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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Juan Gonzales on the NYC Charter School Scam

Mr. Gonzalez has written a very good article which I have re-posted below on the opaque nature of the NYC BOE charter scam.

"One day soon, our city will wake up to discover that Bloomberg's mad rush to create hundreds of independent charter schools has unleashed bigger financial scandals than in the bad old days of community school boards."

Read more

Rush to create charter high schools in New York City
is recipe for cash scams

Juan Gonzalez, Daily News, January 29th 2010

Hours after rebuffing parents and voting to shut 19 public schools, education officials announced plans to end most programs at Alfred E. Smith High in the Bronx and replace them with a charter school.

That charter school, however, has its own troubled history.

It's called the New York City Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries (AECI), and it has been in operation fewer than two years.

Last June, a Manhattan federal grand jury charged its founder and chairman, Richard Izquierdo Arroyo, with stealing more than $200,000 from a nonprofit South Bronx housing organization.

Prosecutors say Izquierdo spent the money on designer clothes, fancy restaurants and trips to the Caribbean for his grandmother, state Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, and his aunt, City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo(pictured at right).

Another board member of the school, Margarita Villegas, an employee of the housing group, was indicted with Izquierdo. Both have pleaded not guilty. They immediately resigned from AECI's board and from the board of the South Bronx Charter School, where Izquierdo was chairman.

Virtually all the teachers who began at AECI when it opened its doors in September 2008 resigned within the first year.

This month, 17 of the 19 new staff members at the school filed a state labor petition to have the United Federation of Teachers represent them.

The angry teachers claim that Victory Schools Inc., the for-profit management company hired by AECI to administer their school, is charging an exorbitant management fee.

Meanwhile, DOE has posted little information on the academic performance of AECI students.

James Stovall, the executive at Victory in charge of AECI, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Irma Zardoya, the retired DOE administrator who replaced Izquierdo as chair of AECI's board.

None of these problems seem to trouble the educrats at Tweed.

One day soon, our city will wake up to discover that Bloomberg's mad rush to create hundreds of independent charter schools has unleashed bigger financial scandals than in the bad old days of community school boards.

At least new city Controller John Liu announced Thursday he would audit how the city decided to close these schools.

The DOE posted a notice on its Web site Wednesday, detailing plans to move AECI into the Alfred E. Smith building in September. Chancellor Joel Klein scheduled a Feb. 24 vote on the plan by the mayor's Panel for Educational Policy.

Amazingly, the vocational programs the charter school will offer when it moves to Smith are virtually the same programs the public school offers.

Smith accepts all students who apply. AECI only takes students by lottery.

At Smith, 21% of the students are in a special education program; at AECI, only 9% are.

At Smith, 71% of the students come from such low-income families that they qualify for the federal free lunch program; at AECI, only 47% do.

What happens to the poorest kids, to that huge special education population, to those who need the most help?

Liu needs to ask tough questions fast. And he needs to follow the money going to charters, because Klein's people are not.

AT RISK: A Jamaica (Queens) High School student speaks at a Dec. 16 rally against her school’s closing. PHOTO: ANGEL GONZALEZ, GEM-NYC

Carmen Arroyo's grandson quits as head of charter school after embezzlement charge
BY Robert Gearty and Greg B. Smith
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS, June 12th 2009, 1:37 AM

The nephew of City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo resigned Thursday as head of a Bronx charter school she helped fund - a day after he was charged with embezzlement.

Richard Izquierdo Arroyo - who's also Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo's grandson and chief of staff - Thursday notified the city he was resigning as chairman of the board of the South Bronx Charter School for International Culture and the Arts.

His city councilwoman aunt sponsored $1.5 million in taxpayer funds this fiscal year to help build a permanent facility for the school, which is temporarily housed in a public school.

The school board will accept his resignation, Department of Education spokeswoman Melody Meyer said.

The school's principal, Evelyn Hey, would not answer questions about Izquierdo Arroyo's role at the school.

Izquierdo Arroyo also notified the city he would resign as chairman of the board of a second institution, the New York City Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries.

It was not clear when that school's board would meet to accept the resignation. Principal Eugene Foley declined comment.

On Wednesday, Izquierdo Arroyo was charged with stealing from a nonprofit group, SBCC Management Corp., that manages low-income apartment buildings in the Bronx. SBCC Management's director, Margarita Villegas, also was charged.

The duo stole more than $200,000 from the nonprofit to pay for designer clothes, trips to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and dozens of restaurant meals, a criminal complaint charged.

They also used the nonprofit's money to buy airline tickets to Puerto Rico for City Councilwoman Arroyo and her mother the assemblywoman.

SBCC Management's director, Villegas, is also a board member of the South Bronx Charter School. Officials said she's notified the city she'll step down from that position, too.

Villegas and Izquierdo Arroyo deny wrongdoing.

Read more:

Junior Abraham Sepulveda, 16, of Morris Park hopes the DOE reconsiders its plan to phase out Alfred E. Smith High School. Photo by Daniel Beekman/

South Bronx Rallies in Support of Smith High: Community Reminds DOE That This School Provides Valuable Real World Skills That Enable Students to Graduate and Get Jobs
By Mary Heglar, The Indypendent, January 14, 2010

Hundreds of supporters of Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School urged the Department of Education to rescind its proposal to phase out the South Bronx school at a public hearing Monday evening. The school, located near the Melrose and Morrisania neighborhoods, has been a valued part of the community since the 1920’s.

Located at 333 East 151st Street, Smith High School’s almost 1,300 students have access to training programs include heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), auto repair, plumbing, carpentry, electrical, and architecture—there is also an adult education component. Graduates are certified to practice their trades immediately upon graduation, and thus avoid the unemployment and underemployment that plagues the surrounding area.

Frederick Lee, one of the school’s special education instructors, said, “Smith is a resource for the South Bronx, the community, and the world.” An eighth-grade community resident who hopes to attend Smith in the future quietly told the panel, “If Alfred E. Smith closes, there will be a huge gap in my dream.”

As speakers addressed the DOE-appointed panel, the poverty of the South Bronx came into sharp focus.

“Whoever is in favor of shutting down the school is in favor of increasing the poverty rates,” said one parent.

Green Jobs

When the hearing began at 6:11 pm, the crowd quieted to watch a video presentation by Smith’s Energy, Environment, and Green Club. This group of students had made partnerships with environmental justice groups to arrange for the implementation for a green roof for the school’s building, which would be the first of its kind in the city. If the school is phased out, the partners will abandon the project.

This video was followed by the reading of the Educational Impact Statement (EIS) by Santiago Taveras, the DOE’s Acting Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning. Taveras stated that Smith had received its third consecutive C on the annual DOE-administered progress report, that parents were not participating, and that the school’s graduation rate was well below the city’s graduation rate. Thus, the DOE has proposed that it will be phased out and replaced with smaller schools.

The school’s principal Rene Cassanova stated that the school had made consistent improvements on its progress report since their inception three years ago. “Alfred E. Smith has never received a rating below proficient,” she said to loud applause. The crowd rose to its feet holding signs reading “Smith Helped Build Yankee Stadium” and “Smith is $$$.”

Another teacher stated that Smith and its staff were not the problem here. Instead, he said, “the problem is a serious lack of appreciation for education on the part of the Department of Education.”

Among the many alumni who came out that evening was the valedictorian from the class of 2006. Now an electrician, he told the panel about his work on the new Yankee Stadium. He continued, “Without Smith, that would not have been possible.”

Brian Alexander-Washington, another alumni of Smith, told the panel about the many trades he studied at Smith. He proudly stated that he still lives in the South Bronx, but had just bought a condominium with the money earned through the trade he learned at Smith. However, he reminded everyone that Smith teaches more than trades. In fact, he learned to play the piano and to sing opera in both German and Italian at Smith. He sang for the crowd to great applause.

A total of 21 city schools, including seven in the Bronx, are slated for closure. Monday’s hearing at Smith High came just four days after a passionate outpouring of protest at Christopher Columbus High School in the northeast Bronx.

The future of these schools will be officially decided on January 26 at Brooklyn Technical High School by a vote of the Panel for Educational Policy. None of the voting members of this panel were present for the hearing.

For more, see this video of Smith student Danny Escobar speaking at January 8 rally in support of keeping the school open.

Sheila Joseph, Founder of East New York Preparatory Charter School, Shows Why NYC Charters Cannot Continue As Currently Set Up

Leo Casey over at Edwize has posted a very troubling but excellent article on the misconduct of the ENY Prep Head of School, Sheila Joseph. His point is a good one: charters must have someone who is accountable, and financial affairs of a charter or any school must be transparent. Sheila Joseph responds, also below.

Sheila Joseph: Charter’s Maybelline Cover GirlBy Leo Casey, Edwize, On January 30, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

Sheila Joseph, (pictured above and at right) the disgraced founder of East New York Preparatory Charter School, was

once a rising star in New York’s charter school movement. Today, she has become a stark symbol of why New York charter schools so desperately need the accountability and transparency reforms, the guards against profiteering and the guarantees of teacher and parent voice advocated by the UFT and elected officials.

Born in Rockaway, Joseph attended Berkeley, got a law degree at Georgetown, and for three years served as a Teaching Fellow. She received a cool $100K from Joel Klein’s Charter Center and was a fellow at Building Excellent Schools, the well-heeled training program for hard-charging charter CEOs. Heralded as “the first African American woman to found a charter school in New York,” she is the star of an upcoming documentary and was even honored by Maybelline as a leader in education reform. With a back-story like this, what could possibly go wrong?

Just about everything. As reported by Gotham Schools [9] and the New York Post, Joseph ran ENY Prep as if it were her personal fiefdom, telling parents, teachers, students and her own board members that it was her way or the highway. From the City’s own (and understated) report, her “superintendent” salary was repeatedly increased without any Board deliberation; Joseph allowed “broad discrepancies” in her accounting of student enrollment — the very basis of ENY Prep’s $2.6 million in public revenue; she remained on the school’s Board of Trustees (voting on her own compensation, no less) despite a City order for her to resign; she submitted incomplete financial disclosure forms. Most damning, the City found in the school’s Board “a lack of interest or ability in overseeing the academic, operational or fiscal operations of the school.”

But that’s only half the story. All, ALL, of ENY Prep’s teachers left or were fired last year. The State Education Department found that Joseph discharged 48 students, conveniently before state exams were given, and disabled students were “counseled” out of the school. In commenting on the findings, the City’s charter schools chief Mike Duffy described them as the worst violations he’d ever seen.

In a shameless effort to barricade their positions, the New York Charter School Association and the NYC Center for Charter School Excellence have claimed that ENY Prep’s likely closure is proof that charter “accountability” is working, and needs no reform. But their case is as weak as it is theoretical:

Take, for starters, that 100 percent of the ENY Prep students who took last year’s math exam met or exceeded state standards; 86 percent met or exceeded the standard in ELA. Despite Joseph’s arrogance and dysfunction, teachers and students were accountable for their responsibilities and performed at a high level.

And consider the courageous, if distressed, efforts by parents to stop Joseph’s reign of terror. In this widely circulated letter, concerned parents chronicled years of malpractice — from the dissolution of the school’s founding board and Joseph’s efforts to block a parent association to a pattern of student expulsions and teachers living in fear of termination. Parents were accountable for their responsibilities, and took action to improve the school.

If charter sector accountability was working, why didn’t city and state officials step up their oversight when Joseph paid herself $217,000 in 2006-07 (nearly 13 percent of the school’s gross revenue)? Why weren’t the red flags noticed when ENY Prep omitted teacher turnover data on their mandatory state reports? Didn’t officials notice all those board resignations and student “withdrawals”?

Finally, why did Klein’s charter chief only investigate the school after parents raised concerns and after Joseph’s damage was done? Why, having failed so miserably at providing oversight of a school they chartered, are Klein and Mayor Bloomberg fighting against efforts to bring real accountability to the New York charter sector?

The fact of the matter is that the charter sector remains unaccountable to students, parents, and the public at large. Although some individual charters take their public responsibilities seriously, the sector does not have sufficient safeguards against Joseph’s kind of abuse. As Mona Davids, head of the New York Charter Parents Association has expressed, parents have insufficient recourse to fight against inexcusable practices. As Juan Gonzalez has reported, the charter sector has invited corruption, self-dealing, and profiteering. Left unchecked, Gonzalez warns that Bloomberg’s “mad rush” to create more charters without meaningful accountability will unleash “bigger financial scandals than in the bad old days of community school boards.”

In early January, the UFT proposed a series of reforms to make charter schools more accountable and transparent to the students, parents, and public that charters must serve and to the teachers they employ. The UFT was joined by many elected officials who see the same abuses and know they must be put to an end.

These recommendations called for:

* limits on charter school administrator and management salaries to within the appropriate range of public sector compensation,
* empowering the City and State comptrollers to audit charter schools’ fiscal, operational, and programmatic activities,
* holding charter school board members and employees to the same and rigorous financial disclosure requirements and conflict of interest prohibitions as all other public officials,
* more timely public reporting of all sources of a charter school’s funding and all fees paid to outside consultants and contractors; employee names and salaries, including data on teacher turnover; annual budgets; and audited financial statements;
* establishing independent parent associations or parent and teacher associations and school leadership teams similar to those required in district public schools, and
* automatic recognition of the unions that represent employees in the school district where a charter is located as the representative of workers in charter schools for the negotiation of de novo contracts.

If adopted, these proposals would strengthen the charter sector’s accountability and transparency. Had they existed prior to Sheila Joseph’s arrival on the charter scene, many of her transgressions could have been avoided. Parents would not be scrambling to find a new school. Teachers would not be afraid to speak up, would not face retaliation, and could negotiate a contract with management that is custom-tailored to their school.

To these proposals we’d like to add one more — state receivership. It is unconscionable that in places like East New York Preparatory Charter School and Merrick Academy Charter School, the students, parents, and teachers are punished for the failures of the school’s Board of Trustees and the city and state’s lackluster “oversight.” In these instances, the state must have the authority to take over the charter school and re-constitute the board of trustees. This will allow successful schools — as measured by the hard work of students, teachers, and parents — to continue and blossom under leadership that actually puts children first. That would be real, not punitive and theoretical, accountability.
Not content with just one fellow, Klein and Co. have paid Building Excellent Schools nearly $1 million since 2004 to produce more CEOs like Joseph — with similarly disastrous results.

Article printed from Edwize

School flunks out
By MAURA O'CONNOR and YOAV GONEN, NY POST, January 26, 2010

The city is about to pull the plug on a Brooklyn charter school that's rife with financial mismanagement, The Post has learned.

East New York Preparatory, which has booted low-performing students and shortened its year by a dozen days, would be only the fourth city charter school ever shuttered and the second to have its charter revoked by the chancellor, who authorized it to open in 2006.

The school, which yesterday received a 30-day notice of the city's intention to close it in June, was put on probation last February, after city officials caught wind of sky-high staff turnover and the dissolution of the school's board of directors.

In November, state Education Department inspectors documented a host of violations that led city officials to drop the hammer.

"To revoke a charter before it's expired is a big step to take," said DOE charter chief Michael Duffy.

Among the concerns uncovered by the state Education Department are:

* Founding principal Sheila Joseph changed her title to "superintendent" and had her salary hiked from $120,000 to $180,000, plus a $20,000 bonus, without explanation.

* The school offered 12 fewer days of instruction than approved in its charter.

* Forty-eight students were discharged in the 2008-09 school year, including seven low-performing third-graders prior to state testing.

The school has 30 days to appeal the closure notice, something Joseph suggested she might do.

"I think this letter is meant to incite a riot and create a lot of fear," Joseph told parents of a mailing they had received from officials over the weekend documenting the problems.

UFT And Elected Officials: Charter Schools Must Be Public Schools, Serving All Students
by Leo Casey On January 3, 2010 @ 8:23 pm

With growing appeals for changes in New York’s charter school law, prominent elected officials joined the United Federation of Teachers today in a call for major reforms which would ensure that charter schools become public schools in the fullest meaning of the term — not private schools supported with public funds.

State Senator John Sampson, leader of the Senate’s majority Democratic Conference, and New York City Comptroller John Liu joined UFT President Michael Mulgrew in this call. State Senators Eric Schneiderman and Toby Stavisky and State Assembly members Michael Benedetto, Alan Maisel, Jose Peralta, Adam Clayton Powell, IV and Linda Rosenthal were present and participating in the call.

Among the proposed changes are:

* a mandate for charter schools to serve the same proportion of the neediest students as the local community district in which they are located;
* a cap on charter management fees and salaries;
* a prohibition of ‘for profit’ management and operation of charter schools;
* full financial and operational transparency for charter schools;
* common sense fixes to a broken charter funding formula;
* independent school leadership teams, as well the rights of charter school educators to union representation and the rights of families to independent parent associations;
* restrictions on the NYC Department of Education’s practice of pitting of district schools against charter schools over space allocations.

These fixes to the law are a necessary and essential component of any change in the law. A complete list of the reforms proposed for the charter school law are included in the report prepared by the UFT and published today, Separate and Unequal: The Failure of New York City Charter Schools to Serve the City’s Neediest Students.

“Charter schools represent an experiment in pursuit of excellence, and we all applaud that intention,” Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson said. “But in these tough economic times, those of us in government must demand and extract greater accountability and transparency from every dollar we invest, especially in support of our great asset — the education of our children.”

“The discussion of charter school must be honest. The disparities [in the numbers of high needs students and English Language Learners] raise a great deal of concern,” Comptroller John Liu said. “We have limited resources for public education, they must be going to the classrooms and serving kids, not lining corporate pockets.”

Separate and Unequal documents the need for these reforms. The report shows that taken as a group, New York City charter schools are failing to educate their fair share of low-income [free lunch] students, English Language Learners and Special Education students. Charter schools enroll a much smaller proportion of those students than their local community school district — despite the fact that the existing act explicitly mentions the education of at risk students as one of the purposes of charter schools. Such a pattern means that the students with the greatest needs do not have an equal opportunity to attend charter schools in New York City. While a minority of charter schools — mostly unionized — are making a real effort to serve these students, the great majority are not. Since the charter funding formula is based on the average enrollment of high needs students across the city, the report concludes, the great majority of charter schools are being funded for students they don’t actually serve.

Separate and Unequal also documents exorbitant charter management fees and inflated charter management salaries, far in excess of school district overhead and salaries, that divert public funds from schools and students. Some of the most egregious cases are those involving for-profit management companies.

It is important that charter schools be treated fairly by the law, and the reforms designed to fix the broken charter funding formula are intended to do precisely that. Where charter schools have legitimate complaints about funding, such as the current lengthy two year lag, a proposal is being made to shorten this time period. For schools whose educators participate in the Teachers Retirement System, a reform would remove pensions from the funding formula, with the cost assumed by the local school district. And to ensure fairness among different charter schools, funding for the neediest students such as English Language Learners, Special Education students and free lunch students would be done on an actual per capita basis.

“New York’s charter school experiment has led to some promising innovations, but as a group New York City charter schools have become a separate and unequal branch of public education, working with a far smaller proportion of our neediest students than the average public school,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.

“The current law allows charter schools to operate without the transparency in their finances and operations that officials and the public need to judge their success; it also permits charters to become profit centers, paying inappropriate salaries and outsize management fees. Until all these issues are addressed, we are urging the Legislature not to consider any other action on charter schools, including the potential lifting of the charter school cap.”

Head of charter school set to close fires back at teachers, DOE
by Maura Walz, Gotham Schools

The head of the Brooklyn charter school whose charter could be revoked is firing back at the Department of Education and the former teachers who reported her.

In a letter sent to parents on Tuesday, Sheila Joseph, superintendent of the East New York Preparatory school, called the DOE’s allegations that she artificially inflated her salary, violated its charter by shortening the school year and expelled nearly 50 low-performing students before they took state tests “unfounded and untrue.” Joseph also argued in the letter that the school’s high faculty turnover rate was necessary to preserve high standards for the students.

“No one enjoys faculty turnover, but just as we have high and uncompromising standards for our students we also will not compromise on faculty performance,” she wrote. Between the end of last school year and the beginning of this one, the school lost every teacher it had.

“Some of our best teachers are now here because others had to be let go,” Joseph continued. “I don’t take lightly the fact that there has been turnover. However, I will never allow your children to have anything less than the absolute best.”

Former teachers at the school reacted angrily to Joseph’s explanation to parents.

“She’s lying,” said one former teacher who was dismissed in June.

“You’re saying you let go of 100 percent of your staff last year because they were bad, but all of your students passed the test?” the teacher said. (The school had 100 percent of its students score proficient on state math exams last year.) “If so, you must have done something with the scores.”

Teachers accused Joseph of firing them in retaliation for wanting to leave and for reporting abuses at the school to the DOE, which put the school on probation last February.

“I knew this was coming,” the teacher said. “We opened this can of worms.”

Teachers described a school in which teachers were fired arbitrarily and replaced with staff with neither teacher certification nor undergraduate degrees. The principal of the school was fired almost immediately after announcing she wouldn’t return the following year after having differences with Joseph, teachers said. A former teacher described a main hallway decorated with pictures of the teaching staff. “You’d come in and you’d see another picture gone,” the teacher said. “You’d be like, oh no.”

In addition to expelling students, a teacher said, low-scoring third graders were sent back to second grade to avoid being tested. Teachers said that students with disabilities were either counseled out of the school or taught by teaching assistants who lacked proper certification.

One teacher said the school never gave her a copy of its charter; when she finally received it from the DOE’s charter school office, she discovered the school had received funds for technology and project-based learning that were never implemented. Another former teacher said that, even as Joseph gave herself a raise, she cut teachers’ hours and solicited donations from parents, citing budget cuts.

Mona Davids, head of the New York Charter Parents Association, who has argued that charter schools need to be more transparent and held accountable for more than just test scores, said the case of East New York Prep underscores the need for better parent grievance processes and teacher whistle-blower protections in charter schools.

“If you’re trying to tell us that everyone of those 48 [expelled] students’ parents didn’t want to complain about it — they couldn’t complain about it, because they have nowhere to go in the charter school system,” Davids said. The DOE opened its investigation of the school in response to complaints from parents, but Davids said the process must be more formal.

Davids said that as a charter school parent, she also hoped that teachers would one day be able to report improprieties they see in their schools without fear for their jobs.

“There should be whistle-blower protections for teachers in charter schools,” she said. “I’m not saying that all charter schools should be unionized, but with every job, there should be some some protections.”

The school and parents received a letter from the DOE on Monday night detailing the reasons behind the closure. The school has 30 days to respond before Chancellor Joel Klein makes a final decision. In the letter, Joseph says she will reply to the charges in that time.

Joseph is also convening a series of meeting with parents to defend herself and the school. The first of those meetings was held tonight, with three more to follow through the weekend. One former teacher also reported that the school’s parent coordinator is organizing a petition for parents who want to save the school.

The DOE is holding a meeting of its own at the school, next Wednesday, to explain the closure and offer help placing students in other schools.

A former teacher said she was confident that the schools’ students would weather the changes and find spots at other schools.

“The school doesn’t even need to be shut down, in my opinion,” she said. “[Joseph] just needs to go.”

Full text of Joseph’s letter

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thousands of People Crowd Brooklyn Tech Auditorium To Protest Joel Klein's Closing of 20 Public Schools in NYC

On tuesday night/wednesday morning January 26-27, more than 3,000 angry people showed the world what they think of Joel Klein and his army. Brooklyn Tech High School erupted with chants against the NYC BOE, constant booing of Joel Klein, and the closing of 20 schools throughout the city. At about 3AM in the morning, the fake school board, The Panel For Educational Policy, voted to close the schools anyway, despite the fact that Klein has no contract, and the PEP has no legitimate mandate to vote on anything. The main issue on the protesters' agenda was to ask "why not fix the schools rather than close them and replace with small schools and charters?"

Why indeed.

The closing of all 20 schools was voted on after 3AM, and of course, the Panel For Educational Policy voted in favor of Klein's policy. The vote was 9 - Yes; 4 - No.

Here is what the Queens PEP member, Dmytro Fedkowskyj, said just before the 3:30 a.m. vote on Wednesday morning:

Good morning Chancellor Klein, members of the Panel and members of the public. First, I want to thank my colleagues, parents and everybody at the DOE for their dedicated time on this delicate, but necessary topic. I've dedicated many hours to this matter. I listened to the community outcry during their public hearings. I held parent meetings in Queens in order to get a better understanding of the school community concerns and the effect this decision would have on those Queens communities. It was important to understand the topic in order to make an informed decision.

As many of you know, I take my role seriously, and have done so since being first appointed to this board 2 years ago.

I believe that is why I was selected by Borough President, Helen Marshall, to serve as her representative and the communities' advocate during these public meetings.

We are here, whether appointed by the mayor or by different borough presidents, and together we face monthly decisions that at the end of the day affect more than a million students. We need to be mindful of that role, whether it's in front of a standing room auditorium, or in the near empty rooms that are far more common for these meetings.

Our task is still the same.

To safeguard student interests without making a hasty decision.

I don't believe that simply following the letter of the law is what was expected of the Department when our state elected officials called for hearings on these major matters of concern.

I don't believe the intent of that legislation was for a DOE official to sit in the front of the room, simply to let those most affected vent their frustrations.

I also don't believe the intent was for families and community members to have none of their concerns addressed, while answering none of their questions.

That can't be what the legislature envisioned these school hearings to be.

Communication is a key component to a successful proposal and listening goes along way too… The DOE needed to consult and listen to those who would be most affected by these proposals.

"Listen" means to "hear," but also to digest and to allow the information to have an affect on our opinions and thought process.

I went to those school hearings to do just that.

To listen.

To learn.

And I believe I did.

There very well may come a time when I will raise my hand in support of one of these schools being closed.

But I am not there yet, not because I think closing a school should never be a considered choice, but because I think in order to get to that point, we must first ensure it is THE LAST CHOICE.

And, so Mr. Chairman, on behalf of Queens and the Borough President, tonight I vote No and urge my colleagues to do the same.

Thank you.

Dmytro Fedkowskyj
Panel for Educational Policy
Queens Representative
Borough President Appointee

There is no democracy in New York City today.

The Daily News published a piece by Diana Ravich on January 13, 2010, and I have re-posted below this excellent assessment of what has gone wrong with charters in New York City:

Charters need to focus on neediest
Be Our Guest
Diana Ravich, NY Daily News, January 13, 2010

Most of New York City's 99 charter schools, which enroll 30,000 students, have gotten superior results on state tests. It is important to understand why
many of them perform so well, since Mayor Bloomberg has promised to double the number of charters over the next four years.

Last fall, a report by economist Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University hailed the city's charter schools and suggested that any student who attended a charter school for nine years would be almost as well educated as a student in well-heeled Scarsdale. A new study by economist Margaret Raymond of Stanford has confirmed that many of the city's charter schools get higher test scores. Raymond found that 51% of New York City charters produced significant gains in math, but only 29% did so in reading.

Last year, Raymond's research team conducted a national study of charter schools and found that only 17% had better results than traditional public schools; 83% produced gains that were no different or significantly worse. This study shredded the myth that charter schools are a sure cure for poor education.

So why are charters in New York City doing so much better than those in the rest of the nation?

Unlike Hoxby's study, Raymond's research did not say that all was well with the charter sector. After all, 49% of charter schools produced no significant gains in math, and 71% produced no significant gains in reading. Raymond concluded that charter students who were either special-education or English-language learners made no significant gains. She also found that charter students who had previously been held back in their grade made no gains at all in reading and were outperformed in
math by similar students in traditional public schools.

Charters in New York City have important advantages that make them different from the rest of the nation. Many have wealthy sponsors who donate millions of dollars to their schools. This helps them to have smaller classes and more resources than the
local public schools.

Another important factor in their success is that Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has placed 70 of the city's 99 charters in public school space,subsidizing the charters' facilities, utilities, transportation, custodial services, food services and whatever else is provided to the regular public school. In other districts, the charters must find their own space and bear these costs. This policy has set off bitter battles between charter school parents and those of students at public schools that lose classroom space to the favored charters, especially when the city renovates classrooms for the charter students, but not for the regular public school students.

Most charters in New York City have lotteries for admission. The lottery screens out students whose families are not well informed. New York City's public schools have 50,000 homeless students, but only about 100 are enrolled in charters. The special-education students admitted to charters tend to be those with the mildest disabilities because charters are not equipped to meet the needs of those with extreme disabilities. In addition, charters are able to "counsel out" students who are "not a good fit," who then return to the traditional public schools.

According to data compiled by the United Federation of Teachers, less than 4% of those enrolled in charter schools are English-language learners, compared with a citywide average of 14%. Less than 10% of charter students require special education, compared with a citywide average of 16%. Charters enroll fewer Hispanic or immigrant students than the regular public schools. The gaps are even larger when charter schools are compared with their neighborhood public schools, rather than citywide averages.

Charter schools and public schools do not compete on a level playing field. Those who attend charters are enrolled in small classes with other motivated students, while those in public schools attend schools in overcrowded classrooms with a full range of students, including those who left charters.

Critics may rightly wonder if charter school success has more to do with their admissions policies, their resources and their ability to remove low-scoring students than to their academic prowess. The city's Education Department should require charters to focus on the students whose needs are greatest, not on those who are likeliest to produce the highest test scores. And the department should make sure that every public school has the same advantages and resources as charter schools.

Ravitch is a historian of education. Her latest book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education," will be published in March.

UFT President Mike Mulgrew has spoken out against charters, and was at Brooklyn Tech until the protest was finished.

United Federation of Teachers Recommends Changes to Charter School Law
By Stephanie Lam, Epoch Times Staff

NEW YORK—The United Federation of Teachers released a report on Sunday stating that New York City charter schools are not serving the neediest students, and recommended changes in the state charter school law.

The recommendations focus on making charter schools more fair, accountable, and transparent. They include mandating charter schools to enroll at least the district-wide average number of needy students including English language learners and special need students, allowing a neutral third party to oversee the lottery process, banning for-profit companies from owning or running charter schools, adjusting charter school staff’s salaries to public sector levels, and making charter schools’ financial and operational data available and auditable by city and state officials.

The original intent of the charter school law passed 10 years ago was fairness and access for all students, said Mr. Michael Mulgrew, president of UFT, but says it is not being fulfilled.

“New York’s charter school experiment has led to some promising innovations, but as a group New York City charter schools have become a separate and unequal branch of public education,” Mulgrew said.

According to the report, charter schools in New York City have significantly less students eligible for free lunch than public schools. Similarly, charter schools enroll less than 4 percent of English language learners, while public schools enroll a number almost three times more. In North-Central Brooklyn, charter schools enroll 1.3 percent of English language learners, compared with 11.2 percent in public schools. As for special education students, charter schools are enrolling 9.5 percent, while public schools enroll 16.4 percent.

There is also a racial disparity between charter and public schools. “Despite their concentrations in highly diverse neighborhoods, charters as a group admits substantially fewer Hispanic and/or immigrant students,” according to the report.

In addition, corporations running charter schools are making a lot of money, which the lawmakers intended to use for the students.

“When this law was passed 10 years ago, it was clear that there was never an intent for corporations to be making profit and putting that into their pocket,” Mulgrew said. “I do not believe those who voted for the charter school law 10 years ago ever intended that people running three or four charter schools would be making three, four, or five hundred thousand dollars.”

“We must fulfill the promise that was intended 10 years ago. We need to have fairness for all students. We need all parents to have true choice in their neighborhood, and we need to ensure that we are making all schools accountable in the same level, and we also need to ensure, now more than ever, that the dollars that this state intends for public education are going into the classroom.”

Below, Joel Shatzky writes about the protest in The Huffington Post, while his Editor, Dan Collins, New York Editor-At-Large of The Huffington Post, pines away at the loss of $700 million in federal funds if only New York would stop preventing unlimited charters. It's nice to see such diversity of opinion in the same publication!

Joel Shatzky
The Huffington Post, January 27, 2010 01:36 PM
Educating for Democracy: Protesting Twenty NYC School Closings (Photos)

At a hearing at Brooklyn Tech Tuesday evening, Chancellor Joel Klein and the PEP (Panel for Educational Policy) listened from 6:00 p.m. into the early hours of the morning to students, teachers, union representatives, parents, and political leaders protesting the closing of twenty city schools. The conclusion seemed to me to be foregone that the schools would be closed since Mayor Bloomberg appoints eight of the members of the panel. Yet the passion and often logical arguments of many of the speakers should have given them pause before they decided to vote. Early this morning the board approved the school closings.

A crowd of over a thousand people marched, displayed signs and listened to speakers from a giant screen set up a block from the school. James Vasquez of the Queens UFT pointed out that there had been no hearings prior to the decisions made on which schools were to be closed and many of the speakers revealed inconsistencies in the way in which the closings were determined, opening the possibility for lawsuits. Inside the vast auditorium, which could seat three thousand, people streamed in, filling the hall to capacity.

Demonstrators outside.

Chancellor Joel Klein, who was roundly booed even before he said a word, declared that "the first obligation in public education is to our children. The schools we are closing tonight did not come up to our standards." Klein was observed several times to be detached enough from the proceedings to briefly read a paper during one of the speeches and, receiving a cell phone message, absented himself at another point from the meeting.

Crowd reactions inside.

The speeches by noted public figures such as Bill de Blasio, (pictured above) Public Advocate, Michael Mulgrew, President of the UFT, the NYC teacher's union, and Councilman Robert Jackson, head of the Education Committee of the New York City Council, touched on similar themes: that the decisions made to close the schools chosen to be shut down were based on faulty or inconsistent criteria -- that these schools could be salvaged if there was more of an opportunity for parental and community involvement as well as more resources; and that the process by which PEP decided to close the schools and the reasons for replacing some of them with charter schools should be made "transparent."

Bill de Blasio.

The pattern followed by the Department of Education and Chancellor Klein is, at least to me, fairly obvious: many of the public schools being closed were "made to fail" by the conditions in which the teachers were forced to teach:

1. A successful school is suddenly burdened with an influx of students from another school that has been closed. Many of these newly arrived students have high needs but the DOE does not give sufficient support to enable the school to accommodate these students with some chance of success.

2. The school begins to perform badly in standardized tests, four-year graduation rates, and other indicators of "success," as determined by the DOE.

3. Parents of many of the high-achieving students withdraw their children from the school because it now has a "failing" reputation.

4. The school, now completely overburdened by special needs students and inadequate staffing and support, is judged a "failure" and is closed.

5. Smaller schools, many of them charter schools, replace the "failed" school and the cycle begun when the first school was closed repeats itself.

This is like a swimming coach requiring a successful swimmer to wear concrete shoes at all future competitions and then kicking him off the team for "poor performance."

The inconsistencies in the evaluation of schools and the neglect that the DOE has shown in their treatment of schools in predominantly minority areas seem to me to give the accusations of "racism" leveled by a number of the speakers at the PEP committee some foundation. (PEP conspicuously over-represents white males and females, considering that only 14% of the City's students are white.)

When one of the most respected of the speakers, Annie Martin, President of the NYC chapter of the NAACP, was rudely treated when her microphone was shut down because she'd gone over the two-minute "limit" before she had finished her statement, I wondered at the insensitivity of some of those on the PEP panel who should have been very much aware that "lack of respect" was the most persistent accusation running through the hearing. This action was so egregious that one of the panelists interrupted the proceedings to object to Ms. Martin's treatment and she was allowed to finish her talk. But the damage had already been done.

What struck me in my interviews with teachers, parents and students was the inconsistency and even irrationality in which the DOE has administered and evaluated these schools. Several sources told me that the Mayor had forbidden fund raising at Beach Channel High School, while recently I personally attended a fund raiser at a Manhattan school in East Harlem. At Beach Channel, a math teacher, David Pecoraro, who later spoke eloquently at the hearing, informed me that two of the specialized programs at the school, oceanography and culinary instruction, were phased out while these same two programs are going to be re-instituted in one of the schools replacing it.

Joy Blakeslee, a teacher at New Day Academy, one of the "new" smaller schools that is going to be closed, expressed her confusion at the treatment of her school. (I "embedded" myself in the line of those waiting to enter the building and was struck by her students' sophisticated awareness of what was happening to the school, especially when one of them referred to the school as "our family.") In November, New Day, she explained, which is a member of a progressive consortium that relies more on the portfolio system than drilling students on test scores, was given a new principal, who has an excellent reputation in "turning around" a school to make it successful; three weeks later, it was announced that the school would be closed.

Students from New Day Academy.

There are many more stories about the mismanagement by the DOE of these so-called "failed" schools which I plan to include in a following article. But my strong impression from the evidence I have gathered from students, parents and teachers over the past few years is that the Bloomberg Administration is practicing a form of "educational colonialism" on our school system. Whatever good he believes he is accomplishing, in favoring those students who are fortunate enough to have parents or other people who can look out for their interests at the expense of those students who do not, he is making a terrible mistake.

When I attended Music and Art -- now La Guardia High School back in the 1950's, the only "school closings" I ever heard of were due to unsafe building conditions. And I still remember, as I plan to celebrate my 50th class reunion this spring, how disturbed I was when M and A left "The Castle" on Convent Avenue and merged with our arch-rival, Performing Arts, at a brand new building near Lincoln Center. But even merged, the title of the school includes the names of "Music and Art" and "Performing Arts."

These schools that are being closed were an integral part of their communities. Such venerable names as Columbus High School and -- though much newer -- Paul Robeson High School are an important part of the identity of people whose schools will now be associated with failure. And failure, as one eloquent young woman, holding her baby as she spoke, insisted, is the one thing that is most resisted in minority communities because our culture often tells them in one way or another that they are failures. It is our society that should be considered "failed" for creating that impression; closing these schools reinforces it.

That Arne Duncan and the Obama Administration are encouraging this kind of "educational triage" in their "Race to the Top" grants is a very serious mistake, especially Duncan's enthusiasm for Mayor Bloomberg. Considering that many of these communities, so badly served by our educational system, gave President Obama their most enthusiastic support, this is not just a mistake. It's a tragedy for democracy: to the teachers, the parents and most of all, the children of New York City.

Dan Collins
New York Editor-At-Large of The Huffington Post
Posted: January 28, 2010 11:38 AM

Albany Gets an "F" in Education

Just when it seemed impossible that our opinion of New York's state legislature could get worse, it does. Now, it turns out these people can't even pick up free money.

The Obama administration is trying to improve American public education through bribery. It's dangling $4 billion in front of the states, challenging them to meet a series of benchmarks. Some of them, like embracing common academic standards, are simple enough that only Texas and Alaska seem incapable of making the grade.

Others are more challenging. But the one New York is hung up on - eliminating barriers to charter schools - is easy enough that even Albany ought to be capable of handling it.

No way. New York is eligible for up to $700 million in the money, but the deadline came and went without any action in the capitol to eliminate the current cap of 200 charter schools statewide.

The state handed in its application anyway. But the best grade it will probably be able to get is an incomplete.

Charter schools are publicly funded, but run by groups outside the regular school system. They're generally smaller, more innovative, and wildly popular with parents. Some of the charters in New York are nationally recognized as success stories - like Harlem Success Academy, which a recent study says has erased the gap between black and white student performance.

But with the current cap, New York City won't be able to create many more. Plus there's that matter of the $700 million.

What gives? The teachers union opposes charter schools. That's perfectly reasonable, since most of them aren't unionized. But not nearly enough cause for the rest of the state to refuse to continue these very promising experiments.

In some other states - including, once again, Texas - inept or shady sponsors have created disastrous charters that run out of money or wind up educating their students en masse in auditoriums or churches. But that hasn't happened in New York. The city regularly closes schools that seem to be floundering. There are some on Superintendent Joel Klein's hit list this year.

The legislature grudgingly went along with part of Gov. David Paterson's request for lifting the charter cap. It offered 400 schools, as opposed to the 600 the administration and New York City wanted.

Then the lawmakers in Albany started adding caveats. One would have left the approval of additional New York City charters to the state Board of Regents in Albany, rather than Chancellor Klein. Another would have barred Klein from allowing charters to use space in public school buildings, unless the school parents approved.

Which they wouldn't.

The regular public school community - teachers, administrators, parents and sometimes even students - resent the charters. They take up precious space in a system where there's never enough room. They often have better equipment, because parents and sponsors donate. And the teachers who struggle to educate kids with all the variety of challenges and troubles that New York City children bring to the classroom feel the charter schools cream the best of the crop, leaving them with the problems.

All of this is understandable. But we do pay our legislators to rise above the normal squabbles of life and see the big picture.

Which in this case is $700 million.

The state could lose out completely, although it's more likely it will get a slice of the original pie. But as the New York Times noted in a recent editorial, whatever is lost could be added onto the federal mass transit funds the city lost when Albany refused to pass a congestion pricing plan that involved new tolls on cars entering Manhattan during rush hour.

If I remember correctly, we kissed about $354 million good-bye in that debacle. With any luck, this year the state legislature could hit the $1 billion mark when it comes to thrown-away federal aid.

Dan Collins is the New York Editor of the Huffington Post. A veteran journalist, Collins has worked as a correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, a reporter for the New York Daily News and a senior producer for, the Web site of CBS News. His stories have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice and other publications. Collins has co-authored four books, including Grand Illusion The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 (with Wayne Barrett); I, Koch, a biography of New York Mayor Ed Koch; In the Name of the Law, the story of former Abscam prosecutor Tom Puccio; and The Millennium Book, a book about the year 2000.

My guess is that Mr. Collins does not have children attending New York public schools.

Make sure that you read John Tarleton's January 29, 2010 issue of The Indypendent

Taking the Public Out of Schools

As soon as New York City Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein leaned into his microphone and started to speak, the jeering began. When he proclaimed the DOE had to shut down 19 schools because “my first obligation is to our children,” the crowd of two thousand public school supporters roared in disbelief.

Over the next nine hours, more than 300 speakers challenged Klein’s reasoning, his motives and his right to decide the fate of their local schools at the Jan. 26 meeting of the Panel for Education Policy (PEP) held at Brooklyn Technical High School. The PEP, whose majority was selected by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would ultimately approve all 19 school closings by a 9-4 vote in the middle of the night. Yet, there was little doubt that the panel’s action would end the growing controversy over the way Klein and Bloomberg are managing the City’s schools. “Education is a right,” said one parent as she waited to speak. “If we don’t fight, we’re going to lose it.”

The drama that unfolded at the PEP meeting was the product of years of simmering frustration in communities across the city. When Bloomberg plucked Klein, a lawyer, out the corporate world in 2002 to oversee over a school system that educates 1.1 million children in more than 1,500 schools, he promised a new era of mayoral accountability.

Instead, critics say the two men have exercised their power in an arbitrary and reckless manner — reorganizing the system’s administrative structures to be more remote from parents, spending millions on high-priced consultants and no-bid contracts, pushing high-stakes testing regimes that lack a sound pedagogical basis and closing scores of neighborhood schools.

When the DOE announced its proposed school closings in December, it struck a nerve. It was the largest rounds of school closings to date and it hit large high schools that have anchored their neighborhoods — Maxwell and Robeson in Brooklyn, Jamaica and Beach Channel in Queens and Columbus and Alfred E. Smith in the Bronx — especially hard.

Rallies and marches were held. At the affected campuses, hundreds of people turned out for hearings that were mandated under new State rules passed last summer. On Jan. 21, a feisty crowd of almost 400 demonstrators marched outside Bloomberg’s Upper East Side mansion.

“You have the pieces of a perfect storm starting to brew,” said Lisa Donlan, president of the District 1 Community Education Council in the Lower East Side. “Before, they did this and there were no consequences.”

The opposition to the school closings was propelled by a profusion of small groups many of them working under the umbrella of the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM). Participants included radical teachers union activists, students, parents and community groups that had already been fighting charter school invasions on their home turf.

In Red Hook, parents and educators from P.S. 15 mobilized against the DOE plan to expand PAVE Academy’s presence inside their school for another five years. The DOE claims the P.S. 15 school building is underutilized, a rationale it frequently invokes to justify moving an additional school into an already existing school.

P.S. 15 serves a large population of special education and English language learners, and has received A’s on the DOE’s annual progress report for the past three years. But all of that is at risk as PAVE, whose founder is the son of prominent hedge fund billionaire, continues to grow (see center spread).

“Beginning in year four we will have no other classrooms except for enrollment generating classrooms … and our class size would start to rise,” said P.S. 15 special education teacher Julie Cavanagh, one of the lead organizers of the Jan. 21 protest in front of Bloomberg’s home. “To us, under-utilized means we have room for small class size, we have room for pull out intervention. We have room for one-on-one counseling. We have room for dance, we have room for music, we have room for art. We have room for the services our special ed kids need and to get them in the private setting that they deserve. Not in the hallway, not in the closet, not in the corner of a library.”

Gov. David Paterson has joined Mayor Bloomberg in calling on the State legislature to abolish the current statewide cap on the number of charter schools which stands at 200. This effort stalled in mid-January but is likely to be revived again as the Obama administration continues to dangle millions of dollars of education aid in front of states that lift charter caps.

Critics of charter schools, including the powerful United Federation of Teachers, which represents 87,000 New York City school teachers, have called on the State legislature to amend the law to ensure that charter schools are open to all students, that their finances are transparent and that public monies are not wasted on excessive management fees or administrators’ salaries before raising the cap.

Back in New York City, it remains to be seen if organizers can build on the energy that was unleashed in the past month. Angel Gonzalez, a retired Bronx middle school teacher who co-founded GEM, wants to see teacher, parent and student groups coalesce into Save Our School committees.

“We are only beginning to wake up our sleeping giant, which is our community,” Gonzalez said. “We’re fighting a corporate power that has billions of dollars and Bloomberg is their front man. Eventually people are going to see through that.”

January 26, 2010
New York Could Use the $700 Million


Because of a disagreement over charter schools, legislative leaders in Albany are in danger — once again — of letting hundreds of millions of federal dollars slip through their fingers.

Washington is making $4 billion in education funds available under a program called Race to the Top. The money is aimed at encouraging states to improve or close failing schools, keep the most-qualified teachers and expand well-run charter schools. New York’s share could be as much as $700 million. The deadline for state applications was last Tuesday, and most states jumped at the opportunity. New York submitted its application, but it lacked a crucial ingredient: a plan that would allow for more charter schools.

A bill favored by legislative leaders would have doubled the number of charter schools allowed in the state to 400. But the bill was flawed and faced an almost certain veto from Gov. David Paterson. The big problem was that it would have undercut the schools’ independence by transferring the power to create charter schools from local authorities to the Board of Regents, which is appointed by the Legislature.

This shift particularly offended Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He called the bill a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” It would definitely have been a step backward from a system that has mostly worked well, especially in New York City. Charter schools are not without flaws. Their finances should be more transparent. And public-school parents often resent sharing much-needed space with charter schools. But none of these criticisms are a reason for Albany to undercut the whole system or give up on federal funds, especially during a state budget crisis.

A second round of applications for federal aid is due this summer. By then, the Legislature should be able to organize hearings and come up with a plan for the entire state. Otherwise, New York runs the risk of forfeiting, once again, money it needs badly. In 2008, Albany failed to approve even an experimental version of Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan that would have imposed fees on cars coming into Manhattan during rush hours. That cost the city millions of dollars in federal transportation funds. New York can’t afford a repeat performance.

January 26, 2010, 12:57 pm
Themes From the Tumult of School Closings

Ruby Washington/The New York Times Lisa Fuentes, principal of Christopher Columbus High, hopes to keep her school afloat.

January has been a tumultuous month for the New York City school system, but no moment is likely to be more contentious than Tuesday night, when a panel will decide the fate of 19 schools scheduled for closing.

The Panel for Educational Policy, newly vested this year with the final word on school closings, is likely to affirm the proposals, as a majority of its members sit at the pleasure of the mayor. But at least a few members say they will raise objections, so one never knows.

I’m new to the education beat after covering foreign news. For me, witnessing the debate over the closings has served as a crash course in school administration under mayoral control. And since the debut of this City Room column also comes on Tuesday, I thought I would step back and see what larger themes have emerged from the angry drumbeat of rallies, petitions, hearings, documents that has come with the closings.

Communication Gaps

As I’ve watched the closing decisions resonate, mostly from the vantage point of one closing school in the Bronx, Christopher Columbus High School, I’ve been struck by the gaps between the Department of Education’s stated goals and the way its actions are being viewed by the hundreds of students, teachers and parents in the schools facing extinction.

When the city decides to phase out a school for poor performance, it sends the school a short document called an Educational Impact Statement. It provides few details. No team of counselors or officials shows up to reassure students or faculty. Misinformation and anxiety promptly pour into this vacuum of information.

Though schools being shuttered are phased out over several years, allowing most current students to graduate, the question was often repeated at public hearings this month: Where will our children go? And though, as Chancellor Joel I. Klein has said, the closings are meant to be curative, not punitive, teachers still question why one school is being punished, while other schools — sometimes with lower scores — remain open.

Documents for six of the 20 closing schools included the phrase “while the overall scores on the D.O.E.’s accountability tools do not meet the standard criteria for closure,” opening the city to charges that it lacks transparency. In the case of Columbus High School, it was even more confusing; officials included this line, then later removed it.

In the fuzzy language category, the designation “proficient,” which appears on annual school quality reviews, seems not to carry much weight. Twelve of the 20 schools proposed for closing were marked as proficient last year.

Battle Lines

When the closing list came out in December, the United Federation of Teachers, the city teachers’ union, told school staff members that if they wanted to fight, the union would stand with them. The battle lines soon took on a familiar shape. Arrayed against the closings were clusters of City Council members, community board leaders, and other local politicians who have had little say under mayoral control of the schools. They stood with the union, which has been aggressive in challenging the mayor in recent months, amid stalled contract negotiations. Aside from city officials, proponents of the closings stayed extremely quiet.

For the union, closings are particularly contentious, because one of the most significant effects of school closings is that they allow a school to clear out much of its staff. Most teachers in New York City have tenure, but in a closing, the building has to retain only 50 percent of its “qualified teachers.”

There’s a catch, though. Those teachers who aren’t hired elsewhere, whether because they are senior teachers with high salaries or because they are undesirable or unmotivated, end up going into a pool of unassigned teachers who work as substitutes or in other nonpermanent posts, often for years. This pool of 1,200 teachers costs the system about $100 million a year — and it is expected to grow in the latest round of closings.

Statistical Showdowns

Statistics can reflect whatever prevailing forces want to measure at a given time. The graduation rate, which has gone through many methodologies in recent years, is a good example. When schools are closing, officials fault their four-year graduation rates. But there are other measures floating around, and some people fighting the closings have seized on them. In 2007, for example, the city compiled a seven-year graduation rate that took into account General Educational Development diplomas. By that measure, 72 percent of city high school students graduated (compared with 54 percent in four years); and in Columbus High School in the Bronx (where the four-year rate is about 40 percent), 81.5 percent did.

At small schools, a few children can make a big difference in a school’s annual graduation rate, a factor in some closings, defenders of the schools argue. While statistics can show us trends, their fungibility is an argument for a greater range of qualitative measures that count.

It’s a Vision Thing

Chancellor Klein can be eloquent when he describes how he is pushing for the system to move forward. For high schools, he explains, the city has found a model — closing big schools and opening smaller ones — that works, and the small schools do seem to have found greater success. But in a system as large as this one, any change will bring short-term winners and losers, and critics say Mr. Klein should do better in mitigating the negatives.

In a letter to the chancellor, Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, called for more support for large high schools that absorb concentrations of high-needs students when other schools close. Advocates for Children, a nonprofit group, said that at Samuel J. Tilden High School in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, English language learners received fewer services, and some were pushed into G.E.D. programs, as that school began its phaseout in 2007.

While the closings as a whole may move the system in the right direction, the effects on vulnerable students have been a source of tension. “The D.O.E. must assure the public that its aggressive approach to school closing is not afflicting collateral damage on the city’s most vulnerable students,” Advocates for Children said last week in a statement.

A weekly feature, to run Tuesdays at midday on City Room, that tells you what’s going on in New York City’s schools, written by our education beat reporters. Have a tip? Send them to Sharon Otterman and Jennifer Medina.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

NYC Erupts in Anger Against Mayor Bloomberg's Privitization of NYC Public Schools

The past seven years of Mayor Bloomberg's reign as Mayor of the City of New York have been designed to lead up to the privitization of NYC public schools with a workforce that marches in step quietly behind any and all policy decisions and with a mandate to disenfranchize parent/teacher/administrator opposition. Although the protests coming from parents, teachers, and yes, even the children who are part of the public school community, slowed down the take-over (and Bloomberg is not happy about that), now Joel Klein is ready to hand his boss the prize: a city full of public school charter corporations bubbling with no-bid contracts and children who have received a sub-standard education and, if a member of a minority or in District 75 schools, are capable of mid- to low level management positions in the businesses run by Bloomberg's corporate allies.

Racial, age, disability, and religious discrimination against people of all ages is rampant; special needs children are not getting their services and are being thrown out of their schools without due process; staff are being terrorized, and the "investigators" supposedly holding up the law are violating public policy by filing false reports on anyone who has been labelled as deficient in any way. It is a fact that every organization at some time has some employee who does something either deliberately or by accident and/or in error, that is illegal, or not approved under policy/law. The integrity of the leadership of the organization can be gleamed by the action taken after the illegal action is discovered. The Bloomberg/Klein regime holds onto power by guaranteeing immunity to everyone who supports the regime's agenda. You cannot prosecute anyone who is protected by the umbrella of immunity. The people to blame are the immunized administrators of the injustice being handed out, not the perpetrator, necessarily. A principal may threaten a teacher to do whatever is necessary to get a student removed from the school, and I blame the principal. (However, not all teachers removed from their classes and placed into a rubber room are innocent). We need to do extensive fact-finding to get to the bottom of who did what to whom, and this is what is not being done right now in New York City, and in the rubberized cities outside of New York, like Washington DC, Rochester, Chicago and Los Angeles. New York City is not the only place where educators have been sitting in rooms awaiting charges that may or may not be true.

Under the Bloomberg/Klein administration, illegal actions and/or improper conduct performed by people who are supposed to establish private corporate power in the NYC public schools are overlooked or treated as a minor event, with a tap on the wrist, if there is any consequence at all. If someone inside the corporate structure is actually hit with media coverage for wrong-doing, then he/she is removed from the position for a short while, and then brought back under a different title (as in the case of Chad Vignola, Tony Alvarado, Bruce Irushalmi, etc.). The most important part of the privitization process is the sustained success of The Coverup. Thus the city-wide disdain for anyone who speaks out or writes on blogs and websites. I've had my share of insults hurled at me by Joel Klein's people, and all of my four children have been attacked at their schools. I would not have continued my work as a reporter of corruption unless I had the support of my daughters despite my near-death in 2006 due to heart failure.

What does Mayor Bloomberg do when a Principal tells his people that a teacher/parent/staff member is asking questions? Below are some of the well-known and documented actions taken in retaliation:

* A child who cannot be controlled is suspended, to teach him/her and his/her parents/guardians a lesson (the suspension process is completely broken, is an example of outrageous racial profiling, and is driven by gestapo-like administrators who dump children into the school-to-prison pipeline);

* a students' grade is changed to failing or just above, to 'tell' the parent/guardian to keep away from the school affairs;

* a SOHO report (online disciplinary report that is part of the OORS, or Online Occurence Reporting System) is written on 'incidents' that never happened, and placed into the student's record - the one that the parent will never see;

* the parent is told to leave the PTA position that he/she has, is removed by force if necessary, or is told that he/she will not be allowed to enter the school building unless escorted by security;

* an allegation will be created, and the SCI or OSI "investigators" will go into the school to ask the Principal what the "fact" is that the Principal wants "proved". Then the "investigators" are given telephone numbers of parents of children who are failing in school or are in trouble, and they "interview" - actually coach - the parents/guardians - in what the case is about, then use this information to make up a story about the person who the Principal wants out of the school;

* a sense of instability and, in many cases, outright terror, is cultivated so that at any minute a person who works inside the public school system feels terrorized, hopefully enough to keep quiet and act like a robot to any directive.

The facts are obvious if you want to see them.

First, Joel Klein is not an educator, and he does not care about education policy, public school curriculum, anything to do with support for excellent public school management designed to encourage high achievement. Klein was hired because he is an Attorney, and he assisted the Clintons in Washington DC when the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals shook the nation. Linda Tripp testified that Klein, who took over for Vincent Foster the day after Foster died, was the person who scared her the most in Washington. Joel Klein was hired to make sure of one thing: the privitization of public schools in New York City would take place, and the coverup would be effectively managed, and the general public fooled. In this effort, Klein was, and remains today, ultimately unsuccessful. But the effort to retaliate against anyone who dares to protest Bloomberg's policies still is constant. Last thursday for example, there was a protest of Bloomberg's policy of closing schools, and the protestors won the right in court to protest in front of Bloomberg's home on 79th street between fifth and madison avenues. Evidently the police took pictures of the protestors. The next step is to find out who each person was, and....tap his/her telephone line? Arrange for the IRS to review all past tax returns? Any and all of the above?

The office of civil rights Attorney Norman Siegel sent an email to NYC listservs enraged at the Bloomberg administration for the NYPD picture-taking:

For Immediate Release:
January 24, 2010
Contact: Norman Siegel at 347-907-0867, Julie Cavanagh at 917-838-6465

Parent, Student, and Teacher Protesters Demand Explanation

Last Thursday afternoon, January 21, on E. 79 St., across from the mayor’s mansion, parents, students and teachers peacefully protested against the Bloomberg Administration’s proposals to force mass closings of public schools and their takeover by charter schools. They were exercising their constitutional right under the First Amendment to publicly demand that these policies that undermine the public school system and deprive their children of an adequate education be stopped.
Meanwhile, a reporter on the scene caught on videotape the actions of police who were taking photographs of the protesters from the roof and inside a private school across the street. In 1985, the federal court ruled that it is illegal and a violation of civil rights for the New York City police to take photos of protesters, unless they have cause to believe that a crime may be committed. The city signed a consent agreement that year, restricting police surveillance according to these rules, called the Handschu Guidelines. In the case of this peaceful protest, there was no such cause. The video is available on YouTube at
The protesters are asking for a full explanation as to why the pictures were taken and how the police plan to use the photos. The protestors also want to know whether any videotaping of them was done. Finally, they are considering filing a complaint with Judge Charles S. Haight Jr., the federal judge who has continuing jurisdiction over the enforcement of the Handschu Guidelines.
Lydia Bellahcene, a parent at PS 15 in Red Hook Brooklyn where the DOE is proposing an extension of a charter school co-location, said, “Mayor Bloomberg and his cohorts can not be allowed to dismantle public education. I am outraged that there was this kind of surveillance at a peaceful protest of mothers and others. We broke no laws, and the NYPD should not be allowed to violate the laws for Mayor Bloomberg’s benefit either. The mayor and the NYPD should get used to these protests, because I and mothers across the city will be doing it again.”
Rachel Ali, student at Maxwell High School, said: “Major Bloomberg has gone too far! He is being undemocratic in his actions as if to say that he is an exception to the rules of this nation. Rules are created to maintain order and he has already broken the law by running for a third term. How much corruption can there be in one city, where the major can destroy the public school system because he thinks his way is better! His illegal surveillances are another example of his mindset. He thinks he can do whatever he wants and that the people of New York will simply accept his actions, but he is wrong. We will stand for what we believe in.”
Lisa Donlan, public school parent and the President of the Community Education Council of District 1 on the Lower East Side, said: “The illegal surveillance of a peaceful group of orderly, organized protesters is yet another example of this administration's autocratic and unreasonable rejection of the voices of parents, students, teachers and taxpaying citizens in this city. Mayoral control has already attenuated our opinions to the point of irrelevance; by treading on our basic First Amendment rights to gather and protest peacefully last week this Mayor has once again shown his true colors: they are NOT red, white and blue.”
Khem Irby, public school parent and education advocate said, “In light of the fact that our Mayor does not have the potter's touch to fix what he has perfectly broken for seven years, I request an immediate halt in these public school closings. The board of education should take the challenge to be more creative with the communities and plant the resources to revitalize those schools. This act is an admission that the job is too hard for him. Breaking the law is not the answer either.”
"This type of intimidation and undemocratic action by the mayor is the very reason why the community believes he is destroying public education. No matter how good the intentions, when one man shuts out the voices of the community, and believes that his beliefs should have special status above all others: whether it concerns first amendment rights, decisions regarding public education, or the legal use of the police force - it is a danger to the very essence of our democratic ideals,” said Seung Ok, teacher at Maxwell Vocational high school in Brooklyn, a school which the administration has slated for closure.
“The intense police force and surveillance of a peaceful group of parent, student, and teacher protesters last Thursday highlights a clear attempt by Mayor Bloomberg’s Administration to silence and intimidate stakeholders in education policy. The hallmark of this Administration has been to deny and disenfranchise the voices of parents in the debates surrounding school policies, such as school closings and charter school invasions. This is a clear intent to dissuade active participation in advocacy efforts on their children’s behalf,” says Julie Cavanagh, teacher PS 15, “We view these actions as a violation of our civil liberties and will continue in our struggle to protect our children’s public education system and our First Amendment rights.”

Additional contacts: Lydia Bellahcene:, 347-463-9809, PTA PS 15- 718-330-9280; Seung Ok:, 646-244-4468

People like Joel Klein have only disdain for the general public, especially public school parents, who, to him, are simply not successful enough to pay for private school. Public school parents are failures, and their failure represents stupidity. Their failure to make billions of dollars results in their inability to find out what Klein is really doing, and to write, speak, and/or put information in the 'main' media. Of course, everyone in the 'main' media are bought by the Bloomberg/Klein regime. (See my story on the misinformation of Steve Brill, and Success For Lucienne).

Teacher Hipolito ("Polo") Colon (pictured at right) sued Joel Klein after he, Colon, was threatened with termination at a secret Executive Session of the PEP on September 19, 2006. The PEP is an entity that was made up and it has no official executive or administrative function except to agree with anything Klein wants. All meetings are highly scripted, and Open Meetings Law is not honored. Panel members even violate their own By-Laws - Michael Best, Secretary, never writes minutes, as he is mandated to do (I know, because I filed a FOIL request for these minutes). Anyway, Polo Colon's crime was that he made a list of wrong-doing by his Principal, Liza Carabello, at PS 120 in Brooklyn, and called the Office of Special Investigations to come to the school and talk with him about what she, Ms. Carabello, was doing wrong. The investigators came to the school, but they came to get him, not her. He was removed to the Rubber Room by the Gotcha Squad. NYC BOE Attorney Tae Kim wrote the TAC memos. Later on, Mr. Colon received confirmation that Queens Superintendent James Quail had found that Mr. Colon was right about the allegations against Carabello, and he (Quail) put a letter into her file. She continues her terror at PS 120. (See my article on "The Gotcha Squad").Polo's lawsuit has survived two motions to dismiss by the New York City Law Department, and is currently before New York State Supreme Court Judge Cynthia Kern, the fifth judge on the case. Law Department Attorney Matthew Leighton sent Polo a stipulation that he could see papers relevant to his case only if he stipulated that he would never, never, never, show anyone these documents. Currently, Defendant Klein cannot be deposed, according to Leighton, because he is too high up in the administration, and he is the Attorney for the NYC BOE, and cannot break the Attorney/Client Privilege. Notice that I capitalize "Privilege".

Joel Klein also, I believe, has disdain for the Rule of Law. He has what I call the "arrogance of immunity" about him whenever he appears in public. He is being sued right now in many courts and lawsuits, not only Polo's case. Indeed, he was just sued by the UFT and several others for disobeying the law on reducing class size:

January 6, 2010
City Ignoring Law on Class Sizes, Suit Says

Despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce class sizes, the city’s Department of Education has ignored state law and allowed classrooms to grow in the last couple of years, the city teachers’ union and other groups said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The dispute stems from a lengthy legal battle that ended in 2006, when the state’s highest court ruled that the state was failing to ensure that New York City and other high-needs districts were providing all children with the opportunity for a sound basic education. The ruling led the state to send the city about $1.5 billion in the last three years, about $750 million of which was earmarked for class-size reductions.

But despite the new money, and a decline in student enrollment citywide, class sizes have increased, according to the lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in the Bronx.

“This is a lawsuit about broken promises to the parents and children of New York City,” Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, said at a news conference. The lawsuit, which asks the court to order the city to comply with the law, was joined by several groups, including the N.A.A.C.P. and the Hispanic Federation.

Education officials dispute the charges. Average class sizes have increased since 2008, they acknowledge, but that is because of budget cuts, which have hit even as teacher salaries rise. Compounding matters, the amount of money provided by the state under the law, which is supposed to increase each year, was frozen this academic year, meaning that additional teachers could not be hired.

The state, the officials point out, has continued to approve their plans each year and provide the funding, known as Contracts for Excellence money. “The charges are without merit,” said David Cantor, press secretary to the city’s school chancellor, Joel I. Klein.

The ruling permits the money to be divided among six areas, including class-size reduction, middle school or high school restructuring, or full-day prekindergarten programs. Because large class sizes were found to “negatively affect student performance” in city schools, according to the ruling, officials were required to develop and fund a five-year plan to reduce them.

According to that plan, by 2012 the city will reduce class sizes in kindergarten through the third grade classes to an average of fewer than 20 students from 21; in middle grades to 23 students from nearly 26; and in classes of core high school subjects to 24.5 students from 26.6.

Instead, preliminary city data for this year shows that class sizes in the lower grades have an average of 22 students; in the middle grades, 25.8 students; and in the upper grades, 26.8 students.

City officials say that even though at least one-quarter of the Contracts for Excellence money has been allocated to class-size reduction each year, year-to-year gains are not required and only the final target number counts. But the lawsuit asserts that the city has not done enough to ensure that the money earmarked for class-size reduction is being used for that purpose. Part of the problem, the suit charges, is that principals may use the money as they see fit. In addition, the lawsuit asserts that in some cases, the funds have been diverted to counteract budget cuts.

Attached to the lawsuit, for example, is a memo that was sent to principals in May 2008 to provide guidance on reducing class sizes. It does not mandate principals do so; instead it encourages principals to consider the issue in conjunction with other performance metrics. “As you establish your goals for next year and decide how to align resources,” it states, “class size is a key consideration.”

The lawsuit comes as the teachers’ union is negotiating a contract with the city, and it could signal a desire by Mr. Mulgrew, the union president, to confront the mayor after declining to endorse anyone during the election. Among those joining him at the news conference were Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, and Bill de Blasio, the new public advocate, who has indicated he intends to challenge City Hall more frequently than did his predecessor, Betsy Gotbaum.

Education officials say that whether the courts will accept the lawsuit is in question. The Contracts for Excellence legislation states that notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the “sole and exclusive remedy” for a violation of the law shall be a petition to the state education commissioner, currently David Steiner, whose decision, it states, “shall be final and unreviewable.”

Joel Klein has no contract. Education Law 2590-h says that he MUST have a contract. When I first filed a Freedom of Information request for his contract in 2005, and received back the letter from former NYC BOE FOIL Attorney Susan Holtzman that he did not have a contract, I thought this was strange, that something so simple could have been 'overlooked'. I knew what the law said, and I knew that Klein did not have a contract and was making $250,000 to be "Chancellor". But without a contract.

In fact, according to Michael Best, the General Counsel for the NYC BOE and Secretary of the Panel For Educational Policy, no one has contracts - not the Principals, Deputy Chancellors, Deputy Mayors, no one inside the NYC BOE administration. Best's point to me was, I guess, was to make it seem that the fact that Joel Klein has no contract was not important.

Well, perhaps it is important.

Second, a bit of background: Mike Bloomberg and Joel Klein expanded a fake curriculum, "fuzzy math", part of The Workshop Model, and deliberately sabotaged anyone really teaching it by not setting up adequate training and professional development courses in how to implement this program.

Then, when teachers were told to teach The Workshop model without adequate training, they were given "U" ratings and thrown out of their positions as incompetent. People without tenure were simply fired, while tenured teachers were sent to a room nicknamed a "rubber room" to await a hearing on their competence/misconduct.

Principals have been given the right to manage their schools any way they want, and this includes setting up a budget, handling personnel issues, admitting and keeping special needs children, and abiding by Title 1 funding, special education, and No Child Left Behind laws and legislation. They can do this Right Thing if they want to.

What we have to do is hold accountable those who corrupt the system, harm people, and use immunity to get away with crimes and misconduct. We need to write about these people and celebrate the alliance of the internet with the awareness that for too many years people elected to publicly-funded positions have promoted policies that do not serve the public interest. We must continue to challenge those who believe they can continue to violate the public trust and ask them to stop and listen to the buzz of millions of people visiting websites, emailing each other, blogging and chatting online about what is going on behind closed doors. We must promise to hold everyone responsible for his/her actions (factually documented and not alleged). I call this process "e-accountability".