What did Brownsville, Tex., honored yesterday with the Broad Prize and earlier this year with the CUBE Award for School Board Excellence, do to earn these awards? It cut class size and built more schools, among other changes, according to articles in CUBE's Urban Advocate newsletter and US News & World Report. "Curriculum and instruction has been the number one focus of every board member," says Enrique Escobedo, president of the Brownsville Independent School District Board of Education. "We fill our needs first—the needs drive the budget." Brownsville stopped asking Texas for exemptions from class size rules in elementary schools, and instead upped teacher recruitment and retention measures until all classes met the state's 22-student mandate for kindergarten through grade 4. Teachers in Brownsville make a starting salary of $39,000, only a few thousand dollars less than new teachers in New York, though the cost of living in Brownsville is much lower. (Salaries in New York are much higher at the top of the scale, though.) Despite high levels of poverty, the Brownsville community has strongly supported the schools, even approving a $135-million bond to finance school construction and renovation. School board members attribute this support to regular outreach through community meetings, citizen oversight of spending, and transparency about school finances, Urban Advocate reports.
Mayor Villaraigosa of Los Angeles is sending his new education team to New York City this week (via Flickr) Yesterday, sitting at the Broad Prize lunch, I met Marshall Tuck, who, fresh off being Steve Barr's partner at Green Dot, is heading up a new effort by Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to take control of some public schools. (Villaraigosa tried to get control of all the schools, but he failed.) Turns out the MoMA lunch was just stop one on a whirlwind tour that Tuck and his team are taking around the city. Their main destination is Tweed Courthouse, where they are meeting with at least seven top Department of Education officials. Tuck's trip is an example of the "edu-tourism" that UCLA professor William Ouchi talked about earlier this school year at a CEI-PEA lunch. I just got off the phone with one of the people Tuck already met with, Eric Nadelstern, the CEO of the Empowerment network. Nadelstern told me that already this year Tweed has hosted visitors from Sao Paolo, Brazil; Guatemala; San Francisco, and Clark County, Nevada. He said the stream suggests DOE is "asking the right questions," but not necessarily that they have all the answers. "In a school system where four out of 10 kids aren't graduating, we can't get too complacent," he said. An interesting part of the schedule, which I've reproduced below the jump, is what isn't on it. Tuck is checking out a Rolodex of major initiatives (school support organizations, the accountability office, the Leadership Academy, Fair Student Funding), but he has not been scheduled for a briefing on the $80 million ARIS project to connect every classroom and parent with student test score data. UPDATE: Department of Education spokesman Andrew Jacob wrote to say that ARIS was a sub-topic in the tour; Jim Leibman discussed it as part of his accountability presentation, Jacob said.
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As we indicated it might, the United Federation of Teachers' executive board has just passed a resolution recommending a voter referendum on term limits. Tomorrow at a Delegate Assembly, the resolution goes before the delegates — teachers and other UFT members representing each city school — who could add amendments. For now, here's the fifth of six resolutions the delegates will see: Resolved, that at this moment of economic crisis, UFT affirms its fundamental belief in the importance of respecting the democratic will of the people, and calls for the submission of any change in the term limits law to popular referendum. We'll post the full text of the resolution as soon as we have it. Update: Read the resolution after the jump.