Friday, February 6, 2009

How the NYCDOE Lies? Let Me Count the Ways

Not a day goes by that we are not flooded with information on the kinds of lies and misinformation coming out of the NYC Department of Education and Mayor Bloomberg's office. That objections to the outrages are coming from both teachers and parents is worth noting, though it is ignored by the media (see report on WNYC Beth Fertig report yesterday). I'll be posting some of this when there is time, but it is only scratching the surface. Check with the NYC Public School Parents Blog for consistent updates.

That the school community is totally ignored when school closings are announced or new schools are placed or forced into existing buildings, is not in question by anyone involved. But the BloomKlein spin machine spits out lies by the second. (Today there will be a demonstration from 3-4:30 by parents and teachers at PS/IS 72 in the East NY section of Brooklyn, 605 Shepherd Ave. UFT officials will be there to assure them the closing is a fait accompli.)

Leonie Haimson sent this post:
On Monday night, at the mayoral control forum in Queens, Dina Paul Parks, Senior Policy Advisor to Deputy Mayor Walcott, insisted that parents in general and district leadership teams in particular are consulted and their input is solicited before any decision is made on where to site new schools in the district. The video with her comments are here: Debate on Mayoral control; check it out!

Parent activist Lisa Donlon from District 1 on the lower east side responded. I don't know what most of the labels she is using mean, but you'll get the gist of what Lisa is talking about.
Note in particular the role being played by Tweed's CEO of Parent Involvement, Martine Guerrier, who a long, long, time ago in a galaxy far away, was actually someone who questioned the actions of Tweed when she was the Brooklyn rep on the Panel for Education Policy. That was before B'klyn Boro Pres. Marty Markowitz signed on as a total BloomKlein flunky and Martine started to drift. Then on the day of the big anti-BloomKlein rally in Feb. 2007, she was hired for the $150,000 job by Klein. (See Ed Notes, Say It Ain't So Martine and Leonie's report on the Feb. 28, 2007 Rally to Put the Public Back in Public Education.) From what I hear, Martine has become a virtual spin machine all by herself.

I bet someone at DoE tells her (Dina Paul Parks) that is true.
It is not.

One example- tonight was the public hearing for the OPD planned move of Ross Global Academy into Eastside Community High School in District One.

The RGA board discussed the plan in mid October, according to their minutes.
I was informed by OPD in mid November of a plan that was calibrated down to the number of classrooms needed vs the number available, yet no one at Eastside, including the principal, had at that point been told.

The matter has not to date been brought to my DLT for input of any kind although I have informed the members of the plan.

Last spring Martine told CEC members that OFEA had worked with a number of DLT's to plan school closings and new school openings.

I'd be happy to share the correspondence by which I tried to ascertain the validity of the claims; I asked for meeting agendas and attendance lists, that were never provided to back up the claim (that buck stopped at Brian Ellner).

Some of the CEC members in the districts cited by Martine as having had these conversations told me that a sort of shadow DLT was convened by OFEA and OPD to have these discussions.

DLT core membership is defined by state law and Chancellor's Regs but
I had the impressions that these other groups would pass a sniff test.

Lisa Donlon follows up in another post with these questions:

Why does everyone buy into the demonizing mythology of the "bad old days" of school boards?
Why glorify the current system which has many more serious flaws?
Why is the legislature not threatened with a close down when corruption, scandal and cronyism are revealed?
Why are only poor, urban, non-white school systems subject to "control" by autocracy?

Parent Ellen Bilofsky of Brooklyn wrote this email to Beth Fertig of WNYC after her report on the Brian Lehrer show on mayoral control yesterday. (I was on hold to talk about the drive-by diplomas and reports of teachers being pressured to not give kids level one scores after I heard Fertig repeat the DOE bull-stat that Level ones had dropped significantly under BloomKlein without considering the real reason.)

As a public school parent for 17 years, I'm disappointed at your presentation of the issues around mayoral control (although I missed the first few minutes).

For one thing, you seemed to accept the DOE's line that test scores are a solid--and the only--indication of improvement, without questioning the increased focus on those scores. If low-performing schools raise their scores, but the students learn nothing except how to take standardized tests, how much better off are these children?

You also repeated that principles have been "empowered" to control their own schools, without realizing how hamstrung they really are by the DOE's requirements for constant testing and by requiring the schools to absorb some of the services the districts formally paid for but with slashed budgets.

Finally, you dismissed parental involvement under the previous governance system as "theater" and merely "feeling listened to." Yet parent leaders in many districts, and to an extent at the city level, had considerable influence on the policies of their superintendents and had substantial information about district policies and budgets.

I personally felt my years of involvement were denigrated by that comment.

The current DOE turns the notion of "accountability" on its head by being accountable to no one for its policies--not to parents, not to the City Council, not even to the State legislature. Being able to vote the mayor out of office once every four years is not sufficient to hold him accountable for his chancellor's educational policies, when we are voting on his performance in so many other areas. And schoolchildren can't wait four years to rectify the DOE's grave mistakes.

Only a system of checks and balances, with true accountability and oversight, can fix this.

There is much, much more that could be said about the problems of mayoral control and what needs to be done to improve our system without "throwing the baby" of what was done right under the old system "out with the bathwater."

I hope future segments will give a more balanced view (well, actually, more tilted toward the parents' point of view) and will give parents some time to respond.

I'll close with this comment from NYC Parent Steve Koss

So many of us on this listserv believe fervently that the Klein regime's relentless focus on "measurable results" -- graduation rates, standardized test scores, etc. -- has utterly perverted the education process and led to all sorts of machinations to fudge the numbers (credit recovery, scaled exam scoring, discouraging participation in exams, changing student answers, etc.). This is an inevitable outcome of basing people's compensation, performance reviews, bonuses, even their jobs on those "measurable" outcomes. More than 30 years ago, this was formally identified by what is now known as Campbell's Law: "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decisionmaking, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."

My point is this. WE all know this is going on, WE all believe that the system has been turned upside, leading to these behaviors, but most of the public and most of the media (especially the major NYC newspapers) either don't know, don't believe it, or simply don't care to report it. Until we can get a respectably large group of teachers and school administrators to get up and, as they say, speak the truth to power, nothing is going to change and we'll remain on this same road to well-measured ruin (although, ironically and tragically, it will look to most like a magnif icent, quantifiable success).

Perhaps we can start collecting/cataloging these stories and get the individuals who report them to also stand behind them (even if anonymously). I suppose I'm being naive, but wouldn't it be great, for example, to have a press conference where people from the classrooms told these stories? What WE all believe and know to be happening will never become common knowledge and public perception until we can get those closest to this to speak out about what they see going on every day in their schools. How can people who care about children's education stand silently by and watch this happening?

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