Randi Weingarten's participation in a press conference today beside two groups who'd like to see changes in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's mayoral control bill doesn't mean that she's going to fight for those changes, too. Weingarten is being overall "very positive" about the bill, a union lobbyist in Albany told me. "It would be very unlikely that we would oppose, because we think there’s so much good in here," the lobbyist in Albany told me. "It would only be whether or not to issue a memo in support." Weingarten is still hoping that a parent initiative will get added into the law, and she met with lawmakers today to promote the idea, the lobbyist said. She and the other two groups are asking the state to fund a separate organization or initiative that would give parents a voice in the policy discussion. The idea is similar to one Weingarten endorsed in a speech last year, when she urged a community coalition that had fought budget cuts to become a permanent organization. The clarification of her participation follows confusion among lawmakers about exactly where Weingarten stands on mayoral control, a state legislator told me today.
Photo of Tammany Hall taken from ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/40045986@N00/3544114515/##Flickr## A city government regulator is poised to become the Department of Education's new watchdog, but as the Assembly moves to extend mayoral control, details of how this will work are scarce. In New York City and Albany, momentum has been building behind the idea for an independent body to check the DOE's math. Currently, three proposed bills, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's bill, introduced last night, call for the Independent Budget Office and the comptroller to monitor the department. A challenge in implementing the proposals is the IBO's relative inexperience. Created during the Giuliani administration to function as a publicly funded, neutral check on the mayor's Office of Management and Budget, the IBO regularly issues reports on the mayor's proposed budget and city taxes. Should Silver's bill become law, the organization would be forced to grow a new arm devoted solely to scrutinizing the city's education data. "While we have statistical expertise we don't necessarily have expertise around issues around test scores and how to sort them and weigh them," a spokesman for the IBO, Doug Turetsky, said, adding that the organization has studied things like class size and school construction. "We doubled our number of education analysts last week when we hired a second one," he said.
After infuriating activists pushing for checks to the mayor's control of the public schools, teachers union president Randi Weingarten today stood next to them at a press conference in Albany, joining a declaration that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's proposed bill does not give enough voice to parents. Teachers and principals have unions, but parents do not, Weingarten said, according to someone who attended the press conference. That's why she said she is calling on lawmakers to write additional voice for parents into a revised mayoral control law. In making the statement, Weingarten stood beside representatives of the Campaign for Better Schools and the Parent Commission on School Governance, two groups that have called for stronger checks to the mayor's power than the union ultimately demanded. Members of the Parent Commission on School Governance have criticized Weingarten for giving in to the wishes of Mayor Bloomberg, who has endorsed Silver's bill. It was not clear exactly how much of those groups' positions Weingarten endorsed. At least five Democratic Assembly members also joined the press conference. UPDATE: A spokesman for Weingarten, Ron Davis, just called to say she is concerned about this story. The spokesman said that Weingarten had "nothing but praise" for Silver's bill at the press conference, though she did say that she thinks it should be revised to "ensure a greater parental role."
After months of discussion, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver finally introduced a bill to extend mayoral control last night. The full text of the bill is below. The bill, which was discussed last Wednesday but was only printed last night, calls for minimal changes and has already met with Mayor Bloomberg's approval. Amendments include having the schools chancellor become a non-voting, ex-officio member of citywide school board, mandating that two of the mayor's appointees be parents of children in the public school system, and authorizing the Panel for Educational Policy to approve no-bid contracts and any that exceed $1 million. While the bill proposes that the Independent Budget Office and Comptroller's office audit the DOE, it does not establish the department as a city agency, subject to all of the restrictions and oversight that other agencies are. According to the Times, assembly members expect to pass the bill by this Wednesday. (Explaining the importance of the discussions, the Times story cites our story from last week, reporting on the personal role U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is playing in the debate.) The bill's sponsors include Catherine Nolan, Herman Farrell, Jr., Darryl Towns, Vito Lopez, Audrey Pheffer, Michael Benedetto, Janele Hyer-Spencer, Jonathan Bing, Michael Benjamin, Ann Margaret Carrozza, Barbara Clark, Vivian Cook, Steven Cymbrowitz, Adriano Espaillat, Michael Giaranis, Micah Kellner, Rory Lancman, Margaret Markey, Nettie Mayersohn, Grace Meng, Felix Ortiz, Jose Peralta, Peter Rivera. The bill is after the jump.
In a two-page letter sent to the Citizens Union Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan offered a stern warning that placing restrictions on mayoral control could "turn back the clock and halt progress" and have "profoundly negative consequences for New York City's students." We reported yesterday that Duncan had sent such a letter, but at the time U.S. Department of Education officials wouldn't confirm that the letter existed. That changed a few minutes ago when an official e-mailed it over. The full text of the letter is after the jump.
A Daily News report this week cast doubt on the validity of the state's math scores. A major problem the News pointed to is that the math tests seem to repeat themselves, broken-record style, making it easy for teachers to coach their students on how to give correct answers — without necessarily understanding the underlying math. A second problem is that the tests may be getting easier over time, the story said. Here's a graphical portrait of what this means in practice, courtesy of Jennifer Jennings, the doctoral student at Columbia University whose analysis informed the News's story. A math question seventh-graders answered in 2009: A math question for seventh-graders in 2008: And finally a question from the same test's 2007 version, assessing the same concept, but in a much more difficult way:
The executive director of the Citizens Union confirmed today that the group changed its mayoral control position after Education Secretary Arne Duncan personally asked members to reconsider. At issue was whether to insulate school board members from being fired at will by the mayor by giving them fixed terms. The Citizens Union had supported fixed terms, but Duncan "made it known very clear that he did not support fixed terms and would like the organization to take a look at this position and we did," CU's executive director Dick Dadey. At a press conference today in front of Tweed, the group announced its support for extending mayoral control without fixed terms. The announcement came after the group received a letter from Duncan and a phone call from Mayor Bloomberg asking them not to endorse fixed terms. According to Dadey, after a year of discussing mayoral control, the group's board members had reached a consensus to support fixed terms, but that was before the phone call and letters, at which point the board decided to reexamine the issue.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan confirmed today that he opposes fixed terms for school board members. "I think you have to serve at the mayor’s pleasure," Duncan told me on the phone just now. "If you're going to have mayoral control, you need to have mayoral control." The statement inserts President Obama's top education official even deeper into New York City's debate on school governance. Duncan first voiced his support for mayoral control in New York City to the New York Post editorial board in March. He argued that giving the mayor full control over urban public schools is the best way to turn them around. Many education advocates here, including the teachers union, have pushed for fixed terms as a way to eliminate the mayor's right to remove any school board member at his pleasure. But the issue is facing opposition from Bloomberg and, most recently, from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose latest proposal has school board members serving at the pleasure of the mayor.
The Citizens Union has backed away from a push to give fixed terms to members of the citywide school board, following lobbying from Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama's secretary of education, Arne Duncan, according to sources familiar with the watchdog group's stance. Bloomberg has vigorously opposed fixed terms. He says he needs to be able to dismiss school board members at his pleasure in order to have real control over the public schools. Members of the Citizens Union had previously voted to endorse fixed terms. But the position the Citizens Union, a nonprofit good-government group, will recommend tomorrow backs away from the fixed-terms power check. As a compromise, it would force the mayor to give 90 days' notice before dismissing a board member, sources said. Bloomberg reached out to the group after it briefed City Hall on the first proposal last week, urging board members to reconsider their stance. The group subsequently re-started its process of debating and voting on a position, sources said. Duncan also weighed in during that period, writing a personal letter urging the group to preserve the mayor's power over the schools, sources said. Duncan has previously said he supports mayoral control as a way to improve urban schools.