Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Epic Fail of Last Week's State Testing; Parents Demand Commissioner's Removal

NYSUT -- the state teachers union -- also sent out a message today entitled "This year's tests are a disaster!" explaining:
"Last week's disastrous foray into computer testing, coupled with ongoing concerns about the benchmarks and developmental appropriateness of the tests, left children frustrated and teachers angry that their warnings were ignored. If SED wants to restore the trust and confidence of parents in its testing system, this isn't the way to do it.  NYSUT asks members to Email the Commissioner and the Regents and share your experience with this year's first round of state testing.
For more on the experiences of students and observations of teachers about last week's ELA exams, check out the comments on my blog posts and comments here and here..
More information contact:
Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190; nys.allies@gmail.com
Jeanette Deutermann (516) 902-9228; nys.allies@gmail.com
NY State Allies for Public Education - NYSAPE
Link to Press Release

Commissioner Elia and the Board of Regents Continue to Fail New York’s Children; Parents Demand the Immediate Removal of Commissioner Elia

Parents across the state demand that the Board of Regents act immediately to remove Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. It is time the Board of Regents exercises control over the State Education Department to stop the runaway train of anti-public school “reform” that the commissioner represents.

Last week’s 3rd-8th grade ELA testing was an epic--and avoidable--fail for the children of New York State. The problems began before the tests were even administered, continued during their administration, and will persist unless there is a radical shakeup in the leadership of the State Education Department; in the way in which information about the tests and participation in the tests is communicated to families; and in how the tests themselves are constructed, administered, and scored.

The twin disasters of this year’s botched computer-based tests and an even more flawed than usual ELA test design prove that Elia is unequal to her duties and lacks the competence to helm the education department. Our children deserve better.

Leading up to the tests, some districts sent letters to parents asking whether their children would be participating in the assessments. Others, including the state’s largest district, New York City, sent home testing “info” riddled with spin, distortion, and outright lies regarding test refusal and its consequences. Many disadvantaged communities told advocates that they did not know they had a right to refuse the tests, even though it is their children who are most likely to suffer the negative effects of school closure.

Amy Gropp Forbes, a mother active in NYC Opt Out, wrote in a letter addressed to Chancellor Betty Rosa, “I urge you to issue a formal statement that clarifies a parent’s right to refuse state testing for their children. If the state allows some parents the right to opt out of state exams, it MUST give ALL parents this right, and consequences to schools and districts across the state must be equitable.” Gropp Forbes received no reply.

That the BOR and SED stood by and let this situation transpire despite having been made fully aware of the inequity--a statewide NYSAPE letter writing campaign generated over 200 complaints of “misinformation and intimidation”--is inexcusable. The absence of state-issued guidance also allowed some schools and districts to intimidate potential test refusers by instituting “sit and stare” policies.

Further evidence of a dereliction of duty on the part of BOR and SED came last week during the state ELA exam. The problems far exceeded the typical complaints associated with the state’s standardized exams. In fact, the problems were so egregious that one Westchester superintendent felt compelled to apologize to his entire community for what students had to endure. Social media flooded with teacher and proctor reports of children crying from fatigue, confusion, angst, hunger, pain, and more.

“Any good teacher knows how to judge time in lessons and assessments,” stated Chris Cerrone, school board trustee from Erie County. “As soon as I saw the format when I received the instructions I knew something was wrong. Day 1 would be short. Day 2 would be too long.”

Jeanette Deutermann, founding member of NYSAPE and LI Opt Out questioned, “Who was actually responsible for the construction and final version of these assessments? SOMEONE is responsible; that someone is Elia and the Board of Regents. The worst test since the new rollout has happened on their watch. Until a more capable leader is in place, we demand that all work on the construction of future tests be suspended immediately.”

Ulster County parent, educator, and NYSAPE founding member Bianca Tanis attributed last week’s fiasco in part to the state’s adoption of untimed testing. “Both SED and members of the Board of Regents continue to ignore the egregious consequences of untimed testing, misleading the public by claiming that the tests are shorter. For many educators, administering this test was the worst day of their career. The truth is out, and it cannot be ignored.”

“Enough is enough,” declared Dr. Michael Hynes, Superintendent of Long Island’s Patchogue-Medford district. “Not only are children and educators suffering, but with this untimed policy the state is in violation of its own law, which caps testing at no more than 1% (9 hours) of instructional time. Where’s the enforcement?”

“For a decade or more, SED and its vendors have proved themselves incapable of creating valid, well-designed, non-abusive exams that can be reliably used for diagnostic purposes or to track trends in student achievement over time,” said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters.

“Since the Common Core was introduced, these problems have only gotten worse, with tests so difficult and confusing that teachers themselves are at a loss as to how the questions should be answered. A recent report from the Superintendents Roundtable revealed that the NYS exams were misaligned to excessively high benchmarks, meaning far too many students are wrongly identified as low-performing,” said Marla Kilfoyle, Long Island public school parent, educator, and BATs Executive Director.

Brooklyn public school parent and founding member of NYC Opt Out, Kemala Karmen, is calling on SED to notify every single parent of their right to refuse May’s upcoming math assessment. She added, “The state can and should halt its hellbent race towards computerized testing, for which it is clearly ill-prepared; stop farming out test construction to dubious for-profit companies; truly shorten the exams; and, most important, remove high stakes attached to the assessments.”

Here’s a compilation of observations made by parents, administrators, and teachers about the numerous problems with this year’s NYS ELA state test, and the suffering it caused students.
NYSAPE calls on the Board of Regents to stand up for equitable and authentic learning & assessments and immediately remove Commissioner Elia.

#OptOut2018 Test Refusal Letter: English & Spanish
NYSAPE is a grassroots coalition with over 50 parent and educator groups across the state.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Yes indeed, the word "obeisance" was on the 6th grade ELA exam -- with no definition

Who and why writes these exams -- designed to fail our kids and close our schools?

Advocates and Parents Sue in Court to Demand City Reduce Class Size Now

The Daily News reported on our lawsuit , as did Queens Chronicle, WNYC radio, and Our Time Press.

For immediate release: Monday April 16, 2018
Contact: Leonie Haimson, leoniehaimson@gmail; 917-435-9329

 Advocates and Parents Sue in Court to Demand City Reduce Class Size Now

On Thursday April 12, 2018, Class Size Matters, the Alliance for Quality Education and nine parents from all five New York City boroughs filed a lawsuit against the NYC Chancellor Carranza, the Department of Education, and NY Education Commissioner Elia in the State Supreme Court in Albany, to demand that class sizes be reduced in NYC public schools.  The plaintiffs were represented in court by Wendy Lecker of the Education Law Center.

The Contract for Excellence Law was passed in 2007, requiring that the NYC Department of Education lower class size in all grades over five years. Instead, class sizes have risen substantially since then. In July 2017, these same plaintiffs appealed to the NY State Education Commissioner, to demand she enforce the C4E law and require the NYC Department of Education reduce class sizes in all grades. The Commissioner dismissed the petition in December 2017, wrongly claiming that the city’s obligation to reduce class size had “expired” even though the class size provision remains in the law. Now advocates and parents have challenged that decision in court.

Said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, “It is unconscionable that the state
and the city have flouted the law and are subjecting over 290,000 students to overcrowded classes of 30 students or more. It is time for the new Chancellor to finally do the right thing and provide our children with a better opportunity to learn. Class size reduction is one of only handful of reforms have been proven to work to boost student learning and narrow the achievement gap. The fact that NYC test scores have stalled over the last four years, according to the most reliable national assessments, shows that our students desperately need smaller classes.”

“Studies have shown us time and time again that when class sizes are too big, children do not get the
attention and resources they need to thrive,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “Despite a legal obligation to reduce class sizes, the Department of Education has continued to allow classes in New York City to grow substantially, denying our children the education they deserve and putting far too much pressure on teachers. I am proud to continue standing with Class Size Matters and parents until the City makes good on their commitment to our children.”

JoAnn Schneider, a Queens parent and plaintiff, agreed: “The other day I encouraged my son to raise his hand during 5th grade math. He had just received a "0" for participation. In a class of 32 kids, his chance to participate and his chance to learn has been squashed. He needs a smaller class size now.”

“Smaller classes are necessary to create the vibrant, interactive learning environments our students need to succeed. Far too many of our city’s students are currently trying to learn in overcrowded classrooms, and we can no longer accept the status quo on this critical issue,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“My daughter has been in huge classes since Kindergarten,” said Naila Rosario, another plaintiff whose children attend public schools in Brooklyn. “This year, in fifth grade, her class size is 34. Like other children, she needs and deserves more personal attention and feedback to thrive. Despite the Mayor's claims, there can be neither equity nor excellence when NYC children are disadvantaged in this way."

In a newly-released report entitled Planning to Learn, the New York City Council acknowledged that “NYC has still not met the agreed-upon class size reduction goals established in 2007.”

"It is unfortunate that it has come to the point where a lawsuit is needed to address the issue of reducing class size," said NYC Council Finance Chair Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, NY). "As a former NYC public school teacher, I know how important small class size is to improved student outcomes. Sadly, hundreds of thousands of our students are still crammed into classes of 30 or more and do not receive the attention they need to succeed. This situation is unacceptable and needs to be fixed immediately."

Advocates and parents are asking the court to overturn the Commissioner’s decision and order New York City to fulfill its obligations under the law to lower class size, so that the city’s children have an opportunity to obtain the sound basic education to which they are entitled under the state constitution. The state’s highest court in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case said could not occur in NYC schools without smaller classes.

The complaint is posted here.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Colorado vote this weekend: does it signal that DFER is on the decline and the Democratic Party has regained its soul?

Amidst the bad news of abusive state testing and stagnant student achievement, a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds yesterday when the news broke that members of the Democratic party in Colorado voted by a huge margin to dissociate themselves from Democrats for Education Reform and demand they take the word "Democrats" off their name.

After booing down the head of the education reform organization, who described herself as a lifelong Democrat, delegates voted overwhelmingly Saturday to call for the organization to no longer use “Democrats” in its name. While it’s unclear how that would be enforced, the vote means a rejection of DFER is now part of the Colorado Democratic Party platform.

Even though the Los Angeles County Democratic Party demanded DFER "remove all reference to the Democratic Party...from your name" in 2012 and the California Democratic party passed a similar resolution denouncing the organization the next year,  this is a far more momentous event since Colorado for many years has been a stronghold of corporate education reform. Senator Michael Bennet, Rep. Jared Polis and State Senator Michael Johnson are all true-believers, adhering to the tenets of charter school expansion, school closings and high-stakes testing with near-religious obeisance, and until recently, the Denver school board has been made up of members who unanimously supported these policies and were elected with the help of DFER "dark money."

In a speech quoted by Chalkbeat, Vanessa Quintana, a political activist and a fromer student at Manual High School, described her experiences as a victim of school reform.  The school was restructured and broken up into three separate high schools with funding and a push from the Gates Foundation, and then closed by Michael Bennet when he was Denver superintendent:
She said that before she finally graduated from high school, she had been through two school closures and a major school restructuring and dropped out of school twice. Three of her siblings never graduated, and she blames the instability of repeated school changes.

“When DFER claims they empower and uplift the voices of communities, DFER really means they silence the voices of displaced students like myself by uprooting community through school closure,” she told the delegates. “When Manual shut down my freshman year, it told me education reformers didn’t find me worthy of a school.”

Since its founding in 2005 by NYC hedgefunder Whitney Tilson, DFER has been very influential.  Led by former Daily News reporter Joe Williams, the organization was an early supporter of Barack Obama when he was running for Senator in Illinois, and directed Wall Street money to candidate Andrew Cuomo when he was a candidate for Governor of New York.  The organization had a strong hand in developing the pro-privatization, market-base agenda of both men, as well as the positions of far too many other Democratic officials across the country.  Here is the story of the marriage of convenience between DFER and Cuomo, as recounted in the NY Times:

When Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo wanted to meet certain members of the hedge fund crowd, seeking donors for his all-but-certain run for governor, what he heard was this: Talk to Joe.
That would be Joe Williams, executive director of a political action committee that advances what has become a favorite cause of many of the wealthy founders of New York hedge funds: charter schools.... Hedge fund executives are thus emerging as perhaps the first significant political counterweight to the powerful teachers unions, which strongly oppose expanding charter schools in their current form.

Perhaps the vote in Colorado this weekend results from the fact that the battle lines are clearer in the age of  pro-privatization Trump and Betsy DeVos.  Or perhaps the corrosive damage done to our public education system by charter expansion, high -stakes testing and school closures has become even clearer with the passage of time.  Joe Williams himself left DFER in 2015, and now works for the Walton Family Foundation, funded by the conservative billionaire heirs to the Walmart fortune. The NAACP passed a well-publicized resolution in 2016 and again in 2017, calling for a moratorium on charter expansion. Popular support for charters has fallen precipitously in the polls.

Yet Andrew Cuomo, running for a third term as Governor, still gets big contributions from the the charter lobby ($30,000 from Coalition for Public Charter Schools PAC and $50,000 from the Walton family in 2018 alone ) and predictably retains his political preference for charter schools.  Daniel Loeb, head of the board of Success Academy charters, and his wife have donated more than $170,000 to Cuomo in recent years, according to the NY Times.

In any event, let's remember how Whitney Tilson explained the founding of DFER in a film called "A Right Denied"  (reported previously on this blog):

“The real problem, politically, was not the Republican party, it was the Democratic party. So it dawned on us, over the course of six months or a year, that it had to be an inside job. The main obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, “Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly there are Republicans in favor of education reform.” And we said, “We agree.” In fact, our natural allies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican party to our point of view…”

Lets hope that the Colorado vote is a turning point, and that it is no longer politically or ethically acceptable for progressive Democrats to act like Republicans when it comes to education policy.

How Betsy DeVos much-criticized tweets echo earlier disinformation campaigns by Bill Gates and Arne Duncan

In recent days there has been much criticism of Betsy Devos for putting out this deceptive graph on Twitter that purported to show that school spending has no impact on student achievement as measured by the NAEPs:

Here's a sample of the criticisms that she received:

Here's the response from economist Kirabo Jackson, showing his contrary analysis that indeed, money matters in improving student achievement:

Yet the sort of deceptive chart employed by DeVos has been disseminated for years by corporate reformers.  This includes corporate reform Sugar Daddy Bill Gates, who provided this chart while asserting to the Governor's Association in 2011 that  "Over the last four decades, the per-student cost of running our K-12 schools has more than doubled, while our student achievement has remained flat, and other countries have raced ahead."

In his speech Gates implicitly endorsed the successful effort subsequently undertaken by many Governors to defund their public schools - which our education system has still not recovered from.  

The chorus of boos that recently met Betsy Devos' tweet on school spending is similar to how another one of her tweets was received last month:

This tweet got 6.7 thousands comments on Twitter, most of them scathing.

Yet just a few weeks before, Laurene Powell Jobs had made essentially the same claim to the New York Times, when her Emerson Collective LLC sponsored a nationwide television program that centered around the assertion that our high schools haven't changed in 100 years:

“For the past 100 years America’s high schools have remained virtually unchanged, yet the world around us has transformed dramatically,” intones the familiar voice of Samuel L. Jackson in a video promoting the TV event."

This contrast in how misinformation is received is also reminiscent of Arne Duncan's distressing record as Education Secretary, when he proclaimed to the American Enterprise Institute in 2010 that that budget cuts to education should be enthusiastically accepted as the “new Normal”:
“My message is that this challenge can, and should be, embraced as an opportunity to make dramatic improvements. I believe enormous opportunities for improving the productivity of our education system lie ahead if we are smart, innovative, and courageous in rethinking the status quo....
In our blueprint for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we support shifting away from class-sized based reduction that is not evidence-based. It might be that districts would vary class sizes by the subject matter or the skill of the teacher, or that part-time staff could be leveraged to lower class size during critical reading blocks.
I anticipate that a number of districts may be asked next year to weigh targeted class size increases against the loss of music, arts, and after-school programming. Those tough choices are local decisions. But it important that districts maintain a diverse and rich curriculum--and that they preserve the opportunities that make school exciting, fun, and engage young people in coming to school every day.

What did he suggest as the best most “smart” and innovative way to drastically cut budgets? That states and districts should adjust by allowing “smartly targeted increases in class size.

Then again in 2011, Duncan told journalist Dana Goldstein that “Class size has been a sacred cow and we need to take it on."  Indeed, Duncan got his wish.   Schools all over the country laid off thousands of teachers during the recession, and most haven't recovered from the onslaught to their budgets and class sizes.  According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, while the number of students increased by 1.4 million since 2008, the number of public K-12 teachers and other school workers fell by 135,000.

In 2012, when Mitt Romney was running for President, he visited a Philadelphia school and proclaimed that class size doesn't matter.  His views were greeted with catcalls by many of the same Democrats who had kept their mouths shut when Arne Duncan said essentially the same thing.  Indeed, Obama ran a campaign ad, raking Romney over the coals for his erroneous views on class size, ignoring how this had become a standard line purveyed by Gates-funded DC think tanks and his own Education Secretary.

My point is simple: what's bad for the goose must also be bad for the gander.  Don't let educrats or so-called philanthropists get away with their false claims and damaging policies, no matter what party they belong to or how much funding they offer your organization. Because their rhetoric can become the "New Normal" and hurt kids and our schools for generations to come.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Yes indeed, when it comes to NYC student achievement, it's Groundhog Day over and over again

For the last two years, the State Education Department and the NYC Department of Education have claimed their favored reforms were working, based on increases in the state test scores that were imaginary.

In 2016, the tests were shorter and given untimed, and there were changes in the scoring methodology that effectively lowered the cut scores for proficiency.  Yet the test score increases led Chancellor Carmen Fariña to proclaim, "We have seen incredible improvement on these exams."   At the time, this reminded me of nothing more than the claims made by Chancellor Klein during the Bloomberg era, before that test score bubble burst, leading me to ask, "Have we entered another era of mass delusion and state test score inflation?" 

So yet again, we have a Mayor using these unreliable and possibly invalid test results to "prove" that Mayoral control works and using it for his political advantage.  Again, we have a State Commissioner who says the results show that the state's educational "reforms" are leading to more learning. Again, the NYC Chancellor and a UFT president are drinking the Koolaid, to justify their preferred policies.  This time, in addition, the charter schools are also touting the results to "prove" their superiority.  

I told the NY Times that I believed the increases were illusory, and in response the NYSED spokesperson said my analysis was “flawed, irresponsible and misleading.”

Last year,the city and state test scores increased again, and again, the champagne corks popped. Commissioner Elia claimed that the increase in proficiency rates since 2013 was evidence that the state's students and schools were making progress. The Mayor's press conference was even more celebratory.  
Mayor de Blasio press conference, Aug. 22, 2017
Yet again, I questioned whether this was real, noting that the trends hadn't so far been matched  on the NAEPs, and added:

There are many ways to show increases in proficiency -- a metric notoriously easy to manipulate -- including making the tests easier, shorter, giving them untimed, and/or changing the scoring by lowering the raw scores to scale scores or the cut scores need for proficiency.  The state has used all these tricks over time.   

Well, the 2017 NAEP scores for the city were finally released this week, and it turns out that my skepticism was well-grounded.  According to the analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics, there has been NO significant change in average scores for NYC students in any grade or subject since 2013 on these more reliable assessments - except for a significant drop in 4th grade math. 

The same is sadly true for the state test scores - which haven't seen any significant increases since 2003.

As I said to the NY Daily News, "We’ve had so many years of the state and the city claiming these great improvements — but in reality there have been none. It’s an endless Groundhog Day.”  

Let's hope the new Chancellor will be more forthright than Klein and Farina, and begin making taking stock and make the real changes in our schools that NYC students desperately need to improve their opportunity to learn - including smaller classes in all grades.