transition talk

De Blasio advisors include critics of Bloomberg school policies

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 4.13.15 PMA leading special education advocate and a PTA president are among the 60 people that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has named to his “transition committee.”

The committee will advise de Blasio as he crafts policies for his administration, which begins Jan. 1. Its composition signals de Blasio’s priorities now that campaigning has given way to governing — and the names on the list suggest that, on education especially, de Blasio plans to stick with the profile of staunch progressive that he cultivated on the campaign trail.

The committee includes Zakiyah Ansari, the Alliance for Quality Education’s advocacy director and a leading critic of the Bloomberg’s education policies; Cynthia Nixon, an actress who herself has worked with AQE; and Kim Sweet, a special education advocate whose organization has repeatedly sued the city under Bloomberg. All are public school parents.

While the list of civic, business, and cultural leaders does include some allies of the Bloomberg administration, none of the education names on the committee have been strongly aligned with Bloomberg’s school policies.

Charter school advocates, who have said they are cautiously optimistic that de Blasio would back down on his pledge to charge rent to some charter schools, are not represented on the committee. But one member, Children’s Aid Society head Richard Buery, does operate a charter school within city-owned space.

Buery has been a leading advocate of community schools, or adding more social services to city schools, an arrangement that de Blasio has said he would pursue.

Although de Blasio has said he will heavily weigh the influence of educators on his school policies, the committee does not feature any. One member, Brooklyn Academy of Music President Karen Brook Hopkins, was a member of the state’s education policy making board for four years until 2010.

De Blasio said today — during his first public appearance in days — that the transition committee “will result in a city government that is progressive, that is effective, and is diverse … It really reflects all the strengths of New York City.”

The list of committee members is below, with education-oriented members in bold:

Jennifer Jones Austin, Co-Chair, Transition NYC (previously named)

Carl Weisbrod, Co-Chair, Transition NYC (previously named)

Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator, Studio Museum of Harlem

Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, President and Founder of Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute

Cheryl Cohen Effron, Founder, Greater NY; Former President, ATC Management

Karen Brooks Hopkins, President, Brooklyn Academy of Music

Alexa Avilés, Program Officer, Scherman Foundation; Co-President, Parent Teacher Association of Public School 172

Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education

Maxine Griffith, Executive Vice President and Special Advisor for Campus Planning, Office of Government and Community Affairs, Columbia University

Kate Sinding Esq., Senior Attorney, New York Urban Program, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Hon. Dr. Una S.T. Clarke, Former Councilmember, 40th District

MaryAnne Gilmartin, President and CEO, Forest City Ratner Companies

Bertha Lewis, President and Founder, The Black Institute

Marcia A. Smith, President, Firelight Media

Ana Oliveira, President and CEO, The New York Women’s Foundation

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST)

Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

Martha Baker, Executive Director and CEO, Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW)

Dr. Katherine LaGuardia, Assistant Clinical Professor, Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science, Mount Sinai Medical Center

Dr. Conchita M. Mendoza, Chief of Geriatrics, University Hospital of Brooklyn, Long Island College Hospital

Cynthia Nixon, Actress, Artist, Activist

Arnold L. Lehman, Director, Brooklyn Museum

Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director, The Public Theater

Edward (Ed) Lewis, Founder, Essence Communications, Inc.

Richard Buery, Jr., President and CEO, The Children’s Aid Society

William Floyd, Head of External Affairs, Google, Inc.

Meyer (Sandy) Frucher, Vice Chairman, The NASDAQ OMX Group

Orin Kramer, Founder, Boston Provident LP

Vincent (Vinny) Alvarez, President, NYC Central Labor Council

Peter Madonia, COO, The Rockefeller Foundation

Ken Sunshine, Founder, Sunshine Sachs

Harold Ickes, Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff

Dr. Rafael Lantigua, Professor of Clinical Medicine, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center

John Banks, Vice President of Government Relations, Con Edison; Board Member, Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)

Douglas (Doug) Durst, Chairman, The Durst Organization

Derrick Cephas, Partner, Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Former CEO and President, Amalgamated Bank

Herb Sturz, Co-founder, Vera Institue of Justice

Jeremy Travis, President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

Rabbi Michael Miller, Executive Vice President and CEO, Jewish Community Relations Council

Pastor Michael Walrond, Jr., Director of Ministers Division, National Action Network (NAN); Seventh Senior Pastor, First Corinthian Baptist Church

Udai Tambar, Executive Director, South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!)

David Jones, President and CEO, Community Service Society of New York (CSS)

Marvin Hellman, President, OHEL Childrens Home and Family Services

Rev. A.R. Bernard, Founder, Senior Pastor, and CEO, Christian Cultural Center

George Gresham, President, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

Dr. Steven Safyer, President and CEO, Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Ken Lerer, Managing Director, Lerer Ventures; Former Chairman and Co-Founder, Huffington Post

Imam Khalid Latif, Executive Director and Chaplain, Islamic Center, New York University

Marian Fontana, Board Member, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Families Advisory Council

Tim Armstrong, Chairman and CEO, AOL, Inc.

Kevin Ryan, Founder and Chairman, Gilt

Pam Kwatra, President, Kripari Marketing; Executive Committee, Indian National Overseas Congress

Elsie Saint Louis, Executive Director, Haitian-Americans United for Progress, Inc.

Vanessa Leung, Deputy Director, Coalition for Asian American Children & Families

Paula Gavin, Executive Director, Fund for Public Advocacy

Kim Sweet, Executive Director, Advocates for Children of New York

Dr. Marcia Keizs, President, York College, The City University of New York

Jukay Hsu, Founder, Coalition for Queens

Arnie Segarra, Activist and Longtime NYC Public Servant

Elba Montalvo, Founder, President, and CEO, The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Inc.

Mindy Tarlow, Executive Director and CEO, Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO)

Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer, Executive Director, Queens Council on the Arts

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.