Who Is In Charge

What four more years means for education

President Obama’s victory on Tuesday gives him a chance to build on the education policies he has pushed since 2009 and ensures that the federal government’s role in education will not diminish over the next four years.

Photo by Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America, courtesy <em>The Hechinger Report</em>.

In his victory speech, he promised to expand “access to the best schools and best teachers” and spoke broadly about hope for America’s future, particularly for children, but did not offer specific policy ideas.

“It’s clear the Obama administration will continue to make education a priority,” said Jeffrey Henig, a political scientist at Teachers College, Columbia University. “It’s been a winner issue for them even though teachers unions and some elements of the parent community are unhappy about some aspects.”

Obama steered the conversation to education whenever possible throughout the campaign – even during the final presidential debate focused on foreign policy. In particular, he touted his success in passing Race to the Top, a competitive grant program that incentivized 46 states to initiate education reforms. He also hinted about what his second-term priorities will be.

The need to invest more money in education, from early childcare to colleges and universities, was an overarching theme of the president’s campaign. Obama repeated several times that he wants to create 2 million slots in community colleges for job training and recruit 100,000 math and science teachers.

“I want to build on what we’ve done with Race to the Top, but really focus on [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math],” he told the Des Moines Register. “And part of that is helping states to hire teachers with the highest standards and training in these subjects so we can start making sure that our kids are catching up to some of the other industrialized world.”

Karen White, political director at the National Education Association (NEA), the country’s largest teachers union, said she expects to see Obama focus on early education and college affordability during his second term.

Despite disagreeing with some of Obama’s central policies, such as tying teacher evaluations to test scores, both the NEA and the other national teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, threw their support behind the President and urged members to volunteer for his campaign. While there may be lingering disagreements over specific reforms, White was confident that there would be cooperation between the unions and the White House.

“We’ve had a great relationship with the administration,” she said. “We don’t have any reason to believe that won’t happen going forward.”

Obama’s first term was focused on increasing accountability for teachers and principals based on how their students perform academically. Henig predicts that in the second term, the administration will look to improving how that academic performance is measured, including designing new assessments. This will undoubtedly be driven by competitive grants.

“Race to the Top represented, in my mind, not just an education program but a philosophy about how you wield influence from Washington, D.C.,” Henig said. “They’ll still use the money to leverage change because – I think – they think they made a bigger impact with that than [No Child Left Behind] did.”

While Obama has consistently sought a large influence for the White House in the country’s public schools, Romney spent the campaign arguing that education policies were best left to states and local school districts. The stark contrast between Romney and Obama over the federal government’s role in education suggests the era of bipartisan agreement on education policy—begun a decade ago with the passage of No Child Left Behind—has waned, and that Obama may have less success with his education agenda in his second term.

In his first term, education was one of the few areas where Obama found some common ground with Republicans. He supported traditionally Republican ideas like charter schools and merit pay, for example. But he was also unable to pass a new version of the federal education act, which is long overdue for reauthorization, and Republicans blocked an Obama bill that would have reduced teacher layoffs.

“If you work your way through the rhetoric and fuzzy language on both sides … what appeared to be a new bipartisan approach to education a la No Child Left Behind is proving to be more easily unraveled than people expected,” Henig said. “It’ll be a lot harder to make non-incremental changes in education policy.”

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.