Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Warning For Rochester Public School Community: Dont Fall Under The Bus And Vote For Mayoral Control

For New York City it's too late. A decade of forcing parents out of their children's schools and lives have made a difference, and the teachers who can be found sitting in windowless rooms city-wide who cannot keep a secret will tell of the horror of Mayoral Control in New York City. Even if the Rubber Rooms may be closing, I believe that a rubber room represents a process, and not a place. I will continue to write about "rubberization", the process of excessing teachers, throwing parents and children, and any voter, out of their children's/friend's/relative's schools and lives, and making it look like they, the everyday normal individual, is the crazy one worthy of disrespect and contempt. DONT GIVE UP AND DONT SETTLE FOR ANYTHING LESS THAN WHAT YOU WANT AND HAVE RIGHTS TO EXPECT.

Mayor Mike got it all wrong. Joel I. Klein, the alleged Chancellor without a contract, is despised by everyone who is in the system, for good reason. The policies he has been putting in place since 2002 have failed.

Rochester looks to N.Y.C. for mayoral control lesson
Nestor Ramos, Staff writer, May 9, 2010

Squeezed in along one side of a very long table, New York City's Panel for Educational Policy (see picture above, in Brooklyn, and members in April, 2009) gathers like a bureaucratic Last Supper, if several apostles brought lawyers.

It is April 20 at Prospect Heights High School in Brooklyn, and tonight's monthly meeting will be a short one. It will start at 6 p.m. and end about midnight.

In New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has overseen the nation's largest public school system since the state Legislature granted his request in 2002, the panel has become one of the few public access avenues for parents, students, teachers and others seeking to be heard as the mayor and Chancellor Joel Klein continue to remake the city's long-troubled schools.

About 350 miles away in Rochester, Mayor Robert Duffy increasingly points to the efforts in New York City as a success story as he intensifies his push for control of the Rochester School District.

Graduation rates in New York City are up, now surpassing Rochester's by more than 17 percentage points. At his State of the City address Monday, Duffy showed a chart comparing Rochester's performance with New York City's. And others say customer service, embraced by districts trying to operate more like private businesses, also has improved under Bloomberg.

"New York City is outperforming our school district in every measure," Duffy said.

The reform he supports for Rochester — mayoral control, an appointed panel, City Council oversight — is a miniaturized version of New York City's governance system.

But by design, the system excludes parents from the district's decision-making process, something Klein acknowledged in an interview last month.

"Parents are heavily, heavily involved. But in the end, after we've had lots of input, the mayor or myself ... is making the tough decision," he said.

"It's not that people are shut out. Under a school board, though, you can play politics ... and block change, and that's often what's happened in Rochester and elsewhere."

Still, in many ways, New York City defies direct comparison.

All school districts in Monroe County combined serve about one tenth as many students.

The mammoth bureaucracy running the New York City Department of Education starts with the city's top executive but expands into a tangle of local representatives, citizen and parent boards and other interests.

"It's like comparing the Big Apple," said Rochester school board member Van White, who opposes mayoral control, "to a little tangerine."

In seeking to consolidate city and school governance for a five-year test period, though, Duffy is urging state lawmakers who voted for New York City's plan and reauthorized it last year to do the same for Rochester.

Similar governance, Duffy says, will yield similar results.

But in New York City, some parents, teachers, students and experts say those results are an open question — perhaps even an illusion.

And some wonder whether a change in leaders — the people furthest from the classroom — can really mean the difference between success and failure.

Are voices heard?

Lydia Bellahcene walks out of Prospect Heights High School's auditorium, the site of April's Panel for Educational Policy meeting, and says she's disappointed but not surprised. In recent months, she and several other parents of students at P.S. 15 in Brooklyn fought a district decision to house a charter school inside the same school building.

Turf wars over the co-location of charter and district schools pop up frequently in New York City, where district officials, starting with the mayor, strongly support charter schools — at the expense, some say, of the very schools the officials oversee.

As in the system Duffy proposes, the majority of the panel's members are appointed by the mayor after it was created to replace New York City's school board system when Bloomberg took over. Although policy changes require the approval of a majority of panelists, tonight the eight Bloomberg appointees vote in unison — and not in Bellahcene's favor.

For parents such as Bellahcene, the 13-member Panel for Educational Policy, or PEP, has become a monthly pilgrimage and whipping boy. Klein is a nonvoting member.

A digital clock counts down each speaker's 120 seconds. Venture a few seconds too long, and someone turns off the microphone.

"It's intimidating," says Bellahcene. "If you're not able to walk into your school and get your problems aired out, how does it feel to go in to speak to the chancellor, to speak to this panel? Very intimidating."

Intimidating, and not particularly effectual: Since its inception, the panel has never rejected one of Bloomberg's proposals. He can and has removed his appointees at his discretion.

"Ours is an inclusive process, but in the end, we require the tough decisions that a mayor has to make," Klein said.

Legislators who reauthorized mayoral control in New York City last summer granted the panel more responsibility, if not more independence.

At a wild meeting in January, the panel's vote to close 19 city schools for poor performance came after 3 a.m., and the vote was only necessary because of a change in state law that occurred when the mayoral control legislation was reauthorized. School closing decisions in previous years were closed-door affairs.

In March, the school closure decision was voided by a judge. Because the city failed to provide enough detail about the expected impact of the closures, the judge ruled, the public had not been sufficiently involved. The schools remain in limbo.

Duffy's vision for the panel is slightly different. He has said he would be open to panelists serving set terms, making removal more difficult, and granting them more independence. Last week, Duffy said he would be comfortable so long as there was some process by which to remove panelists who are chronically absent.

Without the ability to remove panelists, Klein said, some things couldn't have been done — like ending social promotion. That vote, over mandatory testing for third-graders before they could be promoted to fourth grade, led Bloomberg to replace two board members.

"In the end, our mayor feels strongly that when you're accountable, you have to have the authority to effectively run them," Klein said. "What happens if the mayor says he wants to move in a certain direction and the appointees don't?"

"The mayor is hell-bent on shutting down parent voice," Bellahcene said.

Pros and cons

"This chancellor doesn't believe in community input or community control," said Clara Hemphill, senior editor at the New School's Center for New York City Affairs and author of several books on New York City's schools.

What's less clear, she said, is whether that's a bad thing.

Klein "thinks that was the problem he was trying to fix," Hemphill said. "He thinks community control brought us all the patronage that we had in the bad old days."

Hemphill, a city public school parent, said New York City's old school board system was hardly user-friendly.

"The other thing we had in the old days was constant bickering among school board members about stuff that had nothing to do with education," she said. "They would tie up for months over (the controversial children's book) Heather Has Two Mommies."

But that board, unlike Rochester's, was not directly elected by voters.

Now, the elected presidents of New York's five boroughs each appoint one member — a parent — to the PEP. A few of those appointees often push against administration proposals, but are routinely outvoted by the panelists appointed by Bloomberg, voting records show.

Khem Irby, a parent at P.S. 3 and a member of one of the groups of active parents known as Community Education Councils, said getting information or voicing complaints has proved difficult.

"Everything is hidden on the DOE website. That's mayoral control? For me to have to always have a friend on the inside? Transparency? Definitely not happening," Irby said. "I came in understanding how to work the system one way for our child. Then something else happened."

Parents and others working the system to block initiatives, Klein said, are part of the problem that mayoral control seeks to solve. The majority of parents, he said, support Bloomberg's oversight of the schools.

"If you want to get changes in Rochester — and you need changes in Rochester, there's no question about that — you're going to have to have a mayor who's willing to step up front and center and take the hard decisions," Klein said.

"And if you don't, if you allow special interests and community groups and others to make the decisions, then you're going to continue to get the results you're getting."

The Brizard connection

Rochester Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard once worked under Klein, the culmination of a 21-year career in New York City schools. "I'm a fan of JC's," said Klein, who supervised Brizard when he was a regional superintendent overseeing more than 100 schools. The two still talk regularly.

Brizard has a more traditional education background than Klein, a former U.S. assistant attorney general.

"I don't need to know so much what the background is," Klein said of Brizard. "I really need to know whether you're willing to do the tough work to transform the system." Brizard, he added, has "that kind of toughness."

Brizard, who has said it would be inappropriate for him to take a position on Duffy's proposal, said some of the lessons he learned in New York City apply equally well to Rochester — having a "results-driven" philosophy, for one.

"Do what needs to be done," he said. "That's important."

Klein said mayoral control breeds stability — he's been on the job eight years, an eternity for an urban superintendent — and Brizard would likely stay longer in Rochester under mayoral control.

"I think he could get more done under mayoral control," Klein said. "People who get more things done usually want to stay at the top longer."

Brizard said he agreed with Klein's larger point, "but my case is a bit different. I have a majority of the board that has been with me from the get-go."

He cited school board President Malik Evans and vice president Melisza Campos as supportive of his agenda.

"My fear, honestly, is that they'll decide to leave," Brizard said, and Evans is running for state assembly. "We have a little joke in this business that the board that hires you is not the board that fires you."

Comparing outcomes

High school graduation rates are an imperfect measure of school success, but the statistic answers a simple question: How many of the students who started ninth grade four years ago will graduate this year?

The formula also adjusts for transfers in and out that have been properly documented by school districts on both ends, and in New York has come to include students who graduate over the summer after their senior year.

By this measure, New York City is on a better path than Rochester.

New York City's graduation rate has improved steadily from 46.5 percent five years ago to 59 percent for those students who started high school in 2005, according to state data. That number grows to 62.7 percent if summer graduates are included.

Rochester, by comparison, improved for two years before dropping this year to 42.1 percent — 45.6 percent including summer graduates.

No one thinks the results in Rochester, or even now the results in New York, are satisfactory, Klein said. "We still have significant progress we need to make."

But critics — including Bloomberg's political opponents — say graduation rates can and are manipulated as schools push students out of buildings and toward GED programs in a way that does not hurt the overall rate. A 2004 class action lawsuit brought by students who said they'd been pushed out of the district was settled to allow students back into schools.

Test data can be even murkier, though it appears likely that New York City students outperform Rochester's, at least at the elementary and middle school levels. On state math and English tests, New York City's third- through eighth-graders' scores exceeded Rochester's in nearly every grade in each of the last four years.

But opponents of mayoral control say state test scores are easily manipulated and provide no valid comparison to performance in other states.

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests — the only measure administered uniformly across the country — New York City's gains in recent years begin to recede. Between 2003 and 2007, the last year for which NAEP data is available, New York City students showed significant improvement on only fourth-grade math tests.

Enter charter schools

Charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run, have proliferated in New York City to a far greater extent than in Rochester, partly due to support from Bloomberg and Klein.

Divorced from teachers union rules, the schools have wide latitude to experiment with academic and disciplinary practices.

Rochester has only a handful of charter schools — some quite successful — but Duffy and Brizard have championed their promise. At his State of the City address on Monday, Duffy pointed to True North Rochester Preparatory Charter School as a model of excellence.

But in New York City, the growth of charter schools has been seen by some parents and teachers as an intrusion.

"I don't understand Klein's support of charters. I think the more charters we have, the harder it makes his job to fix (district) schools," Hemphill said.

At P.S. 3, longtime teacher Stephen Mohney said the school is fighting to keep the city from moving a charter school into its building.

"The department of education is our enemy," said Mohney, who grew up in the Rochester area and follows the Rochester mayoral control debate through news reports. "Our enemy is our boss."

Former New York City councilor Eva Moskowitz, CEO of the Success Charter Network, operates a series of charter schools in Harlem with the strong support of both Klein and Bloomberg. Klein even wrote a letter to parents of one of his public schools, urging them to consider enrolling at one of Moskowitz's schools.

At the April 20 PEP meeting, one parent after another wearing orange Harlem Success Academy T-shirts spoke about their love for the school and their champion.

But like Klein, Moskowitz has become controversial. When asked about Moskowitz, Mohney made the sign of the cross with his index fingers as if to ward off a vampire.

"In New York, we had lousy schools for 50 or more years" and are finally showing signs of improvement, Moskowitz said.

She cautioned, however, that mayoral control is a necessary condition of success, but not a guarantee. "That's kind of naïve. It's not a panacea."

The idea that there is animosity between charter school and district school parents is overblown, Moskowitz said, noting that most of the critics of locating charter schools inside district buildings were teachers, not parents.

Not Bellahcene, who waited with her children to speak at the recent PEP meeting. Later, she said she brought them along so they would learn to advocate for themselves and each other — a skill many poor children never learn — even though she knew she was unable to stop the city from allowing a charter school to use classroom space in P.S. 15.

"I always used to describe board politics as the politics of paralysis. You could stop things. What you need in education is the politics of leadership to get the tough things done," Klein said. "It's not that there are no processes. It's that in the end, the mayor makes the decisions."

February 7, 2009
Klein Defends Mayoral Control of Public Schools

Chancellor Joel I. Klein said Friday that he was opposed to any change in state law that would erode the mayor’s control of city schools, defending his record amid complaints that the city’s Education Department has shut parents out of important decisions.

But as Mr. Klein’s testimony at a hearing of the State Assembly’s Education Committee stretched for more than two hours, the Bloomberg administration’s battle to renew the 2002 law that gave the mayor control over city schools looked increasingly uphill. The chancellor came under fierce criticism from lawmakers, who lamented that Friday’s hearing in Manhattan was one of their first formal interactions with him and complained that, as both parents and officials, they often found it impossible to get answers to basic questions.

“This is really the first time that we have been able to question you in four years,” said Assemblywoman Catherine T. Nolan of Queens, who heads the Education Committee and has a son in fifth grade. “Education is not the same as fire or transportation, because it is my child and a year of a child cannot be taken back,” she said. “The respect for parents should start at the top.”

Mr. Klein said that he did not consider the law “holy writ” and would be open to some adjustments, but he believed giving other elected officials power to appoint more members of the Panel for Educational Policy, the department’s advisory board, would amount to a cataclysm.

“Divided authority and a local, rather than a citywide, focus often leads to interest-group politics in education, and those with power or access to power typically prevail,” Mr. Klein said. “There are, in short, as is often the case, winners and losers. But we cannot afford losers in education.”

Mr. Klein echoed comments by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who suggested during his radio program on Friday morning that if the State Legislature did not renew the law, there would be “riots in the streets.”

Both Mr. Klein and Mr. Bloomberg referred to a proposal by the teachers’ union that the city’s comptroller, public advocate and City Council speaker each be able to appoint a member to the school board. That would give the mayor the power to appoint 5 of the 13 members of the board, as opposed to the 8 he now appoints.

“You had suggested that there would be some kind of cataclysm if there was a change,” said Assemblyman James F. Brennan of Brooklyn. “Let’s say if we allow for the public advocate and the comptroller, do you foresee some kind of cataclysm?”

Mr. Klein responded, “Not if the mayor has the majority, no.”

Daniel J. O’Donnell, who represents Morningside Heights, mentioned the mayor’s announcement that as many as 15,000 teachers could be laid off if the city does not receive more federal or state money.

He asked how a parent who would prefer that Mr. Klein “fire all the lawyers who work for you,” rather than lay off teachers, should hold him accountable.

“First, by expressing that, which I hear all the time,” Mr. Klein replied. “When they cast their vote, or here, with the Legislature, or when they meet with the Council, they have taken actions vis-à-vis me, there are a host of people who are very heavily involved.”

He added, “When you run, you run on your record.”

Mr. O’Donnell pointed out that the chancellor was not elected, saying, “It seems that the only way is to replace the person that you report to.”

That would be Mr. Bloomberg, who has promised to spend millions of his own money to win a third term.

“That may or may not happen,” Mr. O’Donnell, whom some would describe as portly, said of the mayor’s re-election. “With $100 million, I could probably convince the city that I was thin.”

Some of the harshest criticism came from William C. Thompson Jr., the city comptroller, who is planning to run against Mr. Bloomberg in November. He was one of more than two dozen people to testify after Mr. Klein at the hearing, which lasted all day and was the second of five planned around the city.

“Failure to involve parents in the education policy process has reinforced a widespread perception that the department is arrogant and out of touch,” Mr. Thompson said. “With its top-down approach, the current administration has sought to avoid debate and public scrutiny, while fundamental decisions regarding reform have been made by executives with no education background.”

July 25, 2009
Senate Deal Keeps Mayor in Control of Schools

After weeks of delays, negotiating and name-calling, Democrats in the New York Senate reached a deal with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Friday to renew the law giving him control over city schools.

The deal appeared to be a victory for Mayor Bloomberg, who had repeatedly assailed the legislators blocking his agenda in Albany.

The legislation would leave the mayor’s power over the school system intact, while adding some new programs, like a parent training institute and an arts advisory council.

Under the agreement, district superintendents would have more school oversight and each school would be required to hold a meeting with parents to discuss school safety and the behavior of safety officers in the schools.

City officials said they expected the Senate to return to Albany to pass the bill in early August. Senate leaders were more elusive, saying only that they expected to return before the new school year begins in September.

The Legislature transferred management of the city’s schools from the Board of Education to the mayor in 2002, setting June 30, 2009, as the date his control would expire if it was not renewed. The Assembly did so last month.

But a power crisis in the Senate allowed mayoral control to expire, and then several powerful Democrats in the Senate demanded additions to the Assembly bill.

Once the Senate passes the bill, making it law, it will amend it to include the conditions agreed to on Friday. The Assembly would then have to pass the same amendments for them to take effect.

The changes are relatively minor and will do little to temper the mayor’s control. There were no provisions, for example, requiring that the schools chancellor have an education degree, and members of the Panel for Educational Policy, the school oversight board, were not given fixed terms, as Mr. Bloomberg’s harshest critics had sought.

The Department of Education and City Hall officials were careful not to gloat on Friday; they said the changes would not dramatically alter the way the system is run.

Perhaps the biggest change is a provision, already passed by the Assembly, requiring that the Panel for Educational Policy approve all no-bid contracts, as well as any contracts that exceed $1 million. The city will also be required to hold hearings before it shuts down underperforming schools.

The mayor issued a statement saying that the agreement “enables progress in our schools to continue.”

“It preserves the accountability and authority necessary to ensure that the gains we’ve made — in math and reading scores, graduation rates and school safety — continue,” he said.

The agreement will allocate about $3 million to the City University of New York for the next two years to create a parent training center in each of the five boroughs. Officials said there had been no discussions about who would lead the center or how it would work.

Billy Easton, the director of the Campaign for Better Schools, which had pushed for the center, said it would focus on training parents to make school-based leadership teams and community education councils more effective.

The deal came less than a week after Mr. Bloomberg railed against several senators, calling them “meshugeneh” (Yiddish for crazy); in response, Senator Bill Perkins of Harlem accused the mayor of “treating us like we’re some people on his plantation.”

But negotiations between the Senate and City Hall — led by John L. Sampson, the Democratic conference leader, and Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott — continued throughout the week.

Even as final details were being ironed out, several senators gathered at the steps of City Hall on Thursday to criticize the mayor.

Senator Hiram Monserrate called him the “Bernie Madoff” of education and others insisted they would not be bullied into agreement.

Yet the most vociferous critics of Mr. Bloomberg were far more subdued on Friday. Several senators said that while they did not wholeheartedly agree with the deal, they understood that a deal had been reached.

Senator Monserrate, as he was leaving a meeting about the legislation on Friday, said, “The mayor can really be a mensch when he wants to be.”

March 18, 2008
Passing Eighth Grade Gets a Little Harder

The Bloomberg administration won approval for a new eighth-grade promotion policy last night at a meeting repeatedly interrupted by the chanting and heckling of parents who contend that the policy amounts to blaming students for the failings of the city’s middle schools.

The policy requires next year’s eighth graders to pass classes in core subject areas and to score at a basic level on standardized English and math exams to be promoted. The Panel for Educational Policy, which oversees the city schools, approved the policy by a vote of 11 to 1 in its meeting at Tweed Courthouse, the Education Department’s headquarters. Eight of the 13 members on the panel — there is one vacancy — are appointed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and the five borough presidents appoint one each.

From the moment the meeting began, it was punctuated by parents chanting, “Postpone the vote” and “No plan, no vote,” a reference to what they said was the department’s lack of a comprehensive plan for fixing the city’s middle schools.

After the vote, the chants grew louder, culminating in shouts of “Shame! Shame!” that were accompanied by wagging fingers. The meeting was adjourned, with other items on the agenda pushed off to next month’s meeting. Parents continued their protests outside the building while Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein met with reporters to defend the policy.

“In the end, passing kids through the system without making sure they’re ready for the next grade level is not a formula for success,” he said. “Our job is not to move a kid out of middle school; our job is to move a kid from middle school to high school, prepared for high school.”

Mr. Klein said he believed there was “widespread support throughout the city for the policy.”

But parents and education advocates, who held a news conference protesting the measure on the steps of the courthouse before the meeting, disagreed.

Ken Cohen, the N.A.A.C.P. regional director for New York City, called on the panel to postpone the vote, based on what he said was widespread disapproval of the policy. “Today we are here to see how this body reacts to the voice of the people,” he said. “This is not their government; it is our government. Let the people speak.”

When the mayor four years ago announced strict new promotion criteria for third graders in an effort to end social promotion, in which children are passed along to the next grade even when they are academically unprepared, he ushered in one of the stormiest episodes of his mayoralty.

Parents and politicians balked, and the policy was approved only after the mayor fired two panel members who had opposed it; the Staten Island borough president fired a third.

Subsequent promotion policies for fifth and seventh graders generated far less opposition. That was in large measure because the policies have resulted in fewer students being held back than before, with some improving their test scores after summer school programs, and others winning promotion through an appeals process.

But the eighth-grade policy has once again hit a nerve.

It landed in the middle of a raging debate about what is wrong with the city’s middle schools, and how to fix them. The debate gained momentum this fall, when federal test scores showed that city eighth graders had made no significant progress in reading and math since Mr. Bloomberg took control of city schools in 2002. State tests, though, have shown city students making gains over the same period.

One of the key criticisms of grade retention policies is that they demoralize students to the point that they may be more likely to drop out. Some parents say this could be a particularly acute problem for eighth graders who are told they cannot advance to high school.

The eighth-grade proposal could also affect more students; last year, officials said, 17,974 eighth graders received the lowest possible scores on their English or math exams or failed a core course, but only 1,300 were held back.

Patrick J. Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president’s appointee to the panel and the lone dissenter, said the number of low-performing eighth graders raised questions about the effectiveness of the mayor’s retention policies in the earlier grades.

“There’s no reason to wait for kids to fail and then keep them in the same environment for another useless year,” he said.

But Edison O. Jackson, a panel member who is the president of Medgar Evers College, called the effort a “step in the right direction,” saying that too many students require an extra year of remediation before they can move on to college-level coursework.

Zakiyah Ansari, a Brooklyn parent who is part of the Coalition for Educational Justice, a group that organized the news conference, said the policy punished children for “things they really don’t have any control over.”

She added, “I don’t think anybody really understands the need and the crisis that’s really going on in middle schools.”

No comments: