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Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Disaster of Mayoral Control and Parent "Involvement"

One of the most obvious failures of the Bloomberg administration has been the effort to control all parents in the NYC public school and charter school systems, and keep a certain level of "parent engagement" on his and the NYC Department of Education's terms.

In order to do this they - Bloomberg, his Deputy Mayors and his trusted advisors - set up first the Panel For Educational Policy, a puppet group ("PEP") appointed by Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Borough Presidents, that replaced the NYC Board of Education, and second, Community Education Councils, ("CECs") unfairly elected by "selectors" gleaned from Parent Associations' Executive Boards throughout the City (Charter Schools do not usually have Parent or Parent Teacher ("PA/PTA") Associations). See following story below. Neither the PEP nor the CECs have open and public elections, and no member of any group has to listen to the many people who stand before them and beg for help of any kind. In fact, members who challenge the administration in any way are fired, as we saw Bloomberg do in March 2004 over the failed third grade promotion policy. Where, exactly were all the failed third graders supposed to go, Mayor Bloomberg?

By the way, I was in the audience that evening (of the firing) and I sat directly in front of Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, who I had met a few times. I listened as he insulted all the protestors who were exercising their right to speak out against the firings of the PEP members, and just before leaving the room, I turned around to say hello to Mr. Walcott, and I saw his startled face as he correctly assumed I had heard all his comments.

In a bizarre manner, they - the Mayor and his cronies - understood human nature to be one of greed and of the search for power and acclaim, and believed that they had the structure they needed to achieve their agenda of total control over the New York City's 1.1 million children, their families and guardians, and the accompanying Federal, State and local funding that went with them. They gave so-called "parent leaders" positions within their tightly controlled system that at no level had a voting system for the public. Public participation in government except by an elite few is dangerous, "they" knew. The limited selection structure, built on a foundation of appointments and closed, secret ballots/voting, divided parent groups and others, as those on the "inside" on the PEP and the CECs became the people who blocked others from information and services formerly offered by school boards to all who lived within the jurisdiction. This was planned and successfully executed, however nothing else in Bloomberg's 3 terms has yet been effectively put into place. It will be his failures that Bloomberg will be known for, much to the dismay of those of us who fought in 2002 and are still fighting to get back a democratic government based upon free and open elections. NYC needs an elected school board and open elections for school board members in each district, or the sham education "reform" will continue. If all the Borough Presidents had refused to appoint members to the Panel for Educational Policy in 2003, we all would have been in a better place in terms of our city's public schools effectively servicing the 1.1 million children in the system.

Many CEC members lived up to their roles by turning away parents and joining forces with the Department when issues that challenged the Department's agenda appeared before them. I, a parent advocate, started hearing from confused parents in 2002 when my oldest daughter was at Stuyvesant High School. The battle there focused on more than $380,000 that seemed to be missing from the PA funds. The chinese parents were attacked by the PA Presidents and some members of the Executive Board, such as Paola De Kock, for asking where this money was and why the IRS 990s were not filled out properly. I called the accountant hired by the Stuyvesant PA to do the 990s, and I was told that there was "so much money missing that there could be no audit." I contacted the Special Commissioner's office (Richard Condon), the Manhattan DA, the New York Post, Daily News, Wall Street Journal and other media, and no one would do the story or look into what happened.

We parents were sufficiently concerned by these attacks that we went to Jimmy Yan, Counsel to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and a  relative of one of the parents at Stuyvesant who didnt like the attacks of the Executive Board. Mr. Yan emailed me and called me that he was waiting for a reply from NYC DOE Superintendent Alexis Penzel, who was investigating. We never heard back. Scott Stringer appointed Patrick Sullivan to the PEP. We presented our issue to the District 1 CEC as well as the PEP, all in vain.

Then the Stuyvesant PA Executive Board scheduled an election to change the bylaws and successfully removed the Chinese Outreach Committee from a voting position on the Board.

When my youngest daughter's school, NEST+M at 111 Columbia Street in District 1 protested the stuffing of the Ross Global Charter Academy into the school in 2006-2007, (NYC DOE's Garth Harries said that NEST was an "underutilized plant"), we parents asked the District 1 CEC and President's Council for help, and we were called "racists". We filed lawsuits at the New York State Supreme Courts in NYC and in Albany against the New York City BOE and New York State Regents and won, with the help of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, in whose District NEST+M is located. See the Memorandum of Law.

What these and other events have done is drive a wedge directly through the heart of parent involvement in NYC, leaving distrust and even hatred among parents and between the groups and "cliques" exactly as the NYC BOE planned. Now it is painfully obvious that the parents on the PEP and the parents selected to be on the CECs are at minimum ineffective and in many cases deliberately proud of their positions of power and  "acclaim" and willing to please the powers that be (NYC BOE) at the expense of parents and children in the City's public and charter schools.

However, the NYC DOE and the Mayor's cronies have ultimately failed, as the story by Beth Fertig below shows, as well as the hugely embarrassing hiring and firing of Dennis Walcott , Cathie Black and Joel Klein. A solution to this one area of The Problem (Mayoral control) is: dissolve the CECs, get rid of the PEP, and let's all engage our State legislature in setting up an elected New York City School Board and elected community school boards. And I mean elected by ALL, not a select few.

Oh, by the way, Gwen (Hopkins, former Director of the Office of Parent Advocacy and Engagement) you should really be more careful when you talk badly about parents - and me personally - at your office, even now that you are at Tweed. You should know that walls have ears, pens and paper.

Betsy Combier

Ed Dept Ripped Over Waning Interest in Parent Elections

Thursday, April 21, 2011
By Beth Fertig

The deadline for city parents to apply and run for positions on Community Education Councils that sign off on school zoning changes and play an advisory role is Friday — but the city is still struggling with waning interest in the posts.

Fewer than 450 parents applied for 325 seats citywide as of Thursday, according to the Department of Education.

Each of the 32 local community councils representing elementary and middle schools consists of nine elected members, plus two appointed by the borough presidents and a non-voting student member. There are also citywide councils for high school parents, parents of English Language Learners and parents of special education students.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said the lack of interest shows the department hasn't provided the councils with enough support. He called its Office for Family Information and Action a "disaster," and said outside groups should work with parents instead.

"We can show them how to engage parents working with existing parent associations in the schools," Stringer said. "And we can do it on the cheap. It'd probably the best savings the DOE has had. And they don't need to even hire an outside consultant."

Stringer sent a letter to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott Thursday recommending more outreach and recruitment, training of Community Education Council members and ongoing guidance to help them understand school budgets and zoning.

In a statement, Walcott replied that he has "repeatedly spoken about the importance of parent involvement in our schools and have had several meetings with parents and CEC members from a variety of communities."

"I look forward to working with Borough President Scott Stringer and other elected officials to ensure that they play a vibrant role in our efforts to increase parent engagement," Walcott said.

Department of Education officials said the agency has advertised in community newspapers in numerous languages to attract parents. It's also sent teams to communities with low turnout, and partnered with the Housing Authority and the Department of Youth and Community Development to reach more residents.

But as of Thursday, the agency said there were still five CEC's without the seven candidates needed to fill a quorum. The DOE wouldn't give a breakdown but said District 19 in Brooklyn had the fewest number of candidates. District 1 in Lower Manhattan had the most. District 3 on Manhattan's West Side, which had trouble attracting candidates, now has enough for a quorum.

Noah Gotbaum, the president of the CEC for District 3, claimed the DOE doesn't give parents enough reasons to want to spend long hours volunteering on the councils.

"The bottom line is the CECs have been emasculated," he said. "The groups have very little power, and they're not listened to when we do stand up and say this is what we want. We're completely ignored."

Gotbaum, a frequent critics of the DOE, said CECs have been ignored when they opposed closing schools or having charter schools share space with regular district schools. He also accused the department of deliberately obstructing parent involvement.

"The DOE has, since the very beginning, has put out false eligibility information," he said. "They've put out information which limits the number of candidates."

Gotbaum said parents of children in grades K-8 are allowed to run for Community Education Councils, as well as anyone who's had a child in the school system within the past two years. That could mean parents of 10th graders in some cases. But he this information is sometimes difficult to determine from the DOE, he said.

This is how the eligibility rules are explained on the election site:

"Parents are eligible to serve on the CEC for their local community school district if their child is currently in grades K-8 at a school under the jurisdiction of the community school district, or if their child was in grades K-8 at a school under the jurisdiction of the community school district within the past two years."

The DOE acknowledged an earlier version suggested only parents of children in grades K-7 could run, and officials say this current explanation is accurate.

Learning As They Go: A Look At Changes To The School System

Forty-two third graders failed at least one exam at P.S. 40 in South Jamaica.
Forty-two third graders failed at least one exam at P.S. 40 in South Jamaica. Tribune photo by Azi Paybarah
By Azi Paybarah, Queens Tribune

The turbulent school year, full of change and controversy, came to end this week, marking the completion of the new system’s first term.

From crime to the curriculum to the chain of command, New York City’s school system underwent its most dramatic changes in recent history, when Mayor Mike Bloomberg took control of the system and turned it upside down.

This week, looking back at the changes that were made, many of his initiatives were deemed successes, including his anti-crime program, while many were criticized, such as a third grade promotion policy.

While the Mayor looks back to evaluate how he did, the rest of the city is looking to the future, where more change still lies ahead.

Crime In The Classroom

This week, Bloomberg released crime statistics for the 16 city schools with the highest incidents of crime – schools that were targeted earlier this year in a new anti-crime initiative launched by the Mayor and the Department of Education (DOE).

Citywide, 13 percent of major school crimes were committed in schools representing one percent of the city’s school children. Among those schools were Far Rockaway High School and Franklin K. Lane on the Brooklyn-Queens border in Woodhaven. In January, Bloomberg named them Impact Schools, and working with the New York City Police Department (NYPD), had them flooded with police officers.

Major crimes, which occurred on average every day at schools like Lane, were cut in half, according to statistics released by Bloomberg and the DOE. Four additional schools outside Queens were designated impact schools in April, and results there were just as dramatic.

Crimes there dropped by 66 percent, compared to earlier that year.

According to a public statement from the DOE, “School personnel focused on responding to even the most minor infractions of the New York City Discipline Code.” That led to a spike in the number of suspensions at both sets of Impact schools. In the first 12 weeks, principals suspended twice as many students, compared to earlier that year. At the second set of Impact schools, suspensions rose 63 percent. Ultimately, the new policy led to the removal of 494 students to “alternative school settings or off-site suspension centers.”

In explaining the philosophy behind the Impact Schools, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said it is “the same approach we used to address crime in our neighborhoods.”

Whether it’s a teacher, school aide or police officer, “everyone is speaking with one voice,” said Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt.

“If students are afraid to go to school,” said Bloomberg in a public statement, “they simply cannot learn.”

Upgrades to school policies also helped. At Lane, for example, the handwritten hallway passes were replaced with a color-coded system that includes the teacher’s name.

Social Promotion Over

One of the most discussed changes to the school system was Bloomberg’s new promotion policy, which forces third grade children to pass both the citywide math and reading tests to move on to fourth grade.

The new standard was meant to combat so-called social promotion policy, which pushed failing students into higher grades.

To enact the policy, Bloomberg fired three members of the Panel for Educational Policy who opposed the measure.

“Mayoral appointees are there to represent the mayor’s view,” said mayoral spokesperson Chris Coffey. “If they don’t have the stomach to do that they didn’t have to stay. Mayoral control means mayoral control.” The policy passed eight to five with two non-voting student members opposing the policy.

Test administrators got failing marks after a series of snafus.

Students in District 29 and elsewhere studied by reviewing old exams, inadvertently exposing them to questions recycled on this year’s exam. Talk swirled of retesting those students, but DOE officials settled on scoring the original exam, minus those questions. Chairperson Jane Hirschmann of Parents Coalition To End High Stakes Testing said the whole test should be thrown out. She obtained a manual from the two companies who prepared the test, which said, “The tests favors white children by 11 questions…[and] no questions favor Hispanic and black children.”

Students who were absent for the reading exam were not given the same test for their makeup because Hirschmann released some questions to the media during a press conference. Third graders opened the newly created exams and discovered answer options that did not correspond to those in their test booklets.

When results of those exams were released, more than 10,000 third graders citywide failed, including 1,796 in Queens. When the policy was first announced, DOE officials estimated 15,000 might fail.

Two of the city’s top three school districts were in Queens. In School District (SD) 26, only 14 students failed. SD 25 came in third with 78 students failing at least one of the exams.

Thirteen elementary schools in SD 26 had a 100 percent passing rate for their third graders. The borough’s worst performing school was South Jamaica’s P.S. 40, where 42 third graders failed at least one exam.

Punishing Principals

“Poor performance” was the reason given for removing 45 principals this year, according to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Sixteen of the deposed principals were tenured, and two of them are “being formally charged with incompetence,” according to a public statement from Klein’s office.

Schools in Queens where principals were reportedly removed include Franklin K. Lane, Far Rockaway, Beach Channel, and Springfield Gardens High Schools; P.S./I.S. 499, J.H.S. 190, and P.S. 111. President Jill Levy of the principals union said the DOE “was not able to provide the support and skill development these principals needed in order to succeed.”

Removed earlier this year was Superintendent Diana Lam, who resigned after a special DOE investigator discovered Lam forced school officials to give her husband a $100,000 a year job.

School Boards

Replacing each of the city’s 32 school boards will be Community Education Councils (CEC), whose members were elected earlier this year. Each CEC will have nine elected parent representatives, and two members appointed by the borough president. Two citywide CECs will be established for special education and high schools. The CEC for Special education will have nine elected parent members, and two members appointed by the Public Advocate.

The main difference between School Boards (SB) and CECs are their eligibility requirements.

School board members were voted in by the public, had to live in the district, but their children did not have to attend district public schools.

“At one point I was the only one on the board who had their kids in public school,” said SB30 member Jeannie Basini.

CEC members are voted in by the executive members of each school’s Parent Association or Parent Teacher Association, and have to have a child in a district public school.

Although unclear in their roles, CECs are expected to operate similarly to School Boards, sources said.

One major procedural change was the high school application process. Students are no longer guaranteed a seat in their zoned schools, meaning each incoming ninth grader has to apply to the school of their choice. Since no seat is guaranteed, even in their nearest school, some students have been forced into schools across town. Adding to the influx of applications are the new federal standards of the No Child Left Behind Law, which allows students in failing schools to request seats in better performing ones.

Total Number Of Failing Third Graders In Queens School Districts

District = Total

24 = 364
25 = 78
26 = 14
27 = 484
28 = 243
29 = 404
30 = 209

Boroughwide = 1,796