Monday, November 29, 2010

Cathie Black Claims to Have Educational Experience with Charter School Board Post, But it's Moot by Meredith Kolodner & Greg B. Smith - NY Daily News

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Parents and school officials at the Harlem Village Academies School say they've had little contact with schools chancellor nominee Cathie Black.

City schools chancellor nominee Cathie Black insists she's connected to public education via a highly touted charter school - but a close look shows she's had no contact with students, parents or teachers there.

Officials at the Harlem Village Academies admit the school's National Leadership Board, which Black joined just five months ago, has never met.
That board "has no operational or governing authority" over the school and exists for "support purposes only," the school said in response to Daily News questions.
Black primarily advised the school's CEO, Deborah Kenny, on "management, leadership, and the development of a book" Kenny is writing, the school said.
Harlem Village parents and former employees had little knowledge of Black, who is expected to get a state waiver that will allow her to take the job despite having almost no education experience.
"No, no, no, she's not with us," said the parent of a sixth-grader. "She's not on our board. We have a lot of people who give money, lots of very famous people come here. That could be what it is."
A second parent added, "I've heard of Cathie Black from the papers, but she's not part of this school."
Black's link to Harlem Village appears to be her only connection to New York public schools.
She went to Catholic school, sent her children to a Connecticut boarding school and spent her career in the publishing business.
Far from the average school
A former Harlem Village employee said Black visited the school in 2009 at Kenny's invitation as a possible donor. After that, the former employee never saw Black again.
Harlem Village officials said Black started on the board in July, a month after she lost her job as president of Hearst Magazines.
It's not clear when Mayor Bloomberg first approached Black with the idea of becoming chancellor.
Whatever Black's role there, Harlem Village has little in common with the average public school.
Kenny, who oversees 450 students, is paid $442,000, including a $140,000 "bonus" and $27,780 in "other" expenses.
The schools chancellor gets $250,000 to oversee 1.1 million students.
Many charter schools have a parent representative on their board. Harlem Village does not.
Bloomberg has called the school a national "poster child" for school reform. Conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch gave $5 million toward construction of the new high school.
The school has been lauded nationally for its high test scores, including for pushing 100% of its eighth-graders to pass state math tests.
A look at the overall scores tells a different tale. In the last round of tests, like schools across New York, numbers dropped precipitously after the state made the tests tougher.
Schoolwide English test scores fell from 81% passing to 41%, while math dropped from 91% to 71%. And by eighth grade, the number of students taking the tests is a small fraction of the earlier grades.
The eighth grade with the 100% passing rate in math had 19 students.
'Why do they keep kids back?'
An unusually high number of younger students either drop out or are held back. In school year 2003-04, the year the school opened, only 48 of 73 fifth-graders made it to sixth grade. In school year 2006-07, 46 of 68 moved on; in 2007-08, just 40 of 76 fifth-graders made it to sixth grade.
Several parents praised the school for improving test scores and enforcing discipline but questioned why so many students were held back repeatedly.
"The school is good in some ways, but I don't like how they keep making so many kids stay back," one parent said. "There's a lot of pressure. If the school is as good as they say, then why do they keep the kids back?"
Higher grades fared better, although only 31 of 43 of the seventh-graders in 2006-07 made it to eighth grade and only 24 of that class went on to ninth, records show.
Harlem Village officials called the drop in overall test scores "irrelevant" because the school takes in low-performing students whose scores rise the longer they're at the school.
They also said the academy's high school students outperformed their public school peers, with 97% passing all Regents exams compared with 66% in public schools. They did not mention that the high school serves 163 students in ninth and tenth-grades only.
The middle school teacher turnover rate at Harlem Village Academies is also high: more than 50% of the teachers left or were fired in both the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years. In 2008-09, the turnover was 25%; in 2009-10, the rate was up to 39%.
School officials said the reasons teachers leave are "wide-ranging," including teachers who "move out of state or become full-time mothers."
The school also punishes students at an exceptionally high rate. Harlem Village suspended half its students in school year 2005-06, 44% in 2006-07 and 62% in 2007-08.
By comparison, nearby Public School/Intermediate School 210 reported suspension rates of less than 5% in 2006-07 and 2007-08.
School officials said 95% of the suspensions were for "nonviolent behavior," including "teasing, cheating or disrespect."