Primary Sources

Chancellor Klein's testimony, for those playing along at home

Were you somehow unable not to make today’s mayoral control hearing? Don’t worry! You can still read Chancellor Joel Klein’s testimony in its entirety right here on GothamSchools, courtesy of the Department of Education:

TESTIMONY OF CHANCELLOR JOEL I. KLEIN ON MAYORAL CONTROL OF NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS BEFORE THE NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY EDUCATION COMMITTEE

Good morning, Speaker Silver, Chairwoman Nolan, and members of the Education Committee. Thank you for inviting me to testify today, and thank you for holding this series of hearings. I’m honored to be part of a process that is so important to our children and our City. I’m joined by my deputy, Kathleen Grimm, who will discuss our Capital Plan. The president of the School Construction Authority, Sharon Greenberger, is also here to help answer your questions.

Seven years ago, when Mayor Bloomberg took office, everybody agreed that the City’s public school system was in crisis. Its schools were failing many of its students—especially the neediest ones. Since then, we’ve come a long way—thanks in large measure to your bold decision to support mayoral control, and, I would add, the significant infusion of funds that you have delivered. What we’ve created is not perfect, our work has not been without mistake, and the transformation we have worked to engender is not complete. But the results show how far we’ve come. Today, more than 10,000 additional students are graduating than when we took over in 2002. Today, many more students are meeting and exceeding standards in math and reading. And today, the gap separating African-American and Latino students from their white and Asian peers is shrinking.

So, let me jump right in and start with what I think is most important. Whoever the mayor is, you should continue to provide him or her with the authority and accountability for public education in our City. Nothing is more important than education to our City and its families, and our City’s highest elected official should have the responsibility for this core function, just as he or she does for the safety, health, and the economic well being our City. Some have proposed that we should dilute the mayor’s authority over education policy and budget decisions, by changing the composition of the Panel for Educational Policy, for example. But if we do, we undermine the mayor’s accountability to the City, and that would be a mistake. If he cannot pursue his priorities, he cannot fairly be responsible for what happens in education.

We don’t need to speculate about this. That’s precisely the way it was before you authorized mayoral control in 2002. There was divided authority, a school system in distress, lots of finger pointing and blame passing, and a new chancellor every two or three years. Today, there are people who disagree strongly with our priorities and who focus exclusively on the mistakes we have made. But whether they agree or disagree, no one questions that the Mayor and I are accountable for the state of our City’s schools.

There is a second reason why the Mayor should be both responsible and accountable: when it comes to education, someone has to watch out for all 1.1 million students. Divided authority—and a local, rather than a citywide focus—often leads to interest group politics in education, and those with power, or access to power, typically prevail. There are, in short, as is often the case, winners and losers. But we cannot afford losers in education. For example, there are many parents in our City who know how to navigate the system to find a good school for their children, parents who can call someone who is well connected to find out how to play the game. But who looks out for the students who are not so well connected, the children of our poorest families, the children of color, and the children of parents who recently arrived here in America? In New York City, indeed throughout our Nation, those students have typically gotten the short end of the stick in public education. And that’s a significant reason why we have the shameful racial and ethnic achievement gaps that we do. The mayor and chancellor must advocate for those children—and set priorities in a way that will ensure they too get an equal educational opportunity—or their needs will continue to be neglected.

Our experience over the past seven years in New York City demonstrates that mayoral control provides the necessary ability to make real changes in the largest school system in the country. The sorts of reforms we have implemented would not and could not have happened in the absence of such authority. By definition, such reforms are often controversial. You certainly don’t have to agree with every program we’ve undertaken or policy we’ve implemented, but I think it’s clear that to get the job done—and get it done right—we need real reforms, not the feel-good stuff that so often characterizes education reform. Everyone wants more money for education—our children need and deserve it. But more money alone, as experience throughout the Nation sadly demonstrates, hasn’t solved the challenges we face.

I know Deputy Mayor Walcott outlined our results last week. I’d like to just highlight a few points:

We have made substantial progress in attacking the achievement gap. For our fourth graders, we have cut the achievement gap in half in math since 2002 and we’ve reduced it by about 20% in English. Progress in the eighth grade is less substantial, but it is still in the right direction. On the national tests, our African-American fourth graders are beating out African Americans throughout America and in virtually every other large city in both math and English.

Overall, our students have made sustained progress in math and reading since 2002. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding State standards is up almost 30 points in fourth and eighth grade math. In ELA, the percentage is up almost 15 points in fourth grade and 14 points in eighth grade.

In every area, New York City’s students’ gains have outpaced gains in the rest of the State, where students are taking the same tests and not making remotely the same progress.

And most importantly, as I said, many more students are graduating from high school. The City methodology, which was in effect long before mayoral control, shows that we have increased the four-year graduation rate by more than 2 points per year after a decade of stagnation that preceded us. And, under the State’s new methodology, in existence for the past three years, we’ve gone up almost 3 points per year from 2005 to 2007.

Because of our steady progress in improving student achievement and reducing achievement gaps plaguing poor and minority students, we won the country’s most prestigious education award, the Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2007.

Today, we are working together, as one City, to address the needs of our students. We have one system that sets clear expectations for our schools and our students. No longer do we think of ourselves as 32 separate fiefdoms, divided along income and zip code lines. We are the City of New York. WE know that success in some communities with sustained failure in others hurts all of us.

Today, we focus relentlessly on student achievement, something you heard far less about before mayoral control. Look at the first page in the folder we provided. Students’ advancement to and beyond proficiency is directly linked to the rate at which they graduate from high school on time with a Regents diploma. Small increments of growth in proficiency produce large increases in the probability of success in high school. As the chart illustrates, only 23% of students finishing eighth grade with a proficiency ratings of 2.50 in ELA and math graduate four years later with a Regents diploma. But students leaving middle school with a rating of 3.50 graduate at a rate of 81%—58 points higher. For every tenth of a point gain in proficiency within that range, the probability that a rising ninth grader will graduate in four years, college ready, increases by about 5 points.

These are big differences and that’s why mastering the materials on New York State’s standardized tests matters and why the gains that we have made on those tests that I’ve described will have significant life-time effects.

As is obvious, I strongly believe that mayoral control is the best governance system for urban public schools. I said that publicly and often long before Mayor Bloomberg decided to run again, and I have repeatedly urged lawmakers throughout this Nation—especially big-city mayors in cities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.—to adopt a system of mayoral control. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that you shouldn’t seek to improve the statute. I recognize that it is not a sacred text. Like the work we do every day, now is the time to focus on what we can learn from our experiences and make modifications that will benefit our schools and students. But as we strive toward that goal, there is a real danger that the debate over the statute becomes a debate over specific policy decisions that were enabled by it. Even if you don’t like some of the decisions we have made, it would be a grave mistake to constrain, now and long into the future, the fundamental ability to make the kind of transformational change our kids need by dividing up decision-making in the law. No matter what how it is labeled, that is not changing or tweaking or improving mayoral control, it is ending it—and that is a line that, for our kids’ sake, we can’t afford to cross.

Before I close, I would like to address the issue many people who question mayoral control have raised as a problem, and that is the issue of parental involvement. First, let me provide some independent data. A survey by the Community Service Society—a well respected advocacy group known to all of you—found that the percentage of public school parents “grading” their children’s school with a B or higher has jumped significantly under our administration. Among our City’s poorest parents, this figure rose from 24% to 64%. Among the “near poor,” it rose from 47% to 64%, and among the “moderate-higher” families, it rose from 59% to 66%.

And just last week, a Quinnipiac Poll found that voters with children in public schools support the continuation of mayoral control by a margin of almost 20 points—57% to 39%.

Yet, although I believe that we’ve made strides with community and family engagement over the course of the administration, I also know that we can do a better job. This is a complex education system to navigate and we can, and must, do a better job helping our families navigate it. We also need to give families and communities more information in a more timely fashion so that we can do a better job of getting their input. Working together with you, and learning from our experience over the past several years, I’m confident we can build a better process.

In conclusion, let me again emphasize that the conversation we are having today is one of the most important conversations facing us as a City. There are things we’ve learned since 2002, things we could no doubt have done better with the benefit of hindsight. But we have a duty to make sure our City continues to have the tools it needs to further transform education for the benefit of our children, especially those children who, almost 55 years after Brown v. Board of Education, remain profoundly shortchanged. I look forward to working with you to learn from the experience of the past seven years to construct the best possible education law for our students and their families.

Top 10

From forest preschools to a secret apology, here are Chalkbeat Colorado’s must-read stories of 2018

PHOTO: Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat
Megan Patterson works with children to make a dam in a creek during a recent "forest school" class.

We spend a lot of time at Chalkbeat chasing the news to keep our readers informed about controversial policy changes, fast-moving debates, and late-breaking decisions.

But we also relish the opportunity to dig deep into issues affecting students and families, shine light on innovative ideas, and hear from dedicated educators making a difference. With that in mind, we’ve gathered 10 of our best stories from 2018.

These stories don’t necessarily chronicle the biggest education issues of 2018, from teacher walkouts to unprecedented state interventions. But they are stories we think are important and insightful, and that we enjoyed reporting and writing. We hope you enjoy reading them.

No walls: Forest preschools let kids run free, but can they change to reach diverse families?

One day this past summer, about a dozen children frolicked by a Jefferson County creek — making pretend tea in small metal buckets, and building dams with sticks and mud.

They were students at Worldmind Nature Immersion School, where children spend all their time outside. So-called forest preschools like Worldmind are beloved by many families but face significant regulatory and logistical barriers in expanding their footprint nationwide. Here in Colorado, a pilot program could lead a new kind of child care license designed for them.

And being licensed could help the schools confront another problem: a lack of diversity among their students. Read more.

Colorado was never ranked 46th for teacher pay. Does this change the debate?

It was an oft-cited statistic: that Colorado, despite its booming economy, ranked 46th in the nation for teacher pay. The eye-popping number found its way onto social media posts and signs at massive teacher rallies last spring. News outlets latched on to it, too.

But it was wrong. Colorado was actually ranked 30th in the nation.

Our story breaks down how the mistake happened (hint: a new data system, an unrevised report) — and how groups with different agendas seized on the snafu to score points. Read more.

This is the letter of apology that Adams 14 leaders never sent

The Adams 14 district in Commerce City is arguably the most troubled and low-performing in Colorado. Just last month, state officials directed Adams 14 to hire an external manager to oversee the district’s operations for at least the next four years.

Back in September, Adams 14 officials considered taking a rare step: saying sorry to the community. But an apology letter was never signed nor sent out.

Chalkbeat obtained a copy of the letter, which makes mention of “various and conflicting priorities, coupled with constant turnover and organizational disarray.” Read more.

Rising test scores and dwindling trust: Denver’s Tom Boasberg leaves a complicated legacy

Colorado’s largest school district experienced a big change this year when longtime leader Tom Boasberg announced he would step down after nearly 10 years in Denver Public Schools.

Because of his school improvement strategies — some of which were controversial and heightened tensions with the community — the district that the new superintendent, Susana Cordova, will inherit in January is vastly different than it was a decade ago.

One tangible difference: Schools that once served as anchors of the community but struggled academically have been closed or replaced. That disappearance was on display on one of Boasberg’s last days, when he held his cell phone close to his mouth and enunciated each word so his GPS would understand his direction: “Montbello High School.” Read more.

Parents in one Aurora high school are visiting classrooms and giving teachers feedback

Like many schools in Colorado, Aurora’s Rangeview High School has a test score gap between white and black students. But the assistant principal there came up with a unique way to try to address it: by inviting black parents to visit classrooms and observe how students are — or are not — engaging with the teacher’s lesson, and then provide suggestions for improvement.

“We give true and honest feedback,” said one parent involved, “if they looked or appeared comfortable, how they interacted with the environment, the temperature of the room.”

Although the assistant principal considers the African American Parent Committee an experiment, she said it’s generating uncomfortable but necessary conversations. Read more.

How education reform became a wedge issue among Colorado Democrats this election year

For years, more moderate Democrats, often working in unison with like-minded Republicans, championed education reform efforts ranging from school choice to holding educators accountable for student performance.

But partly because of backlash against President Donald Trump and his education secretary, those strategies no longer fly with many Democrats — especially left-leaning Democrats who see them as undercutting public education and devaluing the work of teachers.

That sentiment was palpable in Colorado’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, and could shape the next legislative session, which starts in January. “Education is the issue that really stands to divide the left in a very substantial way,” one observer said. Read more.

How a Colorado school district turned things around at 10,000 feet above sea level

School improvement efforts look a little different high in the Rocky Mountains. While many of the strategies used by the 1,000-student Lake County school district are familiar to urban settings, they’ve been retrofitted to meet the needs of a district that’s 100 miles west of Denver.

For example, instead of firing teachers and principals who weren’t accelerating student learning fast enough, the district adopted a new curriculum and gave its teachers lots of training.

“The belief that the people are the problem is wrong,” the superintendent said. “Our teachers are professionals, and we believe in them. We’re proving that there is a framework or a pathway for rural schools to improve that’s about building capacity within your own community.” Read more.

7 things to know about how Colorado schools punish their youngest students

After state lawmakers rejected a bill to limit the use of suspensions in the earliest grades, Chalkbeat wanted to know more about the early childhood discipline landscape in Colorado. Data from the Colorado Department of Education revealed several trends.

Among them: Young black boys are suspended at disproportionate rates. Some rural school districts have the highest early childhood suspension rates in the state.

And despite nationwide debate about the impact of harsh discipline on young children and local efforts to bring the numbers down, suspensions in the early grades are actually going up. Read more.

In Denver’s gentrifying neighborhoods, some middle-class parents are avoiding the school down the block

Many neighborhoods in Denver are gentrifying, with middle-class families moving into what have historically been working-class communities. That type of demographic shift could easily lead to neighborhood schools that are more integrated by family income and race.

But that doesn’t always happen in Denver. Instead, data show that wealthier families – more often than low-income families – are using Denver Public Schools’ universal school choice process to send their kids to schools elsewhere in the city.

That’s a problem because research shows integrated schools boost test scores for students from low-income families without lowering the scores of those from wealthier ones. Denver officials want to see those benefits, but allowing parents to choose may be thwarting them. Read more.

Why this Colorado principal hand delivers birthday cards to more than 2,000 students and staff

Northglenn High School Principal Sharee Blunt is Colorado’s 2018 School Principal of the year — but perhaps even more impressive is the enormous number of birthday cards she hand delivers each year. If you’re one of those people who can barely remember your spouse’s birthday, you’ll be floored by Blunt’s annual feat.

In our interview with Blunt, part of Chalkbeat’s “How I Lead” Q&A series with distinguished school leaders, she talks about what she realized after a mother’s emotional reaction, and why she gave a teacher a pass during a lesson that went awry. Read more.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.