strike that reverse it

City renounces effort to use DOE employees to lobby on LIFO

An office inside the Department of Education improperly recruited its employees to lobby against the state’s seniority-based layoff system, city officials acknowledged today.

Staff at the city’s Office of Family Information and Action asked hundreds of parent coordinators to distribute a petition urging state lawmakers to abolish the current layoff system. In the e-mail, an OFIA staffer asked parent coordinators to gather signatures from parents and other members of their school communities and return them to the DOE. The e-mail message went out to nearly 400 of the 1,000 parent coordinators around the city.

The petition asks state lawmakers to “allow the City to keep it’s [sic] most effective teachers by ending the State’s ‘Last-In, First-Out’ policy, allowing teachers to be retained based on their performance, rather than just seniority.”

The message, which was first reported this morning by the teacher activist Norm Scott, echoes the position of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Cathie Black, who have made ending the seniority-based layoffs this year a chief political goal. The city teachers union strongly opposes ending the system and has argued that the city should instead focus its lobbying efforts on fighting budget cuts.

DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said that the petition had not been approved by top city officials.

“While we strongly encourage parents to speak out on issues concerning their children’s education, it was not appropriate for Department of Education staff to prescribe a specific solution for parent coordinators, or parents, to advocate,” Ravitz said in a statement. “Neither the Mayor, nor Chancellor Black, authorized this activity, and moving forward we will ensure that DOE staff understand their responsibilities and the appropriate standards to which we must adhere.”

Teachers union President Michael Mulgrew denounced the parent office’s push, pointing to a section of state civil service law that bans employees from using their “official authority or influences to coerce the political action of any person or body.” He also referred to a 2008 federal court ruling that upheld the city’s right to ban teachers from wearing buttons supporting political candidates while in the classroom.

“The same Department of Education, which on the pretext of sheltering students has forbidden teachers even from wearing buttons indicating support for candidates, has now embraced using students and parents in a clearly partisan legislative initiative,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “At a minimum these actions appear to violate state law.”

The petition was prepared in advance of next week’s “New York City Public School Lobby Week,” during which OFIA has been asking parents to visit state legislators and argue against school budget cuts. The office has planned several information sessions for parents this week to encourage them to participate in Lobby Week activities. The division’s official role is to facilitate better relationships between students’ families and their schools.

> From: Berryman Jaclyn
> Sent: Tue 3/15/2011 12:46 PM
> To: [redacted]
> Cc: Harris Melissa (OFIA); Pierre Louis Raymond; Melendez Jacqueline;
Portilla Nydia
> Subject: Final Petition: Lobby Week, March 21-25, 2011
> Hello again Queens Parent Coordinators,
> As a follow up to many of your recommendation for Lobby Week, attached
you will find the final petition to share with your school communities.
> These petitions serve as a way to include all school community members
who would like to make their voices heard but may be unable to
participate in the actual Senate and Assembly visits during Lobby Week,
March 21, 2011- March 25, 2011.
> Completed petitions will be submitted to elected officials by parents
and community members next week, during the Lobby Week visits.
> Please fax petitions back to: 212-374-0076 by the below listed dates.
If you have interested school community members that want to sign the
petition, but may not be able to submit by the end of the week, please
call me at 212-374-2989 and we can discuss this on a case-by-case basis.

> Thanks in advance for your support. Have a good afternoon
> Lobby Week Elected Official Visits:
> Borough:
> Submit Completed Petitions:
> Monday, March 21, 2011
> Bronx
> Friday, March 18,2011
> Tuesday , March 22, 2011
> Manhattan
> Monday, March 21, 2011
> Wednesday, March 23, 2011
> Queens & Brooklyn
> Tuesday, March 22, 2011
> Regards,
> Jaclyn Berryman
> New York City Department of Education
> Office for Family Information & Action
> 49 Chambers Street, Room 503
> New York, New York 10007

Week In Review

Week In Review: A new board takes on ‘awesome responsibility’ as Detroit school lawsuits advance

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The new Detroit school board took the oath and took on the 'awesome responsibility' of Detroit's children

It’s been a busy week for local education news with a settlement in one Detroit schools lawsuit, a combative new filing in another, a push by a lawmaker to overhaul school closings, a new ranking of state high schools, and the swearing in of the first empowered school board in Detroit has 2009.

“And with that, you are imbued with the awesome responsibility of the children of the city of Detroit.”

—    Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens, after administering the oath to the seven new members of the new Detroit school board

Read on for details on these stories plus the latest on the sparring over Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Here’s the headlines:


The board

The first meeting of the new Detroit school board had a celebratory air to it, with little of the raucous heckling that was common during school meetings in the emergency manager era. The board, which put in “significant time and effort” preparing to take office, is focused on building trust with Detroiters. But the meeting was not without controversy.

One of the board’s first acts was to settle a lawsuit that was filed by teachers last year over the conditions of school buildings. The settlement calls for the creation of a five-person board that will oversee school repairs.

The lawyers behind another Detroit schools lawsuit, meanwhile, filed a motion in federal court blasting Gov. Rick Snyder for evading responsibility for the condition of Detroit schools. That suit alleges that deplorable conditions in Detroit schools have compromised childrens’ constitutional right to literacy — a notion Snyder has rejected.


In Lansing

On DeVos

In other news

First Person

First Person: Why my education nonprofit is bucking the coastal trend and setting up shop in Oklahoma

PHOTO: Creative Commons

“Oklahoma?! Why are you expanding to Oklahoma?!”

The response when I told some people that Generation Citizen, the nonprofit I run, was expanding to central Texas and Oklahoma, quickly became predictable. They could understand Texas, probably because our headquarters will be in the blue-dot-in-sea-of-red Austin. But Oklahoma?

My answer: Generation Citizen is expanding to Oklahoma City because no one would expect us to expand to Oklahoma City.

Our nonprofit is dedicated to empowering young people to become engaged citizens by reviving civics education in schools. We help middle and high school students learn about local politics by guiding them as they take action on issues they care about, like funding for teen jobs or state resources for teenage moms.

I founded the organization after graduating from Brown University in Rhode Island in 2009. Since then, we’ve expanded our programming to Boston, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area. All are urban areas with wide swaths of low-income young people, unequal schools, and disparate power dynamics. Our work is needed in those areas.

At the same time, all of these areas have predominantly liberal populations. In fact, according to The Economist, they are among the 10 most liberal cities in the country.

Generation Citizen is a non-partisan organization. We do not wish to convince young people to support a particular candidate or party — we just want them to engage politically, period. But the fact that we are preparing low-income young people in liberal urban centers to become politically active complicates this narrative.

So despite the fact that we could work with many more students in our existing cities, we made a conscious decision to expand to a more politically diverse region. A city that had real Republicans.

As we started talking about expansion, I realized the extent to which the dialogue about political and geographic diversity was a rarity in national nonprofit circles. While several large education organizations, like Teach for America and City Year, have done an admirable job of in working in conservative and rural regions across the country, a lot of other organizations follow a more predictable path, sticking largely to cities on the east and west coasts and sometimes, if folks feel crazy, an Atlanta or Miami.

There is nothing wrong with these decisions (and we were originally following this trajectory). A big reason for the coastal-focused expansion strategy is the availability of financial resources. Nonprofits want to raise money locally to sustain themselves, and those cities are home to a lot of people and foundations who can fund nonprofits.

But a more problematic reason seems related to our increasing ideological self-segregation. Nonprofits lean toward expanding to places that are comfortable, places that their leaders visit, places where people tend to hold similar values and political views.

One of the fault lines in our democracy is our inability to talk to people who disagree with us (highlighted daily by this presidential election). And non-profits may be exacerbating this reality.

This schism actually became more apparent to me when our board of directors started having conversations about expansion. Oklahoma City had come to the top of my proposed list because of my personal and professional contacts there. But I quickly realized that no one on my board lived more than five miles from an ocean, and save a board member from Oklahoma, none had stepped foot in the state.

“Are we sure we want to expand there? Why not a gateway city?” (I still don’t know what a gateway city is.)

“We can hire a Republican to run the site, but they can’t be a Trump supporter.”

“Are we sure that we can raise enough money to operate there?”

It wasn’t just my board. Whenever I talked to friends about our plans, they’d offer the same resistance.

The stereotypes I heard were twofold: Oklahoma was full of bigoted conservatives, and it was an incredibly boring location. (The dullness narrative got an unquestionable boost this year when star basketball player Kevin Durant left the hometown Thunder. It became quite clear that a main rationale for his leaving the team was Oklahoma City itself.)

But as I met with folks about Generation Citizen’s work, I met citizen after citizen who was excited about our mission. The state is facing tremendous budget challenges, and its voter participation rates amongst the worst in the country. Given these realities, there seemed to be widespread recognition that a program like ours could actually be helpful.

I did not talk about national politics with most people I met. Indeed, we might disagree on whom to support. But we did agree on the importance of educating young people to be politically active, shared concerns about public school budget cuts, and bonded over excitement for the Thunder’s playoff chances.

Still, the actual expansion to Oklahoma will be a challenge for our organization. Despite our local ties, we are coming in from the outside, and we do have the perception of being a progressively minded organization. What will happen if one of our classes wants to advocate for open carry at schools in response to a shooting? How will my board handle working in a site where they wouldn’t ordinarily visit?

I am excited to tackle all of these challenges. And I would push other similarly sized non-profits to think about working in a more diverse set of areas. It is not possible to be a national organization and avoid entire swaths of the country. But more importantly, given these tenuous political times, it feels important to interact with people who may not hold our beliefs.

Nonprofits can’t fix our national dialogue alone. But by expanding where we work, we might help improve the conversation.