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Brooklyn UFT on school governance hearing

March 25, 2009 am31 5:52 am
[I didn’t blog about mayoral control. I thought we should have opposed continuing it (rather than supported it, with modification). I spoke against the United Federation of Teachers proposal at the Exec Board and voted against it at the Exec Board and the Delegate Assembly. That being said, these hearings have pitted the dump it/modify it majority against the paid-for speakers and DoE high level employees. We have a side.
Howard Schoor, the UFT Brooklyn Borough Rep, wrote a report about the hearing, which reached me. I reprint it, unedited, below:]

I am writing this to keep you informed as to what took place at yesterday’s Brooklyn governance hearing, relevant to our ongoing discussions at Adcom. In total, we had approximately 50 people in attendance including full time and part time office staff, retirees, and chapter leaders. I also want to thank Marvin and Briget for their presence and assistance:

In what can only be described as the WWF Smackdown in Brooklyn, the Assembly Education Committee body slammed the DOE presenters in a no holds barred confrontation. Present for the DOE were Chris Cerf, Eric Naldelstern, Jim Leibman, Marcia Lyles, Martine Guerrier, and two other DOE functionaries. Dennis Walcott was their fireman and kept plenty busy trying to put out all the flames. Following Lyles’ 24 page oral reading of DOE’s magnificent accomplishments under mayoral control, the committee blasted away on the following topics:

Graduation rates—Hakim Jeffries wanted to know why Lyles’ presentation of graduation rates did not include statistics on black males and Latinos, especially since the DOE had been made aware that this was to be a focus of the hearing. Lyles’ only response was that she would be “happy” to get the committee that data. When asked about Diane Ravitch’s conclusions that their graduation data is not statistically significant, Lyles’ sidestepped by stating that their numbers showed movement in the right direction. The issue of credit recovery also came up, Lyles maintained it is “no different” from the system that has always been in place.

Test scores—Karim Camara was critical of the comparison of NYC students to those in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers on measures such as NAEP. Jim Brennan followed up by questioning why reading scores from 2002-03 had been used to show gains when those results were actually from the year before mayoral control went into effect?

School report cards- Daniel O’Donnell said the report cards are useless, and that no parents from his district would ever pick a school based upon that grade. Leibman attempted to defend their accuracy, but ended up enraging Mark Weprin to a point where he stated that these hearings are no longer a matter of whether the committee will change the governance structure, but what the changes will be.

Test prep—Weprin also questioned the overemphasis on test prep by giving the example of his 8 year old child being deluged with these activities. Lyles gave another response that “it has always been done”. Leibman tried to convince the committee that in their surveys of parents only a small percentage (11%) feel that there is too much emphasis on test prep.

Leadership Academy—O’Donnell asked Cerf how much it cost, he responded 10 million, or perhaps 11 million dollars, There was also a Q &A on their effectiveness. Cerf indicated the cost was being funded by non-profits but backtracked after being challenged and said next year it will be funded by DOE.

Class size—Cathy Nolan was highly critical of DOE’s encouragement of a two tier system, with 21 -23 kids in the charter school classes vs. 31- 33 in the public school classes.

Children’s First Network—Joan Millman asked our question on CFN; Nadelstern gave the answer we expected, but in so technical a manner that it was incomprehensible to anyone who was not familiar with the topic.

School Closings —The committee was critical of DOE’s taking credit for reducing the number of schools on the SURR list by closing schools, as well as the decision making process about school closings. Their response (which got a big round of boos from the audience) was that they do consult with the community about such decisions.

Parental involvement—Nick Perry put Guerrier on the hot seat over her failure to return his multiple calls regarding a parent in his district with a school problem. (She responded so quickly that she sounded like that fast-talking guy on the commercial that no one can understand.)

Special Ed— The committee also heard testimony from others about the limited number of charter school seats for special ed and ELL. Patricia Connelly testified that even DOE’s own optimistic numbers indicate that 10% of children are not getting mandated speech services, and 30 – 40 % are not getting OT and PT.

No bid contracts– Other unions complained about no-bid contracts. DOE’s response was that it is a low percentage (3%?) of their total contracts.
In my opinion, O’Donnell and Weprin were the most effective questioners. With over a hundred speakers requesting time, the hearing ran almost 10 hours straight through until 8 pm. I was able to give my testimony, the following additional people from the Brooklyn office who had originally planned to speak submitted written statements—Ellen Driesen, Geof Sorkin, and Dolores Lozupone. Several other Chapter Leaders and/or members were present and did get some very brief testimony time near the end– Lisa North, James Eterno, and two of our Chapel Street residents (Philip Nobile, Nick DeMarco).

Perhaps most effective to the day were our visual aids, which those of us in the audience synchronized to the committee’s questions and the DOE’s answers. As you can see from the photo below (check out http://www.gothamschools.org), they were a big hit with the entire audience, and at a few points the assembly members could be seen smiling and nodding their heads in acknowledgement. Special thanks to Garry Sprung and Dorothee Benz for making these signs possible. HS.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. jack permalink
    March 29, 2009 am31 6:41 am 6:41 am

    The truth hurts!

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