civil discourse

Boos drown out plea for "civility" at Cathie Black's PEP debut

New chancellor Cathie Black made her debut at the Panel for Educational Policy tonight to a packed crowd that drowned out her remarks with boos and jeers — especially when Black mentioned the name of her new boss, Mayor Bloomberg.

“Let’s try to do this with some civility and decorum,” the panel’s chairman said as he introduced Black. Yet the crowd continued to shout and jeer, forcing Black to raise her voice as she delivered prepared remarks.

The remarks described what Black has learned on her tour of schools — “I’m seeing what makes an effective school leader and how a strong school culture can contribute to learning,” she said — and also named her priorities, including building a strong teacher evaluation system and empowering principals.

She also summarized the education agenda Bloomberg laid out in his State of the City address this morning. The mayor laid out a trio of changes tied to coming budget woes and projected teacher layoffs: legal changes to transform the way teachers are laid off; contractual changes to deflate the Absent Teacher Reserve pool of teachers on the payroll who don’t have formal positions; and reforms to the teacher pension plan to cut costs.

Hundreds of people packed Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene tonight for the panel meeting, including 80 who signed up to speak. The largest group includes teachers and students at the John Jay high school building in Park Slope who are protesting a plan to add an additional high school to the building.

(UPDATE: That plan passed the panel, with 11 members voting in favor. The panel members appointed by the Manhattan and Bronx borough presidents both abstained.)

When she began her remarks, Black praised the school board itself, offering a rare praise to the Panel for Education Policy, which has been belittled as a rubber stamp to the mayor by some and as an opportunity for political theater by others. “This panel,” Black said, “has played a vital role in the major policy changes that have dramatically improved student outcomes in our city.”

home sweet home

‘Finally! Something useful’ or a dangerous mistake? Detroiters respond to city’s housing deal for teachers

PHOTO: Detroit Land Bank Authority
This home on Harvard Road was up for auction the week after Detroit announced a half-off-on-city-owned housing deal for teachers.

Friday’s announcement that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter, or parochial schools — will get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority stirred a lot of discussion.

Some of our commenters on Facebook had high hopes for the deal:

But one commenter wondered if it’s the city of Detroit that’s actually getting the best deal, not the employees — or other people seeking to buy homes in the city:

And others argued that people who already live in Detroit won’t benefit from this deal:

Still, some readers appear to be ready to move — and have even picked homes to bid on (though not necessarily from the Land Bank Authority)!

money matters

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

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

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.