crib sheet

We read Steven Brill’s “Class Warfare” so you don’t have to

Eva Moskowitz did not generate the idea for Harlem Success herself; Randi Weingarten has been criticizing her successor, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, to her friends; and former Chancellor Joel Klein thinks that at least two of his former deputies have gone soft on reform in their new school districts. These are among the claims in “Class Warfare,” Steven Brill’s new book on the education reform movement.

Much of “Class Warfare” will be familiar to GothamSchools readers. The book’s main characters include, on one side, former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and, on the other, teachers unions president Randi Weingarten; many of its main plot points center on New York City, and some of the key classroom scenes take place in Harlem.

But the following insights — some of them more solidly sourced than others — were news to us. Here’s a run-down of Brill’s most intriguing New York-related reporting:

The war behind the war: Bloomberg v. Klein

  • On labor issues, Bloomberg sometimes undercut Joel Klein. Klein’s team thought they could get the UFT to sign off on a change in the teacher termination process. But Bloomberg, who was nearing reelection, told them not to push their luck. “The mayor blinked,” the DOE’s one-time labor chief, Dan Weisberg, told Brill. “The mayor just gave up.” Weisberg said he “clashed almost daily” with City Hall over back-channel contract negotiations in 2005.
  • Similarly, Brill reports that in 2006, Bloomberg told Klein and Weisberg to “stand down” on pushing a time limit for teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve. As Klein left office last year, he was still calling for that policy.
  • Bloomberg was weighing a third term even a year into his second, and his education policies reflected that. The 2007 teachers contract included little in the way of substantive policy, an oddity at a time when Klein was setting an aggressive tone at Tweed. In fact, the only major change, a schoolwide bonus program, was spiked this year. “The plan,” Klein told Brill, “was to make some progress in the 2005 contract — which we did, though not enough — and then go in for the kill in 2007. Mike deciding to run for a third term completely killed that.”

What Klein really thought of his proteges and more that you didn’t know about him

  • Klein didn’t think he would be chancellor. Brill reports that a mutual friend suggested that Bloomberg consider Klein, but after their first meeting, Klein “didn’t think he had connected with Bloomberg.” Bloomberg now says he picked Klein because “Jesus Christ wasn’t available.”
  • The animosity displayed between Klein and Randi Weingarten, the teachers union president for most of his tenure, was real. “Joel Klein would come to detest [Randi] Weingarten as much as she detested [Klein ally, PS 49 Principal Anthony] Lombardi and him,” Brill writes.
  • Klein isn’t uniformly proud of his protégés. Former Klein deputies now head school systems in Baltimore, New Haven, Chicago (where Jean-Claude Brizard came from Rochester, N.Y.), and New Jersey. But in some of those places, Klein said his former deputies had not been bold enough. “All of them had big minds, but not all had strong minds,” he told Brill. Brill and Klein do not name names. Among the former Klein deputies now leading education efforts in other cities, at least two have received criticism from proponents of aggressive reform. In Baltimore, Andres Alonso has been positioned as a more collaborative alternative to Klein; in New Haven, Garth Harries, the number-two school official, led an agreement with the teachers union that critics charge included too many concessions.
  • Klein’s pension from his eight years as chancellor is guaranteed at the same rate as city teachers’ — 8.25 percent per year. The benefit structure is costly for the city, as we reported last year. “Who else but Bernie Madoff guarantees 8.25 percent a year permanently?” Klein asked.

What Randi Weingarten thinks of Michael Mulgrew, why Eva Moskowitz started Harlem Success, and more charter school politics:

  • Klein created the idea of charter school co-locations with the precise intention of generating a political fight. He told Brill that he slipped $250 million for charter school co-locations into 2005’s larger-than-ever budget and “nobody noticed.” He also said that his decision to give the UFT charter school space inside a city school building was strategic. “Once Randi’s school was co-located, she could never be against co-location in principle,” Klein told Brill. “She’d have to oppose the specifics of the co-location plan but not the idea.” Since then, the UFT has twice sued the city over the specifics of its co-location plans. The union also received City Council funding this year to plan its charter schools’ exit from their co-located site.
  • Weingarten hasn’t approved of the battle that her successor at the UFT, Michael Mulgrew, has waged against charter schools. Brill writes that Weingarten told friends that she was embarrassed by Mulgrew’s efforts to prevent the lifting of the charter cap in 2010 because she thought the union had already lost. The cap was lifted when Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, usually a friend of the union, suddenly threw his support behind the move.
  • The cap probably could have been lifted sooner if the city had made a few concessions. Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch told Brill that she wanted Klein to give up his commitment to co-location as part of the negotiations around lifting the charter school cap in 2010. “If Joel would give up on co-location and look at doing something on saturation, it would sure ease all the tension,” Tisch told Brill.
  • Harlem Success Academy wasn’t Eva Moskowitz’s idea. Brill reports that several hedge-fund managers approached Moskowitz’s husband, Eric Grannis, for advice about starting a network of charter schools; Grannis had previously helped launch the Girls Prep charter school. After Moskowitz critiqued the hedge-fund managers’ plan, they offered her the job — but they told Brill they hadn’t planned to do so before that.

On Race to the Top, including what the Obama administration really thought about New York’s application:

  • The Race to the Top competition was partially inspired by the Gates Foundation. In 2008, the Gates Foundation held a small-scale competition to encourage school districts and teachers unions to work together. When an Obama administration official first proposed the idea of having states compete for federal funds, they were reminded that the Gates competition had achieved its aim of fomenting collaboration.
  • Race the to Top could have been three times bigger. When Obama administration officials approached David Obey, a member of the House of Representatives who controlled the appropriations committee, he wasn’t happy that the competition would annoy the unions and that his state, Wisconsin, was unlikely to win. So he cut the initial proposal of $15 billion (out of $100 billion being distributed to schools) down to the $5 billion that made up the first Race to the Top competition.
  • Other states were supposed to beat New York, which came in second in Race to the Top’s second round. New York’s win — after a dismal showing in the first round — came largely because the state and its teachers unions agreed to toughen teacher evaluations (the same evaluations that are now being disputed in court). Federal officials were shocked to see that the people hired to evaluate Race to the Top applications gave so much credit to union collaboration in New York. They were also distressed that Colorado and Louisiana, which had reshaped their laws in response to the competition, had not made the cut — to the point that they considered changing the rules after the competition was over. Politics K-12, Education Week’s education politics blog, has the complete run-down on the rankings shakeup that Brill writes caused “near-panic” at the U.S. Department of Education.

Rubber rooms, Wendy Kopp and LIFO, and more miscellaneous extras:

  • The number of teachers removed from the classroom on misconduct charges is tiny and falling. In the year after the city closed the rubber rooms that housed teachers accused of misconduct, Brill reports that just 155 teachers were removed from the classroom, down from 250 to 300 teachers a year before that.
  • Teach for America tempered its opposition to “last in, first out” layoffs, which would have heavily affected its members, out of pragmatism. “It should be obvious how I feel but we have to work with these school systems and teachers every day,” TFA founder Wendy Kopp told Brill.
  • Capacity is a big problem. Brill describes how top Harlem Success staff members quit midyear, citing the toll of their long hours and high-pressure jobs on their relationships and bodies. Meanwhile, the superintendent of Pittsburgh’s schools told Brill that even if he replaced the weakest 3.5 percent of his teachers each year with better teachers, he would be able to “refortify” only a third of his workforce in a decade. And that’s in a system with just 2,200 teachers, compared to nearly 80,000 in New York City.


Newark schools would get $37.5 million boost under Gov. Murphy’s budget plan

PHOTO: OIT/Governor's Office
Gov. Phil Murphy gave his first budget address on Tuesday.

Newark just got some good news: Gov. Phil Murphy wants to give its schools their biggest budget increase since 2011.

State funding for the district would grow by 5 percent — or $37.5 million — next school year under Murphy’s budget plan, according to state figures released Thursday. Overall, state aid for K-12 education in Newark would rise to $787.6 million for the 2018-19 school year.

The funding boost could ease financial strain on the district, which has faced large deficits in recent years as more students enroll in charter schools — taking a growing chunk of district money with them. At the same time, the district faced years of flat funding from the state, which provides Newark with most of its education money.

“This increase begins to restore the deep cuts made to teaching and support staff and essential programs for students in district schools over the last seven years,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, who noted that a portion of the increase would go to Newark charter schools.

Newark’s boost is part of a nearly $284 million increase that Murphy is proposing for the state’s school-aid formula, which has not been properly funded since 2009. In the budget outline he released Tuesday, Murphy said the increase was the first installment in a four-year plan to fully fund the formula, which calls for about $1 billion more than the state currently spends on education.

Even with Murphy’s proposed boost, Newark’s state aid would still be about 14 percent less than what it’s entitled to under the formula, according to state projections.

Murphy, a Democrat, is counting on a series of tax hikes and other revenue sources — including legalized marijuana — to pay for his budget, which increases state spending by 4.2 percent over this fiscal year. He’ll need the support of his fellow Democrats who control the state legislature to pass those measures, but some have expressed concerns about parts of Murphy’s plan — in particular, his proposal to raise taxes on millionaires. They have until June 30 to agree on a budget.

In the meantime, Newark and other school districts will use the figures from Murphy’s plan to create preliminary budgets by the end of this month. They can revise their budgets later if the state’s final budget differs from Murphy’s outline.

At a school board meeting Tuesday before districts received their state-aid estimates, Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory said he had traveled to Trenton in December to tell members of Murphy’s team that the district was “running out of things to do” to close its budget gap. He said the district wasn’t expecting to immediately receive the full $140 million that it’s owed under the state formula. But Murphy’s plan suggested the governor would eventually send Newark the full amount.

“The governor’s address offers a promising sign,” Gregory said.

Civics lesson

With district’s blessing, Newark students join national school walkout against gun violence

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Thousands of Newark students walked out of their schools Wednesday morning in a district-sanctioned protest that was part of a nationwide action calling for an end to gun violence.

At Barringer Academy of the Arts and Humanities in the North Ward, students gathered in the schoolyard alongside Mayor Ras Baraka and interim schools chief Robert Gregory, who offered support to the protesters and even distributed a “student protest week” curriculum to schools.

Just after 10 a.m., hundreds of students watched in silence as a group of their classmates stood in a row and released one orange balloon every minute for 17 minutes — a tribute to the 17 people fatally shot inside a high school in Parkland, Florida last month.

While the Barringer students and faculty mourned those victims they had never met, they also decried gun violence much closer to home: siblings and relatives who had been shot, times they were threatened with guns on the street. Principal Kimberly Honnick asked the crowd to remember Malik Bullock, who was a 16-year-old junior at Barringer when he was shot to death in the South Ward last April.

“Too many lives have been lost way too soon,” she said. “It is time for us to end the violence in our schools.”

School districts across the country have grappled with how to respond to walkouts, which were scheduled to occur at 10 a.m. in hundreds of schools. The student-led action, which was planned in the wake of the Florida mass shooting, is intended to pressure Congress to enact stricter gun laws.

Officials in some districts — including some in New Jersey — reportedly threatened to punish students who joined in the protest. But in Newark, officials embraced the event as a civics lesson for students and a necessary reminder to lawmakers that gun violence is not limited to headline-grabbing tragedies like the one in Parkland — for young people in many cities, it’s a fact of life.

“If there’s any group of people that should be opposed to the amount of guns that reach into our communities, it’s us,” Baraka said, adding that Newark police take over 500 guns off the street each year. “People in cities like Newark, New Jersey — cities that are predominantly filled with black and brown individuals who become victims of gun violence.”

On Friday, Gregory sent families a letter saying that the district was committed to keeping students safe in the wake of the Florida shooting. All school staff will receive training in the coming weeks on topics including “active shooter drills” and evacuation procedures, the letter said.

But the note also said the district wanted to support “students’ right to make their voices heard on this important issue.” Schools were sent a curriculum for this week with suggested lessons on youth activism and the gun-control debate. While students were free to opt out of Wednesday’s protests, high schools were expected to allow students to walk out of their buildings at the designated time while middle schools were encouraged to organize indoor events.

In an interview, Gregory said gun violence in Newark is not confined to mass shootings: At least one student here is killed in a shooting each year, he said — though there have not been any so far this year. Rather than accept such violence as inevitable, Gregory said schools should teach students that they have the power to collectively push for changes — even if that means letting them walk out of class.

“Instead of trying of trying to resist it, we wanted to encourage it,” he said. “That’s what makes America what it is.”

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Students released one balloon for each of the 17 people killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida last month.

After Barringer’s protest, where people waved signs saying “Love,” “Enough,” and “No to gun violence, several ninth-graders described what it’s like to live in communities where guns are prevalent — despite New Jersey’s tight gun restrictions.

Jason Inoa said he was held up by someone claiming to have a gun as he walked home. Destiny Muñoz said her older brother was shot by a police officer while a cousin was recently gunned down in Florida. The Parkland massacre only compounded her fear that nowhere is safe.

“With school shootings, you feel terrified,” she said. “You feel the same way you do about being outside in the streets.”

Even as the students called for tougher gun laws, they were ambivalent about bringing more police into their schools and neighborhoods. They noted that the Black Lives Matter movement, which they said they recently read about in their freshmen social studies class, called attention to black and Hispanic people who were treated harshly or even killed by police officers.

Ninth-grader Malik Bolding said it’s important to honor the victims of school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida. But the country should also mourn the people who are killed in everyday gun violence and heed the protesters who are calling for it to end, he added.

“Gun violence is gun violence — it doesn’t matter who got shot,” he said. “Everybody should be heard.”