Sunday, February 10, 2008

Budget Cuts as Part of Overall Plan to Crush NYC Public Schools

Posted to nyceducationnews listserve: Sunday Feb. 10, 8:45pm by Susan Crawford

Last spring the Broadway Democrats political club convened a panel with Noreen Connell, then-executive director of the now-defunct Educational Priorities Panel, NYC Comptroller William Thompson, and Tim Johnson, then-president of CPAC.

The subject was about mayoral control in general, and the then-latest reorganization in particular. At the end of the discussion Noreen Connell said something that blew me away. Not because it seemed so far-fetched, but because when she said it, so much of what we've been through over the past eight years seemed totally in alignment with it.

Near the end of the article below, the writer quotes Ms. Connell as saying "Part of the fight against small classes is the desire to not have the school system be too popular among middle class parents."

Since I was there, I can elaborate on this quote. Noreen prefaced it by saying fellow EPP panelists didn't especially like it when she said this, but that part of the overall plan is to encourage middle-and upper-income families to use private schools, and to keep the public schools for low-income families. In this way, school taxes can be kept down.

In other words, the fewer the students who use the public school system, the lower the city's school tax burden would be. (This is presumably why the mayor's PlanNYC 2030 plan does not address schools.)

When you look at what's going on all around us from that perspective, it all fits -- building up charter schools only in poorer communities, packing students into schools that are targeted to be closed anyway to hasten their failure, a constant barrage of "creative destruction" through pointless whole-system reorganizations, increasing availability of funding for increasing the size of private schools while refusing to build any new public classrooms, eviscerating the power and purpose of School Leadership Teams, and of course, turning what had been emerging in the 1990s as a true example of school choice into test factories designed to make middle class parents look for alternatives -- either in private schools, or out of the city altogether. (The school choice movement of the 1990s did not lend itself to letting private enterprise control school funding the way privatizing through charter schools does.)

Eighteen months before the panel described below, a prominent official addresed a CPAC meeting in the fall on the subject of our first non-DOE parents lobby day the following March. At that moment, the question of whether the state legislature was going to raise the cap on charter schools was emerging. The prominent official (not using name, though the minutes are presumably public records) told us that she'd just gotten off the phone with a prominent NY State official, who had told her, on the subject of charter schools (and their inherent privatization of the public school system), "This is what hedge fund managers want."

If this is not what we want, we should all show up on February 14th. This is not just about restoring budget cuts, but about taking back our schools.

Susan Crawford

Education Officials Debate Mayoral Control of Schools

City education advocates and officials weighed the pros and cons of mayoral control of New York City public education and decried funding and organizational school reforms proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and schools Chancellor Joel Klein at last night's State of Education discussion.
The discussion, which was part of a Broadway Democrats meeting held in the synogogue Congregation Ramath Orah, on 110th Street, attracted about 50 parents and advocates. Speakers included Comptroller and former Board of Education president William Thompson, Noreen Connelll, executive director of the Educational Priorities Panel, and Tim Johnson, president of Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council.
Mayoral control of public education, which has been in place for about four years, has centralized accountability for problems within the system. Thompson explained that leaving district superintendents in control over the system, as they were before mayoral control was instituted, was problematic because it was confusing to him and to parents. "It was dysfunctional in concept and in execution," he said.
He said that, though he is an advocate of mayoral control of public education, there must be a better system of checks and balances.
Panelists noted that this year's proposals will make the third time in five years that Bloomberg and Klein will have reorganized education, and said that the results haven't been positive. "Parents are alienated more than I have ever seen before," Thompson said.
The DOE's current proposal change the way school funds are allocated, instituting a flat per pupil rate, with additional allocations for groups like English Language Learners and special education students. It would also dismantle the current regional system and transfer more authority back to districts and individual school principals, in exchange for increased oversight.
Thompson called the DOE's planned reorganization convoluted and opaque. "As we talk about another reorganization in September ... what is going to be done, they can't tell you that right now," he said.
He criticized Klein and Bloomberg for pushing a "change of funding formula that no one thinks is a good idea."
Connelll agreed. "They [Bloomberg and Klein] will be long gone 10 years from now, when this funding system is doing this damage," she said, accusing the mayor and chancellor of "leaving this time bomb ticking away."
Connell attributed the current state of education partly to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which emphasized standardized testing. She said that evaluating students by their test scores removes cultural aspects from the curriculum, and coerces teachers to teach to the test. "It's like someone once told me, weighing a cow does not feed a cow-you can test it to death ... it doesn't mean they have any deep understanding of learning," Connell said.
When Governor Eliot Spitzer recently added $1.76 billion to the state education budget, he laid out guidelines ensuring that the money would be spent on a few focused initiatives, including reducing classroom size.
The speakers discussed the mayor's and chancellor's objections to the imposed class size reductions, claiming that they want to encourage middle class parents to send their children to private school rather than public school. "Part of the fight against small classes is the desire to not have the school system be too popular among middle class parents," Connell said.
Connell and Thompson argued that principals have no background in management and that policymakers in City Hall have no pedagogical experience. "There are no educators left at Tweed court house," Thompson said, adding that if he were mayor, "I'd be looking for a new chancellor on the first day."

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