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Concerns, criticisms dominate at Contracts for Excellence public hearing

Photo by p_a_h
Photo by p_a_h

Elected officials, teachers, and parents offered up a litany of concerns about the DOE’s proposed Contracts for Excellence — regarding both their content and the process by which they were developed — last night at the final public hearing in Manhattan.

The hearing, chaired by Terence Tolbert, executive director of the DOE’s Department of Intergovernmental Affairs (and soon to direct Obama’s Nevada campaign), was well-attended by representatives from numerous organizations, including ACORN, Class Size Matters, the Coalition for Educational Justice, the Alliance for Quality Education, the City Council, school level PTAs, the UFT, and others.

Legally, Contracts for Excellence funding must “supplement, not supplant” existing spending; several speakers expressed concerns that the money will be spent to close holes in the budget rather than create or expand programs. Others worried that the new funding would be used to make up losses due to budget cuts in low-performing schools, rather than expanding services for high-needs children in those schools. Complicating these issues, several speakers noted, the plan includes little oversight of whether principals spend the Contracts for Excellence money as intended.

A series of speakers addressed the effect of Contracts for Excellence spending on class size reduction, often drawing their points from Leonie Haimson’s “40 reasons why NY state should reject the city’s Contracts for Excellence proposal.” Speakers argued that without oversight and support, schools would not actually reduce class sizes, as was the case in half of schools that received special funds to reduce class size last year; that the collaborative team teaching (CTT) model in special education was not designed to be a class size reduction strategy, as it is being used; and that without alignment between the DOE’s class size and capital plan, it will be impossible for principals to reduce class size when no new classroom space is available.

Several speakers noted that last year, thousands of students who dropped out or were discharged during the year were included in measures of class size reduction at the secondary level. City Council member Rosie Mendez, who represents parts of districts 1 and 2, suggested that class size should be measured early in the school year to avoid this problem

Several speakers pointed out that the plan provides no examples of model programs for English Language Learners, and that few schools chose this funding option, and others mentioned that the Contracts for Excellence funding ought not to be spent on the DOE’s Leadership Academy, which has previously been privately funded and has not been independently evaluated as effective.

The contracts process also received attention. Speakers raised concerns that principals and school leadership teams had too little time to determine how to use the Contracts for Excellence funding when writing their Comprehensive Education Plans this spring. Ilene Feliciano Quinn, a teacher at PS 38, suggested that SLTs should have an opportunity in the fall to review and revise the Contracts for Excellence spending at their schools. Others said while they appreciated the new information released by the DOE before this round of public hearings, it was released far too close to the hearing dates, giving the public too little time to appraise the new plan.

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