Archive for August, 2005
If it is true that liberals can be guilty of wanting to solve problems by larding taxpayer money on them—a typical right-wing complaint– then conservatives are guilty of simplistic thinking, too. Shrinking every government function except for the police and the military won’t make problems go away, either. The issue is to figure out, paraphrasing Robert Lynd, “money for what?”
In New York schools, inadequate funding goes a long way in explaining high teacher turnover. It plays its fair share in low test scores and graduation rates, in inadequately prepared teachers and administrators. Overcrowded, unsafe schools and crammed-to bursting classrooms can’t be explained any other way. Given their needs, our schools are starved of cash.
The Campaign for Fiscal Equity made this point in thousands of pages of testimony starting in 1993. An entire age cohort of students has passed through the city schools since that lawsuit was first filed.
The original trial judge, Justice Leland DeGrasse, spelled out the spending priorities with disarming clarity: qualified teachers, appropriate class sizes, decent buildings, enough books and supplies, suitable curricula, adequate resources for special needs students and a safe environment. Absent these, public school kids were not getting a “sound, basic education,” –a requirement of the state Constitution.
Last week I had the occasion to discuss the question of teacher quality with a small group of intelligent, well-spoken New York City high school students, assembled as part of the Urban Youth Collective program of NYU’s Institute for Education and Social Policy. The students were all members of community based organizations, participating in a summer seminar to learn how to organize around improving their education. In the course of our dialogue, the students responded to a question of how they would identify a quality teacher by highlighting the importance of a teacher “really caring” about them and their academic success. After our conversation, I had some time to reflect on what was said, and still remained to be said, on the subject of “caring teachers.” Those reflections are, I think, worth sharing.
In focusing upon the importance of a teacher “caring,” the students’ expressed not only their own sentiments, but a significant finding in the educational research. From a number of different perspectives, educational practitioners and researchers from Deborah Meier and Nel Noddings to Anthony Byrk and Andy Hargreaves have affirmed the importance of a strong caring and mentoring relationship, based on respect and trust, between teacher and student. “Caring” is not, of course, a substitute for teacher command of pedagogy or teacher knowledge of subject material, but it is central to building sustained motivation and commitment to hard work in students. A “caring teacher” and a “caring school community” are especially important, it seems, for students who are struggling in school and for students of color and students living in poverty working to overcome the achievement gap.
The devastation caused by Katrina in the Gulf Coast states reminds me of the suffering of New Yorkers at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9-11.
It also reminds me of those who came to our assistance during those difficult days.
In that spirit, I would like all of you to think about how we can help our AFT brothers and sisters living in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who may have sustained almost unbearable losses.
If you would like to help, you can send a check to the UFT Disaster Relief Fund/Katrina, 52 Broadway, New York, NY 10004.
This weeks Carnival of Education, a compilation of posts from the Education quadrant of the blogosphere had been posted.
The NY Post printed an op-ed today by a teacher, in response to Sager’s column from last week. We’ve gotten letters from several teachers with different refutations of Sager’s piece, but credit to the NY Post for publishing a letter from a classroom teacher.
Have you cried in frustration because when you decided to be a teacher, you thought you would be teaching students who understood that education is a way to get ahead in life, not something to be fought kicking and screaming?
Do you think that suburban teachers have to teach a classroom of 34 students — or to worry about their safety in their school? I don’t think so.
To top it all off, city teachers have been without a raise or a contract for over two years. Have you filled up your gas tank lately? It costs more to live today than it did two years ago.
Maybe if the city worried less about test scores and more about improving all aspects of the school system, conditions would improve. Maybe teachers aren’t writing on that Web site about how to improve schools or help children because we have tried everything we can think of and nothing has worked.
We are decent, educated, hardworking people who simply are frustrated and exhausted by what we have to put up with day after day in order to educate the minority of students in this city who want to learn and succeed.
UFT President Randi Weingarten recently said, “The sad truth is this: The city won’t be able to keep good teachers if it refuses to pay them what they’re worth.” How true.
Update: Read this speech from Diane Ravitch that makes a similar point about the importance of the UFT.
Summer school was a fabulous success, the Mayor and Chancellor said yesterday. Sounds like it was, but then so is everything they do.
But you have to take their word for it. Last year, the DOE released a set of charts with the summer school press release, showing exactly how many students attended, passed or were retained compared to the previous year. They even explained, very nicely, exactly how they cooked the books, ostensibly to make the comparison with the previous year more accurate after a change in testing policy.
This year, no charts. And, in fact, it appears they revised some numbers, because the percentage of kids recorded as scoring at Level 2 in last year’s chart doesn’t match the number in this year’s press release. But there’s no way of getting an explanation. The New York Times, the Advance and all the tabs did the story and the numbers. Basically, 55 percent of third graders who attended the “Summer Success Academy” got to Level 2 versus what the DOE said was 49 percent last year. (Last year’s charts put that number at 51 percent.)
No need to hit refresh waiting for the next post. There are some good education related posts around the blogosphere.
Shut up and Teach has a series of links to recent education posts from around the education portion of the blogosphere. School of Blog has a post on a USA Today article on Bilingual education. Scroll down after reading that post as there are a series of great education posts from over the weekend.
A Principal’s message for the beginning of the new school year from NYC Educator.
Learning Curves has a story about calculators in public schools which reminds me of my high school days writing complicated programs on my TI-81 calculator to solve basic calculus problems.
Cartoons: No Teacher Left Behind posts some editorial cartoons on Intelligent Design. Our friend Redhog has two NYC Centric cartoons on his site. Second cartoon is here.
School opens today, and I know the kids are excited and scared and full of anticipation. I wish I felt the same. Instead, I feel like I’m in one of those bad dreams where you show up someplace and you know you don’t belong there. There’s a feeling of confusion, of everything being veiled in shadow.
Chancellor Klein told an orientation session for new Teach for America recruits Aug. 15 that he felt one of his “failures” as Chancellor was “not to get the city more involved, more on board.”
Well, yes. I couldn’t feel less “on board.”
I’m a public school parent, a School Leadership Team member, an education writer. Half my friends are educators. But I don’t see the sense of involvement, of ownership in the schools that I used to. What’s the real agenda for this year? Does anyone know outside Klein’s bullpen at Tweed?
David Herszenhorn’s school curtain-raiser in the Times yesterday led with a description of the schools in “freeze-frame,” awaiting the outcome of the mayoral election. Is this an education vision?
I attended one of Klein’s “listening sessions” at Edward R. Murrow High School, at the very start of his tenure. It was clear after the first few minutes that he wasn’t listening. He was curt, dismissive, and seemed agitated. He had his plan, which he didn’t care to share, and it was like he just wanted to get through the silly talk and leave.
The sham Panel on Education Policy, the toothless Community Education Councils, his wooden press releases, all point to the truth that he himself identified. He has failed to involve the citizenry, or even most school system veterans, in his plans.
Reading the blog today, it sounds like a lot of teachers are really angry, and a couple suggested a fresh teacher exodus was in the making. What they say is driving them out is salary and dissatisfaction with school bureaucracy.
Will he take notice? Klein likes to posture as the anti-bureaucrat, but really, he’s more like the ultimate bureaucrat. Very top down and petty. Read Sol Stern if you think this is just a UFT gripe.
What’s important this year? What kind of education vision would I suggest if he’d listen to me? OK, here’s a start:
1. I’d like to see Tweed involve the city–the real estate developers, the community organizations, pro bono lawyers, sharky (but smart) investment bankers and others–in a multi-year project to create new school buildings that have a real 21st century look and feel, that have sufficient space and good light and labs and athletic facilities and interesting space with some green in them, so that kids could finally believe they are the most important thing in our lives.
2. I’d like to Tweed reach out to negotiate a contract with teachers and school staff that told them, in dollars and sense (sic), that they are valued for their skills and knowledge and commitment to kids. Even if there wasn’t a lot of money on the table initially, I’d like to see that contract be a first step in a planned effort to really professionalize the teaching force. I think Randi has pieces of this vision in her heart and she’d have other unionists in her corner. Instead of carping at each other over ridiculous work rules, union and management would develop a learning environment where teachers want to stay (and kids want to come).
3. I’d like to see Tweed, with Bloomberg’s legendary financial and negotiating skills behind it, just absolutely force the state to finance lower class sizes in the city–right now. There are a lot of legislators who’d be our friends on this. It’s way past time to say we can’t. Yes, space will be a real obstacle, but there are ways to solve the problem temporarily before (see number 1) we build new schools.
4. I’d like to see Tweed reach out to the Health Dept., HRA, ACS and other city agencies to create a network of health and other social supports for children in the schools–health and dental clinics, mental health services, after-school care, and full-day pre-K for three and four year olds, and recreation. The Community Service Society had an excellent model at I.S. 218 years back. Somewhere in this city lurks a consummate bureaucrat with the insider knowledge of the city to make this kind of coordination work–and be a model for the urban nation.
5. I’d like to Tweed support an effort to develop high-quality, complex, multilayered curriculum in every subject, starting with reading and writing. That’s different from buying into crash test-prep programs or dim-witted history textbooks. I’d like to feel that the kids in the city are getting the benefit of the worldliness and knowledge that exists in their city.
6. ArtsConnection, New Visions, the old BOE, later with Annenberg funding, put together the seeds of real partnerships between the arts organizations and the schools. It feels like that’s slipping as Tweed pulls its neck farther and farther into its shell. Think about the teacher/orchestra conductor who was fired and humiliated for calling in sick so she could conduct a symphony. Think about “Mad Hot Ballroom.” Don’t let the arts partnerships go down.
Opening up the schools should mean opening them also to parents, to the community, and to the city politic. It should be Klein’s main agenda, a driving vision. But it ain’t.
This Wednesday, August 31, at 12 Noon, there will be a demonstration outside of the New York University Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South [corner of West Fourth Street and LaGuardia Place] to support the right of NYU graduate teaching assistants to collective bargaining and unionization. The rally is sponsored by the NYC Central Labor Council and the New York State AFL-CIO, as well as the graduate union at NYU.
In 2000, New York University graduate teaching assistants made history when the National Relations Board compelled the university to recognize their union and begin negotiations. Since 1975, the numbers of tenured faculty at NYU have declined, despite significant increases in the student body. To fill this gap, NYU employed thousands of graduate students as teachers of undergraduate courses, since the minimal pay [without health coverage] it provided to them was a fraction of what a tenure track faculty member would earn. In short, the cheap labor provided by graduate students provided the university with extraordinary profits. By the time graduate students at NYU began to organize, it was estimated that they taught close to one half of all undergraduate courses at NYU. NYU’s story is not unique: across the United States, universities have come to depend, more and more, on cheap graduate student teaching labor. [This has led, among other things, to the decline of universities as serious centers of academic research, as the numbers of tenure track faculty which do such research has declined; the role of corporate sponsorship of research, with all of the academic freedom issues such an arrangement poses, has increased in importance.]
It’s been an interesting week in the life of this blog. This blog has gotten a write-up in the NY Daily News, an editorial condemning our disclaimer in the NYPost, another snarkly written op-ed by Sager in the Post that makes me wonder if Post Editorialists read more than just the headline on our blog posts, and a wonderful review by Nathan Newman at the labor blog at TPM Cafe. All this in less than one week since EdWize went live; it almost makes me think that we may be jumping the shark.
Edwize has been live for a little under a week, and the response has been tremendous and mostly positive. Let us know your thoughts about the technology, and the design of the blog below.
Do you like the comment preview?
Are the links dark enough?
Would you rather see only the beginning of the post, with the rest of it hidden behind a read more button?
Would you rather see threaded comments?
Something that another blog has that you’d like us to implement here.
We bloggers who believe that unionization and quality education are not mutually exclusive but mutually supportive have been remiss. In our exultation at being able to freely voice our anger at the constant assault on public education and teacher unions, we have not presented an accurate view of the UFT or other progressive teacher unions across the country. We have failed to note that the UFT, and other locals, as well as the AFT, have embraced many of the concepts advanced by some of the respondents to this blog.
For example, on the so-called “single salary schedule,” the UFT’s contract proposals in the current round of negotiations include paying teachers, on top of a competitive wage base, additional salary for such things as working in hard-to-staff schools (to attract highly skilled educators), having extraordinary knowledge and skills (based on objective criteria), or qualifying for and assuming additional responsibilities (as part of a career ladder). More »
A trashing by the New York Post is a badge of honor. I feel like Wallis Warfield Simpson. And thanks for the plug, guys. The hits keep rolling in.
Leo handled the Post’s silly objection to our disclaimer quite well. Here I deal with young master Sager’s reading-retention deficit. Note how his editorial made a hash of what was actually written here about Wal-Mart. Was anybody really “comparing Wal-Mart executives to ‘war criminals.’ ” What was said was that, after enumerating the many sordid sins of this corporate bandit, it was fair to say that even war criminals had fewer charges to answer for. If that’s a comparison, then Saddam Hussein and Groucho Marx were twinned for sporting facial hair. Or maybe the Post is on to something. Maybe Wal-Mart execs ARE class-war criminals, in which case the Justice Department can declare the giant retailer’s poorly treated employees a protected class. Interesting thought.
The Post repeatedly accuses city unions of pursuing a narrow self interest. How could a union with a delimited membership ever speak for the common good, it assumes? How could it be trusted to meet public needs when its first duty presumably is to its own? That argument is cynical and wrong. It also cuts both ways. What is more self interested than for the poorest-circulated of the big New York dailies to hug the far-right end of the political spectrum, trying to create a niche readership by preying on people’s fears and picking at scabs–all to boost circulation and attract advertisers. Should I say that when you read a Post editorial, you’re not getting a point of view, you’re seeing an actor adopting a pose and reading for a part? The Post editorial scribblers shouldn’t throw stones.
If there is one article of faith among contemporary ideologues of the right, it is that competition solves all problems. For every issue and for every problem, an unfettered, laissez-faire market is the solution. Nowhere can one find this dogma more faithfully followed than on the editorial page of the New York Post.
Except when it is a competition from a teachers’ union.
Take the question of charter schools. The editorial page of the New York Post went apoplectic at the thought that the UFT might sponsor two charter schools, and that those schools might demonstrate the educational power of a school founded on principles of teacher professionalism and democratic governance. A series of editorials were launched against the UFT charter school application, in ever more strident terms. The climax of the effort was a not-so-veiled political threat against two prominent Republicans on the authorizing agency, the SUNY Board of Trustees, who have aspirations for state-wide political office. The application was accepted, and the UFT elementary charter school will be opening its doors for the first time in a few weeks. [We can’t provide links to the whole season series of this editorial soap opera, for the earlier episodes are no longer free on the web, but see the season finale here.]
Competition in charter schools was the epitome of educational virtue, except when it was extended to the UFT.
Today’s New York Post editorial page contains an editorial denouncing this humble blog. If Andy Warhol was right, it looks like our 15 minutes of fame is coming fast.
The complaint is that our blog contains the disclaimer, on the bottom right hand corner, “The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the UFT, New York State United Teachers or the American Federation of Teachers. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog.” This disclaimer, the editorial proclaims, means that the UFT is not taking accountability for its views.
Of course, anyone with the slightest passing familiarity with the operations of a blog understands that they are “in time” operations, with quick responses to current events and debates. In short, they preclude the sort of careful deliberation and broadly based decision making that a democratic union like the UFT employs in developing official union positions. The function of our disclaimer is to make the distinction between what we do here, on the one hand, and the official positions of the UFT, on the other hand, quite clear.
And the author of the New York Post editorial knows this to be the case, although he chooses not to let his readers in on that fact.
Don’t take our word for it. The author of the editorial, Ryan Sager, has his own blog, Miscellaneous Objections. We read it often, because it brings a smile to our face every time Ryan quotes one of his editorials, without letting on that he wrote it, to support a point he is making. I guess this is the latest form of post-modern self-referentiality that us older folks, caught in the paradigm of providing logical arguments and evidence to support a position, just don’t get. And on Ryan’s blog there is a, well, disclaimer. It reads: “Ryan Sager is a member of the editorial board of The New York Post. (The views expressed here in no way reflect the views of The Post.)”
So there you have it. A little competition in the blogosphere getting to you, Ryan?
In a New York Daily News op-ed this week, the head of the NYC Department of Education’s charter school arm, Paula Gavin, makes what is now a familiar argument from the DOE and a number of charter school advocates here in New York. Charter schools in New York City are outperforming the regular public schools on the standardized state tests, she tells us, but the cap on the number of charter schools written into the state legislation authorizing their establishment prevents the formation of more of these quality schools. Ergo, the cap must be removed.
This same argument has been made with some regularity since last spring, when the number of start-up charter schools began to approach the cap of 100 and the results from the state tests were made public. See here and here and here.
Now call me a skeptic if you want, but I have learned over time that it is best, in the words of Ronald Reagan, to “trust and verify” when claims are made by agents of the NYC Department of Education. So I decided to take what the DOE and the other charter school advocates put forward as their strongest case, the eighth grade English Language Arts exam results, and see if their claims could be sustained.
Using the New York State Education Department’s report of exam results by school, I prepared a chart for the test results on the eighth grade ELA exam for all of the charter schools in New York State. This chart is reproduced below [at the end of this post]. For the non-NYers, exam results in NY State are grouped into four general categories: a grade of 4 indicates the student is exceeding the state standards, a grade of 3 indicates that the student is meeting the standards, a grade of 2 indicates that the student is approaching the standards, and a grade of 1 means that the student is well below the standards. Schools can be easily compared by the numbers of their students that fall into these categories — specifically, by the percentages of their students meeting [Level 3] and exceeding [Level 4] standards.
The results were quite instructive. First, it became clear that the numbers were being spinned when the terms of comparison were made only between New York City charter schools [the first six on the chart] and New York City district schools, and not between all of the charter schools and district schools in the state which had taken the exam. [An immediate clue that something was amiss came in the fact that the remedy being proposed — lifting the cap — would be for the entire state, but the comparisons being offered were only for New York City.] When all of the schools were examined on a state-wide basis, only 4 of the 15 charter schools giving the exam had posted results better than the state-wide average for district schools, with many charter schools falling far below that benchmark. Since 3 of the 4 schools scoring above the average were from New York City, limiting the terms of comparison to NYC schools alone made it possible to present a set of results on which charter schools had fared poorly into a set of results on which they were doing well. [It is also worth pointing out that the statewide average is not a very high benchmark: one could have a little more than 1/2 of one’s students score in Levels 3 and 4, and beat the statewide average.]
It is important here to understand that in New York State, the two main chartering agencies — the Regents of the New York State Department of Education and the Trustees of the State University of New York, have statewide jurisdictions, and authorize charters all over the state. Both Bronx Preparatory and Harbor Science and Arts were chartered by state agencies that have chartered other schools across the state. [The local school district may charter schools with the approval of the Regents, but this has been rare to date outside of New York City.] Thus, if we want to have an accurate forecast of what types of schools would be chartered if the cap was lifted, we would need to look at all of the schools which had been chartered in the state. To arbitrarily limit the terms of comparison to New York City is to remove the great bulk of the low performing charter schools from the examination.
Secondly, it is interesting to look more closely at the charter schools in New York City. Of the six charter schools in the city, four were conversion charter schools — that is, schools which had been in existence as part of the school district for some time before becoming a charter school. Under NYS charter school law, any existing district school can, through a procedure involving such checks and balances as a democratic vote of the parents, opt to become a charter school. Conversion charter schools tend to be schools which are doing well, but chafing at the heavy and truculent hand of the district management. Three of the higher performing schools in New York City — KIPP, Renaissance and Beginning with Children — were conversion charter schools; only one conversion charter school — Wildcat Academy — did poorly. The number of students taking the exam at Wildcat was rather small, the lowest in the state, leaving some question of whether the sample accurately reflected the school.
This is significant for two reasons. First, under the state law, there is no cap on conversion charter schools. There are no limits to the number of KIPP or Renaissance type conversion charter schools the DOE could charter under the state law. The cap in the state law applies to start-up charter schools, where the record of performance vis-à-vis district schools was quite poor. This means that the charter schools whose performance is being used to argue for lifting the cap on start-up charter schools are not even start-up charter schools themselves.
Secondly, it is no secret here in New York City that the reason why the DOE has been so active in its campaign to lift the cap on start-up charter schools is that Chancellor Klein sees this as a way to create an entire cohort of public schools outside of the UFT’s collective bargaining agreement. It is his contention that the collective bargaining agreement stands in the way of good education. But one of the salient features of a NY State conversion charter school is that they retain any pre-existing collective bargaining agreement when they convert. KIPP, Renaissance, Beginning with Children: they all operate under the same collective bargaining agreement as NYC district public schools. Thus, it is the charter schools operating under the UFT collective bargaining agreement that are the highest performing charter schools. The reality here is at direct cross purposes with the intentions of the DOE under Klein, and with its rhetoric about the negative effects of union work rules. From this sample, it would appear that such organizational features as contractual limits on the size of a class or the number of classes a teacher can be assigned to teach in a row actually improve education.
Now, to be fair to the charter schools across New York State, one must note that, for the most part, these are new schools, and that it takes a few years for a new school, charter or otherwise, to get to full speed. Some of those schools with poor performances on the state exam will improve with time. Others will not, and they should be closed down, just as low performing district schools are closed down. To the credit of the SUNY Board of Trustees, they have revoked the charters of two of their lowest performing schools. Charter schools should also receive the same funding as public schools, especially now that even Checker Finn has come to understand that full funding of public schools is a necessary [albeit not sufficient] condition for high levels of academic performance. [It is remarkable what insight can come on the road to Damascus, when one gets knocked off a charter school one is riding.]
But taken as a whole, the performance of New York charter schools on the eighth grade ELA exam tells us that charter school advocates need to be focusing on significantly improving the quality of the education in New York charter schools, as well as the performance of their students on state exams, before they can make a honest argument that this performance supports the lifting of the cap on the number of start-up charter schools.
I write this as a supporter of charter schools, and as someone who was deeply involved in and supportive of the UFT application for its own secondary charter school. I want charter schools in New York State to succeed, charter schools of the sort that Al Shanker envisioned when he first promoted the idea — schools that grow organically out of groups of educators and local communities organizations dedicated to the students they teach, and not out to make a quick profit off of public education. But success in education requires honesty about the strengths and weaknesses of the ventures in which one is involved. Less than forthright spins of the data of the sort that is being done here invariably come back to haunt an effort, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.
It is also time, I would argue, to take a critical look at the theory of how to produce quality schools which has been in operation at the DOE under Klein. That theory, in sum, is that quantity produces quality. That is why the DOE has been starting up incredible numbers of new small schools every year — well over 100 one recent year — when it is clearly outstripping its capacity to ensure that every new school is a quality school. While new schools clearly need, as a minimal condition for success, an experienced school leader with a collaborative method of leadership and a staff with a solid corps of experienced, accomplished teachers, far too many new schools in New York City are being started with inexperienced leaders and entirely novice staffs. Moreover, with so many new schools starting at once, administrative regions are clearly not able to provide the supports that those new schools need. But the theory at the DOE seems to be that if you just keep producing more and more of the new schools, quality schools will emerge. It now appears that the DOE would apply the same theory to charter schools, on the assumption that creating many more charter schools is going to make charter schools better.
This theory takes me back to the halcyon days of graduate school, when one had the time to read books of a purely historical value. One such assignment, which I certainly hope has faded from required reading lists in the intervening years, was Engels’ Dialectics of Nature. Engels argued that the theory of evolution demonstrated the truth of the dialectic, and vice versa, because the accumulation of quantitative adaptive changes in nature produced a qualitative transformation — evolutionary advance. The problem was that Engels had a less than complete grasp of both science and philosophy. The theory of evolution Engels was espousing was Lamarckian [which could not survive modern genetics], not Darwinian, and Hegel would have gagged on Engels’ version of the dialectic. Quality simply does not appear magically out of quantity, in nature or in education — the DOE’s theory of small schools and charter schools to the contrary. One has to build quality schools, painstakingly and carefully, piece by piece. Teaching and learning are incredibly complex activities, and the institutions that are capable of supporting quality teaching and learning are no less complex. As Rafe Esquith, the teacher who provided the original inspiration for KIPP never tires of telling his students, “there are no shortcuts.” It would appear that the DOE has yet to learn that basic lesson.