The Harlem Children's Zone was just forced to cut 10% of its staff, but CEO Geoffrey Canada says he won't change his standards about how to replenish the money he is losing from Wall Street donors. For one thing, he will take no donations from rappers, ever. That's what he told NY1's Dominic Carter last night on "Inside City Hall," after Carter got distressed about the cuts and tried to think of alternate sources of income. "That's like taking money from the tobacco industry," Canada said. Canada was appearing on the show to promote his new group, Learn NY, which is pushing Albany to renew mayoral control of the city's public schools. But for 22 minutes, Canada talked not about the problem of school boards, but a list of others: a materialist culture that is a "road to destruction" for children, the "abysmal" state of community colleges, and why kids walk with their pants hanging down (it's an export from the jail system, where belts are banned). Then, with less than 10 minutes left in the show, like a movie star on a late-night show who at the last minute remembers he has to promote his film, Canada started talking about mayoral control. Whoops! Out of necessity, he made his argument succinct.
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.