With billions of dollars in federal support for school construction projects on the horizon, New York City is shortsighted to undersell its need for new schools, teachers union president Randi Weingarten said at yesterday's City Council hearing about the city's proposed capital plan. President-elect Obama's top aide confirmed yesterday that school construction projects will be part of the new administration's stimulus package to create jobs and encourage spending by states, according to Alyson Klein of Education Week. Governors, who are staring at massive budget shortfalls, this week asked Obama for $130 billion to support infrastructure projects, including schools. What's so special about school construction? In contrast with some other infrastructure projects, states are always planning to build or enhance schools, so they can get to work on those projects in a relatively short amount of time. Plus, many believe that capital investments in schools can pay off in improved educational quality. But the city doesn't have a robust school building agenda right now. This is "absolutely the wrong way to go in this situation" because it could result in the city's schools being shut out of a federal stimulus package, Weingarten said yesterday. "If this [federal] money is out there, and we don't have a plan, we won't be in the queue," she said.
I spent the afternoon at the City Council's hearing on the School Construction Authority's proposed capital plan, and I tried to post updates as they happened. Unfortunately, the wireless at City Hall wasn't cooperating, so here are some highlights of the hearing, just a few hours after it ended. 1:20 p.m. Education Committee chair Robert Jackson led off right away with the elephant in the room: the economy. He said the city is facing "very difficult economic times" and noted that the mayor has requested that all city agencies reduce their capital requests by 20 percent. Economic conditions didn't stop Jackson from saying that the council wants to "take [the SCA] to task for unresolved problems and exaggerated claims." In particular, he pointed to the authority's claim that the current capital plan is the largest in the city's history, noting that many more seats were created in the early years of the 20th century. Jackson also noted the Campaign for a Better Capital Plan's finding that more school seats were added in the last six years of the Giuliani administration than in the first six year's of Bloomberg's. 1:30 p.m. Kathleen Grimm, the DOE's deputy chancellor for administration, drew some laughter when she read from her prepared testimony about the DOE's recent "capital accomplishments" the departments's oft-repeated claim that the current capital plan, which runs through the end of June 2009, is the largest in its history. She said in the future she'll be specifying that it's the largest plan in SCA's history, not the DOE's. The state created SCA in 1988. 1:45 p.m. SCA head Sharon Greenberger walked council members through a Power Point presentation about the proposed capital plan. She noted that the SCA did incorporate a plan for class size reduction into its calculations — but the reduction was to 28 students in grades 4-8 and 30 in high school, not 23 as the state Contracts for Excellence requires for those grades.
Another recommendation from the Suozzi report I wrote about earlier today, the one recommending ways for state schools to cut costs, is that the mayors of the Big Four cities — Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Yonkers — be granted control of their public school systems, like Mayor Bloomberg was in 2002. How could mayoral control cut school costs? The commission makes two arguments. One is that handing control to the mayor would allow for more efficient spending. The schools could be linked with other services under the mayor's purview, like parks, recreation, and social programs. The second argument is more long-term: Most importantly, if mayoral control is successful in improving school performance, there may be a positive effect on economic development, retention of middle class families, and protection or expansion of the property tax base. The arguments are interesting — especially because they provide two good yardsticks to measure New York City's mayoral control experiment.
Angelica is one of two students who will be writing occasional columns for GothamSchools on their experiences attending a New York City public school. I’m Angelica Modabber, a freshman at NYCiSchool. Unlike most schools, the iSchool is very technology-based, and students take many online courses. Visitors to the iSchool often question this initiative, since at many other schools, lessons are still taught with a chalkboard and a teacher at the front of the room. Here's how I came to embrace this style of learning. When first presented with the “moodle,” (the website on which the courses are found) I was asked to sign in to my personal account and enroll myself in all the classes I would be taking that quarter. Once enrolled, I had access to all the exams, information, questionnaire sheets, and overall assignments. I was bewildered by all the links, texts, and videos the site possessed. I shrugged off the confusion; after all, how difficult could it be to sit in a classroom and simply read all the passages and paste them to memory? In reality, though, like the other students, I was blown away by all the music playlists, YouTube videos, and infinite other distractions. The possibilities were endless. Although the school had done its best to block these diversions, there was always a distracting website left unguarded.
We're late to consider Tom Suozzi's property tax commission report, released yesterday. Why would this blog care about a property tax commission report? Because it's actually all about the education, stupid. Property taxes are raised essentially for one reason: to close the gap between what schools need and what the state gives them. If you want to lower property taxes, you also have to lower the cost of school. Suozzi's report offers a list of recommendations for how to do that. In the process, the report also discloses a lot of interesting facts. For instance, check out the chart above.
At Manhattan's PS 140, students in Tony Paulino’s middle school Spanish classes are exploring the geography, economics, and culture of South America, all without leaving their classroom. They're using the Internet to follow the One Road South team of adventurers on a 14-month bicycle trip around the continent. Through a program called Reach The World, kids at 60 of the city's elementary and middle schools are getting a taste of global citizenship by following the One Road South bikers, a family traveling in Europe, a bike trek in Africa, and a Harlem teacher working with scientists in Antarctica through online videos, journals, and field notes. Sometimes, students even get to meet the travelers they are following online. Three of the four One Road South bicyclists recently visited Paulino's classes to present a slide show about the places they plan to visit. The students jumped in with questions, asking if the travelers were afraid of wild animals, running out of food, or going for 14 months without having a girlfriend. But Reach the World isn't just for fun.
Ms. T. will be guest-blogging every other week or so here at GothamSchools, sharing her experience of working in a Collaborative Team Teaching classroom. Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) is when two teachers work in a classroom that is 60% general education students and 40% students with special needs. As a part of a team teaching classroom, I must be a team member. I cannot walk into the classroom and successfully teach with another teacher without planning together successfully. It seems obvious, right? Well, maybe not obvious to all. Our students leave us for a short time daily to enjoy what other teachers have to offer in physical education, art, music, and other "cluster" classes. During this time, when our students are away, my team teacher and I keep on working as a team. This time is vital to the success of our Collaborative Team Teaching classroom, and we use it as completely and efficiently as possible. I can rarely be found without Ms. B, and she’s rarely seen without me. Unfortunately, since the third week of school, some have been trying to split us apart and take our team planning time. Because it is a CTT class, there must be two teachers with our students at all times, even during cluster classes. Our school has not accommodated this requirement, and the cluster teachers and UFT representative know this. Their solution: One of the classroom teachers must give up the team planning time and stay with the cluster teacher. Anyone familiar with the rights of NYC teachers would know that our contract gives us a certain amount of planning time that cannot be taken away. Don’t worry, we've been told, you’ll get your planning time.