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Pre-K For Three-Year-Olds Is Coming To NYC — If Someone Steps Up To Pay For It

On the heels of what was perhaps the fastest rollout of free, universal prekindergarten in the country, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city’s newest investment in early childhood education yesterday: free prekindergarten for all three-year-olds regardless of family income by 2021.

The project, dubbed “3-K for All,” will begin by expanding prekindergarten seats in the mayor’s existing universal program for four-year-olds to younger children in historically neglected neighborhoods — District 7 in the Bronx and District 23 in Brownsville — over the next two years. By the fall of 2018, the city hopes to reach 1,800 children in these districts — triple the amount of children in early care programs in those areas today. Research says that every dollar invested in high-quality early education saves taxpayers as much as $13 in the long term, according to a City Hall release on the program. The initial expansion in the Bronx and Brooklyn will cost the city $16 million.

“This extra year of education will provide our children with a level of academic and social development that they cannot get later on, while at the same time, alleviating some of the strain New York City’s working families face today,” Mayor de Blasio said in the same release. The city has committed to funding the program in eight districts by 2020 and hopes to secure additional funding to make the program universal by 2021. Once fully rolled out, the program is expected to serve 62,000 students in 3-K, an effort that will cost over $1 billion — an admittedly early estimate, according to the mayor.

Perhaps the mayor’s most successful citywide initiative yet, free, universal prekindergarten for four-year-olds went from ambitious campaign promise to reality in under two years — a massive feat. Through the universal prekindergarten program, more than 70,000 four-year-olds in about 1,800 public schools and community centers now have access to early education — learning that education research has long proven crucial in helping to level academic achievement gaps between wealthy and low-income children. The city hired and trained thousands of teachers to fill the new classrooms and, in the program’s second year, found evidence that widespread access to prekindergarten didn’t mean that programs would be low-quality.

Still, there is significant evidence that the program, like much of the city’s public elementary, middle, and high schools, is highly racially segregated. Researchers say the program could benefit from a more explicit dedication to racial integration, a stance the city continues to duck in favor of parent choice.

It comes as no surprise that the mayor would pick another popular, major education goal in an election year, particularly as his other re-election promises have been criticized, including the dubious Brooklyn-Queens streetcar; an all but abandonment of the city’s growing homelessness problem, which includes 33,000 school-aged children; and the closure of Rikers Island jail, a popular notion for sure, but one that has been met with skepticism (the mayor has refused to say whether construction of a new jail on Rikers Island will be allowed to continue and put the timeline for the current facility’s closure within a decade — beyond his term of office).

While the expansion of prekindergarten to three-year-olds is definitely a good thing, it will not come cheap. The city will need to train and hire 4,500 teachers and find classroom space for thousands of children. Making the program universal will depend upon the state and federal government getting on board with de Blasio’s vision —to the tune of $700 million. And while Governor Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump are certainly not friends, they share a common distrust of the mayor. The city says it will spend a total of $177 million per year on the program, and the Administration for Children’s Services already contributes $200 million yearly to the existing EarlyLearn NYC program, which serves about 10,000 three-year-olds. The rest will be up to the state and the federal government, neither of which have inspired much faith as of late.

Read more about the mayor’s proposal here.

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Albany Is A Dysfunctional Sewer But At Least Students Might Have St. Patrick’s Day Off Next Year

The state legislature has roughly a week to come up with a budget that sets New York’s legislative priorities. Raise the Age reform, which would prevent the state from charging 16 and 17-year-old kids as adults, passed in the Assembly but languishes in the Senate, where Republicans have blocked it. Substantive ethics reform, touted by Governor Cuomo in his state of the state speech, is a distant memory (a Republican state senator was charged with corruption on Thursday morning). Upstate Republicans are moving to punish New York by shifting Medicaid costs from the federal government to the state, all while “Trumpcare” is poised to leave millions uninsured and millions more with higher premiums. But the State Senate did manage to pass one bill this week: S6747A would make St. Patrick’s Day a holiday in New York City public schools.

The bill, sponsored by Queens Senator Tony Avella, a member of the controversial Independent Democratic Caucus, is tailored specifically to districts home to more than one million students; New York City is the only district in the state that qualifies.

Avella touted the holiday’s significance as a celebration of Irish culture and heritage.

“Two years ago when we passed the Lunar New Year school holiday…it occurred to me, all these years we have had St. Patrick’s Day in New York City, it’s a huge holiday not just for the Irish but for all New Yorkers. Why have we never given consideration to making that a school holiday?” Avella told the Voice. “If anyone deserved to have a holiday based on long standing tradition, it certainly is the Irish-American community.”

In February 2016, city teacher Frank Schorn filed a civil rights suit against the Department of Education, claiming that their scheduling of parent teacher conferences on St. Patrick’s Day violated his right to march in the massive parade up Fifth Avenue. City Council’s Irish Caucus had repeatedly asked the Department to reschedule, and they refused.

Mayor de Blasio refused to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade for two years after organizers banned gay and lesbian organizations from marching under their banners. The mayor ended his boycott this year.

De Blasio campaigned on promises to add three religious holidays to the school calendar, which has long observed Christian and Jewish holidays, and the sacred Muslim holidays Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, as well as the Lunar New Year, celebrated by many of the city’s Chinese families, were added in 2015.

Avella also sponsored a bill to add Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, to the school calendar. It has yet to make it out of committee.

“Once we did Lunar New Year, we set the precedent that if you’re going to celebrate holidays particular to one group or another you have to be fair to all, and that’s something the city of New York is going to have to look at,” said Avella.

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade actually happened in colonial New York City, in 1762. Successive waves of Irish immigration to the city over the next 35 years brought several small-scale iterations of the parades organized by Irish groups and, in 1848, they merged.

Through the decades, the Americanized version of the holiday became associated with binge drinking and violence. In 1867, the New York Times described the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade as a “riot” where “swords and spears” were in use. In 1894, a headline read: “The Death Rate Increased By The St. Patrick’s Day Parade.” The St. Patrick’s Day parade eventually became emblematic of growing Irish political power. Today, the parade is mostly secular, attended by New Yorkers of many ethnicities and backgrounds.

Still, Avella insists that the religious focus of St. Patrick’s Day has emerged over the last decade as the predominant motivation for celebration, and insisted that a day off from school was not akin to condoning the sorts of behavior commonly associated with the holiday.

“It was a problem decades ago with St. Patrick’s Day being associated with drinking, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore,” said Avella. “Obviously school-aged drinking is illegal. I think it’s a party celebration and that doesn’t mean that because we give a school holiday that should encourage any sort of illegal drinking or drinking to excess…[the parade] is clearly not what it was like 10 or 20 years ago.”

He cited increased “education” on the holiday’s true meaning for what he calls a reduction in vice, though he didn’t provide examples of what kind of education, or where and when it happened. Avella insisted that St. Patrick’s Day is a holy day of obligation in which practicing Catholics are required to attend mass.

According to Mercedes Lopez Blanco, who works in the communications office at the Archdiocese of New York, St. Patrick’s Day does appear on the Catholic liturgical calendar and attending daily mass is encouraged, but not required, even on St. Patrick’s Day.

“On certain days we honor certain saints and March 17 happens to be the day St. Patrick is honored on the liturgical calendar,” said Lopez Blanco. “A mention is made in that mass and that mass is said with him in mind.”

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Here’s How New York City’s New Teacher Evaluation System Works

There was the drama and the mayoral temper tantrum. There were numerous missed deadlines, negotiation room walk-outs, separate plans, fed-up union members and, in the end, threats of intervention on behalf of Governor Andrew Cuomo and state education chief John King. Now, months later, after sacrificing millions of dollars for New York’s public school system and 1,000 or so jobs for teachers, New York City’s power players in education were served their teacher evaluation system by Albany on Saturday. This is what it looks like.

Before we dive deeper, let’s lay out what the goals of the new teacher evaluation system were in the first place.

First, it was to secure the $300 million in state funding for education marked out in a bill passed by the legislature in 2010. Second, the state wanted a better way for parents to recognize who was teaching their children. Third, the system needed to make it easier to identify and deal with incompetent teachers.

In the previous system, your teacher was either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.” About 3 percent of New York City’s 75,000 teachers fell in the latter category. The new, Albany-based system will create four tiers instead of two. Your teacher will either be “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing,” or “ineffective.” If a teacher receives two “ineffective” ratings, this will alert higher officials to what King told reporters was a “pattern” of incompetency (read: firing in near future). So instead of pass/fail, we now have more of a letter-grade-esque method to grade our educators with more lethal consequences if you earn too many Fs.

To foster these grades, the ratings’ origins will be split two ways: principal observations (60 percent) and state assessments (40 percent). In some cases, student surveys will be included in the mix. We’re sure that will cause some other drama down the road.

As stated, the teachers’ union and Bloomberg’s Department of Education did not approve this plan because their inaction forced it to happen in the first place. However, it seems as if the mayoral and his education team are big fans.

In a statement to the press, Bloomberg praised Albany: “This is a clear win for students that will benefit generations of city public school children. King has sided with our children on nearly every major point of disagreement we had with the union’s leadership.” Education Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott agreed, too.

But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we finally have a teacher evaluations system after months of political bickering. What matters is that we lost millions of dollars over this damn thing. And what matters is that we can hold that loss up as a symbol of the city’s mismatched priorities.

The system is up for renewal come 2016. We’ll talk then.

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Parents Grill Department of Education Over Private Student Data Cloud

“I know that you’re just a messenger, so I want to make sure you deliver this message properly to your supervisors,” parent and City Council candidate Jelani Mashariki told the Department of Education’s deputy chief academic officer, Adina Lopatin, at a Borough Hall town hall packed with families Monday night.

Read more: Who Is Stockpiling and Sharing Private Information About New York Students?

“You’re not going to give out my child’s information to a third-party corporation to do whatever it is they want to do,” Makarishi continued over whistles and applause from the audience. “The people are not going to have it and we are going to fight back.”

Several other audience members had similar things to say regarding inBloom Inc., the controversial data-sharing initiative that parents at Monday night’s volatile forum believe violates the privacy and security of their children. The $100 million initiative, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and federal grants, and built by News Corp’s Wireless Generation, is responsible for designing something called an Education Data Portal in order to provide data tools to teachers and families.

As Lopatin later clarified, inBloom’s EDP uses student data–including student demographics, parent contact information, dates of absence, suspensions, and state test scores–through an Amazon cloud-based service. That information is then shared with school-contracted vendors. The DOE maintains that this practice does not violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and that vendors will not be able to even access the data without the school’s permission, but there’s also no provision for students and families to opt out.

“We live in 2013. Was anyone around last week when the AP was Twitter-hacked?” asked Natasha Capers, a parent and representative from the Alliance for a Quality Education. “It shut down New York City’s Wall Street. We can only imagine what would happen when someone wants this information and knows how to utilize it properly.”

Leonie Haimson, executive director of educational nonprofit Class Size Matters and town hall meeting organizer, had invited representatives from inBloom to attend, but they were not present. Instead, Haimson prepared a list of questions for the DOE’s Lopatin, which she answered one by one.

“Has New York City student data been transmitted to inBloom?” Lopatin read aloud. “Yes, New York State has transmitted student data to inBloom as part of the process of building educational data portals.”

Parents were not happy about that. “We need to let her finish,” Margaret Kelley, education liaison to Brooklyn borough president, told one woman who started interrupting from the back of the room. “If this gets out of hand, I’m going to have to adjourn this forum.”

Lopatin also confirmed that there was no way for parents to provide explicit consent for data-sharing. “According to state guidelines, there is no provision for parents to opt their children out of inBloom or the educational portal tool,” she told the town hall.

Twin bills dealing with inBloom and student data security are working their way through the state Assembly and Senate. Both A06059 and S04284 prohibit “the release of personally identifiable student information where parental consent is not provided.”

“We want to protect the privacy of our children,” Lydia Bellahcene, a mother of five children in the public school system, told last night’s town hall in one of the event’s most impassioned speeches. “It is our God-given right. And I’m not signing that away because I put my daughter in public education.”

 

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Dept. of Education Dishing Out “Plan B” Pills to Teens: Yay or Nay?

An anti-abortion group recently commissioned a survey of New York City parents to find out whether they approved of the Department of Education’s policy of dishing out Morning After pills (“Plan B”) to students as young as 14 years old.

The pill, as you probably know, can prevent a pregnancy as long as it’s taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex.

Surprise, surprise, the survey commissioned by the anti-abortion folks found that more than 50-percent of parents disapprove of the DOE’s policy.

According to the poll, commissioned by the Chiaroscuro Foundation — and conducted by the Smith Johnson Research polling firm — 52.3 percent of parents with children under 18 say the DOE should not dispense Plan B.

It finds that 42.9 percent approve of the program, which is aimed at preventing babies from having babies.

There is some added controversy: the pill is handed out without parents’ consent — unless the parent has signed an “opt out” letter that was distributed earlier this year. If you didn’t get the letter — or just ignored it — your kid can obtain a Morning After pill from her school without your input.

We find the poll results somewhat suspect — even with the added “opt out” controversy. After all, it was commissioned by a group that — in the words of a DOE spokesperson — “opposed to comprehensive sex education and birth control.”

So we want to know what you think: how do you feel about the DOE’s “Plan B” policy?

 

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Willard Lanham, Former DOE Consultant Who Stole Millions, Hit With Three-Year Prison Sentence

Willard “Ross” Lanham, 58, learned yesterday that embezzling millions of dollars in funds meant to bring Internet access to kids is not only a despicable thing to do, but it will also earn you more than three years in prison.

A Manhattan federal court judge sentenced Lanham to 37 months in jail for orchestrating an embezzlement scheme that netted him $1.7 million from the New York City Department of Education.

Lanham served as a consultant for the DOE from 2002 to 2008 on three projects designed to upgrade the technological infrastructure in city public schools. It was through the Power Connect project, which the DOE launched to bring Internet access to city public schools, that Lanham devised a scheme to skim the city out of the large sum of money.

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Lanham set up his own — unauthorized and unnecessary — consulting company, hired out its consultants to contractors and subcontractors working on the Power Connect project, and had these companies bill one another (and ultimately the DOE) at high rates for the shadow company’s consultant “services.” This web of deceit made him millions in profits over the course of his tenure as the Power Connect point man.

“The Department of Education entrusted [Lanham] with the vitally important task of helping young students get connected to the Internet — thereby connecting them to the world around them and the infinite resources that can be found online,” Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement obtained by Voice. “Instead, Lanham chose to steal precious dollars from DOE to help underwrite his lifestyle, and he will now pay for his crimes.”

This lifestyle included the purchase of a large plot of land in East Northport — where he built high-end homes and amassed a collection of luxury cars worth an estimated $600,000 (the collection included a Lexus, Corvette, Porsche, Cadillac Escalade, and a Mercedes, according to the investigator’s report).

You might think that the $200,000/year salary Lanham received from the DOE, which was part of the roughly $1.4 million in total pay for his work with the department, would’ve been enough. That, apparently, is not the case.

Lanham was hired in 2002 by a consultant company the DOE hired to oversee its entire technology upgrade initiative. Through a complex billing process — between Lanham, the two main contractors for the project, Verizon and IBM, and numerous subcontractors — Lanham was able to skim millions from the DOE.

According to court documents, Lanham’s scam was pretty elaborate — he set up his own consulting company, Lanham Enterprises, of which the DOE had no knowledge. In one such scenario, Lanham told one of the subcontractors to hire two consultants for the work they’d be doing on Project Connect, pay them, and then bill Lanhman Enterprises for reimbursement for a rate of $70/hour and $30/hour, respectively. This is in spite of the fact that the two consultants didn’t provide the subcontractor with any direct services — and really were just pawns of Lanham’s.

Lanham then instructed a different subcontractor to pay the same two consultants $187.50/hour and $125/hour, respectively. The subcontractor paid the consultants, but unlike the other subcontractor, it billed one of the main contractors instead of Lanham Enterprises. The main contractor then billed the DOE at rates up to 15 percent higher than what the subcontractor normally billed.

Thus Lanham was able to profit from the large difference between what Lanham Enterprises had to pay in reimbursements and what the second subcontractor paid the two consultants. When the main contractor grew suspicious of the payment system, Lanham assured the company that the DOE had authorized the billing process.

In all, from 2002 to 2008, the two consultants made $3.2 million dollars from the scheme —
much of that went to Lanham. Lanham perpetrated similar forms of his scheme during his time working on the project. He eventually added more consultants — including his brother — and changed how and in what way the subcontractors and contractors passed through the unauthorized payments.

In calculating the sum of these unauthorized profits, Lanham Enterprises made $5.3 million, and only paid out $1.7 million. Yesterday, the court ordered Lanham to forfeit his more than $1.7 million in salary earnings and pay back more than $1.7 million dollars to the DOE.

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Kids In New York Could One Day Be Allowed To Apply Their Own Sunscreen (With A Note From Mom). Gasp!

Did you know that kids in New York are only allowed to apply sunscreen to themselves at school if they have a note from their doctor saying it’s OK? We didn’t, but that’s apparently the case — and state Senator Michael Gianaris wants that to change.

Gianaris has proposed a bill that would change current Department of Education policy that prevents kids from applying sunscreen to themselves unless they have a note from a doctor. Under his proposal, a note from a parent also would make it OK.

The Food and Drug Administration considers sunscreen to be an over-the-counter drug, so most states — with the exception of California — have banned children from applying the “drug” while at school, which, obviously, is beyond idiotic (it’s fucking sunscreen).

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Gianaris’ bill is in response to two girls in Washington State who
suffered sunburns so bad that they needed to be hospitalized. The girls
— Violet and Zoe Michener — were told by school officials that they
couldn’t use sunscreen while on a field trip.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Gianaris tells the Daily News. “The government is always
warning people not to go outside without sunscreen yet our schools are
telling kids they can’t use it.”

The Department of Education also is planning to review the idiotic
policy and could potentially make a change before the start of the next
school year.

This year’s legislative session has come to an end, but Gianaris
suspects legislators will hold another session before the year is out.
His hope is that his bill is passed then so kids can avoid getting
cooked before next year.

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Another Day, Another NYC Teacher Accused Of Sexually Abusing A Student

In what now has become a trend, another New York City teacher is accused of sexually abusing a student.

The latest alleged pervert is 29-year-old Rafael Sosa, who currently is accused of sexually abusing an 8-year-old student at a Harlem elementary school.

According to authorities, Sosa sexually abused the girl on multiple occasions.

No further details are currently available.

New York City teachers sexually abusing students has become a fairly common/serious problem for the city. A few weeks ago, three different teachers were arrested for sexually abusing students — in three separate incidents — in less less than a week.

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In addition to how frequently New York City teachers are accused of
sexual misconduct involving students, the ones who are busted often get
hit with little more than a slap on the wrist. The problem has gotten so
bad that Mayor Mike Bloomberg recently proposed legislation that would
give the mayor, via the city’s school chancellor, more power
to dismiss teachers who engage in acts of sexual misconduct in the
classroom.

At a press conference last month, the mayor explained that allegations of sexual misconduct, in the current policy, lead to
investigations that are resolved by arbitrators who work to please the
interests of the United Federation of Teachers and the Department of
Education, which can sometimes lead to decisions that are not in the
best interest of the students.

Under the proposed law, the DOE says it has been
blocked from getting rid of teachers in cases where the city’s own
independent investigator found instances of inappropriate sexual
conduct.

The mayor cites an example of a teacher who touched a
number of female students’ buttocks, breasts, waists, stomachs, and
necks but was only given a 45-day paid suspension by the hearing
officer, who determined that the teacher had hugged one student and
hugged and tickled another on her waist.

Sosa is expected to be arraigned later this afternoon. Check back for details.

Sam Levin contributed to this post.