hard questions

Layoffs to take center stage at tomorrow's City Council hearing

Chancellor Dennis Walcott will take the hotseat tomorrow morning before a City Council whose members are growing increasingly restive about the city’s proposed teacher layoffs.

According to the city’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the department is $350 million short of being able to fund its teaching spots. Mayor Bloomberg is pushing to close that gap by eliminating more than 6,000 teaching spots, 4,100 by layoffs.

Insiders say council members are likely to grill Walcott on why the city’s layoff estimates haven’t wavered, despite two changes in chancellors since Bloomberg first unveiled them in November. They are also likely to demand why the city didn’t cut other parts of the department’s budget that doesn’t directly affect the classroom, such as transportation and special education, both of which are projected to see a big spending boost next year.

Many council members have said they don’t think layoffs are necessary to balance the city’s budget, and a few say they won’t vote for a budget that includes layoffs. Robert Jackson, chair of the council’s education committee, is among the elected officials set to appear at a rally against the layoffs proposal an hour before the hearing’s 10 a.m. start. He’ll be joined by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who has been lobbying against the proposed layoffs on his own; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who advocates cutting contract spending to boost the staff budget; and other officials.

But most council members haven’t stated where they stand so clearly. Tomorrow’s hearing is a chance for them to signal their intentions, offer suggestions for alternative cuts, and construct a roadmap for a month of political jockeying over the city’s spending plans.

Between the end of the council’s budget hearings on Monday and the end of June, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn must broker a deal between the council and the city to get the budget approved. Last year, council members allocated most of their discretionary spending to keeping their vow not to approve a budget that cut school spending. In exchange, the city agreed to cut central spending at the DOE and several other departments.

This year, reaching a deal that fully restores school cuts could be a taller order. Many council members are still chafing over having had to cut services to senior citizens last year. Those services are again on the chopping block, as are daycare programs, firehouses, libraries, and other services important to council members’ local communities. Council members know that using all their discretionary budget to restore school cuts would leave these other services out to dry while averting only half of the city’s planned teacher layoffs — hardly a politically expedient resolution.

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.”