Portrait of Panic

A state of frenzy with 10 days left before mayor's control expires

There are 10 days to go before mayoral control expires and one day left of the legislative session. Given the standstill at the state Senate, that equation is leaving both supporters and opponents of the mayoral control in a state of high alarm.

Invariably, their panic is fueled by the complete unpredictability of the situation. No one has the answers to questions about what would happen if the Senate allowed the 2002 law to sunset, as State Senator John Sampson has threatened to allow.

“If everybody goes home for the summer we’ve got 32 school boards on July 1. Mayoral control is over. The clock is ticking and it doesn’t seem like anybody’s doing anything,” said Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, which favors preserving mayoral control.

Should the Senate pull itself together and reconvene, either by choice or by force, before the law expires, it remains unclear what kind of bill it will support. A bill has already passed the Assembly, but Sampson and other Democrats have said they want to amend that to add stricter checks to the mayor’s power.

Advocates for those checks are operating under the assumption that change is still possible.

“The battle is not over!” Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and a member of the Parent Commission on School Governance, declared in an e-mail to various groups that oppose mayoral control, urging people to call and e-mail Democratic state senators.

A policy director at New York Charter Schools Association, Peter Murphy, said it’s “hard to predict” whether it’s too late to amend the Assembly’s bill.

Even if Republicans and Democrats can reach a power-sharing agreement in the next 10 days, the Assembly may already have wrapped up its business and gone home. Any changes to the bill would require subsequent approval by the Assembly.

“The Assembly would be hard-pressed to come back because the Senate decided they would like to do something different,” Murphy said. “The Assembly has largely settled the issue by passing a very reasonable bill that the Senate should just pass and be done with it.”

As the days go by, not knowing who’s in charge is making lobbyists and advocates frantic.

“Literally it is so screwed up on the Senate side,” Williams said. “It’s like you’ve got 100 marbles and you’re trying to throw them up in the air and guess what the shape is going to look like.”

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”