the scoop (updated)

Opponents upset as Silver set to release revised control plan

The head of the Assembly’s education committee, Catherine Nolan of Queens, is expected to release a revised proposal for the mayoral control law this evening, in the Assembly Democrats’ second closed-door conference  on the law. Opponents of mayoral control, anticipating that the proposal will not include as many checks to the mayor’s power as they had hoped, are scrambling to encourage supporters to call their elected officials and demand more changes.

The goal is to persuade Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver not to finalize a plan the opponents think is too weak, said April Humphrey, an organizer with the Campaign for Better Schools, which is pushing for checks to the mayor’s power over the schools. A main concern is that the proposal will not create fixed terms for members of the citywide school board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy.

Humphrey suggested that her group has abandoned efforts to revise the board to give the mayor a minority of appointments. “I don’t know if there’s a lot that we can do on that,” she said.

Humphrey said opponents of mayoral control feel a particular sense of urgency because they don’t expect the Senate, which has flipped to Republican control, to produce a palatable proposal. “Who knows what’s going to happen with the Senate, but if the Senate ends up in Republican hands, they’re not going to do any better for us than the Assembly will,” Humphrey said.

“Emergency!! Call you [sic] assembly member NOW,” was the subject line of an e-mail blast the Campaign sent out this afternoon.

A main point of contention is whether Nolan’s proposal will require members of the citywide school board to serve for fixed terms. Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein have vigorously argued against fixed terms, saying that they would betray the purpose of mayoral control. Officials lobbying on the mayor’s behalf are also pointing out that members who served on the old Board of Education before 2002 did not have fixed terms.

The proposal follows one that Silver made at the end of last month, to Mayor Bloomberg’s approval but some members derision.

UPDATE: Billy Easton, a lead organizer of the Campaign for Better Schools, just called to clarify some of Humphrey’s remarks. He said that the campaign has not given up on pushing for the mayor to lose his majority of appointments to the school board. “We’re focused on the fixed terms right now because at a base line if you don’t have fixed terms, then the PEP is a rubber stamp, and if the legislature adopts no fixed terms, they’re basically rubber stamping the rubber stamp,” Easton said.

He also addressed the idea that the Assembly is the campaign’s best hope for strong checks to the mayor’s power. “As a clarification, it’s impossible to predict what’s going to go on in the Senate. However, we do know that there is a strong support within the Assembly majority for substantial reform to mayoral control, so we are focusing a lot of our energy on what will be the Assembly’s final proposal right now as they are having their discussion,” he said.

Here’s a full copy of the Campaign for Better Schools e-mail blast:

Friends of the Campaign for Better Schools,

We have just heard that the NYS assembly is conferencing on mayoral control this afternoon and that they will be making a final decision on it at this meeting. As far as we know, fixed terms for PEP members is not part of what will be proposed. Please call YOUR assembly member NOW and urge the Assemblymember to speak up about the

1) We need FIXED TERMS for the members on the Panel for Educational policy so they can’t be removed when the mayor wants,
2) We need community input and a public hearing when there are school closings, restructurings and resitings, including a vote by the CEC,
3) We need a parent and student training center independent of the DOE that can train them about DOE structure, their rights, do outreach and give them the skills necessary to be active decision-makers and involved in DOE structures, including SLT’s, CEC’s, PTA’s, etc.

To find who your Assemblymember is go here:

Enter your address to search for your state Assembly representative.
Then follow the link to their website: please call both their Albany and their local district office.

You MUST do this before 4 today!!!!!

This is extremely urgent. With the Senate in disarray, we will not get anything better than what the Assembly makes a final decision on.

Also, this is the most important thing you can be doing for your school, your child and your community right now. Please call me with any questions.


Julian Vinocur
Organizer, Campaign for Better Schools

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.