calendar wars

Teachers and principals unions fighting over first days of school

Principals are furious that the teachers union bargained away two of the most important work days of the school year, according to principals union president Ernest Logan. But teachers union president Randi Weingarten says Logan shouldn’t complain, because he hasn’t come up with a better plan.

“My members are livid,” Logan said about the agreement that would have teachers and students reporting to school on the same day for the first time this fall.

Principals use the two teacher work days at the beginning of the school year to finalize schedules, register new students, set up classrooms, get staff members on the same page about discipline and curriculum, and integrate new teachers into the community, he said. “When are we going to do all of that if everybody’s popping in there the same day?” Logan asked.

Logan said he first heard about the agreement at 6:05 a.m. today on NPR, which he was listening to while shaving. “I almost cut myself,” he told me. “Nobody used common sense here. The educators did not make this decision.”

The decision to have students and teachers start school on the same day was Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s preference, according to Weingarten. The agreement would allow Klein to decide to move the first day of school later, she said. 

“But it is surprising that the [Council of School Administrators] would wait until now, at the end of the process, to blame the UFT for finding a way to save the city money when they have been totally absent in the fight to save our school system from budget cuts this year,” Weingarten said.

Logan told me he has asked the chancellor to explain how schools should handle the schedule change but has not yet heard back. A good option, Logan suggested, would be for students’ first day of class to be moved two days later. If the city’s goal was to reduce the number of days teachers work, it could have given up requiring teachers to report on days when schools are closed to students, such as Election Day, he said. Or the school year could end for teachers two days earlier, he offered.

Here is Weingarten’s complete statement:

This agreement was born out of a need to create savings for the city, and it was the chancellor’s preference that students and teachers return on the same day. The chancellor could make a different decision later because the agreement says the first day after Labor Day may be an instructional day, but it doesn’t have to be. But it is surprising that the CSA would wait until now, at the end of the process, to blame the UFT for finding a way to save the city money when they have been totally absent in the fight to save our school system from budget cuts this year.

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.”