Category Archives: NY

Inquiring Is Just The Beginning

Whenever information is put out by government agencies it’s a good thing, and as this information becomes easier to access through the internet, people should be asking about how the programs they are paying for are helping them live their lives. But it’s just as important to question the data itself.

The New York City’s Department of Education has taken a good step by implementing “customer service” surveys by asking parents, teachers, and students, how they feel about their schools. This is the third year they have conducted this survey and the results havestayed the same. Parents indicated a high level of satisfaction with their schools at 91 percent, and 94 percent of parents were satisfied with the level of education their children received. Student satisfaction was also high with 91 percent of students saying adults at the school were able to help them understand what they needed to do at school.

One area that should please administrators and parents is that 78 percent of teachers said the school leaders gave them regular and helpful feedback about their teaching. After the abrupt exit by Cathie Black, you would think New Yorkers would want better leadership, but only 5 percent of all respondents said more effective leadership was needed. Instead, the biggest issue they cited was class sizes with 23 percent believing they needed to be smaller.

This was the largest participation rate by these groups since the survey started in 2008. Instead of speculating what people think and the media running stories on a school failing, we see the majority of those participating in New York City’s education system are pleased with that they see. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking more questions or looking for a way to improve the system.

When academic studies show that only 1 for every 5 New York City high school graduates are ready for college, there is a clear disconnect between those within the system and those outside of it. Politics of course also plays a roll. Mayor Bloomberg would rather focus on the fact that more students in NYC are graduating high school while he has been in office.

The problem with any public opinion poll is that the people answering the questions can only refer to what they know or how they feel. Sometimes this can be a lot, but in most cases it’s not. In the world of education parents may not realize their children are behind because they have seen how their child has improved their reading, writing, and math skills. But they can’t compare it to other students in their school, other schools around the city, state, or country.

But people who study education policy may have a different take then those who were questioned here. Academics are the ones who have to know (or are supposed to know) all the stats, the studies, and ideas floating around on how we can improve America’s education system. If a thorough debate and analysis is to be taken they need to be brought into the discussion for the outside view.

That being said, there are a lot of good educators out there who know and are working to make improvements. While these survey’s are a good first step to open up the discussion, it is just the beginning.

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Filed under Education, Government 2.0, New York City, NY

Building Better Schools, Means Better Buildings

There was big buzz in the education world when the NAACP sued the Department of Education in New York City. On their website they list the reasons for the suit:

*   The “regular school’s children” had library access for a little over four hours so that the “new charter school’s kids” could have access for almost seven.

  • Traditional school students were moved to a basement, where they were next to the boiler room, to make room for their charter school peers, and teachers of the regular students were forced to teach in the halls due to lack of space.
  • Students in the traditional public school must now eat lunch at 10 a.m. so that charter school students can enjoy lunch at noon
  • New York state law requires the city to involve parents before announcing its intention to shut down a school or make way for a charter to share a school’s space.

But in the Daily News, Stanley Crouch said “The suit is proof of how low a great civil rights organization has fallen since its days of advocating for racial equality in the face of tremendous hatred.” He further criticizes the organization, claiming the only reason why they are doing this is because charter schools are non-union. “Poor teaching performance is dismissed or explained away with the position that everything will be just fine if teachers are paid more money and given more benefits. The UFT (United Federation of Teachers) does not admit to its members’ inferiority, even if test scores and graduation rates stay stagnant.”

We don’t know if student’s are having class next the boiler room, but do you really think a librarian is telling students in a school that they can’t enter the library? That would have to be the meanest librarian ever and the NAACP should focus on getting that librarian out of the school. But there’s not much link to this and the teacher’s union. Yes, the NAACP and UFT have been on the same side on many battles, but (my uneducated legal analysis) I can’t see how a win for the NAACP would also be a win for the UFT. Even politically, does either group really want to be responsible for closing a school?

Now at the risk of sounding old, when I went to high school we had lunch at 10:30am. Yes it was a public school, and no it wasn’t a charter. The building was transformed into a school after being a factory for over a decade. In fact, the trucks for American Express still move in and out of a garage right next to it.

It’s a small building, and during my sophomore year the principles were forced to accept (because it was considered one of the best schools) around 200 more students then had graduated the previous year. The hallways were always crowded and if your class wasn’t on the same floor it usually took over five minutes to get there. In my senior year, rooms in the basement were opened because there wasn’t enough space on the other three levels. There was no boiler. Administrators had no choice but to schedule lunch at odd times because the cafeteria was too small to hold everyone. The question then became whether it was better for the students to have lunch early or late. Speaking from experience, eating that early wasn’t fun, and by the time my last class came I was so hungry it was hard to concentrate.

There are other parts in the city where classes are being held in trailers. This isn’t right, but the problem is not the Board of Education kicking out traditional schools, it’s structural. There simply aren’t enough schools for the growing young population in New York. So we not only need better schools, we also need better buildings.

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Filed under Education, NAACP, NY, NYC, reform

Stop Fracking Around

When local news stations are only a half hour, and their’s maybe a five minute segment on government issues, it’s sometimes hard to remember that all politics are local. In New York, a big ruckus is taking place over whether a type of drilling called hydraulic fracturing (or better known as fracking) should be allowed to take place near the Catskill Mountains. The goal here is to use get the natural gas beneath the surface. Local residents, including actor Mark Ruffalo, visited areas of Pennsylvania where fracturing is occurring and became afraid that the same environmental damage will occur where they live.

At an event organized by Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century (DL21C), Ruffalo, Kate Sinding Senior Attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); and Susan Zimet, a Representative from Ulster County; expressed their fears about what might happen if fracturing is allowed in New York. Ruffalo visited Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania where the environmental damage has been enormous. Ruffalo said people living in the commonwealth had to arrange for over 200 gallons of water be delivered to people’s homes every day, because the water coming out of their sinks was black.

Experts consider fracking as a bumper option while the nation moves to other technologies, such as solar and wind, to curb our use of greenhouse gases. To reach the natural gas, drills are used to dig deep underground to where the natural gas is located. Once the gas is reached, a mixture of chemicals and water are used to push the gas up where it can be collected. The problem is that the chemicals used are carcinogens such as naphthalene and benzene. Those chemicals also get into the water supply making it unsafe to use. Only adding to the danger, the drills dig deep enough to areas where there are high concentrations of radiation that people living in the surrounding area can be exposed to.

While researching for this post, it took me less than two minutes to find this video of a Pennsylvania native lighting her water on fire because of all the chemicals that entered her water supply because of fracking.

Fracking technology is new, and it turns out (surprise, surprise) Halliburton is the company that invented the equipment. The powerful energy company has been lobbying state and federal officials to allow them to drill. And for two years, the EPA has been trying to get Halliburton to come out with the formula they use to push the gas up from the pipes. So far, Halliburton has only released the chemicals they use, but not the amount that has been pumped into the ground, or the exact concentration of each chemical being used in the overall solution. Two important facts needed to understand the safety concerns that are plaguing local residents.

Before he left office, Governor Patterson signed a moratorium on fracking, which Governor Cuomo extended until June. But it is unlikely that the report will be ready by then. The Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for writing the report, and Cuomo tapped Joe Martens to lead the agency. Kate Sinding told me that NRDC likes the new Commissioner “and believe the new analysis will be completed fairly.” But between the budget cuts and the senior staff that needs to be appointed, it will be a while before the report is released.

The facts are clear. But with the lack of current media attention, keeping the pressure on Albany is a must. When the report is released, there is a time period required by law which allows public comments on the report to take place. If there is an overwhelming amount of people against the fracking, Governor Cuomo won’t have a choice but to stop any plans to drill in the future. There are so many other ways to get cheaper and cleaner energy that can be applied now. There is no point of using a bumper inbetween. The technology is there, wind turbines and solar panels are already being built. Not to forget Indian Point Nuclear Facility in Buchanan. So whenever the report finally does come out, tell Albany to stop fracking around.

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Filed under Clean Energy, Energy, Fracking, global warming, Governor Cuomo, hydraulic fracturing, New York, New York City, NY