[ProgressiveEd] PENNY Letter to Follow Up on Friday Meeting

[email protected] [email protected]
Mon, 12 May 2003 16:21:26 EDT

Chancellor Klein
Deputy Chancellor Cahill
Tweed Courthouse
52 Chambers Street
New York, New York
                            May 12, 2003
Dear Chancellor Klein and Deputy Chancellor Cahill:
Thank you for meeting with us regularly.  We look upon these meetings as an 
opportunity to take an active part in the work that is involved in 
reimagining and recreating the New York City Department of Education.  We see 
this as a sign that you are taking our suggestions seriously, as people who 
have been doing this work for many years despite the limitations and 
institutional barriers that existed in previous administrations.
We brought the following four points to the discussion:
1) School status,
2) Networks of schools and professional development,
3) Parent choice, and
4) Plans for assessment, networks, and longitudinal studies.
We were heartened by your commitment to give official school status to 
programs and academies that have indeed been free standing schools, some for 
as many as 30 years.  As you requested, we will provide a list of “school 
ready” programs that can immediately be given official school status.  We’re 
also working on a list of transitional programs that Ms. Cahill said would be 
made into schools following a more gradual process.
We understand that schools that were granted waivers and passes from mandated 
curricula have been given the authority to plan their own programs of 
professional development and can choose from the options we defined in the 
Professional Development Proposal we submitted.  We also understand that 
along with the authority to plan their own professional development comes 
control of the necessary financial resources.  This will be reflected in the 
design these schools create in the Professional Development section of their 
2003-04 Comprehensive Educational Plans.
You requested that we send you a proposal for building school networks that 
bring together PENNY and non-PENNY schools.  We agreed that a network of 
schools needs people with a variety of experiences and circumstances who also 
share a core set of beliefs so that everyone can feel supported and so the 
networks can become vehicles for change.
These networks will span elementary, middle, and high school with the purpose 
of providing real support for every school in each network.  Key to the 
success of these school networks is that they become a community of learners 
across schools that join resources and develop alternative forms of 
assessment to explore teaching and learning.
It is vital that schools in these networks go beyond the use of standardized 
measures and facilitate the development of appropriate learner-centered 
curricula.  The assessments proposed will include portfolio and descriptive 
processes (for instance, the Primary Learning Record frameworks and the 
Descriptive Review processes).
Our schools need critical friends in order to grow.  These are people who 
come to know the culture of the school and its core beliefs.  A critical 
friends group shares a view about teaching and learning.  They meet regularly 
to address concerns and issues brought up by members of the group.  They 
visit one another’s schools in order to support the school in doing what it 
says it is doing.  They look at students’ work, school documents and 
correspondence, school evaluations and assessments, and any other evidence of 
the school’s approach to education in order to study opportunities for 
developing curriculum and assessment procedures that meet student and staff 
needs more effectively.  These groups also produce documentation of their 
work.  Facilitating the establishment of these relationships is a major goal 
of the work of school networks.  
We recognize the complexities that No Child Left Behind legislation has 
created for the Department of Education.  PENNY schools are committed to 
being part of the solution.  Though our schools are not large enough to take 
in all of the children eligible to be transferred out of failing schools, we 
feel we can have a large impact by working with schools within networks.  We 
believe that No Child Left Behind requisites can be met alongside our intake 
It is essential that the intake processes that PENNY schools have developed 
over many years be allowed to remain in effect.  These are inclusive 
processes; they create the greatest range of diversity within each of our 
schools – ethnic, racial, linguistic, socioeconomic, and academic.  As part 
of our intake processes, parents and children visit our schools to see if our 
approaches correspond with their vision of education.  PENNY school families 
have made it clear that they believe in education that is built around their 
children’s particular interests and ways of learning, not around a 
prescription based on standardization.  We see each child as unique, not as 
someone to be normed.
Most of our schools use a lottery system for selecting applicants, once 
parents and children have decided on the school they want and apply for 
admission.  This process results in a diverse student population that has 
chosen to form part of a distinct learning community.  We also set aside 
places for families that receive letters of transfer.  These families, then, 
go through the same admissions process as other families.  In that way, we 
meet our commitment to providing spaces for a percentage of children seeking 
transfers from their current school.
With regard to an in-depth longitudinal study of children’s learning, our 
goal is to create a mechanism for looking at two sources of information.  One 
is quantitative and will come from standardized tests.  The other is 
descriptive and more comprehensive, as it will be generated from ongoing 
close work with children and families.  The first provides a basis for 
comparison across schools but is narrow in what it measures and in the 
information it provides.  The second provides a way of knowing each child 
that leads to making well-informed decisions about curriculum development for 
the student and the school’s needs for further professional development.
This long-term work on assessment will provide insight into possible ways of 
overcoming the racial, social, and linguistic divide for children’s 
performance on standardized tests.  Knowing the ways a particular child 
learns helps us to build engaging learning experiences across the board.  It 
also provides a way to look more realistically at the performance gains of 
children with special needs.
At Friday’s meeting, we submitted a plan from five middle schools for an 
in-depth review of learning in these schools.  We are in the process of 
developing further plans and would like to work with the Department of 
Education to engage schools and universities that volunteer to study a 
variety of data and information about student learning.  We believe that the 
Department of Education will benefit from this research.
Finally, we ended with a clear sense that our meetings have been helpful for 
all involved and for the school communities we represent.  They have 
established a forum to share our experience, our knowledge, and most 
importantly our questions and concerns about the particular aspects of the 
Education Departments efforts at reconfiguring the school system that will 
affect our schools in the immediate future.  We agreed to collect, organize, 
and communicate the information you requested and will send it within 72 
We truly appreciate the opportunity to work alongside you and look forward to 
future meetings.
Bruce Kanze
Executive Director
The Center for Collaborative Education (CCE)
Director, PENNY
cc:  PENNY
    CCE Executive Board