Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bill to end mayoral control from Inez and Charles Barron

From Assemblywoman Inez Barron and Councilman Charles Barron

April 26, 2011

If I had to give a letter grade to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and newly appointed Chancellor, Dennis Walcott on educating our children, it would be a resounding “F” because they have failed.  This is not just empty rhetoric; here are the facts – Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor of Education Walcott have been responsible for educating our children since 2002 which makes it nearly ten years.  
When they started, the NYC Department of Education’s budget was over 10 billion dollars and has since risen to 23 billion dollars.  For argument’s sake, let’s give it a low, conservative average of 10 billion dollars a year (of course this number is much higher).  That means Bloomberg and Walcott, almost into their tenth year, had over 100 billion dollars to educate 1.1 million educable children; with over 85% of those children being Black and Latino.  Hold on to that! Now let’s examine some of their failing policies:

  • Phasing out low performing schools that they didn’t support in the first place, instead of providing them with the necessary resources to succeed.  They set them up for failure.  When financial institutions like Goldman Sachs and Smith Barney failed, they didn’t phase them out; they bailed them out with tax payer’s money stating that they were just too big to fail.  Well we say bail out our schools because our children are just too important to fail.

  • Co-locating Charter Schools in Public School buildings.  Let’s not be fooled by the oxymoron Public Charters.  Charter Schools are privately owned and should seek and obtain private funding for space to house their schools.  Three and four schools in one building is logistical chaos which forces the faculty to juggle with the use of common space like bathrooms, auditoriums, gymnasiums and lunchrooms (causing some students to cope with 10am lunches).  Absurd!

  • One size curriculum fits all, is just a foolish policy.  Schools should be given the flexibility to adopt a curriculum that meets the unique needs of their student population, with the understanding that some things will be standardized.

  • Constant restructuring of the system leads to a destabilized educational environment.  Students, teachers and administrators need stability.  Bloomberg and Walcott didn’t reform the system; they excessively restructured it, because they didn’t know what they were doing.  They are not educators. 

  • High stakes standardized testing.  This has turned our schools into test taking mills; stressing out principals, teachers, students and families.  Test prep periods dominate the school schedules.  Many schools, if not most, lack the necessities that contribute to a well-rounded quality education, such as science labs, computer labs, updated libraries, smart boards, music programs, athletic programs, cultural arts programs, just to name a few. 
  • Overcrowded Classrooms!  Everyone knows that smaller class size leads to more manageable classrooms and provides for a more optimum learning environment for our children.  Bloomberg and Walcott had more than enough time and money (billions in Capital dollars) to reduce class size.  They didn’t! 

After nearly ten years of Bloomberg and Walcott, who had over 100 billion dollars to educate 1.1 million educable children, utilizing these policies and practices, the following results clearly speak to their failure.

These results are according to the New York State Department of Education’s report on student graduation rates and preparedness.  The data collected is the latest available information from the 2009 school year.

The report indicates that New York State schools graduate 77% of their students and only 41% are prepared for college or a career. For state schools, preparedness is based on a score of 80 on the Regents exams.  The City is much worse!  Only 65% of New York City's students graduate and worse yet, an abysmal 23% are prepared for college or a career.  Black and Latino students graduate at a 62% rate and only 15% are prepared for college or a career.  How about the Charter Schools?  Contrary to popular belief, they do worse than the public schools.  Only 49% of the Charter School students graduate, and a mere 10% are prepared for college or a career.  For city schools preparedness is based on a score of 65 on the Regents exams.  In addition, according to Department of Education statistics, 75% of the New York City graduates that apply for CUNY colleges need remediation in reading and writing, and 40% of those drop out of CUNY after 2 years. These are not Charles Barron’s statistics; this is data collected and reported by the NY State Department of Education.  Check it out for yourselves!

Come on now – Enough is Enough!  Bloomberg and Walcott have clearly failed our children.  Mayor Bloomberg boasts about being a great manager – how can you be a great manager and choose three Chancellors that are unqualified to run our education system.  Klein, Black and Walcott, all needed waivers due to a lack of qualifications.  How do you raise standards for our children and dumb down standards for Chancellors.  We need an open search for a qualified Chancellor who does not need a waiver – but more importantly we need to end Mayoral Control.

Join Assemblywoman Inez Barron, Councilman Charles Barron, other Elected Officials, Parents, Education Activists, Community Leaders, and the Freedom Party in our fight to end Mayoral Control of the Department of Education.  Assemblywoman Barron is developing the legislation and seeking a Senate sponsor to end Mayoral Control.  Let’s build a mass movement of support to end Mayoral Control.  We can win!  Movements and protests do work – just ask Cathie Black!

Everything's Not Uptodate at KIIP Kansas City

Many charters get Title One money; very few have the parent committees required by federal law to help devise how to spend it.  Another way parents are ignored and their rights are violated, by the feds, the states, and districts all.

Subject: Parents Upset with Leadership at KIPP Academy in KC

Parents Upset With Leadership At Kipp Academy

POSTED: 5:17 pm CDT April 29, 2011
UPDATED: 6:03 pm CDT April 29, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Parents at one local school are holding a town hall meeting Saturday because they said they want the principal fired.
The parents said the mistakes the principal has made this year have hurt students.

Students at KIPP Endeavor Academy went home Friday like any other regular day, but behind the scenes a group of parents said the charter school has failed to live up to its own motto.
“Their motto is no excuses, no short cuts," said parent Cherise Ellison. "And we expect the same from them.”

Ellison is just one of the parents that met Friday afternoon to organize the town hall meeting on Saturday to address several problems.
She said she is upset the principal decided to disband the parent association with little explanation.
“(She said they were) moving in a different direction, and she never got back to me about what that meant,” said parent Marisol Montero.

The biggest concern for the parents is the fact that the charter school applied for federal Title 1 money. They were granted $256,000, but the school never came up with a plan on how to use that money. And parents said at a time when most school districts are struggling financially, it makes no sense to have all this money just sitting there.

"It shouldn’t just be sitting there," Montero said. "It should be used for children to support teachers for training.”
Montero and other parents blame the new principal, and they want her removed from her position.

"She has been given multiple chances to make it right," Montero said. "Now we need a change of leadership.”

The principal told KCTV5, "We did discontinue the KIPP parent association as I felt it needed to be reorganized. There were disagreements between parents about the proper direction and leadership of the committee. We are currently planning for a new parent organization, which will pick up in the fall.

"We were unable to use this federal funding because we did not have a Title 1 federal program or program coordinator at the start of the school year. This past March, we named a Title 1 coordinator …and we will be able to roll over $130,000 of this funding for next year."
The Town Hall meeting will be at 5 p.m. Saturday at Penn Valley Community College.
Posted on Fri, Apr. 29, 2011 10:43 PM

Sponsor to take close look at KIPP charter school


The Kansas City Star

One of the nation’s fastest-growing charter-school models may be stumbling in Kansas City.
Concerns over the local management of the KIPP Endeavor Academy have prompted its sponsoring college to put the public school through the same kind of comprehensive site review the state conducts for struggling school districts.

According to state documents, the middle school did not establish programs to use certain federal money that will have to be returned. The school also has had too few classroom teachers meeting the state’s criteria for “highly qualified.”

Several parents have been pressing these and other issues, leading to a meeting today with the school board.
The KIPP school is sponsored by Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley, which is responsible for holding it accountable. Charter schools are public schools that operate independently with their own school boards.

The sponsor has been aware of the concerns and set up the review process to take a closer look, said Jerry Kitzi, the charter school sponsor liaison for MCC-Penn Valley.
“We can’t go on hearsay,” Kitzi said. “So we’re doing an audit.”

Parent organizer Marisol Montero said the school management is suffering from “gross negligence.”
“They’re wasting taxpayers’ money,” she said.
Principal Kristi Meyer said she hopes meeting with the parents will help create a unified effort to solve some of the school’s problems.
The school is developing a plan to establish programs to receive federal funds, she said, and teachers will be taking skill exams that will boost the number of highly qualified teachers above 80 percent.
“My hope is that … we get a clear understanding of the concerns of the parents and that they understand the steps we are taking,” Meyer said.

The KIPP model has nearly 100 schools serving some 27,000 students across the country. KIPP, which stands for Knowledge Is Power Program, opened its Kansas City middle school in 2007.
The school aims to serve high-needs families with programs geared to help students make up gaps in their education. It has longer school days, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with Saturday hours.
The local school’s enrollment of some 225 students includes more than 80 percent from families who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

The school saw enough improvement in its state test scores a year ago to make the federal guideline of annual progress.

In communication arts, 28.9 percent scored proficient or advanced in 2010, compared with 22.2 percent in 2009. In math, the percentage rose from 23.2 percent to 44.1 percent.
A consulting team will visit the KIPP school at the MCC-Penn Valley Pioneer Campus. The school will then need to draft an improvement plan by this summer to address areas that need fixing, Kitzi said.
The progress the school makes according to the improvement plan would determine whether the sponsor would put the school on probation or consider revoking its sponsorship.

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to

Friday, April 29, 2011

Rachel Maddow & Lansing, MI mayor on threats to schools, democracy

Are schools failing, or are they being failed?

April 29, 2011
by Sabrina
Last night, Rachel Maddow covered the “Emergency Manager” situation in Michigan. Unilateral power is being given to a single individual, who can override democratically-elected officials while being simultaneously paid by the state AND by private companies and individuals. Money is being taken from the schools– whose budget was in the black– and given away to the wealthy in tax cuts. Some districts (largely poor and minority) are now being targeted for control by “Emergency Managers;” in an all-too-familiar tone, these communities are being told that respectful, democratic treatment isn’t their right, but a luxury they can’t afford.
This is truly scary stuff.

Rachel Maddow & Lansing, MI Mayor on threats to schools, democracy

Major Tech Scandal at NYCDOE/Tweed

From NYT below:
The investigation revealed another embarrassing lack of supervision in one of the city’s technology projects, just four months after federal authorities charged seven people in what they called an $80 million scheme to steal from CityTime, an automated payroll system that ballooned in cost to more than $700 million, nearly 10 times over budget. It also comes as the Education Department plans to invest more than half a billion dollars next year to upgrade Internet access in every school.
See also WSJ: “Mr. Condon's report also criticized the DOE for giving Mr. Lanham complete control over the project while "no one exercised any oversight."… In January, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council agreed to cut $4 million from IT consulting contracts at the DOE, to stave off the closing of 20 fire companies at night. At the same time, the DOE is set to increase technology spending to about $542 million in 2012.
In a letter to then Chancellor Cathie Black last month, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer expressed doubts about boosting spending for the iZone. Charging the department has not yet provided any data on the iZone’s success, Stringer wrote, “the current capital amendment calls for increasing the number of iZone schools from some 80 schools this year to 400 in 2013/14. Until this rapid expansion of iZone can be backed up by hard data, I strongly recommend that these funds be directed toward reducing class sizes, addressing overcrowding issues, rapidly replacing dangerous lighting and heating systems in schools, and other urgent needs.”
Today Stringer reiterated these concerns. In a statement, he chided the education department for its “opaque” bureaucracy and said, “It is extremely distressing to learn that the department can’t seem to keep track of its own contractors — or the money they spend.”
For his part, Liu called today’s charged “infuriating,” and added, ” Even more disconcerting, however, are indications that corporations with billions of dollars in city business have aided and abetted and profited from the scam. As with the CityTime scandal, oversight of subcontracting is acutely needed right now.”
Condon said the latest case shows the city needs to do a better job policing its contracts: "There's so much money and so many layers of contracting. ... You know you hire one consultant, and then they subcontract with another consultant."

The full  report is posted here:  It has fascinating nuggets such as: “

Subsequent to the meeting at Verizon, there was a meeting held at CCS. Lanham drove Iacoviello { DOE Director of Deployment and Implementation] to the meeting and afterward, Lanham drove them past Lanham Estates, a location where Lanham had built four or five houses for his relatives. Lanham explained to Iacoviello that he had a 60-acre development in Bridgehampton on which he intended to build 20 homes, each worth $7 to $8 million dollars. Lanham continued that he planned to finance the development himself, building one home each year. According to Lanham, his friend, the Owner of CCS, inherited the land on which Lanham would construct the homes, approximately $3 million per home. Lanham noted that he hoped to be at the DOE for a few more years so that each year he could earn enough money to cover the cost of building a house…
And: Lanham stated that CIO Consulting was another company that Lanham established with his wife, Laura. Lanham explained that CIO Consulting’s first contract was with Achievement First, a Charter school based in Connecticut and that he was building the computer network for Achievement First. Lanham further disclosed that he had built three homes and remodeled another home on a four-acre lot in East Northport, Long Island….

… Lanham usually met with vendors without anyone from the DOE being present. A Verizon manager related that, when he met with Lanham, no one from the DOE was present and, when Lanham sent him e-mails, no one from the DOE was copied. Lanham hired five consultants and orchestrated payments for these consultants through his company, Lanham Enterprises, Inc., without the knowledge or approval of the DOE. Records obtained by SCI investigators revealed that Lanham’s profit from the consultants amounted to more than $3,600,000 over the six-year period from 2002 through 2008….

Condon concludes: “It is difficult to understand how the DOE could allow so much power to reside in a consultant, even an honest one, which Lanham was not. Project Connect was a billion
dollar undertaking, yet no one exercised any oversight of Lanham. Gill did not know what Project Connect was and Romano did not recall Lanham. Eaione maintained that Lanham cleared major decisions with him, but that obviously was not true. Eaione had not even heard of CDC and did not attend most of the vendor meetings. Everyone at the DOE assumed that everything was fine. It was not until Lanham’s contract was not renewed and his replacement, Joseph Iacoviello, another consultant, started looking at documents and asking questions, that some of the scheme came to light. By then, Lanham had deceived the DOE for more than six years and even continued to collect on the consultants for another year.”
thank you Joel Klein and all those lax and incompetent managers at Tweed, who obviously knew nothing about either education or running an organization. 
Let’s hope that his new position running Murdoch’s online company doesn’t lead to even more taxpayer money being wasted or stolen.
In this case, it looks like Verizon and IBM were colluding with this consultant .
Of course all this will be chickenfeed compared to the scandals that will come out of the spending disaster due to occur next year, if DOE really plans to spend $540 M in more wiring in one year..

Consultant to the Schools Stole Millions, Officials Say

Published: April 28, 2011
Aided by lax oversight and by corporations that profited from his scheme, a former technology consultant stole $3.6 million over six years from the Department of Education to finance flashy cars and real estate speculation, federal authorities said on Thursday.
John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times
Willard Lanham was in charge of technology projects.
The investigation revealed another embarrassing lack of supervision in one of the city’s technology projects, just four months after federal authorities charged seven people in what they called an $80 million scheme to steal from CityTime, an automated payroll system that ballooned in cost to more than $700 million, nearly 10 times over budget. It also comes as the Education Department plans to invest more than half a billion dollars next year to upgrade Internet access in every school.
As in the CityTime case, the charges revealed on Thursday revealed the enormous responsibilities and power given to technology consultants working on city projects.
The former consultant, Willard Lanham, 58, surrendered to federal authorities on Thursday on charges of mail fraud and theft from a billion-dollar school-wiring and Internet-access project financed partly by the federal government.
Mr. Lanham, who was being paid $200,000 a year by the city, used layers of contractors and subcontractors to hide his scheme, and each of them profited a little from it, according to the federal complaint. He hired several people, including a brother, to work on the city contract, then billed another company for those hires, marking up the invoices. The company, for its part, charged Verizon or I.B.M., the two major vendors, more than what it had paid Mr. Lanham.
According to a report by Richard J. Condon, a special investigator for the city schools, Verizon and I.B.M., in turn, billed the Education Department, also marking up the amounts. Verizon marked up the bills by $800,000, and I.B.M. by $400,000, said Mr. Condon’s report, which he had forwarded to the federal authorities. “I.B.M. and Verizon, by their silence, facilitated this fraud,” the report said.
The companies have not been implicated in the criminal case, and none of their employees have been charged. In statements, both Verizon and I.B.M. said they had been cooperating with the authorities.
Verizon went a step further, saying it was “prepared to return any inappropriate profits” to the Education Department.
A lawyer for Mr. Lanham, Joseph W. Ryan, said in a statement that his client “denies that he is guilty of any wrongdoing,” calling him a “problem-solver extraordinaire” for the projects he managed for the department.
Mr. Lanham, known as Ross, was hired as a consultant for the Education Department in 2000, part of a team charged with handling the installation of Internet cables and connections in city schools, as well as a cost-savings system to centralize the department’s telephone bill payments. By 2002, he had become the projects’ manager, in charge of a costly contract and many people, with seemingly no oversight.
Just around that time, leadership of the schools’ technology team was shifting and, according to Mr. Condon, Mr. Lanham set out to operate freely, putting in motion a scheme that would go undetected for years, though some people began having suspicions about him. He often met vendors alone and e-mailed them without giving copies to anyone at the Education Department.
In all, he hired five consultants, including his brother, who worked from home and made $60 to $70 an hour. Mr. Lanham billed a cabling subcontractor, Custom Design Communications, an hourly rate of $225, pocketing the difference. That company billed Verizon roughly $250 an hour, then Verizon billed the Education Department $290, all for the same work, Mr. Condon’s report says.
The scheme developed in much the same way with every consultant Mr. Lanham hired and every subcontractor and vendor he coaxed into playing along, including I.B.M., the report said.
The federal complaint says that with the money he made, Mr. Lanham and his wife bought a Corvette, a Porsche and other equally expensive cars, and he tried his hand at real estate, building luxurious homes on a piece of land he owned on eastern Long Island.
Mr. Condon’s report said that Verizon officials questioned Mr. Lanham’s demand to bring in Custom Design Communications as a subcontractor, but acquiesced after he threatened to give their work to I.B.M. (Two phone numbers are listed for Custom Design Communications, but neither line was in service Thursday, and the company’s Web site was disabled.)
Mr. Lanham was fired in 2008, roughly two years after Mr. Condon’s office received anonymous complaints that he was getting kickbacks from vendors. The investigators could not find evidence of kickbacks, but while checking the accusations, they discovered that I.B.M. had been billing the Education Department for work performed by consultants hired by Mr. Lanham without authorization. The case broadened in 2008, after a senior director at the department’s Division of Instructional and Information Technology accused Mr. Lanham of hiring consultants and having their work billed by Verizon.
The schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, said in a statement, “We are entrusted with the public’s money, and should have been more vigilant in our oversight of this project.”
After Mr. Lanham was fired, the department said, it rolled out new safeguards against rogue consultants, including an in-house contract manager responsible for approving and monitoring purchases and payments and a unit charged with carrying out price and cost analyses for contracted services.
Mr. Lanham surrendered at 10 a.m. Thursday and appeared in court for a few minutes later in the day. United States Magistrate Judge Theodore H. Katz set bond at $250,000 and ordered Mr. Lanham to surrender his passport, get a job and not incur any new lines of credit.
Noah Rosenberg contributed reporting.
A version of this article appeared in print on April 29, 2011, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Consultant To the Schools Stole Millions, Officials Say.

Regrets & clarification.after signing one of Michelle Rhee's petitions by MP Goldenberg

This is the best piece I haver read summing up the serious problems we are faced with in education and why simple solutions are not the answers.  Please read and share.

Subject: Fwd: Letter to MI State Senator:

Sent with the permission of Michael Paul Goldenberg. This is for your
information. Michael is responding to State Senator Pavlov in MI (see
Pavlov's note at the bottom) in this letter.

Dear Senator Pavlov:

I appreciate your reply. However, there is some error: I didn't
intend to sign any petition designed to break unions and/or do away
with tenure. I fear that such is the plan in this country: destroy
teachers unions in order to deliver public schooling into the hands
of for-profit, private management companies so that those already
rich can get much richer.

Public education is, or should be, the backbone of core democratic
values. It is only through committing to free public education not
controlled by corporate interests that we can educate all citizens as
responsible, critical thinkers who consider the facts before making
decisions, and who participate in democracy rather than allowing a
small group of powerful citizens to do all the thinking for them. I
see the current war on teachers and public schools as a key
battleground for
the future of democracy in this country. And the petition I signed
(apparently in error) is on the WRONG side of that fight.

I agree that we need more cooperation between teachers,
administrators, and unions to improve the quality of public schools.
But the current movement to rate schools and teachers solely by
multiple-choice test scores is either blindly ignorant of what those
tests' serious limitations are in providing useful feedback to
teachers, students, parents, et al., or flat-out evil: a conscious
decision to ignore the facts.

Examine the policies of Finland, which is amongst the world leaders
in international tests of literacy, mathematics and science. It
supports teachers who aren't doing a great job by providing them
needed mentoring, professional development, etc. For those teachers
who don't improve, they offer even more help.

Yes, we should encourage teachers who clearly aren't professionals to
find other areas of employment. And we should also reward teachers
based on a variety of criteria. But we should be starting out doing
something that few government officials in this country are prepared
to commit to: raising the national level of compensation, not taking
away benefits, salary, and bargaining rights. Of course, if we paid
teachers an appropriate salary, perhaps there'd be a lot less
need for collective bargaining. But the current structure is based on
how we have as a nation historically denigrated teachers and we reap
what we've sown in that regard.

If you know of a truly valid and reliable set of measures of
teachers, do let me know. But I hope it's based on a great deal more
than kids' test scores on vapid, multiple-choice tests. I happen to
be an expert in such tests, and you'll need to do a lot of very
serious research to find something I don't know about them. I can
assure you that the United States is in a very tiny minority of
countries that uses them. That's not an accident: most countries
realize how worthless they are,
unless, of course, you're looking for a cheap, easy way to get "data"
to beat down public education.

If you're convinced that the current system is really useful and
meaningful, here's a challenge: you (and the rest of the members of
the Michigan legislature, state department of education, and, of
course, the governor, take the full battery of the high school tests
from the MME, including the ACT, and so will I. And we'll publish the
scores in all the newspapers in Michigan. Is it a deal? If not, why
is it fair to publish the scores of public schools and pretend that
what we see really distinguishes which schools, principals, teachers,
and, by inference, children?

The best assessments are formative, providing specific, constructive,
non-graded, non-comparative feedback that shows students where they
are are doing well, what needs work, and how to move forward. There
is ample research to support that view. There is no valid research to
support the view that the best way to improve teacher performance or
student learning is to use multiple-choice summative testing.

Furthermore, the current national testing craze, fueled by NCLB and
RttT, is leading us off a cliff we may not recover from for decades,
if ever. The mathematics that determines school "success" is
unsound, guaranteeing that eventually EVERY U.S. public school will
be judged to be failing, no matter how great it may be in actuality.
Any mathematically competent person should recognize how mad such an
evaluation system is. And how ethically and morally wrong it is.

The US has many great schools. They are most usually found in
communities and neighborhoods where there is relatively little
poverty and where parents are engaged in supporting children's
education. I happen to do work with high school mathematics teachers
at public schools in Detroit. Where I work is the antithesis of the
sorts of places where most kids have decent to great teachers,
adequate materials, and a safe physical environment. The problems I
see daily in Detroit aren't
the result of bad teachers who don't care (some, of course, are not
good, but that is true in all lines of work, in all communities, in
all states), but rather the fact that no one can reasonably expect
education alone to help overcome the enormous handicaps kids in
poverty are burdened with before they ever set foot inside a public
school, and the horrible conditions they have to come to grips with
every single minute of their lives when they leave the school

What is unconscionable is that the performance of our good, very
good, and excellent schools are being lumped in with that of schools
of poverty, urban and rural, and we are then told that all
our schools are inferior to a handful of elite private schools and
some pie-in-the-sky charter schools, both sorts of which are able to
pick whom they educate (and, thus, whom they test). Detroit Public
Schools take everyone, and where I work, there are on average more
than 50% special education students being MAINSTREAMED in all
classrooms. If you haven't visited lately, it's not that long a drive
from Lansing.

On my view, while there are most certainly places in this country
that are a national disgrace, low-performing schools of extreme
poverty are a symptom, not a cause, of that shame. We can, of course,
do much better, but it isn't going to be either by bashing teachers
and schools or by handing our public education over to greedy
for-profit management companies, hedge-fund managers, or billionaires
like Eli Broad, Bill Gates, the Walton Family, or the Koch Brothers.
It's far more likely to figure out how to improve entire communities
so that education can contribute
to improving the life of that community, not be held responsible for
the conditions there to begin with.

You have a critical responsibility to make important decisions about
the future of Michigan's children and its economic survival and
growth. Cutting back on funding for public schools isn't the answer.
Picking on nearly the entire teaching profession based on what a
relatively small minority of bad teachers do or fail to do isn't
going to make a single child better-educated. Making choices based on
slogans and bumper-stickers won't do it, either.

If you care to learn more about the serious short-comings of
high-stakes tests and how we can get back on track to support public
education, I'd be more than happy to take time to speak with you. But
I need you to know that I do NOT support the petition named in the
subject line: it's just one of those slick attempts to pull the wool
over the eyes of educational stake holders, slick enough that
apparently it fooled me temporarily into thinking it was something
meaningful and effective. I urge you strongly NOT to buy into the
notion that there's any concern for "great teachers" in this: it's
about getting rid of teachers with experience who are viewed as "too
expensive," to destroy tenure, and to make it easier for private
interests to increase profit margins when they take over public


Michael Paul Goldenberg


Quoting Senator Phil Pavlov <>:

>  Dear Michael:
>  Thank you for taking the time to contact me.  I sincerely appreciate
>  your feedback on the so-called "LIFO" issue.
>  Most public school districts rely on these provisions to determine
>  layoffs in difficult budget situations.  While such an arrangement may
>  make sense in some cases, it's important we recognize that not all
>  teachers are the same.  I agree that a number of factors should be
>  considered in determining the effectiveness of public school teachers,
>  and only the best should be retained in positions where they affect our
>  children's learning.
>  It's important to make the distinction that changes to "LIFO" policies,
>  and other performance related issues, are not an attack on the teaching
>  profession.  These efforts are intended to recognize new approaches to
>  instruction and evaluations.  Our world is rapidly changing, and we
>  cannot be afraid of new ways of doing things.  We know the current
>  approach to layoffs and compensation does not highlight or reward people
>  who go the extra mile for our students.  As chair of the Senate
>  Education Committee, I look forward to addressing these issues with my
>  colleagues.
>  Please feel free to contact me again with your questions and concerns
>  You can also stay in contact with me on Facebook, or by signing up for
>  my newsletter at
>  <> .
>  Sincerely,
>  Phil Pavlov
>  State Senator
>  District 2

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What’s Behind the War on Class Size 

By Jeff Bryant on 04/27/2011 – 3:20 pm PDT -- Politics
ShareThis20 17 1Reddit02
For all those out there who are clamoring for “market-based” approaches to education reform, please tell me this: What kind of a business slashes inventory in the face of increasing demand?
Because that is exactly what’s going on with public education in America today. Many states that are experiencing the sharpest increases in student enrollment (pdf) are, at the same time, mandating the most extreme cutbacks in education spending, effectively reducing the inventory of education opportunity available to the nation’s children and youth. Just take a look at Texas.
Texas this year added the highest number of new students to its system of any state in the country, taking in nearly 85,000 new students. Faced with demand increases of this magnitude, how did members of the Republican-dominated state legislature respond? By putting forth bills that would reduce the state’s public school budget by at least 13 percent — nearly $3.5 billion a year. According to the New York Times, “School administrators predict that as many as 100,000 school employees would have to be laid off to absorb the cuts.”
In Florida, a state that added over 15,500 new students, education cuts proposed by its Tea Party-backed governor could lead to 20,000 teacher layoffs
In Georgia, which ranked fourth in the number of new student additions, yet another hard-charging Republican-led administration has pushed through sharp reductions in school allocations, leading to, according to Georgia PTA (powerpoint) cuts of $6,000 per classroom or $711.06 per student enrolled, even without adjusting for inflation.
Virginia, a state with smaller but still significant increases in enrollment, cut $341 million in state funding in fiscal 2010.
Free market-minded Democratic leaders are jumping on the cut-happy bandwagon as well, with Colorado’s governor proposing to “drop school spending to 2007-08 levels” and reduce average per-pupil funding by $500, despite the addition of almost 11,000 more students to school enrollments. And state leaders in Illinois welcomed the addition of over 14,000 new students this year by slashing early childhood, bilingual education, after-school programs, and reimbursements for school; cutting truancy and alternative education programs in half; and ending student health and safety programs completely.

Cuts of this magnitude will have new and dramatic impacts on what parents will encounter next fall when they bring their children back to school after the summer break. When schools have had to cut back on spending in the past, what that mostly entailed was eliminating non-teaching positions “on the periphery,” like janitors and school psychologists, or delayed equipment upgrades and building maintenance. Then in more severe cases, when schools were hit with “across the board” reductions, it meant getting rid of targeted services such as the reading specialists who help kids with dyslexia or the school’s foreign language program. As long as your kid could read okay and wasn’t interested in speaking Mandarin, what did you care? But cuts being enacted across the country today go far beyond that – cutting into teaching positions and “core programs.”
As teacher and edu-bloger Anthony Cody explains, when the state of California, another high-growth enrollment state, considers cutting $25 billion from state education spending, the ramifications for his school in inner-city Oakland are that “one teacher in four got a pink slip, as did every principal. If these cuts go through, we will see class sizes increase to 35 to 40 students per class, and we will lose every single counselor and librarian. Special education students currently receiving the benefit of smaller classes and specialized instruction will be merged into regular classes, and even the aides that assist them will be laid off, or given caseloads of dozens to support.”
In other words, the new target for state government cutbacks on education is classroom teachers themselves and school children who are the neediest in terms of extra time and attention. The unavoidable outcome is larger class sizes for virtually all children and the teacher-force being spread thinner and thinner throughout every community.
Fiscally conservative governors aren’t the only ones spearheading the campaign against teachers and class sizes. On the national level, the rich and the powerful on all sides of the political spectrum are helping to soften the target. Bill Gates started off the enabling of the budget hawks when he declared that lifting caps on class sizes would magically get more students in front of the very best teachers. By “identifying the top 25 percent of teachers and asking them to take on four or five more students,” he opined, schools could somehow improve instructional outcomes and spend way less on personnel. Never mind that there currently is no reliable system for actually doing this, and indeed may never be.
Unfortunately, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was quick to chime in with support for this pipedream, calling for “modest but smartly targeted increases in class size.” Bolstering his case for rethinking the benefits of small class sizes, the Center of American Progress released its latest in a long string of misguided education studies proclaiming the “inefficiency” of small class sizes. Inefficient “compared to what?” asked school finance wiz Bruce Baker, pointing out that CAP never even considers the supposed greater efficiencies of potential alternatives.
The main obstacle to this concerted assault on class size is that parents think that keeping classes small is really, really important. In fact, they’ve actually voted for it all across the country. Given this strong parent and voter backing behind class size limits, Education Week recaps:
The national ratio of students to their teachers fell between 1980 and 2008, from 17.6 to 15.8 students per public school teacher, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Because the statistics count special education and other specialized teachers who normally have much smaller classes than regular teachers do, the U.S. Department of Education estimates the current average class size at more like 25 students.
Parents recognize intuitively that smaller class sizes make a difference. Rachel Levy, a parent herself as well as a former teacher, explains:
Teaching is not like showing a movie in a movie theater where everyone has the same experience no matter how many people are in theater, nor is learning a passive experience. Teaching can be more like being a server in a restaurant: after a certain point, the more tables you have to wait on, the worse your service is going to be, especially if each table is full, with different orders, and even different menus. I don’t want my own children going to a school that is modeled after a McDonald’s, nor do I want as a teacher to be the equivalent of a McDonald’s worker.
But parents’ approval of smaller class sizes isn’t based on intuition alone. There is a significant body of research validating the benefits of small class sizes. Leonie Haimson, parent advocate and Executive Director of the grassroots education group Class Size Matters, provides a lot of clarity here. Writing in Huffington Post , she explains
The STAR experiment from Tennessee, widely regarded as one of the best studies in the history of public education, found significantly different outcomes for students depending on what class size they were randomly assigned within this range. Those who were placed in smaller classes of 13-17 students scored significantly higher on tests, received better grades and exhibited improved attendance and behavior than those assigned to classes of 22-26 students.
The benefits of reduced class size lasted throughout a student’s educational career. In fourth, sixth and eighth grade, students who were in a smaller class in the early grades were ahead of their peers academically. In high school, they had lower drop-out rates, higher grades and received better results on their college entrance exams.
That few people – outside of parents, educators, and the people who listen to them – understand the real impact of spending cuts and increasing class sizes is understandable because the media hardly ever does any reporting about it. In fact, a new study from Brookings last week found that in 2009 “only 1.4 percent of national news coverage from television, newspapers, news Web sites, and radio dealt with education.” 2008, an election year, was even worse when “only 0.7 percent of national news coverage involved education.”
Leaders in our state houses and federal government should know better. And actually they probably really do. But rather than working to provide parents and communities the schools they want, the determined agenda is to turn schools into places that parents will ultimately reject, with overcrowded classrooms, beleaguered teachers delivering one-size-fits all instruction, and rapidly diminishing attention to the specific needs of their sons and daughters. And then everyone will blame educators.
And although the politicians, philanthropists, and pundits may like to talk about how hard times, competition, and cutting “fat” makes for “leaner and meaner” organizations, they also know that enterprises that reduce their products and services during a time of increasing demand lose out to their competitors and eventually go out of business. Which is, come to think of it, exactly what the self-anointed “reformers” are aiming to do.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

NYC Parents Sue Bloomberg for $100 Million Over Cathie Black Damage

For immediate release:  APRIL 27, 2011    
Also In This Release
ADVISORY: Albany Court Argument This Thursday Regarding Cathie Black Waiver
Advocates for Justice
            212-228-6320 x 8
Arthur Schwartz, Esq.            917-923-8136
Chris Owens, Exec. Dir.         718-514-4874
New York City Parents Sue Bloomberg for $100 Million 
Over Cathie Black "Damage" 

"This Mayor Has Committed Misfeasance and Our Children Have Suffered"

Advocates for Justice, a public interest law firm, today filed initial papers for a civil lawsuit against Mayor Michael Bloomberg on behalf of a class of all New York City public school parents .  The Mayor is charged with committing "misfeasance of office" through the appointment of Ms. Cathleen P. Black as Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and thereby damaging the education of public school children in the City of New York. 

The 14 Claimant parents, along with the newly formed New York City Parents Union, are demanding $100 million in compensatory damages from Mr. Bloomberg personally as the individual now held accountable under New York State's education law for the performance of the public education system, as well as a public apology from the Mayor for his handling of Ms. Black's appointment and brief tenure in office.

A Notice of Claim setting forth the nature of the lawsuit was filed today by Advocates for Justice with the Office of New York City Comptroller John Liu.  This legal action -- possibly the first of its kind in the history of New York City -- claims that the Mayor had or should have had full knowledge of Ms. Black's inability to perform at an appropriate level in the position of Chancellor.

Section 3(f) of the Notice Claim states that "Michael Bloomberg, as Mayor, has a fiduciary obligation to act with the utmost of prudence and responsibility in running the New York City school system.  He either knew, or should have known, that the appointment of Black was not in the best interests of the system, but he appointed her nonetheless.  By so acting, Michael Bloomberg breached his fiduciary duty to the parents of all school children in New York City public schools and is guilty of 'misfeasance of office.' "

The parents want Mayor Bloomberg to place $100 million of his own money -- or approximately $1 million for each day of Ms. Black's nearly 100-day tenure -- into a fund used exclusively for the training and development of teachers and supervisors as compensation for the damage to the morale and performance of staff and teachers, which therefore impaired the education of students.

Arthur Z. Schwartz, attorney for the Claimants, emphasized that the Notice of Claim was a precursor to a lawsuit against Bloomberg personally, not one against the City of New York.  "The Mayor's ego, and his insistence on 'selling' the school system rather than building it from the ground up, led to this disaster.  The Mayor took a lot from the City's school children with this error, and he should be required to make repairs - in a sum that he is uniquely qualified to do."

Ms. Mariama Sanoh, an active Brooklyn parent who is a Claimant and a founder of the New York City Parents Union, said that Mayor Bloomberg abused his power.  "When outraged parents stated that Cathie Black was unqualified to be Chancellor, Mayor Bloomberg accused us -- the real stakeholders in our children's education -- of playing politics.  But it was Mayor Bloomberg who abused his power by appointing someone with no education experience to lead the nations largest public school system.  And it was Mayor Bloomberg who played politics with the New York State Education Commissioner to get unqualified Cathie Black approved for the job.  The Mayor has committed misfeasance and our children have suffered.  There have to be consequences for these bad choices."

Ms. Shino Tanikawa, a Claimant and member of Manhattan's Community Education Council 2, demanded consistency in how education matters are treated.  "Accountability has been the foundation of Mayor Bloomberg's alleged "reform" agenda, yet he himself has not been accountable to us for any of his misguided decisions.  Our children have suffered his arrogance and egotism enough, and we, the parents, demand that the Mayor now be held accountable."

Central Brooklyn parent Muba Yarofulani is a founding member of the New York City Parents Union, Co-President of the Coalition for Public Education (CPE), and President of the District 18 Presidents Council.  She objected to Mayor Bloomberg's dominance over the public education system.  "The 1.1 million students in New York City's public schools deserved a qualified Chancellor.  Mayor Bloomberg refused to hear the cries of parents from communities like mine; we knew that Cathie Black should not be appointed.  This Mayor's dictatorship over our education system is failing our children, and I am one of those mothers who will continue to battle his wealth and political might.  Mayor Bloomberg must be held accountable for his failures.  Our children must see that there are consequences for the rich just as there are for the poor."

Ms. Mona Davids, a Bronx charter school parent, and a founder of the New York City Parents Union, pronounced Mayor Bloomberg's behavior as corrupt.  "Outside of New York City, when an elected official appoints a friend, family member or crony with no relevant experience to a high profile job, it is called 'graft' and an abuse of power," said Ms. Davids.  "Mayor Bloomberg's appointment of his friend, Cathie Black, without first conducting a national search or ensuring that she had the qualifications to lead the nation's largest school system, was pure corruption and disrespectful to NYC parents, students and educators.  Mayor Bloomberg's appointment showed our children that, even when you are not qualified for a job, it's not what you know but who you know."

Hon. Chris Owens, a Brooklyn Claimant and former Community School Board President, focused on the need for unorthodox measures.  "This Mayor has bought three elections, including a third term in office!  The political process has not provided recourse for concerned parents because the Mayoral elections have been corrupted by the power of money.  So we have to do something to show everyone that the disastrous ramming of Cathie Black down our throats warrants more than a few days of critical media stories.  The Mayor owes this City and he has the means to compensate our public education system for a portion of the harm that he inflicted upon it."

Ms. Julie Cavanagh is a teacher in Brooklyn who supports the parents' lawsuit.  "I am glad to see legal action being taken directly against Mayor Bloomberg.  Mayor Bloomberg speaks about accountability for schools, students and teachers, but never is he held accountable for the disastrous and devastating decisions he has made for our schools and our children. It is time for this Mayor to be held accountable.  As if over-testing, overcrowding, and overtly ignoring the voices of stakeholders were not enough, Bloomberg appointed and vigorously defended a Chancellor we all knew was unqualified for our children. The Mayor's actions have caused irreparable harm to our school system, and it is time for him to answer to the people he was elected to serve." 

A copy of the Notice of Claim may be requested by contacting Chris Owens.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Charters Toss 23%

Charters 'nix 23%' of kids

Boys will be boys, but nonpublic schools are quick to expel average little rascals

Last Updated: 7:32 AM, April 24, 2011
Posted: 12:10 AM, April 24, 2011
He called a classmate a "spaghetti noodle" because she was skinny. And he led the "Rubberband Gang" that launched pellets of paper across the classroom. But now sixth-grader Tyrique Royal, 12, is facing expulsion from Fahari Academy Charter School on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn -- for being a kid.
The school insists it's simply adhering to a strict "no-bullying" policy parents are well aware of, but student advocates say Tyrique's case illustrates the disparity between how charter and public schools handle difficult kids.
In the public-school system, students cannot be expelled if they are under 17, and principals cannot suspend a student for more than five consecutive days.
TROUBLED: Ty rique Royal has ADHD, and mom Ruth Hardy is fighting his expulsion from school.
Photos: Helayne Seidman
TROUBLED: Ty rique Royal has ADHD, and mom Ruth Hardy is fighting his expulsion from school.
Ty rique Royal  and mom Ruth Hardy
Ty rique Royal and mom Ruth Hardy
For serious offenses like dealing drugs or using weapons, a superintendent must intervene to suspend the student for longer. Only two students in the city have been expelled in the past three years -- and both were ousted for reaching the age of 21, a city spokeswoman said.
But charter schools set their own suspension rules and don't report expulsion data -- although experts believe thousands of difficult students are dumped every year to public schools.
A study of eight middle-school charters conducted last year by the United Federation of Teachers found the average attrition rate was 23 percent. Some of those students were held back a grade, but the numbers indicate that many students were forced to leave or were expelled, according to the report.
Tyrique's mother, Ruth Hardy, admits her son is not a model student.
Hardy, a single mother who works at a hospital, secured a spot for her son at the new charter, which is operated by the city's Department of Education, in 2009. Tyrique has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and his mom hoped the school -- which touts its rigorous academics, character education and structured environment -- would help with his impulsive behavior and concentration problems.
"He's more active than the average kid," conceded Hardy.
She told the school about her son's diagnosis, and Fahari administrators agreed to work with Tyrique. They assured her that a class of about 25 students had a special-ed teacher and a regular teacher in the classroom, she said.
But this year, Tyrique has spent more time on suspension than in the classroom.
In January, he and his friends used "sporks" in the cafeteria to fling food at each other. Tyrique was suspended for three days. He often talks and "clowns" during class, and has trouble paying attention. He roughhouses with friends and gets out of his seat without permission. He yells answers out of turn.
On March 16, the school decided to wash its hands of him.
Fahari Executive Director Catina Venning suspended Tyrique for "singing, talking and walking," and said he couldn't return to school without parental supervision, according to a letter sent home. She told Hardy to prepare for an expulsion hearing.
Tyrique hasn't been back to school since March, while his mother waits for a second hearing, when she will learn her son's fate. For now, the school provides three hours of tutoring a day at the Brooklyn Public Library.
"I feel like I'm trapped," said Hardy. "I feel a level of intimidation there. I told them he has ADHD, and that he's on medication. They knew what they were getting when they accepted him."
Venning defended her school's strict anti-bullying rules. The school has a zero-tolerance policy toward name-calling, she said, and students are not allowed to touch each other.
"Parents are supportive of these rules until they find that it was their child who broke them," she said. "Play-fighting and name calling counts as bullying at our school. You're not allowed to put your hand on another student."
But charter parents complain that school rules can get out of hand.
"Too often, charter schools are quick to exclude students for minor problems instead of giving them the behavioral support they need to stay and succeed in school," said Randi Levine, staff attorney for Advocates for Children.
But charter advocates said one disruptive student can taint the learning environment for an entire class -- and it's the school's duty to remove that student from the classroom.
"A charter has been set up to have a more disciplined and structured environment that's better for learning," said Peter Murphy, policy director for the New York Charter Schools Association. "Good school culture does not allow a persistently disruptive student to negatively affect the learning of everyone else in the class."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pedro Noguera Advice for Walcott

Mona Davids:
Good article from Noguera. Maybe he's starting to get it. He says:
"If he wants to reduce some of the polarization in the city he should not
allow charter schools to displace public schools that are functioning

My question: So, what about the SUNY CSI schools like HSA, Uncommon etc.
he's approving knowing full well the communities don't want them. Stop
approving charters that do not have their own space.

More comments: Ellen

There's quite a few closed Catholic Schools that the funders could rent....if they are willing to make a real commitment to education and not investment. The real secret is that these funders aren't sure that their pet charter school project will work so why invest in bricks and mortar....or kids?

Diane Ravitch:
Really, it is an outrage that funders with so much money--some are billionaires--insist on free public space, displacing other people's children, instead of buying or renting a building of their own. Piggy.

 Please watch this video--all the way to the end. It is worth it. A meeting of the LA school board, discussing charter school expansion.

Pedro Noguera

New York’s public schools don’t need a savior or a superman. We need a
leader with the maturity and vision to draw on the talent and resources in
this city.

By Pedro Noguera

Chancellor Walcott is right: we need to set a new tone to solve the
problems confronting New York City’s public schools. For the past few
months we’ve been distracted by issues that have prevented us from
addressing the complex issues that truly affect the quality of education
children in our city receive. We need a new tone and a new direction.

We’ve spent too much time debating whether or not we should layoff
teachers based on seniority or on some measure of their ability, whether
or not we have too many or not enough charter schools, and whether or not
Cathie Black is qualified to lead the largest school system in the nation.

Chancellor Walcott has started out on the right foot. His messages to
teachers have been constructive and conciliatory; he’s demonstrated that
he is knowledgeable about the budget and he’s impressed members of the
legislature with his command over the issues confronting the schools. He’s
even made waffles for schoolchildren.

Now the hard work begins and the Chancellor will need more than a positive
message. For all his strengths as a leader, Chancellor Klein left his
predecessor a host of problems, and many of the key figures from his
management team have departed. In his last year we learned that the huge
gains in test scores that we thought had been achieved were not as
impressive as originally reported. We also learned that 80% of public
school graduates were required to take remedial courses when they enrolled
at CUNY. The state of New York has identified 54 schools that must be
transformed or turned around, and Mr. Klein left behind no strategy for
providing meaningful help to these schools. The very fact that over 100
schools were closed under his leadership is the clearest evidence that
many of the reforms that he and Mayor Bloomberg promoted were not
effective in improving the schools needing the most help.

Under these circumstances Mr. Walcott cannot merely stay the course. He
will need a new approach, one that will make it possible for Mayor
Bloomberg to fulfill his promise to improve public education.

In the spirit of adopting a more constructive tone, here are a few
friendly suggestions for the new Chancellor:

Stop pitting charter schools against public schools. Charter schools were
originally intended to serve as laboratories for innovation and changes
that were more difficult to pull off in the heavily regulated public
schools. The Chancellor should actively encourage the development of
charters such as the new ones recently authorized by SUNY, which will
serve homeless children and at-risk students, including those who were
once incarcerated. He should also actively encourage schools that will
take responsibility for turning around failing schools, like Democracy
Prep did recently when it took over Harlem Day Charter School. If he wants
to reduce some of the polarization in the city he should not allow charter
schools to displace public schools that are functioning well.

Develop a team at the DOE that can intervene effectively in struggling
schools by assessing the schools’ weaknesses and strengths, and applying
interventions that research has shown are effective. Shutting a school
down should be the last resort, utilized only when other measures have

Focus on the most vulnerable students: students with learning
disabilities, English language learners (especially the long-term ELLs)
and over-age and under-credited high school students. These students have
the highest rates of failure and many of the “best” schools have avoided
serving them. Provide schools that serve these students with additional
resources and create incentives for teachers with a track record of
effectiveness to work in them.

Reach out to parents and develop strategies to include them in
decision-making on matters pertaining to school and district governance.
Schools improve when parents are involved and parents will be more likely
to play a constructive role if they are treated with respect.

Use your high performing schools (especially those that serve the most
disadvantaged students) as professional development schools, where
teachers and principals from struggling schools can see and learn from
professionals who have figured out how to generate and sustain success.

Work with the union to devise a fair system for evaluating teachers and
negotiate a process for removing those who are ineffective or uncommitted
as expeditiously as possible.

Recruit and retain experienced administrators to work with you in managing
the system. Joel Klein had trouble retaining experienced educators, in
part because he never seemed to value the experience that they bring to
the job. There’s nothing wrong with recruiting talent from a variety of
fields but you will need people who understand curriculum, assessment and
how to create conditions in schools that foster excellent teaching and
life-long learning. And don’t be afraid of hiring people who will disagree
with you or who may challenge your assumptions. That’s the only way you
will be able to solve some of the complex problems facing our schools.
There is much more that can and should be done, but this is a good place
to start. New York’s public schools don’t need a savior or a superman. We
need a leader with the maturity and vision to draw on the talent and
resources in this city to create the best urban school system in the
nation. I hope Mr. Walcott can be that leader.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the school
that Democracy Prep took over. Democracy Prep took over Harlem Day Charter
School not Harlem Village Academy.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Critiquing "The Cartel" and "Waiting for Superman"

Waiting for School Reform: Charter Schools as the Latest Imperfect Panacea

by Alan R. Sadovnik � March 17, 2011

This commentary uses the documentaries "The Cartel" and "Waiting for Superman" to critique the current neo-liberal agenda of over-emphasizing the success of charter schools and painting traditional public schools for low-income children as dismal failures. The author provides empirical evidence to the contrary and argues that a more balanced agenda that supports the replication of excellent models of urban schools, both charter and traditional, be adopted.

In the Imperfect Panacea (1995), historian of education Henry Perkinson analyzed the never-ending quest of Americans to use the schools to improve society and the limits and possibilities of these efforts. During the past year, charter schools have received significant attention as the latest solution in policy discussions of urban school reform. Documentaries such as “The Cartel” and “Waiting for Superman” have portrayed charter schools as successful alternatives to failing traditional urban public schools, whose failures are attributed to teacher unions and their support of teacher tenure and layoffs based on seniority. This critique has been part of an over two-decade conservative and neoliberal celebration of market based choice reforms, with reformers arguing that school choice through charters and vouchers are necessary to destroy the public school monopoly and to provide the competition required to improve urban schools. Borrowing from the logic of Diane Ravitch’s Left Back (2000), neo-liberals turned the progressive left’s argument about equity on its head, suggesting that traditional public schools rather than providing equality of opportunity for low-income children have systematically reproduced inequalities through failing schools for these students, a claim reminiscent of Bowles and Gintis’s Schooling in Capitalist America (1976).

This neo-liberal agenda has become an important feature of official federal, state, and local policy. At the federal level, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s signature program, Race to the Top (RTT), requires states to expand the number of charter schools and to implement Valued Added Models (VAM) of teacher evaluations based on student achievement to qualify for RTT funding. At the state level, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has pledged to eliminate teacher tenure and seniority based layoffs, increase the number of charter schools, and pass voucher legislation. At the local level, Democratic Newark Mayor, Cory Booker, with the influx of a $100 million dollar gift from Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg and another $100 million in matching funds, has initiated a school reform process that includes an expansion of charter schools. Also in Newark, the two-year-old Newark Charter School Fund, with over $20 million in funding from among others the Walton, Broad, and Gates Foundations, has embarked on increasing the number of charter schools in Newark.

In response to the neo-liberal claims about the superiority of charter schools, a variety of researchers have critiqued such claims. These empirical researchers include Margaret Raymond at the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford (2009a), Martin Carnoy and his colleagues at the Economic Policy Institute (2005), Bruce Baker (2010b) at Rutgers University and most interestingly, Diane Ravitch (2010a), whose most recent book provides a scathing analysis of reforms that she originally supported, including standards based reforms and charter schools. Their critiques have included empirical evidence demonstrating that charter schools are not superior to traditional public schools in educating low-income children and that their intense support is related to the overall neo-liberal agenda of privatizing public education. Given the complexity of the charter school and school choice debates, this essay will use the films “The Cartel” and “Waiting for Superman” to examine the efficacy of school choice in general and charter schools in particular, their role in the privatization, and their place, if any, in improving urban schools.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are public schools that are independent from their local school districts and free from many of the regulations applied to traditional public schools; in return, they are held accountable for student performance. In essence, they swap red tape for results, also referred to as an ‘‘autonomy for accountability’’ trade within the movement. The ‘‘charter’’ itself is a performance contract that details the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. It is a formal, legal document between those who establish and run a school (‘‘operators’’) and the public body that authorizes and monitors it (‘‘authorizers’’). Charter schools are, in theory, autonomous. They work in the ways they think best, for charter schools are self-governing institutions with wide control over their own curricula, instruction, staffing, budget, internal organization, calendar, and so on.

As a public school, a charter school is paid for with tax dollars (no tuition charges) and must be open to all students in the district. And whereas charter schools can be started by virtually anyone (teachers, parents, nonprofit agencies, for-profit organizations, community members, etc.), charters are supposed to demonstrate results to the public agencies that review and approve their charters as well as monitor and audit their progress. Authorization may be handled by a single agency, such as the state Department of Education, or a state may have multiple authorizing agencies, including local school boards, community colleges, state colleges, and universities (Hill et al., 2001). Accountability is a critical component of the charter movement; if a charter school fails to meet the provisions of its charter, it can lose its funding and be forced to shut its doors.

Proponents of charter schools have long argued that they provide a more effective and efficient alternative for low-income children, especially in urban areas. Often tied to the school choice and voucher movements, advocates believe that charter schools, freed from the bureaucratic constraints of traditional urban public schools, will provide a better education at lower cost. However, in 2004, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), long a skeptic if not an opponent of charter schools, issued a statistical report finding that district public schools outperformed charter schools nationally (Nelson, Rosenberg, & Van Meter, 2004). Immediately following the release of this document, a group of education researchers, some long associated with the school choice and voucher movements, were signatories to a full-page advertisement in The New York Times condemning the AFT study for sloppy research. It argued that the study failed to control sufficiently for student background variables, used one year of data rather than multiyear data sets, and did not measure the value-added effects of charter schools on their students, many of whom came to charters far below state proficiency levels.

In 2006, the National Center for Educational Statistics released its report on charter schools. Its study design satisfied some of the criteria for acceptable research outlined in the Times ad and concluded that, after controlling for student demographic characteristics, students in traditional public schools had higher overall achievement in fourth grade reading and mathematics. These differences were not statistically significant for charter schools affiliated with a public school district, while unaffiliated charter schools scored significantly lower than traditional public schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). These findings were confirmed by a comparison of achievement in public, private, and charter schools (Lubienski & Lubienski, 2006).

Charter school advocates (see Center for Educational Reform, 2005), however, argued that charter schools often admit students who have not performed well in public schools and that it takes time for charter schools to have an impact. Given the lack of statewide student-level data, however, the Department of Education and Lubienski studies could not examine the value-added effects of district and charter schools when controlling for student background factors. Hoxby (2004), a leading proponent of charter schools and school choice, released studies that compared charter schools nationally with their neighboring district schools (as a way of controlling for student background factors and comparing them to the schools where the charter school students would have remained if they did not have choice) and of students on waiting lists for charter schools who remained in the neighboring district schools. Both studies indicated that students in charter schools showed higher achievement than those who remained in the neighboring district schools, even after controlling for student background variables. Miron and Nelson (2001, 2002) argue that we still do not know enough about student achievement in charter schools and often do not have the type of data needed to effectively evaluate charter school performance. In 2009, The Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford released its national charter school report, which indicated that there were wide variations in the quality of charter schools in the United States and that, on the whole, charter school students performed below district public school students (Center for Research on Educational Outcomes, 2009a). At the same time, Hoxby (2009) issued a report on New York City charter schools that, while controlling for a variety of variables including family background, showed that the students in these schools outperformed students in New York City district schools. Additionally, she issued a critique of the CREDO study, which resulted in a series of written debates between CREDO and Hoxby (for these, see CREDO, 2009b website:

The Attack on Urban District Public Schools and the Glorification of Charter Schools: Waiting for Superman and The Cartel

“The Cartel” by Bob Bowdon, is a documentary on the “failure” of public education in the United States, and uses New Jersey and its 31 low-income urban Abbott districts as evidence for this failure, especially in cities. Davis Guggenheim’s “Waiting for Superman,” which has received far more national distribution, attention, and critical acclaim, uses the experiences of a number of families attempting to gain acceptance for their children in a number of high quality charter schools, with few available seats. The film provides contrasts to these high quality charter schools, including KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) and those parts of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), including its Promise Academies, with failing traditional public schools and presents heart-wrenching scenes of families who do not win the lottery for admission. Both films make the argument that zip code should not be destiny and that school choice is the alternative to the problem. Guggenheim portrays former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee and HCZ’s founder Geoffrey Canada as its heroes, and teacher unions and especially AFT President Randi Weingarten as its villains.

Although the research certainly indicates that traditional public education has significant problems, or that teacher unions are free from blame, these films are often simplistic, biased, non-research-based and polemical. As skilled documentary filmmakers, both are careful to point out that there are exceptions to its cases, that is, there are excellent district public schools and excellent public school teachers; however, they never provide examples of such schools or teachers nor do they provide examples of poor private and charter schools or their teachers. To those committed to the improvement of educational opportunities for all children, but even more so for children from low-income backgrounds, in both district and charter schools, these films are one-sided and fail to present a comprehensive analysis of the complex issues that are addressed. Some examples:

Both films perpetuate the “No Excuses” ideology of Abigail and Stephen Thurnstrom, Whitney Tilson of Democrats for Educational Reform, and others who accuse those who believe poverty affects student achievement of being racist, having low expectations for low-income students, and believing that schools alone cannot reduce the achievement gap. As sociologists of education have consistently argued, for example in No Child Left Behind and the Elimination of the Achievement Gap (2007), a collection of articles by some of the most respected sociologists of education in the country, this is a simplistic argument that ignores four decades of research. Although schools have the potential and obligation to close the achievement gap, it is also the case that poverty matters. It is not an excuse, but it is an important factor in school success and failure. Schools must be part of the solution, but families, communities, and the creation of economic and occupational opportunities are also central. Even Diane Ravitch, whose work was responsible for this point of view has now rejected it in her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010).

Bowdon’s reporting on school choice presents as fact that students who receive vouchers are more successful than those left behind in the public schools. Further, he asserts that vouchers have improved the achievement of students in voucher schools and through competition have the potential to improve zoned public schools. To support this, he interviews Paul Peterson of Harvard, a long-time supporter of vouchers. However, he does not interview John Witte (2001), the original evaluator of the Milwaukee voucher program, whose findings are more nuanced and less clearly supportive of the positive effects of vouchers than Peterson’s, nor Emily Van Dunk, whose book on Milwaukee vouchers (2003) is far more comprehensive and argues that, given the lack of accountability in the Milwaukee voucher program, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make the kind of claims that Peterson makes. He also does not interview Kim Metcalf (2004), whose studies of the Cleveland voucher program found that there was no significant difference in achievement between voucher students and their public school peers, after controlling for socioeconomic and other background variables.

With respect to charter schools, both Bowdon and Guggenheim correctly illustrate that many are highly successful and some are on par with the best public and independent schools in the U.S. Bowdon features North Star Academy and Robert Treat Academy in Newark, both of which are featured in Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom's book No Excuses (2003) along with KIPP Academies, and Guggenheim features KIPP and HCZ schools among others. Although they both parenthetically point out that there are less successful charter schools, they do not chronicle any of them. Jason Barr (2006) at Rutgers-Newark and Bruce Baker (2010b) at Rutgers-New Brunswick have independently compared charter and district-operated public schools in all of New Jersey's low-income Abbott districts and found that there was little or no overall difference in student achievement and that, on the whole, charters schools are among the highest and lowest-performing schools in the state. Gary Miron (2010) at Western Michigan University has conducted the most statewide studies of charter schools and his views are balanced and thoughtful but neither film provides an interview with him. Bowdon interviews Norman Atkins, co-founder of North Star and founder of the Uncommon School Network, but does not interview heads of some of the struggling charter schools in New Jersey about the challenges they face.

Both films provide a simplistic and non-researched based comparison of zoned, charter, and private schools, incorrectly painting a picture that choice schools are good and zoned schools in urban areas are bad, although they tangentially cite exceptions to the latter claim. They ignore the research of Christopher and Sally Lubienski, whose article in the American Education Research Journal (2006) found that when family background is controlled, district public schools outperform both private and charter schools.

They both argue that competition improves everything and infer that market based solutions to educational problems are the best approaches to school improvement. One of the interviewees in “The Cartel” supports this by asserting that higher education, with its open competition among state, private, and for-profit institutions is evidence to support the claim. However, over the past 25 years there is little evidence to support this. Rather, market competition among colleges and universities may have improved elite public and private colleges and universities. However, a significant number of non-elite public, private, and for-profit institutions have often engaged in a “Race to the Bottom” as they have lowered admissions and graduation standards, eliminated programs and courses in the humanities and social sciences, reduced full time faculty to barely 30% of all faculty (for all colleges and universities), and often debased the intellectual foundations of a traditional university education. The creation of a consumer culture in higher education at most colleges and universities has transformed professors into customer service representatives who often are forced to entertain rather than educate their students. So much for the market!

Both documentaries dismiss the view that money is essential to school improvement, but cite no evidence other than that some charter schools do better for less. As a film on New Jersey, “The Cartel” fails to acknowledge the evidence in New Jersey of the effects of the landmark Abbott v. Burke decisions on student achievement in the Abbott districts. Contrary to what the state's voucher proponent E3 (Excellent Education for Everyone) (2009) and the Lexington Institute (2010) have argued, New Jersey student achievement data indicate significant improvements in the Abbott districts, especially at the fourth grade level (Sadovnik, 2011). While such improvements have not occurred at the same rate at the eighth and eleventh grade levels, and significant problems remain to be dealt with in our urban schools, this evidence should have been reported. To recognize both the successes achieved and the work yet to be done hardly makes one an apologist for what Bowdon terms the public school cartel and monopoly. Bowdon interviews individuals who are long time voucher and charter supporters and critics of the need for increased school spending, but fails to interview Paul Tractenberg, Founding Director of Rutgers-Newark's Institute on Education Law and Policy (2010) or David Sciarra, Director of the Education Law Center in Newark (2010) (both of whom have decades of experience representing children in New Jersey's urban districts in Abbott v. Burke), or Michael Rebell (2009), former Executive Director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity in New York City, now at Teachers College, Columbia University, about the effects of additional spending, particularly in low-income districts, or Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, whose new book The Flat World and Education,  (2010) makes a powerful case that New Jersey in general and Abbott v. Burke in particular represent the successful effects of school funding on student achievement in low-income students. Bowdon’s calculations of Abbott school spending using per class costs, rather than the conventional per-pupil costs are obviously used for shock value. He failed to interview school finance experts such as Rutgers’s Bruce Baker (2010a) and Penn’s Margaret Goertz (2009) on the veracity of these calculations.

The individuals interviewed in both films are long-time advocates of school choice and vouchers or they are affiliated with the Center for Education Reform, The Black Alliance for Educational Options, and Educational Excellence for Everyone, the leading voucher and choice organizations in the U.S. and New Jersey. They did not interview individuals with a more balanced position on school choice such as Henry Levin, Director of the Institute on the Study of School Privatization at Teachers College and one of the leading economists of education in the U.S. (2010), or Peter W. Cookson, former Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Lewis and Clark College, one of the leading sociologists of education in the U.S., who has written extensively on school choice (2003). “The Cartel” asserts that all other countries have the type of school choice Bowdon wants: but this is simply not true as school choice programs internationally are different. They also have not all had the positive effects the films imply. Bowdon did not interview Helen Ladd at Duke University and Ted Fiske, former NY Times education writer, whose work on New Zealand does not support the film’s claims, or Geoffrey Walford (2007) at the University of Oxford and Geoff Whitty (2002), former Director of the Institute of Education at the University of London, whose separate works on international school choice also provide results contrary to the film’s claims, or David Plank (2003) at UC-Berkeley whose work on international school choice presents a more objective and complex story, or Martin Carnoy (2009) of Stanford University whose work on the effects of tuition vouchers in Chile does not support the claim that competition necessarily improves education for low-income children.

“The Cartel’s” demonization of teacher unions is unfortunately too much a part of the current political and ideological debates. From Democrats for Educational Reform to Governor Christie in New Jersey, taking on the alleged low quality of teachers and the unions that protect their incompetence has become an effective political argument. Serious researchers on teacher unions understand that the picture is far more complicated. Bowdon interviews both New Jersey politicians and educational reformers who attack NJEA, but offers no balanced commentary. He does not interview NYU historian Harold Wechsler or University of Alabama historian Wayne Urban, two of the foremost experts on the history of teacher unions in the U.S. for a more balanced and research based analysis.

Their good vs. bad comparisons of zoned and choice schools fail to acknowledge, except in passing, the existence of excellent urban public zoned schools throughout the nation. The Newark Public Schools, which “The Cartel” paints as one of the worst systems in the country, has numerous excellent schools, including Abington Avenue, Ann Street, Harriet Tubman, Lafayette School and others, none of which are magnet or charter schools. Do the Newark Public Schools still have a long way to go? Certainly, but “The Cartel” ignores three decades of effective school research that has chronicled the existence of what the Rutgers University-Newark’s Institute on Education Law and Policy has termed “pockets of excellence” (2009). The film fails to interview Katy Haycock, the Executive Director of the Education Trust, whose website is filled with examples of excellent district public schools with low-income children.

The journalistic bias of both films suggests that interviewing those with evidence contrary to their conclusions would have muddied the waters and made their critique of U.S. public education and that in the Abbott districts less credible. At the very least both filmmakers should have made their viewers aware that there are serious researchers and educational reformers who disagree with their conclusions. Rather than do this, both present the presidents of teacher unions, in “The Cartel” the president of the NJEA, and in “Waiting for Superman” AFT President Randi Weingarten, who represent the official union position as the alternative. This is just bad journalism and, given the number of viewers who have watched these films, especially “Waiting for Superman,” they have done a disservice to those of who take improving our nation’s public schools seriously and devote their lives to it.

The biases and overgeneralizations of both films contribute to the neo-liberal agenda to transform traditional public education through the expansion of school choice and reform teacher evaluation practices by arguing that successful charter schools are often non-unionized and like private schools can remove ineffective teachers more easily and quickly. As Diane Ravitch points out, although there are many highly effective charter schools, at least with respect to student achievement, they also may benefit from the “selection bias” of their admissions process, often serve fewer students with special needs or who are second language learners, and have higher mobility and attrition rates (Ravitch, 2010). The overall research evidence indicates that there are few significant differences between charter and traditional public schools, when controlling for family background, and that both sectors have their share of excellent, average, and low-performing schools. If this is the case, why has the charter school movement continued to have such saliency in educational policy circles?

One answer may lie within the composition of those supporting charter school expansion, many of whom are hedge fund million and billionaires. As Barbara Miner (2010) argues in the Rethinking Schools website, Not Waiting for Superman, the charter school movement is currently part of a larger effort to privatize public education, with hedge fund entrepreneurs attempting to gain entry into the billion dollar public school pie and politicians attempting to shift public school costs to lower funded charter schools, which rely on private philanthropic contributions to make up the differences, or to private schools through lower per pupil tuition vouchers. Miner connects the dots between the charter schools and their wealthy, mostly white and male trustees, to argue that their zealousness goes past their noble statements about educational equity being the Civil Rights issue of the 21st century into the realm of advancing their business model for school improvement. The private contributions to Mayor Booker’s matching fund, the Fund for Newark’s Future, contain many of the same foundations and individual contributors.

Years ago in Radical Teacher, I argued that Diane Ravitch initiated the critique of progressive education as reproducing the very inequalities it purported to eliminate (2004). It is especially ironic that in her New York Review of Books review of “Waiting for Superman” she decries the charter school movement’s threat to the common school purpose of public education in the United States and argues for the need to protect public education from this new brand of school reformers (2010b).

Based on the evidence, however, it would be ill advised to argue for the abolition of charter schools. The successes of many in producing significant gains in the achievement of low-income students should make them one of a number of options for the improvement of urban schools. However, as Jeanne Powers (2009) points out, there still is a wide difference between rhetoric and reality. Given the fact that there are “pockets of excellence” in traditional public and charter schools, policy makers need to explore how to replicate the best of both worlds into a network of effective urban schools, with adequate public funding going to all types of public schools. These networks of different types of options, sometimes called portfolio models, may provide a more balanced approach to school improvement, but as the recent book by Buckley, Henig and Levin (2010) suggests, such models are not without significant problems.

In conclusion, the current wave of school reform debates omits at their peril, the central lessons of social science research over the past four decades, from James Coleman onward, that family background remains the most important predictor of school success, and as both Jean Anyon (2005) and David Berliner (2006) have consistently demonstrated that unless the 800 pound gorilla of poverty is addressed simultaneously, school reform will be doomed to failure. And this is not an excuse, but a reality.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 17, 2011 ID Number: 16370, Date Accessed: 4/22/2011 8:20:10 PM

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About the Author
  • Alan R. Sadovnik
    Rutgers University
    E-mail Author
    ALAN R. SADOVNIK is Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of Education, Sociology and Public Administration and Affairs at Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey, where he is the Co- Director of the Institute on Educational Law and Policy and the Newark Schools Research Collaborative, and Coordinator of the Educational Policy track of the Ph.D. Program in Urban Systems. He is the author or editor of thirteen books as well as dozens of journal articles and book chapters, and ten major urban educational policy reports on Newark, New Jersey, and the nation. He received the American Sociological Association�s Willard Waller Award in 1991 for the outstanding article in the sociology of education; and the American Educational Association Critics Choice Award for outstanding books in 1995, 2000, and 2002. He is currently on the editorial boards of The American Education Research Journal, Teachers College Record, History of Educational Quarterly and The Urban Review and was on the boards of Sociology of Education and Educational Foundations.