gang of 20

Cuomo names appointees to state education reform commission

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in January that he would convene a commission to set a course for reforming New York’s schools, insiders said many members would likely come from out of state.

That wasn’t true when Cuomo revealed the composition of the commission in Albany today. All but a handful of the 20 commission members are based in New York, and about half are based in New York CIty.

But the commission is still a far cry from the last panel Cuomo convened, a “think tank” of educators and advocates who advised the state in its bid to escape some federal accountability measures. Few of its members work in organizations that interact directly with children, even fewer are advocates, and there are no district representatives. There is also no parent advocate on the commission, even it is being asked to devise strategies to increase parent engagement.

Instead, commission members are drawn from the highest levels of state government, the state and city university systems, and nonprofit organizations. They include State Education Commissioner John King, Assembly Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan, and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher.

“It’s very blue-ribbon,” said CUNY education professor David Bloomfield about the panel’s composition. “The establishment nature of the commission makes it less likely that they will come up with anti-establishment recommendations.”

Working under the leadership of chair Richard Parsons, a former head of CitiGroup and Time Warner; and top Cuomo deputies, they will have seven months to make recommendations about how to boost student achievement and make education spending more efficient. Cuomo said today that he wanted the recommendations to form “an action plan” for his administration.

The commission’s tasks, set by Cuomo in an executive order, include finding ways to improve teacher recruitment and evaluation, proposing strategies to boost test scores, scrutinizing education funding, figuring out how schools should use technology, and examining issues facing urban and rural students.

The commission is also being asked to consider streamlining the state’s education system to reduce expenses, an issue that is unlikely to affect New York City but could be potentially explosive upstate, where there are more than 700 districts with their own staffs, services, and sports teams.

Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, decried the lack of local school board representation on the commission.

“The perspective of those who are elected by their communities to provide leadership and direction, oversee millions in taxpayer dollars, and make decisions about programs that impact students for the rest of their lives ought to have a place at the table,” Kremer said in a statement.

One commission member actually is a school board member, technically: Eduardo Martí, a CUNY official, is a mayoral appointee to the city’s unelected school board, the Panel for Educational Policy. Other appointees also have close connections to the Bloomberg administration, including Irma Zardoya, a former superintendent who now runs the city’s principal training program, and Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone.

But other members have been more critical about the city’s and state’s education reform agendas. Randi Weingarten, the former UFT president who now heads the American Federation of Teachers, is on the panel but was not in Albany today to announce its formation. Another member, Michael Rebell, led a successful effort to sue the state over funding inequities and has hinted that another lawsuit could be on the horizon.

The panel will “meet several times and gather input and information from across the state” before submitting recommendations by Dec. 1, according to a press release from Cuomo’s office. That timing would allow Cuomo to incorporate recommendations he wishes to follow into his State of the State address and legislative agenda in 2013.

The full list of panel members and their affiliations is below.

Richard (Dick) Parsons, Retired Chairman, Citigroup, Chair of the New NY Education Reform Commission
Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO
Geoffrey Canada, Founder & CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone
Irma Zardoya, President & CEO, NYC Leadership Academy
Elizabeth Dickey, President, Bank Street College of Education
Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, President, Say Yes to Education
Lisa Belzberg, Founder & Chair Emeritus, PENCIL
Michael Rebell, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Campaign for Educational Equity
Karen Hawley Miles, President & Executive Director, Education Resource Strategies
José Luis Rodríguez, Founder & CEO, Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network, Inc.
Sara Mead, Associate Partner, Bellwether Education Partners
Eduardo Martí, Vice Chancellor of Community Colleges, CUNY
Thomas Kane, Professor of Education & Economics, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Jean Desravines, CEO, New Leaders for New Schools
Michael Horn, Executive Director & Co-Founder, InnoSight Institute
Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor, SUNY
Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, Chancellor, CUNY
John B. King, Jr., Commissioner, New York State Education Department
Senator John Flanagan, Chair, Senate Education Committee
Assembly Member Cathy Nolan, Chair, Assembly Education Committee

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.