Haimson Eyed As Key Influence in Mayoral Control Fight

Our own Leonie Haimson was profiled today by Elizabeth Green at Gotham Schools. She's viewed as one public school parent and advocate who is close to the decision makers in Albany including Assembly Education Chair Cathy Nolan:
“Look, I’m a graduate of the school system, and I’m a parent,” Nolan said. “I intend to be as involved as I can be in every aspect of this bill: behind the scenes, in front of the scenes. The person that’s been the treasure for me has been Leonie Haimson.”
For the full article click here.
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Expect to see lots of new faces at your child's school in the coming weeks!

In a disingenuous attempt to reduce the budget deficit at DoE Central, the Chancellor has mandated that each elementary and middle school in the city to send two teachers over fourteen days to score English Language Arts standardized tests. While the multiple choice part of the standardized tests is scored by computers, other parts need humans for scoring [fill in the blanks, short answers and essays]. DoE Central has touted this change as having reduced spending within the central office. However, it is a bogus claim because the costs of scoring tests are now shifted from central administration to individual schools.

In the past, the ELA tests were scored by teachers over winter recess (and spring recess for math tests). Teachers were paid "per session¨ (as in over time pay) for the hours they spent scoring. Per session money for test scoring came out of the central administration budget. With this new initiative, each individual school is responsible for paying for the substitute teachers needed to cover the teachers who are pulled away to score the tests. In a grand scheme of things, DoE does save money because paying for a substitute teacher is cheaper than paying a teacher per session fees. However, this change will shift the financial responsibilities from DoE Central to individual schools, whose budget has already been cut this year.

To make matters even more absurd, in middle schools only teachers licensed in ELA and Social Studies are allowed to score while in elementary schools all grade level teachers are eligible to score. This creates a particular hardship to small middle schools with small faculty. However, this license requirement does not seem to make sense since it appears that an elementary school teacher may be assigned to score an 8th grade test while a middle school teacher may be grading a 3rd grade test.

It is bad enough we divert so much of our teaching and learning to test prep, now adding insult to injury our children will have a musical chair of teachers for three weeks (at least it needs not be the same two teachers for three weeks). So, if your child comes home and tells you about various substitute teachers in her classroom for the next three weeks, most likely it is not because your child¡¦s teacher quit (although who can blame the teacher if she did!).

Many principals are up in arms about this new requirement - which comes on top of weeks in which they have been forced to take teachers out of their classrooms for many hours, to test students for DoE's expanded Gifted and Talented Program. More testing, less learning, indeed.
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Did the CFE lawsuit fail?

Check out the article in the Village Voice, "The Campaign for Fiscal Equity Lawsuit Was the Best Hope for City Schools. It Failed."

The article describes how a stunning lack of accountability on the part of the city and flawed state oversight has led to a situation in which we will never know how more than $1 billion in additional state aid that our schools received as a result of the CFE case was spent.

These funds were supposed to improve what the state's highest court found were constitutionally inadequate classroom conditions -- including excessive class sizes -- and yet last year, the NYC failed to make any of its class size reduction targets . Which is not entirely surprising as the DOE and Joel Klein have never made a secret of their disdain for our students' need for smaller classes.

Indeed, in September, the State Education Department criticized NYC for misusing hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid. The State ordered NYC to improve its compliance this year.

Yet according to the figures released by the DOE in December, class sizes increased in all grades but one -- for the first time in ten years. Where does this leave our children, who continue to suffer with the largest class sizes in the state? and how much worse will it likely be next year, with all the proposed state and city budget cuts?

Today, Council member Robert Jackson, the original plaintiff in the CFE case, sent a letter to Commissioner Mills. Here is an excerpt from his full letter:

"...I am writing to lodge a vigorous complaint about the failure of the New York City Department of Education [DOE] to meet required standards for class size reduction established by the State of New York in the historic “Contract for Excellence” [C4E] funding agreement that arose from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity [CFE] lawsuit.

Through thirteen years of litigation, CFE sought to compel the state to relieve over-crowding and reduce class size. As the lead plaintiff in that lawsuit, I have an abiding personal interest in that objective. Yet I am seeing current kindergarten registers with numbers like 24, 26, and 27 students in my local school district. More than 40% of NYC students are in schools that are officially overcrowded citywide; and 62-87% of students, depending on the grade level, are crowded in classes that exceed the goals of the city’s state-mandated class size reduction plan and averages in the rest of the state.

...The language in the “Contract for Excellence” gives the Department of Education a clear directive regarding class size....You and I have a shared obligation to the citizens and residents of New York to insist that public resources be spent responsibly and as directed by law."

Who is at fault? Clearly, the DOE, under the mis-leadership of Joel Klein, has failed our students. As he runs around the country with Al Sharpton, proclaiming loudly about the need for educational equality and for the nation to address the achievement gap, he is violating law and all ethical standards by allowing the inequitable conditions in NYC schools to remain - and refusing to enact one of the few reforms -- class size reduction-- that research shows actually narrows this gap.

As I argue in the Village Voice article, the attorneys in the CFE case were also remiss, by not insisting in court that NYC schools not merely receive more funding, but that the unconstitutional conditions that triggered the lawsuit -- including overcrowding and excessive class sizes -- were actually addressed.

Check out the State's excoriating letter and report, released in September, showing that NYC misused last year's funding for smaller classes; and this letter sent by Class Size Matters, the UFT and Hispanic Federation to Commissioner Mills in December, pointing out that this year, the situation has worsened -- with class sizes increasing in all grades for the first time in ten years, and with increases in grades K-3 so drastic that they wiped out five years of improvement.

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