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David Bloomfield is Professor of Educational Leadership, Law, and Policy at the CUNY Grad Center and Brooklyn College. He is the author of "American Public Education Law, 3rd Ed." (Peter Lang, summer 2016) and other works.
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July 18, 2016
How to desegregate New York City’s schools. Now.
This racialized concentration of school poverty creates a persistent achievement gap, and it must stop. Now.
November 25, 2014
How de Blasio is perpetuating Bloomberg’s myth of the failing school
Education professor David Bloomfield: In his renewal plan for struggling schools, Mayor de Blasio has mistakenly fallen for a myth usually promoted by his conservative adversaries: that failure is the fault of individual schools, not the school system.
July 31, 2014
As the city re-thinks school support, partnerships deserve more scrutiny
Education Leadership Professor David Bloomfield calls for more public accountability for the Partnership Support Organizations that help manage schools.
February 19, 2014
Seeing a landlord/tenant dispute in the charter school rent debate
An attorney and education professor says the current debate over whether charter schools in public space should pay rent is a landlord/tenant dispute masquerading as an education policy issue.
August 2, 2013
Big Schools Questions That Need Candidates’ Answers
New York's school system is too complex, our students too diverse, for yes/no answers to our most pressing problems. In electing someone to govern, rather than merely win, mayoral candidates should be made to answer hard questions to earn their place in City Hall.
January 11, 2013
Failing The Stuyvesant Test
Use of the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test as the sole criterion for admission to New York's elite high schools perpetuates a political moment long since past.
February 15, 2012
Increasing The Grad Rate Quickly, Cheaply, And For Real
The State Education Department is thinking about replacing the General Education Diploma test because of its cost, up to $6 million per year, and its 60 percent pass rate, the lowest in the country, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week. One alternative, according to the Journal, might be a computer-based exam of practical skills such as “measuring a room for carpeting, writing a letter to Congress and calculating credit card interest payments.” For high-school aged students especially, such an exam would be a poor substitute for the GED since, obviously, there is more to a high school education than basic skills requiring little more than eighth-grade math and grammar. The effect would be just another way to improperly inflate the number of high school degrees granted, in the same manner that Regents exams have been dumbed down and “credit recovery” programs substitute make-work for actual subject mastery, leaving the impression of college and career readiness without the substance. But a relatively quick, cheap, and instructionally legitimate change to state law could raise graduation rates without lowering standards.
December 5, 2011
Sunday Schools: After “Household of Faith v. Board”
By refusing the church’s latest appeal in Bronx Household of Faith v. New York City Board of Education, 11-386, the United States Supreme Court today gave a final judicial green light to the Department of Education’s controversial ban on renting schools for religious services. While only persuasive nationally, the now-final Second Circuit ruling settles matters for multiple states within this judicial circuit (New York, Vermont, and Connecticut) but only affects those districts that want to start prohibiting services (probably few, but includes New York City). Haven’t we been here before? In 1998, the high court declined review of a similar Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. And, despite these decisions and others along the way, since 2002 Bronx Household of Faith has been holding services in P.S. 15 in the Bronx. The DOE estimates that dozens of churches now rent space for Sunday services, despite courts approving Chancellor’s Regulation D-180, Section 1(Q), prohibiting the practice. Can this really be the end? The DOE says so, releasing a statement from a senior city lawyer within hours of today’s decision that declares “Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012, is the last day that churches and other groups can use the schools for worship.” I am taking that with a grain of salt. This controversy has raged for over a decade and most legal observers thought Bronx Household of Faith had a good chance of winning this latest round. Since the Supreme Court upheld the federal Equal Access Act in Good News Club v. Milford, 533 U.S. 98 (2001), public schools have had to treat secular and religious groups similarly in renting their facilities. As an extracurricular organization, the Good News Club was clearly conducting worship, much as a chess club would pursue its core activity, theorized the court, and, under the First Amendment, schools could not discriminate on the basis of this content. The Second Circuit, which had sided with the district in Good News Club, clearly again fought against the tide in Bronx Household of Faith, arguing that the DOE could still decide against a church’s regular conduct of services on Sundays. Not that the DOE was required to bar the church, but it could if, in its judgment, the arrangement blurred the distinction between church and state:
November 18, 2010
Testing-Gate: The Case for Reparations
Consequences are an essential component of accountability. Recent revelations of inflated state test scores require consequences, not just for those public officials responsible…
June 8, 2010
The State Education Department and the Politics of Distraction
Teacher preparation programs long ago abandoned (if they ever embraced) theory-centric instruction in favor of research-based clinical methods. Further, they have championed a middle way independent of the changeable pedagogical and curriculum priorities promoted by individual districts and funders. While popular practices are often addressed, either unilaterally or in partnership with outside entities, education schools' academic independence protects them from being swamped by political and financial forces driving others. Now comes a pronouncement from the New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department commissioner that higher education will no longer be the sole route to teacher and leadership certification. The Regents, who appoint the commissioner, are themselves appointed by our state legislature, that dysfunctional body more famous for patronage than policy competence. Not surprisingly, then, the Regents have rejected the fundamental role of independent inquiry in professional preparation in favor of faster, cheaper methods based on proprietary ownership. Whether these programs are run by non-profit, for-profit, or school district organizations, their aim will be to brand grads with a particular skill set, antithetical to preparing able, agile, open-minded professionals for long-term teaching effectiveness.
March 29, 2010
A Sad Day for School Closures
We should rejoice when the judiciary checks illegal use of political authority. That's what happened in Mulgrew v. Board of Education, which curtailed plans by the New York City Department of Education to close 19 schools it had identified as failing. The court ruled that the city violated notice and hearing requirements and that the DOE failed to "provide any meaningful information regarding the impacts on the students or the ability of the schools in the affected community to accommodate those students" as required by state law. But the decision should also be greeted with sadness. That the city should so brazenly violate the letter of the law is contemptible. That the identified schools, hobbled by instructional incompetence or supervisory negligence, will continue to maltreat students is equally appalling. Mulgrew will be difficult to overturn on appeal. The decision is squarely based on facts admitted by both parties and established law about Environmental Impact Statements, the direct legal precursor to the new requirement for Educational Impact Statements issued by the DOE to justify school closings. Again and again, the court castigates the DOE for its actions, finding "significant violations of the Education Law."
March 4, 2010
Can the Comptroller End the Space Wars?
The big questions about charter schools are not the real issue in current fights over co-location with traditional public schools. Charter schools with their own buildings are being left alone. Like most wars, the dispute is about territory, not policy. This is not about long-simmering disagreements about charters' instructional strengths, whether they cream more able students, lack of services for English language learners and students with special needs, segregative effects, and other important if wonky questions. This is about real estate. In its zeal to support charters and other small-school alternatives, the Bloomberg administration has opened the doors of neighborhood schools to entities without community roots, an imposition understandably resented by many already housed there. Though Department of Education capacity estimates tend to be wildly inflated and the space needs of current schools undervalued, there might very well be room for two or more coexisting programs in some buildings. But the mayor's and chancellor's heavy-handed actions, treating current occupants like squatters and shunting them aside in favor of preferred institutions, create unnecessary antagonism between students, parents, and administrators. This resonates with the old New York story of class warfare engendered by developers and landlords clearing out tenants. In schools, issues of gentrification, perceived religious school encroachment on public school space, and redrawing of district and attendance boundaries have long set off political fireworks. There were only sparks when the DOE moved regular public schools into these spaces. But with charters, these sparks are fanned into flames because of their association with moneyed interests and managerial profiteering.
January 26, 2010
Our current education policy debates have me depressed. "But there's so much going on! Look at all the intersecting issues we're juggling in New York: school closings, small and charter schools opening or expanding, our Race to the Top application, the Regents proposal expand preparation options, eliminating the charter school cap, another DOE restructuring, teacher merit pay and tenure based on student performance! Isn't this a great time for addressing the BIG ISSUES in education?!" No. Arguably, I feel this way because of deep flaws in most of the above proposals. But it's not mere opposition that drives my ennui.
January 6, 2010
Closing Schools: A Call for Independent Review
To write that I am a fan of closing failing schools is to fall into the same bombastic trap now enmeshing the Bloomberg administration. Before the Mayor took office, I wrote about the need to take forceful action against these educational mediocrities. But the wholesale closing and opening of schools that the Mayor has embarked upon is not the answer. Replacing schools does not necessarily improve education. In the Mayor's hands, it has become a shell game that defers instructional problems until they reappear elsewhere, to be met again with a similar reaction. Meanwhile, the often lengthy period of the schools' decline — until so drastically and unconstructively arrested — has harmed thousands of students. Until now, the Mayor's strategy has been largely immune to public opposition. The Department of Education announced its hit list with little or no prior warning, the better to keep critics at bay. The new school governance statute, however, has created a process for notice and hearings that — while imperfect — will subject this year's target list to formal scrutiny followed by likely approval by the mayor-controlled Panel for Educational Policy. Students, parents, teachers, and their supporters are organizing to reverse the DOE decree.
November 30, 2009
Teacher Tenure Tantrum
The lame duck is acting like a bantam rooster. Mayor Bloomberg's fuss-and-feathers over use of student performance data in teacher tenure decisions is a short-lived diversion, like his presidential run during a previous lame duck period. Legal authority for his position is questionable and of little practical consequence. At best, under current law, he has one year to try to work his will but no principal's tenure decision will change based on this new edict. Weakened by his slim re-election margin, Bloomberg's tantrum is an understandable political strategy to appear politically strong. But our education plight is too important to be distracted by this sideshow. The mayor invokes that portion of New York State Education Law § 3012-b as added by Chapter 57 of the Laws of 2007 which permits principals to make teacher tenure determinations based on "an evaluation of the extent to which the teacher successfully utilized analysis of available student performance data" and the more elastic "assessment of the teacher's performance by the teacher's building administrator." The law was clarified by Chapter 57 of the Laws of 2008 to prohibit use of student test scores to grant or deny tenure. But even if the earlier version is found to permit use of test data for current tenure evaluations, State Education Commissioner's Regulation § 100.2(o)(2)(iii) appears to prevent this use unless included in probationary teachers' "professional performance review plan," a formal document that must be developed "in collaboration with teachers ... selected by the [Chancellor] with the advice of their respective peers." Collective bargaining issues also exist as a change in the terms and conditions of employment. As a result, it is doubtful that the mayor's unilateral analysis has much legal weight. Rather than hastening their exit, the mayor has created a legal loophole for ineffective teachers to remain in classrooms. What the mayor has actually done is to hand every failing teacher, already on the chopping block based on principals' prior determinations, a ready argument that his or her tenure was denied on illegal grounds.
November 18, 2009
At this point in the Mayor’s remaking of our school system, claims of dramatic academic gains seem built on sand. Analyses prepared for Assemblyman James Brennan by legislative aide Shawn Campbell demonstrate that the Bloomberg administration grossly overstates the impact that the reforms have had on New York City’s student achievement. State test scores are tainted by the exams’ designed-in flaws. Progress Reports’ school grades are malleable, rising or falling according to administration convenience. Graduation rates are untethered from college and career readiness. They are the end result of suspect strategies called “credit accumulation” and “knowledge management,” not subject mastery and understanding. But the Mayor has a renewed opportunity to value learning over his well-known data obsession.
November 4, 2009
Our Next Chancellor
With the mayoral election decided, it is time to speculate on Joel Klein’s successor. Yes, even with Mayor Bloomberg’s victory, the current Chancellor will soon be history. This prediction probably assures Klein’s job into the next century (with serially-extended term limits and a hefty mayoral investment in cryogenics, it could happen!) but eight years seems enough for the Chancellor, who has a history of short-term jobs and immediate prospects as an internationally-acclaimed education consultant. Also, believe the rumor that Bloomberg traded the Chancellor’s head for the Legislature’s renewal of Mayoral Control and that a new Chancellor will help Bloomberg counter charges of third-term lethargy. So, probably cursing the chances of anyone listed below (and I deny that intent), who are the likely candidates to become the next Chancellor of the nation’s largest public school system? Paul Vallas: Vallas has headed school systems in Chicago, Philadelphia, and the Louisiana Recovery School District, where he now works.
October 29, 2009
Parent Participation, Partnerships, Politics, and Power
What is the appropriate role for parents in New York City’s public school system? Parents often feel intimidated or marginalized by those in charge of their children’s education. Educators (and many students!) are oppressed by parents’ disinterest and over-interest. Politicians and policymakers, forever straddling the divide, have created myriad structure for parent inclusion, leading to complaints from all sides about pandering and bureaucratization. A major criticism of Mayor Bloomberg’s schools leadership has been his failure to consult parents regarding his education policies or to revise those policies in the wake of parent opposition. According to a recent article in Downtown Express, “Bloomberg said parents need only be involved in the micro issues of their child’s education, like the child’s attendance, behavior and grades.” Beyond that, the Mayor suggested that parents could have “influence through the city councilmembers and mayor they elect.” Comptroller William Thompson released a report last May suggesting his own views on “Parent Influence on Local School Governance.” Notwithstanding the Mayor’s remarks, a broad legally-mandated constellation of parent organizations exists to directly influence decision-making beyond the individual child.
October 15, 2009
Graduation Time Bomb
Mayoral candidates Thompson and Bloomberg have so far avoided the most important failing of New York City’s public schools: Under new state standards, a third of today’s high school graduates will soon be ineligible for diplomas. The so-called Local Diploma, requiring a 55 on Regents exams, is being phased out and only Regents-endorsed diplomas, requiring a score of 65 or better, will be issued to the Class of 2012. The graduation time bomb brings two issues into stark relief. The first, difficult enough to absorb, is that every year over 10,000 more New York City residents will enter the job market (college largely off-limits to them) without even the entry-level requirement accorded by a high school diploma. The second is the diminished meaning of current Regents standards and the political pressure for further decline in order to accommodate this explosion of almost-grads.
September 29, 2009
Special Education: Initiative or Inertia?
Last July, the New York City Department of Education released an in-house memo of recommendations to improve services to students with disabilities. So, in the midst of an election campaign and with little previous administration attention paid to this population, it seems fair to ask, "Hey, Mike! Why special ed? Why now?" Does this new initiative suggest commitment to change or is it a political document meant to convey progress rather than institutional inertia? The DOE memo, if implemented, would improve instruction, graduation, and career possibilities for the city's approximately 130,000 students with IEPs, the "individualized education programs" that federal law mandates for students with disabilities. But DOE commitment to these recommendations is uncertain since the report reads less like a trusted expert's focused analysis and more like an aide's synthesis of progressive positions with an eye to mayoral politics.
September 14, 2009
Another Blow to Civic Discourse: Almontaser v. NYC Board of Education
Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Sidney H. Stein issued a decision in Almontaser v. New York City Board of Education, 07 Civ. 10444, finding that a principal fired for statements leading to a misleading press report was not protected under the First Amendment. The decision and the actions it protects are problematic on grounds of law and policy. First is the misapplication of precedent by the District Court, carried over from an earlier opinion and repeated by a Circuit Court ruling in the same case. Second, and perhaps more seriously, is the extent to which the Bloomberg administration continues to push a policy agenda squelching free expression. Background On August 5, 2007, New York Post reporter Chuck Bennett interviewed Debbie Almontaser, the interim acting principal of the Kahlil Gibran International Academy, a New York City public school which was due to open the following September. KGIA was the focus of intense public scrutiny for its emphasis on Arab language and culture. Also at issue was an allegation that Almontaser had ties to Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media which had created t-shirts stating “Intifada NYC.”
June 10, 2009
Credit Recovery – Joel Klein’s Race to the Bottom
By failing to set standards or even track the use of credit recovery in New York City schools, Chancellor Joel Klein has provided a convenient back door for students to pass courses and graduate without subject mastery. The State Education Department has now capitulated to this agenda by promulgating a draft policy based on unpublicized negotiations with the city Department of Education. If implemented, the policy would do nothing to stem this tide of empty credits but, rather, encourage credit recovery by officially recognizing and regularizing it but with inadequate controls and monitoring. What is credit recovery? The term is sometimes used technically to denote a formal program, such as summer school, with specified content, attendance, and assessment requirements. But the term is widely applied to any effort to help students pass courses that they would otherwise fail because of incomplete or below-standard work. These students substitute the extra work for regular assessments by writing a paper, taking a test, or providing some other evidence of proficiency in a narrow course topic. Under the new state policy, schools would need only create a committee (which would not include the student's teacher) to approve a student's customized credit recovery plan for a course. The same committee would then review evidence of student proficiency once the plan was completed. The State does not require minimum class attendance or proof that the plan addresses all subject matter deficiencies. If a teacher says a book report suffices to show proficiency, the committee would not need to inquire beyond the teacher's word. No record of how many courses a student passed using CR would be maintained. There would be no monitoring of assignments’ rigor or the frequency of CR’s use by teachers, schools, or the system as a whole. What is the problem, though, with giving students a second chance at passing or completing a course by filling in the gaps?
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