning at Home? Well, since public schools have already pretty much banned everything, what choice did they have?

What's it like for a homeschooling mom to talk to professional teachers? Dawn will tell you right here.

Sure you can teach. But what about your own kids? Here's a parents' guide to improving your children's education and grades.

Lighter Fare

Don't know a 401K from a 57 Chevy? Miss Cellania tells all you need to know about money.

Miss Brave envisions a teacher reality show. Will it be better than Top Chef?

Stressed out from living on a teacher's salary? Get 2 for the price of one--Have a Gneiss Day offers The Confessions of a Playstation Widow, and throws in a Stress Buster free of charge.

Pissed Off Teacher shares the dubious joys of teaching in a trailer, and has some cute cat photos for no extra charge.

Canned Is Fair (but Fresh Is Better)

Mamacita of Scheiss Weekly says there are no excuses in basketball, but perhaps too many in education.

Here are some SAT test-taking tips you might want to share with your students.

Darren from Right on the Left Coast has a tale of two teachers: one's turkey with dressing and the other's Beefaroni.

Do Giblets Have Heartstrings?

So You Want to Teach offers a touching tale about overcoming adversity.

"I am always amazed—and humbled—when I am privileged to witness parents receive devastating news with grace and dignity," says California Teacher Guy. It's well worth reading the whole story, and you'll find it right here.

Warm and fuzzy though he may be, Right Wing Prof labors under the odd notion that if students wish to pass his class, they actually need to do assignments when they are assigned.

Don't Burn the Questions, Please

Why isn't education "reform" catching on with Democrats? Go right to the top and ask the PREA Prez.

According to Instructivist, When Bill Gates says jump, Chicago's Mayor Daley asks only: How high?

University Diaries tackles that ever-troubling mystery--Where do professors come from?

Uh-oh. When schools ban sugary snacks, are they encouraging students to become illicit candy pushers?

Study here? Or study abroad?

Big Apple Pie

Syntactic Gymnastics
takes a decidedly jaded view of NYC Chancellor Klein's system of grading schools.

Chaz gives us the skinny on just what qualities Mayor Bloomberg seeks in teachers.

Reality-based educator says if we judged Chancellor Klein by the same criteria we used to grade city high schools, he'd receive an "F."

And Diane Ravitch assesses Mayor Bloomberg's progress on the NYC Public School Parents Blog.

Danger, Will Robinson (Blowfish Sashimi)

Uh Oh. EdNotes Online says watch out--they're conducting witch hunts for teachers.

Jon Swift warns not to vote for Hillary--it could kill David Broder.

Can designing the yearbook place your waistline in peril?

Pasteurized Cheese Food Product

At Smartless, they're discussing the myths our teachers taught us.

There's a lobbyist very publicly bashing Texas schools. But Education in Texas says the public is not getting the whole story.

The Education Wonks examine a professional testing company, and give it an F.

Dave Saba gives a well-deserved F to these teachers as well.

Don't Burn the Questions, Part 2

Is it really possible to live without television?

Sharp Brains asks. "Is intelligence innate and fixed?" Hmm...maybe some of those goshdarn administrators will get smart after all.

Should I write that nasty old test, or should I just swipe a bunch of questions from that Barron's review book? Ask Matthew K. Tabor (but don't ask what the "K" stands for).

Going to the Mat asks---what's the gold standard for charter schools?

What if you. Felix, have to pick up Oscar's tuna fish sandwiches just before parent-teacher conferences?

Miracle Whip

The Tempered Radical describes a professional development seminar that was clearly second to none.

D0 you believe in magic? No? Well read this.

Maybe there's an alternative to that ubiquitous Scholastic Book Fair after all.

Hats in the Ring-Ding

Nancy Flanagan from Teacher in a Strange Land asks whether teachers should get involved in politics. Then, she invites you to a Technology Smackdown. You feel lucky, punk?

Maestra T. wonders why presidential hopeful John Edwards couldn't visit her high school instead of this one.

Menus from the Good Old Days

What's it like to be on strike? The Columbus Education Association remembers it well.

Future Daughters share their favorite things about history.

Times are tough. But Jose Vilson remembers when you could buy things for pennies.

Mrs. T. (no relation to Mr. T.) waxes nostalgic about Thanksgivings past.

Exotic Offerings

How do they handle problem kids in England? Find out here.

Batya at Shiloh Musings feels she's teaching less English and more test-taking skills. All the way in Israel they have the same problems we have here.

Now here's something you don't see every day. In NYC there's an awful lot of talk about grading schools. But over at Principled Discovery, they're discussing a proposal to grade parents.

The Baglady discusses how Asian parents influence their children's success.

Dessert Menu

Even with the finest ingredients, the proof's in the pudding.

The Science Goddess weighs mastery and performance.

Eduwonk asks whether educators should be reviewed by their peers.

Hmm...maybe teaching English to newcomers is not so easy after all.

Next weeks carnival will be at Mattamatical Thinking. Submissions are due on 11/27 by 11:59 pm Eastern. Emails to mbardoe (AT) att (dot) net or use this handy form.

Thanks to all who participated in this carnival!

And special thanks to David Bellel for creating the one and only teaching turkey.

Houston Miracle: Bloomberg/Klein Edition

It is becoming pretty clear that the progress Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have claimed as a result of their education reforms in the New York City public school system is phony.

Last week the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores were released for 11 cities including New York City.

The NAEP scores showed eighth graders have made no significant progress in math or reading since Mayor Bloomberg started his reform campaign in 2002 while progress for fourth graders has stagnated in the past few years.

The poor NAEP score results stand in marked contrast to the "steady" gains fourth and eighth graders have made on state exams since Bloomberg took office, leading B. Jason Brooks, director of research at the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, to say that the state tests have clearly been "dumbed down" and "simplified."

Today the NY Daily News reports that Chancellor Klein has sent out a mass e-mail to 100,000 principals, administrators and teachers touting the NAEP results as a success. Klein claims new immigrants have been unfairly tested in reading, but if you strip those students out from the test scores, you will see upward trends for the system that show a "story of good progress."

But on the very same day that Klein is trying to defend himself and his mayor from charges that their education reforms have resulted in little-to-no gains in national test scores while other cities around the country like Atlanta have passed New York City by, the NY Sun reports that Klein and Bloomberg essentially cheated on the 2007 NAEP tests by adding tons of testing modifications:

So many New York City students received extra time and other accommodations on a respected national test this year that several testing experts are saying the results should be considered invalid.

On the test known as the nation's report card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, New York state gave accommodations to more fourth-graders than any other state in the nation, and New York City gave more help than any of the ten other major cities that participate in a separate city-by-city comparison. On three of four tests the accommodation rate hovered around 20%. On the last — a fourth-grade math exam city officials are trumpeting as evidence the Bloomberg administration's schools program is working — the rate was 25%.

The math test this year showed the city's fourth-graders making record gains, with 79% of students reaching the basic level, up from 73% in 2005 and 67% in 2003. At the same time, the number of students receiving legally allowed accommodations, such as extra time to take the test, having the test read out loud, and receiving a translation into the student's native language, more than doubled, to 25% this year from 12% in 2003.

Shown the numbers, several testing experts said they were shocked.

"That's a percentage which is large enough basically to invalidate the test," a professor at New York University who has advised the city and federal government on standardized testing, Alan Siegel, said. "When you change the statistics for 25% of the people who are guaranteed to be at the lower end, that's going to have a tremendous impact."

An educational statistician who has written multiple studies of NAEP results, Donald McLaughlin, told the Sun he could not recall seeing testing accommodation figures as high as New York City's were this year ever.

That's right - ever.

McLaughlin went on to say that with testing modifications trending so high, there was good reason
to "be very suspicious" about claims academic achievement is increasing under Bloomberg and Klein.

The NYCDOE defended the huge increase in testing accommodations by saying that state policies had increased the number of English Language Learners who had to take the standardized tests. In New York, NYCDOE officials told the Sun, all ELL students are eligible for accommodations on both math and reading tests.

another education analyst, Richard Innes, told the Sun that the rise in testing accommodations in New York City is part of a national trend in response to pressure to show improvements on tests:

"The schools are figuring out: Gee, I've got a weak-performing student. If I consider him learning disabled, he's going to get a higher score on the test," Mr. Innes said.

Increasing accommodations on tests may be a national trend, but as we can see from the stats, New York City is far in the lead of this trend.

Which brings me back to what I wrote in the beginning: the "progress" Bloomberg and Klein tout for their education reforms is phony.

The "progress" on the "dumbed down" and "simplified" state tests comes from manipulating the methodology and rubric of the tests while the federal tests which cannot be dumbed down or simplified show students have made little-to-no progress even after Bloomberg and Klein have doubled the number of students receiving modifications.

When Bloomberg and Klein finally ride off into the sunset and some independent education experts and testing analysts get the opportunity to really look under the hood of the New York City Department of Education, its reform movement, its graduation rates and its test scores, I know that they will find that Bloomberg's "Education Miracle" here in New York is as phony and trumped up as the "Houston Education Miracle" that Rod Paige and George W. Bush cooked up in Texas some years ago.

In fact, the evidence is already in the public domain now:

Bloomberg and Klein have been manipulating state and city test scores to show student progress that federal tests show has not really happened.

They have closed tons of large schools and stopped testing Support Services and ELL students from those schools in order to further manipulate test scores.

They have played with the graduation rates (as I noted in this post yesterday.)

They have continually reorganized the system in order to postpone real accountability for their reforms.

And finally, they have spent millions on public relations to win over the public, the media and the newspaper editorial boards with their smoke and mirror reforms.

For a long time, it worked for them. But the curtain is starting to be drawn back on the "Bloomberg Education Miracle" and as I said earlier, it is becoming pretty clear that the progress Bloomberg and Klein have claimed for their time in power is phony.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Visions /Garbage Diplomas

The New York Post reports that D.C.-based Policy Studies Associates compared 10 traditional public schools with 10 New Century high schools that are operated by the education reform group New Visions for Public Schools.

The comparison found that while the New Century high schools had a higher graduation rate than the traditional public schools (78.2% to 60.6%), more than half of the students who graduated from New Century schools received "local diplomas," which require a score of 55 on state Regents exams rather than 65.

In contrast, only about 30% of the students who graduated from the traditional public schools received local diplomas.

New York State is scrapping local diplomas next year. At the school where I teach, nearly every student we graduate receives a Regents diploma, even if that means we have to test students 2, 3 or 4 times on a Regents exam after extensive tutoring to help them get a score of 65 or higher.

I know this because I often teach the remedial ELA Regents class for students who have sat for the Regents and received a score between 55 and 64.

You see, the administration where I teach believes the "local diploma" (which most 4 year colleges outside of the proprietary variety will not accept) is essentially worthless.

Apparently the education reformers at New Century schools and New Visions for Public Schools don't quite see it that way, however.

The Post reports that New Century supporters acknowledge that their schools need to prepare more students to graduate with Regents diplomas but they say they are helping more kids to graduate than traditional public schools.

And that is true - the Policy Studies Associates' report found that 17% of students left the traditional public schools without graduating in 2006 while only 3% left New Century schools without a diploma.

But what good is graduating students with a worthless diploma that the state is scrapping next year and reputable colleges won't accept for admission?

I don't think it's any good at all, but what do I know?

Unlike the people in the education reform business at New Visions for Public Schools, I actually spend my day in the classroom trying to help students who haven't been able to score a 65 on a Regents exam achieve that benchmark.

Later today, I will be tutoring a student who has sat for the ELA Regents twice and failed to reach 65. I also will be teaching at least four Support Services students who could easily graduate with IEP diplomas, but my administration believes they can and should try for Regents diplomas.

It's not easy trying to help some students pass all 5 Regents exams with scores of 65, but if a school administration and staff really tries, it can be done.

Apparently, the education reform people at New Visions for Public Schools (who have opened 83 schools in New York City since 2002) don't think it can.

Otherwise, they'd be doing it instead of touting the percentage of students they graduate with garbage diplomas.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Who Needs Tenure?

Well, it appears Andrew Trees does. By all accounts a fine teacher, Mr. Trees has just been fired from the prestigious Horace Mann Academy after having released a satirical novel about "Academy X." It appears Mr. Trees is adored by his students, and he's received positive performance reviews. Still, the administration didn't like his book and Mr. Trees, though he is filing a lawsuit, appears to have little recourse:

David Reis, who specializes in employment law for Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, a San Francisco-based firm, said the language quoted from the faculty handbook about job protection might be sufficiently vague to allow the school to defend Mr. Trees’s dismissal. “The easiest argument for the school is to say the book and the firing are completely unrelated, that the guy just wasn’t a good teacher and we have evidence of that,” Mr. Reis said. “Or they can say there’s nothing to prohibit us from firing someone who writes things about us that we don’t like.”

Of course, tenure would have precluded Mr. Trees' problem entirely. But there are other implications here. Would Mr. Trees have received positive evaluations if the administration had known he was working on this novel? Wouldn't the people who fired him for it have found fault with him whether or not there was any?

When Klein and Bloomberg start rattling swords about getting rid of bad teachers, I have similar apprehensions. Frankly, I have no sympathy for incompetent teachers. On the other hand, I think the administration adores bad teachers. They provide a handy scapegoat, and according to the Times, this administration sorely needs one.

Is it beneath the integrity of this administration to fire those who criticize them? When Bloomberg faced opposition on one of his school boards a few years back, he simply fired two dissenting members. That's one of the perks of mayoral control, apparently.

Would they fire you because you complain there are 4600 kids in a building designed for 1800? Would they fire you for speaking to the press? Would they fire you for complaining about the ice on the floor that your students keep slipping on? Would they fire you for raising a fuss when they assigned your class to an auditorium with 15 other classes? For raising a fuss when they assigned you to teach in a bathroom?

You betcha they would, if you gave 'em half a chance,

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Webmaster's Note

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Kindly keep your remarks civil. Trolls who engage in multiple posting will be permanently banned from this forum.

Bringing In The EMO's

Washington D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee is thinking about bringing in Education Management Organizations (EMO's) to run 27 failing schools in the District.

Under the No Child Left Behind law, schools that fail to meet academic targets for five consecutive years have to be restructured or lose federal funds.

Rhee, a former deputy chancellor in New York City's public school system under School Chancellor Joel Klein, has to decide how she will restructure these 27 failing schools in D.C.

Under the NCLB law, Rhee can bring in private firms to manage the schools, turn them into charters, keep them under the system's control but replace the principals and teachers, allow the state - or in Washington, the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education - to seize the schools, or devise a unique solution.

The Washington Post reports that most districts with schools that need restructuring usually replace staff and create their own unique solutions, such as developing teacher training programs, lengthening the school day and school year, and introducing new curricula to the schools.

But Rhee is leaning toward bringing in Sacramento-based St. HOPE Public Schools, where Rhee previously served as a board member, Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia, or Green Dot Public Schools, based in Los Angeles.

Charter school advocates and EMO operators are applauding Rhee's moves in DC so far:

"The chancellor has identified some of the best organizations nationally doing this kind of work," said William H. Guenther, president and founder of Mass Insight Education and Research Institute in Boston, which studies school reform. "The challenge is how fast and how far you can go."

But the Post notes that Philadelphia turned over 38 academically challenged schools to six different EMO's including Mastery Charter Schools and gave these schools more money to operate than regular public schools, yet test data showed that the EMO-operated schools "didn't fare any better than the rest of the district," according to school system spokeswoman Felecia D. Ward.

As a result of the dismal results at the EMO-operated schools, Philadelphia is going to take a closer look at the schools and the school operators before deciding what course of action to take next to improve them

Henry M. Levin, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University's Teachers College, agrees that turning public schools over to EMO's like Green Dot or Mastery Charter Schools is not a magic bullet solution:

"There's nothing in the literature [to suggest] that privatization will get you revolutionary results," he said.

Indeed, if the city of Philadelphia is used as a test subject, that surely seems to be the case.

Yet Chancellor Rhee, a former member of Teach For America and the darling of charter school advocates and education reformers everywhere, is looking to bring in one of the Education Management Organizations that has failed so miserably in Philadelphia to run failing schools in D.C.

That seems counterproductive to me.

I can understand the need to drastically change the way the 27 chronically failing D.C. schools operate, but why bring in a company that has a track record of failure in another urban city running failing schools to run yours?

You have to wonder if this push towards school privatization is less about actually improving schools and more about simple privatization.

Many of the "reformers" behind the education reform movement - Mayor Moneybags Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Eli Broad, Whitney Tilson, for example - are wealthy businessmen with vested interests in privatizing government to lower their own tax bills and increase profits for themselves and their business cronies.

Think about the hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have handed out to business cronies in New York City for things like test prep, test development, tutoring services, food services, curricula, and computer systems.

Do you think there aren't huge profits to be made by demonizing public schools and privatizing as many as you can while you and a bunch of your business cronies lap at the public tax money trough all the while proclaiming that you're "doing it for the kids"?

The ironic thing is that the education privatization movement is still gaining steam while the privatization movements of health care, military services, and Social Security are under attack.

Most Americans now see that HMO's, Blackwater/KBR/Halliburton, and a Wall Street-run Social Security program are neither more effective nor more efficient in providing the services they purport to provide.

They are, however, very efficient and very effective at providing profits for their investors, their boards, and their CEO's.

Which is perhaps why so many of the so-called education reformers are very efficient, very effective and very wealthy men who stand to make lots of money from education reform and privatization.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

From Ms. Weingarten's Secret Diary

Woke up. Watched a little tube. Ate light breakfast, whistled for chauffeur.

Met Joel at usual place. Waiter hosed him down, threw him a steak. Once again, forgot raincoat, rainhat, got wet. Must visit hairstylist in PM. Note to self---leave rain gear in SUV. Knew I'd get no chance to eat, was good idea to have breakfast at home.

Second steak, less tearing and groaning, less flying saliva, but threw bone at chandelier. Strong throwing arm. Expensive repair for taxpayers. No one turned head, everyone pretended not to notice, then Joel finally spoke.

"Teacher BAD! FIRE teacher!"

Putrid breath, as per usual. I hate when he gets like that. How many teachers should we fire? How to make deal w/o pertinent info?

Yuk. Drool everywhere. Will probably come off pantsuit with Woolite. Better idea--Note to self: call Mike Shulman--get New Action boys to dry clean pantsuit.

Made big mistake, replied too loudly, "FIRE?"

Waiter, misunderstanding, brought butane torch. Joel even more upset. Screaming wildly. Flailing limbs in every direction.

"Fire BAD! Joel NO LIKE! Fire BAD!! AYEEEEE!"

Jumped from chair. Bared teeth, growled, viciously attacked waiter. Ran away screaming. Jumped out front picture window with loud crash. Was awful. Expensive repair for taxpayers. Blood all over new pantsuit, total loss, put on expense account. Hope fire didn't spread too far when torch hit floor. Snuck quietly out back door and whistled for chauffeur.

Will have to meet again , try to pin down number of teachers to fire. Note to self--mount token opposition? March? Can always make deal to cancel at last minute. Note to self: wear sunglasses when meeting Joel--best not to be noticed around rampant destruction of property.

Can't wait to get out of here and go to DC.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Edwize Gets Wise...

...but despite the best efforts of the Unity/New Action aristocracy, it seems a case of too little too late. It appears that, despite our repeated concessions to City Hall, despite the fact that we've moved 40 years backwards in terms of teachers' rights, the mayor still wants to target us, spending a million dollars to get rid of more tenured teachers. Does anyone trust this administration to make fair judgments? Is anyone besides the Unity patronage mill surprised?

Well I'm not. Are you? Here's what I posted on Edwize:

It's unfortunate that you came to this realization so late.This was entirely predictable, as were most of the actions of this administration.

Perhaps giving up seniority transfers, days in August, and the right to grieve letters in file did not satisfy them after all.Perhaps allowing teachers to be suspended without pay based on unsubstantiated allegations did not quench their desire to scapegoat working teachers.

Maybe it was not such a good idea after all to give in to reorganization number three, the one that made it even more difficult for ATR teachers to find employment, when the mayor's PR, for once, was on a downward scale after the bus fiasco.

Perhaps, in retrospect, enabling mayoral control with no checks or balances was not in our best interests after all.Maybe it was not, after all, the best idea to allow time for money swaps in lieu of real raises.After all, when people work extra hours in Burger King, they get more pay, and few interpret that as a raise.

Perhaps it was not such a good idea to wave our arms in victory when a toothless class size agreement (with no consequences for the mayor violating it) was enacted.In fact, Tweed is not even bothering to release class size statistics, despite a legal obligation to do so.

In my school, where I teach in a trailer behind a building that regularly exceeds 250% capacity, no one is surprised anymore when class sizes hit 38 or 40.No one is surprised when 48 new kids arrive in one week.

Maybe, considering this mayor's approach, it was not such a good idea to enable and support him every step of the way leading up to this.

Though the UFT's actions have earned us the admiration of Rod Paige, and the editorial pages of virulently anti-union anti-teacher tabloids, perhaps they were not in the best interests of working people after all.

Klein Offers Excuses For The "F" He Received On The NAEP Exams

The NY Times picks up the story of the National Assessment of Education Progress test scores which show NYC public school students have made little-to-no progress between 2005 and 2007 on the tests.

The Times notes that the "stagnant" NAEP results are at odds with the improved state test scores over that time period and show that the city's education gains are "limited."

The Times also notes that Mayor Bloomberg has "trumpeted" the improved state test scores as "evidence that the city is setting the pace for urban school reform" but that other cities around the country - like Washington and Atlanta, for instance - have outpaced New York City on the NAEP tests, suggesting that the reforms Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have put into operation with great publicity have had little effect.

In fact, fourth-graders showed much greater improvement on the reading tests in the years before Bloomberg and Klein took control of the public school system and started experimenting with various reforms and reorganizations.

Now of course Chancellor Klein had to try and spin the NAEP numbers yesterday as a positive for the city and for the various reforms he has helped put into place.

For instance, he said that 79 percent of students in the city are performing at or above basic levels of competence, rapidly approaching the national average of 81 percent.

But the Times reports that federal officials said the slight uptick in the percentage of students reaching proficient or above in math was "statistically insignificant."

In reading, the percentage of fourth graders reaching proficient or above did not change between 2005 and 2007.

In the eighth grade, the percentage of students reaching proficient or above actually decreased by two percentage points between 2005 and 2007.

Yet Klein says these results are proof positive that progress is being made, even though urban school systems that are supposedly in shambles - like Washington, where Klein just sent one of his former deputies to clean up the mess - showed huge gains on both math and reading tests for both fourth graders and eighth graders.

So where's the accountability, Chancellor Klein?

If you and your reforms were judged by the same criteria you used to judge schools for the report cards issued last week (i.e., year-to-year progress, comparisons to similar schools and/or school systems), you would have received an F.

That's right - an F.

Not only did your test scores show little-to-no improvement from 2005 to 2007, but your performance lagged far behind similar urban school systems on both the math and reading tests for both the fourth and the eighth grades.

And yet, instead of holding yourself accountable like you are holding teachers, administrators and schools accountable, you offer lame excuses about how the system is making progress toward "basic" competence and how the dumbed-down, in-house graded state exams are better measurements of mastery anyway.

Again I say, what crap.

Michael J. Petrilli, a researcher at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, noted that the city test scores did not seem to be improving any more than the rest of the state and said “That to me seems quite damning to the Bloomberg administration.”

He means that it's damning that after all the publicity about the reforms and after all the reorganizations and the additional standardized testing and the concessions from the pliant UFT on mayoral control, seniority rights, and grievance rights and the additional school days and the additional seat time for students and the after-school tutoring sessions for failing students and the changes to school financing that allow principals to rid themselves of veteran teachers and bring in cheaper newbies and the stepped-up efforts to fire "unsatisfactory teachers" (as reported in yesterday's Times), Bloomberg and Klein STILL can't improve the scores on the one test where the scores cannot be manipulated and the testing methodology dumbed down.

I'd have to agree.

It's too bad that all the Bloomberg/Klein shills who were waving their pom-poms last week over the release of school report cards by the NYCDOE - like the Daily News, Post and Sun editorial boards and NY Daily News columnist Errol Louis - won't be crying for accountability from Klein and Bloomberg the way they were crying for accountability from teachers, administrators and schools.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

We Interrupt This Program to Bring You an Important Message...

The Carnival of Education is coming to New York, specifically right here, next week. Send links to the email address on the upper right or use this handy submission form.

Submissions are due by 6 PM EST next Tuesday, November 20th. Be there or be square.

What Test Score Gains?

The NY Sun reports that New York City students showed few improvements on the the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam (NAEP), a respected national "yardstick" test used to compare student progress across the nation.

The Sun says that
NAEP results are usually released on a state-by-state basis, but several large cities agreed to have their own results reported for comparison purposes back in 2002.

Here's how New York City students fared:

Compared to the rest of the country, New York City fourth-graders edge out large central cities slightly on average but fall behind the national numbers. Eighth-graders scored no better on a math test than students in large central cities. That pattern has been essentially unchanged since 2003, the year the Bloomberg administration began to initiate changes in the city's public schools.


This year, 34% of fourth-graders scored proficient on the math test, up from 21% in 2003. That is below the national average, 39%, but above the average for large central cities, 28%. When it comes to reading, 43% of fourth-graders in the city this year did not reach the basic level — one step below proficient — down from 47% in 2003. Eighth-grade results were more dismal. In the city, 41% of eighth-graders cannot perform basic reading, up from 38% in 2003, the first year scores were reported, and above the percentages in Houston and Chicago, 37% and 39% respectively. On the math test, 43% of eighth-graders scored below basic, compared with 46% in 2003.

There you have it - after three New York City public school system reorganizations in the last 6 years, countless school closures, curriculum changes, math and reading coaches, additional standardized testing, additional professional development for teachers, additional school days and seat time for students, merit pay for teachers and testing "bonuses" in the form of cash and prizes for kids who improve on tests, there has been little-to-no improvement in the national test scores of New York City students.

Let me repeat, after all the vaunted changes the "Education Mayor" and his chancellor have brought to the New York City school system and after all the glorious press the mayor and the chancellor have gotten for "breaking the status quo" and "bringing accountability to the schools," the national test scores are flat.


Sure the dumbed down city and state tests show lots of improvement, but the national tests, which neither the mayor nor the governor can have manipulated or dumbed down to make the scores seem better than they are, are flat.

What do you think about that education reformers?

You have gotten most of what you wanted out of both the UFT and the NYCDOE.

You got a partly privatized public school system with a gutted central bureaucracy and a union that has conceded autocratic mayoral control, merit pay, seniority and grievance rights, and additional days and time.

You got standardized testing added to the curriculum which is used to track school, teacher and student performance on an $80 million dollar computer system.

You got a host of large schools closed down and plenty of your darling small schools and charter schools opened in the past six years.

You got Jack Welch/CEO-style principals in charge of their own budgets and accountable for their own results.

You got school financing reform which allows these CEO principals the freedom to can costly senior teachers and hire cheaper and more pliable Teach for America-type missionaries who will hang around for a few years before moving on to their "real jobs."

You got what you wanted and the result has been flat test scores on the one test that can't be played with by the people in charge of the school system.

Heckuva job, education reformers.

I wonder what happens after you get vouchers, the end to teacher tenure, year-round school and nine hour school days and the national test scores STILL don't show improvement.

Will you then come to acknowledge that there are factors beyond schools that contribute to student performance?

You know, like whether students take some responsibility for their own education and parents take some responsibility for their own children.

Yes, schools have to improve and teachers and administrators need to be accountable for their results.

But parents and students need to be held accountable too.

Whenever I hear education reformers talking about problems in education and their proposed solutions, I never hear them ask for more accountability from parents and students for how students perform in school.

All I ever hear is how teachers suck and the schools are abysmal and something has to change or the United States of America will wither and die.

But until students and parents are asked to take some responsibility for themselves, little is going to really change.