Monday, April 11, 2011

UFT & Current News Artcles -- April 11, 2011

New York Post

Well-red NY teachers rally


Last Updated: 3:12 AM, April 10, 2011

Posted: 12:29 AM, April 10, 2011

Times Square was a sea of red yesterday -- as some 10,000 crimson-clad teachers rallied in solidarity with their Wisconsin counterparts.

Chants of "We are one!" rang out amid signs reading, "Respect our rights," and "Republicans, beware: When screwed, we multiply."

Speakers called the efforts in Wisconsin and elsewhere to scuttle collective bargaining and other negotiated rights "an attack on workers, the middle class and people of color."

The gathering capped a three-day convention of 3,000 New York State United Teachers delegates at a Midtown hotel.

"We need the politicians to know that we're the people who keep this country going," said Lynette Azar, a teacher at PS/IS 180 in Brooklyn.

Queens Tribune
Despite Tough Cuts, Teachers Still At Risk
By Sasha Austrie, Brian Rafferty and Domenick Rafter
It may have been passed on time and closed a huge deficit, but not everybody is celebrating the state’s new budget.

“In my 11 years in the Senate, I have not seen a more challenging budget in terms of voting for,” said State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis). “I think it is a bad budget for the City of New York.”

Passed last week less than a day before the April 1 deadline, the state’s $132 billion budget closes the $10 billion budget deficit and cuts spending by two percent. The budget was a big political victory for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pushed for an on-time budget after last year’s budget came in four months late, finally passing on Aug. 3.

“This bipartisan and bicameral cooperation will give New Yorkers the good budget they deserve,” Cuomo said in a statement. “It was an invaluable public service for the state government to ‘function’ so well at this difficult time.”

Budget Axe Hits Schools

Smith called the budget a “social-economic conundrum” because while it brings the state’s finances back to a healthy fiscal level, it makes severe cuts to services relied on by the poor and middle class including education.

“I did not support the education budget,” Smith said. “I didn’t vote for it.”

The education budget was severed by $271 million, which Smith noted erases an increase in funding put in place two years ago. In 2009, $300 million allocated for localities was zeroed out in 2010 and again 2011.

“New York City’s education system is getting the shortest end of an already short stick, and that isn’t right,” said Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone). “This is an exercise of budgetary ‘splitting the baby.’ Our state spends billions on a bloated bureaucracies, and countless pet projects and pork-barrel items. Cuts from our already-vulnerable school system are unconscionable.”

Gov. Cuomo initially wanted bigger cuts to schools in the city and across the state, but the legislature was able to restore $272 million in cuts the governor initially proposed.

Halloran said the cuts could mean the loss of the 6,000 teachers and would result in bulging class sizes. He dubbed the cuts “unreasonable,” and suggested that the education budget be trimmed by eliminating some administration and consultants.

Like Halloran, Dermot Smyth, United Federation of Teachers Queens political action coordinator said instead of laying off teachers, the Dept. of Education should trim fat from consultants and administration.

In his weekly radio address, Mayor Mike Bloomberg dubbed the budget disproportional. Though the City is adding $2.2 billion to shore up the educational budget gaps because of a state and federal shortfalls, it is not enough to staunch cuts.

“The State slashed our education aid more than ever before,” Bloomberg said.

Larger class sizes would not only be felt at the elementary middle and high schools level, higher education will also share the budget burden. The State’s spending plan has eliminated $135 million from three SUNY teaching hospitals. There has also been a $100 million reduction in aide to SUNY senior colleges and $70.1 million to CUNY schools.

The “Last In First Out” (LIFO) procedure worried parents at some of the borough’s newer schools where much of the faculty is new, like P.S. 306 in Woodhaven, which has only been open since last year. Parents and teachers, fearing layoffs will disproportionately hurt their school, gathered outside the school on Wednesday to protest planned layoffs. School administration say up to 12 teachers, half of the school’s staff, could be laid off.

Frustration At The UFT

In an exclusive interview Wednesday, UFT President Michael Mulgrew chastised the mayor over the “political game” he is playing with the teachers.

“It has been clear from the beginning that there was never a need to do layoffs,” Mulgrew said.

The mayor has gone so far as to initiate a direct mail public relations campaign to help raise his flagging popularity numbers – numbers that have fallen, Mulgrew said, at least in part because of the way the mayor has handled education.

“The communities and parents understand what is going on in the schools,” Mulgrew said. “Class size is at levels they’ve never seen, school buildings are overcrowded; that is certainly not going to do well for his numbers.”

The UFT has literally taken to the streets to try to reach the mayor through the residents of Queens and the rest of the city. This Wednesday the union staged “Arms Across Our Schools” rallies at locations across the city that face high numbers of layoffs. Next Thursday, April 14, at 4:30 p.m., a massive rally is planned on the steps of Queens Borough Hall to show the mayor public solidarity with the teachers union, the parents and the students of Queens.

“We want to have rallies throughout the city, to engage the communities, to show the administration of the city that parents, teachers, students and community leaders are saying ‘enough already,’” Mulgrew said.

Equally important to the numbers of teachers eyed for layoffs – nearly 4,600 – is the controversial LIFO method of choosing who keeps their jobs. The UFT is working with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to create a plan that would take into consideration factors beyond the year a teacher is hired.

Mulgrew pointed to a recent international education summit of the 16 best performing nations, and the perspective that their national education leaders had of New York’s situation.

“They thought we were all crazy here in the U.S – especially New York,” Mulgrew said. “’Why would you do everything you can to demean teachers and cause morale problems within our teaching force,’ they asked. ‘This is the exact opposite of what we do in our countries. We attract our brightest and our best. We assume you couldn’t get good teachers here in New York the way you treat them.’”

For Mulgrew, perhaps one of the most frustrating parts of the economics of the situation is that the union – and others across the city – has pitched in previously to help financially when the need was dire.

“The mayor launched a campaign swearing he had to do layoffs without ever picking up the phone to talk to us first,” Mulgrew said. “I think the total number in terms of money of money is $269 million. I am quite sure we [as a union] can find that.”

Spreading The Burden

Budget cuts affecting the City’s youth don’t stop at education. The Dept. of Youth and Community Development will see its budget dwindle to a mere $12 million, a significant reduction from last year’s $35 million. The figure allowed the agency to employ 35,725 participants.

“It’s going to be a very serious, hot long summer,” Smith said.

The state’s share of Medicaid funding will be capped at $15 million. The State Health Commissioner will be tasked with making cuts to enforce the cap. There will be no cap on “pain and suffering” damages in medical malpractice suits. Smith said there are some specifics that need to be worked out.

For example, the state workforce costs reduced by $450 million, but layoffs of up to 9,800 are only a “last resort” option and Gov. Cuomo said negotiations with public worker unions are ongoing to avoid the layoffs. More than 3,700 prison beds will be eliminated in the budget, but there is no specific plan on how or where those cuts will be made. $110 million was allocated for economic councils, but with no plan on how the money will be distributed. Smith admitted that there was intense pressure from Gov. Cuomo to get the budget done on time and a later budget might have yielded better results.

“It’s not always better to have an on-time budget rather than a good budget,” he admitted.

The “millionaire’s tax” was excluded. Smith said he would have voted for a tax on “true millionaires,” those making over $1 million a year, but not for taxes on any income below that threshold.

“True millionaires would not have had a problem paying [the taxes],” he said.

Some Good Found

Nevertheless, Smith commended the governor for the on-time budget, noting that the budget will decrease the projected budget deficit from $15 billion to $2 billion, opening up the possibly for restored funding in next year’s budget.

Smith said the budget is “not all cloudy.” It does restore Title XX funding, meaning no Senior Centers will close, and makes no cuts to transit funding either.

Eight agencies or authorities will be merged into four, saving more than $50 million. The Dept. of Insurance and Dept. of Banking will be merged into the Dept. of Financial Services, The Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation will be merged into the Dept. of Economic Development, Dept. of Correction Services and Division of Parole will become the Dept. of Corrections and Community Supervision and the Consumer Protection Board will be folded into the Dept. of State.

The budget was the first on-time budget since 2006. Smith added that late budgets like last year’s have not been common, noting the budget in 2009 was only three days late and the first votes were taken on March 31, 2009, one day before the deadline.

New York Times

April 9, 2011

The Deadlocked Debate Over Education Reform


Few would argue that she was a good choice. But as you watched the almost giddy reception that greeted the departure of the New York City schools chancellor, Cathleen P. Black, last week — “She wasn’t in the class for the full semester so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to give her a grade,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers — it was hard not to wonder whether the debate over school reform has reached a point where debate is no longer possible.

As is often the case with morally charged policy issues — remember welfare reform? — false dichotomies seem to have replaced fruitful conversation. If you support the teachers’ union, you don’t care about the students. If you are critical of the teachers’ union, you don’t care about the teachers. If you are in favor of charter schools, you are opposed to public schools. If you believe in increased testing, you are on board with the corruption of our liberal society’s most cherished educational values. If you are against increased testing, you are against accountability. It goes on. Neither side seems capable of listening to the other.

The data can appear as divided as the rhetoric. New York City’s Department of Education will provide you with irrefutable statistics that school reform is working; opponents of reform will provide you with equally irrefutable statistics that it’s not. It can seem equally impossible to disentangle the overlapping factors: Are struggling schools struggling because they’ve been inundated with students from the failing schools that have closed around them? Are high school graduation rates up because the pressure to raise them has encouraged teachers and principals to pass students who aren’t really ready for college?

In such a polarized environment, spontaneous outbursts of candor can be ill-advised. When President Obama was asked recently by a high school student in Washington if he could cut back on standardized testing, he expressed sympathy. Critics of education reform pounced, seizing on his comments as evidence that even Mr. Obama, a champion of the reform movement, recognizes that testing has gotten out of control.

Ms. Black, an Upper East Side publishing executive who had never attended a public school, let alone worked in one, might have been destined to fail. But given how entrenched the two sides of this debate have become, it seems fair to wonder whether there can be such a thing as a successful schools chancellor in New York or, for that matter, anywhere. Ask Michelle Rhee, Washington’s crusading former chancellor, who played a decisive role, it is argued, in the failed re-election bid of Adrian Fenty, the mayor who had appointed her.

Even Ms. Black’s predecessor, Joel I. Klein, effective as he was at pushing through his changes, was forever alienating teachers and parents, enduring approval ratings that were consistently below 45 percent. Jean-Claude Brizard, one of Mr. Klein’s deputies and now the superintendent of the Rochester schools, is encountering some problems of his own, having recently received a vote of no confidence from his city’s teachers.

The nominee to replace Ms. Black, Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott, will at least have the benefit of following a chancellor with a 17 percent approval rating, but the good will that he’s enjoying now may well disappear as soon as he makes his first move. To stand any chance in this climate, a chancellor must ingratiate himself with teachers even as he forces them to accept radical changes to their contract, and push testing and accountability even as he assures parents that curriculums won’t be narrowed. In short, imagine a Chimera, the mythological beast that was equal parts lion, snake and goat.

How did we get here? The modern school-reform movement sprang to life in 1983, with the release of “A Nation at Risk,” an education report commissioned by the Reagan administration that boldly stated — note the cold-war era metaphor — that the United States had embarked upon a “unilateral educational disarmament.” From there, a line, however jagged, can be drawn through the Clinton administration’s emphasis on national standards, to President George W. Bush’s declaiming of “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” and on to the current generation of reformers, with their embrace of charter schools and their attacks on the teachers union. The policies and rhetoric changed, often dramatically, but the underlying assumption remained the same: Our nation’s schools are in dire need of systemic reform.

Opponents of reform will tell you the movement was built on a false premise, that the Reagan report was based on declining SAT scores, which weren’t really declining; it was just that more people were taking the test. The anti-reformers (for lack of a better term) have their own founding document, too: “Equality of Educational Opportunity,” a federal study released a bit awkwardly in 1966, in the midst of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s efforts to persuade Congress to devote more resources to schools through programs like Head Start. It concluded that school-based factors like money and teachers actually have little bearing on student achievement, that what happens outside the classroom is actually far more significant than what happens inside of it.

Like all battles for public opinion, the school-reform debate is in large part a matter of what the political consultant George Lakoff has called “framing.” In this struggle over storylines, the documentary film “Waiting for Superman,” with its lionization of charter schools, represented a major victory for reformers. So, too, did stories about the “rubber rooms” where New York City’s Department of Education puts ineffective teachers whose jobs are protected by their union contract. These accounts helped create an image of public-school teachers as cosseted by government largesse, our nation’s new “welfare queens.”

The critics of the reform movement offer counter-narratives. Diane Ravitch, a tireless tweeter and author of the best-selling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” argues that school reform is actually hurting students. Jon Stewart has taken to parodying the attacks on public-school teachers on The Daily Show. (“You are destroying America. Yeah. Look at you, with your chalk-stained irregular blouses from Loehmans, and your Hyundai with its powered steering and its wind shield. I guess bugs hitting you in the face doesn’t cut it for old Mr. Chips.”)

Presumably, the deadlock will eventually be broken, and a “winner” will emerge. Either the education reformers will manage to take control of a critical mass of school districts, or they won’t. Before that happens, perhaps the various narratives and counter-narratives will decalcify and some actual debate will take place.

New York Times

April 8, 2011

On Incoming Chancellor’s First Day, a Hot Seat Before the City Council


Dennis M. Walcott started his first full day as the city’s chancellor-appointee walking his grandson into Public School 36 in St. Albans, Queens. Less than two hours later, he was greeted with hugs and congratulations when he appeared at a City Council budget hearing.

By the time the questioning began, though, it was clear that the honeymoon would not last.

“You should be congratulated,” Councilwoman Letitia James said. “But today the reality sets in.”

Mr. Walcott, the deputy mayor appointed Thursday to replace Cathleen P. Black, was forced to defend proposed budget cuts, which are being imposed on virtually every city agency but have been most contentious in the school system because they may lead to widespread layoffs.

At one point, Councilman Robert Jackson, chairman of the education committee, challenged him. “Let’s talk about the 7,500 teachers,” Mr. Jackson said. Mr. Walcott was quick to correct him, saying the number of teaching positions projected to be lost to layoffs or attrition was actually 6,133. It prompted a couple of chuckles from the audience.

Councilwoman Margaret Chin brought up a line in next year’s Department of Education budget that calls for more money for full-time support staff members and asked, “Who are these people?”

Councilman G. Oliver Koppell offered Mr. Walcott a stern admonishment: “Saying you’re going to have to lay off teachers is a very ominous statement. What you should be saying is, ‘I hope we’re not going to have to lay off teachers.’ ”

Indeed, to Charles Barron, the outspoken Brooklyn councilman, Mr. Walcott said, “I don’t want to lay off teachers.”

“Don’t!” Mr. Barron retorted, adding dismissively that Mr. Walcott was “smooth enough, sharp enough,” and that he would have an answer for everything.

Mr. Walcott testified for nearly four hours. He deferred to the department’s top deputy, Shael Polakow-Suransky, for explanations about instruction, curriculum and testing, and to its chief financial officer, Veronica Conforme, for details about the numbers, but he took most of the questions himself.

Whenever there was something he did not know, he promised to find out.

He defended the city’s policy to offer space in public school buildings to new charter schools, but acknowledged the process could be improved. He pledged to keep “the pedal to the metal” and praised the school system’s “remarkable progress” since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took its reins in 2002.

“I believe in what we’re doing, and I haven’t had any evidence that what we’re doing is wrong,” said Mr. Walcott, who as deputy mayor has advised Mr. Bloomberg on education matters.

He also repeated a mantra of the Bloomberg administration, that the state law protecting the most senior teachers in the event of layoffs was “one of the most crippling policies on the books.”

As he testified, the teachers’ union president, Michael Mulgrew, scrawled “sick of it” on the back of a printout of his testimony. “This isn’t about the chancellor,” Mr. Mulgrew said afterward. “It’s about the policies, and they don’t seem to have changed.”

Sarah Porter and Janine Sopp, whose children go to Public School 132 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, signed up to speak at the hearing, but left after Mr. Walcott did; Ms. Porter said she had gone there for a chance to talk to him directly about the city’s need to control growing class sizes, so there was no point sticking around.

“He says he listens to people and he talks very nicely, but he’s still implementing the same policies,” she said.

Sounding equally disappointed, Ms. Sopp called Mr. Walcott “another mouthpiece for the mayor.”

City Hall, not wanting a contentious Council hearing to frame the public’s first impression of Mr. Walcott, scheduled a photo opportunity beforehand in which he walked his grandson, Justin, into P.S. 36, which he also attended as a child. The Bloomberg administration is making the most of Mr. Walcott’s ties to public schools, since his predecessor was criticized for having none.

But Mr. Walcott’s appointment is subject to the approval of a waiver from the state education commissioner because he does not have enough experience working in schools. (Ms. Black also needed a waiver.) In a letter seeking the waiver, Mr. Bloomberg laid out Mr. Walcott’s many years of public service, including 12 years running the New York Urban League, his master’s degree in education, his year and a half as a kindergarten teacher and the fact that his four children attended city public schools.

They went to public high schools, but for elementary and middle school they attended Allen Christian School, founded by the Rev. Floyd Flake, the influential Queens minister and former congressman who is a friend of Mr. Walcott. A spokeswoman for the Education Department, Natalie Ravitz, said Mr. Walcott had wanted his children to have a Christian education.

After the hearing, Mr. Walcott returned to the department’s headquarters, where he finished filling out forms to submit to the state, met with the chancellor’s remaining cabinet members (four of them left in recent months) and ate a salad before he headed out to record a television interview.

Mr. Walcott has a full calendar in the coming days. He will be attending a special education conference on Saturday, an event set up before his appointment; going to a church on Sunday; and visiting schools, meeting with parents, traveling to Albany and holding a town-hall-style meeting in the city next week.

Rebecca White and Karen Zraick contributed reporting.

Daily News

Mayor Bloomberg spins new NYC schools chancellor Dennis Walcott as opposite of Cathie Black


Sunday, April 10th 2011, 4:00 AM

In announcing his pick to replace Cathie Black as city schools chancellor, Mayor Bloomberg presented Dennis Walcott as the polar opposite of his failed predecessor.

Four generations of his family have attended public school. He was raised and still lives in Queens. And as deputy mayor dealing with education policy for nine years, he's got the know-how that Black lacked.

But parents expecting this fresh start to involve a reversal of the city's controversial education policies may be sorely disappointed.

"I haven't seen a sign that there would be any changes," said Kim Sweet of Advocates for Children. "Although it seems he will be making more of an effort to reach out to parents and communities, I hope that he'll actually listen."

In the three days since he has accepted the job, Walcott has stayed the course on key talking points - from backing the city's fight against so-called "last in, first out" seniority protections for teachers to repeating the line that controversial school closures have improved the city's schools.

Walcott, after all, is the consummate Bloomberg administration insider.

"If anything, we're going to have a deepening of the reform," he announced the day of his appointment, reminding education staffers that he has already been a fixture at the city Education Department's Tweed headquarters.

"You know there's a back and forth 'Walcott path' that goes from City Hall to Tweed," he said. "Now I'm going to have to reverse it."

But Walcott also has moved to appease critics by explaining he's willing to change the way policies are implemented and promising to listen closely to parents.

Yesterday, he spoke to a meeting of 20 parents of special-education students, spending more than an hour and a half with them, mostly listening, as if offering proof of that promise.

Beforehand, speaking to the press, he offered an example of a policy where he sees room for change - he won't end so-called "co-locations" but he wants to calm the bitter wars over charter schools sharing public schools buildings.

"That's driving a lot of concern from people," he said, vowing to "listen to the community and engage them in a constructive way."

For some advocates, the pledge to listen to the community lends hope. "There's a chance for some adult dialogue, and I'm cautiously optimistic that some of these policies could actually be changed," said longtime community activist Bertha Lewis of the Black Institute.

But Walcott himself won't say what's ahead. Asked if community input will ever help him plot a new course on where to locate a school, Walcott wouldn't be pinned down. "Don't know," he said. "To be determined."

Daily News

Newly appointed schools chancellor Dennis Walcott - day one, and back to school


Friday, April 8th 2011, 10:16 AM

A day after being tapped as schools chancellor, Dennis Walcott went back to class Friday morning - dropping his grandson off at his own alma mater, PS 36 in Queens.

"I went to school here. This was the same walk down the boulevard I used to take, and now I get to walk my grandson here. It feels good," Walcott told the Daily News on Foch Blvd. in St. Albans.

Walcott, 59, was named to run the nation's largest school system Thursday after Mayor Bloomberg abruptly forced Cathie Black out of the job after a rocky 95 days.

City officials sent a request to the state education department late Thursday for a waiver so that Walcott can serve in the post, since he doesn't have the required superintendent's license.

But Walcott, who has two master's degrees and has been Mayor Bloomberg's point person on education since 2002, is expected to receive the waiver without the drama that Black endured.

Walcott was already talking about how to better connect with parents, a skill Black didn't master in her short tenure.

"I'll be going to parents in all five boroughs, sitting down with them, listening to them," Walcott said of his new post. "The one thing I will always do is respect our parents' voices."

Walcott, who was serving as a Deputy Mayor, is a stark contrast to Black, who had no experience in education when she officially took the reigns in January. He started as a kindergarten teacher and boasts that four generations of his family attended public schools.

"I have the utmost respect for Cathie," Walcott said Friday, noting she "worked very hard" at reaching out to parents during her short tenure.

For his part, Walcott's grandson, Justin, a second grader, said he likes going to school, "meeting my friends and having lunch."

Walcott didn't let the gaggle of press get in the way of his most important task.

"The one thing I don't want to do as Chancellor is have my grandson be late for school," Walcott said.

- with Rachel Monahan

Daily News

Cathie Black, ousted Schools Chancellor, says she was in over her head, but that she's a 'warrior'


Friday, April 8th 2011, 2:48 PM

Ousted former Schools Chancellor Cathie Black admitted Friday she was in over her head at the top Education job - and suggested she may have been the victim of sexism.

Black, whose tenure at Tweed Courthouse lasted just 96 days, complained about the treatment she received from her foes and the media.

"If I were a guy, would I have had the pounding that I did?" she said in an interview with Fortune Magazine. "And the worst pictures!"


Black was asked to step aside Thursday by Mayor Bloomberg, who appointed Deputy Mayor - and longtime Education insider - Dennis Walcott.

Black, who was a publishing executive before jumping into public service, acknowledged she had faced a steep learning curve.

"It was like having to learn Russian in a weekend," she said, "and then give speeches in Russian and speak Russian in budget committee and City Council meetings."

Black, whose out-of-left-field appointment was met with disbelief, never fully recovered from a string of gaffes - and she had an approval rating of just 17% this week.

Though admitting she was stung by her high-profile failure atop the nation's largest public school system, Black said was relishing returning to her old lifestyle on the upper East Side.

"I feel fine," she told Fortune, explaining to the magazine that she ate Friday morning at Three Guys, a diner near her Park Ave. home, and received an ovation when she stood up to leave.

Black, 66, also vowed that she would soon be ready to step back into a big-time job.

"\[I have\] different options to consider," Black said. "I'm not in a rush."

"I'm a warrior," she said.

Daily News

Cathie Black out as schools boss, but Mayor Bloomberg still insisting she's 'phenomenally competent'


Friday, April 8th 2011, 10:56 AM

Mayor Bloomberg continued Friday to defend his ill-fated choice of Cathie Black as schools chancellor, insisting that "she is a phenomenally competent woman."

"My respect for her is undiminished," said Bloomberg during his weekly appearance on the John Gambling radio show, a day after Black fled education headquarters. "I think that anybody who is willing to put themselves in the public arena and tries to help deserves a lot of credit."

The mayor wouldn't speculate why her tenure failed, saying only that it's "the way it worked out" and continuing his refrain that "she and I agreed the story was becoming about her instead of about how we keep making progress."

Bloomberg - who dismissed this week' resignations of two of Black's deputies as "normal turnover" - also disputed Gambling's notion that the chancellor seemed "relieved" about her dismissal.

"If I asked her to do something for the city, I'm sure she'd do it instantly," he said.

After dropping off his grandson at school, Walcott called into the program and said his "style is different" than Black's but that he would continue Black's policies once he officially assumes the top spot.

"The reforms that have been taking place in the last nine years will continue in the remainder of this administration," said Walcott. "The bottom line is that we want to continue to make progress. We won't let up on that change."

Walcott also said he would travel to Albany on Tuesday and frequently lobby on the city's behalf at the Capitol.

"I plan on treating Albany as our sixth borough," he said. "I'll be going up there on a regular basis just like the five boroughs of New York City."

New York Post
A fresh 'Chance' for city schools

By YOAV GONEN Education Reporter

Last Updated: 10:14 AM, April 9, 2011

Posted: 1:09 AM, April 9, 2011

What a difference a day makes.

Incoming city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott yesterday started his first full day on the job dropping his grandson off at a Queens elementary school, deftly handling the press and then comfortably carrying the torch for the administration in which he's served for nine years.

"I don't want him to be late on my first day," Walcott quipped to reporters as he dropped off grandson Justin, a second-grader at PS 36 in St. Albans.

And in contrast to Mayor Bloomberg's woeful selection of former magazine executive Cathie Black for chancellor, the mayor had little trouble selling Walcott's credentials in a letter he sent yesterday to state Education Department Commissioner David Steiner seeking a waiver.

Walcott doesn't have the required superintendent's license, but state officials said they expect that one will be granted.

"For almost 40 years, from the time he began his career as a kindergarten teacher through his current position as deputy mayor, Mr. Walcott has dedicated his life to working on educational and youth-services issues," the letter reads. "He is exceptionally qualified to serve as chancellor."

And City Council members gave Walcott an even break as he testified at an education-budget hearing on his first day, but they made it clear they wouldn't take it easy on him with the threat of more than 4,600 teacher layoffs on the table.

"I am disturbed and disappointed by your statement yesterday that not much is going to change in the city of New York and not much is going to change in terms of education policy," said Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James.

A number of elected officials also expressed regret that Bloomberg had forgone a nationwide search for a new chancellor, as he had done in selecting Black.

"I do wish the mayor had made an exhaustive search," said Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams. "I think that would have been best."

While Walcott stayed true to the Bloomberg line on eliminating the "last in, first out" legislation and reiterated the inevitability of layoffs, he also tried to assure officials that he was more than a simple yes man.

"I will always question what is in the best interest of a child in a particular school," Walcott said. "Even though I firmly believe in [the administration's] policies, that doesn't mean that I won't question the implementation of initiatives in schools."

New York Post
Black says sexism inspired criticism as schools chancellor


Last Updated: 8:31 AM, April 9, 2011

Posted: 2:37 AM, April 9, 2011

Fired schools boss Cathie Black whined yesterday that sexism rather than her own incompetence spurred harsh criticism during her 96 days on the job.

"If I were a guy, would I have had the pounding that I did?" Black asked in an interview with Fortune magazine posted on its Web site, a day after her buddy Mayor Bloomberg effectively canned her.

"And the worst pictures!" burbled Black, still miffed two months after an unflattering photo of her ran on the cover of New York magazine.

The former Hearst publishing boss conceded she struggled while trying to run the city's massive education system as chancellor, a post to which Bloomberg appointed her despite her utter lack of education experience.

"It was like having to learn Russian in a weekend -- and then give speeches in Russian and speak Russian in budget committees and City Council meetings," whined Black, 66.

Those are things Black won't have to worry about anymore, since she spectacularly crashed and burned in the job -- after suffering plummeting public-opinion poll numbers, the exodus of half her deputy chancellors and criticism that she was clueless about classroom issues.

Black told Fortune she's relieved she won't be pursued anymore by pesky newspaper photographers now that Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott has been tapped to take her place.

She also declared "I'm a warrior," and indicated she was tickled pink that she now gets to dress again in designer duds that might have put off working-class students and their parents when she deigned to meet them as chancellor, according to the magazine.

Black raised her left hand and said only, "Ah, c'mon!" last night outside her pricey Upper East Side pad when The Post asked if she really thought that sexism sabotaged her chance at success as chancellor.

Multiple sources said Black had been kept away from state education officials and teachers- and principals-union officials because of fears she would be out of her depth talking about public-education issues.

"She couldn't give a speech on education because she didn't know what she was talking about," one source noted.

Another said: "She was a loose cannon. So [Bloomberg] was smart to keep her underground."

Although he publicly defended her for months, Bloomberg realized Black was flailing and suffering from a "lack of vision, leadership and ideas," a source close to the mayor said.

Another source close to the Bloomberg administration said: "It wasn't like people personally disliked her. And it wasn't like she was necessarily outright dumb. She was just a total mismatch.

"I don't think she saw it as her job description to have much mastery of the issues . . . I don't think she was necessarily all that interested."

The Department of Education under Black actually delayed plans to expand citywide an ambitious special-ed pilot program and increase the number of schools containing a high-tech education program.

Even when she rolled out a program -- finding $10 million to spend on after-school tutors -- Black drew criticism for bragging about such a paltry expenditure.

And she badly alienated principals after demanding they surrender 50 percent of their annual budget surpluses to the department's central office, a serious political misstep given that the money was a relatively small amount for the department's budget.

"The mayor knew that she was a disaster," said a source close to the administration. "People were telling him he should fire her . . . He saw the whole thing hemorrhaging, and he's nervous. He's a lot more nervous than he used to be."

Despite having just fired her, Bloomberg raved about Black yesterday on his radio show, calling her "a phenomenally competent woman."

A spokesman for Gov. Cuomo said only, "The governor supports the mayor's decision."

Additional reporting by Helen Freund and David Seifman

New York Post

Church praises new schools chancellor, Dennis Walcott; slams Cathie Black


Sunday, April 10th 2011, 12:42 PM

Thank God she's gone!

A Brooklyn pastor led a rousing hallelujah for the exit of former Schools Chancellor Cathie Black as he introduced her successor, Dennis Walcott, to his congregation.

"Now tell the truth: How many of you thank God that Cathie Black is gone?" said the Rev. Mark Taylor to his congregants at Vinegar Hill's Church of the Open Door.

They responded with heartfelt cheers of "Yes!" and "Hallelujah!"

Walcott - named by Mayor Bloomberg on Thursday to take over from Black after her tumultuous three-month tenure - won't formally become chancellor until receiving a state waiver. But he's already thrown himself into the new job - hitting the church circuit and calling into a radio show popular with African-Americans.

It's all part of the exiting deputy mayor's effort to mend fences.

"Over the next 30 days, I'm going to be out meeting with parent leaders, community-based organizations, faith-based leaders, residents of the Housing Authority," Walcott told the church congregation. "We're going to form a strong partnership with the New York City Housing Authority, making sure that we've touched every parent, every adult, in the lives of our students."

The parishioners, including many public housing tenants, welcomed him with a standing ovation and a cheer from the Diamond Squad cheerleaders of Brooklyn's Public School 307.

"It's wonderful that he's here," said Mildred Phillips, whose daughter is a teacher.

Teresa Coombs, 40, the mother of a sixth-grader, called Walcott's visit "a show of good faith," but said he needs to stop Bloomberg's plan to lay off more than 4,000 teachers. "The layoffs of teachers is detrimental to low-income communities like ours," Coombs said.

On 98.7 KISS FM's "Open Line" news show, Walcott told hosts Bob Slade, Bob Pickett and the Rev. Al Sharpton: "We need to up the ante as far as parents who are truly respected and engaged in the educational system."

Walcott told reporters that he wasn't trying to be the anti-Black - or to distinguish himself from her predecessor, Joel Klein. Walcott said he helped implement both controversial chancellors' policies.

"The reality is I have a style that might be slightly different from Cathie's or Joel's, [but] I believe in the policies we have in place," he said.

If that's the case, critics who hounded his predecessors won't let up on him.

"It doesn't matter who the chancellor is," teachers union President Michael Mulgrew said yesterday at a City Hall rally protesting school closings. "The schools are not being supported."

"We're not going to be fooled by you putting a black face in front of us and keeping the policies the same," City Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) said at the rally. "We don't want personality change. We want policy change."With Jennifer Cunningham

Daily News

New York loses a top theorist but a so-so leader with the resignation of Ed. Commissioner Steiner


Saturday, April 9th 2011, 4:00 AM

State Education Commissioner David Steiner is stepping down, it is said, to think big thoughts about school reform somewhere else.

Which is the polite way to say Steiner has had his fill of New York's politicized, bureaucratized, rubber-roomized factory of failed students and fat pensions.

Steiner delivered a productive couple of years.

He revealed the state's English and math tests to be so dumbed down that passing grades were all but meaningless. He called out New York's entire curriculum as insufficient for preparing children for the world of college and work. He was instrumental in winning $700 million for New York in the federal Race to the Top competition.

And he pushed New York toward establishing a system for evaluating teacher performance.

Yet he's not staying to see any of that through, possibly because what he has done so far was the easy part and possibly, and more ominously, because he fears the seeds of failure are already sown.

Designed to identify and remove from the payroll the weakest instructors, that evaluation system is key to lifting achievement. But under the sway of the teachers union, exerted through the Assembly, which controls the Regents, who control the commissioner, Steiner agreed that every item would be collectively bargained.

Good luck with that.

In the same vein, Steiner also torpedoed Mayor Bloomberg's push for legislation that would have ended last in, first out - LIFO - the system that mandates teacher layoffs strictly by seniority.

He made progress. He just wasn't the boss.

New York Post

Let go, Cathie

Last Updated: 5:07 AM, April 9, 2011

Posted: 10:20 PM, April 8, 2011

Hey, Cathie -- big girls don't whine.

Alas, it took deposed Schools Chancellor Cathie Black a scant 24 hours to begin blaming her inglorious downfall on everybody save, well, herself.

* Sexists.

"If I were a guy, would I have had the pounding that I did?" she asked Fortune magazine's Patricia Sellers yesterday.

* Photo editors.

"And the worst pictures!" she said.

* Unrealistic expectations.

"It was like having to learn Russian in a weekend -- and then give speeches in Russian and speak Russian in budget committee and City Council meetings."

Well, blurting out in a public meeting that birth control is a sound anti-

crowded-classroom strategy -- which Black did early on -- would have offended folks no matter what the language.

Besides, "learning Russian" basically boils down to doing one's homework -- and that's something Black appeared entirely unwilling to do.

Or unable.

Some folks figured this out early on.

And a thorough vetting process probably would have called it to Mayor Bloomberg's attention before he made what has been arguably the most inexplicable -- to say nothing of the worst -- decision of his mayoralty.

Depending on how Chancellor-designate Dennis Walcott does, the best that can be hoped for going forward is that the damage is limited to the three lost months of Black's unhappy tenure.

Bloomberg has to live with that -- and, uncharacteristically but to his credit, he took full ownership of the mess.

Exit Black.

She could do herself -- and New York -- a huge favor right now and just dummy up.

New York Times

April 8, 2011

The Mayor and the Schools: A Change at the Top

To the Editor:

Re “After 3 Months, Mayor Replaces Schools Leader” (front page, April 8), about the resignation of Cathleen P. Black as New York City schools chancellor:

A steady exodus of senior education officials, a sudden resignation, the immediate appointment of a trusted mayoral aide: the fast-moving political soap opera masks a greater failure of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s educational agenda.

One of the byproducts of mayoral control has been the narrowed pool of local superintendents ready to step into top jobs and the chancellorship. As is apparent, the role demands a depth of knowledge and commitment to urban education. Instead, we have seen a vacuum of leadership at the city’s public schools, which only promises to continue.

Without a bench, there will be few prepared to run the nation’s largest school system.

New York, April 8, 2011

The writer served as a lawyer at the Board of Education under three chancellors.

To the Editor:

Re “The Mess at the Top of New York’s Schools” (editorial, April 8):

As the father of two daughters in public school — a seventh grader and a ninth grader — I hope that one of the lessons Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg draws from his failed appointment of Cathleen P. Black as chancellor is that you cannot digitize kids the way you can widgets or financial information.

Kids get only one time around, and they should not be educated statistically. They learn one by one, with strengths and weaknesses that do not lend themselves to a one-size-fits-all, top-down management model, or to basing all accountability on standardized tests that have little to do with preparing them for their future.

The new chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, may not have all the answers. But with his experience, knowledge, compassion, open-mindedness and humility, he will know whom to call to find out an answer. It never appeared that Ms. Black — by all accounts a smart, talented and dedicated executive with no experience in education — could do the same.

It is hard to quantify the value of understanding in your bones the culture of this city and this school system — its history, its diverse student body, the fears and hopes and dreams of the parents, the commitment of teachers and principals, and the incredibly complex series of challenges and opportunities faced by kids growing up in New York.

But just because you can’t count it doesn’t lessen its value.

New York, April 8, 2011

Daily News

Voice of the People for April 10, 2011


Sunday, April 10th 2011, 4:00 AM

Time for a chance of chancellor

Bronx: Congratulations to Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott on being named interim chancellor of the New York City public schools. Walcott is a product of this school system and a former teacher, and has children and a grandchild attending public schools. He knows this school system and is an excellent example to the students of what they could accomplish with hard work. May God bless and guide him as he takes on the responsibility of educating our most precious resource, our students.

Henry C. Harris

Brooklyn: Re the overdue realization that Cathie Black is not qualified or prepared to the lead the city's schools: No, duh! When will Mayor Bloomberg and his administration listen to the people? When he does, he will get it right the first time. Beth Tatusko

Fresh Meadows: Though 83% of New Yorkers in the reliable and scientific Marist poll taken recently didn't feel Cathie Black was doing a good job, 61% of parents with children in public schools thought that the teachers union is a force for good in this city. Ron Isaac

New York Post

Regents' online push


Last Updated: 12:14 PM, April 10, 2011

Posted: 12:27 AM, April 10, 2011

Virtual education may soon trump teachers.

High-school kids could earn credits toward graduation by sitting in front of a computer instead of a live instructor under a proposal before the state Board of Regents.

The panel, which oversees education statewide, is weighing whether to drop or relax the state "seat time" rule requiring students to spend 180 minutes a week in classroom instruction to earn each credit.

Instead, students could learn online and "demonstrate competency" with a test.

The city Department of Education, which is experimenting with online classes, favors "more flexibility" in the seat-time rule so students in independent study and other programs "can advance as they demonstrate readiness -- not just after a certain amount of time in the classroom," spokesman Matthew Mittenthal said.

Regents member Betty Rosa favors a mix of class and online instruction, especially for foreign languages. "I like a blended or hybrid approach," she said.

Critics blast the trend.

"These kids are being prepared to work in call centers," education historian Diane Ravitch wrote in an online forum. "They won't know anything, but they will have good keyboarding skills and know how to look things up on Google and Wikipedia. Given the wage differentials, they may have to move to India to find work."

The state is also studying options to revamp graduation requirements, including raising passing scores on Regents English and math exams to ensure that students are "college ready." Many current city grads need remediation in college.

Daily News
Bronx High School of Science senior accepted into six Ivy League schools


Sunday, April 10th 2011, 4:00 AM

A Manhattan high school student's biggest challenge isn't getting into an Ivy League college - it's deciding which one to go to.

Noam Shapiro, 18, was accepted to six of the elite schools. He was waitlisted by the seventh and didn't apply to the eighth.

Now the Bronx High School of Science brain has to choose between Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania.

"I'm just happy," the lucky senior said as he made plans to visit the campuses. "I'm just trying to refrain from any hubris, because I think hubris is dangerous.... I'm truly grateful. There are so many students who, just for one of these schools, would give their left arm."

Shapiro applied to 13 schools altogether and got into all but one - he was waitlisted by Brown. He didn't attempt an Ivy sweep, forgoing an application to Dartmouth because it's not near a big city.

The first acceptance came from a lofty place - Yale, which accepted less than 10% of those who applied this year. When he nervously typed in his password on the university website, the computer started playing Yale's fight song - "Bulldog Bulldog Bow wow wow" - signaling good news.

He hugged his mom and started dancing around.

"I don't think anyone's really like, 'I have it in the bag,'" the upper West Sider said. "I was just thrilled. And then more came, and more came."

It isn't hard to see why. Shapiro is his school salutatorian with a 97.07 average, despite taking 10 AP classes. He's also the speech team captain, passionately holding forth about the "bystander effect" that stops passersby from stopping to help.

"The bottom line is that he's a genuine, really kind young man," said his guidance counselor, Adrienne Plesnik. "When you meet him, you feel like you're talking to an adult - who graduated from Yale."

As president of the school honor society, he organized a faculty talent show, getting teachers to tango to raise money for the children's rehab center at Albert Einstein Hospital. Shapiro also loves to act. He played Guildenstern in Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" at a performing arts camp upstate.

He wouldn't divulge his SAT score, saying only that it was above 2200. On his applications, he wrote an essay about overcoming fear and finding the focus to become a double black belt in karate.

He said he spent much of each weekend since August filling out the forms.

"It's very time-consuming. It's like having another high school course," said dad David Shapiro, who works in financial services. "He's been very focused since he was very young."

His son isn't sure where he'll end up - other possibilities include Duke, SUNY Binghamton, Wesleyan and Northwestern - or what studies he'll pursue.

"I love both the humanities and the sciences!" exclaimed Shapiro, who has trouble saying whether chemistry or literature is closer to his heart.

He's making a chart of pros and cons for each school in order to make up his mind by May 1. "I stay up at night thinking about it," said Shapiro, who readily acknowledges that lots of teens would love to be in his place. "My grandmother told me, 'If only this could be your hardest choice in life.'"

With Christina Boyle

Daily News

Making Stuyvesant a place for all: Too few minorities attend our best schools


Sunday, April 10th 2011, 4:00 AM

Last month, three Stuyvesant High School juniors made a video mocking a female African-American classmate. A former Stuyvesant student then posted the video on YouTube for the whole world to see. But beyond a suspension, the students were not punished.

Of course, this ugly incident is not the overarching problem with specialized high schools, the eight elite institutions that base admissions solely on the Specialized High School Admissions Test. The bigger problem is that the number of African-American and Latino students in these schools is almost nonexistent.

At Stuyvesant, only 12 African-American students were admitted to the freshman class this year. Latinos fared only slightly better: They comprise about 3% of Stuyvesant. By comparison, of the 1.1 million students in the city's public schools, 39.9% are Latino and 30.1% are black.

As Dennis Walcott takes over the Education Department, he should consider why so few minority children are offered a spot at our best schools. I have two suggestions for him: Revise the SHSAT exam and provide minorities better preparation for it.

In 1987, while I was a teacher in Stuyvesant's English department, I also taught an after-school SAT prep class. One afternoon, the English department chair asked if I'd be willing to teach a prep class at the Korean "Elite Academy" in Flushing.

On Saturday morning, I found myself in front of 27 very eager and precocious third- and fourth-graders waiting to be drilled in preparation for the SHSAT, which they would each take years later to gain admission to Stuyvesant.

That summer, I was joined there by my Stuyvesant colleague Frank McCourt (later, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Angela's Ashes"). Of our 27 students, 26 would get into Stuyvesant four years later.

Not coincidentally, today 72% of Stuyvesant's and 62% of Bronx Science's student body is Asian. Asian elementary school students start preparing for the specialized high school exam well before others. As Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" illustrates so vividly, many Asian immigrants put education first, thus succeeding in placing their kids in the best schools.

But if schools like Stuyvesant are indeed public, then preparation for admission should be a universal right. The Specialized High School Institute was started in 1995 to prepare minority children, but its record is shaky, and the number of black and Latino students it gets into specialized high schools has actually been dropping. A 2007 lawsuit barred SHSI from giving preference based on race, essentially defeating its very purpose.

Creating a more equitable approach to test prep is one issue. The test itself is another.

From my experience, the SHSAT favors math. The verbal part of the exam was characterized recently by one Stuyvesant teacher as "math problems masquerading as verbal questions." For example, one part of the exam asks students to put the scrambled sentences of a paragraph into proper order. This is a type of logical reasoning that is not a reliable measure of English aptitude. In fact, many of the students who arrive at Stuyvesant end up struggling in English class.

Adding a written component would remedy this problem to a large extent. Of course, grading 30,000 essays may be cumbersome and costly, but writing ability is an important predictor of future academic success.

Schools like Stuyvesant have long been the means for immigrants and working class families to hoist their children up the ladder of American society. They have done much in this regard, but when it comes to black and Latino students, they haven't done nearly enough.

Allon is the president of Manhattan Media and a 1980 graduate of Stuyvesant High School.

New York Post

2nd diploma switch


Last Updated: 10:29 AM, April 10, 2011

Posted: 12:30 AM, April 10, 2011

Some 100,000 freshly minted high-school diplomas are now as worthless as the name that's printed on them -- that of booted Chancellor Cathie Black.

It's the second time this school year the city Department of Education has had to switch the chancellor's name on the sheepskins.

In November, Chancellor Joel Klein quit. Thousands of diplomas emblazoned with his name had to be shredded.

When Black took over in January, the DOE's printer redid the press plates to etch in "Cathleen P. Black," and ran off 104,000 new diplomas, which now have to be tossed.

It's back to Tripi Engraving, the DOE's printer in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to order a new batch embossed with "Dennis M. Walcott" -- once he gets a waiver from the state to serve as chancellor.

Normally, the DOE prints an average 70,000 diplomas each year at 49 cents apiece. But the DOE has already hit a $100,000 spending cap on the printer's contract and has to put out a new bid, said spokeswoman Margie Feinberg.


The views, opinions, and judgments expressed in this message are solely those of the author. The message contents have not been reviewed or approved by the UFT.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Recent News Articles Feb 8th

Daily News
State budget's brutal hits make clear city's long-term financial health depends on pension overhaul

Tuesday, February 8th 2011, 4:00 AM

The choices facing the Legislature grow clearer by the day:

New Yorkers can have cops on patrol or they can subsidize health care coverage for the workforce.

New Yorkers can have their garbage picked up or they can waste money meeting costly, unnecessary state mandates.

Mayor Bloomberg began introducing lawmakers to these hard and inescapable realities yesterday on his first visit to Albany since Gov. Cuomo proposed a state budget that closes a projected $10 billion deficit with spending reductions.

The numbers leave Bloomberg swimming in red ink that is deeper than planned. While he has sound gripes about the fairness of some Cuomo hits, they are not large enough to alter the fact that he will have to trim outlays by at least $3 billion.

The jobs of tens of thousands of workers - teachers, cops, firefighters, sanitation collectors and more - are on the line. How many will be determined by the Legislature's willingness to give the city and other local governments relief from unsustainable pension burdens and mandates.

As Bloomberg put it: "So if Albany feels it must walk away from their obligations because of previous mismanagement, which leaves us with enormous holes in our budget, it is critical that the governor and state Legislature help us reduce our expenses so that we can avoid the kind of layoffs and services cuts that would be devastating to our city."

According to a Citizens Budget Commission report released yesterday, Bloomberg has wrung $2 billion in savings out of city agencies over the past two years. The departments surrendered on average slightly less than 5% of their city-funded budgets, with some getting tagged for much more.

Schools, children's services, parks, homeless services and agencies devoted to the aging and housing all gave up more than 12%. After clamping down on contracting, supplies and the like, here's some of what happened to the head count:

The Education Department cut 475 positions and reduced teaching ranks by 1,440 through attrition. The Administration for Children's Services eliminated 960 positions; the Parks Department, 700. Sanitation shrank by 240 positions.

Altogether, the payroll fell by 6,588 since 2008. Meanwhile, almost 40% of spending escaped trims because it is beyond the mayor's unilateral authority. Included are pension benefits.

Retirement expenses were $1.5 billion in 2001. They will be $8.3 billion next year. Since the state Constitution bars reducing pension benefits for current workers, Bloomberg is urging what he called modest reductions for future hires that could save $1 billion over the coming eight years.

The mayor should have gone further, to calling for an end to pensions for new workers and a shift to a (401)k-style retirement savings plan. He may have pulled a punch, considering the pension-loving culture of Albany and city government.

Distressingly, city Controller John Liu suggested the stock market might provide a way out of taking action. It won't. Pension benefits are so rich, investment returns would fill, at best, part of the hole. He and lawmakers must recognize that by refusing to act, they would doom New Yorkers and their children to crowded classrooms, closed libraries and streets that are dirtier and less safe.

Daily News
Lawmakers cool toward Bloomberg's proposal to change 'last in, first out' firing rule for teachers
BY Glenn Blain

Tuesday, February 8th 2011, 4:00 AM

ALBANY - Mayor Bloomberg's plea Monday to scrap the state's "last in, first out" rule for laying off teachers barely got in the door with lawmakers.

"I think it is a red herring," said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan). "He has a policy initiative that he doesn't like any organized labor."

State Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn) engaged in a testy exchange with Hizzoner on the issue during a private meeting Bloomberg held with Senate Democrats, sources said.

Bloomberg warned state legislators that without a change in the last in, first out rule, the city could lose some of its brightest young teachers in upcoming layoffs - and have "chaos" in schools.

"That would be especially tragic," Bloomberg said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who met privately with Bloomberg yesterday, was noncommittal about taking up the mayor's proposal to change how teacher layoffs are handled.

"If there is an objective criteria, it is something we can look at," Silver said.

New York Times

February 7, 2011, 2:30 pm

Mayor Tells Legislature That Lost Aid Will Ensure Layoffs
Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times Mayor Bloomberg at the legislative office building in Albany on Monday.

ALBANY — A week after he criticized Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget as unfair to New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appeared before lawmakers on Monday and offered grim examples to prove his point.
Classroom crowding would worsen, he said. More than a third of the city’s senior citizen centers would close. The scale of layoffs, in the schools and at government agencies, would be “devastating.”

But when he was done chronicling the budgetary fallout that lies ahead, Mr. Bloomberg sounded a note of détente. The city, he said, would largely accept the proposed cuts, which by his math add up to $2.1 billion, but he wants something in return.

“We know you have to cut back,” the mayor told legislators. “We’ll have to live with it. But you can find ways to mitigate or eliminate an awful lot of the pain.”

Rather than take aim at the governor’s sweeping cuts, the mayor spent the day lobbying lawmakers to ease a wide range of state mandates that he said had the effect of making a bad fiscal situation worse.

The word mandate was the pejorative of the day at the Legislative Office Building, where mayors and local officials — the tin cup brigade, as the annual parade of woebegone speakers is known — warned lawmakers about the consequences of Mr. Cuomo’s proposed cuts.

Mr. Bloomberg was the star attraction. While he showed a grudging acceptance of Mr. Cuomo’s proposed cuts, he made clear that he believed the governor had significantly understated the extent to which his budget would reduce money for the city, and their respective aides spent the afternoon bickering over numbers.

The mayor put the cut in funds at more than three times the $659 million that the Cuomo administration cites. The governor has framed his budget cuts in relation to spending in the current fiscal year, while the mayor did his calculations using the money that he said the city had been counting on.

Included in Mr. Bloomberg’s figure of $2.1 billion are a planned increase in school aid that Mr. Cuomo cut, and $300 million in annual revenue-sharing money that was due to be restored to the city but was wiped out in Mr. Cuomo’s proposed budget. Mr. Cuomo’s budget director, Robert L. Megna, released a statement saying it was “obviously not realistic” for the mayor to have counted on increased state funds, given the state’s fiscal condition.

In any event, Mr. Bloomberg himself seemed more concerned with winning concessions on mandates from the Legislature than with pressing Mr. Cuomo to soften the financial blow from his budget proposal.

Lawmakers and political observers have wondered whether the budget would lead to political war between Mr. Bloomberg, an independent, and Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat. Mr. Bloomberg, who met with Mr. Cuomo and legislative leaders after his testimony on Monday, seemed aware of the close parsing of his words.
Speaking to the lawmakers, he frequently complimented Mr. Cuomo for his effort to drive down state spending and improve the state’s tax climate. On Mr. Cuomo’s broader agenda, the mayor told reporters, “I’m 100 percent behind him.”

But Mr. Bloomberg took an agenda of his own to the hearing. “If Albany feels it must walk away from their obligations because of previous mismanagement,” he said, “it is critical that the governor and State Legislature help us reduce our expenses.”

In a favorite example, the mayor cited the fact that state law required the city to pay the full tuition for some special-education students to attend private schools, even if their parents refused to consider city schools that provided comparable special-education services. The private school tuition costs taxpayers more than $100 million a year, he said.

The mayor added that because of mandates, some of Mr. Cuomo’s cuts simply shifted costs from the state to the city, including $31 million for homeless shelters and $120 million for summer-school special education.

Mr. Bloomberg also repeated his plea that the Legislature pursue pension reforms for public employees and scrap teachers’ seniority protection before the city had to carry out layoffs.

The mayor’s requests seemed to find a receptive audience. Mr. Bloomberg has donated huge sums to the Senate Republicans, who control that chamber, and the Assembly is dominated by members from New York City, who if only because of geography share many of the mayor’s interests.

But even if he gets some of the legislative changes he is seeking, Mr. Bloomberg will still have to find substantial savings in balancing his own budget, which is due to be unveiled on Feb. 17.

For instance, the change on seniority, which would allow more experienced but less competent teachers to be fired before the most recently hired, would not save any substantial sum of money. But Mr. Bloomberg said it would go a long way toward blunting the effect of teacher layoffs on the quality of students’ education.

Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Bloomberg still disagree over whether layoffs will be necessary.

Mr. Megna suggested that tapping the city’s $2 billion in reserves was a way for the mayor to cut costs without firing teachers.

Mr. Bloomberg’s budget director, Mark Page, responded by calling that assertion “flat-out wrong.” Aides to the mayor said the city had only about half that amount in reserves, already planned to spend it and even then would still face a budget gap in the billions.

Mr. Bloomberg was unequivocal that job losses loomed.

“It’s not going to be just teachers,” he said. “It will filter through the whole system. Every agency is going to have fewer people.”

New York Post
Mike 'states' case on school layoffs

Last Updated: 9:46 AM, February 8, 2011

Posted: 1:29 AM, February 8, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg urged state legislators yesterday to repeal the "last in, first out" law, which mandates that teachers be laid off based on seniority instead of merit -- saying the policy sends "exactly the wrong message" to students who are judged on classroom performance.

"State law includes a 'last in, first out' provision, which would force us to lay off some of our very best teachers, while keeping some of our worst. Those layoffs would be felt heavily in the city's poorest neighborhoods, where schools tend to have the newest teachers," Bloomberg testified before the Legislature's Budget Committee in Albany.

"And they'd send exactly the wrong message to our children. We tell them, 'Work hard, and you can rise as high as your talents can take you.' But in their classrooms, they'd see that that's not really true," the mayor added.

"To lose the best and keep some who aren't carrying their weight is just a travesty."

Bloomberg said proposed cuts in Gov. Cuomo's spending plan as well as city budget reductions could force public schools to lay off thousands of teachers. He urged the governor and lawmakers to revise the law so schools can keep the best teachers and get rid of the lowest performing teachers -- regardless of how many years they have in the system.

"We need to be able to make these difficult decisions based on what matters most: success in the classroom and what's good for kids," he said.

While the schools with the highest percentage of junior teachers would be hurt the most, Bloomberg emphasized that all schools would be affected because senior teachers have "bumping" rights to fill vacant slots caused by the layoffs.

He said the "merry-go-round" of teachers going from one school to another "would create a firestorm of complaints like you've never seen before."

The mayor appealed to lawmakers' to do the right thing.

"We can't do this without you," he said.

Bloomberg later met with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Senate Minority Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn).

Bloomberg said the governor was sympathetic to changing LIFO.

After meeting with the mayor, Silver -- considered the teachers union closest ally in Albany -- was noncommittal. He said he would "look at" revising LIFO, but only if there are "objective standards" by which to determine whom to lay off.

New York Post

'We all lose' with less $$ & more mandates: mayor


Last Updated: 3:30 AM, February 8, 2011

Posted: 1:26 AM, February 8, 2011

ALBANY -- Mayor Bloomberg yesterday urged state lawmakers to turn Gov. Cuomo's massive proposed cuts to the city into an opportunity to shed high-cost state mandates in areas like pensions and education.

"The public says, 'Spend less.' But Albany forces us to spend more. And our employees, and those who need their services, are getting crushed in the middle, because if we are spending on things we don't need while sacrificing the things we do need, we all lose," Bloomberg told a joint legislative finance panel.

He warned that state cuts to the Big Apple -- which he calculated at $2.1 billion -- will force layoffs in every agency, the closing of about 100 senior centers and reduced services to homeless shelters and children in adoptive homes.

Bloomberg insisted the state aid cut to city schools is $1.4 billion.

But Cuomo's budget director, Robert Megna, pegged the cut at $579 million -- below the statewide average.

Bloomberg also urged lawmakers to create a fifth pension tier to rein in city costs and end a program that provides a $12,000 annual pension bonus to uniformed-service retirees.

"Ending the bonuses would save the city upwards of $1 billion annually -- that's the equivalent cost of more than 10,000 teachers, police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers and correction officers," he said.

WNYCBloomberg Takes Aim at Special Ed Costs
Monday, February 07, 2011 - 05:14 PM
By Beth Fertig

Mayor Bloomberg called on state legislators Monday to make it harder for special education students to attend private schools at taxpayer expense.

In his testimony before state legislators in Albany on Monday, the mayor said the city spends $100 million for 4,000 students to attend private schools when the public schools can't meet their needs.

Bloomberg said these students should be required to try the public schools before taking legal action. Right now, they can take their case to a special hearing officer before even setting foot inside a public school facility, as long as they've considered a public school option.

"We can provide services to those students at a fraction of that cost," Bloomberg said.

But Kim Sweet, executive director of the group Advocates for Children, said the mayor is exaggerating the added costs of private tuition.

"This particular salvo is aimed at a very easy target that people like to blame, and blame whenever there is a fiscal problem," she said. "But in fact it's a relatively small amount of money for the school system, and it's not going to solve their problems."

Sweet said there's actually very little difference between the dollars spent on private and public schools for special education students because both can easily cost more than $25,000 annually compared to about $17,000, on average, for a general education student.

Sweet's legal team represents low-income families who have had to fight for private school placements. She said they still need to prove their child's needs can't be addressed by the regular public schools.

"The fact is that the city has been sending students with disabilities to private schools for years because it hasn’t made the necessary commitment to fixing a very broken public special education system," Sweet said. "If public school special education worked, we wouldn’t be seeing these private school costs."

Bloomberg also told Albany lawmakers that state mandates will increase special education costs by 13 percent from the current school year to the next one. He's asking the legislature to eliminate an annual bonus for retired city workers and to take other cost-cutting measures that would enable the city to save more money for public education, specifically to prevent teacher layoffs.

NY1Charter School Advocates Converge On Albany
By: Lindsey Christ

Charter school supporters took their fight to the state capital Monday, where they put legislators on notice that they're a force to be reckoned with.

Charter school supporters took their fight to the state capital Monday, where they put legislators on notice that they're a force to be reckoned with. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

More than 2,000 city parents, students and teachers arrived by the bus load Monday in Albany. Their message to lawmakers: the charter school lobby is here to stay.

"We want to make sure that people continue to support this movement every year. Not some years, we take a day off or a year off," said one rally attendee.

Last year, charter advocates successfully lobbied lawmakers to raise the statewide cap on the number of charter schools from 200 to 460. And this year, even without any specific legislation on the table, they came back. After rallying they fanned out to meet with local representatives.

"I have to let them know that it's still important. No matter's still important. I don't want them to forget about charter schools," said one charter school parent.

"When you come to Albany you have more of a voice than if you go to another, because this is the capital of New York," said one charter student.

Monday's event was all organized and funded by the New York Charter School Center, a non-profit advocacy organization. The publicly funded but privately run schools remain a political lightning rod. Critics say they're an attempt to privatize public education and are fueled by Wall Street donations. To counteract that reputation, the charter center trains parents to advocate for the schools, and then brings them out, en mass, to public meeting and events like the one in Albany.

"Lots of people think charter schools are private schools. Charter schools are public schools and we're here to correct that misunderstanding," said one charter school parent.

Most of the parents who spoke with NY1 say they've never been politically active before. Many brought their children, saying they want them to also learn about the political process.

"I want him to see that education is so important and he has to fight for it," said one parent.

State law doesn't give charters funding for facilities. Changing that will be the lobby's next big political push.

Eighty of the city's 125 charter schools were represented in the state capital on Monday. They say they're a movement that's only getting stronger and better organized, and want elected officials to listen.

New York Post
Teacher policy bad for cities: study


Last Updated: 3:30 AM, February 8, 2011

Posted: 1:30 AM, February 8, 2011

Firing teachers under the "last in, first out" policy hurts the quality of instruction in urban schools like New York, a new study claims.

An analysis of school districts in Washington state found that 84 percent of newer elementary-school teachers who received layoff notices the past two years under the seniority-based "last in, first out" would not have received pink slips at all under a system that evaluates classroom performance.

Only 16 percent of the newer teachers would have been on the firing line under either system, said professor Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington-Bothell's Center for Education Data & Research. More lower-performing veteran teachers would have been part of the layoff mix.

It turned out that 36 percent of the teachers who received layoff notices in the study sample actually performed at or above the average for all teachers.

Goldhaber created his own alternative "value-added" layoff model that compares performance of elementary-school teachers based on how their students fared on the state's standardized math and reading exams, which could apply to New York and other cities.

"Our simulations suggest it would significantly improve student performance over the use of a seniority-driven system," Goldhaber said. " 'Last in, first out' is an anachronism."

SI Advance
Teacher layoffs and the real world

Published: Saturday, February 05, 2011, 7:16 AM

By Staten Island Advance Editorial

According to United Federation of Teachers dogma, there is no such thing as a bad teacher. Not a one. And therefore, according to the UFT, no teacher should ever be laid off, even amid an unprecedented fiscal crisis.

That kind of surreal mentality is why there are hundreds of UFT members who are paid their full salaries to sit in “rubber rooms” and do crossword puzzles and surf the Internet instead of their job. They’ve been exiled because they have been removed from their former schools because of poor performance or outright misconduct, but the UFT refuses to acknowledge such failures among its members.

That’s also why the city Department of Education is required to follow a bizarre, 83-step process that takes years in order to fire a teacher. Of course, the requirement for such a formidable, lengthy process in order to get rid of bad teachers was put in place by the union’s friends in the state Legislature. The UFT believes no teacher should ever be fired.

So it’s not surprising that UFT doctrine reflexively rejects the idea that teachers who have been in the system for some time and are burned out or lazy or too willing to cut corners might be better leaving with their pensions. After all, those teachers, however suspect their performance, have been paying their UFT dues all those years, so, as far as the union is concerned, they are members in good standing and therefore automatically entitled to hang onto their jobs until they choose to go.

This hyper-protective policy on the part of the powerful UFT may please union members, which is what the union is supposed to do. But, despite the UFT’s implicit belief that anything that is good for the UFT is good for the city’s schools, it comes into direct conflict with the goals of good public policy, especially during hard fiscal times.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s dire prediction that as many as 15,000 city school teachers might have to be laid off under the worst budget-cutting scenario, appears to be an overstatement. But there will still be numerous teacher layoffs.

The question is: Which teachers should be the ones to go?

Under the policy insisted upon by the UFT and therefore embedded by obedient lawmakers in state law, it’s “last in, first out”: The most recently hired teachers are the first ones to be laid off. Meanwhile, teachers with many years seniority are deemed untouchable.

That’s right and just, according to UFT doctrine. But is it what’s best for the children who attend New York City public schools? Anyone who’s ever spent a school year in a class with a burned-out, bitter, boring teacher knows the answer to that one.

Moreover, is it what’s best for the taxpayers? With fewer teachers in the system, the taxpayers should be getting the best teachers for their money instead of being forced to subsidize the union’s self-serving seniority system that utterly disregards merit.

New teachers come in with better qualifications than their predecessors did, and, more important, an enthusiasm and an eagerness to teach - if only because they have so recently chosen and worked toward that career path. That enthusiasm and idealism can count for a lot when it comes to inspiring youngsters.

Some - certainly not all, but enough - older teachers have long since lost that enthusiasm, have become apathetic or even bitter about their jobs, and worst of all, cynical about the children they’re supposed to be educating.

But the UFT says they must be kept on, regardless, while the young teachers are deemed expendable. The UFT leadership is willfully unconcerned about the actual quality of the teaching in the classrooms. It spins all veteran teachers, regardless of their interest or performance, as “experienced.”

There’s another factor to be considered. Senior teachers usually choose to work in schools in more affluent neighborhoods while junior teachers are typically assigned to less desirable schools in poor communities. That means schools in less affluent, minority communities will be hardest hit if junior teachers are forced out of the system. That’s led some to charge that the last-in-first-out policy is discriminatory.

At this time of shrunken education budgets, it’s imperative that New Yorkers are able to trust the city’s schoolchildren are in the hands of the best possible teachers available, young or seasoned. That isn’t the case when the law says if teachers must be laid off, senior teachers must be protected simply because they’ve been around for awhile.

By no means should seniority be completely discounted. But by no means should it be the sole criterion, either. Contrary to the union solidarity propaganda, making that observation is not picking on all teachers, just the ones don’t belong anywhere near a classroom.

Mayor Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a majority of New Yorkers polled on the issue are right: In deciding which teachers to keep and which to lay off, merit must count most, just as it does for any other job in the real world. The UFT would better serve the people of this city if it worked with the administration to develop a set of fair and realistic criteria to determine who should stay and who should go instead of pretending that teacher layoffs are not even necessary.

New York Post
NY schools could cover aid cuts: report
Last Updated: 9:26 AM, February 9, 2011

Posted: 9:24 AM, February 9, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. — As many as 74 percent of school districts outside New York City appear to have enough funds in reserve to pay for the historic aid cuts proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a state Education Department report indicates.

The study, strongly disputed by groups protecting school aid, finds most districts have enough money listed as unallocated reserves and leftover funds from federal stimulus grants to pay for the 7.3 percent cut. Cuomo proposes to cut about $1.5 billion from the state’s annual school aid of about $21 billion, among the highest per capita school aid in the nation.

The report obtained by The Associated Press shows the school districts outside New York City have about $1.16 billion in reserves and $355.2 million left in federal stimulus money.

But school aid advocates say Cuomo’s cut will force thousands of teacher layoffs and larger class sizes, and will force local property tax increases to make up for the lost state support.

The Statewide School Finance Consortium, a project of the Central New York School Boards Association, released its own report this week that found hundreds of school districts would run out of money sometime next year if the Legislature approves Cuomo’s cuts.

The fiscal crises would be worst at schools in low-income communities that derive little revenue from property taxes and rely more heavily on state and federal aid, according to the group.

“Some will simply be unable to continue to meet the minimal state and federal requirements for even a basic educational program,” said Rick Timbs of the Statewide School Finance Consortium.

Cuomo, however, has said the cut in a budget that had to address a $10 billion deficit should prompt public schools to cut waste and inefficiencies.

The school boards’ project shows many schools would run out of money sometime in the 2011-12 school year, a situation addressed in past years by increasing local school property taxes or borrowing. But Cuomo’s high priority of capping local property tax growth at 2 percent or less is also gaining support in Albany and could be enacted this year.

That could limit how much a district could raise taxes to compensate for the loss of state aid and could also limit its borrowing ability, according to the school boards’ group.

The state report, however, also shows concerns. For example, five out of seven school districts in Cattaraugus County don’t have enough in reserve to cover proposed cuts while even suburban Monroe County would see about 40 percent of its districts come up short when trying to use reserves to pay for cuts.

Other counties such as Sullivan County would see all of their districts able to apply reserves to fully cover cuts and almost all wealthy Westchester County school districts would have enough cash to cover the cuts, according to the report.

According to the state report, Cuomo’s home district in Westchester would have enough reserves to cover its cuts as would the Rockville Centre district on Long Island that is home to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver lives in lower Manhattan, but New York City’s data on whether its reserves could handle the cuts wasn’t included in the report because the district uses measures different from other districts.

New York PostChicago mayoral candidate Rahm also wants to end teacher seniority

Last Updated: 4:10 AM, February 9, 2011

Posted: 3:14 AM, February 9, 2011

Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former chief-of-staff, has endorsed scrapping the "last in, first out" law requiring that teachers be laid off based on seniority instead of merit, The Post has learned.

Emanuel, the front-runner to become the next mayor of Chicago, spelled out his position in a candidate questionnaire for a Windy City education journal.

"In Chicago's schools, layoffs are typically done by seniority. I want to change that policy to ensure that those who are laid off are the least effective teachers, not the most junior," Emanuel told the Catalyst, a Chicago paper that tracks local schools.

"This will require a new teacher-evaluation system based on a comprehensive assessment of instructional quality and student performance, not simply results from one exam," Emanuel added.

He also said it should be easier to fire low-performing teachers who have tenure.

"We simply cannot afford to leave our children in the hands of bad teachers. I am focused on teacher development and improvement, but we must have the flexibility to remove the worst teachers and ensure that our children are in classrooms run by effective leaders," he said.

A top aide to Mayor Bloomberg -- who is trying to persuade the state Legislature to repeal LIFO -- was thrilled after hearing of Emanuel's bid to end seniority-based layoffs in Chicago.

"It's clearly a big boost. We couldn't agree more with Mr. Emanuel," said Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson. "Mayors across the country are coming to the conclusion that any layoffs should be based on merit, not seniority."

Bloomberg said state and city budget cuts could force the schools to give pink slips to thousands of teachers. He argues the best teachers should remain in front of students and the worst kicked out -- regardless of seniority.

Meanwhile, the top educator in Arizona -- a state that abolished LIFO several years ago without much fuss -- said it's about time New York got on board.

"We scrapped seniority. Students come first," said Arizona state Schools Superintendent John Huppenthal.

"Performance of the teacher has to be the driving factor. When you have limited resources, you want to make sure the ones teaching the kids are the best teachers you have."

Huppenthal said it takes about 60 days to fire incompetent teachers in Arizona. The Grand Canyon State also has 500 charter schools, the most of any state in the country.

"When we look at New York, we're horrified. You've thrown so much money into the education system. You haven't got much to show for it academically," he said.

"When we look at New York City, we see a foreign universe."

New York PostWhy school reforms matter
Last Updated: 12:13 AM, February 9, 2011

Posted: 10:55 PM, February 8, 2011

The State Education Department data showing that a scant 23 percent of New York City high school graduates are prepared for college puts more pressure on -- and demands more accountability from -- educators and elected leaders alike.

That's a major reason why City Hall needs to have the maximum amount of flexibility to keep the best teachers possible -- rather than be forced to toss energetic, innovative junior teachers overboard while saving the jobs of far-less-qualified folks as the system downsizes in the coming weeks.

Opponents of education reform -- particularly the city's teachers union -- will undoubtedly try using the 23 percent college-ready number for city students to again try undermining the Bloomberg administration's overall education record.

But even taking into account SED-crafted tests -- now universally recognized as having been dumbed down to ludicrous lows over the last decade -- city students outpaced their peers statewide, especially in other large urban school districts.

Indeed, the far more rigorous National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams illustrate such gains.

Since Bloomberg became mayor, fourth-grade NAEP scores for city students went up 11 points in both math and English and seven points in eighth-grade math -- while remaining flat across the rest of the state.

Even looking at SED's college-ready figures, the city's 23 percent outstrips the less-than-17 percent results for students in urban school districts like Buffalo, Syracuse and Yonkers.

Perhaps even more tellingly, the city's college-ready rate has more than tripled -- from a minuscule 7.3 percent base in 2005 to 22.5 in 2009.

Simply put, the city's accountability-and-standards model has borne fruit.

But that progress is at risk, given likely significant city teacher layoffs due to reduced state aid.

The mayor wants to minimize the impact of those layoffs by not being forced to lose the best teachers because of the "last in, first out" seniority system.

Ending that, though, rests with Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature.

Let's hope they're prepared to help city kids become "college-ready."

Daily News
State officials admit high school graduation standards are a sham - now they must fix them

Wednesday, February 9th 2011, 4:00 AM

New York State's educrats in chief have produced a dismal appraisal of the worth of the high school diploma they have been awarding to students. It has been essentially worthless.

While school districts from Montauk to Buffalo have boasted a statewide 77% graduation rate, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Education Commissioner David Steiner now confess that the schools actually prepared only 41% of the graduates for college or careers.

In the city, the official graduation rate is 63%, but only 23% of the seniors awarded diplomas in 2009 were truly ready to begin college without taking remedial classes. Among black and Latino students, a scant 13% were college-ready, even though the graduation rates were 60% for blacks and 57% for Hispanics.

There's been a whole lot of faking going on.

Steiner is relatively new to his position. Tisch and Steiner's predecessors presided over a system that used dumbed-down scoring on English and math tests in elementary and middle school and dumbed-down Regents exams in high school.

They set a low bar for schools to meet and have worked for the past few years to start raising it. The results have been shocking. When they changed the passing grades on reading and math exams, for example, thousands of students were stunned to discover that they were suddenly subpar.

Now, Tisch and Steiner have come clean about how little the regents had been demanding of New York's kids. This is helpful truth-telling. The question is: What now?

For the time being, Tisch and Steiner say they'll count any student who got a 75 on the English Regents and an 80 on the Math A Regents exam as college-ready. In an Op-Ed piece on the opposite page, city Schools Chancellor Cathie Black argues the state is "fiddling around the edges with cut scores" rather than truly tightening standards.

Black and her aides are raising a significant and important challenge that Tisch and Steiner must address. While the state officials say they are moving toward higher standards with a revamped testing regime, they must demonstrate that they are doing so smartly, as quickly as possible and with true accountability.

If the leader of the nation's largest school system - and the most dominant in the state - is calling for more rigor, it behooves Tisch and Steiner to deliver.

New York Post Diploma deceit
Last Updated: 12:13 AM, February 9, 2011

Posted: 10:51 PM, February 8, 2011

If Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Education Commissioner David Steiner keep it up, the public one day may actually have a full and honest picture of the state of education in New York -- dismal as it may be.

But first the bad news.

Monday, officials released data revealing that fewer than half of 2009's high school grads -- 41 percent -- left school with the skills they needed for college or a career. Yet, the official statewide graduation rate had been put at 77 percent -- almost double.

Before this week, Albany had never made public the necessary-skills benchmark -- while pretending for years that schools were adequately preparing many more students than they actually were.

How did they do it?

By handing out diplomas to students with Regents test scores as low as 65 -- even though experts believe kids need at least an 80 in math and a 75 in English to show they're ready for college or a job.

That let them claim the misleading 77 percent graduation rate.

The policy was a morally corrupt sham, overseen by former Education Commissioner Richard Mills and acquiesced in by the Albany establishment.

So kudos to Tisch and Steiner for blowing the whistle on it.

"If you sit on this, you become the Enron of test scores, the Enron of graduation rates," Tisch said.

She's right -- in fact, this page has long had grave qualms about the integrity of Mills' testing regimens.

This is Tisch and Steiner's second big move to shore up standards.

Last year, they raised the bar on tests given to third- through eighth-graders to assess proficiency. (Overnight, not surprisingly, thousands of kids across the state fell short.)

Sure, the picture may not be pretty. In the city, the "preparedness" rate was just 23 percent. In Rochester, it was as low as 5 percent. In Syracuse, only 1 percent of Hispanic students left school adequately prepared for college or a career.

Fact is, the state was doing students untold harm by concealing the painful truth. Without honest assessments, teachers and administrators can't possibly craft policies to address systemic weaknesses.

What's more, those tests and graduation rates drive countless key decisions -- from teacher evaluations to merit pay to school closings. If the numbers aren't credible, nothing works.

Tisch and Steiner still have a long way to go. Now that they've come clean about graduation rates, for example, they need to figure out what to do about it.

But Step 1 was the confession.

Call it progress.

Daily News
Cathie Black op-ed on college readiness: State must stop fiddling with cut scores, improve tests
By Cathie Black

Wednesday, February 9th 2011, 4:00 AM

When Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, he inherited a dysfunctional school system and graduation rates that had been stagnant for a decade. Nine years later, New York City's graduation rate is at an all-time high of 63%.

We should all be immensely proud of that progress. But we still have work to do to ensure that more of our students graduate and that they graduate with the skills to succeed in college.

That is why, for the past two years, the Department of Education has focused on increasing the rigor of our curriculum and working to introduce new assessments that measure whether our students are ready to succeed in college.

We are pleased that yesterday, New York State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and state Education Commissioner David Steiner joined us in this discussion by acknowledging that the state standards have been too low. The state is, after all, responsible for setting graduation standards, creating the Regents exams, dictating how the exams are given and scored and, on top of it all, overseeing SUNY and CUNY, the state and city universities that define college-readiness requirements.

But if we are going to have a real conversation about college readiness - which we desperately need - it has to be about more than setting higher "cut scores" on the Regents exams. Right now, students are counted as passing the Regents exam with a score of 65. Everyone agrees that at this level, they're not truly prepared to do college-level work.

In its analysis, the state argues that students had to score 80 on the Math A Regents test (primarily given to ninth-graders) to truly be ready for college-level work.

But there are better, more rigorous predictors of college success: One is whether kids master higher-level math courses by the time they graduate. Another is whether students take the more advanced Math B Regents test. Success or failure on that exam correlates much more strongly to whether students go on to succeed at the college level. In fact, students who took but actually failed the Math B Regents have a better chance of being on track at CUNY than students who earned an 80 on the Math A Regents.

The state erred in using only the Math A results for its analysis, and if we are going to get this right, we need a thorough analysis using the best metrics available.

While adjusting scores has some value, it is crucial that we also focus on taking steps that will actually help better prepare our kids for college-level work. That means having a curriculum that teaches students how to write critically, how to back up their arguments with facts and how to apply mathematics to real-world situations. And it means having rigorous assessments that align with the curriculum and measure if our students have mastered those skills. The current Regents exams do not offer that.

Rather than wait for the state to act, we've begun introducing the new Common Core standards, higher-level learning benchmarks that are being embraced around the country. In 100 schools across the city, more than 1,000 teachers are using complex tasks and nonfiction texts in their classrooms to prepare for these more rigorous standards. Although the Common Core won't appear on state tests until 2014, we're getting out ahead to make sure our kids are prepared far in advance - testing them on material that is far more robust than what we see today on the current Regents exams.

Transparency is no doubt crucial to this discussion. That is why last year, we told schools we would begin including robust college-readiness metrics on high school progress reports, including information about advanced placement courses taken and college enrollment. That way, schools will get a chance to see how they are performing knowing that next year, they will be held to the new, higher bar.

It's one thing to talk about the vastness of our education challenges. But if the state agrees that we need to do the hard work to get our kids college-ready, it is time for them to stop fiddling around the edges with cut scores, make a real commitment and invest in our kids' future.

The regents chancellor and state education commissioner should start by lobbying Albany to offset some of the governor's $1.4 billion cut to New York City education funding with meaningful relief from pension costs and other state mandates. The reality of a cut of that size is that good teachers will be laid off, school belts will be tightened further and extra help for our students will likely fall by the wayside.

Everyone understands that budget times are tough. But we have an obligation to provide all of our children with a quality education that will get them college- and career-ready. It is our sincerest hope that the state will partner with us in these efforts.

Black is chancellor of the New York City public schools.

New York Post
Coach's lesson for city schools

Last Updated: 4:47 AM, February 9, 2011

Posted: 2:25 AM, February 9, 2011

Mike Tomlin is definitely old school. Moments after his team was defeated in the Super Bowl, the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers was asked to characterize the game. "A loss," a stoic Tomlin said on TV. "We don't grade on a curve. We're not interested in moral victories and things of that nature."

The answer was pure football, where winning is everything, but New York educrats could learn a thing or two from Tomlin. Though they claim to have ended social promotion and other dumbing-down tricks, many are still finding ways to erase the line between failure and success.

The result is that tens of thousands of students who get diplomas are being denied an education that will prepare them for college and work. They're led to believe they won when, in reality, they lost.

A report by the state Regents makes the case with damning numbers. It finds that many students who graduate with top diplomas are not capable of doing entry-level college work.

New York City is a prime example. Although it hands out diplomas to over 60 percent of students, only about 23 percent are ready to do college work, the Regents say. A red flag is that 75 percent who go to City University community colleges need remedial work in at least one core subject.

The polite way of describing the gap is that high-school standards are misaligned with college standards. The more accurate way is that many high schools are diploma mills, their seals of approval as worthless as the paper they're printed on.

Merryl Tisch, the Regents chancellor leading the fight to raise standards and make them stick, says to do otherwise would make New York "the Enron of test scores, the Enron of graduation rates."

Those are tough words, and absolutely appropriate for the stakes. At a time when President Obama and business leaders are decrying the state of American education, New York is shaping up as a test case.

Is the state willing to face the truth about what kids are learning? Does it have the will to adopt reforms and not water them down at the first sign of difficulty?

The new report is the other shoe dropping on Mayor Bloomberg's windy claim that city schools are a model for the nation. The first shoe fell last summer, when higher standards for elementary- and middle-school tests wiped away four years of supposed gains.

Now comes the dismal truth about high schools. It is of little consolation that Gotham is beating Yonkers or Syracuse.

It is even more disturbing that many educators refuse to be straight with students and families. Instead of demanding their charges meet standards, teachers and administrators continue to lower the bar so as many kids as possible can jump over it.

The Wall Street Journal revealed that a suspiciously high number of city students got exactly the minimum score of 65 they needed to pass the Regents exams required for graduation. The pattern leaves little doubt that scores are being bumped up so students will pass. Many teachers and principals got bonuses on those scores.

A passing score of 65 is itself a fig leaf because statistics show that only students who score 75 in English and 80 in math have a good chance of getting even a "C" in those subjects in college.

Not every student wants or can go to college. But most do, and parents across New York should support raising the bar on every part of the system. Beefed-up curricula and more accountability for administrators will be part of the mix.

But higher standards for students must lead the way. If that is done with integrity, everything else will follow.