breaking news

Murry Bergtraum students riot after bathroom access denied

Hundreds of students at Murry Bergtraum High School rioted through the hallways today after the school’s principal told teachers not to give out bathroom passes.

Teachers at the lower Manhattan school said that the day began with a fight between two students on the building’s third floor. After the fight, Bergtraum principal Andrea Lewis reportedly announced over the school’s loud speaker that in the future, students who fought would be arrested. Lewis reportedly told students and staff that for the rest of the day, the school’s bathrooms would be closed and teachers should not issue bathroom passes.

In a school of over 2,600 students, this news did not sit well.

“She also said that in the case of emergency, kids could use the bathrooms in the nurse’s office, but by then, given the nature of adolescents, the message had been delivered that the bathrooms would be shut,” a teacher said.

Within minutes, students were on their cell phones, which they are not allowed to bring into the school. Messages traveled from student to student, saying there would be a riot. During fifth period, hundreds of students began running through the fourth floor hallways at top speed, screaming and shouting. By the beginning of sixth period it had spread to the basement. Teachers said they locked their classrooms to keep their students inside while school safety officers tried to end the riot, which teachers said went on for about 20 minutes.

“They actually filled the halls from one side to the other,” said a teacher. He said one of his students had an asthma attack as she tried to make her way up a staircase while students poured down.

Formerly the principal of Acorn Community High School, Lewis came to Bergtraum this year. As an executive principal, she received a $25,000 yearly bonus for agreeing to lead the struggling school for at least three years. Though Murry Bergtraum has received low grades on its annual progress reports, the city does not have plans to close it.

“This was a principal that was sent to the school to turn the school around, however her record has been one of success in academics,” said teachers union chapter leader John Elfrank-Dana.

“She has failing grades for security from her previous school. That is a concern of the staff,” he said.

After the riot, students went on Twitter to broadcast the news and threaten to riot again tomorrow.

“Bergtraum is gonna get closed down, there was riots in every floor every period,” wrote one student.

“Riotin all day cause the f-n principal is blowin ours and cut off the bathroom use all day,” wrote another.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said that one of the two students in the initial fight was sent to the hospital and released, but no other injuries have been reported. She said the incident is under investigation.

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.”