peanut gallery

Contempt, confusion, and cheers in State of the City reactions

Minutes after Mayor Bloomberg finished delivering his State of the City address today, reactions started flying about his aggressive slate of education proposals.

The reactions ranged from withering (in the case of UFT President Michael Mulgrew) to bewildered (Ernest Logan, principals union president) to supportive (charter school operator Eva Moskowitz and others whose organizations would benefit from the proposals).

Below, I’ve compiled the complete set of education-related reactions that dropped into my inbox. I’ll add to the list as more reactions roll in.

From Mulgrew:

The Mayor seems to be lost in his own fantasy world of education, the one where reality doesn’t apply. It doesn’t do the kids and the schools any good for him to propose the kind of teacher merit pay system that has failed in school districts around the country.  As far as the ‘turnaround’ model goes, the Mayor knows perfectly well that under state law these kinds of initiatives have to be negotiated with the union.  If he’s really interested in improving the schools his administration has mishandled, he will send his negotiators back to the table to reach an agreement on a new teacher evaluation process.

And Logan:

At first glance, in the public eye, the Mayor’s remarks about schools may seem reasonable, but when you dig down, you realize how many of his proposals do little to help struggling schools.  These schools are likely to continue struggling, not because 50% of the educators are supposedly incompetent, but because of the DOE’s student enrollment policies that place students who are over-age, under-credited, in temporary housing or dealing with involved special education needs in schools that are said to be low-performing.  We must stop this kind of warehousing and give these children what they need to succeed.

Hopefully, when the city presents this plan to us and explains it fully, we will have fewer concerns.

Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform:

What the mayor put forward today is a series of bold yet common sense initiatives to improve our public schools, ideas so obvious that with each one he announced the crowd erupted in applause. Opening high performing schools, paying teachers more and creating an elite corps of educators from the tops of their college classes are all important steps towards giving every child the top notch education they deserve. We should remember those authentic reactions as the special interests do their best to appeal to those applauding today to turn on these ideas tomorrow.

Bob Hughes, president of New Visions for Public Schools, which manages many city schools:

Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to hold his 2012 State of the City address at the beautifully restored Morris Educational Campus—home to four small public high schools—reinforces the success of the small schools movement. Research shows that small schools—our best example of transformative change—are effective at closing the achievement gap. New Visions for Public Schools is committed to building on this success by developing innovative practices that align with Common Core state standards and improve college readiness for all students. While we still have challenging work ahead of us, we’ve seen the promise of pursuing bold ideas. By focusing on improving instructional systems and professional capacity in schools, we can raise achievement even further for our highest-need students.

Moskowitz, whose Success Charter Network will expand more quickly under Bloomberg’s plan:

We’re really encouraged that the mayor is embracing the bolder, faster change we’ve been calling for. Our plan has always been to meet the demand from families in diverse neighborhoods across the city for more and better options for their children. We will work closely with the Mayor’s team to do our part to drastically improve the number of high quality public school options over the next several years.”

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer:

I support the Mayor’s call for a higher minimum wage, and I am glad that he talked about education. But I wish he had spoken more about the squeeze facing New York’s middle class families. Too many New Yorkers are working harder than ever, but feel like they are falling further and further behind. That’s got to change. We need a clear vision going forward about how we’re going to make this City work for middle class and working families.

If the last nine years have shown us anything, it’s that Mayor Bloomberg can’t improve City schools by himself. The Lone Ranger approach to education has held us back. Mayor Bloomberg also needs input from parents, teachers and principals, advocates and business leaders. This speech did nothing to forge those partnerships.

I support efforts to maximize the value of our assets wherever possible in the City budget. But without consideration of community needs I cannot support the Mayor’s proposal to sell off three valuable city-owned buildings in Lower Manhattan for a one-time budget windfall. As I pointed out in a letter to the Mayor, these buildings could fill crucial needs in an area plagued by classroom overcrowding and a lack of affordable housing.

Michael Haberman, director of PENCIL, which brokers public-private partnerships for schools:

I was heartened to hear a large portion of Mayor Bloomberg’s speech devoted to the true future of this city—our students.  He understands first-hand the importance of getting a leg up and building up ones skill level to truly prepare for college and careers.  He shared a story about the difference an internship made in his life, which put him on a path to where he is today.

PENCIL understands the city’s challenges—to create a 21st century economy and 21st century schools.  PENCIL’s mission focuses on the private sector partners the mayor identified as crucial to meeting these challenges.  We bring NYC business leaders into schools and support meaningful partnerships between the two.

PENCIL coordinates one of the largest city-wide fellowship program that matches high school juniors and seniors with experiential learning opportunities—internships—which give them the tangible skills and resume builders they need to succeed in this highly competitive city.  Many of our Fellows credit these opportunities—like our mayor—with the doors that have been opened for them.

PENCIL Fellows receive career readiness training and guidance from PENCIL, and are placed in full-time, paid six-week summer internships at leading businesses throughout New York City. Through the program, nearly 500 NYC public high school students have been provided with Business Mentors who have shepherded them through meaningful workplace experiences over the past four years. Participants include business such as JPMorgan Chase, Estee Lauder, Ogilvy, State Farm Insurance and Deloitte.

We know internships and mentoring works.  PENCIL has a model that makes a difference for hundreds of students.  And we applaud the mayor for highlighting these actions as core strategies for meeting the city’s goals.”

Zakiyah Ansari, a parent leader with the Coalition for Educational Justice:

Nearly every student in City public schools today started school under Mayor Bloomberg.  These are our children and Bloomberg has run out of time, spin and excuses. All the kids in our schools are ‘Bloomberg’s Kids’; all the results are his to own. Until he makes serious changes and begins listening to parents, he will be ‘Mayor 13%’—the mayor who prepares just 13 percent of Black and Latino students for college.”

As I listened to the Mayor’s speech today, my hope was that he was going to take real leadership and acknowledge the truth of what is really happening in our schools. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, he did not. The mayor missed a major opportunity today to take a big step forward for our children and our school system by listening to the concerns of parents and the majority of New Yorkers who believe his policies have failed, and moving forward with a new set of reforms that will lift our City out of this educational crisis. Instead, the mayor doubled down on bad policies that – after ten years of mistakes – leave just one-in-four City students ready for college and only 13 percent of Black and Latino children prepared for higher education.

In fact, the mayor’s outrageous claim that ‘by almost any measure, students are doing better and our school system is heading in the right direction’ is not only flat out wrong, but a dangerous presumption for this administration to have and promote. The federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress Trial Urban District Assessment (NAEP TUDA) test results in December showed that City scores have plateaued since 2009 and the large racial achievement gap persists between Black and Latino students and their white peers has not budged. More than one-third of all City schools are now considered failing by the State. That is not the right direction. We wonder if the mayor is so out of touch with his own constituents that he does not even see the writing on the wall.

The school the mayor chose for his address is itself a symbol of his failed education policies.  Yes, graduation rates have improved at Morris High School—but only because the city cruelly forced out the highest-needs special education students. The old Morris HS had a 14 percent rate of self-contained special education students; the new Morris HS campus schools have an average of just two percent. What happened to all those special education students? They now attend other large high schools like Samuel Gompers and Grace Dodge, which the Mayor is now closing down as well. This ‘warehousing’ of students, according to the state’s chancellor, is happening all around the City to cover up the real problems with City schools.

Over the years, my eight children have passed through the classrooms of at least 50 teachers. I can count on one hand the number of teachers who I objected to. I’m offended by the mayor’s insinuations that the majority of teachers are ineffective and that it is teachers, rather than the last decade of the mayor’s leadership, that is responsible for the state of our schools.”

And Guadalupe Garcia, a youth leader with Make the Road New York who has pushed for the DREAM Act:

We thank Mayor Bloomberg for supporting our dreams and highlighting the importance of ensuring that young people have access to financial resources from the State to pursue their higher education,” said Guadalupe Garcia, a DREAMer from Mexico and youth leader of Make the Road New York. “We look forward to working with the Mayor and our legislators to ensure the passage of the NYS DREAM Act this year.

 

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”