first take

Deal lays framework for new evals; city appeals issue smoothed

A compromise between the state and its main teachers union will refine the state’s teacher evaluation law and make it easier for local districts to implement new evaluations, Gov. Cuomo announced today.

Cuomo had said that he would impose a new evaluation system if a deal did not come by today.

The announcement suggested that some of the most pressing issues at the state level had been resolved but that significant questions remained wide open here in New York City. The city and UFT have settled at least part of their dispute about appeals for teachers with low ratings but have not actually agreed on a new evaluations system.

Cuomo announced the deal during a a press conference in Albany, where he was joined by State Education Commissioner John King, NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, and UFT President Michael Mulgrew — but no officials from New York City. Mayor Bloomberg is holding a press conference at City Hall this afternoon to discuss the deal.

We’ll have more details about the content of the agreement, which is a statewide framework that would tweak the state’s 2010 evaluation law, later today. Cuomo will be submitting bills today to formalize the agreement through the budget amendment process.

What’s clear is that it gives Cuomo some of what he wanted last spring when he asked the Board of Regents to increase the weight of test scores in teacher evaluations. The agreed-upon framework allows districts and their unions to agree to use state exam scores for a second 20 percent of evaluations set aside for local assessments — but they can’t use the exams in exactly the same way the state does. Instead, they’ll be able to crunch the numbers a different way or substitute their own assessments, which the State Education Department would have to approve.

It’s also clear that while the agreement represents a leap forward for the city and UFT, it does not end their disputes. The city and union agreed only to an appeals process for teachers with low ratings — resolving a major sticking point in negotiations over teacher evaluations at 33 schools that had been receiving federal funding.

But it does not actually represent an agreement on a new evaluation system. Other issues that were unresolved when negotiations broke down over the appeals question are still up in the air. Plus, the negotiations that fell apart were only for the 33 schools that received School Improvement Grants. The city, like all districts, now has until Jan. 16, 2013, to finalize an evaluation system using the framework NYSUT agreed to today.

“Are there continuing, outstanding issues when it comes to education between the city and the UFT. Yes, yes, that is clear,” Cuomo said. “We never said we were going to resolve all the open issues.”

The one issue that was resolved, about the appeals process, represents something of a loss for the city. Bloomberg’s position was that the school chancellor should have the final word on all appeals. But Mulgrew said the agreed-upon appeals process — which Cuomo said would go into effect by the end of 2012 and enable the city to receive a 4 percent increase in school aid — brings in third-party validation for some ratings.

He also said the process included safeguards against low ratings issued as a means of harassment.

Cuomo lavished praise on Mulgrew during the press conference, saying that the union leader had “worked extraordinarily hard … and has been extraordinarily reasonable” through the negotiation process.

A major open question is whether the city will go ahead with its plan to “turn around” 33 struggling schools, which would require half of their teachers to be replaced. Bloomberg had proposed turnaround as a way to circumvent a requirement that the city negotiate an evaluation deal for teachers in those schools. But with the sticking point in those negotiations resolved, the city could continue the school improvement strategies already underway there. The city is set to make its case with the state next week for why federal funds should continue flowing to support those schools

Mulgrew signaled today that he thought the evaluation should take turnaround off the table. But he signaled that the city had not said clearly that it would.

“”If the mayor chooses he can speak to us about putting in a SIG application,” he said in Albany. “You can ask him. I think he has decided he’d rather close schools than fix them.”

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.