Vox populi

Comments of the week: Readers dissect a dead evaluation deal

The long weekend just wasn’t enough time for readers to cool off after last week’s surprising news that a long-awaited teacher evaluation deal had failed. After months and months of negotiations, the two sides walked away from the negotiating table without a system to submit to the state, forgoing $240 million in state aid in the process.

So there was plenty to talk about at the end of last week and as this one began. Many, including Commissioner John King, sided with the UFT’s account of how talks broke down. A review of the hundreds of comments that poured in on posts about the breakdown in negotiations suggested a lot of our readers agreed.

But others weren’t so fast to give the union a pass.

“The real debate,” Night Rider wrote, “surrounds the fact that there is way too much secret dealings going on and the rank and file are not having a chance to have a say in these negotiations. Heck, even if the UFT and the DOE came up with a last minute deal on the evaluations last week, the Delegate Assembly would have had mere minutes to look at the proposal.”

Night Rider also questioned if King had the authority to follow through with his threat to withhold more money if the city doesn’t get a deal done soon:

The billion dollar question is what is going to happen when King/Cuomo start to hold tons of federal Title 1 monies from NYC on Feb 15th. Will the UFT cave on this? I, and countless others think it is just a ploy to get a deal out of us. However, it is NOT A DEADLINE. There is no gun to the head of the UFT or any law in place that says a deal must be signed by Feb 15th. My guess is that there will be a lawsuit by some party to allow the release of the Title 1 monies to NYC.

The failure of the state’s largest city to meet the deadline, a gambit dreamt up by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, could have left him governor politically vulnerable. David Bloomfield, Professor of Educational Leadership, Law, and Policy at the CUNY Grad Center and Brooklyn College, didn’t see it that way.

This is not a “black eye for Gov. Andrew Cuomo” (yesterday’s GS story). He created a framework for district/union cooperation, winning friends in the accountability and progressive communities — a neat piece of political footwork. Failure to agree in NYC was entirely predictable based on the necessity of unlikely UFT/Bloomberg compromise but Cuomo comes out threading the needle as a champion of test-based teacher evaluations, district discretion, and collective bargaining.

One commenter, “Principal” was already fretting about what the $240 million cut could mean for schools:

I’m demoralized as this will likely mean the loss of our Title I school’s extended day program, funded by federal grants that will now be lost because of failure to strike a deal.  That grant also funds critical professional development.  Anything would be better than the U/S system, which makes baseline competence (the standard an S) the highest bar formally expected or recognized.

Another story that’s had legs is the bus drivers strike, which completed its seventh day today. To mitigate the strike’s impact on low-income special education students, the Department of Education is fronting cab money for students who can show proof that they qualify for free or reduced lunch at school. If only it were that simple, said “Make it stop“.

Some families do not fill out lunch forms. Those who do not have green cards or who work off the books don’t feel comfortable. Many “at risk” students are being hurt by this strike. GS please tell this story. And ask the DoE if the risks to these students’ ed outcomes is worth it.


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.