Tuesday, July 5, 2011

South Side High School Principal On Arne Duncan's Education Policies

Carol Burris
Carol Burris, South Side High School Principal, On Arne Duncan's Education Policy That Doesn't Trust Teachers
Dear Mr. Duncan: You have never been to my high school, but if you visited, you would be impressed. It is an integrated suburban public high school that meets AYP each year for all groups of children. We are on all of the top 100 lists — U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek and The Washington Post....This June, New York’s teachers and students felt the first effects of rating teachers by student test scores. Across the state we received a clear message along with our Regents exam packets — Albany does not trust the people who educate New York’s students. We will now be ‘scored’ based on our students’ Regents exam scores, and because of these new high stakes the state education department is ‘teacher proofing’ students’ answer sheets.
An open letter to Ed Secretary Arne Duncan
By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Carol Corbett Burris, the principal of South Side High School in New York. She was named the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State.

Dear Mr. Duncan:

You have never been to my high school, but if you visited, you would be impressed. It is an integrated suburban public high school that meets AYP each year for all groups of children. We are on all of the top 100 lists — U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek and The Washington Post. Over 80% of our students graduate having passed the state exam in Algebra 2/Trigonometry and over 60% graduate with AP Calculus under their belt. We do a good job by the students we serve, some of whom have difficult life circumstances. I doubt that you will ever visit — we are not a KIPP or other charter school likely to attract your attention. I think you should know, though, something about the teachers who work with me.

As I walked into my high school the last week of school, I met Thom, arriving early to give one last extra-help session to his physics students. On the previous Saturday, Matt made the trip in to prepare his students for their math exam. He used Saturday because his colleague, Kaitlyn, was coaching some of the same kids for the Global Regents exam after school on Friday. Such generosity on the part of teachers has been part of the school culture for years.

As principal, I am so grateful for the commitment our teachers make to their students. I have seen faculty reach deep into their pockets to help out kids in need, take kids to community college to register, or sit for hours in a hospital emergency room until a parent arrives.

I am certain that you know that there are many educators across this nation who quietly and generously go above and beyond each day for their students. Some work in very difficult circumstances in schools that are overwhelmed by poverty and truly do not have the resources to serve their students well. Others, like me, are lucky enough to work in well-resourced districts with more limited numbers of students who have great need. I know that you would not want to deliberately harm the work that we do.

However, the punitive evaluation policies that New York State has adopted (and that many other states have adopted) due to the Race to the Top competition are doing just that. It is a dangerous gamble that might score political points but it will hinder what you and I and so many others want—better schools for our kids. We already know from research that reforms based on high stakes testing do not improve long-term learning.

This June, New York’s teachers and students felt the first effects of rating teachers by student test scores. Across the state we received a clear message along with our Regents exam packets — Albany does not trust the people who educate New York’s students. We will now be ‘scored’ based on our students’ Regents exam scores, and because of these new high stakes the state education department is ‘teacher proofing’ students’ answer sheets.

Both students and teachers feel the brunt of this distrust. Here are some examples. Students can no longer use pencils on the new scantrons that must be scanned and then sent to a remote location for scoring. Only ink is allowed. If a student’s pen bleeds through the scan sheet, additional complications arise. Because they cannot erase, students need to follow elaborate procedures of circles and Xs to correct their answers if they decide to change them. The rules for corrections nearly brought one nervous student at my school to tears.

On the back of every student scantron, a teacher must now print her name if she is a rater, and then bubble in a code for each question she grades. Imagine writing your name on 300, 400, or even 500 scantrons (depending upon the number of students taking the exam). While the days when students had to write “I must not cheat” 300 times on the blackboard are gone, their teachers now have to do the equivalent so that the New York State Education Department can monitor how they score student answers. It wasted literally hours of our teachers’ time, and they felt angry and humiliated.

During the early days of No Child Left Behind, the New York State Education Department turned the Regents into high-stakes graduation tests. On exams in math and science, we were required to double grade every student paper in the range slightly above or below a 65. When a student failed the exam, I could tell a parent that many eyes had looked at it. If any doubt remained, another teacher would review the exam. The score rarely changed, but at least I could reassure a distraught parent that we were fair and accurate.

As of this spring, I can no longer give that reassurance. Principals are now forbidden to re-score a paper once a computer assigns the score. An elaborate process involving the district superintendent and the state Education Department is triggered to change a student’s score.

Apparently principals, who will also be evaluated by scores, are assumed to be ‘cheaters’ as well. Angry parents are now insisting that I send their child’s exam to Albany for review. The state Education Department says that the review will take two to three months. Can you imagine being a hopeful graduate waiting that long for a test that you failed by one point to be reviewed?

This is the legacy of the policies that were rushed into place by states to get the federal Race to the Top money. We now have testing systems based on the mistrust of schools and the professionals who work in them. It will severely damage the relationship between students and teachers even as it is destroying the relationship between the state Education Department and educators across New York state. Perhaps all these mistrustful new rules and procedures are necessary if we accept the premise that student tests should also be high stakes for educators.

We’ve started down the slippery slope and we’ll necessarily gather up these unintended consequences along the way – unless policymakers restore some sanity to the system.

I am in my final years of a career that I have loved and in which, I believe, I have made a difference. I certainly do not fear for my job security. I do worry for my young teachers and my students. I worry for my grandchildren. I worry, also, for our nation. As John Dewey said so long ago in his Pedagogic Creed:

I believe that all reforms which rest simply upon the enactment of law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile.

I hope you are not annoyed that this is an open letter, but it seemed to be the best way to get someone to read it. I took the time last month to write a detailed, four-page letter to President Obama, but I did not get even a boilerplate email in response. Funny thing: during the campaign when I regularly sent contributions I always got a thank you. Now when I get a solicitation from his re-election campaign, I make a contribution to Save our Schools (SOS) instead.

Perhaps I will see you when I march with others in Washington D.C. on July 30. My husband and I will be there, rain or shine. Because we will likely not have an opportunity to speak with you that day, let me leave you with this final thought. After a heartbreaking loss, my friend who coaches was furious with his team. After he had vented, I offered my advice. “You can’t win the game if there is anger and mistrust between you and the kids. You have to work together to build something big.” That coach got it. Right now the ball is in your court, Mr. Duncan.

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The reform pretenders
By Valerie Strauss, The Answer Sheet, 6/27/2011

This was written by Carol Corbett Burris, the principal of South Side High School in New York. She was named the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State.

By Carol Corbett Burris

The word “reform” used to be important. To be called an educational reformer placed you in the company of John Dewey and other great teachers who understood children, the culture of schools, and most importantly, the complexity of the art and science of teaching. The late Madeline Hunter taught elementary students at the UCLA laboratory school nearly every day so that she could be sure that the teaching practices she labeled effective were not only grounded in research, but confirmed by her own practice. The late Ted Sizer, founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, worked with hundreds of high schools before he wrote Horace’s Compromise , and after he retired from Brown University, was a co-principal of a school. In the eras of Dewey, Hunter, and Sizer, the title reformer was used sparingly, reserved for those who dedicated a lifetime of work that was distinguished by a fierce belief in public schooling, innovation that increased student learning, and a profound respect for the work that educators do.

I wonder when exactly the word reformer was cheapened to a political sound bite. When did billionaires buy it and re-define it by the crass rules of the marketplace? When did it become a requirement that one must believe that our schools can only be fixed by oppressive testing, number ratings, snarky data systems designed to determine winners and losers, and an undying faith in privatization and marketplace policies? When did public schools serving public interests begin to devolve into corporate schools serving private interests, all under the guise of reform? . Perhaps Joel Klein knows. In his recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, he presented a roll call of young reformers, fashioned in his image, who bring to our schools a ‘sea change’ of reform.

He tells us that he and Michelle Rhee are not alone, and that those who mourned their departure should not weep. Indeed, he assures us that many of the new generation learned at the knee of the master reformer during his New York City years. The curious thing, though, is that the so-called reforms, which this new generation advocates and implements, have little impact on student learning – even when that learning is constrained merely to the narrow measure of standardized assessment.

Joel Klein continues to boast of increased graduation rates even as the new NYC chancellor has promised to investigate continuing reports of pressure on teachers and principals to pass and graduate students regardless of the quality of student work.

He crows about the college graduation rate of KIPP students. There are eight KIPP schools in New York City. Only one, which began in 1995 with 45 fifth graders, has been in existence long enough to produce even one college grad . I cannot understand how Mr. Klein can justify taking any credit for any increases in graduation rates associated with KIPP.

Klein’s Washington Post commentary was, as noted above, on his new generation. He proudly asserts that one of his reformers, Jean Claude Brizard, was recently appointed to lead Chicago’s schools.

After leaving New York City, Mr. Brizard led Rochester’s schools. He got the job after promising that he would raise the graduation rate to 75% by 2012. As he departs for Chicago after three plus years, the four-year graduation rate is nowhere near 75%, but rather at a dismal 46.1 %. In 2008, it was 48%. I guess the miracle reform was going to be left for the finale. Too bad for Rochester’s students that their superintendent is moving on before he got the chance to make it happen.

I do not blame Mr. Brizard for not raising the graduation rate to 75% in so short a time. Anyone who has engaged in real school reform knows that it would be virtually impossible to do what he promised that quickly. However, I do blame him for pretending that he could. Yet if one is a Klein reformer, trained by the Broad Superintendent Academy, one is taught to scoff at incremental change. The hard work of deep reform that transforms systems is for those old apologists who stay in town for a decade.

Mr. Klein also tells us that John King, the new commissioner of New York State’s schools, must be a new reformer because he “grew up in the charter school movement.”

I find that to be a curious commendation considering that the 2010 four-year graduation rate for New York State’s charter schools is only 56%. Should we pretend that the recently released college readiness rates of the charters, a frighteningly low 9.5%, is the start of the sea change we have been waiting for? It’s worth noting that the vast majority of charter schools in New York State are in New York City.

Let us not give up hope, however; there is Albany reform afoot that reaches far beyond charter schools. Mr. Klein’s former Chief Talent Officer, Amy McIntosh, now a Regents Fellow, will guide the new Teacher and Principal Evaluation System, called “APPR,” for New York State. Before Ms. McIntosh became expert in rating teachers based on student test scores for Mr. Klein, she was the CEO of ZAGAT. I guess we should pretend that rating a burger and rating a teacher are transferrable expertise.

Those with insufficient faith in the Klein/Rhee reform agenda are accused of not believing that poor kids can learn. They might be surprised to discover how much we do. We believe that poor kids can learn very well, but not by putting the dollars into testing systems and consultants. I suggest that the new reformers look to the graduation rates of economically disadvantaged students in integrated, suburban high schools like mine that are committed to equity. You will see rates for poor students that exceed overall graduation rates for NY State.

But, Mr. Klein might argue, these disadvantaged students attend well-resourced schools. Those schools, moreover, are not overwhelmed by students of great need. They are socio-economically and racially diverse. The highest achievers are not creamed off into specialized high schools which enroll few black or Latino students. Our schools have funds for the arts, adequate staffing, and strong special education programs. There are strong social support services like psychologists, counselors and social workers.

And that, of course, is the point. We know what it takes to help disadvantaged students do well, and we know what it takes to almost guarantee their failure. We know the reforms our students need—the really hard ones that are politically tough and not always popular. Let’s hope that when all the pretend reforms go away, at least a handful of good schools survive. After the sea change, when the tide goes out, perhaps a few beacons of hope will remain on the beach.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg Asks For The $600+ Million Taken in The CityTime Scandal Be Returned

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg Asks Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) of The CityTime Project To Give The Stolen Money Back
Parentadvocates.org, July 2, 2011

Good move on Bloomberg's part, but we must not forget that neither Bloomberg nor anyone in his administration admits to protecting the public funds - $$700 million - taken by the CityTime consultants in an unprecedented fraud on the City of New York. Let's remember that CityTime was hired by the FBI in 2000 and made a mess of the job back then. It was nice of Bloomberg to give them another bite at the apple, but when does public integrity set in?

Bloomberg Letter To SAIC CEO Walter Havenstein On Fraud In CityTime Project
Posted July 1, 2011

Mr. Walter P. Havenstein
Chief Executive Officer
Science Applications International Corporation
1710 SAIC Drive
McLean, VA 22102

Re: The CityTime Project

Dear Mr. Havenstein:

Since 2000, Science Applications International Corporation has served as the primary contractor to build and implement a uniform automated time-keeping system to be used by the City of New York's employees to accurately record their attendance and provide a streamlined process for supervisory approvals. The City relied on the integrity of SAIC as one of the nation's leading technology application companies to execute the CityTime project within a reasonable amount of time and within budget given the system's size and complexity.

The recent indictment of Gerard Denault, SAIC's lead Project Manager supervising the CityTime project, and the recent criminal charges filed against and guilty plea of Carl Bell, SAIC's Chief Systems Engineer who developed the software and oversaw all technical aspects of the project, are extremely troubling and raise questions about SAIC's corporate responsibility and internal controls to prevent and combat fraud. Denault and Bell, along with Technodyne and its principals retained as a "sole source" subcontractor by SAIC and six other defendants, are charged with hiring consultants not needed for the project at inflated rates in order to execute an elaborate kickback scheme to defraud the City of New York of millions of dollars.

The scheme to defraud was so pervasive that the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York in the superseding indictment recently implicating these two SAIC employees stated that "virtually the entirety of the well over $600 million that the City paid to SAIC on the CityTime project was tainted, directly or indirectly, by fraud." Equally troubling is that, according to the superseding indictment, SAIC as early as 2005 apparently received a whistleblower complaint regarding possible mismanagement of the project and alleged kickbacks to defendant Denault, SAIC's lead Project Manager on CityTirne. It is unclear what SAIC did at that time to investigate these serious allegations.

While we have received a working system that will advance our management ability, in light of the foregoing, because the project was apparently tainted by fraud and kickback schemes, the City must be made whole. I am, therefore, requesting that SAIC reimburse the City for all sums paid to it, approximately $600 million, as well as the cost of investigating and remediating this matter. I am forwarding this correspondence to the United States Attorney so that the City's position as a victim can be taken into consideration.


/s/ Michael R. Bloomberg
Michael R. Bloomberg

Mayor Bloomberg Demands SAIC Pay Back $600 Million In Cost Overruns For NYC Computer System
from the good-for-him dept

Over the years, we've chronicled a number of absolutely ridiculous over-budget computer systems for government agencies. My favorite still remains the FBI computer system -- which was over budget by hundreds of millions of dollars, was useless at finding terrorists, was so bad that a contractor had to use some free internet tools to hack into the system just to get his work done, and was so confusing that a computer science professor who reviewed the system said he and some others thought of going on a crime spree the day the FBI switched over. That system was built by SAIC, and the FBI ended up scrapping it and starting from scratch. But, as far as I know, the FBI never asked SAIC for the $600 or so million in taxpayer money it spent on the system back.

Apparently, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has had a similar experience with SAIC and the new computer system for NYC it's been building. But, Bloomberg is a businessman by trade, rather than a politician, so when a company charges you $600 million (way overbudget from the original $63 million), he knows that you ask for your money back. So that's what he's doing. He's demanding a $600 million refund from SAIC. Part of the issue is that, as with many of these type of projects, there appears to have been significant fraud involved:

The recent indictment of SAIC's leader project manager on the CityTime job, Gerard Denault, as well as the guilty plea to criminal charges made by SAIC systems engineer Carl Bell, who designed the software, are "extremely troubling and raise questions about SAIC's corporate responsibility and internal controls to prevent and combat fraud," he added. Denault and Bell were charged with were charged with taking kickbacks, wire fraud and money laundering.

Also recently indicted were Reddy and Padma Allen, a couple who head up New Jersey systems integrator TechnoDyne, which was SAIC's primary subcontractor on the CityTime project. Federal authorities allege that the Allens and others conducted an elaborate overbilling and kickback scheme that siphoned millions of dollars from the project.

Federal authorities have also contended that SAIC had received a whistleblower complaint about the project as far back as 2005, Bloomberg said in the letter. "It is unclear what SAIC did at that time to investigate these serious allegations."

I would imagine that SAIC has no interest in paying back $600 million, but it could make for an interesting lawsuit if Bloomberg decides to press the matter.

FBI's New Computer System: Late, Overbudget...And Useless For Finding Terrorists
from the but,-school-kids...-and-video-game-stars? dept


Back in 2000 the FBI decided it was finally time to upgrade their computer system, realizing they were very much out of date. They set up a plan that was expected to cost $380 million and be completed in 2003. It's now 2004 and $600 million have already been poured into it... and a new study says the system is useless in fighting terrorism. It was originally designed to help with investigations, and not counter-intelligence. Apparently, no one designing the system thought to make it flexible enough to adjust should the main focus of the FBI change at all. Instead, they just spent and spent - and are now being told they may need to start all over again from scratch. It's not as if no one knew terrorism was a threat in 2000, either. No wonder the FBI remains so good at tracking down kids file sharing, but can't seem to distinguish video game villains from real terrorists.

FBI Computer Upgrades Fall Short
CBS News

The FBI's nearly $600 million effort to modernize its antiquated computer systems to help prevent terrorist attacks is "not on a path to success," according to an outside review completed weeks after the bureau director gave Congress assurances about the program.

The report by technology experts for the National Research Council found that the FBI's "Trilogy" project doesn't adequately reflect the agency's new priority on terrorism prevention since the Sept. 11 attacks. It urged the bureau to build new systems from scratch to help in this role.

The report was being circulated this week to senior FBI officials and some members of Congress in advance of its public release next week. The Associated Press obtained a copy.

The study by the council, a nonprofit research board operating under the National Academies of Science, concluded that even ongoing improvements to the bureau's computerized system for tracking criminal cases won't help. It cited "significant differences ... between systems supporting investigation and those supporting intelligence."

It suggested that the system for tracking criminal cases could later be plugged into a new anti-terrorism system. The case-tracking system, known as the Virtual Case File, "is not now and unlikely to be an adequate tool for counterterrorism analysis because (it) was designed with criminal investigation requirements in mind," the report's authors wrote.

The FBI responded in a statement Monday that Director Robert Mueller "understands that these capabilities are essential to our success in the war on terrorism and he has made them a top priority." It cited several examples in which agents using some parts of the new system in terrorism investigations performed millions of information searches in days rather than the months it would have taken using old FBI tools.

The council's criticisms are the latest over the slow pace of the massive project, launched in November 2000 with an estimated $380 million price tag and a completion date of 2003. The price tag now approaches $600 million and, while some components are operating already, the system's most important parts won't be ready until year's end.

The council's report, completed at the FBI's request, concluded that the bureau has made important progress in the past year. But it also describes the FBI's efforts and results as "late and limited" and said its upgrade programs "fall far short of what is required."

The report comes just weeks after Mueller asked for $20 million more for the project and assured a Senate budget committee, "We are now on the right track, and we are closing in on the goal of completion."

The FBI noted Monday that the council's report only covered the period until March. "While the report is accurate and its findings helpful, it does not reflect the significant progress made under the FBI's new chief information officer," the agency said.

The report pointedly criticized plans to allow agents to begin using the Virtual Case File, a system aimed at letting investigators anywhere in the world quickly share information, before it has been rigorously field-tested.

The council called that "highly risky" and "nearly guaranteed to cause mission-critical failures and further delays." It recommended delaying the FBI-wide rollout for more testing and leaving the old system in place until it can be safely turned off.

The FBI said the system probably "will be deployed in phases that will ease the transition for FBI employees, allow us to test and improve it and mitigate risks."

The FBI's new chief information officer, Zalmai Azmi, told reporters last week that some version of the Virtual Case File will be in place by the end of the year. Azmi, who took over the job Friday, said the FBI was renegotiating parts of its contract with Science Applications International Corp., one of its primary contractors.

By Ted Bridis

CityTime Ends Relationship with Contractor After Spending $628 Million
June 30, 2011 at 7:11 am

CityTime, the city’s timekeeping system, has succumbed to its scandals, and is finally ending its relationship with its main contractor, Science Applications International Corp., after racking up $628 million over 12 years. Mayor Bloomberg sent a letter requesting $600 million back from the contractor.

As per the agreement between Bloomberg and city Comptroller John Liu, the system will now enter a transition period and be handed over to city workers for maintenance. Also, the city will have until January 2012 to evaluate CityTime’s effectiveness, and request information from other companies to present a better timekeeping alternative.

Currently, more than 67 agencies and 163,000 NY workers are using the system.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Biggest Scandal: The CityTime FiascoParentadvocates.org

Well, it's summer in the big city, and the CityTime fiasco just keeps getting worse. It may now be the biggest theft of all time. Federal prosecutors and the city Department of Investigation unveiled a new indictment today that alleges that more than $40 million was stolen by consultants working on the project to automate the city's payroll system. "We have developed evidence that the corruption on the CityTime project was epic in duration, magnitude. and scope," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara says. "CityTime served as a vehicle for unprecedented fraud."

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg On the CityTime Scandal: My Bad About That Whole $740 Million CityTime Mess

From Editor Betsy Combier: It is very comforting to know that many people were able to get away with stealing millions of dollars of taxpayer funds right under NYC Mayor Bloomberg's nose, and he didn't see it nor did he do anything about it until the media made it impossible to ignore the scam, theft, and fiscal wrong-doing. Not.