Thursday, May 31, 2007

NY-1: During Heated Meeting, Council Votes Against Carson Street Renaming...

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Plans to rename a Brooklyn street after the late Sonny Carson were scrapped Wednesday after a racially-charged fight in the City Council pitted Speaker Christine Quinn against prominent black council members. NY1’s Michael Scotto filed the following report.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn took a beating at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“I take this very personal, speaker,” said City Councilman Charles Barron. “And I think you have brought us to a place of divide that this City Council has never experienced in the history of this City Council.”

In the most racially-charged council meeting in recent years, some black council members personally attacked Quinn for taking Sonny Carson's name off a street renaming bill.

Barron and Brooklyn Councilman Al Vann wanted four blocks in Vann's district to bear the name of the late controversial activist and likened the fight to past struggles faced by African Americans.

“You've hit a nerve,” said Vann. “You harkened back to a time we have already overcome. You're infringing upon our human right.”

Quinn explained why she did not want to honor Carson, a man who was once linked to a homicide and known for making racially-divisive comments about whites, Jews, and Asians.

“This, for me, is a matter of principal,” said Quinn. “I personally do not believe Sonny Carson was an individual who was united.”

Several black council members, including Leroy Comrie and Letitia James, abstained from the vote. However, not one black council member voted against the amendment.

Fifty-one other renamings were approved, but the amendment to add Carson’s name failed 25-15.

Some were annoyed Comrie chose not to take a side. Charles Barron's chief of staff, Viola Plummer, who heckled Quinn during the meeting, said she wanted to end Comrie's career.

“What could I even assassinate him with – except his abstention?” said Plummer.

Although Quinn won on the council floor, her victory could hurt her with African-American voters if she decides to run for higher office.

NY-1: Council Members Announce Million-Dollar Autism Initiative...

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Wearing the universal symbol for autism on their lapels, City Council members announced a $3 million initiative Wednesday to help fund programs for autistic children. Half of the money will be evenly distributed among all council districts to raise awareness of the disease. The other half will go toward programs such as recreational activities, after school and summer programs, and social skills training for autistic children. "We have a crisis, a 72-percent increase in children diagnosed with autism,” said City Councilman Vincent Ignizio. “My niece, Alyssa, was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder, and I saw what immediate intervention and help can do toward mainstreaming these kids." According to the Centers for Disease Control 1 in every 150 babies is born with autism.

NY1: Activists Rally For More Literacy Funding In City's 2008 Budget...

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Students, teachers and lawmakers rallied on the steps of City Hall, asking for more money to help adults learn to read. The group is backing a proposal to add $4 million for adult literacy services to the 2008 budget, in addition to the nearly $4 million Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already put aside. Advocates say the extra money would allow 4,000 more people to improve their reading and writing skills. As a member of East Harlem, a teacher, a director and also a child who grew up in urban culture I know that adult education is the only, only way out for people in our community,” said Adult Education director Melissa Nieves. "So my English is very weak, then I'm coming to attend a class so maybe better my English and get a nice job because I need the money, you know,” said student Gladwin Masse. More than a million adults in the city have poor English skills, but advocates say only five percent of them are taking advantage of government-funded classes.

NY-1: DOE Unveils Funding Program To Combat Drop-Out Rate...

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The Department of Education unveiled a funding program Wednesday to keep 20,000 teens from dropping out of school each year. The "Drop Out Prevention Initiative" would provide $9 million to help combat the city's 32-percent drop-out rate. One way the money would be used is to help out those who have already quit school. "We teach vocational training and we help them get their GED, and then we find them get a job,” said Hector Batista of the Vocational Foundation, Inc. “We give them the skills necessary to be able sustain a job and that's what's good about this initiative; it allows organizations like mine to really work with this population. If we don't deal with them, we're going to deal with them in another area." The money, which needs to be approved by the City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would be given to organizations that educate parents, students, and faculty about the problem.

NY-1: First Lady Announces Library Grants At NYC School by Molly Kroon...

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First lady Laura Bush announced grants for more than 250 schools across the country at a school in Manhattan Wednesday.

Accompanied by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the former school librarian made the announcement at P.S. 188 on the Lower East Side.

P.S. 188 received a grant in 2005 and another one Wednesday.

The Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries is awarding 263 schools nationwide $1.3 million – about $5,000 per school – to help the schools' libraries update their book collections.

Twenty-four of the schools are in the city.

"The more books children have in their homes, the better they perform in school,” said Mrs. Bush. “But of course we know that many children don't have books in their homes, which makes it even more important for them to have access to a well-stocked school library."

The foundation's grants come from donations from other foundations, companies, and individuals.

Since 2002, the foundation has given out more than $4.3 million in grants – about $500,000 in grants have gone to schools in the five boroughs.

"We're going to get books on all kinds of technology subjects and biographies," said Lou Lahana, the librarian at P.S. 188.

Meanwhile, as schools get new grant money to fill their book shelves, there's a push in the City Council to keep public library doors open longer in the city.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn has proposed adding more than $40 million over the next three years into the city's budget so all public libraries can be open at least six days a week. During the budget cuts post 9/11, the mayor cut funding for libraries.

At a press conference later Wednesday, Bloomberg said it may be too expensive to expand the public library service.

"It's always an issue how you pay for it,” said the mayor. “It would be good if libraries are open all the time, but that's not realistic."

There's about a month left in negotiations between the City Council and the mayor before the new budget takes affect, and extended library hours will either be on the books – or a work of fiction.

-Molly Kroon

NY-1: DOE Launches Computer Program To Help Prepare Students For State Exams...

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City students will soon get some extra help when it comes to practicing for state exams.

The Department of Education announced Wednesday that it is starting a new computer program that will help students get better scores by giving them practice reading and math tests.

The results will then be analyzed to target where individuals need extra help.

"If you don't know the difference between fact and opinion, you'll never be a good reader,” said School Chancellor Joel Klein. “And we're missing the years when those skills are taught. What this is are effective diagnostic tools to enable our educators to do their work."

“This gives much more specificity from what I've seen for far, than what we've had in the past,” said Elmer Myers, a Bronx school principal. “We'll be able to take that information, sit down as a professional development team, and design ways we can improve instruction in a classroom."

United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten opposes the testing, saying it will translate into teachers spending less time on actual teaching.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bob Geiger's Saturday Cartoon Roundup ...May 26, 2007...

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Mark Fiore: Whale Removal Service...

The new animation "Whale Removal Service" has just been posted!

NY Times: Female Shark Reproduced Without Male DNA, Scientists Say by Henry Fountain...

A hammerhead shark that gave birth in a Nebraska aquarium reproduced without mating, a genetic analysis shows.

Henry Doorly Zoo

This shark’s mother is said to have had no contact with male sharks.

This form of asexual reproduction, called parthenogenesis, has been found in other vertebrate species, including some snakes and lizards. But this is the first time it has been documented in a shark.

Researchers from the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University in Florida and Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland found no male DNA in the female baby shark, which was born in December 2001 and died shortly after birth, apparently killed by another fish. The mother was one of three female bonnetheads, a small hammerhead species, that had been captured in Florida and kept without male sharks for three years in the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha.

At the time of the birth, many scientists thought that the female had mated with another species, or that it had used sperm obtained years before. Female sharks are capable of storing sperm, although none have been known to store it as long as these sharks had been isolated.

But through the analysis “it was pretty clear that there was no male contribution,” said Mahmood S. Shivji, director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute and author of a paper on the finding being published online today by the journal Biology Letters.

Instead, the female shark’s own genetic material combined during the process of cell division that produces an egg. A cell called the secondary oocyte, which contains half the female chromosomes and normally becomes the egg, fused with another cell called the secondary polar body, which contains the identical genetic material.

Robert E. Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., said the finding helped fill a gap in understanding of parthenogenesis, which has been found to occur in most vertebrate lines except mammals and, until now, cartilaginous fishes like sharks.

“These guys have proven their case,” Dr. Hueter said of the researchers.

Dr. Shivji said that after the bonnethead birth was reported, keepers at the Belle Isle Aquarium in Detroit reported similar virgin births by white spotted bamboo sharks. While those births have not been proved to result from parthenogenesis, Dr. Shivji said, it is reasonable to assume they did. And if it is found in these two species, “it seems not unreasonable to think this is probably more widespread in different shark lineages,” he said.

Gordon W. Schuett, an adjunct professor at Georgia State University who discovered parthenogenesis in a snake in 1997, said it would probably be discovered in more species “because we know to look for it.”

Previously, Dr. Schuett said, zookeepers and others tended to discount evidence of virgin births precisely because they were so out of the ordinary. But in recent years it has been found in Komodo dragons, other lizards and snake species.

“It’s all over the place,” Dr. Schuett said.

Still, parthenogenesis among vertebrates tends to be rare, and, while it may occur in the wild, has been documented only in captivity.

“It’s a last-resort tactic that animals use when they absolutely can’t find another mate,” Dr. Hueter said.

While it has the advantage of ensuring the survival of a species in the absence of males, it also comes at a cost: a loss of genetic diversity. And that, Dr. Shivji said, may spell conservation problems for some shark species whose populations are declining. If it becomes more difficult for female sharks in the wild to find a mate and instead they reproduce through parthenogenesis, then the offspring will be less genetically diverse, making the species more susceptible to diseases and other problems.

But Dr. Hueter said he thought it unlikely that most sharks, which are highly mobile, would end up so isolated that parthenogenesis would be much of a factor. Sharks have plenty of other problems that are of potentially greater impact.

“I would be concerned about a lot of other things than whether or not a female shark can get a date for an evening,” he said.

New York Times: New in New York: A Bus Ride on the Hudson River by Patrick McGeehan...

Until this week, tourists in Manhattan who wanted to go for a cruise on the Hudson River had to find the river first. Now, they can simply hail a boat in Times Square.

Well, not a boat exactly. It’s more of an open-top bus that floats, and it spends more time lurching through Midtown traffic than rolling on the river.

But for now, it is the first and only amphibious sightseeing vehicle to call New York City home. The ungainly brown contraption, known as an AquaBus, is the first of what its owners hope will be a small fleet rolling and bobbing around the West Side of Midtown.

The operators of the Gray Line tour buses and the New York Waterway commuter ferries teamed up to devise a peculiar version of the amphibious tours that have become tourist staples in Boston, Washington and other cities. The service, which they are calling New York Splash Tours, was scheduled for a launch in early June, but it began quietly picking up passengers on Seventh Avenue near 47th Street a few days ago.

For $29 a ticket and less than an hour of their time, passengers can ride one of these hybrids on a minitour of Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen, interrupted by a sudden plunge into the Hudson and a brief cruise. On the water, the AquaBuses loop northward past the most commercial section of the riverfront, offering a view of the skyline and the George Washington Bridge, but only a faraway glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.

In the gray chill yesterday morning, the tour drew few takers. But Tom Lewis, the president of Gray Line New York, forecast in an interview that the hybrids would haul at least 250,000 passengers a year once the whole fleet was in operation.

Mr. Lewis said the company had had three of the AquaBuses custom-built at a small plant upstate and expected five more by the end of the year.

“This is New York City,” Mr. Lewis said. “The streets are filled with people that are looking for something unique to do.”

Amphibious tours have been operating for years in other cities, originally using reconditioned surplus military vehicles known as ducks. But those old floating troop carriers are too weak and unstable to operate in the Hudson’s powerful currents. The Coast Guard has been reluctant to approve their recreational use since one sank in an Arkansas lake in 1999, killing 13 people, said Eric Christensen, a commander with the Coast Guard in New York.

“We’ve been working with Waterway on this for a while to make sure that the vessels meet requirements for the Hudson River,” Commander Christensen said in an interview. He added that other aspiring operators had tested different breeds of amphibious vehicles, but that none had proved stable and powerful enough.

Arthur Imperatore Jr., the managing member of New York Splash Tours, said the AquaBuses were unusually buoyant because their double hulls were filled with foam.

“These vehicles are extremely safe,” Mr. Imperatore said. “There really is no comparison between what we are running and what some of the other operators are using.”

Bonnie Young, a tour guide who identified herself as Barnacle Bon, tossed the occasional “Avast!” into her patter as she pointed out the high- and lowlights along the route, including the spot on the Palisades in Weehawken where Aaron Burr dueled with Alexander Hamilton.

But the best part of the tour was definitely the plunge. The bus had pulled off the West Side Highway into a garage-size tent at the end of 38th Street lined with video screens and filled with speakers. A brief video simulated a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by Henry Hudson, ending with the bus being made to rock as it was virtually sideswiped by the Queen Mary. Seconds later it rolled down a ramp, its front end slapped the surface of the river, and the children aboard let out a collective yelp.

Graeme Clark, a visitor from Puerto Rico, rated the trip a pleasant surprise. “It wasn’t quite what I expected,” he said, “but then I really didn’t know what to expect.

Reuters: U.S. Bald Eagle Population Soars, Possibly Delisted

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With the number of Bald Eagles in the United States hitting the highest level since World War II, the Fish and Wildlife Service said on Monday it will decide on removing them from the list of threatened and endangered species by June 29.

The Bald Eagle is the country's national bird and its image bedecks the presidential seal.

There are now 9,789 breeding pairs of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states, the agency said.

Minnesota tops the list with 1,312 pairs of the white-headed birds. Vermont saw its first baby eagles hatch in 2006.

In the years following World War II the widely used pesticide DDT, or dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, damaged the birds' reproductive systems and their population plummeted. They hit an all-time low of 417 breeding pairs in 1963.

The government banned DDT in 1972 and the number of bald eagles steadily grew.

In 1995, the service downgraded the bird to threatened status from endangered.

The eagles would continue to be managed under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Reuters: Blue-throated Hummingbird Discovered in Colombia By Deborah Zabarenko...

WASHINGTON, May 13 (Reuters) - A new blue-and-green- throated hummingbird species has been discovered in a cloud forest in Colombia, and already needs protection from human encroachment, the experts who found the bird said on Sunday.

Called the gorgeted puffleg, the new species is easily twice as big as the thumb-sized hummingbirds found in the eastern United States, measuring between 3.5 inches and 4 inches (90 and 100 mm) in length, its discoverers said in answer to e-mailed questions.

The name comes from the iridescent emerald green and electric blue patch on the throat -- the gorge -- on males, and from tufts of white feathers at the top of the legs, a characteristic of so-called puffleg hummers.

Ornithologists Alexander Cort├ęs-Diago and Luis Alfonso Ortega made three sightings of the hummingbird in 2005 during surveys of mountain cloud forest in the Serrania del Pinche in southwest Colombia. After the birds were seen again in 2006, photographs were sent to the Zoological Research Museum A. Koenig in Germany for confirmation.

"We immediately suspected the bird as a new species," Andre Weller of the Brehm Fund for International Bird Conservation/Zoological Research Museum A. Koenig said in a statement. "Further study has shown that this is certainly the most spectacular discovery of a new hummingbird taxon during the last decade or more."

The bird's discoverers said they went to the Serrania del Pinche on a hunch: they expected to find new amphibians and possibly new ranges for known birds, but the new hummingbird was "completely unexpected," Cortes-Diago said in a statement.

The isolated nature of the Serrania del Pinche means it may harbor more species, but it is threatened by slash-and-burn agriculture and the cultivation of coca, the plant used to make the drug cocaine.

"Destruction of habitat is the main threat caused by the migration of coca fields from the Caqueta and Putumayo areas to the Pacific," said Luis Mazariegos-Hurtado of the Hummingbird Conservancy in Colombia. He added in an e-mail that slash-and-burn agriculture is expanding in the area, and this farming technique can cause "dangerous fires that can easily burn a whole mountain."

Mazariegos said the creation of a new protected area -- a national park or sanctuary -- was needed to protect the gorgeted puffleg's habitat.

More than the fate of this flamboyantly plumed hummingbird is at stake, according to Ian Davidson of the conservation group Birdlife International. Davidson said in a statement that the gorgeted puffleg is a "flagship species" for biodiversity in this cloud forest.

"To go undiscovered for so long, the bird's range must be extremely small and fragile -- hence conservation action is undoubtedly a priority for the Serrania del Pinche," Davidson said.

NY Daily News: Rego Center Shops, Apts. a Step Closer by Lisa L. Colangelo...

City officials and developers broke ground yesterday for Rego Park Center, a large shopping and residential complex going up in the shadow of Lefrak City and several stores.

The new retail center will include Home Depot, Century 21 and a Kohl's department store as well as several smaller shops.

And it will have a lot of company.

It's being built on the old Alexander's parking lot, bordered by the Long Island Expressway and Junction Blvd., just off 63rd Drive.

Across the street, Sears, Old Navy, Bed Bath and Beyond and Circuit City sit in the former Alexander's building.

Even though the massive Queens Center Mall is just down the road, city and local officials didn't appear concerned by the concentration of shopping centers in the already dense area.

In fact, Mayor Bloomberg was eager to show some competition with the mega shopping malls of Long Island.

"If we get the state Legislature to eliminate the city portion of the sales tax on clothing and footwear - something that we have asked them to do - we may just have to make one of the eastbound lanes on the LIE westbound instead so we can handle all the extra shoppers who will be streaming in here from Nassau and Suffolk counties," Bloomberg cracked during the groundbreaking ceremony.

The new complex, being developed by real estate giant Vornado Realty Trust, also will include a residential building with 400 apartments.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn credited Councilwoman Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights) with securing a key piece of the development - a 2,500-square-foot community room.

Some local merchants are worried that the large stores will draw away their customers. But the project has won the support of Queens Community Board 6.

"The bottom line is, it's a good thing for the neighborhood," said Board 6 district manager Frank Gulluscio.

"That property has been vacant for a long time. Nobody wants to see empty property. Traffic is a concern, but traffic is a concern everywhere in the city."

Thoroughbred Times: NYRA Confident in Future Following Franchise Expiration by Paul Post...

NYRA confident in future following franchise expiration

by Paul Post

The New York Racing Association named a new senior vice president on Tuesday, fueling speculation that the troubled racetrack operator might have a future beyond its December 31 franchise expiration date.

Gavin Landry, 42, is leaving his job as president of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau to become NYRA’s new senior vice president, sales and market development, effective July 2.

Three groups are challenging NYRA for New York’s Thoroughbred racing franchise.

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is expected to name a new track operator by June 21, when the current legislative session ends. Recently, reports have circulated that Spitzer will give NYRA at least a part of the franchise in an attempt to settle the contentious issue of who owns the racetrack properties.

NYRA has sued the state, saying that it owns Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park, and Aqueduct. That question, if it goes to court, could indefinitely sidetrack the process of naming a new franchisee. There has been speculation that NYRA will get Saratoga, with another group running Belmont and Aqueduct.

NYRA President Charles Hayward denied knowledge of any such deal and said he does not believe it would work.

“I don’t think anybody believes that splitting the tracks would be prudent,” he said. “I don’t think the breakup of the tracks is realistic under any scenario.”

Hayward said NYRA still is trying to arrange financing for a video lottery terminal facility at Aqueduct following the recent withdrawal of MGM Mirage from the project. He said several gaming firms have expressed interest in running the facility.

“We’re not going to pick an operator until we have the financing,” Hayward said. “Once we have that, then we’ll select an operator.”

Landry, with an extensive background in hospitality management, said he hopes to greatly improve customer service at all three NYRA tracks. He will be responsible for all customer service activities, corporate sponsorships, licensing agreements and vendor relationships. He will be handling many of the duties held by former NYRA Senior Vice President Bill Nader, who left this spring to run the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

“This is probably the only thing that would have caused me to step away,” Landry said of leaving his current job, which he has held since 1995.

Landry is a Thoroughbred owner and his father, Chip, is a board member and former general manager of the New York Breeders Sales Co.

“This is in my blood,” Landry said. “The on-track live experience is really where we can make a difference.”

Landry said he hopes to improve communications with fans and horsemen. He also will be managing NYRA’s database of contact information, such as fan and owner e-mail addresses.

“This new position affords me the opportunity to help develop cutting-edge technology to complement my skills and long-standing experience in hospitality, marketing, and management,” he said.

Paul Post is a New York-based Thoroughbred Times correspondent


May 28, 2007 -- Real estate billionaire Stephen Ross is heading to Aqueduct with hopes of quietly picking up where billionaire Kirk Kerkorian walked away and left behind a gaming empire-in-the-making.

Ross, head of The Related Cos., bought his way into one of the four groups waging a power struggle over control of Aqueduct and two other thoroughbred racetracks, a deal that carries valuable rights to open the city's first legal slots casino in Queens at Aqueduct.

Sources said Ross spent $58 million for a 20 percent stake in Capital Play Inc., a company formed to compete for rights to run Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga, which are up for grabs for the first time in a half-century.

Currently, those rights are held by the private New York State Racing Association (NYRA) in a franchise that expires at the end of 2007. NYRA is also fighting for its life in federal bankruptcy court following its financial collapse last November over a cash-flow crisis.

Meanwhile, Capital Play, financed in part by Australian bookmaking tycoon Karl O'Farrell, plans to upgrade the tracks and build slot casinos at Aqueduct and possibly Belmont if it can get Albany's blessings. Bookmaking is legal in Australia.

In New York City, only Aqueduct was approved for video slot machines in 2002 when the legislature legalized slots at nine racetracks to offset economic damage from the World Trade Center terror attacks. Eight tracks opened slot casinos quickly, including Yonkers, but Aqueduct's plan collapsed amid political bickering and other issues.

Aqueduct originally hired Kerkorian's big casino group, MGM Mirage, to build its casino. MGM Mirage started by gutting the entire second floor of the indoor track four summers ago.

Kerkorian eventually walked away from the unfinished project.

Two other groups are also fighting the ailing NYRA to take over the franchise: Excelsior Racing Associates, whose partners include casino mogul Steve Wynn; and Empire Racing, an upstate group whose partners include Churchill Downs and Magna Entertainment.

Gov. Spitzer is scheduled to pick a winner for the franchise prizes in June, but also faces another knockdown battle with the legislature.

Las Vegas Sun: MGM Mirage Backs Out of Casino at Aqueduct...

MGM Mirage won't be speaking at the annual New York Gaming Summit next month. That's no surprise, because the company has backed out of a $170 million deal to build a racetrack casino at the Aqueduct Raceway in Queens.

The cancellation follows four years of regulatory red tape and controversy after employees of the private, nonprofit New York Racing Association, which operates the track under a state franchise, were charged by federal prosecutors in a skimming and tax-evasion scheme. And then there was the casino contract, which was awarded to MGM Mirage without being put out to bid. That angered competitor Donald Trump, who rose (or fell) to the challenge by running newspaper ads comparing the racing association to mobster Al Capone.

Years-old controversy and unresolved delays are mere flies on the company elephant.

"We were a much smaller company when we first looked at the NYRA deal," MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said.

What would have become the largest and potentially most lucrative racetrack casino in the country is small potatoes now that MGM Mirage has more than doubled in size, with major casinos under way in Las Vegas, Detroit and Macau.

"This was just taking up too much of our time," Feldman said.

Liz Benston can be reached at 259-4077 or at

Albany Times Union: Silver Opposes Aqueduct Sale by James M. Odato...

ALBANY -- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Monday shot down an idea floated by Gov. Eliot Spitzer to end racing at Aqueduct racetrack and put video lottery terminals instead at Belmont racetrack.

"It doesn't strike us well," Silver said.

The notion came up during a conversation Spitzer had with Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, D-Queens, last week. Pheffer said the governor seemed comfortable with selling Aqueduct, the state's winter horse track, for commercial development.

Racing law allows for a VLT casino at Aqueduct, but not Belmont. Several Assembly Democrats said they would not allow Belmont to become a VLT site to allow for Aqueduct's closure.

"It's a wrong presumption that we would transfer that authorization to Belmont," Silver said.

Pheffer and Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, D-Queens, said they would fight any closure plan. Seminerio said closing Aqueduct means no winter racing for four years while Belmont was renovated, diminishing the state' racing program.

Assembly Racing & Wagering Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon, said closing Aqueduct is a "terrible" idea. He said the governor seems to want to market Belmont to a new operator while allowing Saratoga to continue under the operation of an organization similar to the New York Racing Association. NYRA holds the franchise to run races at the three tracks until the end of the year.

"There have been no formal discussions about it at all," Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said. "It's got to be part of a big picture."

Paul Larrabee, a spokesman for Spitzer, had no information about the proposal.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

New York Times: Standized Testing by Ann Hulbert...

“I know you’re restless today, but I need to see you sitting at your desks. Angel, that means you, too!” In the second-grade classroom at the Washington school where I volunteer, the teacher turned to me and said with a sigh, “It’s testing week.” In fact, her class wasn’t suffering through the standardized ordeal, just tiptoeing around while others did. The “adequate yearly progress” (A.Y.P.) assessments mandated by the No Child Left Behind legislation, which was enacted in 2002 with high hopes of closing the achievement gap for minorities, don’t kick in until third grade. But when it comes to tests, N.C.L.B. is fulfilling its inclusive mission all too well: nobody — not even kids too young to be filling in the bubbles yet — escapes the atmosphere of exam-induced edginess.

The president’s signature domestic initiative, now due for its five-year reauthorization, was supposed to be a model of the hardheaded rigor it aims to instill in America’s schools. “No ‘accountability proposals’ without accountability,” a Bush education adviser declared early on. So one of the most glaring legacies of No Child Left Behind is surprising: it has made a muddle of meaningful assessment. Testing has never been more important; inadequate annual progress toward “proficiency” triggers sanctions on schools. Yet testing has never been more suspect, either. The very zeal for accountability is confusing the quest for consistent academic expectations across the country.

In 2014, when states are supposed to report 100 percent pass rates, no governor will be able (honestly) to claim perfect success. But by then, it would be useful at least to agree on what “proficiency” entails. That issue is precisely what is obscured by a blizzard of scores, courtesy of America’s decentralized educational tradition. N.C.L.B. left the states free to choose their own standards and testing methods for determining adequate yearly progress toward proficiency in math and reading. The data therefore defy comparison. In Florida, for example, 71 percent of schools failed to make A.Y.P. in 2006, while only 4 percent did in Wisconsin. More brain-boosting cheese on school lunch menus, perhaps?

Problems don’t end there — just as a social-science principle called Campbell’s law would predict. “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making,” the social psychologist Donald Campbell concluded in 1975, “the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” With “high stakes” testing, N.C.L.B. introduces an incentive not to cheat, necessarily, but to manipulate. Signs are that states define proficiency down while schools ramp up narrow test prep. “Score pollution” — results that reflect intensive coaching — becomes a risk.

And all for what? Not leaps in learning, to judge by an older, federally financed test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, whose format reflects clear standards for basic subjects and goes beyond multiple-choice questions. Developed by a nonpolitical group of educators, subject-matter specialists and nonexperts, it is administered every two years to a representative sample of students in grades 4, 8 and 12. The purpose of the test, known as “the nation’s report card,” is diagnostic, no strings attached. Its results are sobering. While the states’ tests typically show rising math and reading scores, with roughly 70 percent of students rated proficient or better, the National Assessment reports only about half that proportion scoring so well.

Angel, happy to escape his seat and read a book with me (he chose “Flat Stanley”), would doubtless be thrilled if test week disappeared. It won’t. But the test mess could be what is called in the trade a teachable moment, a chance to consider the case for national standards and a single national exam. There’s nothing like a blend of confusion and coercion at the state level to make the prospect of credible countrywide assessments — based on coherent expectations of what students should know — look less like creeping federal intrusion and more like welcome clarity.

Where ideological clashes doomed a quest for national standards in the 1990s, pragmatic calculations might tip the balance in favor now. Let the federal government pay for a national test and the formulation of standards, suggests Diane Ravitch, a clear-eyed historian of school reforms who was an assistant secretary of education during George H.W. Bush’s administration. The move could save the states the estimated half-billion dollars they spend on their own testing programs — and, Ravitch notes, give the U.S. government a job it is good at: gathering and spreading information about how states are faring.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress could serve as a model for a test that judges students’ ability to apply their knowledge and thus discourages rote coaching. But recent experience — and Campbell’s law — argues against making test results the sole trigger of federal sanctions. Instead, the data would give states and school districts reliable information on where progress is, and isn’t, happening across the country, to catalyze their own strategies to boost achievement. Rather than cramming to reach an unrealistic target by 2014, states could be more like the laboratories of curricular improvement the country needs. Agreeing on common goals for what kids should be learning can free up teachers to focus more productively on how they could be learning better.

School transformation can’t be engineered by any test, which is a two-dimensional tool at best. Still, a good national exam would spread well-focused standards across state borders and spur progress. Reading Angel’s book to him, I saw an apt metaphor: poor Stanley wakes up to find himself flattened, a boy become a board, but the discovery that he can slip into an envelope and travel around the country expands his horizons.

Ann Hulbert, a contributing writer, is the author of “Raising America: Experts, Parents and a Century of Advice About Children.”

A Very Profitable War...Privatized Warfare... On May 10th, 2007, this video was banned in Congress

Robert Greenwald, the director of IRAQ FOR SALE, was invited to testify before Congress by Rep. Jim Moran. He prepared four minutes from the documentary to show.

Republicans insisted this not be shown.

From "Iraq for Sale"

Why does the war in Iraq go on and on?

One reason is that it is immensely profitable for the Bush family and its friends.

These four minutes from the documentary "Iraq for Sale" were specifically banned by from being shown during a Congressional hearing by concerted action from Republican politicians.

The New York Sun: Development Could Race to Aqueduct by Eliot Brown...

With the state mulling the future of the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, a giant swath of land near John F. Kennedy International Airport could be the city's next development frontier.

If Governor Spitzer were to close the track, it could open up an unprecedented opportunity to develop the sprawling 192-acre site in an area that sits next to a subway line, highways, and one of America's largest airports.

Assemblyman James Gary Pretlow, a Democrat of Yonkers who heads the committee on racing and wagering, said members of the Spitzer administration told his office that shutting down the track was an option they are considering. A horse racing Web site,, last week first reported that Mr. Spitzer was considering closing the storied 113-year-old Aqueduct and shifting the races to nearby Belmont Park. The article caught by surprise numerous legislators involved with the horserace industry and real estate developers.

"It probably is the largest undeveloped hunk of viable real estate in the city," a professor of urban studies at CUNY's Queens College, Martin Hanlon, said. "In terms of potential for development, it's very much there — you have the Belt Parkway, you have the A train."

The current operator of the Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga racecourses, the New York Racing Association, has a contract that is set to expire at the end of 2007, and the state is currently engaged in choosing from four bidders to award a new contract.

If Aqueduct, which sits just north of the western reaches of JFK, were shut down and opened to new construction, real estate analysts say the giant site, about eight times bigger than the Hudson Yards rail site on the far West Side of Manhattan, could be developed as a regional hub for southeastern Queens, with room for millions of square feet of residential and commercial space.

The city is constantly looking for developable parcels of land to create much-needed housing and office space, and recently detailed sweeping plans to develop a comparatively small 60-acre site next to Shea Stadium at Willets Point.

For years, area legislators and members of the surrounding Ozone Park community by Aqueduct have considered a future without the racetrack, advocating a mostly low-rise residential landscape should the racing industry depart.

The chairwoman of Community Board 10, Betty Braton, said the community has been pushing to change the zoning of the area so as to ensure any development would be within the existing neighborhood context if the Aqueduct were to close.

"That zoning designation poses a lot of problems because it would make a lot of things that a residential community surrounding it would find objectionable," Ms. Braton said, referring to the potential for big-box retail stores and other types of development.

Council Member Joseph Addabbo, who represents the area, supports the idea of a rezoning, as he said he would like to see development "to mirror what's preexisting or what fits in the preexisting community."

The director of sales for southern Queens at Massey Knakal Realty, Stephen Preuss, said development at the Aqueduct site "could really change the landscape of all of South Queens."

"Development rates right now in that area is anywhere from $50 to $100 a square foot," Mr. Preuss said. "That could really double or triple that number just for this piece of land."

Development of the Aqueduct site is highly speculative at this point, legislators say. A court is considering whether the state owns the property, as it claims, or if it belongs to the New York Racing Association, which is in bankruptcy. And while the Spitzer administration's comments to lawmakers are far from a hard proposal, lawmakers in both chambers and both parties have been quick to lash out and denounce the idea of closing Aqueduct.

"I'm totally opposed to it," Mr. Pretlow, the chairman of the Assembly's Committee on Racing and Gaming, said via telephone. "It's not good for racing — it doesn't do anything for the entire industry in New York; it hurts the existing venues."

The legislators representing the district in which Aqueduct is situated offered similar reactions, saying they weren't consulted about any possible dramatic changes.

"To come in and just unilaterally say it should just be closed is crazy," state Senator Serphin Maltese said.

A spokesman for Mr. Spitzer, Paul Larrabee, said the state was considering numerous factors as it develops a plan. "Gaming and development are two of the issues that are being considered right now," Mr. Larrabee said, adding that with the contract set to expire, the state has an opportunity to change the existing model, which has not been working.

Mr. Larrabee said the governor hopes to present a plan for the future of the racing industry soon, before the legislative session ends June 21.

The Legislature and the governor have been looking to overhaul the structure of the racing industry, which has required state subsidies to operate rather than serving as a revenue generator for the state, as it does in many parts of the country.

Earlier this month, casino operator MGM Mirage scrapped its plans to install and manage a video lottery facility at Aqueduct. Lawmakers have pushed for such facilities at both Aqueduct and Belmont in an effort to generate more revenue.

If the Queens facility were to be closed, racing industry officials say hundreds of new horse stalls and other improvements would need to be built at Nassau County's Belmont Park, a facility that is not equipped for winter racing, as is Aqueduct.

Jeffrey Perlee, CEO of Empire Racing Associates, which has put in a bid to manage the state's racing franchise once the current contract expires, said a significant structural change is needed.

"The franchise is in desperate need of an infusion of capital — the facilities are quite literally falling apart," Mr. Perlee said.

Eyewitness News: Teen Slashed on Bus for Cell Phone...

- An 18-year-old was slashed on a bus for his cell phone in the Ozone Park section of Queens Thursday.

Police say the attacker was quickly caught by responding officers.

Authorities say the victim was with a 19-year-old friend when they were accosted by a suspect on a bus at the intersection of 130th Street and Liberty Avenue at around 1:20 p.m.

When the victim told the suspect to go away, the suspect reportedly slashed him and took his T-Mobile Sidekick device.

The suspect fled the scene, police said, but authorities quickly responded him and chased him down.

The attacker was taken into custody, and charges are pending.

The victim was taken to Jamaica Hospital for a slash wound to the face.

Second Grader Brings Gun to School..numerous reports...

NY Daily News: Ex-con gave teen pistol as a gift to be ready for high school, cops say...

The .38-caliber revolver smuggled into a Queens school by a second-grader was given to the boy's older brother by their mom's ex-con lover, authorities said yesterday.

Shamel Miller allegedly bestowed the twisted gift upon 14-year-old Darius Clarke so he could protect himself in high school, the boy's mom told cops.

The illegal handgun's serial number even had been scratched away in an attempt to make it difficult for cops to trace, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

"My boyfriend came into my house and shows me and Darius a gun. He says Darius needs it for protection at school," the mother, Andrea Clarke, told police Thursday after her younger son brought the weapon to his elementary school.

"I told him to get it out of my house," Clarke, a 35-year-old NYPD traffic agent, recalled, according to authorities.

Despite her objections, Clarke did not take the revolver away from her 14-year-old son, police said. She merely told him to get rid of it.

But he ignored her and hid it under a mattress inside the family's 77th St. home in Ozone Park, and his 7-year-old brother later found it, police said.

The younger boy, whose name the Daily News is withholding because of his age, brought the gun to Public School 63 in Ozone Park on Thursday and showed it to classmates - terrifying them, officials said.

Alerted by a student, the classroom teacher, Debra Mergenthal, approached the 7-year-old boy and asked him to hand over whatever was inside his pocket.

The boy gave her the gun, which she only later learned wasn't loaded.

"For the safety of the children and the school I have nothing to say," Mergenthal said yesterday.

Clarke was arraigned yesterday on charges of second-degree reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child. She was ordered held in lieu of $15,000 bail.

Her 14-year-old son also was hit with reckless endangerment charges.

Clarke's boyfriend, who was wanted on an outstanding warrant and went into hiding after the gun surfaced, was tracked down by detectives about 5 p.m. yesterday, police said.

Miller, 23, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child and weapons crimes.

According to criminal records, Miller was arrested in March 2005 for beating and robbing a man of $1,500 on a Brooklyn street. He was placed on probation, and then racked up four other arrests, including a November 2006 bust for allegedly firing a gun into the air in a Brooklyn courtyard.

He spent a couple days in jail, then blew off several probation appointments, police said. He had been on the lam ever since.

AM New York: Boy brings gun to school, mom and bro arrested...

A Queens second-grader brought an unloaded handgun to school Thursday, and police later arrested the boy's mother and his 14-year-old brother.

Andrea Clarke, 35, of Ozone Park, a city traffic enforcement agent, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child and reckless endangerment. Her 14-year-old son was charged with reckless endangerment.

After Clark's 7-year-old, a student at PS 63 in Ozone Park, showed a .38-caliber gun to a classmate, that classmate told a teacher, police said.

The teacher took the weapon away from the child and notified authorities, a police spokesman said. Police took the second grader from the school to the 106th Precinct in Ozone Park, at about 1 p.m., police said. The boy's mother and brother were brought to the precinct for questioning. Police said they believe the 14-year-old first brought the gun into his family's home, and, his mother was aware that the gun was there.

A second grader brought a gun to his Queens elementary school. Police have arrested the boy's mother and brother. A teacher was able to get the gun from the boy after hearing from other students that he was showing it off at Public School 63 in Ozone Park. The boy's mother - 35-year-old Andrea Clarke - who is an NYPD traffic agent - was arrested on charges of endangering the welfare of a child. And the boy's 14-year-old brother was also charged with reckless endangerment because he brought the gun home. Police said the mother was charged because she did not take the gun away from her teenage son. She only told him to get rid of it.

Elementary School Student Brings Gun To School

Watch Video...

A city traffic agent was arrested Thursday for giving her 14-year-old son a gun. Police say the 14-year-old put the gun under a mattress, but his seven-year-old brother found the weapon and brought it to P.S. 63 in Ozone Park on Thursday and showed it off. The teacher took the unloaded gun from him and called police. The mother is charged with endangering the welfare of a child and reckless endangerment. The 14-year-old is charged with reckless endangerment.

Reuters: U.S. Spends Average $8,701 Per Pupil on Education...

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States spent an average of $8,701 per pupil to educate its children in 2005, the Census Bureau said on Thursday, with some states paying more than twice as much per student as others.

New York was the biggest spender on education, at $14,119 per student, with New Jersey second at $13,800 and Washington, D.C., third at $12,979, the Census Bureau said. Seven of the top 10 education spenders were Northeastern states.

The states with the lowest spending were Utah, at $5,257 per pupil, Arizona $6,261, Idaho $6,283, Mississippi $6,575 and Oklahoma $6,613. The 10 states with the lowest education spending were in the West or South.

Overall the United States spent an average of $8,701 per student on elementary and secondary education in 2005, up 5 percent from $8,287 the previous year, the bureau said.

Funding is largely a state and local responsibility under the U.S. system, with 47 percent coming from state governments, 43.9 percent from local sources and only 9.1 percent from the federal government.

Students in northeastern and northern states tend to perform better on standardized tests than students in southern and southwestern states. But experts say the correlation between spending and testing performance is not strong.

The "No Child Left Behind" education reforms passed during President George W. Bush's first term have placed increased emphasis on performance on national standardized tests. Schools can be penalized if they repeatedly fail to meet targets for improving student scores.

"It's not necessarily so that states with higher spending have higher test scores," said Tom Loveless, an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution think tank.

He said Washington, D.C., has among the highest spending in the country but its students have among the lowest scores on standardized tests, while some states like Montana with relatively low spending have fairly high performance on tests.

Loveless said two areas where education spending might make a difference were in teacher salaries and small class sizes for first graders. But overall, the relationship between spending on education and test performance was not strong, he said.

Monday, May 28, 2007

YouTube: UFT Delegate Assembly - May 9, 2007

The motion sponsored by Manhattan HS chapter leaders to discuss holding a rally to oppose the NYCDOE reorganization...

Some teachers agree with parents that a rally is important and necessary, but Randi Weingarten summarily shoots the proposal down...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Queens Ledger: Lack of Guard Has Parents/Pols Cross by Stephen Geffon...

Although the intersection of 101st Avenue and 94th Street by MS 210Q - Elizabeth Blackwell School - in Ozone Park has been the site of numerous accidents and a fatality, Department of Education (DOE) officials still have not assigned a school crossing guard to the location.

Last April, seventh grader Elvis Quinn was struck by a car as he crossed the intersection, which is less than 50 feet from the front the school. Quinn died 13 days later.

"Unfortunately, whenever there is a tragedy like this, it highlights the need for more security and safety measures around our schools," said Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. "During the city's budget process, I always attempt to promote an increase in funding for crossing guards."

State Senator Serphin Maltese, whose district includes MS 210Q, noted the number of accidents and student fatality at the corner of 101st Avenue and 94th Street.
"I think that's definitely a situation at a corner that cries out for crossing guards and supervision," he said. "That's a bad corner, there's no question about it."

Maltese said he would be taking immediate action to get school crossing guards at the location, explaining that he would be writing DOE. Although school crossing guards are under the jurisdiction of the police department, the senator said it was his understanding that the local precinct would provide a crossing guard to the school if requested to do so by DOE.
Maltese said he fully intends to question and request information from the DOE, Department of Transportation (DOT), and the school administrators, and to demand in this case that a crossing guard be put at the intersection. "It isn't only children that need crossing guards, in many cases it's many others," he said.

According to DOT statistics between 2001 and 2004, 18 accidents occurred at 101st Avenue and 94th Street, and between 1998 and 2000, eight accidents occurred at the intersection.
The Elizabeth Blackwell School has a student population of over 1,200 students and over 100 staff members. Craig Chin, a DOT spokesperson, said that school administrators are responsible for arranging for school crossing guards with the NYPD.

Rosalyn Allman-Manning, principal of MS 210Q, did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Without a crossing guard, parents worry about their children crossing the intersection as they go and return from school.
"Every parent's fear is that your kid gets hit by a car," said MS 210Q Parents Association co-president David Quintana. "Something needs to be done."

Last week, Quintana wrote to Community Board 9 seeking their assistance in setting up a meeting between the DOT, the 102nd Precinct, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the community to discuss the unsafe traffic conditions in the immediate vicinity of the school.
In his letter, Quintana asked, "First and foremost for a school crossing guard at 101st Avenue and 94th Street." Quintana also requested that the MTA Q-11 bus running on 94th Street be rerouted, "thereby making 94th Street effectively a residential (non-commercial) street."

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani acknowledged the importance of school crossing guards to the safety of children when he hired an additional 150 of them to assist children in crossing busy streets on their way to school.

State Legislators also expressed support for the school crossing guards.

"School crossing guards are a vital and integral part of our educational system," said Assemblyman Pete Grannis, adding, "crossing guards ensure that children all across the state are able to arrive at and leave school safely."

Recognizing the ceaseless commitment and dedication of school crossing guards, the New York City Council passed a Resolution calling for the first Monday of the school year to be declared School Crossing Guards Appreciation Day in the City of New York.

NY1: City Reading Scores For Middle School Students Show Improvement by Michael Meenan...

Watch video...

City eighth graders showed the most improvement in state reading test scores released Tuesday by the state education department. NY1 Education reporter Michael Meenan filed the following report.

"I was particularly pleased by the middle schools because it's been clearly the toughest challenge that we face,” said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein Tuesday, with a smile of relief on his face as he spoke about state reading scores for this year's third through eighth graders.

These big tests, scored one through four, have a lot of weight on whether kids get promoted, with one a failing mark, two barely passing and three and four over the bar.

In 2007, 56 percent of the city’s English-proficient third through eighth graders met the state’s reading standards, but when students learning English as a second language are included, the passing rate fell to about 51 percent, virtually the same overall rate as last year. The passing rate of 56 percent for English-proficient students is about three points higher than the same group for last year, but still well below the statewide overall average of about 62 percent.

"We have more work to do; that’s a point I have been making repeatedly," said Klein.

Since last year's results showed a large majority of eighth graders not reading at grade level, middle schools have been under serious pressure to improve. One Manhattan middle school put on a full court press and got over 80 percent of its kids to pass.

"It takes a concentrated effort, and not just on the language arts. I think that’s the secret. It should also be in social studies and science, and that's one of our big emphasis, so there is reading and writing across the day,” said Joseph Cassidy, principal of The Clinton School.

Cassidy runs a small middle school with only a couple of hundred kids so he can target where improvements are needed. Bigger, more crowded schools tend to have scores not nearly as high, especially since immigrant kids just learning English now have to take the test as well. Only 16 percent of those kids passed, and the president of the teachers' union said it is unfair to test kids in a language they don't yet understand.

"It was a federal requirement, but a requirement that we thought the state should fight,” said United Federation of Teachers' President Randi Weingarten.

The test does have consequences, sometimes to the good, as in the drop of four points in kids reading at the lowest level.

"That’s going to mean fewer kids in the grades affected are going to be subject to the summer school program,” said Klein.

And for third, fifth and seventh graders, these scores are really important because combined with math test results, which will be released next month, they will decide whether those kids go onto summer school or on to the next grade in September.

- Michael Meenan State Releases English Regents Results By Art McFarland...

Watch video...

Students in grades 3 through 8 showed improvement on English scores, according to results released by the State Board of Regents Tuesday. Officials say the improvement is most notable in middle school, where grade 6 scores increased by 2.8 percent, grade 7 by 1.4 percent, and grade 8 by 7.7 percent.

Fewer students also are showing serious academic problems in all grades, except third grade, officials said.

Statistics show the number of English Language Learners taking this year's tests more than doubled from 2006. The increase was reportedly caused by new federal rules in which all ELL students who have been in the country for at least one year are now required to take the tests.

Nevertheless, officials say the performance of ELL students dipped only modestly in each grade, a better result than many predicted. The increase in the number of students tested was especially large in elementary school; scores declined overall in grades 3 and 4. The change in rules also affected the overall performance of Hispanic and Asian students.

Results for students with disabilities improved overall, according to the Board. The decline in the percentage of students who showed serious academic problems was especially large.

"The Regents are determined to raise graduation rates," Regents Chancellor Robert Bennett said. "We feel a great sense of urgency. We know that the middle school years leading to ninth grade are absolutely critical in getting students ready for high school work. That's why the improvement in the middle grades this year is so important."

Students receive a specific scale score on the tests which falls into one of four levels:

  • Level 4 - Exceeds the learning standards
  • Level 3 - Meets the learning standards
  • Level 2 - Partially meets the learning standards or meets part of the learning standards
  • Level 1 - Shows serious academic problems.

    Click Here To See Results By School District

    Click Here For Results By County


    May 23, 2007 -- The share of New York City students reading and writing at grade level fell in the elementary grades but rose in middle school this year, closing the gap on a worrisome trend of declining performance as students get older.

    But the results of the 2006-07 statewide reading exams for Grades 3 through 8 released yesterday presented education officials with the unusual challenge of explaining why middle-school students posted greater gains than their younger counterparts. Eighth-graders showed the largest improvement over last year, with 41.8 percent of them deemed proficient - a 5.2-point jump.

    Conversely, the test found 56.4 percent of third-graders to be at grade level - a 5.1-point drop. Both the state and the city attributed the results to a new federal requirement mandating that students with limited English skills take the state exam if they have been in the school system for at least one year.

    Previously, the city and other school districts had waited three years before requiring such students to take the test.

    Students with limited English accounted for 13 percent of the 428,143 test-takers this year, compared to just 6 percent last year.

    Almost 70 percent of all students learning English across the state reside in New York City.

    At a news briefing, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said students in general were better prepared to enter middle school, and challenged the logic of the federal mandate.

    "If a student isn't yet speaking English, it doesn't seem to me an intelligent thing to assess whether they can pass [an English Language Arts] test," he said.

    Overall, the proportion of city students deemed proficient went virtually unchanged, at 50.8 percent.

    Statewide, the proportion climbed almost 2 points, to 63.4 percent.

    The proportion of sixth- and seventh-graders to meet standards inched up to 49.7 and 45.4 percent, respectively, while the share of fourth- and fifth-graders on par dipped slightly, to 56 and 56.1 percent respectively.

    When students with limited English were factored into the equation, however, scores climbed across the board except for third grade, where they remained flat.

    Teachers-union President Randi Weingarten applauded the middle-school gains, but blasted the federal requirement and criticized the state for not fighting the mandate.

    "It was a wrong decision for the federal government to require students be tested in English when they weren't ready," Weingarten said. "If that misguided decision hadn't been made, then you'd have a goodnews story here."

    Good news, bad news, it didn't matter much at the NYC Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies in Manhattan, where a whopping 96.7 percent of the 184 eighth-graders met standards.

    Eighth-grader Gabriel Eisenberg, 13, credited his teachers' dedication and a rich reading curriculum that included authors like John Steinbeck, George Orwell and Mark Twain.

    "I think the teachers were really good," he said. "They spent extra time preparing us."

    Additional reporting by Tatiana Deligiannakis

    AM New York: NY Middle School, Immigrant Performance Improves by Michael Gormley...

    ALBANY, N.Y. -- After years of stagnation, middle schools have improved their performance in English, statewide test scores showed Tuesday.

    The results also showed unexpected strength among immigrants learning English who took the grade-school standardized tests earlier this year. Although the statewide average grade for these "English language learners" dropped slightly, twice as many immigrants took the test than in past years because of a recent federal requirement.

    State Education Commissioner Richard Mills said the middle schools that improved the most set a course and stuck to it, making every teacher _ even science and math teachers _ instructors in reading and writing.

    "These schools have set expectations that everyone enforces," he said.

    The results showed:

    _63.4 percent of all students in grades 3 through 8 met or exceeded the state standard, up from 61.5 percent a year ago. That follows years of decline or no improvement.

    _Fewer of those students in grades 3-8 scored at the lowest level: 6.1 percent compared to 8.1 percent last year.

    _The biggest city school districts _ in New York City, Yonkers, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo _ trailed the statewide average for grades 3-8 again. In New York City, about half the students met the English standards, while 46.7 percent met the standard in Yonkers, 37.3 percent in Syracuse, 38.4 percent in Rochester and 34.5 percent in Buffalo.

    _The English performance for immigrant and other students labeled "English language learners" declined slightly in each grade from third to seventh, but rose slightly in eighth grade.

    _Fewer English language learners in grades 3-8 scored in the lowest level this year _ 29.3 percent _ compared to last year _ 36.6 percent.

    "We're not going to lessen the pressure one single bit," said state schools Chancellor Robert Bennett. "We expect much better results a year from now and two years from now."

    The state Board of Regents is now revising its literacy standards for all subjects as well as the amount of literacy education new teachers must have.

    Test results for each school and school district are available through each district's school report cards and from the state Education Department (

    NY Daily News: Scores Down in Lower Grades, Yes, but City Educrats Pin Blame on Feds by BY Erin Einhorn and Carrie Melago...

    New York's elementary school students' reading scores fell across the board this year - but instead of knocking the kids or teachers, school officials put the blame on the feds.

    A new federal requirement has compelled more non-English-speaking students to take the tests this year, lowering the overall scores.

    Yet older students still saw marked gains - most notably eighth-graders, who notched a passing rate higher than 40% for the first time.

    "We have more work to do. That's a point that I've been making repeatedly, but I think it's very important to recognize that the system is clearly moving forward," said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

    Education officials linked the falling scores in third, fourth and fifth grades to a No Child Left Behind law provision requiring states to test more kids who speak English as a second language.

    More than 55,000 "English-language learners" were tested this year citywide, compared with 24,349 last year.

    State Education Commissioner Richard Mills pointed out that if only students who speak fluent English were counted, the city would see increases in every grade except third, which would remain flat.

    Other educators echoed Mills' explanation, calling into question whether English-language learners should be tested so soon after entering city schools.

    "We agree that it makes no sense to test these students after a single year of English instruction. ... There is no educational benefit to them," said United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

    Advocates applauded this year's increases in the higher grades - particularly because last year's scores dropped off as kids grew older, prompting activists to call for a task force to improve middle schools.

    "This is impressive and shows tremendous success in these schools," Mills said.

    The test scores also illuminated several success stories. Public School 12 in Brooklyn - which had the worst fourth-grade average in the city last year - showed the most improvement this year.

    The percentage of PS 12 fourth-graders meeting standards jumped to 43.5% from 22.6%, an increase that parents credited to new Principal Nyree Dixon.

    "Thanks to her, our children are improving," said parent Yolanda Thomas, 28. "Now we're back on top, thank God."

    Grand Concourse Academy charter school in the Bronx boasted a 100% passing rate in fourth grade, a statistic that didn't surprise Principal Ira Victor.

    The school has a reading specialist in every class and regularly tests, then regroups, students.

    "If we have high expectations for the students, the parents, the teachers, then we succeed," Victor said. "It's keeping it that way that's the trick."

    Read original...

    Thursday, May 24, 2007

    The New York Sun: Reading Scores Mixed A Sharp Rise Recorded for Some City Pupils by Elizabeth Green...

    Four years after Mayor Bloomberg's takeover of the city's public schools, roughly half of the city's pupils aren't meeting standards on standardized reading tests.

    The scores on state reading tests for the city's students, announced yesterday, did show some improvements versus last year. This year, 42% of eighth-graders met the standard, as opposed to 37% last year. But the fourth-graders who met standards dipped to 56% this year from 59% the year before.

    Since state testing began in 1999, younger students have tended to make small but steady gains, while middle schoolers' scores have been stuck. Despite the gains, more than 39,000 third- through eighth-graders who took the test in January read so poorly, at the state's bottom level, that some could go to summer school or be held back.

    The unusual reversal in progress between middle and elementary students follows an influx of more than 30,000 beginning English speakers into the city's accountability regime this year. The federal government forced New York to make the expansion in a confrontation this summer. Before, students could avoid testing for up to five years after entering the country; now, the longest they can go without being tested is one year.

    "That had an enormous impact," the schools chancellor, Joel Klein, said. Mr. Klein suggested the influx of so-called English-language learners could be behind the fall-off in elementary reading scores. There are roughly 1.1 million students in the city's public schools.

    Subtracting out the English-language learners, Mr. Klein uncovered a more promising picture, with gains in almost every grade level. Slice the statistics that way, and 46% of eighth-graders read at or above standard. Those scores had previously been stagnant at around 35%.

    Mr. Klein attributed the gains to reforms made beginning with mayoral control in 2002, when those eighth graders were in fourth grade. "Students are coming more prepared to the middle schools," he said. "The system is clearly moving forward."

    Asked how proficiency just about 50% across the board could be a good story, Mr. Klein said, "It's a question of whether the glass is half empty or half full." In his opinion, he said, "it's clearly half full and getting fuller by the year."

    Looking at the same number, the education historian Diane Ravitch scoffed, questioning how a 50% proficiency rate could be touted after four years of restructuring and $40 billion poured into the city's public schools. "You might say that it's Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg's report card," she said. "They get 50 percent. Fifty percent is not a passing grade."

    "That had an enormous impact," the schools chancellor, Joel Klein, said. Mr. Klein suggested the influx of so-called English-language learners could be behind the fall-off in elementary reading scores. There are roughly 1.1 million students in the city's public schools.

    Subtracting out the English-language learners, Mr. Klein uncovered a more promising picture, with gains in almost every grade level. Slice the statistics that way, and 46% of eighth-graders read at or above standard. Those scores had previously been stagnant at around 35%.

    Mr. Klein attributed the gains to reforms made beginning with mayoral control in 2002, when those eighth graders were in fourth grade. "Students are coming more prepared to the middle schools," he said. "The system is clearly moving forward."

    Asked how proficiency just about 50% across the board could be a good story, Mr. Klein said, "It's a question of whether the glass is half empty or half full." In his opinion, he said, "it's clearly half full and getting fuller by the year."

    Looking at the same number, the education historian Diane Ravitch scoffed, questioning how a 50% proficiency rate could be touted after four years of restructuring and $40 billion poured into the city's public schools. "You might say that it's Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg's report card," she said. "They get 50 percent. Fifty percent is not a passing grade."


    New York Times: New York Eighth Graders Show Gains in Reading By David M. Herszenhorn...

    New York Times: New York Eighth Graders Show Gains in Reading By David M. Herszenhorn...

    The number of eighth graders reading at grade level or above in New York State climbed impressively this year for the first time since 1999, when the state adopted tougher educational standards and its modern testing system, according to scores released yesterday from the annual statewide English exam.

    The eighth-grade results showed the most clear-cut advances in a year in which students in all tested grades, third through eighth, demonstrated better reading ability, including overall gains by students in New York City, where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has made education a cornerstone of his administration.

    The results were complicated, however, by a new federal requirement that the exam be administered to all students who have been in school in the United States for at least a year, even those who have yet to learn English.

    Because of the change, nearly 40,000 more children with limited English ability, most of them in New York City, took this year’s test than in 2006, creating an appearance of declining scores in Grades 3 and 4. When those students’ results were factored out to make the numbers comparable to last year’s, officials said there was slight improvement.

    The sharp increase in the proportion of eighth graders reading at or above grade level statewide, to 57 percent from 49.3 percent, provided a first spark of hope that school districts were beginning to turn around a long record of academic failure in middle school. Scores also improved in the sixth and seventh grades though more modestly.

    It was the first time since the modern testing system was adopted in 1999 that more than half of the state’s eighth graders showed an ability to read proficiently.

    “We have deplored low performance in middle grades in the past,” said the state education commissioner, Richard P. Mills, at a news conference in Albany. “But when you see improvement and you call and find out that people earned improvement by doing the right things, we have an obligation to celebrate that.”

    He acknowledged, however, that the overall middle school results remained sobering, with more than 40 percent of seventh and eighth graders still failing despite this year’s gains.

    In New York City, home to more than three-quarters of the state’s students with limited English skills, officials said they were pleased with the scores, which they said showed that the city was holding onto recent gains in the early grades and making new strides in the middle grades.

    When the results of the students with limited English were excluded, scores in New York City improved in all grades except third grade, where scores were flat. Overall, across all grades, the proportion of New York City students meeting the state English standards rose 2.8 percentage points, to 56 percent from 53.2 percent last year.

    And in eighth grade, the city showed the same solid gain that the state did, with the students meeting standards rising to 46.4 percent from 38.5 percent. The city’s gains, however, mostly disappeared when the students with limited English were factored in. With those students included, the proportion of all New York City students meeting the standards remained essentially flat, moving to 50.8 percent from 50.7 percent.

    And including these students in early grades led to a drop in scores, of 5.1 percentage points in third grade, 2.9 points in fourth grade and six-tenths of a point in fifth grade.

    Still, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said that the results showed “significant, consistent growth” citywide and that he was heartened by improvements in scores among black and Hispanic students and children with disabilities.

    Mr. Klein, too, said he was keenly aware of the large numbers of students still failing to read at grade level. “It’s a question of whether the glass is half empty or half full,” he said at a press briefing. “It’s clearly half full and getting fuller by the year.”

    But not everyone was impressed. Diane Ravitch, a historian of the city school system, said that officials had long propped up scores by excluding non-English speakers. Such students should be tested, she said, and their results included in any official tally.

    “I don’t see a revolution in these scores,” she said. “I see small, crablike steps. The scores are pointed in the right directions, but they are small, small gains and I would have expected big gains. By now they can no longer blame the dysfunctional system. They own it. “

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