Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Charter Schools Weigh Freedom Against the Protection of a Union

We will need to extend our conceptions of progressive democratic unionism to our abandoned colleagues at charter schools and their disparate treatment as "uft" workers/teachers. This should be taken up at our GEM May 4 Charter Conference at Pace U. Angel

April 21, 2009
Charter Schools Weigh Freedom Against the Protection of a Union

After months of soul-searching, Kashi Nelson left her career as an assistant principal in North Carolina at the start of 2008 to teach seventh- and eighth-grade social studies at a Brooklyn charter school, convinced that the freedom to innovate would translate into better education for students.

But within a year, she began to feel that the school’s independence had created its own frustrations for teachers: suddenly, for example, they were required to attend staff development days but they were not allowed to ask questions; they had to submit daily lesson plans but did not get any feedback.

So this spring Ms. Nelson, 39, once skeptical about unions, helped lead an effort to unionize the teachers at the school, KIPP AMP, thinking that a contract would provide a clearer idea of expectations and consequences.

But now, with the state’s labor board scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to certify a union at the school, Ms. Nelson has changed her mind again, withdrawing her support from a unionization drive that she says is proving to be a distraction and more about power than children.

“I am a teacher and I can’t waste energy — all I want to do is make the school better,” she said in an interview. “I saw early on that the union was not, in my opinion, looking to have amicable conversations with the administration. We were being encouraged to be even more miserable, and if I can avoid misery, I want to do that.”

Ms. Nelson’s shift from union skeptic to supporter and back again provides a glimpse of the complicated and tense dance between charter schools and unions unfolding across the country.

As the number of charter schools in New York City and elsewhere swells, unions have become increasingly aggressive in trying to organize their teachers. These two major forces in education politics, having long faced off in ideological opposition, have begun in some places to enter tentative and cautious partnerships, and in others to engage in fierce combat. New York City’s teachers’ union now runs two charter schools in Brooklyn and workers have organized at many more, including more than a dozen across New York State.

Some of the most adamant supporters of charter schools say that the teachers’ union is simply trying to stymie their growth by increasing the regulations on their operation; union leaders, on the other hand, say they are just trying to ensure that teachers are given fair pay and clear guidelines for how and why they could be dismissed.

“All these teachers want to do is to create a better school,” said Randi Weingarten, who is president of both the New York union, the United Federation of Teachers, and its national parent, the American Federation of Teachers. “Most of the time individuals do not have power, but through collective action that is legally allowed, it creates a group power.”

KIPP AMP, a middle school in Crown Heights, is part of the Knowledge Is Power Program network, one of the most successful and influential charter groups in the nation. There are three other KIPP schools in New York City: KIPP Academy in the South Bronx; KIPP Infinity, on West 133rd Street in Manhattan, and KIPP Star, on West 123rd Street. KIPP teachers generally earn at least $10,000 more a year than their counterparts at the city’s traditional public schools, but also typically work longer and more often than other teachers, from 7:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and one or two Saturdays a month.

Ms. Nelson, who grew up near the school, and 14 other teachers, out of a total of 22, signed cards in January saying they wanted to unionize.

Besides concerns about the sudden changes in protocol for lesson plans and development days, teachers complained that they did not get advance notice of staff meetings and that an ad-hoc, individualized approach to time off and scheduling had been replaced by written policies that docked pay after three sick days or personal days.

“There was this sudden rigidity for the sake of being rigid that just made no sense to me,” Ms. Nelson said. “It seemed like everyone was uncomfortable with being questioned. I think it stemmed from people wanting to make sure they looked good, and so any time someone asked something, the answer would be ‘We need to talk offline about that.’ ”

Such practices have long raised eyebrows among union supporters worried that charter schools take advantage of young rookies, whose boundless energy fuels them for a couple of years of long hours at low pay but quickly turns into bitter burnout.

Ms. Nelson and a few others attended hours of union meetings throughout the fall and persuaded reluctant colleagues at KIPP AMP to join them.

David Levin, a founder of the KIPP network and the superintendent for its four New York City schools, was caught off guard. Although Ms. Nelson and other teachers had gone to the school administrators to complain, none of their concerns had made it to Mr. Levin, who is working to open nine new KIPP schools in the city over the next several years.

“Nobody reached out to me or pursued our own processes for how to address issues,” Mr. Levin said. “It’s clear to me that there was obviously a breakdown in communications at some point and the union proffered themselves as a way to address that.”

The teachers at two other KIPP schools, Academy and Infinity, were technically already part of the union, because of a quirk in state law, but paid little attention to the union’s rules or contract. Amid the growing tension at KIPP AMP, teachers at these schools quickly met and decided to pull out of the union, though legal hurdles could stretch the process out for months.

“We were totally caught off guard, and our feeling was that we are happy at our schools and we don’t need someone to step in on our behalf,” said Matt Hureau, who has been teaching at KIPP Academy for three years. “You feel like you have two parties who are freely communicating, so why would you want a third person to come in for that?”

Meanwhile, Ms. Nelson began to doubt her own decision, after spending what she estimated to be nearly 20 hours a week on union work. She asked to meet with Mr. Levin privately and told him all the troubles she had seen. “I felt like he really listened,” she said. “I should have done this sooner.”

The unionization drive has gone forward without her, and on Wednesday, the Public Employee Relations Board is expected to certify the group as a bargaining unit. That would pave the way for them to negotiate a contract with KIPP administrators; Ms. Weingarten said such a contract would not be identical to the one the teachers have with the city.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

If you’re not an ATR today, you could be one tomorrow

From Marjorie Stamberg:

This is a reminder, we will be at the UFT Delegate Assembly on Wednesday, April 22 to highlight the the crisis of ATR teachers and school closings.

This is the critical time, before principals hire for September. We need an immediate moratorium on all school closings and for a hiring freeze until all ATR teachers who want positions are placed. If schools are in trouble -- fix them, don't close them! The UFT has already voted for both the moratorium and the freeze, in good part due to our pressure and mobilization. But we need the union to act on this, not just pay lip service.

The D.A. starts at 4:15, and we will have signs outside for “Stop School Closings,” “Hiring Freeze Until ATRs are Placed,” and “If you’re not an ATR today, you could be one tomorrow.”

We will have a motion to call for

No New Hiring Until ATR Teachers are Placed

No School Closings!

Four months after the “Side Agreement” was signed, a grand total of 16 ATRs have been hired, while 295 brand new teachers were hired! There are now 1,740 ATRs across the system. The Side Agreement is like putting a band-aid on a bursting artery. And at the April 6 E-board, it was revealed that the UFT dropped its age discrimination suit in return for the toothless Side Agreement. A secret deal that is only now coming to light...

The union voted last October for a moratorium on hiring until all teachers who want positions are assigned -- we need to act on this now; we cannot wait until September. And there will soon be far more ATRs with many big high schools on the chopping block. The ATR situation threatens the whole union -- the DOE wants a big teacher reserve so they can use it to try to get rid of our "no-layoff" clause, and experienced teachers who know their rights. But it's not enough to know your rights, you have to fight to defend them.

The UFT is not addressing the root cause of the crisis. When the union gave up seniority transfers in the disastrous 2005 contract, it opened the gate for the Bloomberg/Klein to drive this truck through as they go after tenure. That's why one big part of our fightback has to be to restore seniority rights in the contract. We know that the ATR crisis was allowed to simmer and stew in the UFT until we engaged the issue in a strong united way, school by school.

We need a meeting of all ATR teachers where these and other questions are answered. We need a UFT special rep for ATR teachers who is available for phone calls, in-person meetings, not just e-mail that doesn’t get followed up.

We need the UFT to put teeth in its motions for– No School Closings! If a School’s in Trouble – Fix it, Don't Close It!

A Moratorium on all New Hires until ATR Teachers are Placed!
Restore Seniority Transfer Rights in the Contract!

Take Back the Givebacks!

Brooklyn Prospect Charter School Will Be in Sunset Park High School Building

The Sunset HS building that the community fought so hard for 40 years to be built, supposed to ease overcrowding in adjacent Brooklyn high schools, and help local high school students avoid long commutes, is now going to include a 6-12 charter school: “Our class size will be twenty-two students, with a student to teacher ratio of 12:1.” http://www.brooklynprospect.org/Facts

The community also fought long and hard that there should be only one principal for the building (though he DOE insisted that there should be three “learning communities”) and that neighborhood kids should get a preference in admissions – though the DOE refused on that count.

Wonder how the community feels about the unilateral placement of a charter school in the building. This is only the first of many of course – esp. if the DOE goes ahead with its plan to produce 100,000 seats for charter schools by 2012.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Brooklyn Prospect Charter School Will Be in Sunset Park High School Building


Daniel Kikuji Rubenstein, the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School, informed those on the mailing list that the NYC DOE has proposed placing BPCS within the new building on 4th and 35th. Is it a done deal? After a quick phone call, I can tell you that it is definite (other than some administrative hoops).

I wonder if the location will change some people's minds about applying. My understanding was that the hope for the original location was either in downtown Brooklyn (proximity to BAM and other educational/arts organizations) or somewhere decidedly more Park Slope. I, for one, hope the organizers aren't too disappointed. There's plenty of culture to soak up in Sunset Park, and there is definitely a need for the 88 sixth grade seats if others decide they don't want to make the trip.

Reminder for Sunset Park (and all District 15) parents of current 5th graders, the deadline for applications is SUNDAY. See below for more information.

from the email:

We are pleased to inform you that the NYC Department of Education has proposed placing Brooklyn Prospect Charter School within the newly constructed Sunset Park High School building. We are thrilled to potentially locate the school within the Sunset Park neighborhood and to have the opportunity to allow Brooklyn Prospect to begin serving 6th grade students within this new facility.

The Sunset Park High School Facility is a newly constructed building located at 35th Street and 4th Avenue in Sunset Park , Brooklyn . Sunset Park High School will have approximately 400 students in its first year in a building with a capacity of 1600. Brooklyn Prospect Charter School will have fewer than 100 sixth grade students in its first year.

We are grateful to Principal Corinne Vinal, Council Member Sara Gonzalez, the Center for Family Life Co-director, Julie Stein-Brockway, Community Board 7 and the Sunset Park High School Task Force who have worked tremendously hard in the creation of Sunset Park High School. We look forward to working closely with them to ensure a seamless collaboration and strong foundation for both schools.

Please keep in mind the following important information:

April 5th 2009 is the last day to sign up for Brooklyn Prospect Charter School ’s lottery . Please go to our website http://www.brooklynprospect.org/Students to register. Families without internet access and/or Spanish speaking families may leave a message at (718)-289-3174. Note this is an extension of the deadline.

Entering Brooklyn Prospect’s lottery does not affect the NYC Department of Education’s middle school admissions. Brooklyn Prospect Charter School is an additional free public school option; but the student/family must enroll in the lottery by April 5th to have Brooklyn Prospect as an option.

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chanting teachers welcome vote to boycott primary tests

Chanting teachers welcome vote to boycott primary tests

Union to ballot members on action to halt SATs for seven and 11-year-olds

By Richard Garner, Education Editor

Sunday, 12 April 2009

SATs harm children's education, claim teachers

Teachers' leaders last night backed a boycott of National Curriculum tests for 1.2 million primary schoolchildren. Delegates at the National Union of Teachers' annual conference in Cardiff voted unanimously in favour of industrial action aimed at next year's English, maths and science tests for seven- and 11-year-olds.

There were cheers, chants of "no more SATs" and a standing ovation for speakers as the motion was passed after an emotional 25-minute debate. Delegates wore T-shirts proclaiming "No Useless Tests".

The move puts the union on a collision course with ministers, who have warned that any refusal to deliver the tests would be illegal.

The 190,000-strong NUT, which will ballot members on the boycott, claims the tests are harming children's education as they spent many months being coached for them – with subjects such as history, geography and art sidelined by schools anxious to do well in the tests and gain a high league-table ranking.

Hazel Danson, a primary teacher from Kirklees who chairs the union's education committee,` described the tests as "educationally barren". "It would be reckless and irresponsible if we allowed the situation in primary schools to remain," she added "I want to teach children. I don't want to damage them."

Max Hyde, a Warwickshire member, added: "At best they are detrimental and damage the curriculum and at worst, particularly for our most vulnerable children, they are perilously close to a form of child abuse."

There were cries of "shame" when delegates were told that Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Education, had described the NUT's action as "irresponsible". Sara Tomlinson, from Lambeth, south London, said: "It is Mr Balls who is irresponsible."

Last night's vote will be followed by a similar vote at the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers next month. If that is carried, it will be the first ballot that the association – the only organisation representing primary school heads – has held on industrial action.

Martin Reed, the NUT president, said yesterday: "Think of the prize when we win. It will restore magic moments to the primary classroom as everyday events, not as rarities." He added: "The Government – whichever government it is in 2010 – will have to understand one obvious fact: there will be no National Curriculum testing forced on our schools: not in 2010 nor in any year after that."

The boycott will mean teachers will refuse to do any preparatory work for the tests or invigilate. Christine Blower, the NUT's acting general secretary, said there would be no disruption in schools. Children would do other work – and enjoy a broader curriculum, she said. She stressed that the union was prepared to negotiate an alternative to the tests before embarking on the ballot.

Immediately after the vote a spokeswoman for Mr Balls's department urged NUT members to vote against the boycott. Government lawyers had advised headteachers that refusing to administer the tests would be unlawful because it was part of their contractual duty. School governors have also warned that headteachers could face disciplinary action.

Mr Balls has set up a group to review testing following last summer's fiasco, when SATs results were delayed. It is expected to report next month. He is understood to favour a system whereby pupils sit the tests when they are ready – rather than all on the same days in May. Tests for seven-year-olds are internally marked and the results are not published.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The battle for our schools heats up in LA

Check out this article on some inspiring struggle against layoffs and budget cuts in LA:


The battle for our schools heats up in LA

Randy Childs of United Teachers Los Angeles looks at the union and community organizing that is challenging layoffs in the LA schools.

April 9, 2009

AS BUDGET cuts loom, there's a climate of uncertainty in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

There's the ominous possibility of massive layoffs affecting the people who serve the children of LA in our schools, including more than 3,600 classroom teachers. There's also the prospect that even deeper cuts could be precipitated by a state budget revision expected in May from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's already slashed billions from education.

On the other hand, there is the possibility that thousands of these jobs could be saved immediately using federal stimulus money.

And most importantly, there are the early stirrings of a potentially massive movement that is pushing demands that LAUSD slash its bureaucracy and the state raise taxes on California's millionaires in order to stop the cuts to our schools.

At the center of this struggle is United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which represents more than 45,000 teachers, counselors and health care providers in LA public schools.

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THE UNION is now planning for a one-day strike sometime next month to protest job cuts. But activism has been under way for some time. For example, on March 30, about 125 parents, teachers and students gathered outside Local District 5--one of LAUSD's notoriously wasteful "mini-district" offices--to protest teacher layoffs and class size increases, and to demand cuts instead to the administrative bloat.

One parent donated a huge length of pink cloth from the garment factory where she works to serve as the symbolic "pink slip" that the community wants to give to the LAUSD bureaucracy instead of classroom teachers. This "pink slip" was inspired by a banner made by Crenshaw High School students at a similar protest the week before in front of their mini-district office on the other side of the city.

The protesters demanded a meeting with Local District 5 Superintendent Carmen Schroeder so that she could hear personal testimonials from angry parents and probationary teachers who had already received reduction in force (RIF) notices.

In just over two weeks leading up to the protest, parents and teachers had held two organizing meetings at nearby Roosevelt High School and collected over 500 signatures on petitions to the school board to stop the cuts at our schools. Similar organizing meetings and community forums against the layoffs are spreading across the city.

Schroeder came outside to meet the crowd, trying to assuage people's anger by saying that she was "heartbroken" about the layoffs, and that the district was doing all it could to keep cuts away from the schools. But she was promptly confronted by a parent who told her, "You say you're sorry, but words aren't enough. We want actions!"

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines received similar treatment at Dorsey High School on March 27. Dorsey teachers only found out the night before that he was coming to their school, but still managed to organize a gauntlet of "Riffed" teachers to meet him at the school entrance that morning.

The teachers challenged Cortines to eliminate the district's "periodic assessments"--an extra layer of wasteful standardized testing that Cortines plans to spend tens of millions of dollars a year to maintain while laying off teachers and raising class sizes.

"We will need to confront Cortines and [school board] members wherever they go," explained Noah Lippe-Klein, the UTLA chapter chair at Dorsey. "We need to storm every board member's office with a coalition of teachers, parents and students...and we need to encourage even higher-stakes tactics across the district as we build toward our one day strike in May."

On the same morning that Dorsey teachers confronted Cortines, dozens of teachers at another high school staged a one-hour walkout against the layoffs.

On the morning of March 31, a group of 75 students at Florence Nightingale Middle School held a press conference declaring April 21 "Save Our Teachers Day" and calling on elementary, middle and high school students across the district to form "Save Our Teachers" clubs and organize marches in front of their schools that day.

Also on March 31, the LAUSD school board postponed a vote to authorize the layoffs recommended by Cortines in a meeting room that was packed with angry school employees and community members.

Outside, SEIU Local 99, the union of LAUSD's school custodians, cafeteria workers, classroom aides and other school workers, organized a picket with signs demanding, "No Layoffs! Don't Cut Schools!" In addition to the 3,600 teachers faced with layoffs, Cortines is also proposing pink slips for 528 school-site office workers, 810 custodians, 196 cafeteria workers, 90 special education classroom aides and 82 library aides.

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THE SCHOOL board's decision to postpone the vote pokes a small hole in the armor of "inevitability" with which Cortines has carefully cloaked the cutbacks and layoffs. Meanwhile, rumors are swirling in the union that the LAUSD was on the verge of rescinding as many as a thousand of the planned teacher layoffs. If it's true that the powers that be are backpedaling, then now is the time for our side to push harder than ever.

While all this is going on, UTLA has been in the midst of contract negotiations in which LAUSD has been demanding pay cuts for teachers despite receiving a 4.5 percent "cost-of-living adjustment" from the state at the beginning of last school year. In late March, union negotiators reached a tentative agreement (TA) with the district in which the union repelled Cortines' efforts to cut teacher pay, and gained modest improvements in contract language related to grievances and safety.

Nevertheless, union negotiators accepted a salary freeze and a three-year deal that would make pay increases unlikely any time before 2011. And since RIF procedures are governed by separate state laws, the layoffs were not subject to these negotiations.

UTLA's officers have argued that the TA is the best we can get--and a strategic necessity at this point in order to focus our resources on fighting back against the layoffs. This logic convinced the union's 50-member Board of Directors (BOD) to vote almost unanimously in favor of the deal. But a week later, the union's House of Representatives voted 91-79 to recommend that UTLA members vote "no."

A long line of angry members lined up at the House meeting to speak against the TA, arguing that its concessions send the wrong message to a district determined to defend its bloated bureaucracy by cutting schools to the bone.

These union members also argued that UTLA's announcement of a TA de-escalates the struggle at a moment when the fight of our lives is just beginning over the layoffs and budget cuts.

UTLA's tentative plans for a one-day strike are a step in the right direction, but the demobilizing contract agreement with LAUSD is a mistake. Rank-and-file teachers should follow the lead of the House and vote "no" on the tentative agreement--and step up the fight to win a good contract and to oppose the layoffs.

Right now, teachers, parents, and students need a confident, militant leadership for the struggles to defend public education--struggles which can clearly involve large numbers of people. UTLA can provide that leadership--but it has to expand its base of rank-and-file activists to mobilize the full strength of our union.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Letter to Klein from O'Donnell and Nolan re PS 241

April 6, 2009

Joel I. Klein, Chancellor
New York City Department of Education
52 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007

Dear Chancellor Klein,

We are pleased that New York City Department of Education has decided to reverse its decision to phase out P.S. 241 this fall. We request that you now provide us with detailed information about DOE’s plans to support P.S. 241 going forward.

In your April 3, 2009 correspondence with the P.S. 241 community, you assert that you “will continue to support the school and will review its performance in the year to come.” Obviously the support offered by DOE prior to this point has been insufficient for a school with such high percentages of English Language Learners (22.2%), students receiving special education services (22.8%), and students who qualify for Title 1 funding (80.9%). Academic success for a school with these challenges, far beyond DOE averages, necessitates special intervention and support from DOE.

Although it is not entirely clear from the abovementioned letter, we hope that DOE’s goals are to strengthen P.S. 241, improve its ability to prepare students, and prevent future phasing out. We would like you to specifically describe how DOE will increase its support of P.S. 241, including a targeted strategy to increase achievement, allocation of additional resources, and meaningful consultation with the school community about its needs.

Without a comprehensive plan in place to support this school, it could be perceived that DOE is creating a self-fulfilling prophesy that allows it to move forward with an agenda that excludes a viable P.S. 241 community. We sincerely hope that this is not the case, and look forward to your response.


Hon. Catherine Nolan Hon. Daniel O’Donnell

Chair, Committee on Education Assembly Member, 69th District

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Adlai Stevenson High: The Pride of the Bronx?

The saga of a closing school. The sequences from low attendance, multiple principals, violence, SURR classification, and finally closure all seem so familiar.

Adlai Stevenson High: The Pride of the Bronx?

Tommy Montoya returned to Adlai E. Stevenson High School last September to find its multi-million dollar automotive shop being carted off tool by tool. All summer, he had looked forward to learning car electronics in his automotive class. “My teacher Mr. Rosenson told us he would show us,” said Montoya. “They get paid more than mechanics.”

The first floor garage’s blue Ford, its silver Pontiac and its massive car lifts were hauled away in September 2006 to make room for Millennium Arts Academy. Millennium is one of five small schools that are replacing Stevenson at its old address at Pugsley and Lafayette in the East Bronx.

“Mr. Rosenson told us if everything worked out good, it would still be there,” said Montoya, once an advanced student in the 75-trainee automotive program that produced many Bronx mechanics. He had hoped to become one of them.

“I guess it didn’t work out good,” said the 19-year-old junior.

The automotive shop was Montoya’s favorite classroom, and the reason that he chose to go to Stevenson, yet many school officials believe vocational classes like this one had to go. "Vocational programs were among the worst performing," said Eric Nadelstern, chief executive officer of the city’s empowerment schools.

The automotive program is just one part of Stevenson that has disappeared. The school has stopped accepting ninth graders, and mini schools began moving into the building in 2002. The high school is being phased out by 2009 as part of a massive New York City restructuring that replaces large schools with smaller ones.

Stevenson was an inevitable target. Its checkered resume has included stints on several “worst of” lists—worst graduation rates, worst attendance, most dangerous.

Eric Nadelstern was deputy superintendent for small Bronx high schools from 2001 to 2003, and was in charge of breaking down all the large Bronx comprehensive secondary schools except two—Herbert Lehman and DeWitt Clinton, his alma mater.

"Schools like Stevenson warehoused the youngsters who were hardest to educate," said Nadelstern. “Not surprisingly, they got bad results. The fault lies less in the individuals than in the structure of that kind of school."

Stevenson has been considered a failing school for years, and the latest Department of Education numbers available, from 2005, bear this out. Its four-year graduation rate of 39 percent was one of the lowest in the city. An average of 71 percent of students attended class daily, compared to 82 percent citywide.

In 2004-2005, Stevenson Campus, which includes the five small schools, reported 140 disciplinary incidents and was called one of the "dirty dozen" most dangerous school sites in the city. The number of major crimes—eight—was lower than it was in similarly-sized schools, but the total number of incidents was higher.

But teachers and students disagree with Nadelstern’s assessment. They argue that the school is more than the sum of its paltry statistics. For them, Stevenson’s problems are less about form (large size) than content (the school’s population, which has shifted significantly).

They point to the school’s successes, several of which do not show up in the Department of Education’s annual school report cards. Stevenson’s many committed, experienced teachers are renowned for mentoring their younger colleagues, as well as transforming mediocre students into college material. In the past two years, Stevenson graduates have won almost $2 million in college scholarships, and several students have gone on to the Ivy League.

The teachers believe the problem does not lie in the school’s structure, which hasn’t changed much since its heyday in the 70s and 80s, when it was considered a good neighborhood school that produced its share of doctors and lawyers.

According to Kevin Duffy, the school’s assistant principal of attendance, Stevenson’s serious attendance problems started when it was no longer a zoned school, in the early ‘90s. Whereas 90 percent of students once came from the local 10473 zip code, now just 50 percent do. Today, more than half of Stevenson’s long-term absentees live far from the school—some in homeless shelters as far away as Brooklyn.

In addition to long distances that kept students from the school, staff members argue that Stevenson was sabotaged by the Board of Education, which fed it a disproportionate number of students who were likely to fail, and then blamed the school when they did.

Incoming full-time special-education students nearly doubled between 2000 and 2004, rising from 6.2 percent to 11.8 percent. Those over-age for their grade went from 34 percent to 54 percent over the same period, as Stevenson was being considered for closure. Not surprisingly, its test scores did not improve.

For his part, Nadelstern will shed no tears for Stevenson. “Nothing is lost when schools like Stevenson close,” said Nadelstern. “They are unhealthy places, not just for kids but for adults.”

But former and current staff and students argue that many will lose when the school shuts down, including vocational students like Tommy Montoya. Higher education is the principal goal of small schools like the one that displaced the workshop where he used to take car engines apart and put them back together.

He loved wearing his work boots and blue mechanic’s overalls to his 8 AM class, learning the trade he hoped would yield him a job. He gets nostalgic about working on a science teacher’s Oldsmobile after it blew a head gasket in the fall of 2005. Since the automotive workshop was shut down, his attendance to his 8 AM class—math-- has been spotty, his grades have suffered and his interest has waned. “I used to pass my classes,” said Montoya. “If Mr. Rosenson would’ve been here, I would’ve passed.”

He has no plans for college.

“The Pride of the Bronx”

Though he chose Stevenson over two prominent Bronx schools, DeWitt Clinton and Lehman, until 15 years ago a kid like Montoya would have gone there automatically. He lives in the Soundview section of the Bronx, a residential area with row houses, housing projects and a few strip malls. Stevenson is his neighborhood school.

The hulking four-story brown brick building opened for business in 1970. Bernie Keller, a Stevenson English teacher who grew up in the nearby Monroe housing projects, remembers the neighborhood in those years as much more diverse, both economically and racially, including a mix of blacks, Hispanics, and whites.

At that time, the school was best known for its athletics. Fraying shot put pennants from the early 70s still hang in the cavernous gymnasium.

Lewis Sands, a retired social studies teacher who came to Stevenson in 1981, was attracted by two other teachers, who told him, “It has a ghetto population, but it really works.”

He came from Thomas Jefferson, a high school in Brooklyn’s East New York, and was surprised by Stevenson’s assemblies. “The school was very well run. There were plays, presentations, choirs,” he said. “We never had that at Jefferson.”

In 1984, Adlai E. Stevenson received a national award from the Ford Foundation for significantly improving over the previous decade.

Still, the school was crowded. There were more than 4,000 students enrolled in a building that, according to a New York State evaluation, was meant to hold 2,500. Teachers described walking the halls with their arms pressed tightly to their bodies between periods because the school was so packed.

Bernie Keller, who has turned down positions at Stuyvesant High School three times to stay at Stevenson, remembers that period fondly. “Back in the ‘80s, kids were coming to class,” he said, noting that these days, he’s lucky if he gets 15 out of a class of 25. “On open school night, 40 or 50 parents would show up. My brother [who was also a teacher there] and I used to compete.”

One principal, Michael Weber, who was at the school from 1986 to 1991, wore a Stevenson tie that said “The Pride of the Bronx,” and had the school’s letterhead printed with the same words. “Weber was a hokey guy, and he really loved the school,” said Sands.

Weber brought in one of the school’s flagship programs, the Academy of Finance, which offers special courses and internships to strong students.

Over the years, Stevenson has had the renowned John Marshall Law program , which mentors aspiring lawyers, a scuba diving program, a jewelry-making workshop, a culinary arts course that sent students to the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, a college-bound program for academically challenged kids, an acclaimed gospel choir and a hospital work internship program among many other academic offerings.

Teachers remember wearing purple ties—the school’s color—and giving out penguin toys—the school’s mascot—when students did well in classes during Weber’s tenure. It was a time of vibrant school spirit.

But Weber clashed with a pair of media-savvy Stevenson teachers who have since moved on. They instigated several negative articles about the school, and hounded Weber until he left. That was when the parade of principals, and the school’s decline, began. “Other schools that were having trouble could attract new kids with new programs and new money,” said Sands. “We were always on the merry-go-round of principals.”

According to media reports from the early ‘90s, violence was becoming a problem at the school. In 1991, Stevenson’s administration proposed installing metal detectors, but the Parents’ Association, which was active at the time, vetoed the idea.

When a student attacked a social studies teacher in his classroom in May of 1992 teachers pushed—very publicly—for more security. That teacher, David Gurowsky, is still at Stevenson, and is one of the leaders of the campaign to keep it open.

The teachers’ concerns and the attendant bad press for the school coincided with a significant shift in the New York school system. In 1992, then-Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez gave parents the option of sending their children to schools outside their neighborhoods.

Troubled zoned schools, like Stevenson, lost some of their best potential students. Stevenson became the school of last resort, and more and more students who were performing below grade level and didn’t get accepted anywhere else were being enrolled there. In the words of several faculty members, the school was “uncapped”: constantly above capacity, constantly forced to take more students.

“DeWitt Clinton and Lehman could shoo away an undesirable student, but we couldn’t,” said Tom Decruze, a popular social studies teacher who arrived in 1994.

In fact, two of the small schools that are currently located in Stevenson were originally at Lehman. Lehman’s powerful principal, Robert Leder, who has been there since 1979, managed to oust both.

In his first years, Decruze taught ninth-grade repeaters. “Some of them were 17, or 18, or 19, and still trying to pass,” he said. “My goal was to get them to pass the damn Regents test.”

Stevenson teachers—and a walk through the halls—tell of teen lives complicated by pregnancy, abuse, homelessness, gangs and poverty.

According to Decruze, attendance was his students’ biggest problem. “Some kids have very fragmented lives,” he said. “A lot of them get dumped on to take care of their siblings, and that affects their attendance. The main reason we had so many repeaters was because if you don’t go to school, you don’t pass.”

In the 1990s, the school’s reputation only worsened. Stevenson reported 405 security incidents in 1996, earning it the title “most dangerous school in the city” for the third year in a row. But in interviews, students and teachers insisted that the school was safe—it was just overcrowded. In 1995, with 4,400 students, Stevenson was operating at 76 percent above its capacity.

In 1995, under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Stevenson was one of 34 schools that was part of the first major installation of walk-through metal detectors and X-ray machines. At the time, students complained of delays during the morning security process, and of being late for their first period class. They still do.

The year the school got additional security it faced Board of Education budget cuts. In the Spring ’95 issue of the school newspaper, students worried that the respected performing arts program would lose funding. Student Tara Southwell wrote, “As a result of these new cuts, dropout rates will increase, graduation rates will decrease, and the level of learning for children will decrease as well.”

In the end, Stevenson didn’t lose its performing arts program, but it did lose teachers, school aides and supplies. A 1996 report released by City Comptroller Alan Hevesi analyzed cuts to city schools and found that several science teachers at Stevenson were showing documentaries in place of doing hands-on lab work, which was deemed too expensive.

In 2000, Stevenson was added to New York State’s list of the 105 worst-performing schools, called the Schools Under Registration Review list, partly because of its abysmal absentee record; 27 percent of students were missing in action, daily.

The school was alerted that it could be closed if it didn’t improve.

“You just get sent there”

In September of 2001, shortly after the school received that dubious honor, Sheyenne Brown had her first day at Stevenson. She had not gotten into the performing arts schools she had applied to—LaGuardia and Talent Unlimited— and was sent to Stevenson, her zoned school. “Stevenson is not a school people apply to,” she said. “You just get sent there.”

Brown was nervous. “I had heard such horrible things about Stevenson,” she said. “When nothing violent happened the first day I was there, I was surprised.”

During the four years that she was there, Brown felt safe for the most part, though the school was too crowded for her liking. After graduating, Brown went on to Middlebury College on a scholarship that Stevenson social studies teacher Todd Davis had pushed her to apply for.

In 2005 and 2006, Stevenson students were awarded almost $2 million in scholarship money, according to Nancy Vargas, the school’s college counselor. “For me, Stevenson was a launching pad,” said Brown. “The teachers got me where I am now. They really care.” Brown’s grades at Middlebury are in the same A and B range that they were at Stevenson.

But while Brown was at Stevenson, the school went from a large high school with several quality programs to a shrinking, doomed school. Her favorite teacher, Todd Davis, was forced to leave when she did.

Bronx Guild, a high school affiliated with Outward Bound, was the first small school to arrive in the building. In September 2002, it moved into the fourth floor of Stevenson—the social studies floor.

Though Stevenson teachers were not overjoyed by the arrival, at the time none of them felt particularly threatened by it. When Bronx Guild arrived, it had just 76 students.

The next year, two more small schools opened in the same building: the High School for Community Research and Learning, and the Gateway Academy for Environmental Research and Technology.

Gateway’s opening was a blow to Stevenson. The Gateway program was an advanced math and science curriculum for honors students at Stevenson. Its administrator, Clifford Siegel, had broken off to create his own school.

Siegel took Stevenson’s incoming Gateway class with him when he opened his own school, according to Tom Decruze, who administered admissions for Stevenson’s top programs. The departure of 25 of its best students didn’t help Stevenson’s test scores. Resentment against the small schools increased.

Stevenson wasn’t yet slated for closure, and students and staff began noticing inequalities between their facilities and the new schools’.

“I would look into rooms that used to be ours, and they had fewer students per class. They had new furniture and air conditioning,” said Todd Davis, who taught social studies at Stevenson from 2002 to 2005. “In May and June it was very hard to teach because it was so hot. I taught in a room with a huge hole in the wall because it used to be the cooking room.”

Stevenson was fighting to get off the state’s Schools Under Registration Review list. The automotive program and other popular vocational programs were de-emphasized in favor of double periods of math and English, so that students would do better on tests. Stevenson managed to improve its record enough to come off of the SURR list in 2003.

But in 2004, Mayor Bloomberg created the Impact Schools initiative, which identified the most dangerous schools in the city and flooded them with police officers. As a result of its high number of security incidents, Stevenson was one of the initial “dirty dozen.”

The same year, the two schools that Lehman had rejected arrived at Stevenson, bringing the total number of small schools in the building to five.

Each school has its own specialty, from architecture, to art, to community research. There are two schools per floor in the building, so schools attempt to differentiate themselves. The Pablo Neruda Academy for Architecture and World Studies has Grecian columns framing its office door.

These schools’ ninth-grade demographics are different from Stevenson’s in notable ways: they have few special-education and non-English speaking students, their pupils have consistently higher test scores than Stevenson’s; and ninth-graders have much better attendance rates in the year before they arrive.

A comparison of several small and large schools, including Stevenson and Bronx Guild, by the United Federation of Teacher’s Leo Casey found that, “the small school took in higher percentages of students meeting standards and ready to do high school work, and lower percentages of students at risk for dropping out.”

It wasn’t until 2005 that Stevenson received the official word that it was being closed, after Tom Decruze attempted to select new freshmen for the school and discovered that there were none in the computer queue.

Ironically, according to the school’s security director, the safety records of both Stevenson and the campus as a whole have improved significantly to the point that the campus may soon be removed from the dreaded Impact list.

According to Stevenson staff, the improvement happened partly because the building is much less overcrowded, and partly because Stevenson stopped taking in ninth-graders last year. There are fewer of the most volatile, fight-prone students.

Another factor is leadership. Stevenson may have finally found the leader it lacked for so many years: Principal Gerry Martori, a trim, friendly man who has held teaching and assistant principal positions since arriving at the school as a 23-year-old special ed teacher in 1980.

He plays basketball with students every Friday afternoon, and his office door is always open. Martori, who took the job in 2003, is respected by teachers and students alike, even gang members whom he has suspended repeatedly.

“Gerry loves Stevenson. He grew up here. He is a principal from the school,” said Keller. “He didn’t read it in some guidebook.”

But Martori got the job too late. Stevenson today is a shadow of what it once was. Teachers place bets on how few parents will show up on parent-teacher nights. There are fewer Advanced Placement courses than ever. Room 421, the treasured law room, with its jury box and gavel, has been renovated into classrooms for Pablo Neruda Academy. Room 285, the wood shop, is shrinking.

But the school’s Fruits of the Spirit Gospel Ensemble can still sing, and its concert on April 27 was still rousing. Several seniors in purple Stevenson T-shirts with the digits 07 printed on the back jumped up and joined in the choir’s choreography, step by step.

During the intermission, the students lamented their school’s impending closure and several told stories about how they had transformed from failing students to honor students because of Stevenson teachers.

“I came here because of my low grades, but now I’m going to college” said Denisse Cortes, 17, a senior who will attend Hunter College in the fall. “I passed my English Regents because of Mr. Keller. He really put it into my head that there’s no excuses.” She added that she had used Keller’s infamous rule number 11: study!

As the school closes, teachers—particularly those who were mentored by other Stevenson staff—have begun mourning in advance. Todd Davis is now at Bronx Science, one of the city’s top schools. He insists that he learned much of what has made him a www.ratemyteacher.com superstar from graying Stevenson veterans like Bernie Keller and Lewis Sands.

But though Davis misses Stevenson, and would have gladly stayed there, its demise hasn’t affected him nearly as much as it has Tommy Montoya.

Like his college-bound senior friends, Montoya was at the gospel concert last April wearing a Stevenson shirt, but his future doesn’t look as certain. The school’s one college counselor will leave at the end of this year. She will not be able to guide him.

The automotive program motivated him—if he didn’t keep up with his other classes, he wasn’t allowed to work on the cars. Now he has no such motivation, and his grades are faltering.

When he was in the program, he was certain that he would become a mechanic. “Mr. Rosenson helped people find automotive schools, he told us how much going to one helped him,” said Montoya. “He told me about UTI [Universal Technical Institute]. I would’ve picked the program for Audis.”

For Montoya, the Stevenson program represented his future. He has wanted to be a mechanic like his uncle since the seventh grade, but these days he is less than sure about the Audi Academy.

“Everything is just gone. I wanted to come back here, but there ain’t no Stevenson to come back to. Now I’m like, ‘Stevenson is closing,” he said, “I just want to get out and get a job.”

See picture on site below:

Leonie Haimson on: That was the week that was!

It was a week full of incident. For those who missed all the newsworthy developments, here are some clips. Please forward to others who care......

March 26 -April 3, 2009

What People Are Saying…

About the ruling that allowed Chancellor Klein to raise private funds for the Education Equality Project, which he formed with Rev. Al Sharpton last spring:

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has used taxpayers' time to raise $1.5 million for a national nonprofit he co-founded last year -- with the blessing of the city's ethics board... In November, Klein and other top Department of Education staffers were quietly granted permission by the city's Conflict of Interest Board to raise funds "using both city time and city resources" for the Education Equality Project. .... Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernie Logan, who is himself a signatory of the Education Equality Project's platform, called the fund-raising arrangement "the most absurd thing I've ever heard." ---NY Post, March 30, 2009

About the questionable contributions from lobbyists to Sharpton immediately before he and Chancellor Klein joined forces:

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein stunned the education world last June when they joined forces to reform the nation's public schools.They called their ambitious venture the Education Equality Project ... What Klein and Sharpton never revealed is that the National Action Network, Sharpton's organization, immediately received a $500,000 donation for its involvement in the new effort. The huge infusion of cash - equal to more than a year's payroll for Sharpton's entire organization - was quietly provided by Plainfield Asset Management, a Connecticut-based hedge fund, where former Chancellor Harold Levy is a managing director.

The money came at a critical moment for the National Action Network. Sharpton was then settling a long-running IRS investigation of his organization. As part of that settlement, he agreed in July to pay $1 million in back taxes and penalties both he personally and his organization owed the government. … Levy funneled the cash to another nonprofit, Education Reform Now, which allowed his company to claim the donation as a charitable tax deduction. The money was then transferred in several payments to Sharpton's group, which does not have tax-deductible status because it is a lobbying organization....

At the time, Plainfield Asset Management, a major investor in gaming operations,was pressing city and state officials for approval of two deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Levy has been registered for the past two years as a lobbyist targeting City Hall to privatize the city's Off-Track Betting operations. Plainfield also provided more than $200 million in backing for Capital Play, one of three bidders on the state's proposed redevelopment of Aqueduct Racetrack. Neither deal has gone through.

.... The nonprofit that served as a pass-through for the money to Sharpton, Education Reform Now, is run by former Daily News reporter Joe Williams, who also directs Democrats for Education Reform, a leading national advocacy group for charter schools. Williams is also listed as president and treasurer of the Education Equality Project ....Williams said the EEP's board has not met in the 10 months since Klein and Sharpton announced its formation, and that city Education Department employees have so far made all day-to-day decisions. He referred any questions about the group's finances to Klein and Sharpton. -- Daily News, April 1,2009

About Mayoral Control

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and the Rev. Al Sharpton, co-sponsored a conference of the Education Equality Project.... After Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke enthusiastically about giving mayors of large cities control over their schools, saying that "we need the collective weight of the entire city behind us," many in the audience responded with skeptical boos...

Mr. Sharpton said in an interview on Thursday that he would not support the extension of mayoral control in its current form, suggesting that he agreed with criticism from some corners that the Bloomberg administration has marginalized parents in the last several years. "We feel there needs to be more of a role for parental involvement," Mr. Sharpton said. "We have to find a way to address that. We would not support the legislation as it is now." -- NY Times,April 2, 2009

Members of the Campaign for Better Schools, which is lobbying for significant changes to mayoral control,had deposited their organization's platform, printed on bright yellow paper, on each chair before the event began. Members of the Parent Commission on School Governance, also outspoken critics of Klein's, were also on hand to distribute fliers with their recommendations.-- Gotham Schools, April 2, 2009

As he's done in recent days,Duncan continued touting the benefits of mayoral control of urban school districts ... When he made the same pitch earlier in the day at the National Action Network's meeting in Midtown, it was met with an audible chorus of boos ... --NY Post, April 2, 2009

..... at the [second day of the] Education Equality Project conference..... Mr. Sharpton turned the floor over to Councilman Charles Barron, a frequent critic of New York's education reform efforts. "The mayor is out of control," Mr. Barron bellowed to scattered cheers from the audience of about200. "No one should have that dictatorial, autocratic power." . .. . When the time came for questions, audience members directed their concerns at Mr. Klein and his leadership of the 1.1 million-student school system over the past seven years.They said he had eviscerated the power of local school boards and left parents without a voice in the decision-making process. Some booed the chancellor ... -- NYTimes, April 3. 2009

Barron also criticized Klein ... saying that the chancellor lacks any pedagogical expertise. ...Members of a group that pushes for revising the mayoral control law when it comes up for renewal this summer wore pins supporting their position and passed out fliers advertising their views. Several critics also challenged Klein's characterization of improvements made under his watch, saying that students are graduating without being prepared for college and that schools lack black history teaching.

A Harlem father, Vernon Ballard, said he lacks a voice in the school system — and leaders are not held accountable — when the mayor has total control. "There is accountability," Klein replied. "You have the chance to express your voice here." Many members of the audience broke into laughter. ---Gotham Schools, April 3, 2009

About the city's practice of ignoring parent input in violation of state law

The city's Department of Education, facing a lawsuit accusing it of violating state law, retreated on Thursday from a plan to shut down three traditional public schools to make way for charter schools....The suit, filed last week by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the United Federation of Teachers, said that amounted to an illegal redrawing of district lines and should have been approved by the neighborhood school boards....

Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, applauded the decision, but said, "It shouldn't take a lawsuit to make the Department of Education follow the law." She added,"This is very significant for what it says about the D.O.E.'s way of doing business under mayoral control, which is to operate in the shadows, without respecting the niceties of the process that is set forth in the law." The lawsuit is still pending. The charter schools will share space with the old schools, as originally planned, running parallel classes, beginning with the younger grades and expanding. --- NY Times, April 2, 2009

Jennifer Freeman, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit ....said she is concerned that the schools could still share space with charter schools. "As far as we're concerned, that's still problematic," Freeman said, because the DOE did not involve the elected parent council in the decision to site the school there, she said. She said her purpose in joining the lawsuit was to push the DOE to follow state laws requiring community input in decisions about school siting and other matters. "To stop something that is clearly illegal feels good," Freeman said. "But as far as the overall direction of giving more voice to communities, it's just a little baby step." ---- Gotham Schools, April 2,2009

About mismanagement and wasteful spending on contracts

City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr.said on Wednesday that the Department of Education had vastly overspent on contracts for goods like photocopiers and cafeteria equipment, with one in five such contracts exceeding estimatedcosts by more than 25 percent. In blistering testimony before the City Council's Education Committee, Mr. Thompson, a candidate for mayor, said a review by his office had found that over the past two fiscal years, the sum of certain contracts had ballooned to $1 billion from initial estimates of $325 million. That includes one contract with Xerox Corporation that was initially projected at $1 million and came in at $68 million, he said.

"It is outrageous," Mr. Thompson said at a news conference that seemed aimed at chipping away at the educational accomplishments that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is making a cornerstone of his re-election campaign. "To see this lack of accountability on contracts is frightening." ...Members of the City Council also criticized the Department of Education for not subjecting itself to ethics and transparency rules that govern other city agencies. Under a quirk of the law, the department is not considered a state or city agency, so it is not required to hold public hearings on contracts or have each reviewed by a central office."There's too much discretion, too much latitude and too much flexibility and it creates room for abuse," Councilwoman Letitia James said at the hearing . -- NY Times Cityroom blog, April 1, 2009

Since taking control of the city schools, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and School Chancellor Joel Klein have sought private funds for schools and also used supposedly private non-profit groups to boost their education agenda. All this ... has created a tangled web and led to concerns about conflicts of interest and where the private roles stops and the public one begins. ...First there was yesterday's City Council hearing on education contracting, which inevitably turned to discussion of the $15.7 million contract awarded in 2006 to Alvarez & Marsal — without benefit of competitive bidding. (For more on other subjects discussed at the hearing see this account of alleged cost overruns from Gotham Schools, a report on how the department's contracting procedures allegedly hurt small local businesses and an account of the range of issues in question.) Questions of financial rectitude aside, council members blame A&M for suggesting changes that lead to the school bus botch of winter 2007. ...

[DOE] contracting chief David Ross said there was no need to put the contract out for bid because A&M had already had a contract with the Fund for Public Schools, a foundation created by the administration. As a supposedly private organization, the fund does not have to go public with its contracts the way the city does. Its officials do not have to file financial disclosure forms. But what if it serves as a kind of farm team for contractors, allowing them to escape the usual scrutiny? Or as Councilmember John Liu said yesterday, "allows them to get a $16 or $17 million contract without competitive bidding"? --- Gotham Gazette, April 2, 2009

Department of Education contracts for goods and services have exceeded their cost estimates by nearly$700 million over the past two years, City Comptroller Bill Thompson charged yesterday. ... a software deal jumped from$135,000 to $5.5 million by the time it was done ..."It's reprehensible that the Department of Education plays by its own rules and goes on some insane spending spree," said Thompson, one of many officials at a City Council hearing who ripped what he called the department's lack of transparency. " DOE's failure to accurately determine its expenditures prevents it from negotiating the best prices for goods and services, and is contrary to sound business practices," he wrote in a letter to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. . . -- NY Post, April 1, 2009

.... neither the Comptroller's list, nor the Department of Education's—nor the Public Advocate's, for that matter—accurately depicts how many no-bid contracts have been awarded and how much in taxpayer money has been spent on them over these past six years, leaving one to ask: why does the mayoral controlled Department of Education have different purchasing guidelines than every other city agency?-- Public Eyes on Public Schools, March 29, 2009

About the ongoing budget cuts to the classroom and the DOE's misplaced priorities

The Department of Education's proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins in July is down 10 percent in the last year, and classroom instruction has taken the brunt of the cuts, according to a report released today by the city's Independent Budget Office. The report, analyzing Mayor Bloomberg's preliminary budget for 2010, includes a concise summary of the dizzying sequence of school budget cuts since January 2008, when Mayor Bloomberg first announced that he was planning to cut the DOE's budget. -- Gotham Schools, March 30, 2009

The 2010 preliminary budget for the DOE is $17.3 billion—$290 million less than the current budget for 2009, and $1.9 billion less than was planned for 2010 16months ago .... Although the restoration of $125 million to classroom budgets for 2009 by the City Council last spring avoided even greater impacts,classrooms are feeling the effects of subsequent cutbacks, and under the Mayor's Preliminary Budget, there will be more in 2010. -- Independent Budget Office,March 30, 2009

"With the lower amount [of the federal stimulus funds], Klein said, the department would lay off about 25 percent of its non-teaching school staff and perhaps a couple of thousand teachers, although the exact amount would depend on how many teachers resign or retire before the start of next school year.With the higher number, the schools would still have a shortfall of $500 million, resulting in the loss of about 2,500 non-teaching jobs.....

Councilmember Oliver Koppell questioned whether the department should still be launching new, small schools in such tight times .... Councilmember Bill de Blasio raised questions about the administration's spending on student assessments and its public relations efforts. Klein defended the assessments — saying they had been praised by the Obama administration — but did not address the spending on media relations,which may indicate his public relations advisers have served him well. -- Gotham Gazette, March 26, 2009

About swelling class sizes and rampant overcrowding:

Late last month, the Department of Education said that several popular schools — Public Schools 6, 59 and 290 on the Upper East Side, and P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side — were putting children from their own zones on waiting lists because of a surfeit of applications. ... -- NY Times, April 3, 2009

Millennium High School's principal plans to go overcapacity by nearly 100 students next year to save his academic programs from cuts. Robert Rhodes said he is overcrowding the seven-year-old school on Broad St. because he has little choice. Principal Rhodes has lost more than $200,000 from his budget over the past two years, while the average teacher salary jumped by $5,000. As his budget tightens, he has to pack his classes as full as possible or he risks losing still more funding. ... . He expects all classes to have at least an extra student or two next fall, though he still hopes to keep ninth-grade classes below 30 students. .... When Rhodes bumps classes up from an ideal 26students to the union limit of 34, the fail rate doubles, he said. Whenever classes top 30 students, "We're accepting a certain amount of failure," Rhodes said. "We can't meet the need." -- Downtown Express, April 3, 2009

Upper East Side families zoned for the long-shuttered elementary school PS 151 do not have a zoned school for their children ... the Department of Education plans to open a new school for the 151 zone in September. Where the school will open,however, remains uncertain. .. The area under discussion for the new kindergarten at Wagner [Middle School] includes three basement classrooms and one unisex bathroom (with two stalls) on the basement floor. The rooms are adjacent to the middle school's music and band room, and their ceiling-height windows are level with the schoolyard. ...Upper East Side schools have grown increasingly overcrowded in recent years. Parent leaders cite a "long history of frustration at inaction and unfulfilled promises of the DOE…urging parents to wait…and then taking no action, again and again and again." The new school, if it opens at Wagner, would have room for 75 kindergarten students — far less than the 200+children in the zone seeking placements. One parent expressed her frustration:"My four-year-old daughter is being used as a pawn in this political game." --- Inside Schools, March 30, 2009

The District 2 Community Education Council last week was angry and worried that not enough room would be available for incoming kindergarten students in the district in September, especially at P.S. 3 on Hudson St. and P.S. 41 on W. 11th St. John White, Department of Education chief of operations for portfolio programs,acknowledged at the March 25 C.E.C. meeting that the two Village schools were "three sections" over the agreed capacity for the schools. He said that sometime this week, the department would conduct a lottery for positions on awaiting list and send letters to parents telling them their options.

The three sections represent three kindergarten classes — about 75 students —according to Michael Markowitz, District 2 C.E.C. vice president and father ofa P.S. 41 student. "This is an intolerable situation," Markowitz said, noting that the department had not yet told parents where their children might go to kindergarten. "The message has been the same for two straight meetings,"he said, referring to the previous C.E.C. meeting on Feb. 25. "We still do not have a precise report on how many kids there are for how many seats," Markowitz said, adding, "Overcrowding has been on the table at least since January 2008." -- The Villager, April 1, 2009

Councilman David Yassky cited internal city e-mails and memos showing the School Construction Authority was less than truthful when it insisted as late as last June that there is no need for a new school in the tony DUMBO-Brooklyn Heights area. Instead, internal memos and e-mails show the agency had already decided weeks earlier to let father-son developers David and Jed Walentas include a middle school in their planned 18-story apartment tower rather than consider alternate sites for a school proposed by neighborhood groups and Yassky. ... -- NY Post April 1, 2009

On the lack of good high school options:

Thousands of Manhattan parents are up in arms after being told last week that their kids won't get to go to the high schools of their choice. The students were told that despite their good grades and extracurricular activities, they were not admitted into one of their top five picks.

A total of 7,500 students are now looking for alternate schools. ..While the Department of Education says a majority of students throughout the city were matched with their top picks,parents say the system is failing their kids. "As of now, our children are in limbo. It's ridiculous. This should not be happening. The chancellor has to do a better job than this,"said one parent. -- NY1, April 1, 2009

Parents who responded to our high-school choice poll have strong opinions on the matter: More than half say there aren't enough good schools for students and families to choose from...About 20 percent of responders say the system only works well for kids who are lucky enough to have strong adult guidance. Over 15 percent would welcome a return to zoned schools (and less choice). Less than 10 percent of parents say the system works just fine as it's now constructed — a sharp counterpoint to the Department of Education's claim of 86 percent satisfied customers. -- Inside Schools, April 3, 2009

Also worth Reading on the NYC parent blog (warning! some of these may be parody):

* Klein Out, Brawley Named NY City Schools Chancellor...
* Tweed's favorite principal
* Al Sharpton's stay out of jail card
* Sources: Madoff Hid $ in DOE Budget
* The Two-Faced Daily News -- Hypocrisy as a Business model ...
* What People Are Saying…
* Paul Hovitz on the incompetence of Tweed
* State and city laws routinely flouted by this adm inistration

* Demystifying Mayoral control: Diane Ravitch on mayoral autocracy ...

* Announcing the new Mayoral control troll in town!
* Public School Students to be "Furloughed" in Budget crisis ...

Bridging Differences

* Seeing 'Reform' as More Than a Horse Race or Marketplace
* President Obama's Manufactured Crisis Speech
* Is Some Rethinking About 'Accountability' Past Due?
* Will Public Education Survive the Embrace of Big Money?
* The Power of Big Money & Big State Over Knowledge

Friday, April 03, 2009

Harlem Success Academy Organizes Parents to Shut Down Their Local School

The title of an article is arguably its most powerful feature—a more accurate title for the below would be “Harlem Success Academy Organizes Parents to Shut Down Their Local School.”

And while the Chancellor may not be able to do anything about teachers who are just marking time to get their paychecks, surely he could do something about schools being “dirty” and “dangerous, “ no?

Is there any reason why a public school cannot look like this? It defies credibility to blame apathetic teachers for rundown and dirty buildings.

The Ross Global Academy Charter School now occupies classrooms like this one in Tweed Courthouse, where six kindergarten classes, three each for P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School, are expected to open in September. Carl Glassman / The Tribeca Trib

The Ross Global Academy Charter School now occupies classrooms like this one in Tweed Courthouse

From: nyceducationnews@yahoogroups.com [mailto:nyceducationnews@yahoogroups.com]

Harlem parents say they want their local schools shut down

Harlem parents say they want their local schools shut down
by Philissa Cramer

A group of parents is sharply criticizing the Department of Education for backing away from its decision to shut down struggling neighborhood elementary schools, saying Mayor Bloomberg should “take a hard line” and turn over the buildings to be used as charter schools.

The parents, who are zoned to have their children attend two of the schools that would have been closed and replaced with charter schools, said that they want the mayor to shut the schools down because the schools are dirty, dangerous, and filled with teachers who are “just there for a paycheck.”

“I live across the street from 194,” one mother, Melissia Daley, wrote of P.S. 194, a Harlem elementary school that would have been closed under the city’s original plan. “Although it’s a zoned school and very convenient for me and my child, I wouldn’t even try to put my child in there because the children are well behind in grade.”

“If they are closing 241 to put a better school in its place, then they should do that,” one parent, Martinique Owens, said, of another Harlem school, P.S. 241, in a similar situation.

Their statements came in a press release issued this afternoon by a spokeswoman for the Harlem Success Academy network of charter schools, Jenny Sedlis. Two Harlem Success schools were planning to become the sole occupants of the P.S. 194 and P.S. 241 buildings after those schools closed. Those schools will have to continue sharing space with district elementary schools next year.

Representatives of the Harlem Success network called parents registered for next week’s admission lottery, told them that the charter schools were being threatened by government action, and asked them to attend a meeting today about the conflict, according to Cherokee Rivero, a mother who has entered her son in the lottery that determines who gets into Harlem Success.

Rivero estimated that about 40 parents turned out for the meeting, where they wrote short statements about why they didn’t want their children to attend their zoned school. “If it takes me to write this letter to get something better for my son, then I will,” Rivero, who attended PS 194 herself from 1994 to 2000, told me tonight.

The release attacks the teachers union for filing a lawsuit opposing the DOE’s plan to replace the two elementary schools with charter schools. The lawsuit was initiated by the United Federation of Teachers and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Its plaintiffs included several community members not otherwise associated with the union, as well as the union’s president, Randi Weingarten. The union and parents alleged that the DOE’s bid to replace the schools represented an illegal alteration of school zone lines.

“Does Randi Weingarten think she knows better than me what is best for my child? The school is broken and I don’t want to send my child there. Why does she think she can speak for me?” a mother named Melissa Anderson, whose child is zoned for P.S. 241, said in a statement.

Weingarten responded today in an interview with Elizabeth, accusing the founder of Harlem Success, the former City Council member Eva Moskowitz, of devolving into personal attack. Moskowitz took on labor unions in council hearings, and then lost a run for Manhattan borough president after Weingarten’s union organized against her. “Let her run great schools and do great things for kids, and let me do great things for kids,” Weingarten said. “But this nonsense that the only way to elevate herself is to bring other people down: she should be above that.”

Defending public schools in NYC

Defending public schools in NYC

By Jeremy Sawyer | April 2, 2009

NEW YORK--A determined group of 80 teachers, students and parents from the city met at a "Conference to Defend Public Education" March 28. Sponsored by the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) and New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCORE), the conference was called to strategize for citywide actions to defend public education from corporate attacks and privatization.

The opening panel highlighted the fact that New York City has become the "poster child for corporate-style education reform," and that this attack is part of a global attack on teachers unions and public institutions in general.

Michael Fiorillo, a high school teacher, parent and chapter leader, affirmed, "This fight is not just about the future of our students, but about the future of the society we are going to live in. Will it be a society with democracy of public government, or a society of privatization--private roads, private schools and private armies?"

In subsequent discussion sessions, newer teachers as well as more experienced educators addressed an array of fronts in the battle for public education. These included halting predatory school closings and the spread of charter schools, fighting the abuse of ATRs (teachers without permanent positions whose schools often have been closed), and confronting high-stakes testing and merit pay.

Student activists shared their negative experiences with school closings, which target the most vulnerable working-class communities and communities of color. "My school is being phased out," said a student from South Shore High School in Brooklyn. "Some of my favorite teachers are gone." A young woman from Wingate High School added, "They made the wrong choice. When schools shut down, other schools become overcrowded. Let's fix those schools instead."

Teachers expressed outrage at the "test and punish" straitjacket that has been imposed upon them. "One of the major parts of my job is teaching third-grade students how to bubble scantron forms," said Sam Coleman, a teacher in Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Coleman talked about the cultural bias of high-stakes tests, their lack of relevance to curriculum, and the way that test data is used to blame teachers and weaken their unions. "We need to hold the politicians accountable," he said to resounding applause.

A Bronx elementary school teacher emphasized the separate and unequal nature of the charter school in his building: "The charters are very selective in who they take. When kids don't perform well or have behavioral difficulties, they send these 'undesirable' students to us."

Ironically, civil rights rhetoric is used in the slick PR campaigns for charter schools (e.g., "Parent Choice=Parent Power"), appealing to many parents who are justifiably frustrated with budget cuts and inadequate public school resources.

Several speakers argued persuasively that our movement must speak with the same anger and passion that parents feel about the inequities in education.

As an elementary school teacher in Harlem put it, "The resources, the art and the music programs that Barack Obama's children have in their school, we should demand for every child in every school." A Brooklyn high school teacher added, "They talk about the 'achievement gap' between black and white students, but they never talk about the funding gap that exists between these students."

In the past three months, people around New York City have protested the announced phasing out of their schools, demonstrated to defend ATR rights and fought against high-stakes testing. Teachers have organized local meetings with parents and school staff, who are looking for ways to fight school closings.

Many teachers have taken inspiration from the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) in Chicago, which--in conjunction with union and community activists--recently succeeded in stopping six public schools from being shut down by the Chicago Board of Education.

This conference was an important step toward connecting these grassroots fightbacks, both inside and outside the teachers' union. We need to continue to bring in new people and build solidarity with parents and community members.

A citywide march to project and link these struggles together was proposed for mid-May, as well as an upcoming forum on fighting charter schools on April 27.

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NYSUT Embraces Reform

Richard C. Iannuzzi: Teachers unions embracing reform

Updated: 04/02/09 10:19 AM

Twelve blocks from the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center is ground zero of the national debate over education reform.

The East Side is a sad indictment of all that is wrong with society. Children who have committed no offense other than being born into deep poverty go to school hungry; live in neighborhoods infested by drugs and gangs; don’t see a doctor when they’re sick; and, despite heroic work by educators and support staff, drop out in alarming numbers.

Twenty minutes away, however, is an entirely different world. In the suburbs, nine in 10 high school seniors are immersed in the “positive stress” of selecting the college they will attend this fall, beneficiaries of the world-class public education President Obama recently spoke about for every child.

As New York State United Teachers gathers 2,500 local union leaders in this beautiful but beleaguered city, the question of how to reform public schools so we forever end the achievement gap remains our foremost challenge.

Reform is a challenge teachers unions embrace. Yes, that’s right. The record clearly demonstrates the commitment of teachers unions to improving public education. Union leaders understand we have a responsibility to make schools work, especially in our cities where the achievement gap and all its ramifications threaten the vibrancy of local economies.

This deeply held belief in reform is why NYSUT was an early advocate for smaller classes, higher academic standards, strict discipline, quality early childhood education programs and the professional development necessary to provide every child with the most qualified teachers possible.

Obama recently pushed for even more reform — rewarding teacher excellence, holding teachers more accountable and promoting innovation, such as charter schools. Rather than considering those subjects taboo, we have been speaking of the same things.

Dozens of teachers unions in New York have negotiated innovative compensation models — from stipends for those who earn national certification to New York City’s bold experiment in school-based performance pay.

NYSUT proudly represents teachers in more than a dozen charter schools, including five here in Buffalo. Charter schools can provide opportunities for innovation and experimentation. We also believe charters must be accountable for the tax money they receive and transparent in how they spend it, and urge caution so that a proliferation of charters does not undermine full support for traditional public schools.

Under the leadership of Randi Weingarten, the American Federation of Teachers has launched a $1 million innovation fund to implement sustainable reform efforts developed by union members. And local unions in Dunkirk and Fredonia have begun taking part in a National Education Association- funded program to develop “learning communities” that focus on ending the achievement gap.

As someone who taught elementary school for 34 years in a district where three-quarters of the children live in poverty, I clearly recognize that America’s future is at stake. Creating a successful learning experience for every child is a responsibility all teachers take seriously, and we aren’t going to sit on the sidelines waiting for others to lead reform on issues we know the most about. Teachers unions are the solution. Isn’t it time our critics set aside petty politics and ideology and join us?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

NYCLU Press Rlease on School Closing Suit

In Response to NYCLU/UFT Lawsuit, DOE Announces it Will Keep Schools Open

The New York City Department of Education has apparently decided to keep three schools open after public school parents, guardians and community leaders filed a lawsuit last week. That lawsuit charged the DOE with violating state education law by making zoning changes that affect neighborhood schools without approval from Community Education Councils, effectively denying parents and children access to neighborhood schools without a voice in the process.

The DOE did not respond to the lawsuit in court, but today told the media that the three schools would remain open.

“It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to make the DOE follow the law,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Zoning laws are the one small area of oversight that parents were allowed to keep under mayoral control. The state legislature should take note of the fact that we had to take the DOE to court to get the public’s voice heard as prescribed by law.”

“We are glad that the Department of Education has seen the error of its ways and reversed its earlier decision to close these schools,” said United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. “This is a victory for parents and for all who feel that checks and balances are needed when making critical decisions about which schools should remain open and which should close.”

Community Education Councils (CECs) are the local bodies created by the State Legislature to ensure that parents and the public retain some oversight over education under the mayoral control system. State education law requires the Department of Education (DOE) to get the approval of the community through its local CEC when it wants to make certain changes, including zoning changes that affect neighborhood schools. But the DOE unilaterally announced plans to close PS 194 and PS 241 in Harlem and PS 150 in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville area of Brooklyn, leaving those zones empty of neighborhood schools and exacerbating already well-documented overcrowding conditions.

By closing down the sole neighborhood school and not providing an alternative neighborhood school, the DOE was in effect eliminating district zoning lines. To do that legally, it must obtain the approval of the local education council.

The plaintiffs filed the suit March 24 at State Supreme Court in Manhattan. They include Gregory Mendez and Serita Mendez, parents of six children who have attended PS 150; Anna Ramirez, the parent of two children enrolled at PS 194; Kathryn Corbett, grandmother of a student at PS 241; Olaiya Deen, the parent of a student at PS 75 in District 3 and a member of the District 3 CEC; Rose Laney, a grandmother and guardian of two students at PS 150, president of the PS 150 parent-teacher association and head of the District President Council; Tatanisha Rice, aunt and guardian of a student at PS 194, former president of the parents’ association and a current member of the school leadership team; David Grinage, a parent of a student at PS 150 and president of the District 23 CEC in Brooklyn; and Jennifer Freeman, parent of a student at Middle School 54 in District 3 and a member of the CEC in District 3.

Also joining as a plaintiff was Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the 200,000-member labor union representing public school educators in New York City.

The New York Civil Liberties Union was co-counsel on the case and represented plaintiffs Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Jennifer Freeman, a parent and the secretary of District 3’s CEC, which includes PS 241.

Plaintiffs asked in the lawsuit that the court rule that the DOE’s policy in these cases is a violation of state education law, order the DOE to stop it and reserve such zone alterations to Community Education Councils.


Jennifer Carnig

Director of Communications

New York Civil Liberties Union

(w) 212.607.3363

(c) 845.553.0349


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Slate: What the Knowledge Is Power Program has yet to prove.

Slate Magazine
The Educational Experiment We Really Need
What the Knowledge Is Power Program has yet to prove.
By Sara Mosle
Updated Monday, March 23, 2009, at 6:58 AM ET

In his new book, Work Hard. Be Nice., Jay Mathews claims that the Knowledge Is Power Program is the "best" program serving severely disadvantaged, minority-group students in America today. Let me begin—before I'm denounced as a traitor to the cause of educational reform—by saying that I'm inclined to agree. The improbable story of how KIPP was founded in 1994 by David Levin and Michael Feinberg, two young Teach for America alumni in Houston, is thrilling and worthy reading. KIPP's mission has been akin to putting the first man on the moon: an all-out education race, requiring extraordinary, round-the-clock dedication from parents, students, and teachers alike. But the program is not the proven, replicable model for eliminating the achievement gap in the inner city that Mathews imagines, and this distinction is crucial. KIPP may be something more important: a unique chance to test, once and for all, the alluring but suspect notion that there actually is an educational panacea for social inequality. As of yet, the evidence for such a thing doesn't exist.

There have always been model school programs that work. There have even been some that have been successfully replicated in different parts of the country. But no program has shown it can work for all, or even most, disadvantaged children within a single city or neighborhood. Instead, as critics point out, such model programs tend to skim off those kids who are already better positioned (thanks to better home environments, greater natural gifts, savvier or better-educated parents, etc.) to escape the ghetto. Meanwhile, regular public schools are left with a more distilled population of struggling students. Similarly, model programs tend to attract young, talented, and adventurous teachers, who are willing or able to work long hours for low pay. (Model schools also tend to attract the most philanthropic dollars, which effectively boost per-pupil expenditures, even as such programs can still brag they use no more tax dollars than traditional public schools.) Indeed, Mathews likens KIPP to a cult "without the dues or the weird robes." But by definition, a cult is a fringe movement. To date, no one—including such mighty players as the Gates Foundation—has figured out how to take an educational cult and make it the predominant religion within any urban system.

Mathews insists that KIPP has solved this riddle. It's true that perhaps no other model program has risen so far so fast, with such consistently strong test scores. KIPP now has 66 academies in 19 states. Still, 66 academies amount to just three schools, on average, per state. Houston has far and away the highest concentration with, currently, seven middle schools, three elementary schools, and one high school. But this is in a school system with 200,000 students, nearly 80 percent of whom qualify for reduced or free lunches. At the moment, like every other model program before it, KIPP serves only a tiny fraction of disadvantaged students within any given district. And as education researcher Richard Rothstein has rightly noted, comparing students from different schools, even within the same disadvantaged neighborhoods, is very difficult to do in a rigorous, scientific way. Just because KIPP uses a lottery for admissions, for example, does not tell us anything about the self-selecting nature of the pool from which this lottery is drawn. (Rothstein's own research—here and here—has shown that KIPP students come from families that are better off, or better educated, than their regular public school or special-education counterparts.)

What is more, KIPP's approach is implicitly, but obviously, not designed to suit all students—or, for that matter, all parents or teachers. For decades, educators argued that disadvantaged children could succeed if only they received the same education as more advantaged, middle-class students. Many, if not most, of the nation's best public and private schools are decidedly progressive, with less emphasis on test scores and more on critical thinking skills, with rich arts, music, sports, and other extracurricular programs. Why shouldn't poorer children enjoy the same?

But KIPP is not the same. The program has usefully changed the debate by acknowledging the obvious: Kids who grow up poor, with no books or with functionally illiterate parents, in crime-ridden neighborhoods, with destructive peer influences and without access to basic medical care (such as glasses to help them read), need something significantly more than—and different from—kids who grow up with every economic and educational advantage on which to build. For one, the academic program at KIPP is relentless in its back-to-basics focus: a boot camp that runs nearly 10 hours a day, from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., not including transportation and homework, and half a day every other Saturday.

There is a lot of rote learning and test prep, born of the program's emphasis on demonstrable results. Enrichment programs exist (one Bronx school has a remarkable orchestra) but are necessarily limited, because precious time must also be devoted to teaching social skills that middle-class students take for granted—for example, how to follow a speaker with one's eyes and nod as one takes in information. In addition, KIPP includes an extended summer school. (Research has shown that middle-class students consolidate and even improve on their educational gains during the summer months, while underprivileged students slip backward, negating their progress during the academic year.)

As a result, KIPP teachers typically work 65-hour weeks and a longer school year. Recognizing that students need more out-of-school aid to supplement their educations, the program also requires its staff to be available to students by phone after hours for homework help and moral support. For this overtime (which represents 60 percent more time in the classroom alone, on average, than in regular public schools), teachers receive just 20 percent more pay. Unsurprisingly, turnover is high. The program has relied heavily on the ever-renewing supply of very young (and thus less expensive) Teach for America alums, whose numbers, while growing, are decidedly finite. Indeed, it's unclear whether KIPP would exist were it not for TFA (and its own philanthropic investment in recruitment and training, which has not come cheap).

For example, many of KIPP's now-lauded approaches were first developed not by Levin and Feinberg but by a career public-school teacher in Houston whose methods they admired back when they were TFAers. Levin and Feinberg tried to recruit their mentor to help launch KIPP, but as a middle-aged single mother, she felt she couldn't afford to join their revolution. If KIPP's success is ever to become widespread, it's going to have to find more room for such everyday heroes, who are not less talented than eager, young TFAers but who do have lives, families, and financial needs outside their jobs.

Parents or guardians, too, must be hardy souls at KIPP. They have to sign a contract saying they agree to KIPP's exacting schedule, which serves, intentionally or not, to eliminate kids from less involved or determined families. While KIPP does have outreach efforts to broaden its applicant pool, only the most determined parents are likely to respond to such overtures and sign KIPP's demanding contract. This dedication suggests a higher value on education within these families, and thus kids better able or willing to learn. And the weakest students, not surprisingly, get disproportionately winnowed. In KIPP's schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, the worst-performing kids have dropped out (or been expelled) in greater numbers in the higher grades; the result has been to inflate the schools' grade-to-grade improvement.

Such a regimen isn't for everyone, but KIPP has shown that with the right underprivileged population, it can make a significant, consistent difference—which is a lot more than most charter programs can say. (A 2006 report by the Education Department—i.e., under a Republican administration—revealed that traditional public schools significantly outperform charter programs in reading and math.) Far from finding the boot-camp atmosphere dispiriting, kids—at least, those who stay—clearly adore KIPP. This may be the program's singular accomplishment: It's made "back to basics" fun. However, even Mathews, the KIPP champion, describes an approach to discipline that sometimes seems unduly harsh; in less expert hands, such an approach could easily deteriorate into something more disturbing, and if implemented on a wide scale, might well turn off as many students and parents as it helps. Finally, even with such gargantuan efforts, KIPP helps to close, but does not remotely eliminate, the achievement gap in the inner city. It is not the answer to urban ills that Mathews proposes.

But because KIPP has done so much better than so many other charter programs, it has earned the right to shoot not only for the moon but beyond. Given this, what mystifies me about KIPP is that it has scattered its resources across the country—opening just a few schools in any one state—instead of trying to concentrate its resources more fully in one community.

No doubt the strategy partly reflects practical hurdles. States may limit the number of charter programs (although this may change if President Obama gets his way with his new education plan). In addition, there may be union or administrative opposition, although until recently, KIPP and the teachers unions had peacefully coexisted. (Now, a dispute between one KIPP school in Brooklyn and New York's United Federation of Teachers threatens this détente.)

But since the biggest debate about KIPP, on both the ideological left and right, is whether or not its methods can work for all disadvantaged children (instead of just a handful of self-selecting families), why wouldn't it—and its financial, ideological, and media backers—have a strong interest in answering this question once and for all by taking on an entire urban area or even, for that matter, a single neighborhood as, say, Geoffrey Canada has tried to do in Harlem with his Harlem's Children's Zone?

There's something perversely evasive about KIPP's opening up just one school in Dallas, one school in Albany, N.Y., one school in Oakland, Calif., one school in Charlotte, N.C., one school in Nashville, Tenn., and so on—as if the program recognizes that its best chance at success is to be the exception rather than the rule in any city where it operates. Perhaps this approach made sense in the program's early years, when it needed to build credibility and attract financing. But now it has done both. Until KIPP tries to succeed within an entire, single community, it is, for all its remarkable rise and deserved praise, just another model program that has yet to prove it can succeed with all—or even most—disadvantaged children.
Sara Mosle, a former member of Teach for America in Upper Manhattan, writes frequently about educational issues and is finishing a book on the London Consolidated School explosion, which killed hundreds of children in the East Texas oil field in 1937.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2214253/

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