2006-03-24 / Community

School Scope

DOE Spins Gold into Straw
By Norman Scott

Department of Education spokesman Keith Kalb said the report "correctly recognizes we have made important progress on lowering class size in grades K through three."

Thus, we get the DOE response to State Comptroller Alan Hevesi's audit of the city's use of state $100 million per year class size reduction funds. Keith, come back to us baby. We know you are a PR flack for the DOE but your spin is getting us dizzy.

In January of 2005, Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters asked for the audit because she found evidence that the city was not using these funds as required by law, which called for the hiring of additional teachers to reduce class size in grades K-3. (If you are involved in education and don't know the work Leonie, a parent activist, has been doing on the class size issue for a number of years, go to her website immediately (DO NOT PASS GO) www.classsizematters.org .) Her email to her vast list, which is read by just about everyone involved in the political/education sphere in NYC, is worth sharing:

"What the auditors found was even more devastating than I had expected. Even with $89 million of state funds, supposed to be used to hire additional teachers to reduce class size, last year the city was able to provide only 20 more classes in grades K-3 than before the program began.

If you do the math, that's $4.5 million per class. Even for DOE standards, that's quite impressive mismanagement."

A year ago the City Council came up with an extra $20 million in city funds that the DOE claimed would allow for 206 more classes in grades K-3.Did they add the extra classes? Nah! Instead the DOE cut the number of classes in these grades by 287.

"If one adds $89 million in state funds to $20 million in city funds, this means taxpayers like you and me spent almost $5.5 million for each extra classroom," said Haimson. "In fact, the audit shows that instead of adding new classes, the city has dramatically reduced the number in these grades over the last four years by almost 900.

If DOE officials had actually provided the number they claimed, class sizes in grades K-3 would now average 19.1, rather than more than 21 students per class."

Sixty-five percent of NYC students in K-3 are still in classes larger than 20, 26% of them are in classes of 25 and above.

Along comes another DOE spinner named Kathleen Grimm to dispute the audit's "methodology and conclusions," calling them overly "quantitative." According to Grimm the DOE is merely allowing for "the holistic judgments of local educational leaders." Holy crap! Eduspeak in spades!

Haimson comments:“It's interesting that on matters relating to bulletin boards and how children are arranged on rugs, the DOE is happy to prescribe to principals and teachers exactly how things should be done; but when it comes to matters such as reducing class size, they say they will leave it entirely up to them - even when it comes to the possible violation of state law."

Space, the final frontier

Of course BloomKlein cry that there is no space to reduce class size and that is why the priority is to build more capacity. Sure! And I just saw another pig fly by.

The audit found that almost $100 million of federal funds are available to hire push-in teachers in overcrowded districts. The DOE spent only $38 million of these dollars for these purposes.

Haimson reports that "even with that $38 million, we have heard from many teachers and parents that no push-in teachers exist, even though DOE memos claim that funds have been allocated in their schools for that purpose.

One school reported using the money to pay for salary of a teacher, who was actually on leave.Auditors also found that in districts in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, there were schools sitting only a few blocks away from each other, one which was overcrowded and with classes of 25 or more, the other which was under capacity and where classes had been reduced to 18 or less.

"The auditors pointed out if the DOE really wanted to reach the state goal of 20 students or fewer per class, they could easily equalize the registers by adjusting the catchment areas of these schools.Yet in response, Grimm wrote that this would be too difficult, since 'The Department must consult with local communities and obtain the approval of the local Community Education Council before any such modification of school attendance zones can be effected.' (My emphasis.)

Did the Grimm reaper actually use the word "consult", a know profanity in the halls of BloomKlein?

She ignores the fact that parents have been so upset at being left out of the process that they boycotted the DOE's lobbying efforts in Albany and went with the UFT instead. According to Haimson "many CECs have vehemently protested the placement of new schools into existing schools in their districts, and their drastic reorganizations, altering their entire makeup and population, and yet their opposition has had no visible effect on DOE's actions."

Where is the press?

"The story written in the NY Times by Elissa Gootman gave the DOE a free pass. Gootman had asked Haimson if she could talk to parents who were dissatisfied with the city's record on class size, and upset that their K-3 children are still in large classes. Haimson supplied her with names and numbers. Not one single parent was quoted. You can find the audit at: http://osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaud its/ 093006/05n3.pdf

The press coverage, by the NY Times especially of the scam artists at the DOE (other than columnists Winerip and Freedman) is shameful. The DOE PR people can spin straw into gold with words but when they funnel money that should be going to reduce class size into their pet projects they are really spinning gold into straw.

Testing and Fudging

Our report two weeks ago regarding the state rubric being heavy towards raising all scores to make the state and city politicians look good struck a nerve and comments of affirmation have been coming in. Again, the education press has ignored the story even though a number of reporters contacted me. They wanted me to give them names. One even said, "What am I supposed to do, hang out at the centers where people are marking exams and wait for them to come out?" Hell yes. Isn't that what reporters are supposed to do?

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