Monday, January 16, 2017

Pass a resolution in support of a Commission to reform the dysfunctional system of school planning and siting!

Many parent leaders signed a letter in June 2015, along with the Public Advocate and 22 Council Members, calling for a Commission to reform the broken, dysfunctional process of school planning and siting, to better estimate the need for new school seats and to ensure that sufficient numbers are built efficiently and promptly along with enrollment growth and not years afterward.

We have heard that the City Council is likely to hold hearings soon where the idea of a Commission will be discussed.  We don't have a date yet, but it would be terrific if PTAs and Community Education Councils could vote on resolutions to support the formation of a Commission that would come up with specific and actionable proposals to improve school planning and siting, or else our schools are likely to become even more overcrowded in the years to come. 

Below is a summary of how many seats are funded in each district in the current (Nov.2016) capital plan, compared to DOE's estimate of the need  along with our explanation of why even the DOE's figures significantly underestimate the actual need.

Also below is a sample resolution passed by the CEC D15.  CEC D2 also passed a similar one last week.
If you've already passed a similar resolution or would like some data for your district to plug into a resolution, just email us at thanks!  Leonie

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Lily Eskelson along with 2000 angry parents & teachers urge Zuckerberg not to hire Campbell Brown -- and to curtail the propagation of fake news

More than 2000 concerned parents and teachers signed our petition urging Mark Zuckerberg NOT to hire Campbell Brown to head his new “news team”.  They live throughout the country in 46 states and DC, and  in 10 different countries plus Puerto Rico.  Many commented that they would boycott Facebook unless Zuckerberg reversed his decision.The message they signed onto is below --- as well as the signers' names and outraged comments.

Now,  I just received a copy of an email sent to Zuckerberg from Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the President of the NEA as well -- which is below.

From: Lily Eskelsen <>
Date: Thursday, January 12, 2017 at 1:34 PM
To: Mark Zuckerberg ;
Subject: From the NEA President on how to change everything

To Mark Zuckerberg:

I’m reaching out to you, personally.  I’m sure you’ve seen the on-line petitions of educators denouncing the hiring of Campbell Brown by Facebook as its head of news partnerships.  It’s not hard to understand why.

Here’s the thing.  At the National Education Association we’ve been trying to break through all the empty rhetoric of “failed public schools” and “the only solution is privatization” and “educator unions protect the status quo”… and, well, you get it.

No, we don’t have the billions that helped fund Campbell Brown’s crusade against public schools and organizations like mine, but we do have important answers to what we know will improve schools – if only someone would think to ask a teacher!

My years working with homeless children were my inspiration to run for an NEA office.  My union was the only organization that was going to see a leader in a 6th grade teacher from Utah.  I represent millions of hard-working teachers who leave the classroom at the end of the day and go home to plan the next day’s lessons at the kitchen table; who call Mom about a problem we need to solve together; who pull out of our own pockets at the grocery store to buy what we need for our students’ Science Fair.

We don’t recognize ourselves in the words coming out of Campbell Brown’s mouth.  We know they are unfair and biased.  We know that she knows that much of what she repeats is untrue, not supported by research or evidence, and so we don’t trust her.

I’m not sure why she was chosen for the Facebook team.  I only know that she has done untold harm to our serious work to make every public school as good as our best public schools, and she’s insulted educators in a way that builds a false narrative that public education should be shut down and turned over to the corporate world.

We know the truth.  If you are interested in true research, experience and evidence, we would jump at the chance to show you what educators are inventing, creating, giving birth to… and any other metaphor that you can think of that shows that we’re not waiting for permission, let alone for a politician, to tell us what to do.  We’re already doing whatever it takes to give every student what he or she needs to live the lives they decide to live.  You won’t see it on the news.  This revolution is quiet and deep and changing the world.

We’re the ones who know the names of our kids.  We’re the ones who know what we’re talking about.  If you want to talk about how you can help with something real, please just let me know.  What we have to say will change everything, and we need friends of education and believers in our students to be our true partners.


Lily Eskelsen Garcia

Thank you Lily!!! Indeed, Campbell Brown has "insulted educators in a way that builds a false narrative that public education should be shut down and turned over to the corporate world."

The devastating impact of Facebook on the Presidential race through the dissemination of fake news has been widely reported.  More false or highly biased articles were read and shared in the last few weeks before the election than those published by legitimate news operations.   Yet Campbell Brown is the last person who should be enlisted in order to  improve the image of Facebook and its credibility -- "to help news organizations and journalists work more closely and more effectively with Facebook" as she described her new job on Facebook.

Not only does Brown has deep Republican connections -- her husband, Dan Senor, was an adviser to George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, and sits on the board of the pro-charter school organization started by Michelle Rhee, StudentsFirstNY  -- but she herself is a fierce propagandist for corporate reform and the privatization of public education through the expansion of charter schools and vouchers.

Brown's own news blog, The 74, has received funding from billionaire privateer Betsy DeVos, Trump's appointee to be the Secretary of Education, and Brown sits on the board of Devos' lobbying organization, American Federation for Children.  DeVos also sponsored Campbell Brown's GOP presidential candidate forum held in New Hampshire in 2015.

Rather than step back from the controversy over the DeVos nomination, Brown wrote the following in her defense:

The suggestion that Betsy’s work with children is ideologically or financially driven would be disputed, I’d guess, by just about everyone who has spent time alongside her during the past 30 years as she founded, helped run and advised education groups and initiatives that have helped improve education across the country — including thousands of teachers and poor families.

Part of the difference between the politician’s and practitioner’s view of her efforts stems from the fact that she understands what things are supposed to look like at the school level and has been single-minded in improving opportunities there for children.

Politically, that means she can be agile when she needs to be and dig in on core principles when she must. She is tenacious in defending the best interests of children rather than interest groups and their political patrons.
There are very few education advocates in DeVos' home state of Michigan that would agree with this -- as she has singlehandedly used her great wealth to pursue her free market ideology in favor of the untrammelled expansion of for-profit charters in the state, while draining millions from public schools and facilitating corruption and subjecting children to deficient learning conditions.  If DeVos gets her way, the federal government will fund vouchers to allow taxpayer money to flow to private and religious schools as well.   It was just reported that the DeVos family and the organizations they run have donated to 10 out of the 12 Republican  Senators on the HELP committee that will hold hearings on her nomination next week -- and nearly $1 billion to 28 Senators who will vote on her confirmation.

Campbell Brown has also launched a series of baseless lawsuits in several states, attacking teacher tenure as somehow illegal or unconstitutional, through an organization called Partnership for Educational Justice.  Before this, she started something called the Parent Transparency Project, which, like the Partnership for Educational Justice, ironically refused to divulge its donors.  She used this organization to charge that NYC public schools were overflowing with teachers who were sexual predators, and she fiercely advocated for the law to be changed so that teachers could be fired at will if accused of abuse --  without any hearings or due process necessary.  As Mother Jones reported,

Shortly after it was launched... PTP trained its sights on the New York mayoral race, asking the candidates to pledge to change the firing process for school employees accused of sexual misconduct. ... PTP spent $100,000 on a television attack ad questioning whether six candidates, including Republican Joe Lhota and Democrats Bill de Blasio and Anthony Weiner, had "the guts to stand up to the teachers' unions." 

Pro-charter, anti-union school billionaires already have an outside influence on education reporting via mainstream media outlets financed by their foundations.  The Gates and Walton Foundations not only fund the 74, but also National Public Radio, Education Week and Chalkbeat, to name a few.   The Gates Foundation also supports the awful Media Bullpen, run by the pro-charter group Center for Education Reform, which grades every education article according to how closely it adheres to the privatization anti-union ideology. Even the Education Writers Association receives money from the Gates and Walton Foundations, who sponsor workshops and seminars on topics relevant to their concerns.

While Education Week and NPR usually include disclaimers when running pieces about Gates or Walton initiatives, the same cannot be said of Chalkbeat or some of the others.  The NY Times itself  publishes a regular column by Tina Rosenberg, who co-founded and runs Solutions Journalism, an outfit also funded by Gates Foundation -- and Rosenberg often hypes Gates education projects in her columns without disclosing any conflict of interest, as I discussed here.

So we not only suffer from too many billionaires who use their wealth to influence education policy in this country, but try to control its reporting as well.  The addition of Facebook to this mix will only worsen the trend.  Sadly, despite the many articles discussing Zuckerberg's hiring of Campbell Brown, the only media outlets to explore the negative implications given her unrelenting campaign to privatize our schools were Vanity Fair  and Huffington Post.

Here is the petition and the names and comments of the more than 2000 angry parents and teachers who signed it.  If you'd like to add your name, you can do so here.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Two new research summaries on the multiple benefits of class size reduction

Here are two research summaries on the evidence for the wide-ranging benefits of class size reduction; the first is for use by any teacher, parent or advocate nationally; the second is meant primarily for residents of New York state.

These research briefs are especially useful in advocating for your state or district to use its Title IIA funds for class size reduction, as the new federal law known as ESSA, or Every Student Succeeds Act, requires evidence if these funds will be used to hire teachers to lower class size.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

My most popular blog posts of 2016, along with highlights and lowlights of the year

Here are my most popular blog posts of 2016, along with some of the highlights and low-lights of
the year:

May 14, 2016, 73 comments; 114,827 page views

My most popular post ever was this critique of the PARCC exam, written by an anonymous 4th grade teacher. Originally posted on Celia Oyler's blog, Celia deleted all references to specific questions after Laura Slover, the PARCC CEO, sent her a threatening letter, claiming copyright infringementsTwitter also took down many tweets, including mine, that linked to the the post, after complaints from PARCC.

I reposted the entire critique as originally written, and encouraged others to do the same.  Though the PARCC CEO convinced Google (owner of Blogger) and other online hosts to delete it from many many other blogs, including Diane Ravitch's,  my copy has been strangely left untouched to this day.

You can still see many of the Twitter and Google takedown notices on the  Lumen website,  The ensuing controversy was reported in the  NY Times, Slate, USA Today, the Progressive, and the Washington Post Answer Sheet.

Since last spring, PARCC has lost even more support, and according to Education Week, is trying to figure out how to "reorganize to survive the coming years."

ELA exam 2nd day: major snafu - what should now happen? Leave your comments below!
April 6, 2016, 31,168 page views

Lots of problems reported with the NY State exams, including test booklets with pages missing or unlabeled. The testing companies, Questar and Pearson, traded accusations as to who was at fault; in most eyes, they both deserved a big "F".  51 angry teachers, parents and administrators added their comments to the blog.

Sheri Lederman and her attorney, Bruce Lederman

May 10, 2016; 26,163 page views 

Sheri Lederman, Great Neck teacher, challenged the test-based New York teacher evaluation system in court as arbitrary and capricious and won.

Meanwhile Gallup released a new national poll revealing that most parents, teachers, students and administrators believed the quality of their state exams was poor or only fair, and that these tests do not improve learning. 

So was the testing experience for kids so much better this year? The answer must be no.
April  10, 2016; 4,694 page views

The NYS ELA exams included overly long, dense and grade-inappropriate reading passages with numerous typos, abstruse vocabulary and confusing questions.  In many cases, teachers themselves said they couldn't discern the right answers.  On the third grade exam, an excerpt from a book called “Eating the plate” was actually at the fifth grade reading level and sixth to eighth grade interest level.

On the eighth grade exam, one reading passage featured obscure words like "crag" and "fastnesses".  As one teacher wrote, "What are fastnesses?...I asked eight of my fellow colleagues to define this word.  1 of 8 knew the answer.  Unless you a geology major, how is this word a part of our everyday language, let alone the reading capacity of an average 8th grader? And our ESL students?"

I asked my husband, a professor of Geosciences; he didn't know what "fastnesses" meant either.     

Charter privateers on the defensive but not giving up on their Orwellian takeover schemes
August 27, 2016; 3692 page views 

It was a long, hard summer for the charter lobby.  First, the NAACP approved a resolution calling for a national moratorium on charter schools. Then, the Black Lives Matters movement urged the end to the privatization of our public schools.

Finally, John Oliver did a terrific takedown of the corruption and chaos created by the charter industry.  I included a link to the video, along with clips of the deceptive ad campaigns run in Georgia and Massachusetts in favor of school privatization.  Thankfully, in both cases, their campaigns lost more than two to one in the recent elections, as a result of brilliant grassroots efforts in those states.

So many reasons to #optout: Let’s keep it going until our kids get the schools they really deserve! 
March 31, 2016; 2623 page views 

My modest contribution to the opt-out movement, that continued to grow in NY with more than 250,000 kids refusing to take the state tests last spring.

As I pointed out in this post, this parent-led grassroots movement had already caused Governor Cuomo to place a moratorium on linking teacher evaluation to state test scores, and impelled a huge turnover of members on the NY Board of Regents, leading to the selection of Betty Rosa as the new Chancellor -- the best thing to happen to education policymaking in the state in more than a decade. 
In fact, in her very first press conference Dr. Rosa said that if she still had kids in the public schools, she would herself opt them out.

As Juan Gonzalez wrote about the opt out movement: "This grass-roots civil disobedience stunned the politicians and data-obsessed bureaucrats who have dictated public education policy for more than a decade.Ever since then, the bureaucrats have been scrambling to win back the confidence of fed-up parents."

Illustration by Gino Barzizza for The Indypendent
Yet if Betty Rosa's selection as Regents Chancellor was the best thing that happened in 2016, Juan Gonzalez' retirement as Daily News columnist and investigative reporter extraordinaire was one of the saddest.

Juan uncovered so much corruption and ineptitude among our elected and appointed officials -- in education and elsewhere -- and it  is impossible to fill his shoes.  Here's a video of the speech he gave at our annual Class Size Matters dinner last June, talking about the scam of charter schools and the amazing success of the opt-out movement here in NY and nationwide. To this day, Juan is the only person to have won our Skinny Award twice for uncovering the real "skinny" about public schools and public officials, here in NYC and throughout the state.

Juan Gonzalez speaking at the 2016 Skinny Awards from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

We could really use Juan's analysis and digging now more than ever, especially with the astonishing election of Donald Trump and the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary.  For more on the DeVos selection, who if confirmed would be the most unqualified person ever to serve in that post, check out my piece in the Indypendent here

Here's to 2017 and the continuing and growing resistance against high-stakes testing, privatization, and the dismantling and defunding of our public schools.