off topic

As NRA analogy draws ire, teacher evaluations take backseat

Union officials, elected officials, and parent advocates gathered on the steps of City Hall to decry Mayor Bloomberg’s comments comparing the union to the NRA.

Elected officials, parent advocates, and three of the four Democratic candidates for mayor lined up today to call on Mayor Bloomberg to apologize for suggesting that the teachers union is like the National Rifle Association.

On his radio show last Friday, Bloomberg characterized both the United Federation of Teachers and the NRA as groups “where the membership, if you do the polling, doesn’t agree with the leadership.”

Bloomberg had made the indirect comparison before. But coming weeks after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and with tensions already running high with the UFT over teacher evaluations, the analogy has drawn a swift backlash from union supporters.

At a press conference on the steps of City Hall this afternoon, several City Council members and other union supporters called on the mayor to “man up” and apologize. Among the speakers were Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, and former comptroller Bill Thompson — mayoral candidates who are courting the union’s endorsement.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the fourth likely Democratic mayoral candidate, was not present, although she had previously criticized the mayor’s comments.

Principals union president Ernest Logan said the mayor’s characterization of the unions as not representing their members was “a personal affront.” Logan said his recent reelection proved that he has his members’ support.

“I think the mayor is out of sync with the people,” he said.

The ongoing dustup comes 10 days before the deadline Gov. Andrew Cuomo set for districts to adopt new teacher evaluation or lose state funding.

Speaking this morning at an event in the Bronx, Bloomberg said focusing on his comments was a way for the union to avoid negotiations. “What they’re trying to do is have an issue so they don’t have to face evaluations,” he said when he was asked about evaluations, lavishing praise on teachers even as he undercut the union.

But Mulgrew said the mayor’s comments are not the obstacle to negotiations. Talks could easily reopen if the city would meet the union’s demand to discuss how an evaluation system would be implemented, he said.

Bloomberg likewise said it wouldn’t take much to get him back to the table. “We’re willing to talk even when they’re running nasty ads,” Bloomberg said, referring to a television ad the UFT began airing last week that criticized the mayor.

Implications of the mayor’s comments could extend far beyond city politics, AFT President Randi Weingarten said at the press conference. She said the comments undermined Bloomberg’s credentials as an anti-gun advocate and, potentially, efforts to restrict gun ownership in the country.

“The mayor has given the NRA a way to cheapen his and our advocacy,” she said. “I can only what the NRA will do with this.”

race in the classroom

‘Do you see me?’ Success Academy theater teacher gives fourth-graders a voice on police violence

Success Academy student Gregory Hannah, one of the performers

In the days and weeks after last July’s police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, teachers across New York grappled with how to talk about race and police violence. But for Sentell Harper, a theater teacher at Success Academy Bronx 2, those conversations had started long before.

CNN recently interviewed Harper about a spoken-word piece he created for his fourth-grade students to perform about what it means to be black and male in America. Harper, who just finished his fourth year teaching at Success, said that after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, he wanted to check in with his students.

“I got my group of boys together, and I said, ‘Today, we’re going to talk about race,'” Harper told CNN. “And they had so much to say. They started telling me stories about their fathers and their brothers, and about dealing with racism — things that I never knew that these young boys went through.”

Inspired by their stories, he created a performance called “Alternative Names for Black Boys,” drawing on poems by Danez Smith, Tupac Shakur and Langston Hughes.

Wearing gray hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin, who was killed while wearing one, the boys take turns naming black men and boys who have been killed: Freddie, Michael, Philando, Tamir. The list goes on.

Despite the sensitive nature of the subject matter, Harper says honesty is essential for him as a teacher. “Our kids are aware of race and want to talk about it,” he wrote in a post on Success Academy’s website. “As a black male myself, I knew I wanted to foster conversation between my students and within the school community.”

Click below to watch the performance.

Half-priced homes

Detroit teachers and school employees are about to get a major perk: Discount houses

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is announcing an educator discount that will allow employees of all Detroit schools to buy houses from the Land Bank at 50 percent off.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is getting ready this morning to announce a major effort to lure teachers and other school employees to the city of Detroit: Offering them half-priced homes.

According to a press release that’s expected to be released at an event this morning, the mayor plans to announce that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter or parochial schools — will now get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

That discount is already available to city employees, retirees and their families. Now it will be available to full-time employees of schools located in the city.

“Teachers and educators are vital to the city’s future,” Duggan is quoted as saying in the release. “It’s critical to give our school employees, from teachers to custodial staff, the opportunity to live in the communities they teach in.”

If the effort can convince teachers to live in the city rather than surrounding suburbs, it could help a stabilize the population decline that has led to blight and neighborhood deterioration in many parts of the city.

For city schools, the discounts give administrators another perk to offer prospective employees. District and charter schools in Detroit face severe teacher shortages that have created large class sizes and put many children in classrooms without fully qualified teachers.

Detroit’s new schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, has said he’s determined to make sure the hundreds of teacher vacancies that affected city schools last year are addressed by the start of classes in September.

In the press release, he’s quoted praising the discount program. “There is an opportunity and need to provide innovative solutions to recruit and retain teachers to work with our children in Detroit.”

The Detroit Land Bank Authority Educator Discount Program will be announced at an event scheduled for 10:45 this morning in front of a Land Bank house in Detroit’s Russell Woods neighborhood.

The Land Bank currently auctions three homes per day through its website, with bidding starting at $1,000.