Larry Miller's Blog: Educate All Students!

April 7, 2011

Corporate “Super Star” Out As Head of New York Public Schools

Filed under: Mayoral Control,New York — millerlf @ 1:04 pm

Cathleen Black Is Out as New York City Schools Chancellor

By ELISSA GOOTMAN and MICHAEL BARBARO NY Times4/7

Cathleen P. Black, a magazine executive with no educational experience who was named New York City schools chancellor last fall, stepped down Thursday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced.

Mr. Bloomberg called Ms. Black into his office Thursday morning and urged her to resign, officials said, ending a tumultuous and brief tenure for the longtime publisher. Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference that he and Ms. Black had agreed that a change was required.

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February 3, 2011

More Evidence Exposing Mis-Education at Harlem Village Academy Charter School in New York

Filed under: Charter Schools,New York — millerlf @ 1:05 pm

A relative of a child attending Harlem Village Academy in New York City posted the following comments on my blog in response to the article, Serious Questions Raised About Harlem Village Academy Charter School: Is This The Model For Urban Public School Reform?, I posted on February 25, 2010. This article receives more hits that any article I have posted over the past year and a half.

Submitted on 2/1/011

Harlem Village Academy … I know the school and had a relative in attendance. Check out their military style of discipline. Children acquire demerits for things like not wearing white long johns under their uniforms, changing slowly for gym and other non-behavior things. If they acquire 9 demerits between Monday and Friday, they then must sit still for 2 1/2 hours of still time in a classroom with their hands clasped on the desk looking straight ahead. No reading. No homework. No ability to be productive. Just sitting still. Unbelievable. Imagine a good kid that is disciplined like that. My child began to hate school. Stripping kids of their individuality by not allowing them to interact in the classroom setting. No questions can be asked during a lesson. Parent involvement in decision making is prohibited.

BELOW IS THE FULL ARTICLE:

February 25, 2010

Serious Questions Raised About Harlem Village Academy Charter School: Is This The Model For Urban Public School Reform?

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 5:17 pm Edit This

The Harlem Village Academy (HVA)  is one of the New York schools that is being  advertised as a model for urban schools. Recently Bob Herbert, in the New York Times, raved about HVA. Following is a blog posting by Steve Koss that raises some important questions.

In his latest NY Times column, Bob Herbert has shown that he belongs to the Nick Kristof club of “journalists” who helicopter into an issue, traipse around for a few hours, get treated like royalty and receive a king’s tour, hear a one-sided pitch, watch a show being put on for their benefit, and then go write a story as if they actually know something about the broader topic.

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December 29, 2010

Joe Klein Exit Interview: Gives Self High Ratings

Filed under: Mayoral Control,New York — millerlf @ 3:40 pm

Klein, like many “leaders” in education, thinks democracy is over-rated. He knows better than parents what is good for their kids. He now works for Rupert Murdock.

Departing Schools Chief: ‘We Weren’t Bold Enough’

By JAVIER C. HERNANDEZ Published: December 24, 2010

JOEL I. KLEIN invited me to breakfast last year at an Upper East Side haunt, one of those places where a bowl of yogurt goes for $23 and waiters circle the room sweeping up crumbs like pigeons at a feast.

was covering the New York City school system at the time and thought maybe Mr. Klein, the chancellor since 2002, planned to resign and was giving a little notice. We had come to know each other via e-mail, bantering about the news media’s coverage of education, his refusal to join Twitter (“I truly do have a day job,” he said) and which A-through-F grade he would give the latest production of “Tosca” at the Metropolitan Opera.

But when I asked Mr. Klein about his future on that summer morning, he said he was enjoying the job too much to leave. Instead, he wanted to talk about the city’s rising test scores, about his belief that reporters had not done enough to highlight the success of charter schools and about another favorite topic: love.

“I couldn’t survive if I didn’t have someone to go home to when I got beat up,” he said.

Last month, Mr. Klein, 64, did announce his resignation. After more than eight years in the job, he is one of the city’s longest-serving chancellors; his last day is Friday. Mr. Klein is joining Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation as an executive vice president in charge of educational ventures.

Before leaving, Mr. Klein sat for an exit interview of sorts, after a visit to the Urban AssemblySchool for Applied Math and Science in the Bronx.

Some parents and teachers have derided Mr. Klein as a tyrant, a political opportunist and a tone-deaf bureaucrat. When I asked if he had neglected them, he seemed insulted. He pulled a stack of greeting cards from his briefcase: “Thank you for being my advocate,” wrote a third grader at a charter school in Harlem.

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December 9, 2010

Bloomberg Revives Mayoral Control Debate

Filed under: Mayoral Control,New York — millerlf @ 7:32 am

Mayor Bloomberg under fire for choice of N.Y. schools chancellor

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s pick to oversee New York’s public schools lacks education experience. The ensuing firestorm has revived debate over whether mayoral control is a remedy for ailing schools.

By Geraldine Baum, Los Angeles Times, 12/7/10

Reporting from New York —

At first, Cathie Black, the newly appointed chancellor of New York’s public schools, stuck out like a homecoming queen who’d been assigned to take over the math club.

She appeared as glossy as the Hearst magazine empire she long ran — camera-ready, exquisitely dressed and well-spoken. She was just what New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg thought he needed to further repair the nation’s largest public school system. The only problem: She hasn’t a whiff of education experience.
That has blown up into an unexpected firestorm not just over the quality of this city’s schools — which aren’t as repaired as many had hoped they would be by now — but over the essence of Bloomberg’s style after taking command of the 1.1-million-student system eight years ago. It also has revived debate on whether mayors and other non-educators can be a remedy for ailing schools.

“It’s the culmination and apotheosis of all the worst parts of mayoral control,” said Leonie Haimson, a longtime activist for smaller class size who is part of a movement to stop Black’s appointment. “In the end it’s one man who doesn’t listen to anybody and makes decision based on whim. Would Bloomberg put a non-doctor to head the health department or someone with no experience to run the police? I don’t think so.”

Black succeeds another non-educator, Joel Klein, an aggressive Washington prosecutor the mayor handpicked in 2002 as his first chancellor.

At her first public appearance last week, at two schools in Queens, Black, 66, showed up in a high-style camel coat more fitting for a fashion show than discussing a purple dog with schoolchildren. She also gave her first post-appointment interview to a tabloid newspaper gossip columnist, to whom she gushed, “I’ve already had an hour-and-a-half meeting with Joel Klein. He and I may be different people, but with eight deputies in the department, I’ll get up to speed quickly.”

On Sunday she granted a second interview, firing back at her and the mayor’s critics.
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November 30, 2010

Joe Klein/Rupert Murdoch/Corporate Domination of Education Policy

Filed under: Education Policy,New York — millerlf @ 8:16 am

Murdoch buys education technology company

By Valerie Strauss Washington Post

[Disclosure: Kaplan Inc. is a for-profit education subsidiary of The Washington Post Co., which publishes The Washington Post, my employer.]

This didn’t take long: Joel Klein announces Nov. 9 that at year’s end he will resign as York City’s Schools chancellor to become executive vice president at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Yesterday, the company announced that it was buying a technology company with big financial ties to the New York City school system.

Murdoch’s company, according to a story at businesswire.com, is acquiring 90 percent of Wireless Generation, a privately held Brooklyn-based education technology company, for approximately $360 million in cash. It will become a subsidiary of News Corp.

One of the things Wireless Generation does is build large-scale data systems that centralize student data and is a “key partner to New York City’s Department of Education on its Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS) as well as on the City’s School of One initiative,” the story said.

(The ARIS contracts — worth tens of millions of dollars — and the contracts the New York City Education Department has issued for its School of One program were apparently negotiated rather than competitively bid.)

After Klein’s announcement, News Corp. officials told the New York Times that Klein would advise Murdoch on a number of initiatives, including “developing business strategies for the emerging educational marketplace.”

Murdoch, chairman and chief operating officer of News Corp., has taken a keen interest in education reform lately, investing in Teach for America and some charter schools.

I wonder why.

“When it comes to K through 12 education,” Murdoch said in a statement about the Wireless Generation purchase, “we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”

No doubt “great teaching” is what motivates Murdoch (whose News Corp. had, as of Sept. 30, 2010, total assets of approximately $56 billion and total annual revenues of approximately $33 billion).

The current wave of education reform based on “data” and “accountability” hasn’t done much to improve public schools, but it sure is helping improve the balance sheets of a lot of for-profit companies.

It is true that some nonprofits don’t operate a whole lot differently than some for-profits. And certainly for-profit businesses can and do bring valuable products and services to public schools. They make money by meeting demand, so, presumably, they fill some perceived need in the system.

But ultimately, the loyalty of for-profit companies is to the bottom line and investors, not necessarily to the general good of public schools and kids. And they get their return on investment with public money.When business people decide to get into the education world in a big way, their support for specific reform measures has to be seen through the prism of money-making opportunities, not what research says works best for kids.

Allowing business people to drive education policy is a very dangerous business. Why the Obama administration thinks this is a good idea is way beyond me.

November 29, 2010

NY State Education Commissioner Caves to Bloomberg Pressure: Billionaires Win and Our Kids Lose Again

Filed under: Mayoral Control,New York — millerlf @ 1:28 pm

(Below are comments by Bob Herbert on class warfare.)

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York,  chose Cathleen Black  as Chancellor of NY public schools without any public search — in fact, until minutes before the announcement, even some of his aides did not know that Mr. Klein was leaving or that she was being named to replace her.

The choice was met with skepticism and opposition from City Council members and some parent groups, who argued that the system needed an experienced educator. Because Ms. Black lacks the credentials required by state law, Mr. Bloomberg was required to seek a waiver from the state’s education commissioner, David M. Steiner.

In a deal between Mr. Steiner and the mayor to save Ms. Black’s faltering candidacy, Shael Polakow-Suransky, a career educator, was named chief academic officer to serve as Ms. Black’s No. 2. Mr. Polakow-Suransky was the school system’s deputy chancellor of performance and accountability before his appointment.

Mr. Steiner had expressed skepticism about Ms. Black’s ability to master the intricacies of the nation’s largest school system. Her cause was further undermined in November 2010 when six of the eight members of a panel Dr. Steiner appointed to evaluate Ms. Black’s background voted to deny granting an exemption.

Ms. Black is scheduled to take office on Jan. 1, 2011. She would be the first woman to head the nation’s largest school system, with about 1.1 million children, 80,000 teachers and more than 1,400 schools. She was the first woman to lead the Hearst Corporation’s magazine division and, way back in 1979, the first female publisher of a weekly consumer magazine, New York.

Mr. Bloomberg has argued that Ms. Black is a “superstar manager” whose expertise in cost-cutting and dealing with customers would be a boon to a school system in financial straits. The mayor contended that under the 2002 law that gave him control of the city schools, he should be able to appoint whomever he pleased.

(Read the truth about Bloomberg and his obscene choice for New York City’s public school chancellor.)

Winning the Class War By BOB HERBERT Published: November 26, 2010

A stark example of the potential for real (class) conflict is being played out in New York City, where the multibillionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has selected a glittering example of the American aristocracy to be the city’s schools chancellor. Cathleen Black, chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, has a reputation as a crackerjack corporate executive but absolutely no background in education.

Ms. Black travels in the rarefied environs of the very rich. Her own children went to private boarding schools. She owns a penthouse on Park Avenue and a $4 million home in Southampton. She was able to loan a $47,600 Bulgari bracelet to a museum for an exhibit showing off the baubles of the city’s most successful women.

Ms. Black will be peering across an almost unbridgeable gap between her and the largely poor and working-class parents and students she will be expected to serve. Worse, Mr. Bloomberg, heralding Ms. Black as a “superstar manager,” has made it clear that because of budget shortfalls she will be focused on managing cutbacks to the school system.

So here we have the billionaire and the millionaire telling the poor and the struggling — the little people — that they will just have to make do with less. You can almost feel the bitterness rising.

Extreme inequality is already contributing mightily to political and other forms of polarization in the U.S. And it is a major force undermining the idea that as citizens we should try to face the nation’s problems, economic and otherwise, in a reasonably united fashion. When so many people are tumbling toward the bottom, the tendency is to fight among each other for increasingly scarce resources.

What’s really needed is for working Americans to form alliances and try, in a spirit of good will, to work out equitable solutions to the myriad problems facing so many ordinary individuals and families. Strong leaders are needed to develop such alliances and fight back against the forces that nearly destroyed the economy and have left working Americans in the lurch.

Aristocrats were supposed to be anathema to Americans. Now, while much of the rest of the nation is suffering, they are the only ones who can afford to smile.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on November 27, 2010, on page A19 of the New York edition.


November 11, 2010

Bloomberg hires a slash and burn executive, without any education experience, to run New York’s schools

Filed under: New York — millerlf @ 11:23 am

“Limos, private dining rooms, designer labels and corporate jets were the trope of publishing life for Ms. Black.”

Who Wrote the Book on the New New Public Schools Chief? She Did

By SARAH MASLIN NIR November 10, 2010 NYTimes

Years ago, when Cathleen P. Black, New York City’s newly appointed schools chancellor, was named president of USA Today, she was undermined by a colleague. “I’m not going to be reporting to you,” he told her.

Ms. Black soon got a measure of revenge when Allen H. Neuharth, the paper’s founder, put her in the corporate jet for a business trip — and the colleague had to take the commuter shuttle.

That’s just one of the many personal anecdotes to be found in Ms. Black’s book, “Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life),” her combination memoir, self-help tome and platitude-filled dos-and-don’ts career guide aimed at women, published by Crown Business in 2007. At the time the book came out, she was president of Hearst Magazines. More than 175,000 copies have been sold.

Except for a mention that she is a trustee of the University of Notre Dame, there is no reference to any experience in the education field. But the book is perhaps a window into Ms. Black’s leadership style, one that seems characterized by calculated risks and the ability to respond to and evolve from criticism that tempers the occasional Miranda Priestly moment.

There was the near “torches-and-pitchforks revolt” by her advertising staff at Ms. magazine. “They confronted me just six months into my tenure” — reacting, she writes, to her self-described “brusque” style. “ ‘Either you go or we go,’ they told me, threatening to quit en masse.”

No one quit, after Ms. Black agreed to dial down her tone. Nevertheless, she writes, “focus on being respected rather than liked.”

Ms. Black’s responses to sometimes similar challenges have been strikingly different. Shortly after joining Francis Ford Coppola’s San Francisco-based magazine, City, for example, she became convinced it would fail. So Ms. Black “resigned and went on a skiing vacation.” While she was away, the magazine closed. In other instances, she persevered through years of difficulties, and she is credited with helping turn USA Today into a profitable paper.

“I’m not an advocate of starting a new job by throwing bombs left and right, firing the old team, and leaving the survivors in shock,” she writes. Yet she championed the decision of Bonnie Fuller, a one-time editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, which Ms. Black oversaw at Hearst Magazines, to gut much of that publication’s staff when she took over.

Limos, private dining rooms, designer labels and corporate jets were the trope of publishing life for Ms. Black, who was once the subject of a 1992 Washingtonian article questioning if she was worth the around $600,000 it said she earned at USA Today. In the book, Ms. Black calls the article sexist, and she defends her salary. (Joel I. Klein, the departing schools chancellor, makes $250,000.)

The book’s edgiest moment comes when Ms. Black explains why she missed meetings with E. Neville Isdell, at the time the chief executive of Coca-Cola, and others: she accidentally swallowed several of the sleeping pill Ambien, thinking it was Tylenol.

Joe Klein Out in New York; Bloomberg Picks a Jet-Setter to Replace Him

Filed under: Mayoral Control,New York — millerlf @ 10:48 am

Bloomberg errs again with NYC public schools

By Valerie Strauss

There is unfortunate symmetry to today’s news that Joel Klein had resigned as New York City Schools Chancellor today to join Rupert Murdoch’s outfit, and that he was being succeeded by Cathie Black, chair of Hearst Magazines.Klein, who is becoming an executive vice president for News Corp., had taken the job as chancellor without any experience in education.

Now, Black, a former USA Today publisher who has been serving as chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, is becoming chancellor with no educational experience. The woman responsible for publications including Esquire; Good Housekeeping; O, the Oprah magazine ;and Popular Mechanics will run New York City’s public schools.

That’s twice that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has deluded himself into thinking that success in business management is easily transferable to success in the public education system.

Klein had worked as head of the publishing giant Bertelsmann and as a federal anti-trust prosecutor when he took the job as head of the 1.1 million student-system in 2002. (He had to get a waiver from the state government to take the job because he hadn’t been trained as a professional educator. Black will need one too). Accustomed to breaking up monopolies, he apparently viewed the public school system as a monopoly and he worked to bust it up — attacking teachers unions and pushing for the expansion of charters, publicly funded schools that are not part of the traditional school bureaucracy.

It didn’t really work out so well for Klein.

Though he and Bloomberg talk about the Klein tenure as a success, the chancellor did nothing to narrow the gaping achievement gap, and it was recently learned that standardized test score improvements that the mayor and the schools boss had touted for years were phony. State officials recently revealed that scores had been inflated, and thousands of parents who thought their children were performing on grade level learned that they weren’t.

Bloomberg had the chance with Klein’s resignation to seek community input into the selection of a new chancellor but instead he chose, again, to ignore the people who elected him.

American schools today need better-trained teachers, principals who themselves have been exceptional teachers, and superintendents who understand that public education isn’t a business but a civic responsibility, and who know that great teaching can’t always be reduced to data points.

At a press conference with Black and Klein on Tuesday, Bloomberg said of his new chancellor: “There is no one who knows more about the skills our children will need to succeed in the 21st century economy.”

I’d bet a nice dinner that even Black knows that isn’t true. Bloomberg shouldn’t get away with such nonsense.
Follow my blog every day by bookmarking washingtonpost.com/answersheet.By Valerie Strauss  | November 9, 2010

 

October 13, 2010

Harlem Children Zone Schools Under the Microscope

Filed under: Charter Schools,New York,Poverty,School Reform,Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 12:17 pm

Lauded Harlem Schools Have Their Own Problems

By SHARON OTTERMAN Published: October 12, 2010Top of Form

President Obama created a grant program to copy his block-by-block approach to ending poverty. The British government praised his charter schools as a model. And a new documentary opening across the country revolves around him: Geoffrey Canada, the magnetic Harlem Children’s Zone leader with strong ideas about how American education should be fixed.

Last week, Mr. Canada was in Birmingham, England, addressing Prime Minister David Cameron and members of his Conservative Party about improving schools.

But back home and out of the spotlight, Mr. Canada and his charter schools have struggled with the same difficulties faced by other urban schools, even as they outspend them. After a rocky start several years ago typical of many new schools, Mr. Canada’s two charter schools, featured as unqualified successes in “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” the new documentary, again hit choppy waters this summer, when New York State made its exams harder to pass.

A drop-off occurred, in spite of private donations that keep class sizes small, allow for an extended school day and an 11-month school year, and offer students incentives for good performance like trips to the Galápagos Islands or Disney World.

The parent organization of the schools, the Harlem Children’s Zone, enjoys substantial largess, much of it from Wall Street. While its cradle-to-college approach, which seeks to break the cycle of poverty for all 10,000 children in a 97-block zone of Harlem, may be breathtaking in scope, the jury is still out on its overall impact. And its cost — around $16,000 per student in the classroom each year, as well as thousands of dollars in out-of-class spending — has raised questions about its utility as a nationwide model.

Mr. Canada, 58, who began putting his ideas into practice on a single block, on West 119th Street, in the mid-1990s, does not apologize for the cost of his model, saying his goals are wider than just fixing a school or two. His hope is to prove that if money is spent in a concentrated way to give poor children the things middle-class children take for granted — like high-quality schooling, a safe neighborhood, parents who read to them, and good medical care — they will not pass on the patterns of poverty to another generation.

“You could, in theory, figure out a less costly way of working with a small number of kids, and providing them with an education,” Mr. Canada said. “But that is not what we are attempting to do. We are attempting to save a community and its kids all at the same time.”

Few would deny that a middle-class renaissance is under way in the sections of Harlem where Mr. Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone have focused their efforts. The zone extends from 116th to 143rd Streets, between Madison Avenue and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

All children who live in the zone have access to many of its services, including after-school programs, asthma care, precollege advice and adult classes for expectant parents, called Baby College. The organization has placed young teaching assistants, known as peacemakers, in many of the elementary school classrooms in the area and poured money into organizing block associations, helping tenants buy buildings from the city, and refurbishing parks and playgrounds. By linking services, the program aims to improve on early-childhood programs like Head Start, whose impact has been shown to evaporate as children age.

Amid the facades of new condominiums that signal gentrification, however, deep poverty remains. So does low student performance in most of the neighborhood’s public schools, despite modest gains over the past decade and a growing number of better-performing charter schools, a development Mr. Canada helped pioneer.

Last month, the Obama administration awarded $10 million in grants to 21 neighborhood groups around the country to help them plan their own versions of the Harlem Children’s Zone, and the president is seeking $210 million for next year, although appropriations committees in the Senate and the House have earmarked only $20 million and $60 million, respectively.

But there has been some criticism. Grover J. Whitehurst, a co-author of a Brookings Institution analysis of the zone, said there was still too little evidence that its approach, of linking social services to promote student achievement, justified an investment of federal education dollars, and urged that a more rigorous study be conducted.

“My quarrel is not with an effort in Harlem funded largely by philanthropy, it’s with the federal approach to scaling this up,” Mr. Whitehurst said. “It just doesn’t rise to the level of evidence the president and the secretary of education said they were going to apply in determining their investments.”

In awarding the grants, Education Secretary Arne Duncan emphasized, the government hoped neighborhoods would coordinate and stretch their existing services, while asking the private sector to step up and match financing.

“The cost is going to vary community to community,” Mr. Duncan said, “but we think this is an absolute investment.”

In 2009, the Harlem Children’s Zone had assets of nearly $200 million, and the project’s operating budget this year is $84 million, two-thirds of it from private donations. Last month, the Goldman Sachs Foundation pledged $20 million toward constructing an additional school building. With two billionaires, Stanley Druckenmiller and Kenneth Langone, on the board, its access to capital is unusually strong.

Gary Cohn, the president of Goldman Sachs, who also sits on the children’s zone board, said that while test scores were important, so was treating Harlem’s childhood asthma crisis, which is a cause of absenteeism. “What it’s about to us is dealing with all of the issues these kids encounter,” Mr. Cohn said.

The zone’s two charter schools are open to all city children by lottery. Officially, the schools spend, per student, $12,443 in public money and $3,482 in private financing each year. But that does not include the costs of a 4 p.m.-to-6 p.m. after-school program, rewards for student performance, a chef who prepares healthy meals, central administration and most building costs, and the students’ free health and dental care, which comes out of the zone’s overall budget, said Marty Lipp, the zone’s communications director.

Regular public schools in New York City spend about $14,452 each year per general education student, less than half of which is generally for classroom instruction.

In the tiny high school of the zone’s Promise Academy I, which teaches 66 sophomores and 65 juniors (it grows by one grade per year), the average class size is under 15, generally with two licensed teachers in every room. There are three student advocates to provide guidance and advice, as well as a social worker, a guidance counselor and a college counselor, and one-on-one tutoring after school.

The school, which opened in 2004 in a gleaming new building on 125th Street, should have had a senior class by now, but the batch of students that started then, as sixth graders, was dismissed by the board en masse before reaching the ninth grade after it judged the students’ performance too weak to found a high school on. Mr. Canada called the dismissal “a tragedy.”

On a recent Thursday, the current high school students, neatly attired in blue and white uniforms, got special help in college note-taking skills, and chatted animatedly about velocity in an advanced physics class. Most were well below grade level when they first got to the school and took three or four years to catch up; many are now ahead.

“You really have to put money into personnel,” said Marquitta Speller, who has been the high school principal since January. “I don’t think you can experience the same level of success without the same level of resources.”

But most of the seventh graders, now starting their third year in the school, are still struggling. Just 15 percent passed the 2010 state English test, a number that Mr. Canada said was “unacceptably low” but not out of line with the school’s experience in lifting student performance over time. Several teachers have been fired as a result of the low scores, and others were reassigned, he said.

Giving administrators the ability to fire teachers for poor performance is one of the central suggestions of “Waiting for ‘Superman.’ ” Over all, 38 percent of Promise Academy I’s students in third through sixth grade passed the 2010 English test under the state’s new guidelines, placing it in the lower half of charter schools citywide, and below the city’s overall passing rate of 42 percent. In Harlem as a whole, just 29 percent of children passed.

Promise Academy II, an elementary school that occupies part of a public school building, did better, with 62 percent passing in English, among the top 10 percent of charters. But because it lost more ground than comparable schools, it got a C from the city on its annual A-to-F report card, and an F in the student progress category. Both schools continued to outperform the city in math, with 60 percent passing in one school and 81 percent in the other.

A few recent studies have broached the question of what was helping the zone’s students raise attendance and test scores: the interlocking social services, or what was going on in the classroom? But they were based on state test results in years when the exams were easier to pass, and they may now be less conclusive.

One study, by the Harvard researchers Will Dobbie and Roland G. Fryer Jr., found that while Promise Academy students who entered the sixth grade in 2005 had raised their test scores so much by the eighth grade that they had “reversed the black-white achievement gap in mathematics” and reduced it in English, there was “at best modest evidence” that the social programs were driving that success. In 2009, nearly all the students passed the math test.

“The challenge,” the researchers wrote, “is to find lower-cost ways to achieve similar results in regular public schools.”

Mr. Whitehurst’s 2010 Brookings analysis went further, noting that test performance at the two charter schools was only middling among charter schools in Manhattan and the Bronx, even though higher-performing schools, like those in the lauded KIPP network, had no comparable network of cradle-to-college services.

Dave Levin, a co-founder of KIPP, took issue with the study, noting that most of his schools already had counselors and college-advice programs, and all were expanding to serve kindergarten through grade 12, just like Mr. Canada’s. But KIPP schools do try to stick to the per-student spending of the surrounding district “to demonstrate what schools can do on the money that they have.”

“I think there are differences, but we are both deeply committed to meeting all of the children’s needs,” Mr. Levin said.

The Harlem Children’s Zone is not the only block-by-block effort to ease poverty, though it is unusual in its intensive focus on children. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, for example, is wrapping up projects in seven cities called Making Connections Neighborhoods that promoted a “two-generation approach” with job-training programs for parents. An effort that turned around the East Lake Meadows neighborhood in Atlanta used the construction of mixed-income housing and the renovation of a golf course as the fulcrum.

While it is still years away from confirming its broader theories about poverty, the Harlem Children’s Zone has already had some impact on thousands of children. Its after-school college advice office has helped place 650 students in college, and it supports them until they graduate. Its asthma initiative has drastically reduced emergency room visits and missed school days among its 1,000 participants. Preschool students have made bounds in kindergarten readiness. Parent satisfaction in the charter schools, as measured by city surveys, is high.

And Mr. Canada has achieved superhero status among those who admire him for his vision. Lisbeth B. Schorr, a senior fellow of the Center for the Study of Social Policy in Washington, said, “The fact that the impact has not been proven doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.”

October 11, 2010

New York City Schools’ Testing Under Fire

Filed under: Mayoral Control,New York — millerlf @ 7:25 am

On New York School Tests, Warning Signs Ignored

By JENNIFER MEDINA Published: October 10, 2010 NY Times

When New York State made its standardized English and math tests tougher to pass this year, causing proficiency rates to plummet, it said it was relying on a new analysis showing that the tests had become too easy and that score inflation was rampant.

Daniel Koretz, a Harvard professor, oversaw the study of New York’s tests that led to the state’s conclusion that the exams had become too easy to pass.

Betty Rosa, a member of the Board of Regents, said the unprecedented high scores had seemed unbelievable.

But evidence had been mounting for some time that the state’s tests, which have formed the basis of almost every school reform effort of the past decade, had serious flaws.

The fast rise and even faster fall of New York’s passing rates resulted from the effect of policies, decisions and missed red flags that stretched back more than 10 years and were laid out in correspondence and in interviews with city and state education officials, administrators and testing experts.

The process involved direct warnings from experts that went unheeded by the state, and a city administration that trumpeted gains in student performance despite its own reservations about how reliably the test gauged future student success.

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