divine intervention

Arne Duncan asked Citizens Union to reconsider its position

The executive director of the Citizens Union confirmed today that the group changed its mayoral control position after Education Secretary Arne Duncan personally asked members to reconsider.

At issue was whether to insulate school board members from being fired at will by the mayor by giving them fixed terms. The Citizens Union had supported fixed terms, but Duncan “made it known very clear that he did not support fixed terms and would like the organization to take a look at this position and we did,” CU’s executive director Dick Dadey.

At a press conference today in front of Tweed, the group announced its support for extending mayoral control without fixed terms.

The announcement came after the group received a letter from Duncan and a phone call from Mayor Bloomberg asking them not to endorse fixed terms. According to Dadey, after a year of discussing mayoral control, the group’s board members had reached a consensus to support fixed terms, but that was before the phone call and letters, at which point the board decided to reexamine the issue.

As a compromise, the group is advising that there be a mandatory 90-day notice period before any of the PEP appointees are fired. This, Dadey said, would allay the group’s fears of a Monday-night Massacre-repeat, which was the basis for their earlier support for fixed terms.

The report also suggests that the chancellor not sit on the panel, and that the panel’s size be reduced from 13 to 11, giving the mayor a slim majority of one appointee.

Throughout the presentation, members of the group reiterated their support for mayoral control, but listed objections to the current system’s limited parental involvement, nominal independent supervision, and the powerlessness of the PEP. They also emphasized the need for more racial and ethnic diversity on the PEP and the Community Education Councils.

“I thought it was disappointing,” said PEP member Patrick Sullivan. “They had a lot of recommendations, but on the key one they rolled over to the mayor, which is kind of disturbing.”

For his part, Dadey insists that though he was “flattered” to receive Duncan’s letter, the Education Secretary and Bloomberg’s outreach did not determine the group’s stance on fixed terms. “We were persuaded by a lot of information provided by any number of groups, from the very beginning to now. It wasn’t influenced by one individual.”

Asked whether he was surprised that Duncan had intervened in CU’s deliberations, Dadey said he wasn’t. “They clearly see the model that’s being established here in New York as a model to be followed in the rest of the country.”

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”