public opinion

Poll: NYers don't see Cuomo's ed proposals as top priorities

New York state voters said they aren’t crazy about the idea of a longer school day, a new poll shows.

Fewer than four in 10 voters responding to a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University’s survey center said they believe Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s extended learning day proposal should be a priority for Cuomo and state legislators. The poll focused on five of the proposals Cuomo floated during his ambitious State of the State speech three weeks ago, three of which are education-related.

New York voters were more open to his proposals to improve teacher quality, including a tougher “bar exam” and merit pay.

Cuomo is pushing most of his education ideas through competitive grants, and he wants to fund them with a pot of money set aside specifically for recommendations made by his Education Reform Commission. Of the $75 million set aside in his 2013-2014 budget, Cuomo is proposing to give a total of $20 million to districts that adopt extended learning time models, and $11 million for top-performing teachers.

The poll didn’t ask about two other education proposals that he mentioned in the speech, full day pre-kindergarten and more schools that provide health, mental health and other non-academic services. He has proposed to give those proposals a combined $40 million in grants.

It also did not ask about Cuomo’s proposal to continue tying state school aid to whether districts have teacher evaluation systems in place, the education proposal that is shaping up to be the most contentious.

New York voters told the poll that they wanted Cuomo and the legislature to tackle equal pay for women and campaign finance reform before education proposals. Equal pay for women should be the highest priority for Cuomo and lawmakers, 53 percent of poll respondents told Qunnipiac.

The education proposal that received the most support was merit pay for teachers. Forty-five percent of respondents said they thought it should be a high — though not highest — priority. Cuomo’s proposal doesn’t specifically call it “merit pay,” a term the state and city teachers unions staunchly oppose because they say it doesn’t lead to improved teaching. Cuomo’s proposal would give top teachers an extra $60,000 over four years to mentor other teachers in the profession.

Forty-three percent of voters said a bar exam should be a high priority. The idea has received support from a broad swath of people in education, including American Federation of Teachers President and former New York City Chancellor Joel Klein, who say it’s a crucial step toward raising the profession’s standard.

But polling respondents said they thought the least pressing education issue was extended learning. Cuomo has proposed to fund schools that can figure out efficient ways to add about 300 hours of learning onto their school year. In his speech, Cuomo pointed to higher test scores for students in extended learning environments as evidence of its success.

Just 17 percent of voters saw it as the top priority for Cuomo and the state legislature to pursue this year, compared to 26 percent for merit pay and 28 percent for a bar exam.

The idea was more favorable to black and lower income respondents, the poll found. Twenty-six percent of black respondents and 29 percent of respondents from households with less than $50,000 income said it should be a top priority.

Education in general was not the most pressing issue for many of the poll’s respondents. When asked what they believed was the most important problem facing the state today, 32 percent said it was the economy and 17 percent said it was taxes. Nine percent said education.

Another part of the poll, released yesterday, focused on Gov. Cuomo’s job approval ratings, which 15 points from 74 percent to 59 percent. The dip in his approval, still relatively high, has been attributed to the gun control bill that Cuomo and the legislature passed on the first day in session, circumventing the a three-day bill review period required by the state constitution.

But Maurice Carroll, director of Quinnipiac’s polling center, said he believes the dip could also have to do with Cuomo’s embrace of more progressive ideals during his state address. Cuomo has also hinted at a more progressive education agenda.

“Did you ever see a State of the State speech that listed about 42 different super-liberal proposals?” Carroll said in a radio interview yesterday.

“I think it’s fair to say that there’s an awful lot of dissatisfaction with the gun control proposals, but the other stuff is also dramatic,” Carroll added.



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.