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Bloomberg's message to principals is continuity, not change

A guest appearance by Mayor Bloomberg in the Department of Education’s weekly email update to principals makes no mention of last week’s biggest news: the firing of Chancellor Cathie Black.

Taking over the space usually occupied by a message from the chancellor, Bloomberg focuses instead — just as he did when he announced Black’s departure last week — on the man he selected to replace Black, Dennis Walcott. In the letter, which accompanied a long list of logistical announcements, Bloomberg summarizes Walcott’s involvement in the city schools and emphasizes that Walcott’s mission is to continue the mayor’s education priorities and policies.

“With every decision we make, Dennis brings to the table his experiences as a teacher, parent, and community leader, as well as his years of experience working closely with you,” Bloomberg writes.

The mayor also slips in praise for principals, some of whom have reported feeling a lack of support while the department has undergone rapid internal changes.

“Our students have no greater champion than Dennis Walcott, and I know that—working with the most talented team of principals in this country—he will help our schools continue the tremendous progress we’ve already made,” Bloomberg writes.

Bloomberg’s full message to principals is below.

Dear Principals,

As Mayor, it’s my number-one responsibility to make sure that our kids are learning the skills they’ll need to be productive, successful adults. Nothing is more important to the future of our City than improving our schools. That’s why I named Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott our next Chancellor.

Many of you already know Dennis well. He’s been a familiar presence in our schools for more than nine years: he’s stopped by your classrooms, joined you for after-school activities, and chatted with you and your teachers about the challenges you face. He’s also been one of my closest advisors, working with me and with Chancellors Klein and Black to shape the policies that have made our schools better. Dennis has been instrumental in empowering you to make the best decisions for your schools, designing a system that rewards you and your teachers for helping students make progress, ending social promotion, and opening excellent new schools. Thanks to his leadership, more of our students are achieving at higher levels and graduating from high school.

A product of Queens public schools, Dennis has been deeply committed to our City’s young people for decades: he began his career as a kindergarten teacher before founding a mentoring program and going on to lead the New York Urban League, which provides educational and youth service programs. He sent his children to public schools and his grandson currently attends an elementary school in Queens. With every decision we make, Dennis brings to the table his experiences as a teacher, parent, and community leader, as well as his years of experience working closely with you.

I know that Dennis’s leadership will help us tackle the challenges that lie ahead. Over the next three years, we will focus on helping more students graduate prepared for college and 21st Century careers, which means opening more high-performing schools, thoughtfully introducing Common Core standards, and making sure we have a great teacher in every classroom.

You will continue to see Dennis regularly in your school communities. Our students have no greater champion than Dennis Walcott, and I know that—working with the most talented team of principals in this country—he will help our schools continue the tremendous progress we’ve already made.

Sincerely,

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.”