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

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.”