Hispanic Federation president Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, center. What exactly does it mean to be a "partner"? When Learn NY, the group fighting to preserve the mayor's control over the school system, announced partnerships with three racial-minority groups last week, it seemed like evidence that the groups would join its lobbying battle. But the president of one of the three groups, Lillian Rodriguez Lopez of the Hispanic Federation, told me late last week that "partner" in this case has a "very contained and limited" meaning. The Hispanic Federation will not adopt Learn NY's position on mayoral control; it will come up with its own, separate position, after talking to parents, she said. That keeps Lopez open to maintaining the scathing critique of mayoral control that she provided to Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's commission on school governance last year: "The dial towards improvement has moved very, very slowly during the years of mayoral control and in certain communities we have seen the dial moving in the opposite direction towards a worsening of the schools," she said in testimony that you can read here (page 130 — UPDATE: sorry about broken link, should work now). In her testimony, Lopez blamed both the Bloomberg administration's "corporate" approach to school policy and the mayoral control system itself, which she said silenced debate. She also challenged the idea promoted by Learn NY board chairman Geoffrey Canada that mayoral control brings a clear line of accountability. Lopez said that under mayoral control it has been impossible to know who is responsible for what. "Too many of us are unsure of what the system really looks like now," Lopez said. So why is Lopez partnering with Learn NY? She said that the resources the group offered her, combined with the chance to boost the voice of the Latino community, sealed the deal.
The city teachers union teachers union is catching no breaks on its proposed mayoral control position, which last night sailed through the first of two hoops required before it becomes official union policy. First, the Department of Education and the group supporting mayoral control, Learn NY, dismissed the union's proposal as a step backward, comparing it to the way the public schools were run before mayoral control. Both don't like the union's proposal to empower the Panel for Educational Policy, now seen as a rubber stamp, into an effective school board that would have to approve policy decisions. Now, the mayor controls a majority of appointments on the panel, and can dismiss any of these members at a moment's notice. Under the union's proposal, the mayor would control only 5 of 13 seats, and term limits would protect board members from overnight removal. "We can't have it both ways," Learn NY board chair Geoffrey Canada said in a statement. "Either one person is in charge, or no one is." The union is also receiving criticism from a group of its own members, who late last night released a minority report suggesting that the legislature carve even more power away from the mayor.
Two unexpected guests popped in at the Queens Civic Congress's mayoral control panel last night: Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat who is running for mayor, and City Council Member Bill de Blasio, a Brooklyn Democrat who is running for public advocate. The men displayed different styles and positions on school governance. Weiner, who finds himself in the tricky position of sharing Mayor Bloomberg's support for mayoral control, while opposing Mayor Bloomberg, came last and spent his time mingling and chowing down cake in the back of the room as the panel took questions. A crowd of residents and aides surrounding Weiner made so much noise that at one point two women in the audience turned around, glared at the congressman's pack, and said, "Shh!!" Later, the vice president of the congress, Edwin Westley, offered Weiner an opportunity to ask the panel members a question. Did he have one? "Not really," Weiner said. "For me?" Westley said no and asked again if the congressman had a question for the panel. "Not really," Weiner said, laughing. "I just came for the cake." Then he strode to the front of the room, where he declared his support for keeping control of the schools firmly in the hands of the mayor. "I believe that it is not the governance system that is to blame, it's the people doing the governing," he said.
The mayor would lose appointment power over a majority of seats on the city school board, which would be strengthened into a powerful check over decisions ranging from when students can be promoted to the next grade to when and how schools should be closed, under recommendations the city teachers union is set to finalize this week. By giving the mayor a minority 5 of 13 appointments to the city school board, a group now seen as a rubber-stamp for the mayor's agenda, the union's recommendations carve away more authority from the mayor than the two other detailed recommendations released so far. The union also said today that it intends to endorse some of the proposals contained in other reports, including an idea proposed by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's governance commission, which would form an outside agency to analyze Department of Education data. Sharing the recommendations with reporters this afternoon, union president Randi Weingarten said the UFT's proposal preserves mayoral control, insisting repeatedly that the chancellor and the mayor would retain great power under the proposal. "This is not shared decision-making," Weingarten said. "This is a check and balance to make sure that policies are done wisely and well and that the kids in this school system get what they need on a timely basis."
Jay Mathews' new book on KIPP challenges the truth of some popular ideas about the school. I'm working on a review of Jay Mathews' new book about the KIPP charter school network, which I just devoured over the weekend. (Preview of my thoughts: Extremely readable, honest, and — best of all — contains excellent advice for how to force Dave Levin to return your phone calls. Apparently one must call twice in fast succession.) While I finish that up, here's an executive summary of the book's take-aways according to Mathews, a list of seven myths about KIPP. Mathews shared the list at a book talk at Education Sector, the Washington D.C. think tank. You can listen to the talk here. 1. KIPP is militaristic. Mathews' account describes schools that are strict about discipline, often denying privileges like annual trips to students who do not behave or perform well academically. But he concludes that teachers are also warm and supportive. The chants KIPP is famous for, by Mathews' account, are more like songs shared around a camp fire than grunted military rites. 2. KIPP's curriculum is characterized by "drill and kill." Work Hard. Be Nice. tells the story of a 25-year-old teacher in D.C. who asked to use a different math curriculum than the one Levin, a math teacher, favors, and then won a teaching award for her results. Every KIPP school, Mathews writes, gets to pick its own teachers and curriculum. 3. "KIPP is just a lot of white people telling black people what to do," is the next conception Mathews declared a myth. The book describes the major role played by two non-white educators who mentored Levin and Feinberg early on: Rafe Esquith and Harriet Ball, who came up with the characteristic chants that help students memorize math facts. "KIPP started with a black person telling two white people what to do," Mathews said.