public opinion

Poll: NYers don't trust Bloomberg to protect students' interests

New York City residents won’t be appointing Mayor Bloomberg as students’ chief lobbyist any time soon.

Nearly twice as many New Yorkers trust the teachers union to protect students’ interests than they do Bloomberg, according to a new poll out of Quinnipiac University. Bloomberg’s approval rating on schools has hovered around 25 percent since early 2011, according to the poll.

The poll, conducted Jan. 30-Feb. 5, found that 56 percent of registered voters in New York City say they trust the union more to go to bat for students. Less than a third, 31 percent, said they trust Bloomberg more. (The poll of 1,222 registered voters had a margin of error of 2.8 percent.)

Among households containing public school students, the split was even more pronounced. Just 21 percent of those voters picked Bloomberg, and 69 percent chose the teachers union. Parents’ backed the union more often than even households with union members.

The news comes in an education-packed poll conducted after a month in which in a showdown over new teacher evaluations led Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo each to ratchet up rhetoric against teachers and their unions. The poll found that the percentage of New Yorkers with favorable opinions of teachers had fallen, from 54 percent last March to 47 percent now.

But while a different poll earlier this week found high approval for Cuomo’s school policies, a set of questions designed to assess New Yorkers’ feelings about a slate of policy initiatives Bloomberg proposed during his State of the City address last month elicited mixed results.

In that speech, Bloomberg proposed increasing the salaries of teachers who receive high ratings on new evaluations and offering loan forgiveness to top college students who become city teachers.

The poll asked New Yorkers for their opinions on those ideas and others. Here’s what they said:

  • Eighty-four percent of poll respondents said they approved of Bloomberg’s loan forgiveness proposal. The proposal was the only one in Bloomberg’s speech to win immediate support from the United Federation of Teachers.
  • But just 54 percent said they thought it made sense to offer a $20,000 pay raise to teachers with high ratings on new evaluations. Thirty-nine percent said the raises sounded like a bad idea.
  • The broad idea that “public school teachers who do an outstanding job should be rewarded with additional pay, so called merit pay” got support from 72 percent of respondents. Twenty-four percent said the idea sounded bad. Support for merit pay was up eight points since last March.
  • Fifty-four percent of respondents said they thought making it easier to fire teachers sounds like a good idea. Thirty-eight percent said it was a bad idea. Those numbers were the same as a year ago, the first time the poll asked about the topic.
  • Just 11 percent of New Yorkers said they thought teacher layoffs should take place according to seniority, as they would under current rules. Just over 80 percent said they thought layoffs should go in order of performance. A year ago, when Bloomberg was actually threatening layoffs and calling for an end to “last in, first out” seniority layoff rules, support for seniority layoffs was higher, at 16 percent.
  • Just over half of New Yorkers said they thought charter schools should expand in the city, and 38 percent said the publicly funded but privately managed schools should not expand. In 2009, the first time this question was asked, two-thirds of New Yorkers said charter schools should expand and just 26 percent said there should be no expansion. At the time, the city was approaching a state-set charter school limit that was raised in 2010.
  • Just a third of New Yorkers support the Bloomberg administration’s recent decision to bar churches from using school space to hold services. Nearly 60 percent said the ban is a bad idea.

Overall, according to the poll, just 26 percent of New Yorkers approve of how Bloomberg has handled the schools. That figure is statistically identical to the 25 percent low Bloomberg received last spring, during the waning days of Cathie Black’s brief tenure as chancellor. Fifty-seven percent of poll respondents said Bloomberg’s takeover of the schools had been a failure, the same as last year.

Black New Yorkers and those living in the Bronx gave Bloomberg his lowest approval ratings on schools, 21 percent and 19 percent respectively. He did best among New Yorkers making more than $100,000 a year: A full third of them said they supported his schools management.

The news for Chancellor Dennis Walcott was also not good. His approval numbers stayed the same since December, at 34 percent, but his disapproval rate has continued to inch upward and now stands at 37 percent.

Overall, just 13 percent of New Yorkers said the mayor should retain sole control of the city schools after Bloomberg leaves office in 2013. Two-thirds said a new mayor should share control with an independent school board. The law authorizing mayoral control of the city schools is set to expire in 2016.

Half of respondents say they want their next mayor to be someone with government, rather than business, experience. But they gave only mixed reviews to the job performance of three city officials who are plotting mayoral runs: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and Comptroller John Liu.

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.”