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Citizens Union


To Help All Children Read, First do the Math

Helping Them Read
Photo by Judy Baxter

The Obama administration's Race to the Top contest set states and school districts around the country scrambling for ways to reorganize, restructure or reinvent themselves in order to qualify for federal aid aimed at reconstituting school systems in the image of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's educational reforms. Nearly all the carrots dangled by the federal Department of Education, as in New York, reward reforms related to standardized testing (merit pay, grade retention, school shutdowns) or to changes in school governance (mayoral control, school "restarts," school turnarounds, charter schools).

An August New York Times poll found that only 34 percent of New Yorkers approve of the mayor's handling of the schools. That has not stopped city schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott from announcing that he will "re-task" dollars to underwrite a new round of Race to the Top-style reforms. Focusing now on middle schools, the DOE will follow its strategy for high schools: shut down struggling schools and replace them.


If the federal or city department of education really wanted to turn around struggling schools, however, they would do far better to focus not on merit pay or governance structures, but on the struggling students inside those schools – in particular the four out of ten children who struggle with learning to read. In doing so, they would also find one of the major roots of the achievement gap. Proportions of struggling readers are the same in Scarsdale as in Harlem, in Oakland as in Marin County.What makes reading disabilities a root cause of the achievement gap between rich and poor districts are not governance structures, but whether or not struggling readers get appropriate help, and when.

In keeping with the "reading wars" of the past 40 years, deliberations about the best way to help struggling readers still focus too much on phonics versus whole language reading instruction. The discussion needs to move way beyond those polarities, however, if we are ever to ensure that each child in this country is truly reading. Full literacy cannot be guaranteed by ordering up the right phonics program from the right publisher, stocking classrooms with "leveled libraries," sitting every schoolchild down for 90 minutes every day for reading and writing "literacy blocks" and then testing them relentlessly, or even by having their parents read nightly to them from birth.

The Forty Percent

These strategies cannot help those four out of ten students who struggle to read. For one thing, of those 40percent of students, half -- fully 20 percent of our population – are dyslexic, according to the International Dyslexia Association and the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD.)

If 40 percent of children struggle with learning to read, and there are 1.1 million schoolchildren in the city's public schools, that amounts to 440,000 children. Half of those – or some 220,000 – are dyslexic.

In a jarring overlap of figures, that happens to be the same number of children Bloomberg cited as being in failing schools when he first took control of the public school system in 2002. Not all children in failing schools are dyslexic, of course; nor are all dyslexics in failing schools. The overlap in numbers, though, serves as a wake-up call. When the additional 20 percent of struggling readers are factored in, we are talking about close to half the children of any given school system or district who need extra help learning to read.

Most dyslexics in New York are not found in special ed. In fact, most are not found at all. Historically, to determine whether a child needs help with reading, special ed looked for a discrepancy between I.Q. and achievement level. Perversely, this assumed that reading problems would affect only high I.Q. children with low levels of achievement. However, people at any level of intelligence can have reading difficulties. This dilemma was forcefully addressed in a 2003 report by Kalman R. Hettleman titled "The Invisible Dyslexics"

Complicating Reforms

In 2004 the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act scrapped the discrepancy model for learning disabilities with one that calls for Response to Intervention. This was based on the NICHD's recommendation that schools offer increasing levels of specialized, multi-sensory interventions to struggling readers until; they find the one that works for that particular child. These interventions can range in intensity from small-group instruction a few times a week with the regular classroom teacher, to full-time, one-on-one programs of four to eight weeks with specially-trained instructors. The Institute recommended that these interventions be tried before referring a student to special ed.

This reform has unleashed a further complication: schools or districts first direct families to whatever resources they offer to help with reading but do not necessarily provide what the struggling students actually need. In New York City, for example, principals are allowed to choose whatever services they want to offer. They usually pick one program, and if that one doesn't happen to work for every struggling reader -- which it surely won't and can't) -- many students will continue to struggle.

In her excellent book Why Can't You Teach Me 2 Read, WNYC education reporter Beth Fertig describes a typical scenario in which two schools are located in the same building. The principal of one selects a program that helps struggling readers, and the other chooses one that is not effective. Students in the second school have no access to the successful program in the first. Under the city's policy of "principal empowerment," unimproved reading scores of the second school's principal would ultimately result in his/her removal. But that could take years. Meanwhile a whole cohort of struggling readers will have passed through that school.

In short, the progression of ever-more-intensive interventions envisioned by the federal government for these children is not available in New York City, where full implementation of the Response to Intervention protocol is still two years away. Instead, parents have to doggedly extract these services from the Department of Education, often with a lawsuit. Even that usually comes at the end of a long, grueling road; for most parents, it can take a long time for them to find out why their children are struggling, much less what kind of help to ask for and how to get it.


What happens to struggling readers who don't get help? They are left in classrooms at every grade level with their bad spelling, illegible handwriting or uncertain reading skills to get by as best they can. Unsuspecting parents might exhort them to "work harder," or criticize them for "not focusing." Teachers often ascribe their reading or comprehension problems to laziness or lack of intelligence.

These children often develop strategies or subterfuges to help them get by in the classroom. Without the right interventions, though, many of these "invisible" dyslexics must repeat grades, sometimes multiple times. Little that is provided in the classroom, summer school or after-school tutoring programs for these students is going to help. Those programs simply provide more intensive or individualized versions of classroom instruction that has already not worked.

That is why the city Department of Education' practice of treating every reading and writing deficiency with even more reading and writing (much less endless testing of them!) is counter-productive. Such "hyper-literacy" leads, as one parent noted, "frustration for those who are not really reading, and tedium for those who are already fluent readers."

The hyper-focus on math and literacy in recent years has, moreover, crowded out social studies, science, the arts, and even physical education, which all offer plenty of opportunity for developing literacy and math skills, as well as ways to engage more f students, especially those for whom reading and writing do not come easily.

No Child Left Behind

Can all of these children be helped? Yes, and at every grade level. It is unacceptable to keep writing off generations of students if they are not reading adequately by third grade, as has been the case for too long. It is also unacceptable that the task of finding and sorting through the available reading interventions is left to the vigilance of parents, leaving out those who cannot marshal the time, money, tenacity and emotional resources to ferret out such programs. Many of these interventions are used in school systems in other parts of the country. The fact that they are not available everywhere -- including New York -- is really more a matter of politics or ignorance than of anything else. Where they are not widely available, the students who get such help are largely those whose parents have successfully sued for it, or who pay for it privately – further evidence of the role this reading crisis plays in the achievement gap.

With so much research, so many solutions, and even federal dollars at hand, legislators and education officials have the opportunity and obligation to move decisively into the 21st century by first guaranteeing that the nation's schoolchildren have that most basic of skills: the ability to read. After all, if compulsory education forces children to attend school, shouldn't we guarantee that they are able to participate in what we are compelling them to do?

Discussion of solutions in education inevitably brings up that other major mathematical calculation: the cost. When it comes to literacy, consider that whether we spend the actual dollars or not, we pay -- either for a fully literate population or the societal costs of not having one.

Mayor Bloomberg is effectively recognizing the costs of illiteracy through his newly-established Young Men's Initiative. In short order, Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs, who is overseeing the program, found that many of the young men, who are no longer in the city's schools, but not in jobs either, were reading at elementary school levels. To that end, she has made improved reading skills the Initiative's first order of business. Now, if we could just get the city's school system to do the same! As the mayor himself said, in announcing expansion of the Young Adult Literacy Program to help the Initiative's young men improve their reading "Too many young men in our city are stuck in dead ends, and for many of them, the problem starts and stops with illiteracy. But here's the good news: this is a problem that can be overcome."

It can but the effort will need some serious "scaling up," of course. The city's Young Adult Literacy Program serves 1,000 struggling "over-age" readers in 17 locations. As we've seen, struggling readers in the schools number nearly a half-million, spread across some 1,500 schools. If our school reform money and energies were "re-tasked," however, from the ever-expanding focus on standardized testing and governance restructurings, and redirected to provide appropriate reading interventions for every child who needs it, overall total costs could well be no more than what is being spent right now. The only difference is that those four out of ten children in our schools who need that extra help would then truly be reading.

Susan Crawford is the director of the Right to Read Project

Gates' Agenda and Money Shape City Schools

gate foundation
Photo by Remy Steinegger
They do not teach or hold elected office but Bill and Melinda Gates wield enormous influence in New York City schools and in classrooms throughout the country.

(This story was updated on Oct. 14, 2011, to reflect additional information and statements provided to Gotham Gazette by the Department of Education.)

At the start of NBC's Education Nation extravaganza last month host Brian Williams introduced and praised one of the funders of the event, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

For the reformers, teachers, parents and politicians at Education Nation, the refrain was a familiar one. The Gates Foundation, Williams continued, is "the largest single funder of education anywhere in the world. It's their facts that we're going to be referring to often to help along our conversation."

Indeed, with hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into our nation’s schools each year -- and plans for an addition $3.5 billion over the next five to six years -- Gates has funded an extraordinary amount. Other foundations, like the Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation have also gotten in on the education game, but according to reformers and teachers, the Gates Foundation, with vastly more money than any of the other foundations, leads the way.

This is certainly the case in New York City where Gates money has fueled – and at times even directed – the education reforms of the Bloomberg administration. Over the last decade, Gates has given $175 million to $200 million to the city's public and charter schools, according to the foundation.

Paying for Policies

With their donations, the Gates have taken an unprecedented role in directing reform -- setting the agenda for education policy they help underwrite, supporting the organizations that advocate for those policies and, as Williams noted, providing the facts to back it up.

"The facts are coming from someone who has a very big agenda," said Anthony Cody, a teacher and education reformer from Oakland, Calif., whose criticisms of Education Nation were published in the Washington Post. Cody worked as a middle school teacher for 18 years before working on district wide reforms for another six.

In the past , Cody said, school administrators and teachers would instigate programs and reforms and then apply for funds from philanthropies or government on a project-by-project basis. Now, the impetus for reforms often comes from foundations, and school systems, eager for funds, adapt their programs to fit the philanthropies' agendas.

Chris Williams, the press secretary at the Gates Foundation, noted that philanthropies overall are evolving, not just Gates. "The intention is to be catalytic, to help spur change where other investments haven't been able to -- to take that kind of risk," he said.

The Small Schools 'Success'

The most well-known example of foundation-fueled education reform is the small schools initiative.

In 2000, the Gates Foundation announced it would jump into education reform with a plan to create small schools. Over the next eight years, they paid districts to break up large public schools and create 2,602 schools in 45 states and the District of Columbia. In 2003, the foundation awarded New York City $51.2 million to create 62 small high schools, as part of the city's plan to shut large high schools it deemed failing and replace them with small, often themed schools.

In 2008, after investing $2 billion in the reform, the Gates announced that the program had not shown strong results, and the foundation would restructure its goals.

In some districts, such as Cody's this could lead to another change in course. Responding to budget cuts and poor reviews of the new schools, Oakland has been closing small schools and reforming large, more comprehensive schools in the last few years.

In New York, the small schools initiative has been credited with raising graduation rates, but a New School study in 2009, found that while graduation rates were up at newly created small schools, the numbers were somewhat deceptive. As small schools, which were able to select their students, reported relatively high graduation rates, some of the remaining large high schools saw surges in enrollment that created discipline and other problems. This in turn, led to a fall in the numbers of students receiving a diploma at these schools. Some of these high schools were then shut, creating even more problems for the big schools that remained open.

"While the [Department of Education] has trumpeted the success of the new small schools for at-risk students, the net gain for all high school students is much smaller because the majority of high schoolers still attend large schools," the study found.

The Department of Education itself, however, says the successes are just that and can’t be ignored: Over the last four years, graduation is up 20 points, according to department spokesman Matthew Mittenthal. "It's not just a number, but tens of thousands more students graduating and attending college" he said.

Mittenthal countered the New School study with another report, conducted by independent research firm MDRC -- which has received millions in funding from the Gates Foundation including money for this particular study -- that found that "by the end of their first year of high school, 58.5 percent of [small schools of choice] enrollees are on track to graduate in four years compared with 48.5 percent of their non-[small school} counterparts, for a difference of 10.0 percentage points. These positive effects are sustained over the next two years."

The study also found that by the fourth year of high school, the small schools "increase overall graduation rates by 6.8 percentage points, which is roughly one third the size of the gap in graduation rates between white students and students of color in New York City."

The critics, however, remain skeptical.

"Across the country, a lot of [small] schools are being closed -- they're incredibly expensive and inefficient -- but we're still creating more,” Leonie Haimson said.

Haimson is the executive director of Class Size Matters, a New York City advocacy group that promotes smaller class sizes. Having fewer students in a classroom, Haimson said is "one of the few education reform ideas that has been proven to work," but is not a part of the foundation's reform agenda.

It also has not been a priority for the Bloomberg administration. Class sizes in the city this year are the largest in a decade, a teachers union study found.

"There's never been a time in history when one foundation controls the narrative so much," Haimson said and criticizing the Gates for acting on policies that she says are based on "completely unreliable facts" that they have supplied themselves.

Williams explained that the Gates -- like most foundations -- has a "strong theory of action, of change. We make investments that align with it." But he denies there is no expertise to back up its philosophy. "Our education team is filled with former educators. these are people who have been in schools, who know how schools operate," Williams said.

And he said the foundation does adapt to evidence. "One of the things we learned from that experience is that school structure isn’t enough, the schools need really good teachers in the classrooms," Williams said. "It's an evolutionary process, [the small schools initiative] guided us."

Reworking the Agenda

As a result, the Gates' amended agenda focuses on accountability -- teacher accountability for their students' achievements, as measured by test scores. Numerous critics have lambasted the Gates for tying students test scores to teacher’s jobs, in the name of accountability. Tests of a third grader’s reading level is just that — a test of whether the third grader can read, not whether or not the teacher can teach, said Diane Ravitch, an NYU professor of education and frequent critic of Bloomberg education policies.

Last month, the city dropped its effort to rank teachers on the basis of test scores, saying it would leave devising a teacher evaluation system to the state.

The Gates agenda also stresses student choice, which allows children and their families to select their schools, with charter schools a major part of the mix.

Under Bloomberg, charters have proliferated in the city with the active encouragement of the Department of Education, which has gone so far as to give the publicly funded, privately run schools place in Department of Education buildings. About 45,500 students attend 136 charters in the city.

In New York City, though, choice goes beyond that. Students entering elementary school who do well on a standardized test can choose from a variety of schools, and the city to a great extent has eliminated neighborhood high schools, compelling eighth graders and their parents to choose school s and apply to them.

"More frequently, it’s the schools that pick the kids and they’ll avoid the kids with the lowest scores because they just can’t risk it. Some schools become dumpling grounds and then they are closed. You'd think after nine years of Bloomberg reforms, we wouldn’t be closing any schools, but we are," said Ravitch. "At what point do they begin to talk about adding some instructional plan? They don’t," Ravitch said.

At a forum at the New School earlier this year, many people criticized the school choice system for high school but said despite its many failings it represented an improvement over the days when students had to go to their neighborhood school -- and students in poor neighborhoods usually went to poor schools.

Of course many of the change in New York City have come about as a result of mayoral control -- and Gates has also been an enthusiastic supporter that. In 2009, as Bloomberg sought to get the legislature to renew mayoral control of schools, a group called Learn -NY popped up to lobby for the extension. While billed as a grassroots group, Learn-NY got $4.1 million from Gates – the man, not the foundation -- and millions more from another billionaire, Eli Broad.

The donations did not become public knowledge until after the legislature had granted Bloomberg's wish.

Federal Backing

The Gates reform agenda has gained support not only in New York City, but on a national scale, too. The Obama's administration's funding competition for schools -- Race to the Top -- is notably in sync with the foundation's reform agenda of accountability and choice.

Last year, New York state won $700 million in funds from the Race to the Top program. For its piece of the pie, New York agreed to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores, as well as promising to make curriculum changes and develop a more reliable statewide testing system.

States that were interested in the funds had to submit lengthy applications detailing their educational policy. To help states tackle the 350-page application — a significant task for resource-strapped governments — the Gates Foundation gave 15 states "that have demonstrated commitment to the components of the foundation’s College Ready strategy” $250,000 grants to pay for consultants to write their applications." Other states interested in that sort of grant money had to agree to eight additional policy stipulations before applying.

"The situation that we have is that the entire public sector is being systematically starved of resources that are needed," Cody said. "In those situations, you make those institutions vulnerable to agencies that offer money." Over the last three years, the budget for the New York State Department of Education has been cut by 30 percent, according the then state's education commissioner, David Steiner, in December.

City school gave seen their budgets cuts as well, leading to fewer teachers, larger class sizes and the layoffs of some 670 aides and other school employees last week.

Resource Starved

With billions spent on public education every year, a few hundred million expended nationally may seem small, but Ravitch said the relatively small amount of funds can drive reform because they are discretionary.

"Most money goes in the school is committed," she said. "There’s very little discretionary money."

So while the considerable public funds will keep the heat on, pay for pensions and employee health care, and buy textbooks, the money that for anything new comes almost entirely from philanthropy.

Williams agreed. "We can commit dollars where others can't," he said.

In December, New York announced that it would request another $18 million over the next four years from foundations to fund a fellowship of experts who would decide how exactly the state would use its $700 million Race to the Top. Of that, $3.5 million has already been raised, including $900,000 from the Gates Foundation.

Despite all of Gates' money, Williams sees a robust debate amongst education reformers, in New York and elsewhere. When philanthropies fund significant research, there is always reason to worry about the integrity of the findings, he said. But, he added, Gates works hard promote independent research.

Ravitch has her doubts. Because the Gates funds organization that advocate for Gates' policies, there is little discourse or review from the education community, she said, commenting, "They exist in an echo chamber." "They've been saying that this will be the solution to our problems for 20 years. We're failing and yet we're doing the same thing," Ravitch said before paraphrasing Albert Einstein: "I think that's the definition of insanity -- when you do the same thing and expect different results."

New York's Pushout Crisis: Why Students Don't Graduate

pushed out
Photo by Clint McMahon

Luke was supposed to receive his high school diploma this year, but, like many others, he did not. A 16-year-old black student, he was placed in special education with a label of "emotional disturbance." Luke was attending a high school in District 75, the citywide district for special education, where students with disabilities are isolated from their peers without disabilities. It was not where Luke was supposed to be.

Luke's placement at the school set off a series of events that led to his being arrested and leaving school. While all students are different, Luke's experience reflects that of other students in New York City and across the nation who are pushed out of school by degrading learning environments, inadequate services and curriculum, and harsh suspensions, expulsions and arrests. Students are too often treated like criminals in a school environment that favors punishment and exclusion over providing the support and interventions needed to protect students' human rights to education and dignity.

The numbers give some indication of this. In New York City, for example, the number of zero-tolerance infractions in the Discipline Code has doubled since 2001, according to a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the number of suspensions in a given school year has increased by more than 250 percent, reaching more than 73,000 in 2008-2009. Since 2000, the number of school safety officers, the report found, has increased from 3,200 to over 5,000, but there are still only 3,000 guidance counselors.

From High School to Hiding

Luke, according to the Individualized Education Program that all special education students have, should have attended an inclusive high school, where students with disabilities learn in classrooms with other students. Studies have found that this generally leads to better academic performance and behavior. But at the last minute, the Department of Education informed Luke's mother that the school he was slated to attend was too crowded. The department sent Luke to the District 75 school, South Richmond High School on Staten Island, where he faced many difficulties. Rather than receive counseling and support, Luke encountered school safety officers who were derogatory and judgmental, and teachers who escalated conflicts rather than mediated them.


On Jan. 15, 2010, Luke had a verbal dispute with a student in class, and his teacher asked him to leave the room. On his way out, another teacher told Luke he couldn’t be in the hallway. Luke explained that he wasn't allowed back in class and tried to push past the teacher. Luke and his mother have said that the teacher then pinned Luke against the wall prompting a school safety officer to physically restrain and arrest Luke, leaving visible marks in the process.

After waiting nine months for his case to be processed in court, Luke was put on probation. Then a year after his arrest, Luke tested positive for marijuana, violating his probation, and was placed in a residential treatment center where he and his mother say he did not receive adequate services and support. This spring he was supposed to return to court for the probation violation, but for fear of being re-arrested, he ran away. He was missing for over three weeks, during which time the police refused to file a missing person’s report. Although his mother has since made contact, Luke continues to hide in fear.

"The school system provides no alternatives, they just lock these kids up, and this is not a solution. You're dealing with kids who have other issues and need support," Luke's mother said.

Viewing Students as Criminals

Schools often target students they deem "problematic" and repeatedly suspend them, even for minor infractions. The student then misses school again and again for extended periods of time, and if the underlying needs and sources of conflict are not addressed, falls behind academically. He or she is ultimately pushed out. In some cases, students receive long-term suspensions for up to 90 days at alternative schools and never return to a regular setting. In other cases a student gets so far behind that he or she simply stops coming to school, or a counselor or other staff member tells the student he needs too many credits to graduate and should just leave or get a GED.

This approach has the greatest effect on students of color with special needs, like Luke. In New York City, students with disabilities are four times more likely to be suspended than students without disabilities, the civil liberties report found, and black students, who make up 33 percent of the population, received 53 percent of suspensions over the last decade. In some cases, like Luke's, schools skip suspensions altogether and resort to arresting a student.

Many of these suspensions arise from zero tolerance policies or practices, some of which are in the Discipline Code, and others that schools put into effect themselves.. In these cases, schools automatically suspend or expel students for certain infractions -- fighting or drug use for example. The student has no opportunity to explain extenuating circumstances or to have his or her overall record considered.

A recent study by the Council of State Governments on school disciplinary practices in Texas underscores just how detrimental suspension and expulsion can be. Over 60 percent of all students between grades 7 and 12 in Texas were suspended at least once. Students who are suspended or expelled are six times more likely to be held back at least one grade, and five times more likely to drop out than their peers, according to the report. This study is consistent with dozens of others demonstrating that punitive discipline disproportionally targets students of color, students with disabilities, and gay and lesbian students.

When we consider alternatives to such draconian discipline we are talking not just about reducing suspensions and student arrests, but also about combating the school push-out crisis, eliminating discrimination, giving students every opportunity to succeed academically, shifting school culture altogether, and focusing on our students as human beings. An array of approaches, known collectively as restorative practices, is beginning to catch on across the country as a positive alternative.

Restorative practices include "fairness committees" and "restorative circles" in which students and educators trained in conflict resolution bring all the parties involved in a dispute together to discuss how each person was affected by an incident and to work together to identify a solution that will prevent the conflict from happening again. Solutions can include community service, mediation or attending conflict resolution workshops. This offers students a chance to take responsibility for their actions, restore relationships and repair harm done to the school community.

Schools across the nation have found success using restorative practices and other positive approaches, including Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, a process to improve the school environment. In Denver, for example, after the schools integrated restorative practices into the district-wide discipline code, suspensions fellby 40 percent, and police tickets issued to students dropped by 68 percent.

Recently, due to the organizing and advocacy of communities across the country through efforts like the Dignity in Schools Campaign, the federal Departments of Education and Justice announced the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, an inter-agency effort to address the "school-to-prison pipeline" and support positive alternatives. Just two weeks later in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his Young Men's Initiative to improve opportunities for young black and Latino men, who are disproportionately undereducated, incarcerated and unemployed.

There are certainly many factors to consider in the fight to end school pushout, but the bottom line is that the school community, student behavior and academic success are inextricably linked. We must reduce suspensions and student arrests, and implement positive alternatives so that students feel valued and are not removed from school for extended periods of time.

No students should avoid school because they are afraid of going to jail, but that's exactly what Luke and many others must do. For Luke, what started as a verbal argument with a fellow student in class escalated into arrest and pushout. If Luke's underlying academic and behavioral needs had been met, and a conflict with another student had been resolved through a restorative response, he could have completed the school year, attended summer school and earned his diploma.

Emily Shaw and Refat Shoshi Chowdhury are with the Dignity in Schools Campaign – New York. Liz Sullivan is with the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative.

Tuition Hikes, Aid Cuts Threaten to Put CUNY Out of Reach

Photo by Aloucha
Many students and faculty at Borough of Manhattan Community College worry that plans to hike tuition there by $300 a year could make the school too costly for some people.

"Yeah, I know a few," said Louis Di Meglio, a former undergraduate and now graduate student at Brooklyn College. Without much pause he began talking about a fraternity brother who may need to drop out next year and another friend who had to delay her graduation because it was, as Di Meglio put it, "between her tuition and her brother's."

He spoke casually, and with graduation rates under 50 percent for most schools in the City University of New York, dropping out is common. Regardless of who one talks to -- a student, professor, sports coach or administrator -- chances are he or she knows at least one person who has left school without receiving a degree. And while the causes are many, chances are they will name money as the main reason. "I had a student who dropped out because her parents said it was going to be better if she worked in [the family] restaurant than if she went to school. They couldn’t afford it," said Kathleen Offenholley, an assistant professor of mathematics at Borough of Manhattan Community College. "She was getting straight A's. And I cried."

Now finances are likely to get even tighter for CUNY students. The state legislature approved a bill in July that authorized a tuition increase of $300 every year for the next five years, a plan expected to raise $50 million. With "the long-term trend in state support for higher education ... down for the last 40 years," Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council of Education, has called it "an extraordinarily important step" for CUNY.

But the legislation poses a catch-22 for students. While they hope more revenue will reduce ballooning class sizes, save school programs and enable CUNY to hire more full-time faculty, for many students studying at a CUNY school, paying more could mean not attending at all.

A Steady Rise

CUNY was founded in 1847 with the mission of making higher education accessible for New York residents, and until 1975 did not charge tuition. Almost 165 years later, CUNY continues to reflect its original mission: 54 percent of its student body lives in a household with an income of less than $30,000 a year; 74 percent are people of color; 44 percent are first-generation college students; and 47 percent work full or part time in addition to attending school.

The legislation follows a series of tuition increases at CUNY, beginning with a 15 percent increase in 2009. Two years later students faced another 5 percent increase effective spring 2011 and then a 2 percent hike for the fall 2011 semester. This brought CUNY tuition for full-time, in-state undergraduates to $4,920 at senior colleges and $3,360 at community colleges. Now, with five more years of tuition increases, higher education could become farther out of reach for New York's poorest students.

"Many [CUNY students] hold a full-time job while also going to school full-time. They are at their maximum stress point in terms of finances, and even $300 can be extremely prohibitive," said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress-CUNY, the union for CUNY faculty and staff.

"I have students, some of whom are living in shelters, who qualify for food stamps," said Francesco Crocco, an assistant professor of English at BMCC. "We're throwing the burden of public education on the people who are least able to pay."

The impact on CUNY's six community colleges may perhaps be the most significant. With lower costs, increased flexibility and an emphasis on vocational training, two-year community colleges are a "pathway out of poverty," according to the Center for an Urban Future. But with higher tuition, a critical avenue into the middle class may become out of reach for an increasing number of New York's young people.

In a series of rallies in May many CUNY student spoke out against continuing budget slashes, tuition hikes and, on a broader note, what they see as an increasingly inaccessible education system.

"Public education is under attack right now in the sense that it's headed toward privatization," said Domingo Estevez, a student at BMCC entering his third semester. "It's going from a right to a privilege."

A Cure for CUNY?

Many members of the New York State Assembly, however, hail the legislation as a resounding success. Speaker Sheldon Silver and Deborah Glick, chair of the higher education committee, have championed it as a means to bring stability to CUNY tuition.

"While it is unfortunate that tuition must be increased during these difficult economic times, this predictable tuition plan provides students and families the opportunity to plan for the costs of higher education," Silver said on June 24.

CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein originally conceived of the plan as a means to reduce the university system's reliance on outside funding.

"In an era when public support for public higher education is hemorrhaging, New York state has provided predictability. … It's a bold move that will pay dividends for years to come. This is good for institutions, it's good for the families, and it's good for the state," Goldstein said in a press statement after the legislature approved the measure.

To address affordability, the legislation created a tuition credit to be provided by CUNY for in-state financial aid students whose tuition costs exceed the $5,000 ceiling set by the Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP, New York state's financial aid grant program. The plan hopes aid this will enable aid to keep up with the increase in tuition. Students who received the maximum TAP award, would receive $5,300 after the $300 tuition hike -- with the extra $300 offset by CUNY. A student who received a $2,500 TAP award would receive $2,650 -- or $150 in tuition credit – after the increase.

'Falling Through the Cracks'

This provision, however, has not done much to dispel concerns for Estevez. Two of his acquaintances dropped out last year because they couldn't afford CUNY's 2010 tuition hikes.

"Financial aid is there, but not everybody qualifies for it. There are a lot of people being left out," he said.

According to Bowen, those most likely to be left out are part-time students, who must take a certain number of class credits to qualify, and students who technically are still their parents' dependent but do not receive financial support from their family. For students whose families make just above the $80,000 income ceiling for TAP, tuition increases could also prove overwhelming.

"Thousands of students already fall through the cracks in TAP, and many others may be discouraged from entering college by the escalating cost," Bowen said.

But students may not be the only ones dissatisfied with the new tuition credits. While the state pays for TAP, CUNY will have to cover the credits. This will force CUNY to funnel some of the money it gains from higher tuition into financial aid. With CUNY serving some of New York's poorest students, this could prove a substantial figure.

"If we need to increase tuition and then increase the amount we're giving in financial aid, I'm not sure what we're getting," said Cory Provost, chair of the CUNY Student Senate.

Goldstein, however, has remained optimistic, claiming that even after the tuition credits there will still be substantial revenue to invest in CUNY education.

Cuts and More Cuts

The tuition increase comes in amid deep federal, state and city cuts to financial aid programs. Many of the safety nets college students relied on to finance their educations simply are no longer available.

On the federal level, the Pell Grant program, considered the pillar of the nation's financial aid to low-income undergraduate students, has come under a series of attacks. Potentially devastating cuts -- including a budget resolution passed in the House of Representatives this February that would have slashed the current maximum award of $5,550 by over $2,000 -- have largely been avoided. But with shaky economic times, the Pell Grant program is on a very uncertain footing.

While funding was secured for the 2011-2012 academic year in this month's debt agreement, the Pell program remains unpopular among many Tea Party Republicans, such as Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Montana Republican who called it "the welfare of the 21st century." Any cuts will be amplified by the fact that funding for the program over the past two decades has not nearly kept up with the ballooning costs of attending college.

Other federal programs have fared even poorly. This year the government eliminated the Academic Competitiveness Grant, the Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant and the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership program.

State funding has also been spiraling downward for the last 40 years. An indicative example is the Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge, or SEEK, program. The program, funded by New York state, supports disadvantaged students at CUNY through counseling, specialized academic courses, tutoring and limited financial aid. But SEEK, like College Discovery, Higher Education Opportunity Program, and a slew of other state programs, has for over 20 years seen its funding significantly outpaced by inflation. According to the 2008 state Commission on Higher Education Final Report, in real terms SEEK has faced a 19 percent reduction since 1994.

On the city level, this year's budget was set to slash a range of CUNY programs. While funding was at least partially restored for programs like the Black Male Initiative, the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing, and the Dominican Studies Institute, funding for the Peter Vallone Scholarship was not. The scholarship, which did not consider U.S. citizenship in student eligibility, was a major assistance for the more than 2,500 undocumented immigrants at CUNY schools. The scholarship was awarded to 14,000 students each year.

The shortfalls in funding show that the fight for public higher education is far from over," said Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the higher education committee.

There is, however, a silver lining. In light of tuition increases, the state government has agreed not to cut CUNY funding for the next five years unless facing the state faces a fiscal crisis. The city has made a similar pledge.

"The city is obligated to maintain the same budget [for CUNY schools] as last year or more," said Rodriguez. "For the first time the city made the commitment to bring responsibility, to put in the same amount of money."

But the budget crunch is far from over. According to Bowen, many CUNY schools lack the resources to provide "serious education." The consequences of decreased public funding have been overcrowded class sizes, out of date lab equipment, a shortage of computers and an overloaded faculty, she said.

"At a certain point it imperils the quality of education for the students," she said.

It seems likely that CUNY students will bear the burden of an ailing school system. And with scholarship and grant programs facing the ax, many worry that tuition could become a massive hurdle for accessibility in higher education.

"For my students, they can barely manage and here we are, in effect not giving them the opportunity they could have," said Offenholley from BMCC. 'We’re basically trying to fix New York City by taxing poor people more, by charging them more tuition. It's sad. It's wrong."

But Di Meglio remains surprisingly optimistic.

"You don’t need money, but you need to learn how to apply your resources as you have them… Brooklyn College has great resources, an alumni mentoring program, a lot of people here willing to help figure things out," he said. "The resources are there, you have to find them. That's how Brooklyn College is. That's how the world is."

For Parents Seeking School Choice, Boundaries Don't Apply

p.s. 11
Many parents who don't live in the area zoned for P.S. 11 take unusual steps so their children can attend the Clinton Hill school.

Kelley Williams-Bolar and Tanya McDowell, the two mothers prosecuted this year for sending their children to out-of-district public schools, have plenty of company in New York City. Public school parents here have long relied on lax school policies and the generosity of friends to help them bend the city’s rules and land their children in desirable schools.

For parents in District 13, which spans Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Brooklyn Heights and includes parts of Park Slope and Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Williams-Bolar case underscored an age-old debate over school choice. That conversation has focused mainly on a question of stay, or stray: Should parents stick to their zoned schools and help to improve them where they are lacking, or should they exploit all feasible options to get a seat in the ideal school?

Ms. Jones (her name has been changed to protect her identity), a long-time Clinton Hill resident and parent, ascribes to the latter philosophy. Over the years Jones has added fellow parents, generally from Bedford-Stuyvesant, to her lease and utility records so their children can attend P.S. 11, a highly desired elementary school in the neighborhood.

"If I even told you how many parents I have on my address, you would be shocked," said the mother of two.

Jones understands that she's taking a risk by fudging these documents, but her priorities are clear.

"The law is the law, but our children come first," she said.

Parents who favor school choice avidly defend their right to make their own decisions about their children's education, and many consider out-of-zone schools as reasonable an option as any other. The paperwork is merely a formality.

Elementary School Roulette

Over the past several years, the city Department of Education has sought to expand the choices available to elementary school parents. High-scoring youngsters can choose from a spread of magnet schools, with "gifted and talented" programs for those who meet the requirements and the deadline. For other students, the administration repeatedly states that its push to expand the number of charter schools in the city is part of its effort to offer more choices.

But many New York City parents still feel stifled by their local options. Their children may not qualify for the gifted programs, or the neighborhood may not offer one due to a low number of children qualifying. Some areas don't have any charter schools, and in those that do, competition for a space is fierce. And the problems can be more abstract. In both local zoned and charter schools, everything from curricula, to disciplinary styles to school hours and dismissal procedure can create a school culture that certain parents reject. They may view a school outside their district as more in keeping with their attitudes.

These frustrated parents feel that the choices touted by the Department of Education do not offer them or their children an equal opportunity sort: Options are one thing, but access to them is quite another.

Admissions Pressure

Ms. Lawrence (also not her real name), a Clinton Hill mother who used a friend's address to enroll her son in P.S. 11, said she felt guilty about lying, but considered it her only option. Her local school was considered sub-par, she said, and she couldn't stomach the thought of missing out on a better option.

"You really do get caught up in this hysteria, and you feel like all your chances will be ruined if you don't get in where you want to be," she said. "The quality of schools is so unfair in New York that parents really feel like they have to do this."

Attending play dates at the homes of P.S. 11 she came away with the clear impression that hers was not the only family cheating the system; some of the other children's homes, too, were outside the school's zone. But, she said, "It's definitely not talked about."

Leidy Diaz, a Bedford-Stuyvesant mother, was zoned for P.S. 3, a middle-of-the-pack elementary school on Jefferson Avenue. She was less concerned with her daughter's academic prospects than the route she would walk to and from school -- a walk that would take her daughter past a busy train stop on Fulton Street, a site sometimes abuzz with teenagers and adults shouting, swearing and drinking, Diaz said.

Meanwhile, the family lived only a few blocks from the better-rated P.S. 56 located on a residential street in Clinton Hill. Diaz wanted her daughter to attend that school, so she took matters into her own hands.

To enroll her daughter in P.S. 56, Diaz had to provide a lease and an electric bill, both of which her friend amended to include Diaz as a tenant. When the shared address sparked suspicion, Diaz's friend visited the school to confirm the documents' validity.

"She had to go with me in order for them to really take my word for it," Diaz said of the leaseholder.

Facing the Penalty

Easy enough. In fact, the process was so easy and the practice so widespread among her friends and acquaintances, that it never occurred to Diaz to fear punishment for falsifying her daughter's records. She was shocked to hear that Williams-Bolar, an Ohio mother, was convicted of a felony and served nine days in prison for faking records to allow her two daughters to attend a better school.

"I never thought about the fact that they could do something if they found out that I was lying," Diaz said. "I never heard of the Department of Education taking action against someone that lied about their address."

But the Department of Education has taken action before. One of the most public cases involved Lee McCaskill, the former principal of Brooklyn Technical High School who was investigated by the department for sending his daughter to a Brooklyn public school when the family lived in New Jersey. McCaskill resigned days before the investigation could be completed, but reached a settlement with the city in which he agreed to pay $19,441 for four years of tuition.

Transgressions within the city or state don't generally have such a high price tag. In those cases, students found ineligible for enrollment are transferred to their zoned school, according to the city's regulations.

"Our goal is to make this process easy and accessible for the vast majority of families providing true information, but to create barriers and requirements for the small handful that try to cheat the system," said Department of Education spokesperson Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld.

"When you have a zoned school that's really popular, the families and children in those zones have first rights to those schools," Zarin-Rosenfeld said. "It wouldn't be right for someone to lie about their address in order to access those seats."

When suspicion arises about a student's address, the rules state, responsibility falls on the individual school to investigate, and not on the Department of Education.

Pamela Wheaton, a project director for the popular reference website Insideschools.com, said that such investigations are highly uncommon in most parts of New York; they happen almost exclusively at a few highly competitive schools in Manhattan. In those case, investigator "go to your listed apartment and check to see if you have toys there, if you're living there,"Wheaton said. "They ask the doorman."

No Regrets

Despite the potential consequences, parents who have lied on leases said they would do the same all over again.

"I'll do anything to get my daughter in the school where I want her to be," said Diaz. "If I have to lie again, I'll lie again. I don't feel embarrassed about that."

And Ms. Jones will continue to usher parents into her neighborhood school by way of her own home.

"Ultimately, we are not loyal to the principals or to our schools," Jones said. "We are loyal to our children. It's about giving them a choice."</P

Judge Defines Bullying in Case Involving City Schools

Bullying once meant dipping a schoolgirl's braids in the desk inkwell or throwing snowballs at the new kids. But 21st century bullying can involve schoolhouse shootings, tormenting gay classmates, ruinous sex videos, devastating Internet abuse and suicides. The new extremes may be due to increasing violence among children, and, ironically, may also flow from diversity, which provides bullies with targets who look or sound different or may be gay, or have disabilities.

In a federal lawsuit brought against New York City's Department of Education by the parents of LK, then a 12-year-old pupil at P.S. 6 on Manhattan’s upper east side, Judge Jack Weinstein of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York has framed a test for defining schoolhouse bullying. Although the child in this case has disabilities, Weinstein's approach appears to be generally applicable.

Defining Bullying

The test, the judge wrote is, whether the conduct is "sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it creates a hostile environment," which the school does not correct and so "deprives a student of substantial educational opportunities." The victim need only show that the bullying is likely to affect the student's opportunity for an appropriate education.

The primary characteristic of bullying, as contrasted with rough play or teasing, involves power struggles based on a perception of strength (the bully) and weakness (the victim). According to a report of a recent White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, the critical element of bullying is "unequal and coercive power" or "at least a perceived advantage for the bully either physical or psychological."

LK, originally diagnosed as autistic and later as learning disabled, was enrolled in a class of children of varying abilities. The allegations, officially undocumented but confirmed by special aides assigned to her while in school, included that other children laughed at her when she tried to speak in class, tripped her in the hallways and generally shunned her to the point of refusing to touch any object she had touched. In this case, the only report the school provided described LK as the aggressor.

Testifying at an administrative hearing, the school's principal could not recall what, if any, investigation she had done into complaints made by LK's parents. According to the plaintiffs -- the parents -- heir child was not protected at schools and became fearful and discouraged about school. As a result, the family transferred the girl to a private school at their own expense.

Alleging a failure by the city to provide LK with a suitable learning environment and education, the lawsuit sought recovery of the costs incurred for private school. The defendants, however, counter that the transfer was not necessary and so the public should not have to pay for the private school. Where the public school system is unable to or fails to provide an appropriate education for a child with disabilities and her needs can instead be met in a private school, the family need not pay the costs.

The parent also asserted that LK had progressed in school, an issue the judge said did not nullify the hostile environment or bullying.

Weinstein wrote, "This case presents the largely unresolved issue of the extent to which bullying by other students inhibits a disabled child from being educated appropriately, and what her school must do about it."

Outlawing Bullying

Under federal law, all public schools receiving federal funds must provide an education appropriate to each child’s abilities and disabilities. Federal law further requires that harassment of someone because of a disability must be investigated and responded to promptly and appropriately. The question to be asked and answered in this case and all cases, Weinstein said, is "Whether school personnel [were] deliberately indifferent to, or failed to take reasonable steps to prevent bullying that substantially restricted a child with learning disabilities in her educational opportunities."

In a long opinion replete with citations to academic articles on education, psychology, sociology, and law, Weinstein referred to New York State's recently enacted Dignity for All Students Act, which is to become effective in 2012. That law is meant to assure "all students in public schools an environment free of discrimination and harassment." (For more, see Governor Signs Bill to Combat Bullying.) But the city has not implemented its own version of an anti-bullying law, although a regulation has been adopted. State law, when it goes into effect, would be available to victims in city public schools.

LK's parents had also claimed that they were not included in the child's Individualized Learning Plan, a program required for all students with disabilities, but the court dismissed this claim.

Based on Weinstein's preliminary findings and operative definition of bullying, the case can now proceed to trial to determine whether LK's treatment and neglect falls within the judge's parameters of what constitutes bullying. Trial evidence must establish whether she was the victim of bullying, and whether the unchallenged harassment in school had the effect of denying her a full, appropriate public education.

Emily Jane Goodman is a New York State Supreme Court Justice

Plans to Boost Two-Year Colleges Fall Victim to Budget Cuts

community college
Borough of Manhattan Community College
Despite being touted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Barack Obama, two-year schools, such as Borough of Manhattan Community College, must grapple with rising enrollments and falling resources

During his bid for a third term, Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised to make community colleges a top priority if he were re-elected. That campaign promise to help the City University of New York, which runs the two-year public schools, has now been abandoned in the face of proposed cuts of over $50 million in city funding for the next fiscal year.

This change has sparked criticism from many advocates who have protested Bloomberg's cuts in funding to CUNY during a time of high enrollment and tough economic times -- especially after the state already cut $95 million, according to CUNY officials.

"With the increasing need of services for students at both community colleges and senior colleges in the CUNY system it is unacceptable to continue to cut CUNY's budget the way the administration has done the past few years," said Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the higher education committee. "These drastic cuts come on top of a quarter of a billion dollars worth of cuts that have been handed down to CUNY over the past three years."

The administration defends its decision and blames its own fiscal problems.

"The city has had to make some hard budget decisions for the coming fiscal year, and we're asking everyone to do more with less," said Jessica Scaperotti, a spokesperson for the mayor.

CUNY officials say that while they understand the city and state's economic situation, the budget cuts and the economic downturn are taking a toll on CUNY resources.

"The university recognizes that state officials are diligently endeavoring to meet the fiscal challenges associated with the current budget deficit," CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein said in a statement. "At the same time, record-breaking numbers of students are seeking higher education opportunity at CUNY so that they may compete effectively for careers in an unforgiving economy and increasingly international marketplace."

While the cuts will affect the entire CUNY system, they come as a particular blow to the two-year community colleges. During his 2009 campaign, Bloomberg proposed a "Gateway to the Middle Class" to help increase community college graduation rates by 20 percent by 2020. The plan was a response to President Barack Obama's plan to graduate 5 million more people from community colleges in 10 years. Bloomberg vowed to expand access and "help those who are enrolled stay enrolled." The mayor also called for an investment of $50 million in hopes of graduating 120,000 students from college.

"Community colleges really do have the power to help more Americans get through this recession and come out with better skills ready to build new careers in good paying jobs," said Bloomberg at his presentation. "Investing in those who wants to invest in their own education and careers is one of the single best ways to promote economic growth and help most New Yorkers earn good paying jobs and improve their financial security."

Bloomberg’s office declined to comment about the promise to invest $50 million in CUNY, and CUNY representatives have refused to disclose if the system even received the money. According to Kate Pfordresher, director of research and public policy for the Professional Staff Congress, the union representing CUNY faculty, the $50 million pledge amounted to nothing more than a campaign promise.

The Two-Year Solution

When the nation was hit with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, many public officials turned to community colleges. Bloomberg focused on the increased role of community colleges and vowed to make the modernization of community colleges a top priority.

"Education is the future of our country, it is the future of our state and city, it is the future of our world," said the mayor announcing his Gateway to the Middle Class initiative. "If there's one thing that we should do to help everybody … it is making sure that everybody gets the kind of quality education they need to participate in the world and particularly here in the great American dream."

Many other public officials also called for increase enrollment in community colleges. Obama even referred to community colleges as "the unsung heroes" of education.

"They may not get the credit they deserve, they may not get the same resources as other schools, but they provide a gateway to millions of Americans to good jobs and a better life," the president said last year when presenting his Skills for America's Future partnership.

Now, though, community colleges around the city find themselves in a precarious position, with record admissions and decreasing funds. Many blame CUNY's financial woes on the lack of commitment from the state. According to State Sen. Toby Stavisky of Queens, the state's share of CUNY funding fell sharply in the past 20 years from 65 percent in 1991 to 40 percent this year.

"That's not the fault of CUNY; it's the fault of the state -- because we had budget crises and higher education has not been a priority," she said.

Increase tuition has made up some of the shortfall. The CUNY board of trustees already authorized a tuition increase of $75, bringing tuition for a year to $3,300. Fall 2012 will see an additional $30, bringing the yearly total to $3,360. When Bloomberg announced his initiative in 2009, tuition for CUNY community colleges was $2,800 a year, Pfordresher said.

According to the City Council Committee on Higher education, in 2009, tuition made up $840 million of CUNY’s budget. For the projected 2012 year, that number is expected to jump to $1.1 billion. Barbara Bowen, president of Professional Staff Congress describes students as being mobilized and determined to block further hikes., "Our students can’t afford to pay more. They don't have the resources to support that," she said.

A New Initiative

Despite the cuts, CUNY officials have praised the mayor for leading other initiatives in community colleges, such as the Accelerated Study in Associate Program, or ASAP, which started in 2007 and aims to increase the graduation rate among community college students and to keep students in school. All ASAP students attend class full time, which makes them eligible for financial aid, and receive regular tutoring help. Students meet with academic advisors twice a week and also meet with job developers who help them find employment while they go to school. The program provides free Metro cards, textbooks and tuition assistance.

"ASAP would not exist without the steadfast support of the mayor and the city's Center for Economic Opportunity," said Goldstein. "It can be extremely challenging for community college students to balance a college schedule with the demands of work and family. ASAP helps eliminate these stresses by providing students with the academic, social and financial support they need to graduate."

While not disputing the value of the program, Pfordresher said it reaches only a small number of students, and low funding restricts the program from being expanded to accommodate more students.

he initiative, though, will be the basis for a new community college, called the Innovative Model Community College, slated to open in Midtown Manhattan in fall 2012. Students who attend the new college must enroll full time for the first year. As a way to help students graduate faster, the college will offer remedial classes, along with six majors related to industries with increasing demand: business administration, health information technology, human services, information technology, liberal arts and sciences, and urban studies.

Those students who don’t need remedial help will be automatically placed in the college's ASAP program. The college's president will be Scott Evenback, a psychology professor and founding dean of University College at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. According to CUNY, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and the Carnegie Corp. will contribute funding.

"The new community college employs an innovative model for improving student performance and graduation rates," Goldstein said. "Over the next year, the new college's team will flesh out the concept developed during more than two years of intensive work by faculty and staff from 15 of CUNY's undergraduate and graduate institutions and the central administration."

The school will launch with 500 students and will grow to 5,000 students. It will be the first community college opened in the city in over 40 years, and will eventually move to the John Jay College campus on the West Side of Manhattan.

The Money Hunt

Meanwhile CUNY has looked to other funding sources. "Many public colleges were not really focused on how to sustain higher education in an era of reduced resources," said CUNY director of communication and marketing, Michael Arena.

One proposal in the Gateway to the Middle Class initiative that did not materialize included restrictions on out of State students getting Financial Aid.

Under the so-called CUNY Compact, the state pays all of CUNY's mandatory costs, such as labor, benefits and energy costs, along with 20 percent of the academic initiatives in the four-year master plan. The other funding is to come from donations and "internal restructuring." The funding formula also allows for incremental increases as opposed to large spikes in tuition.

Former Gov. David Paterson wanted to allow individual CUNY and SUNY schools to set their own tuition in accordance with a national higher education price index as opposed to having to the state legislature approve an across-the-board tuition increase. The state legislature rejected the idea. Recently, though, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has come out in support of a similar proposal for SUNY.

In the meantime, CUNY has no guarantee that the state or city will increase funding, leaving students to face tuition hikes.

There are many obstacles put in the path of students who are trying to get an education," said Bowen. "At a time when the economy needs to be revitalized it makes no sense to cut one of the chief engines in that revitalization.

Bowen criticized the city for cutting back during the recession instead of being as innovative as it once was.

"During the Great Depression, NYC built three new colleges for CUNY: Brooklyn College, Queens College and Lehman College," she said. "If during the greatest economic depression New York can have the response of adding colleges, why can't New York have that response now?"

Education Mayor Takes a Hit

Photo (cc)

In a stunning reversal and a glaring miscalculation in the Bloomberg administration's third term, Schools Chancellor Cathie Black stepped down Thursday just three months after she took the reins of the nation's largest public school system.

In a somber and humbling press conference at City Hall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, who has overseen educational policy for the mayor since 2002, as her replacement.

Bloomberg said he had met with Black early Thursday, and the two "mutually agreed" she should step down. The move came just one day after a deputy chancellor resigned -- the latest in a string of top educational officials to leave the department during Black's tenure. It also followed a Marist/NY1 poll this week that put the former chancellor's approval rating hovering at 17 percent.

Bloomberg took responsibility for Black's failure -- a rare moment of defeat for a mayor who typically balks at admitting errors in judgment. At the same time, Bloomberg thanked and praised Black, the former chairwoman of Hearst Magazines.

"I take full responsibility that this has not worked out," Bloomberg said. "I have nothing but respect and admiration for her," he said of Black.

Black's short tenure was mired by embarrassing gaffes and political unpopularity. Her replacement comes at a crucial time for the Department of Education.

The department faces losing more than 6,000 teachers thanks to budget cuts. Simultaneously, the Bloomberg administration is attempting to convince the State Legislature to repeal the city's last in, first out policy -- which requires layoffs based on seniority.

Given the upheaval, city and state officials question whether the administration will be able to get its policy priorities, like LIFO, accomplished even with Walcott's good reputation in and outside of the Tweed Courthouse.

A New Occupant

Walcott is no Black.

While Black was often criticized for her lack of teaching experience, Walcott's appointment has already received a warmer reception. The deputy mayor has taught kindergarten and served as an adjunct professor at York College. He also sat on the old Board of Education.

Before joining the administration in 2002, Walcott was the president and chief executive officer of the New York Urban League for more than a dozen years.

While Black sent her kids to boarding school in Connecticut, Walcott's four children were all educated in New York City public schools. He too is a product of the city's school system.

At City Hall on Thursday, both Bloomberg and Walcott were quick to list off the deputy mayor's resume. After bumping fists with the mayor, Walcott confidently took over the podium, describing himself as "just a guy from Queens."

"The great equalizer in society is assuring that every child receives a quality education, especially a quality public education," said Walcott. "I'm a believer in reform. I'm a believer in this mayor and more importantly, I'm a believer in our 1.1. million students as well."

Unlike Black, who was asked whether she had set foot in a public school before she became chancellor, Walcott said he has visited "hundreds" of classrooms across the city.

To add to the dramatics of the day, the administration's press conference was flooded by students from P.S. 10 in Brooklyn, who Walcott said he was committed to helping succeed. The deputy mayor promised to visit them and make them waffles next week.

Despite his experience, Walcott, like Black, will need a waiver from the state in order to serve as chancellor. State law requires the schools chancellor to have a master's degree, a certain amount of teacher experience and graduate courses.

Walcott has a master's degree in education and in social work. Bloomberg said Thursday he didn't anticipate the waiver proces would cause a problem.

Walcott's Agenda

When Bloomberg first arrived at City Hall, he laid his legacy down on the city's public schools. He quickly acquired the pseudonym: "The Education Mayor."

"Under mayoral control the mayor's in charge," said Councilmember Robert Jackson, who chairs the body's Education Committee and is supportive of Walcott's appointment. "Not the chancellor or anyone else."

For that reason, officials and advocates don't expect a dramatic shift in policy at Tweed.

Nonetheless, the Black debacle has tainted Bloomberg's educational legacy. Some experts question whether the last three months will curtail the mayor's ability to accomplish his policy agenda over the next two years.

"If anything, Bloomberg is weakened by this," said David Bloomfield, the chair of the education department at the College of Staten Island. "His judgment has been severely called into question."

Nowhere could that have more of an impact than on the mayor's pursuit of the repeal of LIFO . While the State Senate has approved legislation that would give the mayor the authority to layoff teachers based on merit, the State Assembly has balked at the proposal.

"I would be surprised if this indicated any change in the status of where things would go legislatively for the mayor," said Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education.

On the other hand, because Black's appointment was so contentious, some state officials said Thursday Walcott would have an easier time getting Albany officials to sit down. But that doesn't mean they will listen.

"To some extent, his personality might be more suitable," said State Sen. Bill Perkins, who is a frequent critic of Bloomberg's educational policy, of Walcott. "He's been around. He knows a lot of individuals. Maybe our policy differences may not come with so much antagonism."

As School Suspensions Soar, Many Seek a Different Approach

Photo (cc) Max Klingensmith

Earlier this school year, a 9-year-old at a Manhattan school asked a girl during lunch if she would share her candy with him. Her friends reported him to a safety officer, complaining that he had approached their table aggressively.

The boy faced a 90-day suspension for assault and harassment. Although the suspension was ultimately dismissed, the experience may have a lasting emotional impact.

"He was terrified the whole time. He was ready to cry,” said Ana Estada, an advocate for Advocates for Children, who represented the child in his suspension hearing.

The case, though, is hardly isolated. Suspensions of elementary school students, ages 4 to 10, are up by 76 percent in New York City over the past decade, with 6,119 suspensions during the 2008-2009 school year compared to 3,469 throughout the 2002-2003 academic year, the Daily News reported recently.

Overall, the Department of Education has increased student suspensions by 66 percent over the past 10 years, according to a recent New York Civil Liberties Union report. One in 14 current public school students have been suspended, compared to one in 25 students 10 years ago.

Black children, who account for one-third of city public school students, have served 53 percent of suspensions over the past decade.

Critics argue that students are being punished too harshly instead of receiving counseling and social services to address their problems. But the Department of Education believes suspending disruptive students is necessary to keep schools secure.

Marge Feinberg, a department spokeswoman, credits the increased suspension rate with a drop in violent crimes throughout city schools. "Preserving a safe and orderly environment in our schools is critical to our student's academic success," she wrote in an e-mail.

Though the department defends the policy, it has also started to look at alternatives.

Behind the Suspension Surge

Estada attributes the increase in suspensions over the past decade to the department's pressuring of teachers to file discipline reports to principals. The principal then decides whether to suspend the student.

When children tell parents about unresolved behavior problems "parents feel like their schools aren't safe," said Estada. "The principals say, 'I have to create a safe environment.' It's the only way to justify the suspension."

The majority of the suspensions are principal's suspensions, which last one to five days and target low-level offenses, such as insubordination and abusive language.

The superintendent's suspension, which can range from six to 90 days, applies to more serious offenses, such as drug and weapons possession. They last an average of 25 school days and require a hearing and the approval of the appropriate community or high school superintendent. Repeated instances of a relatively minor offense can snowball into a superintendent's suspension at the discretion of the principal.

Both types of suspensions have been on the rise since Bloomberg took control of the city's school system.

"They [the Department of Education] have to concede that kids are getting suspended and arrested for things that a generation ago would lead to a discussion with a parent," said Udi Ofer, co-author of the New York Civil Liberties Union report and advocacy director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Certain infractions, such as aggressive violence, gang-related activity and bringing a weapon to school, automatically lead to suspension. Last year the Department of Education reduced the number of so-called zero tolerance policy offenses to 21, down from 29 in 2007. Seven offenses met the criteria in 1998.

The Civil Liberties Union believes the Bloomberg administration's zero tolerance policy denies students their state constitutional right to a free public education.

"A suspension should never be the sole or only form of punishment," Ofer said. "Zero tolerance as a policy completes undermines the authority of teachers and principals."

Ofer criticizes suspension as a temporary solution that only succeeds in physically removing the child from the school and creating a tense environment between students and the administration. The Civil Liberties Union would like to see principals rely more on mediation and counseling when dealing with troublesome students.

"They need to create a positive school environment that fosters communication between students and pedagogical staff," he said.

While the Department of Education has not decided if it will further lower the number of zero tolerance infractions, it is exploring other approaches to discipline.

"This year, we expanded the disciplinary options principals have, including having a parent conference or in-school disciplinary action for certain infractions such as fighting," wrote Feinberg via e-mail. "The DOE is committed to providing a safe and nurturing school environment with a dedicated staff of employees.”

But some experts believe the department must do more to improve student behavior in the long-term.

"If you attend a school where you are treated poorly and even for a minor infraction you might be suspended, students feel disengaged," said Damon Hewitt, director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund's education practice.

He called the disproportionate number of black students being suspended "outrageous and highly disturbing."

The Department of Education, disputes his claim. "Race is not a factor in suspension decisions," Feinberg wrote via e-mail.

Nevertheless, Hewitt recommends that principals have less disciplinary authority. He also believes the vague nature of minor infractions, such as disrespect, gives Police Department safety officers who work in schools broad discretion to punish black students in a harsher manner. "It's in the eye of the beholder," he said.

Hewitt thinks the Department of Education must decrease its Police Department presence in schools in order to improve student relations, foster communication and promote trust.

"If you live in a community that is heavily policed and also attend a school that is heavily policed, you believe you are in a police state,” Hewitt said. "It undermines the effectiveness of law enforcement."

In December, the City Councilapproved legislation, now signed into law, that requires the Department of Education and Police Department to disclose school safety data, including figures on suspensions. The Legal Defense Fund plans on evaluating data, when it becomes available, that will track suspension trends in specific schools.

"The data will reveal differences amongst the schools," Hewitt said, commenting that he hoped "the data will spur improved practices."

Problems in the Process

Critics also find fault with the disciplinary process.

During suspension hearings, held only for superintendent's suspensions, a single official decides whether the student will be punished and, if so, for how long. The Department of Education and the defendant have the opportunity to present facts and call witnesses. Suspension hearings are held within five days of the school’s decision to impose the punishment. Decisions are usually made within three days of the hearing.

"It’s like a mini-criminal trial," said Nelson Mar, an educational law specialist and senior staff attorney for Bronx Legal Services. "Students don’t learn much about how not to get in trouble again."

Mar, who has 12 years of experience defending students facing suspension, criticizes the hearing process.

"A lot of times we don't see an investigation really happening. It's cursory," he said. Parents must make a formal request to the school if they want to view witness statements. But Mar claims the Department of Education does not provide his clients with that information, leaving him "with very limited knowledge of what happened."

According to Mar, most students enter the hearing without a lawyer, are represented by their parents or plead no contest to the charges. Parents often work full-time and plead no contest for their children because they are too busy to attend the hearing.

"Our goal is to protect a student from a long-term suspension, or avoid one altogether if we believe it's inappropriate or the facts don't necessitate such a response," he said. "Sometimes the charges are specific, sometimes they are vague."

One third of his clients avoid suspension entirely. "The greater good is that we wind up getting the suspension reduced," he said.

He described his typical client as an upset student who had an argument with a teacher and made physical contact with the instructor when attempting to leave the classroom. Sometimes teachers file reports to the principal, categorizing what may have been a light shove as an aggressive assault.

"The standard of proof is very, very minimal. You could bring two or three witnesses that say otherwise, but that one other [Department of Education] witness is enough to make the punishment," Mar said.

They Have a Budget Deal but Who Will Vote for It?

social service cuts

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos may have been able to reach a budget deal late on Sunday evening, but the announcement left plenty of questions. The most pressing being, "Who is going to actually vote for this?"

"This budget makes tough choices, which is what you sent me to Albany to do," Cuomo said in a statement. "It closes a $10 billion dollar deficit with no new taxes or borrowing, redesigns government to force it to cut waste and inefficiency, and finally delivers real results for hard-working families across New York State."

Cuomo used tough talk, high poll numbers and the constant threat that he could make his budget a reality through extenders if legislators did not reach an agreement with him before April 1. The deal will force some rank and file legislators into a tough spot: vote for a budget that slashes spending and services and risk losing votes, or vote against a deal reached by the most powerful and popular man in New York State politics.

The $132.5 billion budget cuts spending by approximately 2 percent and makes major cuts to education and Medicaid spending. If passed before April 1, it will be the state's first on-time budget in five years. Not all the details of the budget are clear yet.

At least $250 million has been added to Cuomo's proposal, including funding for human services, state universities and education for the blind and deaf. In a victory for Assembly Democrats and advocacy groups, Cuomo eliminated a proposed cap on medical malpractice rewards. But in other areas, Democrats and advocates lost big: there is no millionaire’s tax extension despite a major last minute push by education, labor and advocacy groups. Also absent from the budget is the renewal of rent control laws that are set to expire in June. And it is unclear exactly how school aid will be distributed. Cuomo said that will be sorted out in the coming days. These issue could keep a variety of legislators from voting for the measure.


Reactions from advocates were as expected. Conservative business groups praised the budget.

"This budget agreement marks a dramatic reversal in the tax and spend habits of Albany that drove this state to the brink of fiscal disaster. We congratulate Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for closing a $10 billion deficit without raising taxes. They have sent a clear message to employers that New York is open for business," said Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for New York City in a statement.

The Alliance for Quality Education’s Billy Easton had the opposite reaction: "Governor Cuomo’s first budget makes heartlessly large cuts to our schools to finance tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, and students in poor and middle class districts will lose the most educationally. Nobody who cares about students is celebrating this budget. Make no mistake about it: this budget will reduce the quality of education in New York."

A number of city Democrats were making a lot of noise this past week about their desire to see rent regulations renewed. "That may be one of the key issues for me as a legislator," Sen. Liz Krueger told Liz Benjamin. "If there is not rent regulation in the budget, or an ability to believe that we are ending up with much stronger laws long before June 15th, the deadline, that may be a basis for me and many of my Senate Democrat colleagues not to be able to vote for this budget."

Krueger even seemed to toy with the idea that the Senate would not have a quorum to bring the budget to a vote if Democrats did not show up to session.

Tentative deals have crumbled in previous years once legislators who were shut out of secretive negotiations were able to dig into the gritty details.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg slammed the deal as the "largest cut of state aid to New York City ever."

"At the outset of the budget process, we urged the governor and State Legislature to adopt a budget that treats New York City equitably and provides the mandate relief and reform that would allow us to absorb the State’s heavy cuts. This budget agreement appears to fail on both counts, and worse, it passes heavy new costs down to the city," the mayor said in a prepared statement. Bloomberg added that it was "encouraging" that a deal was reached on time. Bloomberg also said he hoped the state would move to abolish regulations that require the city to layoff teachers based on seniority.

Silver told reporters that he still plans to lobby the Senate to reauthorize both the millionaire’s tax and rent control laws. "Hopefully by doing this thing early, it will follow through on a lot of other issues," he said.

Meanwhile, as part of the budget, Cuomo will have the authority to close prisons. The deal calls for Cuomo to eliminate 3,700 prison beds --"in consultation" with the legislature. It isn't clear which prisons will be eliminated. It is likely that legislators whose districts face closures will put up a major stink.

"Government had to tighten its belt with the same sense of urgency that working families have been tightening their belts since the economy went into freefall in 2008," said Silver in a statement. "The sole consolation is that working with the Governor, we were able to achieve critical restorations which will soften the cuts affecting working families, our senior citizens, our most vulnerable populations and the children in our classrooms."

Education Department Slashes Plans for Building More Schools

p.s. 41
In recent years, some schools, such as P.S. 41 in Manhattan have become increasingly crowded.

This week parents and officials from lower Manhattan announced the area would soon get another elementary school, the third new school recently slated for the area.

But parents in other sections of the city have less reason to applaud. An amendment to the city's five year capital plan for the Department of Education, to be voted on by the Panel for Education Policy on Wednesday, calls for a major rollback in plans for new school design and construction between now and 2014, with some sections of the city set to get thousands fewer seats than they had anticipated.

Overall, the department anticipates building 19 fewer schools than it did just a year ago, a reduction of almost 10,000 seats. Just one community education district -- 30, which includes Jackson Heights, Long Island City and Sunnyside -- stands to lose three schools with 1,744 places.

Although these cuts have attracted far less attention than the city's intention to lay off more than 4,000 teachers, they have raised concern among advocates who see the reduced plan as a recipe for more school overcrowding and larger classes. City officials blame the scaling back on proposed changes in the way the state reimburses the city for school construction.

The Capital Plan

The administration proposes to reduce the $11.3 billion capital spending plan for 2010 to 2014, which was amended last February, to $9.3 billion. Only five months ago, in November, the city envisioned a much more ambitious program, never officially approved, totaling more than $16 billion.

The city attributes much of the cutback to an anticipated loss of state money. In 2010, the city expected the state to ante up $5.7 billion over five years. It now sees that dropping to $3.5 billion. The city has cut its anticipated spending by slightly over $100 million since the plan was approved last winter. To put it another way, the March plan saw the state putting up 49 percent of the money; the latest plan has the state contributing only 37 percent.

Much of the reduction will come in spending for new capacity, which was set at $4.0 billion in March 2010 and comes in at a bit under $1.8 billion now. The plan includes much smaller cuts in replacement capacity -- finding a new home for a school in a leased space -- and mandated expenses, such as improvements needed to comply with building codes.

Despite the anticipated cuts in state support, the city Department of Education still plans to provide $210 million to help charter schools build new facilities. In the budget plan, the department praises the partnership with charters and says it brings in "valuable private sector resources," with the education department having to pay only 73 percent of the cost of the new facilities for charters.

The latest plan also calls for an increase of $486 million to fund technology improvements, including those needed for new student assessments. Some of this money will go to accomodate the Innovation Zone program, an ambitious though still largely unrealized and untested plan to increase on-line learning and explore new approaches to the school day. This brings the amount slated for the iZone program next year alone to $542.25 million, according to Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters.

Some believe said this money could be better spent elsewhere. Haimson said, "This an extraordinarily large amount to be spending in any one year, especially given the city's (and the DOE's) shaky record in investing in technology projects."

Contending there is no evidence that the iZone works, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said in an emailed statement, "The DOE should either publicly release empirical data that justifies the large amount of funding it plans to dedicate to the iZone, or turn back to the basics and prioritize building school seats for our students who desperately need them now."

Finally, the plan calls for $141 million for efforts to increase energy efficiency "while simultaneously addressing the environmental issues associated with older lighting systems," as the education department put its -- in other words removing toxic PCBs from hundreds of school buildings across the city.

Jammed Up

The school crowding issue made headline earlier this year when School Chancellor Cathie Black famously quipped that birth control might be the best solution to the school system's capacity problems. But the shortage of space has been a persistent issue in many part of the city despite the addition -- completed or in progress -- of some 55,000 slots under the previous capital plan.

Although the system may not be above capacity overall, the department's figures show half of the city's children attend overcrowded schools, according to Helaine Doran of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. That estimate, she said, is low because it does not include schools that uses trailers as classroom or students who have to be sent away from their neighborhood school.

One study found that more than half of all the city's high school students attend overcrowded schools. A report by the city comptroller's office in 2009 cited widespread overcrowding and stated, "The new capacity projected to be completed by 2012 will fall far short of the amount required to end overcrowding in primary and primary/intermediate schools in the following communities where enrollment exceeded capacity."

The latest capital proposal from the Department of Education scales back the number of new seats to be added by 2014, essentially reversing a November 2010 proposal to substantially increase capacity and building fewer schools than the city proposed a year ago.

The crowding is not spread evenly throughout the city. While the Department of Education maintains that some schools have far fewer students than they can accommodate, others are packed. The Upper West Side has twice as many young children now than it did in 2000, creating a squeeze in schools there. According to the education department's own figures, P.S. 236 in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx had almost double the number of students it should have.

"In districts all over the city enrollment has been increasing, especially in the early grades," said Haimson.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has widely touted the jammed classrooms as proof that his school policies work. Earlier this week, he cited the shortage of classrooms as one of the "problems of success" that "Buffalo would love to have." Schools have improved, his reasoning goes, enough so that parents who once might have fled to the suburbs now remain in the five borough and send their children to the public schools.

Others additional explanations, including the shutting of parochial schools. Haimson of Class Size Matters believes that some of the mayor's own policies -- notably the closing of big schools and replacing them with small ones and the placing of charter schools in some district school buildings -- have contributed to the space crunch.

Some observers point out that New York, unlike many other cities, does not require builders of major new residential projects to somehow provide for new schools in the area. Such new homes have certainly fueled the space problems in Tribeca and the Upper West Side, forcing the city to play catch up after the developer's work is done.

Funding the Space

Large class size and jam-packed classrooms plaguing city schools were key issues in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit challenging school financing. As a result of the case -- though not as part of an actual legal settlement -- Gov. Eliot Spitzer agreed to fund about 50 percent of capital construction in the city.

The state no longer wants to adhere to that. For most years of the plan, the city will see between $500 million and $600 million in funds from the state -- down from the slightly more than $1 billion a year the city anticipated under the old plan.

Since the settlement of the suit, things have changed. "Both the state and the city have made major investment in education -- billions of dollars in increasing capacity. It's important to recognize that," said Morris Peters, a spokesman for the state Division of the Budget.

The state has aid the city can have up to $1 billion in what it consider allowable expenses annually, with the state reimbursing over 60 percent of that, for a maximum of around $600 million. In addition to a smaller pool, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed changing the system for distributing money, Peters said. It would set priorities for which projects to fund, focusing first on those that address health and safety concerns, then ones that correct overcrowding and so on down a list.

The reimbursement formula also considers the fiscal status of the district. Until now, Peters said, districts could choose a year, going back to the 1980s, that would put them at the best advantage. Under Cuomo's changes, they could no longer do this.

However the state determine's the city's allotment, the Bloomberg "administration understands that our school system needs more investment than that, which is why the city's relative share of this capital plan would actually skyrocket should Albany cap building aid," Department of Education Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said in an email.

While some advocates say the city wants to lobby Albany for more funds, the Bloomberg administration so far has been relatively quiet on this issue, preferring to press its campaign to end the last in, first out system for laying off teachers.

The mayor did, however, discuss the proposed cuts in testimony before the legislature this year.

"The courts have ruled that class size is too great as it is. Just imagine what would happen if the state does cut its support for school construction by 67 percent. It would be a huge setback -- and make it much harder for us to relieve the pockets of overcrowding that exist," Bloomberg said.

He also criticized prosed changes in the state system for evaluating capital projects, calling it "a recipe, if I’ve ever heard of one, for bureaucratic inaction and delay [that] would also make it harder for local elected officials, and community leaders, to make their voices heard on projects in their districts."

In a joint statement issued yesterday City Council speaker Christine Quinn and Robert Jackson criticized the state for proposing a plan that they said "would force the DOE to scuttle its plans to add 36,000 new school seats." The two council members said they are "pushing hard to reverse this plan."

At least up until now, advocates have not focused on the capital spending either. "The cut is so big on operations," said Doran. "How many pieces can you go for?"

Haimson, though, believes the administration could find money to build schools. "The city has never put any effort into increasing capacity," she said. "There are plenty of capital funds available. They don’t want to spend it on schools."

"Kindergarten waiting lists, which we've never had in this city, and overcrowded schools are going to be this mayor's legacy," she said.

Winner and Losers

A few districts do fare better in this year's plan than last year's. The Upper West Side, for example, which had no new space under the February 2010 amendment now is set for 480 new seats.

The Corona section of Queens, widely seen as among the city's most overcrowded, will add room for 3,123 more students -- a slight increase over the amount in last year's plan.

On the other side of the ledger, Chelsea/Midtown West drops 800 seats. A new, unnamed school slated for District 8 in the Bronx is gone. In another part of the Bronx, District 10, which was supposed to get there new schools, will now only have one. The Van Nest/Pelham Bay section will lose almost half of its anticipated seats.

In Brooklyn, all 612 planned new slots in Williamsburg/Greenpoint have been deleted. A new school for Carroll Gardens and Red Hook is also off the table. Last year, District 20 in Bay Ridge could look forward to six schools with 3,046 seats; that's been cut to two schools with room for 1,075 students.

Bayside, Howard Beach and Hollis are no longer slated for new schools. Staten Island lost one school, in the New Dorp section.

In deciding which projects to drop, the education department said it considered a few factors.

"We study data by neighborhood so we can ensure our investments are going directly to the areas of the city that need the most new school seats. That means, by definition, our new construction investments are going into the neighborhoods with the most need," said Zarin-Rosenfeld. "In putting together this latest amendment, any project that is already in construction or has a site identified remained in the plan. Other projects were shifted to 'design only' for this five-year plan, while the remaining projects were deferred until the next plan."

Many of the projects being abandoned were in early stages of development without locations or advanced design plans. Department of Education documents identified most of them only by borough and number.

(Correction: This article originally attributed all $86 million for technology programs to spending on the Innovation Zone. Instead, according to the education department, that money will go for a number of programs, including the iZone and redesigned student assessments. The story has been corrected.)

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