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.

 

First Person

First Person: Why my education nonprofit is bucking the coastal trend and setting up shop in Oklahoma

PHOTO: Creative Commons

“Oklahoma?! Why are you expanding to Oklahoma?!”

The response when I told some people that Generation Citizen, the nonprofit I run, was expanding to central Texas and Oklahoma, quickly became predictable. They could understand Texas, probably because our headquarters will be in the blue-dot-in-sea-of-red Austin. But Oklahoma?

My answer: Generation Citizen is expanding to Oklahoma City because no one would expect us to expand to Oklahoma City.

Our nonprofit is dedicated to empowering young people to become engaged citizens by reviving civics education in schools. We help middle and high school students learn about local politics by guiding them as they take action on issues they care about, like funding for teen jobs or state resources for teenage moms.

I founded the organization after graduating from Brown University in Rhode Island in 2009. Since then, we’ve expanded our programming to Boston, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area. All are urban areas with wide swaths of low-income young people, unequal schools, and disparate power dynamics. Our work is needed in those areas.

At the same time, all of these areas have predominantly liberal populations. In fact, according to The Economist, they are among the 10 most liberal cities in the country.

Generation Citizen is a non-partisan organization. We do not wish to convince young people to support a particular candidate or party — we just want them to engage politically, period. But the fact that we are preparing low-income young people in liberal urban centers to become politically active complicates this narrative.

So despite the fact that we could work with many more students in our existing cities, we made a conscious decision to expand to a more politically diverse region. A city that had real Republicans.

As we started talking about expansion, I realized the extent to which the dialogue about political and geographic diversity was a rarity in national nonprofit circles. While several large education organizations, like Teach for America and City Year, have done an admirable job of in working in conservative and rural regions across the country, a lot of other organizations follow a more predictable path, sticking largely to cities on the east and west coasts and sometimes, if folks feel crazy, an Atlanta or Miami.

There is nothing wrong with these decisions (and we were originally following this trajectory). A big reason for the coastal-focused expansion strategy is the availability of financial resources. Nonprofits want to raise money locally to sustain themselves, and those cities are home to a lot of people and foundations who can fund nonprofits.

But a more problematic reason seems related to our increasing ideological self-segregation. Nonprofits lean toward expanding to places that are comfortable, places that their leaders visit, places where people tend to hold similar values and political views.

One of the fault lines in our democracy is our inability to talk to people who disagree with us (highlighted daily by this presidential election). And non-profits may be exacerbating this reality.

This schism actually became more apparent to me when our board of directors started having conversations about expansion. Oklahoma City had come to the top of my proposed list because of my personal and professional contacts there. But I quickly realized that no one on my board lived more than five miles from an ocean, and save a board member from Oklahoma, none had stepped foot in the state.

“Are we sure we want to expand there? Why not a gateway city?” (I still don’t know what a gateway city is.)

“We can hire a Republican to run the site, but they can’t be a Trump supporter.”

“Are we sure that we can raise enough money to operate there?”

It wasn’t just my board. Whenever I talked to friends about our plans, they’d offer the same resistance.

The stereotypes I heard were twofold: Oklahoma was full of bigoted conservatives, and it was an incredibly boring location. (The dullness narrative got an unquestionable boost this year when star basketball player Kevin Durant left the hometown Thunder. It became quite clear that a main rationale for his leaving the team was Oklahoma City itself.)

But as I met with folks about Generation Citizen’s work, I met citizen after citizen who was excited about our mission. The state is facing tremendous budget challenges, and its voter participation rates amongst the worst in the country. Given these realities, there seemed to be widespread recognition that a program like ours could actually be helpful.

I did not talk about national politics with most people I met. Indeed, we might disagree on whom to support. But we did agree on the importance of educating young people to be politically active, shared concerns about public school budget cuts, and bonded over excitement for the Thunder’s playoff chances.

Still, the actual expansion to Oklahoma will be a challenge for our organization. Despite our local ties, we are coming in from the outside, and we do have the perception of being a progressively minded organization. What will happen if one of our classes wants to advocate for open carry at schools in response to a shooting? How will my board handle working in a site where they wouldn’t ordinarily visit?

I am excited to tackle all of these challenges. And I would push other similarly sized non-profits to think about working in a more diverse set of areas. It is not possible to be a national organization and avoid entire swaths of the country. But more importantly, given these tenuous political times, it feels important to interact with people who may not hold our beliefs.

Nonprofits can’t fix our national dialogue alone. But by expanding where we work, we might help improve the conversation.

honor system

Meet Derek Voiles, the Morristown educator who is Tennessee’s newest Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: Tennessee Department of Education
Derek Voiles, Tennessee's 2016-17 Teacher of the Year

Derek Voiles, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher in Morristown, is Tennessee’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year, the State Department of Education announced Thursday.

One of nine finalists for this year’s award, Voiles teaches at Lincoln Heights Middle in Hamblen County Schools in East Tennessee. He received the top teacher honor at a banquet in Nashville.

Voiles, who has been teaching for six years, has long shared his teaching practices publicly — on Twitter, through a blog he wrote with a colleague, and as a state ambassador for the Common Core standards. In recent years, according to a state news release, his classroom became a hub as teachers from across his district observed his teaching in hopes of replicating his practices, which often improved the performance of students far behind their peers.

“All students are capable of achieving great things, and all students deserve a teacher who believes this and will do whatever it takes to make it happen,” Voiles said in the release. He is also a doctoral candidate at East Tennessee State University.

Now, Voiles will gain an even wider stage, as Tennessee’s representative to the National Teacher of the Year program. He will also share insight from the classroom as part of committees and working groups with the Tennessee Department of Education.

All nine Teacher of the Year finalists, representing each of the state’s regions, will serve on the Commissioner Candice McQueen’s Teacher Advisory Council during the 2016-17 school year.

The department also recognized two division winners from Middle and West Tennessee. Cord Martin, a music education and enrichment teacher at Whitthorne Middle School in Maury County, was recognized for his innovative teaching strategies and connecting content to contemporary culture. Christy McManus, a fifth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher at Chester County Middle School in Henderson was honored for equipping her students with the end goal in mind: a college-ready twelfth grader.

Voiles follows Cathy Whitehead, a third-grade teacher from Chester County, who served as Tennessee’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year. Whitehead teaches at West Chester Elementary School in Henderson in West Tennessee.