who should rule the schools

Klein bats away critics' calls for checks and balances

baruch-mayoral-control2
Chancellor Joel Klein responds to a question from moderator Doug Muzzio. (Left to right: Ana Maria Archilla, Doug Muzzio, Joel Klein and Monica Major) (<em>GothamSchools</em> / Kyla Calvert)

With the state legislature’s deadline for making a final decision on mayoral control less than two months away, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein himself made an appearance at one of the panels debating the issue across the city.

Sandwiched between assorted people who have called for curtailing the mayor’s power over the schools, Klein, who supports preserving the law intact, fielded criticism calmly.

When other panelists raised arguments about whether test scores and graduation rates were increasing at the dramatic rate touted by the Department of Education, the chancellor shot back with more data.

“In 2002 CUNY enrolled 16,000 students, in 2008 CUNY had 24,000 students enrolled,” Klein said. “I don’t care what you say about the graduation numbers — those are 8,000 real kids whose lives have changed because of the opportunities that are a product of mayoral control.”

Klein reiterated previous statements that he is open to having an independent agency review Department of Education data, like graduation rates and test scores. But he kept the door closed to other concessions. When the teachers union chief operating officer, Michael Mulgrew, asked Klein if he would be willing to consider removing MS 399 in the Bronx from the list of schools slated to close, Klein balked. (Mulgrew had replaced union president Randi Weingarten at the last minute; he is considered her likely successor as president when she transitions to running the national American Federation of Teachers union full-time.)

Mulgrew pointed out that the school’s English test results jumped 20% this year, according to results released last week. Klein initially replied by saying that another school that was removed from the closure list after the union threatened a lawsuit also had a relatively good year, with proficiency rate of 50%. But that should be tempered by the fact that the charter school the city wanted to replace it with saw a proficiency rate of 95%.

When Mulgrew pushed, Klein said he was “willing to engage in a discussion.” “But,” he added, “I want to wait to see the data, I want to see the math scores. I don’t make policy decisions in forums like this.”

In addition to Mulgrew, panelists at the debate, which was hosted by Baruch College, included a Hunter College professor, Joseph Viteritti, who led a commission on school governance whose recommendations Klein and Mayor Bloomberg sharply criticized; a member of the Campaign for Better Schools group; and a parent leader.

Klein was the only panelist who argued for maintaining mayoral control without any changes. Even the organization represented by his strongest ally, Rev. David K. Brawley, co-chair of East Brooklyn Congregations, has called on the state to create an independent advocacy group for parents.

Joining the chorus of those asking for more public discussion before decisions are made, a member of the audience, Martin Needelmann, of the Brooklyn Legal Service Corporation, drew a comparison to Mayor Bloomberg’s eventual embrace of affordable housing in Williamsburg, following a heated debate. Why couldn’t the same back-and-forth process benefit the city schools? he asked.

“There is a big issue here with having an independent board,” Klein said. “We would submit to going back to the old system.” He argued that the old system was better at blocking initiatives than at creating new plans.

“I think he avoided the issue,” Needelmann said after the panel. “The issue I raised was an example of how the mayor is not perfect and some of his appointments are terrible. Schools are different from other municipal services, consulting with parents is critical, and there has to be some power to it.”

Mulgrew also urged more public discussion. “Every policy should have some debate,” he said. “For most policy, it should be clear in terms of what is good for children, but shouldn’t we be sure?”

Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, agreed with Mulgrew. “The panel tonight, this is what school governance should look like,” Haimson said.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?