wish list

On DonorsChoose, a look at what teachers say they lack

With their discretionary funds eliminated and their schools’ budgets deflated, city teachers are supplicating strangers to fill in the gaps.

There are 1,793 projects posted by city teachers – mostly from high poverty schools – on DonorsChoose, a website that allows teachers across the country to describe small-scale projects that need funding. The requests paint a depressing picture of what many classrooms are lacking.

There are the occasional requests for cutting edge technology, such as iPads, tablets and digital cameras. And many of the more ambitious projects range from the creative (violins, costumes, wireless microphones) to the healthy (soccer balls, juicers, pedometers) to the icky (fetal pigs, butterfly larvae, composting worms). But most teachers seem to be asking for classroom staples such as pens, paper, and glue.

Here’s what we saw when we checked out DonorsChoose today:

  • More than half of all NYC projects relate to literacy and language, a focus of the Department of Education’s this year. Many teachers, hoping to make their reading areas more appealing, are asking for beanbag chairs, rugs, library shelves and books. Ms. Coneys, from Thurgood Marshall Academy in Manhattan, is requesting a class set of “Things Fall Apart”  for her students. She writes: “School supplies have become less of a priority, and asking students to go out and buy a book they have never heard of is even more difficult. That being said, it’s apparent that my students have the desire to learn something new.”
  • Some basic requests highlight the irony of classrooms that have been gifted with Smart Boards and printers, but lack compatible computers and ink. “What good is having computers if we can’t print the work we just did? We have been blessed with lots of technology in our school, however we struggle to pay for ink cartridges,” Ms. Glembocki, of Brooklyn’s School for Math Science Design and Technology, wrote.
  • Threatened arts programs are reaching out for help sustaining their presence in their schools. Ms. Achu from Mott Hall Bridges Middle School in Brooklyn writes: “Art…it’s always the first cut, but the most needed. Our funding limitations didn’t allow us to offer art. We soon realized how necessary this outlet is for kids. Many times they bring the wear and tear from their home lives into a school subject such as art to express themselves in a positive manner.”
  • Teachers who want to push their students to the next level are asking for the means to do so. For example, Mr. Murphy’s students at Manhattan’s Frederick Douglass Academy has had a 92 percent pass rate on the AP European History exam but their review books are worn. “Challenges? How about massive budget cuts in an inner-city school that continues to pursue the thoroughly attainable dream of acceptance to a competitive College or University,” Mr. Murphy writes. “Our school is fighting that nearly impossible fight, and going into battle is all the more difficult without the proper weapons.”
  • And some teachers, are using their projects to make their students more comfortable during the school day. Ms. Metcalf from P.S. 70 Max Schoenfeld School in the Bronx is requesting healthy snacks for her students. She writes: “Do you know how hard it is to focus on tackling a word problem or writing an essay when you’re hungry? 97% of my students receive free lunch and do not have the means to bring a snack with them every day, and since we eat lunch at 1:50, they depend on healthy snacks to get through the day.”

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.”