The NYC Department of Education "Children First" Working Groups
(Two Requests Under the Freedom of Information Law or Act)

By Bas Braams, New York City HOLD, Dec 15 and 27, 2002.
Page last updated: March 26, 2003.

Related pages: Chancellor Joel Klein's "Children First" New Standard Curriculum for NYC Public Schools # Composition of the Children First Working Groups # Contributions to the Children First Initiative and New Standard Curriculum for NYC Public Schools # New York City HOLD.


Contents


Introduction

The Children First initiative of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein started in October, 2002. Ten working groups were formed, but the names of these working groups were not publicized and the composition was literally kept secret. This Web page provides some information on the Children First working groups obtained through the mechanisms of the Freedom of Information Law.

Our two FOIL requests of December, 2002, asked for the composition and charge of the Children First working groups, and for the reports (interim or final) of selected working groups. A reply dated Feb 4, 2003, provided the composition of the working groups but not the other information. After repeat requests, a phone conversation on March 10 and a letter dated March 7, 2003, clarified that the Children First working groups operated without a formal charge and that the literacy, numeracy, and special populations working groups did not produce a report.

These FOIL/FOIA requests were addressed to:
Office of the Chancellor
New York City Department of Education
52 Chambers Street, Room 320, B4
New York, NY 10007

with copy to:
Central Records Access Officer
Office of Legal Services
52 Chambers Street, Room 308
New York, NY 10007

The numbers #3109 and #3120 are identifications assigned by the DOE Central Records Access Officer to the two FOIL requests.


FOIL Request #3109 of Dec 15, 2002

December 15, 2002

Dear Sir or Madam:

This is a request for records under the Freedom of Information Act.

In connection with Chancellor Klein's Children First initiative some working groups were set up. I request to be told the composition and the charge of these working groups. I will try to be more precise.

I believe that six or seven major working groups were established in the Children First initiative, including ones on Numeracy, Literacy, Facilities, English Language Learners, Special Populations, and Parent Involvement (there may be one more). For each of the Children First major working groups I request the following information:

Yours Sincerely,

Bastiaan J. Braams


FOIL Request #3120 of Dec 27, 2002

December 27, 2002

Dear Sir or Madam:

This is a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for records.

I request copies of the reports (interim or final) of the following working groups, which were created in October, 2002, in connection with Chancellor Klein's Children First initiative.

Please note that this request is separate from my earlier request (your ref: FOIL #3109) for the composition and charge of these and other Children First working groups.

I agree in advance to your photocopying charges.

Yours Sincerely,

Bastiaan J. Braams


Partial reply of Feb 4, 2003, to request #3109

Ms. Susan Holtzman, Central Records Access Officer at the NYC DOE, provided a partial reply to the FOIL request #3109. Her cover letter provided the positions within the Department of Education of the Chairs of the various Children First working groups:

Appended to this was a listing of all the ten working groups and their composition, with employment identification, as had been requested. Also appended were copies of some PowerPoint presentation of the Children First process and aims. Ms. Holtzman's letter did not provide the requested information about the Charge to the working groups, and also did not note that this information was missing from the reply.

The Children First working groups are:

The mentioned PowerPoint presentation carries the title page: "CHILDREN FIRST: A New Agenda For Public Schools In New York - Overview and Process". The Contents Page has three bullets: Children First Goals and Guiding Principles; How Principles Guide the Work; Parent and Community Engagement. There follow ten pages, each containing a few bullet points. One of the pages indicates the names of the ten working groups, but there is nothing in this presentation that has the appearance of a Charge to any of the individual groups.


Letter to Ms. Holtzman of Feb 14, 2003; and again March 4, 2003

(Ms. Holtzman is Central Records Access Officer at the NYC DOE.)

Dear Ms. Holtzman:

This concerns my FOIL requests #3109 and #3120 (your refs).

You sent me a reply to #3109, and I appreciate that, but the reply is incomplete. I had asked for the composition of and the charge to the Children First working groups. Specifically I asked, for each of the Children First major working groups: ``What questions was the working group asked to address, and when was the group expected to produce its report? A copy of the letter establishing the working group would probably provide this information very clearly.''

Your reply gave the composition of the ten Children First working groups as requested, but did not provide the Charge to the working groups. You did append copies of what appears to be some PowerPoint presentation about the Children First process, but I could not recognize a charge to the working groups in that presentation.

Please provide me with the documents that provide the charge to the ten Children First working groups.

With regard to my request #3120 you told me that a reply was expected by Feb 6, but I have not received a reply yet. I repeat, therefore, my request #3120 for the reports (interim or final) of these groups:

I agree in advance to your photocopying charges.

Yours Sincerely,

Bastiaan J. Braams


Telephone conversation with Ms. Holtzman on Mar 10, 2003

Ms. Holtzman informed me that a letter to me is in the mail.

She clarified that the PowerPoint presentation that was attached to her letter of Feb 4 served as the Charge to the working groups. She also stated that the literacy, numeracy, and special populations working groups did not produce reports.


Letter from Ms. Holtzman dated March 7, 2003

Re: FOIL #3120

Dear Mr. Braams

Please be advised that after a diligent search, there are no documents responsive to your request.

Sincerely,

Susan W. Holtzman
Central Records Access Officer


Email from Ms. Judy Nathan of March 26, 2003

Dear Mr. Braams:

Your March 19, 2003 e-mail to Deputy Chancellor Lam has been referred to the General Counsel's office, which oversees the FOIL process, as it appears that there has been some confusion caused by the responses you received to your FOIL requests. You state in your e-mail that, based on the FOIL responses, the working groups "operated without formal charge and did not produce reports." We want to clarify this misunderstanding.

In response to your FOIL requests, you were provided with copies of the initial material that was given to the Children First participants. This explains the approach that was to be taken by the working group members in order to reach their recommendations for change. With respect to your statement that the working groups did not produce reports, FOIL exempts from disclosure intra-agency materials that are not final agency policy or determinations and to the extent they do not contain factual or statistical tabulations or data. The working groups' recommendations to the Chancellor were not final agency policy determinations, and thus, were not subject to disclosure under FOIL. The fact that there was no final determination by the working group does not mean that the working groups did not make recommendations. Moreover, the purpose of the working groups was not to produce reports; it was to participate in an overall evaluation of the existing structure and make recommendations to the Chancellor and his staff for systemic change. The Chancellor has released information to the public explaining the reasons for the curriculum selections that have been made, and the other organization changes. These final agency determinations have been fully disclosed.

Judy Nathan
First Deputy Counsel
52 Chambers St., Room 308, A8
212-374-2993

(Email Cc'ed to Anthony Shorris, Ron Beller, Chad Vignola, and Evan Rudall, all at the NYC DOE.)


Concluding Remarks

Although the last letter, by Ms. Nathan, refers to a misunderstanding the situation seems quite clear. The working groups operated without formal charge and did not produce reports. They made recommendations and these are not being released. It is not clear if the recommendations were made orally or in writing, but even if they are in writing Ms. Holtzman's letter shows and Ms. Nathan's letter does not deny that there is no proper documentation of the basis for the recommendations, not even for the DOE's own future reference.

I am impressed by the audacity of it all. One is selecting a mandated core curriculum for a schools system the size of that of a small country, and one employs a process in which there is no clear record of the Department's priorities, no record of any comparative evaluation of candidate curricula, and no record of any expert opinions that figured in the decision.


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The opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by New York University.