Pomp and Circumstance

With great fanfare, WHEELS seniors mail college applications

In a school sweatshirt, Chancellor Dennis Walcott congratulates WHEELS seniors as they approach the local post office.

When William Taveras approached the Washington Bridge Post Office on West 180th Street, college applications in hand, with whoops and applause from hundreds of classmates in the background, it was a step toward a goal he set five years ago.

As a member of the first class of sixth-graders at the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, Taversas said he often heard founding principal Brett Kimmel tell students his main objective was to get everyone into college.

Kimmel brought Taveras’s cohort a few steps closer to that goal today, when all 76 seniors marched the three blocks from their Upper Manhattan school to the post office that would mail their transcripts and applications to universities.

Each student was required to apply to CUNY and SUNY colleges, and some said they were applying to other schools as well. WHEELS — which lists “high-dose” tutoring as one of its strategies to build college readiness — required each student to apply to a minimum of six colleges.

With the school’s other students and Chancellor Dennis Walcott cheering him on, Taveras, 17, said the afternoon was a crystallization of the support he received all year as the school pushed its first graduating class toward the  application due-dates.

“They were on us every single day, 24/7, sending us emails about everything we needed to do to so we’d keep doing it,” he said.

During the procession, two 11th-grade girls whispered to each other, “That’s going to be us next year.”

Kimmel said that’s exactly what he wants to hear his students say.

“As much about shining the spotlight on the seniors like we did, for me as the principal it was equally important to have all of those sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, ninth-, 10th-, 11th-graders out there participating and seeing this, and ritualizing this event as something that happens once you’re a WHEELS senior — that this is what we do, what we aspire toward,” he said.

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.