Monday, March 31, 2014

Three Reasons Why the State Budget Isn't As Bad As It Looks

Activists are up in arms. The press has declared de Blasio got creamed and Eva is the true winner this year (put herself a governor right there in her back pocket,s he did. Yes she did!). Nevertheless, here are three reasons why the new state budget isn't as bad as it seems.

1. New funds for pre-k. There are 694 school districts in New York State. 693 of these districts must pay for Universal Pre-K from their own budget if they wish to offer it. One of those districts gets it for free. That district? The the New York City Department of Education. $300 million in new funds. Great job BDB

2. The city pays no actual money for charters. There is a lot of fury over the city paying rent for charters schools. The fact of the matter is that every dime NYC must pay (and the city must pay), the being provided by state.. If you take all of the new funds the city is getting (above and beyond what the city is going to receive for UPK) you'll find more than $40 million in new funds to pay for these. Andy wanted to please Eva? Fine. But Andy is the one who is pleasing Eva. The city isn't doing that with its own money. 

3. More than enough money for a raise With the new commitment of new funds, the city coffers are now in a position to dole out the dough for a teacher (and administrator) raise. No one is talking about that right now. They will perhaps never discuss it. But the fact remains, that the city is committing no new funds to anything edu related this year -except our raise. 

Now watching charters win more protections here than anywhere else in the nation was an extraordinarily painful thing to watch. But I happen to think that people who support traditional public schools have yet to come face to face with a painful reality: That traditional districts and leaders have failed to connect with, and even serve, the disaffected communities that charters say they seek to serve. We who support the traditional public schools don't deserve to get rid of charters unless we grapple with that reality. I am of the opinion that we sort of deserve to have a few of those painful moments until we do.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Warning: Global Regents Approaching (And You'll Get No Help From Us!)

High school Global History and Geography teachers have a tough job. Not only must they  motivate children to love History, Economics, Government, Anthropology and Geography (the five major social studies). They must also teach along what is currently a two-year course of study. And they are responsible for getting their students to pass the most difficult mandated New York State Regents Examination there is; the Global History and Geography Regents. So difficult is this exam that it has the "lowest pass rate of any of the five Regents tests currently required for graduation" (accurate statistics are difficult to find, but the New York Post reported that, in 2011, the pass rate was only 56% (here)). So troublesome is the exam for school officials that NYSED, the state education department, has been trying to alter or change it for three full years now. So intimidating is it for high schoolers that each year in June, the hashtag #globalhistoryregents -a term that applies only New York State students- trends for two full days on Twitter. 

These realities are compounded by another truth. Global history courses themselves are populated with mainly young teachers who have not yet fully learned their craft. The typical routine in a typical high school social studies department is to have a first year teacher teach twelfth grade and second year teacher teach ninth grade (the latter being the beginning track of the two-year  Global History course that leads to this terribly difficult regents). This means that the Regents' Exam in Global History and Geography is being taken by students taught by teachers who are not yet at the top of their game. 

And while the Global History teachers require most of help in bringing world history to students, the city's DOE provides what can only be described as a paltry amount of resources to help teachers teach their students. The city's DOE website, which has an extensive section for teacher professional development, has no trainings for people who teach world history (see here). The DOE Common Core Library has just one instructional unit that can be used in a high school Global History class (see here). (The mere presence of the other units, which can be used in a 9th and 10th grade US History course, are almost comical as our state requires no US History courses to be taught in grade nine or ten) (see here). 

The resources page on the DOE website is, perhaps, the most disappointing. The section of the website advertises resources for teachers to use in the classroom. Each discipline has a collection of links that are intended to be classroom resources for teachers. The section for Social Studies contains 35 links in all. Yet many of them are useless for a Global History and Geography Teachers. Some are intended for US History courses. Others have links that point to the wrong page, are repeated. Still more point to websites where a teacher can buy, with his or her own money, the very resources (s)he came looking for in the first place. Still more are broken links that lead to nowhere at all.

 On that page, I found 12 links that just don't work (broken links), 13 that help teachers with American History, 4  to help teachers with New York History (city or state), 2 links to professional organizations (where you can buy a membership and get resources),  2 to help you buy your own resources (gee thanks folks), yet only 5 -5- that actually help a teacher of Global History and Geography (including zero to actually help that teacher with primary or secondary source document based questions (all of those were broken)). 

Now there are some resources up on ARIS. But that is a result of crowdsourcing for resources; many are teacher submitted and the submissions are overwhelmingly comprised of curriculum maps, pacing calendars and scope and sequence documents. These aren't really classroom resources in the sense that a teacher can find some really great documents about, say,  Climate Change, or favorable balance of trade in Japan (or even the history of the internet). 

So why is the Regents' Exam in Global History and Geography the lowest scoring test in New York? At least part of that reason has to do with a lack of commitment to get help to the teachers, many who are new, who teach it.

Here's a breakdown of every link there on the teacher resources page for social studies, as well as a request to the DOE to please update it. 

  1. Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators - broken link
  2. National Center for History in the Schools  - links to a website where teachers can pay for their own resources
  3. National Council for the Social Studies Model Lessons  - American History only
  4. New York State Assembly Teacher Resources - New York State History Only
  5. Smithsonian Institute - Works (nothing CommonCore aligned though).
  6. KET Social Studies Resource Sites - Broken Link
  7. NEH Humanities Resources - Works!
  8. National Geographic - Works!
  9. Leadership in American History Resources - broken link (actually doesn't even point to a website. Instead it points to a parking space). 
  10. The New York Geographic Alliance (NYGA) - It's the website of a professional organization. Members of the PO can have access to the resource. But if I were a member, would I really be looking at the NYCDOE Teacher Resource page?
  11. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History - It's Gilder Lehrman. It's awesome. But it's for American History. 
  12. History Now Newsletter - Broken Link (plus it's a newsletter, not a resource. 
  13. History Matters - American History only
  14. The African-American Mosaic - Is, was and always will be wonderful. American History only, but who cares. NO lesson plans or anything like that, but still. 
  15. African Studies Association -It's the website of a professional organization. Members of the PO can have access to the resource. But if I were a member, would I really be looking at the NYCDOE Teacher Resource page?
  16. Black History Quest - works! But it's American History only and it really doesn't count as a teaching resource site.
  17. American Folklore - American History only
  18. American Social History Project - Ah, CUNY. I love this project. But it's American History only
  19. Asian-Nation - works, but not many resources for actual teachers who actually, who know, teach.
  20. Hispanic America USA - broken link. Oh, and American History only
  21. C.A.R.T.S. - Cultural Arts Resources for Teachers and Students - broken link
  22. Smithsonian Institute - National Museum of the American Indian - broken link
  23. Flushing Remonstrance - the only actual teacher resource on the page! The only link on the page that points to the actual office of teaching and learning. Too bad for me, though. It's American History only.
  24. Gotham Center for New York City History - New York History only (plus it's nowhere near a teaching resource).
  25. New York History Net - New York History only
  26. Lower East Side Tenement Museum Educators Guide - broken link (can you believe that. They can't even link to the NYC Tenement Museum!). Ohk plus it's New York City History only.
  27. The Bill of Rights Institute - American History only
  28. Scholastic Election 2008 Lessons - False link (takes you to Scholastic's website where you can, you know, buy your own resources).
  29. Making Sense of Primary Sources - Repeated link! (This links to the 'History Matters' website which they already linked to). Oh, and it's American History only.
  30. Teaching With Documents - Takes you to a site where you can buy your own documents
  31. Document Based Questions - broken link (and it's from NYSED!!!)
  32. Yonkers Document Based Questions - broken link. Funny thing; it takes you to the website of a health provider called YORKERS. If you fix their typo and try to go to YONKERS.ORG, it still takes you nowhere. Can it be a broken link twice? hmmm ...
  33. Primary Source Materials and Document Based Questions - broken link
  34. Understanding World Events - it does work, but I couldn't find use in it for world issues.
  35. Facing History and Ourselves - works!
  36. Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility - works; although it's not social studies

Please, oh please, update this. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Yes, the Mayor Got His A$$ Kicked. No It's Not the End Of the World

It's budget season in  New York State. That period of time from February 1 to April 1 is very a exciting time to follow politics. Lately, it has become a very exciting to follow education issues as well. The calculus of democratic politics don't seem to be just right during budget season. It can be a time where down seems up and up left seems right; a time where the voice of the few -those who can afford TV ads and can afford to drag thousands up to Albany- seem to outnumber the many. It is a time where politicians find themselves in all sorts of contorted positions with the hope of making as many constituents as possible happy with the how they voted.

This year's budget season is no different. Yet it should be remembered for two great things: First, this year's season has marked the return of the #edwars here in New York. It has seen charter school leaders backed by funders worth tens of millions, successfully fight their way out of a corner they found themselves in after last year's election. Second, it has marked a rare loss for State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Shelly, as he's called upstate, did something he doesn't normally do during budget season; he publicly stated a few positions. That's rare because he usually likes to be the last voice in the room that is heard. After that, he did something he hardly even does; he changed those positions in the name of compromise. 

That's a significant shift. New York State budget negotiations has often been referred to as 'three men in a room', the governor, the leader of the Senate and the leader of the Assembly, hammering out a deal. Shelly doesn't like to change his positions very often (that's why he hardly ever shared them with the press during negotiations). 

This year's budget season is also significant for another reason; the 'fourth man' in the room -the mayor of New York City (and the one person who holds sway over the most amount of legislative votes (of both houses) up in the Albany, had his a__ royally kicked this season, then made a speech that reached out to the charter groups and finally fell completely silent during the last, intense week of negotiations, letting the 'new' powers that be hammer out the details. That's a first and is indicative of just how bad he got whooped. 

To hear Diane Ravitch tell it over on the New York Review of Books, the man simply caved to the powerful funding of charters. Ravitch writes that, at some point during this budget season:
De Blasio decided he could not win this war. The other side had too much money and proved it could drive down his poll numbers.

And to hear Norm Scott tell the story over on Ednotes, BDB is, at best ineffectual and, at worse, a man who wasted our vote. "Enjoy the victory", Scott writes to all of his readers who voted for BDB back in November. "--he is folding faster than a cheap suit--".  Then there's this:

I hate to tell you I told you so, but I told you so. That Eva would never pay a dime in rent...Not only that but now de Blasio will have to pay her rent....can I predict right now -- one term.

So the guy who wanted to stand up to the powers that be had his head handed to him. Instead of thinking of ideas like organizing a press conference to  accusing charters of getting some of the school aide that he had wanted for pre-k (he had wanted $342 million. He got $300 million, with more than $42 million in new dollars going to charters), he caved. Instead of getting creative, perhaps using his bully pulpit powers to visit NYC students who are forced to attend class in trailers (then, perhaps accusing the governor of not caring about those students), he remained silent.  In short, instead of fighting, he turned tail and ran. Gave up.  Here are afew ways you could describe it.

He had his head handed to him.
He got hit straight into next Tuesday.
They beat him so bad his stars saw stars.
He got his butt kicked so hard, mine hurt just watching it.
He was a tomato.

He definitely some missteps. He probably shouldn't have announced the end of co-locations during budget season -when the fog of war hangs over New York politics like a, well, like a fog. And he probably should have taken the gloves off with Eva before she grew as big as she is now (I personally felt she should have been investigated by OSI for calling off school for all those children for a day to head up to Albany. Charters, you may recall, are still required to follow the rules of education in New York State). But what's past is past and it's time to sum up and measure exactly how much was lost.

  • Instead of an end to the standardized test regime, we got an affirmation of it. The suburban backlash amounted to less than what many of us had hoped for. Instead of a moratorium on testing, we got a reminder that our jobs are about test results and a warning about teaching to the test. 
  • Instead of a $342 million tax on the rich, we a $300 million handout and a slap in the face to the principal of home rule. New York City is now the only district in NYS that cannot create a new funding source to teach it's four year olds. The governor did that to us.
  • Instead the end of co-location, we lost a small part of mayoral control and three co-locations must now continue. The topic that the governor actually dismantled part of mayoral control when he didn't exercise the type of control that the moneyed interests like to see is a topic for another blog post. But it happened.
But before you go thinking it's the end of the world, consider two things. First, consider what we gained this budget season:
  • A ton of new cash from the state for city schools. Yes, not as much as it should be, but BDB was able to get $6.3 billion from the state in addition to a guaranteed funding source for Pre-k. At no point were we talking about a funding cut.
  • An affirmation that co-locations may now end.  If you're crying about co-locations, understand that Silver held off the really bad stuff. The mayor did not lose the control of creating new co-located schools. Unless FariƱa decides to co-locate at some future PEP, they are now over. I mean OVER. That's a win in any language.
  • No new city dollars going to help charters.   Charters are getting a whole lot of new money, but it's from the state. What does this mean? Well the trend of siphoning off money from the public district to pay for the charters is now reversed. Yes, the state is picking up the tab. But, given the nearly $7B that NYC schools are getting this year (which is a huge increase), that new money (coming from the state) is not coming from the city (at least, this is what I have taken away from the news stories). It's coming from the state. That's a win that Diane Ravitch and Norm Scott should be happy about. 
  • [This is an UpdateThe rent is offset Now some may think that, since the city must now pay for the Eva's rent, that the outcome is terrible. But the fact is that those funds (up to $40 million per year) are being offset (and then some) by the monies that the state is providing. I just wanted to be clear: Mario Cuomo's son is paying the rent for charter schools. He's doing so with money from upstate and long island and all of the suburbs in between. The taxpayers of New York are not paying for that rent. 
Second, consider this; BDB wasn't the only one to get his a$$ kicked this season. As I noted earlier, this season saw a rare loss for Sheldon Silver as well. That is a rarity and it should be factored into anyone's analysis of exactly wth it was that happened up there in Albany this year.


So is deB a one term mayor? Maybe. The way I see it, he's two choices; he could switch teams, like state Senator Tony Avella, has apparently done, or he could find his inner Bill Clinton and figure out how to fight back against all of this. Which way his survival instincts take him is anyone's guess at this point. If he brilliant politician anywhere in him, now would be a good time to let it out.

But I would like to give you a brief history lesson before you go writing off this, or any Italian from Brooklyn. This city's last populist mayor; Theorello H. La Guardia, was elected on the promise of putting everyone back to work. Yet during his first year, he laid off thousands of city employees, because the NYC government was heavily in debt. . It wasn't until after that year until he found his groove and became the mayor we all remember him for. And how he is remembered? Well, among other things, for finding ways of getting the city new money from Washington DC) and for putting people back to work during the Great Depression. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Press, de Blasio and Class Warfare

Word to the wise: Anyone seeking public office with the hope of helping this city's left-behind is going to get bashed by the press.

Why? Well because the press belongs to the upper classes and, as one popular musician put it some time ago, "when they own information, they can bent it all they want".

Here is a case in point: Maureen Dowd -who I've never seen bother to write a single word on behalf of improving the lives of New York's nearly 50% poor- recently foiled de Blasio -a man who's integrity is impeccable-  against new LA mayor Garcetti -a man who admitted to tending bar and getting so drunk on Monday for St. Patrick's Day that he doesn't quite remember everything he did that day. And, according to Dowd, the guy who was AWOL the day of an LA Earthquake, is doing a better job.

"He has been a stark contrast to New York's new Democratic mayor, Bill de Blasio, who has been visible but abrasive(1) about one cause: funding a pre-K program by taxing the wealthy. While de Blasio came to power belittling Michael Bloomberg's tenure, Garcetti went to Manhattan before he was sworn in to seek Bloomberg's advice.
While de Blasio has been battling Gov. Andrew Cuomo on raising taxes (1) and closing charter schools, Garcetti has been quietly and amiably working with Gov. Jerry Brown on climate change and on tax inducements that would stem the exodus of film and TV companies to Louisiana and Canada.
While de Blasio is seen as a captive of unions and foe of business (3), Garcetti has pushed back against the powerful public works employees' union and reached out to business.
The hope of liberals that de Blasio would turn New York into a lab for populist government theories has faded, as that mayor's disapproval rating has more than doubled since January. (4)

This is classwareafe at it's most slick. It's the type of mentality that put JJ Walker into office during the 1920s (later resigned during a scandal) and the precise type of rhetoric that leads people in the middle classes to wage war on the poor, instead of on poverty.

Sad as it may be, Dowd is, of course, not the first to take pot shots at the only big city mayor who speaks for the poor. You're aware of how residents from the Upper East Side complained about how their streets didn't get plowed during a snowstorm. The New York Post picked up on that story and sold a million copies (for a change)!

And, on the now famous day that schools were kept open during the snowstorm, did anyone notice how the press was only interested in how the middle class (their audience) felt about schools being open?

When New York City schools stayed open that day, it did so for the benefit of the few people who needed them most. And despite doing the right thing for this city's most vulnerable the  press slayed him.

WABC's noon coverage from that day is an excellent example of the class warfare the press plays.

After the anchor, Ken Rosato,  introduced senior reporter Art McFarland, who did a live shot from the ritzy Upper West Side, the McFarland offered this lede to his story:
"Well, Ken, if anyone was looking forward to going to public schools in the city  today for a hot meal or any other reason, we-did-not-find-them"  
He then played his recorded story which featured his interview of two parents -homeowners from Astoria, Queens- about whether it was too dangerous to put their children on the bus during the storm.  He also interviewed students and parents from Astoria's IS 141 "The Steinway School" about how upset they were that the mayor hadn't closed schools. All in all, it was a very nice three-minute piece (you can see the full report for yourself here).

In Astoria's 11105 zip code, where McFarland interviewed parents, just 7.5% of residents live below the poverty level. The children of the parents he first interviewed may very well attend P.S. 234 in that neighborhood. That school has an Economic Need Index of .58 (meaning just over 1/2 of their students qualify for a free hot lunch). The Economic Need Index at "The Steinway School", Mc Farland's school visit, is even less than that: only .49.

McFarland could have, but never did, travel to another Queens neighborhood that day -one with a higher percentage of students who might have benefitted from having an open school during a snowstorm and who may well have traveled there for a 'hot meal or any other reason' during one.

He might have, for instance, visited a neighborhood in the Rockaways. Zip code 11691 is in the Rockaways. 11691 has a poverty rate of 47.3% -much higher than the Astoria neighborhood that he actually visited. He could have interviewed students from one of that neighborhood's schools, such as M.S 53 and asked them how they felt about the option (it was only an option) of going to school that day.  MS 53 has an Economic Need Index of .90.  He might also have visited the recently famous PS 106 in that same neighborhood. The Economic Need Index there is .94!! Almost every student in these schools qualify for the free hot meal that the mayor and the chancellor were talking about when they justified opening up schools during that storm.

McFarland, however, did not go to these neighborhoods. Instead, he was sent a middle class neighborhood to ask middle class parents questions.

Throughout the day, I saw reporters interview parents in front of such prestigious schools as PS 89 (Battery Park City) and PS 41 (Greenwich Village) but I never saw them travel to the Bronx or to Harlem or to Jamaica or East New York. I never got to see those parents answer questions about whether or not schools should be opened.

Why would the press stay away from showing people who would have benefitted from having an open school door during a snowstorm and, instead, going to a neighborhood with a relatively high household income and  'go live' from one of the most upscale neighborhoods in the world? Did they want to ask middle class people how they felt about schools staying open? Or did they want to ask middle class people how they felt about schools staying open for the benefit of the poor? Is it because they only want to see the middle class and above? Is it because poor people don't buy their newspapers? Or is it because they want the war against the poor to continue? Given the track record since January 1 -when the richest a-hole in New York left public office- I'd have to say it's due to their distain of nearly 50% of New York City residents. That's right, they just don't like poor people.

Only now that the New York Times and Marueen Dowd have jumped on the bandwagon, you can expect the class warfare from the press to really heat up!!! It will be open season on BDB, and open season on anyone who takes a strong public stance in favor of helping the 'other half' in our society.

 Just because I want them off my chest, here are some thoughts, arranged as footnotes:

1) de Blasio isn't an abrasive Mayor. After 12 years of Bloomberg, does she really think her readership is too stupid to remember Michael R Bloomberg?

2) He isn't battling Cuomo about the Pre-K tax. Cuomo is battling him. Anyone following the pre-K story knows this full well.

3) If making sure that people can have a few paid days off and a livable working wage is a "foe to business", then we really have left the building of truth. There was once a time when that paper would only publish the truth.

4) But it's people like Down who have creamed his approval rating! It has nothing to do with 'liberal hopes fading' It has to do with a concerted effort by rich idiots.

Final thought: According to each of the three Abrahamic Religions, it is the duty - the sacred duty, in fact- of people to care for the poor in their society. The very impeccable Raginghorse blog recently reminded me that, in a for-profit society; 'All that is sacred becomes profane'. I never was a big Marx fan, but that quote describes the press' treatment of New York's City's mayor to a T. If this guy is a one-term mayor, it won't be because of anything he did. It will be because of an unfair, untruthful fourth estate that assassinated the character of his leadership.

And if you were once poor, and you're watching this unfold without calling it out for what it is, then shame on you too!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Omens, Auguries and Portents Hopeful (The Future of Networks!)

Reading the tea leaves, it looks like the Support Networks are going away -sometime pretty soon.

It was fun reading this piece from the ed site formerly known as Gotham Schools last week. Says Philssa Cramer: :
"Douglas Knecht, who had been running one of the department’s five “clusters” of school support networks, will oversee the department’s plan to identify schools that can be models of good instruction and operations."

Of course, there was no mention of who would replace Douglas Knecht as the leader of Cluster one.

Clusters aren't mentioned too often, but they are kind of important to the current organizational structure of the NYC DOE. Clusters are that layer of bureaucracy that separates 'Support Networks' from Tweed. The current organization goes from school to network to cluster to central (or Tweed). To put it a different way, there is one Tweed, five clusters,  flocks of 'Support Networks' and about 1800 schools. So you might think that a cluster in charge of roughly 20% of support for schools would need a replacement leader kind of quick, right?

Not so.

Here's the word on the street: The group of support networks in Knecht's cluster, Cluster One, have been rolled in with Cluster Two. There will be no replacement for him. In fact, the cluster he's leaving will no longer exist. All of the networks and schools within it will be part of 'Cluster Two'. I'm sure there's some nice jargon that explains it, but that's the general gist of things.

So what? Imagine it's WW2. General Patton loses command of his Third Army and, instead of replacing him with a new commanding general, Eisenhower just rolled the Third Army in with Omar Bradley's First Army, making Bradley in charge of both Armies (one in Italy and one in France) at the same time. That's what happened with Knecht's old Cluster.

There are only two reasons you do something like that: You're either consolidating even  more central control at Tweed or (and here's the cool part) you're not planning on keeping the Clusters around for much longer.

And if you're not planning on keeping the Clusters around for much longer, then that means that you're not planning to keep the Networks around for much longer either.

And if you're not planning on keeping the Networks around, then it sounds like districts are coming back -before September.