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Gotham Gazette

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Citizens Union

Education

Stated Meeting: Sitting in Smog on the Way to School


Up until now, a student's ride to school was full of more than paper airplanes and spit balls. It was loaded with toxic fumes.

Thanks to an open exhaust system in some older versions of city school buses, a student riding to school could be exposed to more exhaust than someone riding in a car outside, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. To plug up those fumes, the City Council unanimously approved legislation Thursday, which will require all school buses to retrofit their exhaust systems. The bill would also require the city to retire school buses at an earlier age -- at 16 from 19 years old.

In addition, the council also approved legislation mandating standpipe and sprinkler alarm systems to detect breaches similar to those during the Deutsche Bank fire of 2007 and a tax credit for biotechnology small businesses.

Greener School Buses

Unlike regular vehicles and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's buses, older school buses have an open casing system for its exhaust, meaning the fumes that travel from the engine to the exhaust pipe can actually leak into the inside of the school bus, said Rich Kassel of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a supporter of the legislation.

The council's bill (Intro 622), approved by a vote of 47 to 0, would take effect in September 2011 and apply to all diesel fuel-powered school buses.

Approximately 600 buses between the age of 16 and 19 would have to retire, because of the new age limitation. The city's school bus fleet comprises more than 7,000 buses.

"We are doing this so children who ride these buses every day travel in a cleaner more healthy environment," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

The retrofits would focus primarily on the pollution in the school bus. To meet the new requirements buses could use filters over their tailpipes and ventilation systems for the pipes traveling from the buses engine to the tailpipe. The new mandate, said Quinn, will cost approximately $20 million. The bill, she added, will not take affect for almost two years so the extra costs could be factored in when the city renegotiates its contracts with the private school bus companies next year.

According to the council, children in school buses can inhale seven to 70 times more exhaust than those in the vicinity of school buses.

"New York City has some of the highest child asthma rates in the country and our kids are breathing extra unnecessary pollution, while they are sitting on the bus on the way to school," said Kassel. "It’s a fixable problem and this bill fixes it."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg also supports the legislation.

Deutsche Bank Revisited

Firefighters battlingthe Deutsche Bank fire looked for a working standpipe to stifle the blaze for 40 minutes, said Quinn.

That, she hopes, will never happen again.

The council unanimously approved two bills drafted in response to the 2007 blaze, one of which (Intro 1004-A) will require alarm systems for sprinkler and standpipe systems that would be go off if either of those systems were disconnected. The council also approved a bill (Intro 986-A), which requires a licensed professional or master plumber to test sprinkler and standpipe systems' pressure in new buildings.

In 2007, two firefighters died in the Deutsche Bank building after a standpipe had been disconnected during the building's deconstruction. These bills are just two of many the council has passed in response to the fire.

Appearing at City Hall, Joseph Graffagnino Sr., the father of one of the firefighterswho died in the blaze, said, "We are just trying our best to make it safe."

If an alarm were to go off at a construction or deconstruction site, work could not resume until the standpipe or sprinkler system is repaired, which the Fire Department would have to authorize.

Biotech Tax Credit

First mentioned in the speaker's State of the City, the council unanimously approved a $3 million biotechnology tax credit to encourage these emerging technology companies to relocate to New York City or to expand their operations.

Under the bill, (Intro 1065), small firms with less than 110 employees would be eligible to receive a break of up to $250,000 annually against the city's corporate or unincorporated business tax. The credit could go towards purchasing or renting equipment for research or for other research expenses.

The Comptroller Reality vs. the Chancellor's Reality


Photo (cc) Yume Photo
One of the more controversial aspcts of the comptroller's audit disputes the Department of Education's calculation of high-school graduation rates.

Two new audits of the city's Department of Education by mayoral contender and Comptroller William Thompson help explain some of the changes the New York State Legislature will apparently make in its reauthorization of the state law that gives Mayor Michael Bloomberg control of city schools. Specifically, the audits raise questions about transparency and accountability in the department, two issues that the state Assembly bill, approved by a wide margin in mid-June, addresses. (The state Senate bill, which is slated to be taken up on Thursday, has similar provisions.)

Although the Assembly bill left mayoral control of the city's school system largely intact, it increases transparency and accountability at the education department by expanding the comptroller's oversight and audit powers. The comptroller's oversight powers of the Department of Education have not been as strong as those covering other city agencies.

The bill also gives the Independent Budget Office new powers and resources to expand its analyses of the education department's budgets and performance measures. This should make for more transparent budgeting at the department and provide a useful supplement to the mayor's management report.

These new responsibilities will provide some sunlight to counter the strong control over the schools that the mayor and his chancellor will continue to have.

Calculating Graduation Rates

The need for more sunlight, transparency and accountability at the education department is illustrated by the two audits, one on the calculation of high school graduation rates and the other on the administration of state standardized testing in elementary schools.

Each audit documents management problems at the department, acknowledges the department's often-hostile objections to audit findings and finally dismisses those objections.

Whatever their merits, the audits have been caught up in politics. Mayor Michael Bloomberg uses improvements in graduation rates and school test scores as evidence that mayoral control of the schools has been a success. But Bloomberg's mayoral control experiment will no doubt be a topic of debate in the fall mayoral campaign, where his opponent will most likely be the comptroller.

The percentage of students who graduate high school in four years, according to the administration's count, has increased to 56.4 percent in 2008 from 52.8 percent in 2007 and 46.5 percent in 2005, excluding August graduates. Including August graduates, according to the Department of Education, that number rises to 60.7 percent in 2008. So it is no surprise that the comptroller's criticism of the calculation of those rates touched a nerve at the Department of Education.

The audit's central finding is that the department "needs to institute stronger controls to ensure that official records corroborate the classification of students as graduates."

In a 38-page response to the audit, the executive director of Department of Education's research and policy support group calls "attention to two peculiarities in the comptroller's report." First, according to the response, the comptroller downplayed his own auditor's favorable findings. Indeed, the auditors, after much searching, found reasonable evidence that 195 of the 197 high school graduates in their sample had satisfied graduation requirements.

The second, the response states, "is the comptroller's strained efforts -- based on a clear misunderstanding of the requirements governing the storage of records -- to cast shadows on the hard work and achievements of the students, teachers, counselors and administrators in New York City high schools."

That's the polite part. The rest of the 38-page response slams the auditors for expanding the scope of the original audit plan, for not doing their homework, for not asking department officials for help, for rushing those officials to respond, and for ignoring the final confirmation of a 99 percent accuracy rate.

Subject matter aside, this offers a rare look at the conflicting views of reality as the final report lists the auditor's findings, prints the Department of Education's often heated responses, and then reaffirms the auditor's original findings.

To take one example, the education department argues that the auditors ignore their own confirmation of the accuracy of the department's calculations and focus "almost exclusively on minor quibbles about aspects of schools' use of a new automated tracking system… and raising unwarranted, unfair suspicions regarding school conduct, based on cursory and incomplete inquiry."

The auditors kick back at the phrase "minor quibbles," arguing, "Permanent records that do not reflect the graduation status of students, students receiving multiple credits for the same major courses, and inadequate grade change controls are indications that the controls over students' permanent records need to be strengthened."

Because high school principals are increasingly judged by their schools' graduation rates, the auditors say there should be a centralized, monitored system. Yet use of the "automated tracking system," a centralized computer program for high school transcripts introduced in 2003, remains optional for individual schools.

In any case, in its final response the auditors find the DOE "arguments refuting the findings we identified in this audit to be unsupported and without merit. Accordingly, we stand by our findings."

Giving Standardized Tests

The second audit, released the next day, focused on how the department administers state math and English tests in grades 3, 4 and 5. The audit findings are generally positive: The Department of Education has established "adequate internal controls" and "procedures for the administration [of the test]," including memoranda to staff and staff training. Auditor reviews of department materials and sample observations on the day of the tests "did not reveal any instances of cheating."

The auditors did find, however, some "significant weaknesses" in administering the exams that the education department should address to ensure that cheating does not occur. The audit recommended the department provide additional oversight of testing monitors and look more closely at data that might reveal suspect patterns among school results. "DOE lacks sufficient preventive and detective controls [such as erasure analysis] aimed at deterring inappropriate manipulation of test scores," the auditors wrote.

The 58-page response, from the education department's chief accountability officer, much like the response to the graduation report noted above, does not give not an inch. That response says comptroller's report "ignores his auditors' entirely positive findings about the integrity of the tests and their results and makes a series of trivial debater's points, replete with clear mistakes and loud demands for changes DOE already made months ago. … One can only wonder why the comptroller would go to such lengths to find fault where clearly none exists." The auditors, in response, again stand by their findings.

The two education department responses are not unique. City Limits Weekly recently published

an overview of Comptroller William Thompson's seven and a half year tenure, during which time he has issued 650 audits by 150 auditors. The article notes that several of the audits "lodged major criticisms of the administration's performance, called for significant changes in how the city did business and spurred strong reactions from Bloomberg appointees."

Transparency and Accountability

The June Assembly bill enhances the power of the city comptroller. The office will now review and register education department contracts, franchises and concessions -- as it now does for all other agencies. (The education department has avoided this by claiming at times to be a state rather than city-monitored agency.) The comptroller will be given the authority to do operational and programmatic audits in addition to financial audits "to the same extent that such comptroller has such authority for agencies of the city of New York."

The Independent Budget Office would be authorized to look at, among other things, graduate and drop-out data, enrollment projections, class size, service delivery, and Title I (federal) funding. In a November 2008 study of the costs of the new schools accountability office, the budget office complained about how hard it was to get relevant data. Now that office would be is "authorized to provide analysis and issue public reports regarding financial and educational matters of the city district, to enhance official and public understanding."

The legislation funds the Independent Budget Office's new work by requiring the city to add an amount equivalent to 2.5 percent of the budget of the mayor's Office of Management and Budget to the independent office's budget. (The city charter now requires the Independent Budget Office's annual funding to be 10 percent of the amount allocated to the Office of Management and Budget budget).

Overall, the Assembly bill does little to limit the mayor's political and administrative control of the schools. Although the bill adds parents to the city's Panel on Educational Policy and more access and a greater voice for parents and other members of the school community, the mayor retains the power to pick the majority of board members, thus maintaining policy as well as administrative control. However limited the changes, though, the expanded roles for the city comptroller and the Independent Budget Office will perhaps give the public a better sense of whether the recent comptroller audits have uncovered real management problems or are simply quibbles.

A Fractured Senate Takes on Mayoral Control of Schools


Photo (cc) Rubenstein
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein at an October event for Fund for Public Schools

"It was never about power, it was about empowerment," said Sen. Pedro Espada Jr., on Thursday, having just switched back to the Democratic caucus to end a month-long power struggle between Democrats and Republicans in the state Senate. Democrats now have to deal with Espada in a position of power and also with the threat that any Democrat could follow in Espada's footsteps and break with party ranks whenever it serves them.

According to sources, had things gone just a little bit differently last week, Espada and his fellow "amigos," Sens. Carl Kruger, Ruben Diaz Sr. and Hiram Monserrate, could have been standing by the sides of the Republicans on Thursday.

A Democratic conference that was once led in a moderate way by Sen. Malcolm Smith, will now see its fate determined by its most extreme members. Some Democrats were devastated that their efforts to reach a power-sharing agreement with Republicans collapsed at the last minute. But now the Democrats find themselves part of a party ruled by the whims of Espada and his amigos, who on many issues tend to be more conservative than other Democratic members.

The splintering of the Democrats means bills with even a whiff of controversy could fail. Any progressive agenda Senate leaders had hoped to pass will now likely be stymied. Gay marriage is doomed this year, as is tougher rent regulation. But there is one contentious issue that Democrats have decided not to simply ignore: the governance of New York City schools.

Divided Democrats

With every passing hour it becomes clearer that the newly reshaped Democratic leadership structure will have to allow for more debate and dissension among its members. Individual senators have been empowered to speak out, bolt their caucus and, as Diaz demonstrated in the wee hours of Friday morning, vote against the wishes of their leadership.

Diaz voted with Republicans against a bill that would have approved mandatory surcharges for traffic offenses in Suffolk and Nassau counties. He later revealed that his vote was an attempt to get Republicans to oppose a half-percent sales tax increase for New York City that was backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council. Diaz openly begged Republicans to join him. "Show me that you are my friends. Show me that I can work with you when we need each other," he said. The sales tax increase passed, but the message was sent: The amigos, and now likely other disenfranchised Democrats, have no master.

As a result, controversial legislation is not likely to come to a vote for some time. Gov. David Paterson has said he will not force a vote on gay marriage. Diaz vehemently opposes the measure.

Rent control legislation, including a measure that would have done away with vacancy decontrol, is now unlikely to see the light of day, because Espada opposes it.

During the Democrats’ Thursday press conference, reporters asked Espada about those measures. Espada answered that the Senate eventually would enact reforms that would allow members to bring legislation to a vote as long as they have enough support to pass the bill. (As things currently stand, the majority leader has all the power to determine which bills come to a vote.) But those changes have yet to be instituted, and it is still unclear if or when they will be.

Amending Education

Against a backdrop of confusion and some rancor, Democrats are expected to bring the Assembly's school governance bill to a vote when they return to session on Wednesday. The Assembly bill, proposed by Speaker Sheldon Silver in the Assembly and Sen. Frank Padavan in the Senate, essentially extends the current system with minor changes. The mayor supports it. In the Senate, some Democrats are expected to introduce amendments that the sponsors say would "enhance" that bill. Those amendments are designed to increase the public's input.

Three amendments have been introduced -- one by Smith, one by Sens. Martin Dilan and Bill Perkins, and the other by Sen. Shirley Huntley. Smith's and Perkins' bills would fund parental training to the tune of $1.6 million to help them be more involved in the school system. Huntley's bill would not fund training, leaving it instead to the borough presidents.

Perkins has been outspoken in his desire to see mayoral control truly overhauled. "I will do whatever I can to prevent the continuation of mayoral control as it existed," he recently told the Daily News.

Perkins' bill would place a two year term limit on members of the board of education. "Each voting member shall serve a two-year term," reads Perkins bill. Perkins' and Huntley's bills would require one of the mayor's appointments to be a parent of a special education student. Perkins', Huntley's and Smith's amendments would also establish a citywide council of the arts to increase arts education.

Sen. Jose Serrano has pushed for other measures to increase arts education. (To read a commentary on arts education by Serrano, go to "Saving Arts Education from Politics.")

A Divided Class

On school control, "there is a great diversity of thought amongst the members of the conference, to put it mildly," said Serrano, a former City Council member who voted in favor of mayoral control. He says he still stands by that vote would like to see school governance do more for arts education.

Serrano, who said on Monday he was still reviewing the proposed amendments, finds himself in a centrist position on school governance compared to his colleagues. Some Democrats want to leave mayoral control unchanged, while others, like Perkins, "say it has been a total disaster," Serrano said. A few Democrats have said they will do their best to stop the Assembly bill from becoming law.

There is talk that some of the senators who are most opposed to mayoral control want to see measures, such as the one proposed by Perkins, that would put term limits on the members of the educational policy panel and further reduce the mayor's power over school policy.

Austin Shafran, spokesperson for Senate President Malcolm Smith, said that Democratic members are "absolutely entitled to input into the final version of the bill." Shafran said that negotiations over the amendments are ongoing.

If Democrats in the Senate get behind the Assembly bill and then add amendments, it will almost certainly pass the Senate, as it has support from Republicans as well some Democrats. The amendments will face a stiffer test depending on what is negotiated and how Republicans feel about them.

A spokesperson for Padavan, who sponsored the Assembly's school governance bill in the Senate, said that the senator was focused on getting the Assembly bill passed and felt confident that it would succeed.

Even if the amendments pass the Senate, they cannot become law unless the Assembly returns to session and approves them. Assembly Speaker Silver made it very clear last month that he did not want to fiddle with the Assembly bill. If he has consented to the amendments in some sort of deal, they will almost certainly pass.

Shafran said that there had been discussion with the Assembly but declined to comment about what might result. He did say that the Senate is interested in "increasing parental input, which I think is something that we all can get behind."

A Whole New Bill?

For a number of senators, the proposed amendments, which were apparently negotiated with Bloomberg's office, do not go far enough. Some say the new amendments are intended to placate members who wanted to see more drastic changes.

Sen. Kevin Parker, who has sought greater reforms to school control, said on Monday night that a whole new bill is being negotiated. "Amendments might be how we get this done, but at this point I think we are negotiating a new bill," Parker, a frequent critic of Bloomberg, said.

Parker said that things have changed since last week, adding "My sense on mayoral control is that the landscape has dramatically changed because the Democrats retained control of the majority."

According to Parker, negotiations are continuing between Paterson, the Assembly and the Senate with "two points of real contention." The first, he said, is "whether the board on educational policy is an arbitrary board that basically serves as a staff meeting for the mayor or whether it has real input." The second, he said, is "whether the chancellor has the ability to arbitrarily close schools."

As for getting this all done by Wednesday, Parker did not make any promises: "If we can do it by Wednesday that is great but as I said to you about June 30, the deadline is arbitrary. Schooling is not being negatively affected." (June 30 was when mayoral control of schools officially expired.)

On Thursday before senators from both sides entered the Senate, Sen. Liz Krueger was asked about mayoral control. Although she generally supports the Assembly bill, Krueger would prefer to see increased parental input in city schools. But, as senators prepared to vote on legislation together for the first time in a month, she repeated her mantra on mayoral control. Despite the chaos and division that reigns over her party, despite the fact that she was uncomfortable with Espada, Krueger said as she had many times, with only a hint of exasperation, "We'll get it done."

The Mayor's High Stakes Test


Photo adapted from (cc) Super_su by Ya-Hsuan Huang

For the next few days, New York City public school parents can vote in what the city's Department of Education bills as "the first public election in the U.S. to be held entirely online." By going to powertotheparents.org, parents can vote for members of community and citywide education councils, or more accurately, can advise their parent associations on who to choose for these posts. "Together let's improve our schools and make history," a public service announcement cheers.

Although the city has said at least 10,000 parents have voted, other signs point to a lack of interest. The city extended the voting deadline for a week to April 29. Of the 33 Community Education Councils, seven do not have enough candidates to fill all their seats, according to a report on WNYC, and only five parents showed up at a recent candidates' forum in the Bronx. One council member, Petra Peleon, likened serving on one to "being a bell that's ringing and no one's really responding."

The Community Education Councils represent the current incarnation of New York City's once powerful community school boards. Mayoral control of school, enacted by the state government in 2002, stripped them of their authority. Depending on who you believe, this has either created an efficient, accountable school system that has boosted student achievement or disenfranchised parents while doing little to truly educate New York City's more than 1 million public school students.

The Community Education Councils lie at the heart of the battle over how to run the nation's largest school system. With the law that gave control to the mayor set to expire at the end of June, the battle over school governance has now moved to Albany. After months of hearings and hundreds of pages of reports, the debate now moves into its final stages.

THE STAKES

The showdown over how New York should run its education system has elicited an almost unprecedented level of involvement, discussion and concern. Hearings and forums have been held throughout the five boroughs by politicians and advocacy groups. A range of organizations have issued their recommendations, many in the form of comprehensive reports. Lobbying has started in Albany with activists and city employees trying to shape the legislature's decision.

On the surface, the issues seem stark. The legislature must either renew the law or else stand by as the current legislation "sunsets" and the schools revert to the "old system," with a central Board of Education running the schools and appointing the chancellor.

In fact, the choices confronting the legislature stack up as far more nuanced. Although the system could go back to the era of 110 Livingston Street if the legislature does not act, no one expects that to happen because, whatever people think of the current system, virtually no one likes the old one.

Most -- though not all -- of the people weighing in on the issue support some form of mayoral control. So the issue becomes not whether one eliminates the current system but how much one changes it, if at all. The mayor and his staunchest supporters say not at all.

"Full control, matched with complete accountability -- must continue," said the Daily News, one of the mayor's most avid backers on this issue. "Calls to weaken a mayor's grip on the schools -- not just the hold of this mayor, but of any mayor -- must be rejected."

While an increasing number of American cities have moved toward some kind of mayoral control, New York and the District of Columbia offer the system in its most unadulterated form, with the fewest controls on the mayor and his appointed chancellor.

"No mayor has exercised such unlimited power over the public schools as Mr. Bloomberg," Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at NYU, former assistant secretary of education and frequent critic of Bloomberg, has written.

In the eyes of some critics, this is simply going too far. "We still think there are reasons to keep mayoral control," United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said in her introduction to the union's report on school governance. But she continued,"The experience of the last seven years points strongly to a need for a governance system that is more democratic, more accountable and more transparent."

In a similar vein, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said, "I think you need a strong mayor to run the school system, but you do need parents to be able to go" somewhere to be heard.

Learn NY, a coalition seen as a mayoral ally, believes that progress in education is possible "only if the mayor has full authority over the program and budget," according to the group's executive director Peter Hatch. But it too sees "room for improvement."

Many community groups, parents, educators and others say they have been shut out of education in the city. The mayor, they charge, has erased the public from public education. Many of the plans proposed over the past months address this in some way. While some make major changes, others would render mayoral control virtually unrecognizable.

The Parent Commission on School Governance, for example, would make major substantive changes, removing the mayoral majority on the central board.

A report issued last week by State Senate Democrats seems to go even further, calling for sweeping changes including the creation of a new body that would serve as a "check on the chancellor." Among other things, it would "approve or disapprove all budgetary and policy decisions made by the chancellor," as well as union contracts. The Senate plan would also restore the power of the community school districts.

To some critics, such ideas keep mayoral control in name only. Reviewing some of the calls for change, a founder of Learn NY, Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Childrens Zone wrote, "The key to the success of the new system has been holding officials truly accountable. ... New layers of bureaucracy will take us straight back to the bad old days, when corrupt and self-interested bodies answered to no one. We can't have it both ways: Either one person is in charge, or no one is."

So what do people want to change and how do they want to change it?

The Panel on Educational Policy

The law establishing mayoral control replaced the old Board of Education -- the body that appointed the chancellor and made key policy decisions -- with a new body that Bloomberg chose to call the Panel on Educational Policy. From the get-go, Bloomberg, who appoints a majority of the members, made it clear that this group would not have much autonomy.

When he appointed them, he declared, "I do not expect to see their names ever in the press answering a question either on the record or off the record.... I would not tolerate it for 30 seconds." The mayor removed any shred of doubt in 2004 when he arranged the sudden ouster of members who had questioned his plan to use test scores to determine whether children would be promoted.

Describing the panel's meetings, the New York Times recently reported, "The volunteer panelists ... rarely engage in discussions with those who rise to address them. They do not debate the educational issues of the day, but spend most sessions applauding packaged presentations by staff. Some have barely uttered a public word during their tenures."

Not surprisingly, most of the proposals modify the panel to some extent, since, given its current incarnation, it's difficult to figure out why is exists at all (and Washington, D.C. does not have any such board).

According to Steven Sanders, who helped write the mayoral control law as chair of the Assembly Education Committee and now represents the state School Board Association on the issue, the board was not intended as a rubber stamp. "Under the mayor's perspective, his appointees are people who receive their instructions in the morning and vote in the afternoon," Sanders said. But, he continued, "We did not create a board just for the sake of window dressing nor did we expect that the board would be treated by the mayor and the chancellor as just a messenger," he said.

Sanders said the association is looking at a variety of changes but that he would support keeping the mayoral majority on the board. "No one is suggesting he choose people who don't support his general views," he said.

Not everyone agrees. The United Federation of Teachers would end the mayoral majority -- a step that some see as attacking the essence of mayoral control. Instead the board would have 13 members serving a fixed three-year term with five named by the mayor, one by each of the five borough presidents, and one each by the public advocate, city comptroller and City Council speaker.

The Parents Commission on School Governance goes further, calling for a 15-member board, including six parent representatives. The mayor would get to name only three members. The Campaign for Better Schools, another coalition, explicitly calls for the mayor to have a minority on the panel, with the majority selected by "the City Council or other elected officials."

The Commission on School Governance, appointed by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, makes fairly minor changes to the panel, including providing its members with fixed terms (so they cannot be fired if they cross the mayor) and giving the group specific tasks, such as approving budgets, collective bargaining agreements with education department employees and contracts over a certain size. The principals union, while also expanding the panel's power, would add a member appointed by the City Council, which now has little role in the running of the schools.

State Assemblymember James Brennan of Brooklyn is drafting legislation modeled on the system used to select the Boston School Committee. It would establish a 13-member committee -- four of them appointed by the mayor -- that, in turn, would nominate two people each for for eight slots on the educational policy panel. The mayor would have to select appointees from those nominees.

According to Brennan, this preserves the mayor's majority on the panel while opening up the process. "I'm against a dictatorship of the mayor," he said.

Citing similarities between New York and Boston, he added that the Massachusetts city has shown it is "capable of doing as well or better than New York with a more consensus approach" to school governance.

City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. has put forth a similar proposal.

The Chancellor

Under the old system the board appointed the chancellor, who then found himself (they were all men) enmeshed in a power struggle between various factions of the board and the mayor. Chancellors fell victim to disputes over books about gay parents, condom distribution and budget cuts -- and left to seek their fortunes in cities from Miami to Los Angeles.

"The system was marked by complacency and a stream of chancellors who generally ended their short terms as political road kill," David Bloomfield, head of the master's program in education leadership at Brooklyn College, writes in his report on mayoral control.

Mayoral control gave the mayor the power to appoint the chancellor, just like he does at the Police Department, say, or the administrator of Children's Services. If nothing else, this has created stability. Joel Klein has served as chancellor since 2002.

Of course, not everyone sees that as a good thing. Klein had virtually no education experience before heading the city Department of Education. His approval rating has stayed far below that of the mayor, and many see his personality and approach as a major point of contention in Albany. Some have even theorized Klein might find himself sacrificed to save the mayor's robust model of mayoral control.

Most, though not all, proposals, however, continue to give the mayor the power to appoint the chancellor. The parents commission gives the final say to the mayor who would have to select the chancellor from among three candidates named by the reempowered Board of Education.

The principals union, like many of the other groups weighing in, would leave the power with the educational policy panel, but would appoint the chancellor for a four-year term subject to renewal and would only allow educators to hold the post, ruling out Klein.

The teachers union introduces an interesting twist, saying parents and teachers should get to evaluate the chancellor just as Klein and his evaluation teams now assess everyone else.

Power in the Districts

The previous bold experiment in New York City public education came when the city decentralized its schools, largely in response to complaints from black and Hispanic parents who saw the huge centralized system as ignoring the needs of their children. The city was divided into 31 community school districts -- and one for special education -- run by elected boards. Over the years, the boards saw their power eroded, due largely to charges of corruption, mismanagement and apathy in some districts.

The scaled down boards of 2001 had some power, however. They had some budgetary authority, zoned schools within districts and gave parents a place to seek redress.

Mayoral control was intended to preserve some of this authority -- over zoning and siting, for example. Here too, Sanders said, the administration has not complied with the intent of the law. Instead it "sought almost from day one to obliterate the community school districts," he said.

The districts play an essential role, Sanders said. "You need a digestibly sized education district, so parents don't get lost in the system," he said.

The administration first shifted some of the power to 10 "regions" and then, in a midcourse adjustment, placed more power with individual schools.

In response to suits, the city has had to preserve the school districts, but they exist as a shadow of their former selves. Faced with such limited authority, many parents see little point in running for the Community Education Councils, which have replaced the community schools boards.

With charter schools fighting public schools for scarce space, decisions over where to place schools have grown increasingly rancorous. Stripping the local districts of control over this has enraged many parents. Plunging into that issue, the principals union would require the councils approve any charter schools in their districts as well as any school closing, though that could be reversed by the educational policy panel. The teachers union would allow the local councils to set boundaries for schools and to hold hearings over school closings and openings, including charters, but would not give it the power to approve or disapprove such plans.

This is one area that Learn NY sees as needing change. "We think there is room [for giving] parents and communities more input and assistance navigating the system," Hatch said.

To bolster the councils, Stringer has proposed modeling them on the city's community boards. The councils now face an inherent conflict, he said, in that they are run by the agency whose actions they are supposed to monitor. Instead his Unified Parent Engagement Process would switch authority over the councils to the borough presidents. Although they would remain advisory, this would give them some heft. "Community Boards are advisory but by any measure... you have the city worrying about what the community boards think," he said.

Thompson would have the presidents of school parent associations in each district select the members of the councils from among themselves.

As the community school districts have lost power, so have the district superintendents. "A key problem is that district superintendents are not functioning as the critical link between parents and the central administration, leaving parents with no place to turn," Thompson said in recent testimony.

The principals union would provide the superintendents with sufficient staff to provide information to parents and involve parents in the schools. The parents commission would restore the power of the community school district offices. It would also bring high schools -- now administered citywide since Klein essentially eliminated neighborhood high schools -- back to the community level "to provide opportunities for high school parents to provide input to the policies and planning that affect their students."

In the Schools

When Bloomberg and Klein redid their reorganization they gave principals increased power to determine budgets and programs. The city would hold the principals accountable for the success or failure of their schools, the reasoning went, and in return they would have the authority to make decisions affecting their schools.

At the same time, though, some parents have felt cut out of the authority even at the most local of levels. For example, the administration has taken power away from School Leadership Teams, committees with representatives of the school administration, faculty, parents and students. A number of proposals -- including Gotbaum's, the parents commission and the United Federations of Teachers'-- would restore some of their authority. The teachers union would also give parents and teachers more power over the selection of principals and assistant principals, another local authority that Klein has largely curtailed.

Checks and Balance

While Bloomberg tries to present the Department of Education as just another city agency -- albeit by far the richest -- the department, like other New York school systems, is technically a state agency. Bloomberg has been quick to use this dual status to avoid subjecting the department to the scrutiny. This comes up in two key areas: measures of student achievement, such as test scores, graduation rates and students' ability to do advanced work, and department procurement and contracts.

The administration relies heavily on test scores when it cites the achievements of mayoral control. Others question the validity of the tests and the interpretation. Ravitch, for example, largely dismisses the results on the state tests, preferring to look at the federal National Assessment of Education Progress. On that, she has written, "New York City showed almost no academic improvement between 2003, when the mayor’s reforms were introduced, and 2007."

Similar debates surround high school graduation rates. In addition, critics charge the administration has forged ahead with a number of bold initiatives without any solid evidence that they work. This has been the case with small high schools, changes in promotion polices, adjustments to the curriculum and other key programs.

To remedy this, a number of the plans call for increased monitoring. The Gotbaum commission, the City Council Working Group and the Campaign for Better Schools see that task as going to the Independent Budget Office. Thompson calls for the creation of a new office.

The administration's refusal to subject all department contracts to review by the comptroller has raised hackles at City Council. At a recent hearing, department officials said the department's unique structure -- literally hundreds of schools all buying goods and serves -- required it be treated differently than, say, the parks department.

Critics, including Thompson, charge that, free of scrutiny, the department has entered into a large number of no-bid contracts, including a deal with management consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal that the department claims saved the city millions of dollars. Most parents, though, remember it as laying the groundwork for the decisions that resulted in thousands of city school children being stranded at school bus stops in the dead of winter.

In a recent report, Thompson also highlighted rampant cost overruns at the department, figures that the education department promptly disputed.

A variety of the proposals would subject department procurement to greater scrutiny. Thompson and the City Council Working Group would simply treat the education department as another city agency.

Other proposals offer additional mechanisms to watch over the department. The parents commission calls for a new "independent citywide parent association" so parents will develop the skills to be active members of the school leadership teams and play a major role in the selection of heir school administrators. Similarly, the Campaign for Better Schools calls for an "independent publicly funded Center for Parent and Student Service and empowerment... to outreach, train and support parents and students."

The parents commission also devotes a significant portion of its report to improving special education in the city, including having a designated seat for the parent of a special education student on the educational policy panel and expanding the citywide Council on Special Education.

ON TO ALBANY

By any measure, the competing concerns and proposals leave the state legislature with a lot to unravel. Lobbying has begun in earnest. Last Tuesday, for instance, many saw a number of people, including Klein, Gotbaum and members of Gotbaum's commission pressing their cases.

In the Assembly, several bills have been drafted or are about to be addressing specific aspects of the issues. Jeffrey Dinowitz, for example, is putting forth Stringer's community education board plan, while Brennan will draft a bill restructuring the educational policy panel. While Sen. Daniel Squadron is sponsoring Stringer's proposal in the Senate, there seems to be fewer bills in that chamber, at least for now. So far, observers say the education committee, chaired by Suzi Oppenheimer of Westchester, and concerned senators from the city, are trying to come up with a consensus proposal.

This being Albany, one would expect much to be settled behind closed doors -- like what recently happened with the budget. So far the two leaders -- Malcolm Smith in the Senate and Sheldon Silver in the Assembly, both of New York City -- have not publicly responded to the various ideas.

The current law ends on June 30, with the legislature set to adjourn about a week before that. Some think that Silver would prefer this not be the last thing on the legislature's agenda before summer vacation. By any measure, though, time is short.

Sanders does not think the legislature will try to "re-create the wheel" but instead "will try to improve upon the law written in 2002 and 2003." He says four things could happen:

--The law would not be renewed, unlikely because virtually no one wants this to happen;

--An extension of the current law as is. Sanders also sees this as unlikely;

--Extension of the law for a year, leaving the legislature to confront this all again in 2010. While some legislators might like this -- for one it takes the debate out of a mayoral election law -- do they really want to be tangled in this in a year when all of them, along with the governor, face the voters?

--Significant changes occur.

Over the next two months, "Hopefully the majority party in the Assembly will forge a consensus and try to work with the governor, the Senate and all the stakeholders," Brennan said.

The seemingly endless controversy over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority could give one pause. But Brennan sees this as quite different. "The is about policy inside New York City," he said, and does not involve taxation or "divisive regional issues."

BEYOND GOVERNANCE

The popular wisdom in education these days -- from the Obama administration on down -- holds that, while mayoral control does not guarantee improvement, it is at least a prerequisite for it.

"A lot of the gain we have seen... can be attributed to having one person in charge," said Hatch of Learn NY.

But some question whether it really makes a difference. The parents commission sounds a skeptical note. "In the past 40 years, the structure of the school system has ranged among varying form of centralization and decentralization, with chancellors who were educators and those that were not," its report says. "Yet by every measure ... little has changed for the majority of students who are primarily low-income children of color."

Learning Another Language


President Barack Obama has admitted he feels chagrined that he can't speak another language.

"It's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beaucoup, right?" Obama said at a town hall meeting last July.

While campaigning for president, Obama said he thought all American students should learn another language. Now that he has taken office, though, his push for foreign language instruction has faded.

"His [Obama's] failure to include language learning in his education policy statement is regrettable," said Bret Lovejoy, executive director of the executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Foreign language education is particularly important in New York City, Lovejoy said, because of the city's role in commerce, finance, culture and entertainment.

Unilingual Nation

Judging from the numbers, foreign language education is hardly a priority in the country as a whole or in New York. One study found only 44 percent of U.S. high school students take a foreign language class. As a result, only 9 percent of Americans -- as opposed to about half of all Europeans -- speak one or more foreign languages. A 2003 report found a continuing decline in enrollments in foreign language classes across the country.

New York State calls for the learning of foreign language for both middle and high school students. They "are required two years of seat-time and one high school [language] credit before the end of ninth grade," John Carlino, executive director of New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers, said in an email message. This means middle school students must take two years of the language -- accounting for at least one high school language credit -- before the end of ninth grade.

Learning a foreign language, however, is not a prerequisite for a standard Regents high school diploma in New York State, although students who want to earn an Advanced Regents Diploma are supposed to take one Regents examination in a language other than English.

In 2003, Carlino told the New York Post, "Middle schools are hardly complying with state requirements. They are focused more on preparing students for statewide-exam subjects than teaching them foreign languages."

At the high school-level, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), French, German, Greek (Classic and Modern), Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, Yiddish are offered somewhere in the school system, and after a decline in the teaching of Latin, reports cite a renewed interest in that language.

While the city's public schools as a whole offer an array of language choices, options at individual schools are far more limited. Last year, based on a survey of the city's high school directory, City Limits found that more than 180 city high schools only offer Spanish (in addition to English). This presents a quandary for tens of thousands of high school students who already speak Spanish fluently.

This situation exists throughout the country. Partly as a result of the limited language offerings in American schools, "only 44 percent of students study any foreign language and ... 70 percent of those learn [only] Spanish," said Barry Lowenkron, then an assistant U.S. secretary of state, in 2006.

The issue of foreign language instruction is different from bilingual education, through which most subjects are taught using two different languages. While bilingual education started as a way to teach English, an increasing number of programs include both English speakers and English language learners. The English speakers learn a foreign language, and the foreign language speakers improve their English language skills. According to a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Education, such programs "may begin as early as kindergarten, and the number of these programs has expanded from 52 in 2004-05 to 81 programs in 2008-09."

Popular Languages

Some of the impetus for foreign language education in New York City schools comes from ethnic groups who want to ensure their language plays a role in the city's education. Italian American leaders, for example, have promoted the use of Italian and in July 2008, established the Italian Language Foundation. Schools serving large Russian communities, such as Edward R. Murrow in Brooklyn, are more likely to offer Russian classes. The handful of city schools teaching Arabic tend to have substantial numbers of Arab students.

This trend has been fueled by the city's charter schools, schools that are publicly funded but privately run. Next fall, for example, a charter school offering Hebrew instruction, will open in the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn. The city already has a charter school providing classes in Greek.

Besides the support for specific languages by community leaders, government policies also play a crucial role in determining language priorities. The Bush administration focused on security-related language learning after Sept. 11, 2001, and expanded programs for teaching Arabic, Urdu and Farsi. In 2007, $8.7 million were given out in grants to school districts in 20 states, including New York, for foreign language instruction in Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi and Farsi.

Competing Demands

Whatever the interest in foreign language education, obstacles exist to making it a more integral part of the school program.

One is a shortage of certified teachers, particularly in languages less frequently taught than French and Spanish. In order to be accredited, a language teacher has to have a total of 30 college credits in the language they will teach. Fluency is not enough.

Preference for specific languages widens the gap between the need and the availability of teachers in those languages as is seen in the case of Chinese. In recent years, the demand for Chinese language teachers has surged because "the number of Chinese programs, in preschool through high school, has grown by almost 200 percent since 2004," the Asia Society has reported.

Foreign languages also have been affected by other city educational priorities. For instance, the Department of Education has replaced many large schools with small ones that, because of their size, cannot present the range of course offering the huge schools did.

And, particularly at the middle-school level, as schools increasingly focus on English and math, they have less time for other classes. "There are only eight periods in the day," Barry Johnson, a bilingual social studies teacher, at IS 302 in Cypress Hills told City Limits. His school used to teach French, Italian and Russian, as well as Spanish. Today, he said, it offers no foreign language classes at all.

Then there are budget cuts. Language education might bear some of the burden of repeated, multimillion-dollar reductions. Carlino, for one, hopes not.

"Cuts to any aspect of education that would impact future generations' ability to make a life for themselves in the world would be short-sighted," said Carlino of the language teachers' association. "This could be detrimental to our nation's security."

New Debates Over Church, State, School and Charters


Graphic by Gotham Gazette, Photo (cc) idolector

Students at St. Catherine of Sienna School "worship and pray together in class as well as at weekly prayer services and liturgies," according to the school's description. The school, "guided by the teachings of Jesus, is dedicated to the development of spirituality, community and scholarship."

St. Catherine's building in St. Albans, Queens, may or may not open doors to students next September. But, if it does, its students almost certainly will not worship in class, and its teachers will not be able to help their students' develop spiritually guided by Jesus' teachings -- at least not overtly.

If the building that houses St. Catherine of Sienna serves as school next year, it will almost certainly be a charter school, funded and overseen by the city and state but privately run. Under a proposal made by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, St. Catherine's -- or some of the other threatened schools -- would not be operated by the Brooklyn diocese, religious art and symbols would be removed, and many of the teachers might be gone as well. Whether that would satisfy critics fearing a blurring of the line between secular and religious education remains to be seen.

The plan for the Brooklyn and Queens schools came as the state Board of Regents approved a Hebrew language charter school in Brooklyn and follows a heated controversy over an Arab language public school.

With an increasing number of charters and some small conventional public schools focusing on one ethnic group and the Supreme Court allowing the spending of more public money for religious education, some see a dangerous erosion of the separation of church and state in education. Others counter that state support for an array of options and services only serves to provide more children with a good education -- something people on all sides of America's religious battles should support.

A Religious Education

The proposal to save the Brooklyn schools came after the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens, announced in February that it would likely close 11 schools, including St. Catherine of Sienna, at the end of this school year and reorganize others. The plan, a response to declining enrollments and increasing costs, marked the latest chapter in the decline of New York City's once thriving Catholic schools. In seven years, the New York Times calculated, the diocese will have closed 40 percent of its grade schools. It has seen enrollment drop by 20,000 to about 35,000 since 1998. The Archdiocese of New York, which includes Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, as well as some areas outside the city, has closed 15 schools in two years and could shut more.

The closings have taken on the air of ritual, with parents, some in tears, mourning the shutting of schools where they sent their children. This time, though, there was a difference. Less than two weeks after the diocese's announcement, Bloomberg proposed converting four of the schools, unspecified as of now, to charter schools. The city has been a major booster of charters, but this marked the first time it proposed taking an existing private school and making it a charter.

Appearing with Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Bloomberg couched his plan partly as a way to keep thousands of new students from pouring into already crowded public schools. "Many if not most of the students would be likely to seek admission in Brooklyn and Queens public schools that are already at or near capacity, which gives us all a shared interest in finding innovative ways to keep these school doors open," he said.

For the diocese the plan offered hope. Bloomberg "is throwing out a life preserver and I'm going to grab it," DiMarizo said at a news conference at City Hall.

But Bloomberg's proposal immediately raised questions about whether the city would be channeling public money to religious education. The city has repeatedly denied this, saying that in their new role as charters, the schools would have to shed their religious identity.

"Serious concerns are raised when the government tries to paint over the religious facade and import an entire school into the public school system and say it's not a religious school," Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union said.

"My view," said James Merriman, chief executive officer of the New York City Charter School Center, "is as long as the school are truly inclusive, and are high quality and offering options for communities, then we would welcome then."

Charter Law and the Constitution

The state's charter school law proscribes religious instruction or religious groups running schools. But that would not prevent the schools from keeping many elements of their old approach -- discipline, uniforms, a traditional academic curriculum, teaching of ethics and values (though not from a religious perspective) and so on.

Other parts of the state law could prove more problematic. For example, the law bars the conversion of any existing private schools -- including religious schools -- into charters. While Bloomberg said that all students now enrolled in the Catholic schools would be guaranteed admission to the new charters, the law mandates that all admission to charters be by lottery -- meaning no one can be assured of a slot. The law calls for 70 percent of all teachers at charters to be certified -- a requirement many Catholic schools do not meet.

Faced with such hurdles, some observers thought the mayor would have to ask the state legislature to change the charter school law or give these schools some kind of waiver. Lieberman, for one, said she did not think Bloomberg could engineer the conversion of the schools without the legislature's approval. In light of everything else on the legislature's plate, including mayoral control of schools, prospects for quick action seemed remote.

"This is going to raise a whole myriad of philosophical and practical questions about how public education is supposed to be provided, and I don't think they're easily resolved. It's a thicket," Steven Sanders, former chair of the Assembly education committee, told the Times.

To get around that thicket, the administration now is considering whether it can get the schools approved as charters under the existing law.

Explaining how such reasoning might go, Merriman said, "The charter school law clearly prohibits a conversion of an existing private school to a public charter school. But what is not at all clear is what constitutes a 'conversion.'" The State Board of Regents, which rules on charters, would have to look at an array of factors including, Merriman said, "whether the board of the school and the staff are substantially the same, whether the private school would transfer a substantial amount of its assets to the charter school and, finally, whether the charter school would occupy the same site.

"Depending on how those factors play out and how they are weighed, it's entirely possible that what the diocese is seeking to accomplish could be accomplished without having to change the charter law," he said.

Melody Meyer, a spokesperson for the city Department of Education confirmed that possibilities exist "to convert the school without a change in law." While the administration has not made a final decision on how to proceed, she said, "We're looking for the route that is the simplest, that would allow for the schools to remain open without a gap."

This could work in a number of ways. The schools could officially close in June and then reopen. Some staff might have to leave or there could be come kind of interim or alternative certification similar to what's done by Teach for America or the Teaching Fellows program. While the schools would have to be open to all students, the number of applicants might be small enough to all but ensure everyone a seat. After all, as Merriman noted, one reason the diocese is closing many of these schools is that they are vastly under-enrolled. New organizations could be set up, perhaps including individuals who work for the church but also parents, community members, alumni and others, to serve as the chartering organization and so on.

Amid any such maneuvering though, Meyer said, one thing will remain firm. "We are not," she said, "looking to change separation of church and state in charter schools."

Few Options for Catholic Schools

Much of this presents challenges for the church as well. The religious element of the education will be lost. The new schools will have a "profoundly" different culture than those they replaced, Merriman said.

Seven Catholic schools in Washington, D.C. became charters this year -- the largest such switch in the country. While enrollment has increased and the schools by many measures have thrived, "many veterans of the old schools say there is a noticeable emptiness in classrooms and hallways," Javier Hernandez wrote in the Times. "Students miss the moments they came together for prayer, they say, and teachers wish they could sometimes get a little guidance from the Bible."

In helping former parochial schools become charters, some critics say, the church could be contributing to the demise of religious education. While a multitude of things -- including demographic shifts and a rapid decline in nuns available to teach -- have contributed to the woes of parochial schools, most experts agree charters have not helped. Many parents, looking for a fairly traditional education for their children have found it in charter schools, which unlike parochial schools are free.

"The problem," Paul Moses wrote on Commonweal's blog, "is that this may hasten the demise of even more urban Catholic schools. And ... the charter schools are far from a proven success. One of the great strengths of the Catholic school system is that it has resisted the fads that sweep through public education. And if it should turn out a few years down the line that charter schools were just one more false hope, what will the alternative be if the Catholic schools have closed?"

Sol Stern, a senior scholar at the Manhattan Institute, who has praised Catholic schools for their work in urban neighborhoods, said the diocese has no choice. Converting the schools to charters is "the only strategy. It's a desperate strategy, not something that makes me happy," he said, adding, "It's a further indication that Catholic schools are in extremis. ... This is the finger in the dike."

Like Moses, he sees the demise of the schools -- or even their conversion -- as a loss. "Catholic schools at their heyday provided a spiritual dimension, a spirit of community, a higher purpose" along with solid curriculum "that enabled them to do a great job," he said.

Other Religions, Other Schools

The former Catholic schools would join other charter schools and some conventional public schools that seem to cater primarily to a single religious or ethnic group. The city has more than 60 dual-language schools, the vast majority offering instruction in both English and Spanish, with many located in largely Latino communities. By one count, in 2007, the city had 11 "culturally themed charter schools."

One, the Hellenic Classical Charter School, pledges to "supplement all instruction with the classical study of the Greek and Latin languages [and]... will utilize didactic instruction, coaching and Socratic questioning." Despite some questions abut the school's relationship with a nearby Greek Orthodox Church -- teachers refer to the church's priest as the school "spiritual leader," Elizabeth Green reported in 2007 --the school has attracted little controversy and reportedly has a diverse student body.

Not surprisingly schools appearing to cater to Jews and Arabs have raised more questions, with people wondering whether they are madrassas or yeshivas masquerading as schools of language, history and culture.

A proposal to create a new small public school -- not a charter -- focusing on Arab culture and language sparked virulent protests in2007. The now defunct New York Sun mounted a full press attack on the concept of the school with one of its writers going so far as to say, “How delighted Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda must have been to hear the news — that New York City, the site of the worst terrorist attack in our history, is bowing down in homage to accommodate and perhaps groom future radicals."

Eventually the Khalil Gibran Academy opened, but not before its founder and principal was forced to "resign." The school, now in its second year, has continued to have difficulties, according to a recent account by Seth Wussler in Colorlines. "This past September, many of the original sixth-grade students had not returned as seventh graders. The school has cut back on Arabic language instruction, is no longer set to become a high school and has moved twice in its first year of operation," Wussler wrote. School officials reportedly have been so afraid that the school -- named for a Lebanese-American Christian writer -- could be seen as Islamic that it removes pictures of mosques from its textbooks. .

So far, a school -- this one a charter -- with an emphasis on Hebrew language and history has had an easier time. In January, the State Board of Regents approved the creation of the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, the first Hebrew public school in the city. The school, at an as-yet-to-be-determined location in Brooklyn's Community School District 22, would open in the fall and eventually serve 675 students -- of all races and religions, organizers say -- in grades kindergarten through eight.

The school has the backing of Michael Steinhardt's Foundation for Jewish Life, which seeks to "revitalize Jewish identity." It has promised to give the school $500,000 a year, according to NYCity News Service. Steinhardt's daughter Sara Berman, a former columnist for the Sun, has played a key role in planning the school.

Berman has said she hopes the school will have a diverse mix of students studying "Jewish history, secular Israeli life and the history of what it is like for Jews to live all over the world. "In no way, she said, will the school "promote or teach religious devotion."

Skepticism remains however. Saul Cohen, the one member of the Board of Regents who voted against granting the school a charter, expressed doubt about whether many black, Hispanic and Asian students in the area really wanted to learn Hebrew. The charter, Cohen told the Times, is a way of getting a good private school with public funds."

Writing in the Jewish Week, Larry Cohler-Esses and Carolyn Slutsky said that the school may find it hard to draw a line between the religious and the secular. "To explain daily life in Israel to children — even secular daily life — the baguette [from a French lesson] might well become a challah ... for a Shabbat dinner that night, when the family will gather together around the table for kiddush, or blessing over wine, even if they are not religiously observant," they wrote. "The national holiday calendar also requires referring to Jewish religious holidays."

A Nationwide Development?

About 110 of the nation's 4,600 charter schools have a particular cultural theme, according to a Times report. In Minnesota, several charter schools serve largely Muslim populations, with many students the children of recent immigrants. A least one, a suburban school run by an Islamic charity, has come under attack for allegedly teaching religion.

Such a school, said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, may say it is inclusive and accept children of all backgrounds, but, he added, "it still was set up to fill a niche that is religious." (Lynn did say his group looked at Khalil Gibran and "didn't find anything particularly wrong with it.)

While such schools exist, Merriman does not seem them as part of a widespread movement -- at least where charters are concerned. There, he said "the trend still is a wide variety of people making school work in places" where parents wanted more options for their children.

Another person who works on charters, Todd Ziebarth, vice president of policy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said he has "seen an uptick," of Afro-centric and Latino charters and other schools catering to specific groups. The diversity of schools, he said, is good in that it provides "more high quality options for kids."

In Lieberman's view, though, these schools undercut a key mission of American education. While the public school system should seek "to integrate children of all backgrounds into a diverse society," she said, having what she called balkanized schools, "serves to isolate them."

For Lynn, charters pose a particular hazard in this regard because students have to choose to go to them. "The idea of choice can rapidly become what we used to call segregation,'' he said.

Like it or not, such divisions pervade all of education, not just charters, Stern said. "There's different kinds of balkanization in public schools as well," he said, noting that the Department of Education created Khalil Gibran as a public school and that mutliculturalism has eroded the idea that all students learn one unifying curriculum.

Degrees of Separation

Perhaps not surprisingly in city where so many people identify with religions -- and in an avowedly religious nation -- the line separating church and state can be a blurry one even in conventional, diverse public schools and traditional religious ones.

In New York City, the public schools provide transportation services to private and religious schools and serve as the conduit for Federal Title 1 funds for student from poor families to the religious schools, according to Meyer. In general, the courts have approved spending public money on so-called neutral services in religious schools.

But seemingly neutral services like health care can be fraught. A high school nurse, may, for example, feel that his or her job should include telling sexually active teens about birth control -- something that would not be allowed in a Catholic school.

Even renting space from religious institutions can pose problems. The city Department of Education, leases classroom space from the Catholic church, and students at the public schools occupying those properties have to leave their schools for health classes that involve birth control and other sensitive issues. Marc Stern, co-executive director of the American Jewish Congress, has written to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein protesting such arrangements. Beyond certain health topics, Marc Stern said, "Who knows what else teachers have to avoid?"

Help for Religious Schools

Religious schools, their supporters and particularly parents of religious school students -- who pay tuition as well as taxes to support public schools they do not use -- would like the city and state to do more to help them.

Hearing such pleas, the City Council has in the past allocated some of its so-called discretionary funds to religious schools. In 2006, for example, Councilmember Simcha Felder, whose district includes heavily Orthodox Jewish Borough Park, got $1 million for Jewish schools to buy buses. Felder also has wanted the city to provide nurses at religious schools and has been among a group of council members proposing a bill that would have the city provide security to religious schools.

"We want to break though the walls that do not allow private school parents to get a few benefits similar to public school parents," " Felder has said.

Lieberman disagrees. "It's important," she said, "not to perceive government subsidies for textbooks and nurses and other things as other than government subsidies for parochial education."

Last year, then Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed a bill that would grant a $1,000 tax deduction to parents sending their children to private or religious schools. Those supporting the idea, the Sun reported at the time, applauded it as "an important precedent for using state funds to explicitly help families pay for private tuition." Most of those opposing it did so for exactly that reason. The measure failed.

The New York State Catholic Conference continues to advocate for some kind of tax credit, along with providing more services to religious schools. In this time of tight budgets, spending money for this new kind of program could prove a tough sell. Church-state concern would make it even harder.

Few issues, after all, are more volatile in this county than those of church and state, particularly when it comes to our schools and our children. That could be one reason why, if St. Catherine of Sienna is to emerge as a charter school next year, the Department of Education and the Brooklyn diocese would rather not have to get the legislature's permission.

Recession Dims American Dream for Business Students


Photo (cc) snapawayyoungman
An American business degree, despite the slow hiring market, remains popular among international students.

Young Seo Kwon came to New York in the winter of 2008 to enroll in the master's program in accounting at Pace University, hoping to get a job in the city after graduation. A native of Seoul, South Korea, he did not really want to be an accountant but thought it would be relatively easy to get a work visa in the accounting field.

"Companies are always looking for accountants," said Kwon. "And many of them offer visa sponsorship to foreigners. It is sort of a niche market because Asian students are stronger at math. American students are more reluctant to study the boring stuff."

Kwon's aptitude at math, though, might not get him a job in a troubled economy where unemployment continues to rise. According to the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. unemployment rate went from 7.2 percent to 7.6 percent in January 2009, the highest level in the 16 years. The country lost about 598,000 jobs during the same month.

"I applied for many internships for this coming summer but couldn't find any," said Kwon. "I was told later that many companies only hired a few interns this year. Last year some big companies hired more than 100 interns."

Kwon is not alone. New York City continues to attract international students because of its vibrant city life and educational and cultural resources. Many international students study in business schools in New York City in the hopes of getting a job on Wall Street. However, as the financial markets fade, so does the chance for employment for those who planned to rely on an employer's sponsorship to get a work visa.

"Right now it is not a good time to be looking for a job, it is a good time to stay in school," said Huy Nguyen of Vietnam, a first-year MBA student at Baruch College. "Hopefully by the time I get out of school, it will be the beginning of the recovery."

Not everyone is so optimistic. Nguyen's schoolmate, Thida Soe, a finance student from Myanmar who is graduating next year, said, "I think my chances are very slim. I understand they are cutting the quota some more. I am keeping my options open."

Getting the Proper Papers

The faltering economy is not the only obstacle facing international students. In the past several years the U.S. government has made it more difficult for foreign students in business and other fields to stay here after graduating.

To remain in the United States, many foreigners with college educations try to get a work visa, also known as an H-1B. This permit allows U.S. employers to hire foreign nationals in occupations requiring specialized knowledge, such as engineering, law and medicine. In general, the employer has to prove the person has the proper educational background with a minimum of a bachelor's degree. The employer must also pay the prevailing wage.

Getting an H-1B has become increasingly difficult. Since 9/11 American companies have become more reluctant to hire foreigners, both because of nationalistic sentiment and security concerns. In addition, the government has reduced the number of the visas issued annually to 65,000 from 195,000 earlier in the decade. Getting an H-1B now is a matter of fate, since the visas are allocated by lottery. In 2008, the H-1B quota for fiscal year 2009 was reached before the end of the first week in which applications were accepted. The additional 20,000 spots for people with advanced degrees also were taken within a week.

The Troubled Assets Relief Program -- popularly known as the Wall Street and bank bailout -- puts further restrictions on hiring foreign workers.

On Feb. 5, Sens. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, and Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, introduced an amendment barring all TARP recipients from hiring any H-1B workers. "Hiring American workers for limited available jobs should be a top priority for businesses taking taxpayer money through the TARP bailout program," said Grassley in a statement. "With the unemployment rate at 7.6 percent, there is no need for companies to hire foreign guest workers through the H1-B program when there are plenty of qualified Americans looking for jobs."

The version of the bill that President Barack Obama signed is not that strict but it does require that any TARP recipients with more than 15 percent of their workers on H-1B visas comply with a series of strict standards. The employers must have made a good-faith effort to hire U.S. workers first and are not supposed to displace American workers with H-1B visa holders or replace laid-off American workers with foreign workers. The companies that receive money from TARP include many major financial institutions such as AIG, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America.

Stricter Regulations on Practical Training

Some foreign residents get work in the United States under optional practical training or OPT. This permit allows international students who have completed their studies to work for up to 12 months in a job directly related to their schoolwork. The rules for this have gotten stricter as well. A provision announced in April mandates that all students with optional practical training permits find a full-time job within three months. In addition, students have to apply for the program within 60 days of graduation. Those new rules are designed to prevent international students from staying in the U.S. longer by stalling their applications.

Soe, for one, considers the new rules "outrageous." "It is hard enough to find a job," she said. "They are making it even harder for international students. ... We are highly equipped and they are missing out on us."

Internships Wanted

While the government may have made it harder for international students to remain here, the bad state of the job market remains the students' overriding concern. Rain Han, a native of Tianjin, China, will graduate with a master's degree in accounting from Pace University at the end of the year. He has been looking for a job but to no avail.

"There are not that many full-time openings compared to last year," said Han. "Major CPA firms used to come to campus to recruit quite a few positions, but now they just need one or two people."

At least he has an internship paying $17 an hour.

"I have been interning with the auditing department in a telecommunication firm since last July," said Han. "I hope I can use it to my advantage in the job search."

"I have asked my supervisor at the internship if it is possible for me to get an H-1B," added Han. "But they did not give me any clear answer. It is impossible to change the big environment. The only thing I can do is to stay competitive."

Vijay Jadhav, a graduate student at Pace from Maharashtra, India, scheduled to graduate in May, has applied for about 500 positions and internships in the last six months but only received some offers of unpaid internship. "There used to be many internships that would pay $20 an hour," said Jadhav. "Now only a few of them pay $8 to $10 and most of them are unpaid."

Business Schools Still Popular

Despite the current job situation, U.S. business schools remain alluring. The number of foreigners registering to take the GMAT -- the Graduate Management Admission Test required by most U.S. business schools -- jumped almost 19 percent, from 101,756 in 2006-2007 to 120,825 in 2007-2008, a new record, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the test.

A degree from a top American business school is still highly regarded in the face of competition from top international business schools. The most recent ranking of business schools in the London-based Financial Times listed nine U.S. business schools in the top 20.

Coping With the Crunch

To extend their stay here, some students plan to stay in school longer.

"I am playing around with my graduation date," said Kwon. "If the economy is better next year, I will graduate on time. If not, I will delay for one semester."

"I am probably going to delay my graduation to December," said Jadhav. "A lot of people are doing that. We are buying more time. There might be more opportunities in six months."

And if there aren't, most students interviewed have back-up plans if their plan A -- getting a job in the United States --doesn't pan out.

"China's economy is doing OK right now," said Han of Pace. "If I don't get an H-1B here, I will probably move to Shanghai. It is a major financial center just like New York."

"I've grown to like the city so much," said Jabhav. "If I could get a job here, it would also help me pay off my loans faster. But if I don't get anything, I have no option but to go home."

"I would like to work in the U.S. but I would consider Canada, England, or Australia," said Soe. "They have more lax regulations on hiring foreigners." She added she thought that, with an advanced degree, language skills and work experience, she could find a job in those countries.

"The good thing about being an international student is that I don't have to limit myself to the U.S. only," said Nguyen. "I can go back to my home country or other Asian countries. An MBA for me is a degree and education. I want to get it done and move on to the next phase whether it is here or anywhere else."

Larry Tung, a native of Taiwan, teaches media and film courses at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. He is also a documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on immigrant and Asian American issues.

Choosing Sides in the Fight Over Schools


What is New York City's high school graduation rate?

A. The highest it's ever been.
B. 60 percent
C. 52 percent
D. More than 16 percentage points lower than the overall rate for New York State

The answer is all of the above, depending on how one crunches and spins the numbers. To an ordinary New Yorker, all three answers except A look bad. So it should come as no surprise that A is the response Mayor Michael Bloomberg's supporters use on a Web site cultivating support and enthusiasm for the way Bloomberg has run the New York City school system.

Having won the chance to go for a third term, Bloomberg continues to press hard for a renewal of the state law, which in 2002 gave him control over the city's public schools, including the right to appoint the chancellor and reprieves from many checks, balances and oversights.

As the mayor's allies have marshaled his wealth and prestige to press their case, other key players -- teachers, parents, administrators, politicians -- stake out their positions. On Saturday, for example, the union that represents school principals and other administrators released a report calling for significant change in the current system.

At the crux of this -- beyond the power, politics and money -- is the question of how well the nation's largest school system has served its students over the last seven years and what, if any, changes in governance would help the schools do better.

NEW REALITIES

The legislature has until June to act. If it does nothing, mayoral control ends. The city would return to the old system where the Board of Education, appointed by the mayor and the borough presidents, set broad education policies and named a chancellor to run the schools. Individual community school boards made some, more local decisions. Alternatively, the legislature could extend mayoral control as it currently exists -- or tweak it, raising the issue of what changes to make and how extensive those changes might be.

Term Limits

Much has happened since the battle over running the schools began to shape up almost a year ago. Responding to the mayor's exhortation that the city needs him for four more years, the City Council extended term limits from two terms to three, making it very likely that the mayor controlling the schools for four more years would be Bloomberg, not an unknown successor. In the view of supporters of mayoral control, that has plusses and minuses.

"It makes it that much harder to imagine the abstract issue of mayoral control if we're going to be continuing to talk about this particular mayor," Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, which supports mayoral control, has said.

Merryl Tisch, a member of the State Board of Regents, takes a different view. "If it's not Michael with the hand on the rudder, I would say that you're open for a much broader renegotiation of mayoral control," she told the Times. "I think people have confidence in the job that he's done."

The fight over school control, coming just months before the 2009 mayoral election, will become inextricably tied to Bloomberg's re-election campaign. A private group, set up by close Bloomberg allies, has announced plans to raise $20 million for a public relations and lobbying effort aimed at preserving mayoral control. Meanwhile the mayor has indicated he could spend up to $100 million to win re-election -- and some of those millions of dollars in advertising will undoubtedly trumpet his actions on education.

Senate Switch

In Albany, the State Senate, which must approve any extension of mayoral control, seems likely to have a Democratic majority in January. Bloomberg, though now an independent, has seen the Senate Republicans as allies and contributed money to their campaign hold the Senate. Under those circumstances, Democrats may be less likely to line up behind Bloomberg and mayoral control than their Republican counterparts.

The Democrats already have held hearings on mayoral control with an eye toward reaching a position sometime before the vote. Whatever they decide, said Matt Trepasso, policy director for Sen. Martin Malave Dilan, who serves on the group, Senate Democrats are likely to feel more involved in the issue than Republicans because most of the state senators from New York City are Democrats.

"Whether or not we wind up extending mayoral control, it wouldn't matter if it was Bloomberg or not," Trepasso said. "It's not a personal thing."

Meanwhile Assembly Democrats also remain in question. Speaker Sheldon Silver has reportedly said he does not favor a return to the former system, but he has noted "the real concerns of parents regarding the lack of parental input."

Other Democrats in the Assembly have expressed their concerns more bluntly. One, Alan Maisel, a former principal, has said he supports mayoral control, but not "the Stalinist form of mayoral control” we have now.

Gov David Paterson, who would have to approve any bill on mayoral control, has indicated his support for it.

Meanwhile, long-time state education commissioner Richard Mills, whose policies played out in city classrooms regardless of the local governance system, has announced his resignation, and the new Obama administration in Washington could change many other education policies affecting New York City, particularly the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Economic Effects

Then there is the new budget reality. Between the implementation of mayoral control in 2002 and last summer, the school system's operating budget increased by 42 percent to $16.9 billion. Those additional funds may have papered over policy differences.

Now with funding cuts looming, fights will almost certainly arise over what and where to cut, revealing other fissures.. This has already become apparent. Last week the Independent Budget office released a report, which concluded that the education department spent some $135 million last year on programs to assess and rate schools. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein defended the expenditures as "some of the smartest dollars we've spent." But Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who requested the report, said, "I'd rather see cuts in the accountability initiative than cuts in individual school budgets."

 

In a statement, teacher's union president Randi Weingarten acknowledged the changed picture. "Between the budget crisis and the term limits issue, the landscape has certainly shifted The debate over governance, and particularly the issue of checks and balances, is going to be more robust now," she said.

REINING IN THE SYSTEM

While no consensus has been reached, the outlines of the debate have begun to emerge. In general, there is little evidence of support for turning the clock back to the days of the Board of Education.

"I am a realist," said Ernest Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, announcing the union's position at a conference Saturday. "I believe the mayor will continue to have control of public schools."

The mayor does have some supporters, including the Partnership for New York City, a business group, that see any changes to current arrangement as dangerous.

But many fall somewhere in between, calling for an extension of mayoral control but seeking more oversight of the Department of Education, particularly its statistics and its contracts, and more consultation with parents and other political leaders.

The first of many reports expected to weigh in fit this mold. Prepared by a commission of education experts for Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, it came down solidly in favor of mayoral control, concluding that the new arrangement had focused attention on education in New York City, brought in more money and allowed for change.

"Although change is not synonymous with progress, it is a prerequisite for progress," the report said. "The capacity to implement change could be the single most important and measurable advantage of mayoral control when the current arrangement is compared to the one that preceded it."

What kind of changes could be in store?

Checks and Balances

The current structure lets the mayor appoint the chancellor. Although the state created a successor to the Board of Education -- the Panel for Educational Policy -- the mayor appoints a majority of its members and can fire them at will. The board has no real power. The education department's Web site does not even have any agendas or minutes for the council's 2008-2009 meetings.

To try to give the board more clout, both the principals union report and Gotbaum's commission call for fixed terms for the panel members and for assigning them power to approve significant educational policy decisions.

The Public Role

The current system eliminated community school board, which many saw as ineffective and even corrupt. In their stead, the city created Community Education Councils, but these, like the central education panel, have little power, and few parents have much interest in serving on them. Similarly the current administration curtailed the role of individual School Leadership Teams, although they still exist.

In the Senate Democrats' hearings on school governance, "the main thing they heard over and over again without fail, were complaints from parents about their lack of a meaningful role in the schools, said Trepasso, Dilan's policy director. "They feel really pushed out. ... They want to have more input. They want to have more say." The avenues for parent participation now, Trepasso said, are "dead ends."

Both the Gotbaum commission and the principals' report call for strengthening the community councils by giving them a more significant role. The principals, for example, want the councils to have to approve new charter schools in their areas or the closing of local public schools.

Klein has frequently indicated he thinks such changes could dramatically undercut efforts to improve the schools. "All these things that people say 'checks and balances,' are basically fundamentally an effort to impose different policies," he has said. "In the absence of mayoral control, I assure you, you'll have paralysis."

In his speech Saturday, Logan dismissed such concerns. "We have to stop believing that if we have to listen to what other people are saying it will take too long," he said.

Accountability

Joel Klein loves to talk about accountability. His department has the accountability initiative. He speaks of making students accountable for what they learn, of holding teachers accountable for the success or failure of their students and of principals being accountable for what goes on in their buildings.

The principals, perhaps chafing at their own performance reviews, think the chancellor needs a yearly reckoning too -- complete with a public hearing.

Other proposals will likely seek greater oversight of the department. While the mayor likes to say he has control of the schools -- and by all accounts he does -- the Department of Education is not subject to the same kind of scrutiny that dogs other agencies.

Gotbaum's commission, citing testimony by City Comptroller William Thompson, noted the department had more than $100 million in no-bid contracts in 2006, up from $15 million in 2001, before mayor control.

It took the Independent Budget Office months to try to figure out how much money the system spends on its accountability initiative -- essentially compiling progress reports, or report cards, for city schools. The department does not release this kind of line-time data, and budget office officials and aides to Gotbaum say the department was reluctant to repond to their requests for information.

"If the Department of Education is going to be treated more like a mayoral agency, then it should be expected to follow the same procedures as other mayoral agencies," the public advocate's report said.

That, the commission said, would mean oversight by the Independent Budget Office, requiring the department adhere to regular city procurement rules and allowing the city comptroller to audit the department.

A Check on the Numbers

Even more in contention than budget figures are the numbers documenting student performance. To resolve the disputes over which data matters and what it says, many advocates have called for an independent research arm to assess the numbers, similar to the Consortium on Chicago School Research. This may well happen. At a panel discussion at the New School last year, Deputy Schools Chancellor Christopher Cerf, said he personally would like the city to have an office "that would be empowered to review or opine on the numbers."

Last month, a group of academics, educators and business leaders announced the creation of the Research Partnership for New York City Schools to consider the effectiveness of the school changes. Whether its efforts will be widely accepted remains to be seen. Diane Ravitch, the prominent education historian who has emerged as a leading critic of the Bloomberg and Klein policies, has expressed concern over the presence of Klein and teacher's union president Weingarten on the partnership's governing board. "A research institution should not be controlled by the people whose work is being evaluated," she told Education Week. It's raises questions about how independent this group will be."

A CASE STUDY

These arguments about numbers -- test scores, graduation rates, reading levels -- lie at the heart of the debate over whether mayoral control has succeeded. The mayor's supporters cite scores on state tests, which have shown advances in the last five years. His critics cast aspersions on those numbers -- the test has gotten easier, they charge -- and instead point to a national test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP, where the city has not advanced as much.

A look at specific numbers provides evidence of why determining what works and what does not work in education can be so difficult. Take the persistence of the so-called achievement gap, where white and Asian students consistently score better and are more likely to graduate than their black and Latino counterparts. Bloomberg and Klein have cast their effort to change schools here as a civil rights struggle. They announced their first sweeping actions on Martin Luther King's birthday in 2003.

The mayor's school campaign, Klein told the principals Saturday, as he has told so many other groups around the city, is "an effort to make sure that ZIP code, skin color or family income no longer determines what kind of education a child receives."

And the administration points to sign of progress. ""Over the past six years, we've done everything possible to narrow the achievement gap — and we have," Bloomberg told Congress this summer. "In some cases, we've reduced it by half."

In 2002, one report found, the black-white gap on a state fourth-grade math test was 35 percentage points, with 76 percent of white students scoring "proficient" compared to 41 percent of black fourth-graders. By 2008, the gap had narrowed to 18 points as all scores increased: 91 percent of white students scored proficient compared to 73 percent of black students.

On the other hand, under this administration black and Latino students are less likely than they once were to get into elite academic programs. In an effort to insure uniform access to gifted and talented elementary school programs across the city, the Department of Education instituted a standardized test with a uniform cut-off for admission. Of the of the four, five and six years olds who passed the test, the Times reported, more than half are white. Only 18 percent of city public school students are white.

The disparity continues with older students. The Times found last month that the racial gap at the city's elite high school has widened. For example, in 1999, 9 percent of students at Bronx High School of Science were black; now that number has fallen to 4 percent, while the portion of Asian students has increased from 46 percent to 61 percent. At Stuyvesant, 2 percent of students are African-American and 3 percent Hispanic.

"The trend in specialized high school composition sits uncomfortably with the DOE's claim that they are closing the achievement gap ... 'in some cases by half,'" wrote The Eduwonkette.

The disparity seems to extend beyond the most adept students by some measures. According to research compiled by Citizens Union, the sister organization of Gotham Gazette's publisher, New York students overall put the city in the top third on selected urban areas on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. But on the scores of minority students only, the city fell to the bottom third. In addition, Citizens Union found some increases in the gap between 2005 and 2007, particularly on the English assessment.

Even if the gap persists, Klein has said, it may be more important to look at the scores themselves. And those, he has said, have gone up for everyone. "If the way to close the achievement gap is to pull whites down, that's not a strategy that any intelligent person or any responsible school district would ever follow," Klein told the New York Sun last summer .

THE DECISION

Educators and parents know that no single number can tell the story of a whole class, let alone an entire school system as large and diverse as New York City's. Even if the scores all told a clear picture, other doubts would remain: How much was attributable to mayoral control? What about aspects of education difficult to measure -- joy for learning, creativity, social skills?

Mayor Bloomberg has certainly sold his plan to other mayors and nations. Since New York City instituted mayoral control, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles have followed suit. Australia and England are looking at copying the school report cards. True to form, though, New Yorkers and their elected officials may prove a much tougher sell

 

 

 

 

Schools, Environment Issues in Brownstone District


Democratic Assemblywoman Joan Millman faces Republican challenger Pedro Monge next week.

Millman was recently received a 100 score, which is slightly above average, from the EPL/Environmental Advocates -- an environmental advocacy group. Before joining the Assembly in 1997, Millman was an elementary school teacher and school librarian. She now chairs the Assembly's Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation.

Monge moved to Park Slope in 2002 and is an executive board member and treasurer for the Brooklyn Brownstone Republican Club, a member of the Brooklyn Young Republican Club and Kings County Committee Member for the Republican Party. He is also a member of the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, a community coalition that opposes Atlantic Yards.

On his Website, Monge says he is a small businessperson interested in legislation that will encourage business growth and job development and is also interested in strengthening schools, improving the environment and getting citizens more involved in government.

Millman collected $1,800 in contributions during the period leading up the 32 Day Pre-General filing and had $122,336 on hand. No information for Monge was available.

The 52nd district includes Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, Gowanus, Park Slope and Prospect Heights.

 

Veteran Challenges Former Teacher


Five-term Assemblyman William Colton, running on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines, will face Republican/Conservative challenger Russell Gallo.

Colton, a teacher and lifelong resident of the district, was first elected in 1996. He is the chair of the Legislative Commission on Solid Waste Management and is vice chair of the Majority Conference. He is a lifelong resident of the district.

Gallo was a candidate for City Council in 2005, unsuccessfully challenging Domenic Recchia. At the time, he had served in the Army for more than nine years, including during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was scheduled to receive a degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice during his City Council race.

In the weeks leading up to the 32 Day Pre-General filing report, Colton raised $23,251 and at the end of September, had $33,653 on hand. There was no itemized disclosure information for Gallo.

The 47th district includes Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Bath Beach, Dyker Heights and Midwood.

 



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