on the table

Union open to turnaround plan that cuts teachers based on merit

For the first time, the city teachers union could allow teachers to be removed from schools based on merit rather than seniority, a union official close to the negotiations said today.

As part of his middle schools initiative, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced in a speech this morning a plan to pursue federally-funded “turnaround” for 10 low-performing schools that would begin next year. The model, which replaces at least half of the schools’ teachers based on effectiveness –  rather than seniority – can only go forward with approval from the United Federation of Teachers.

The union has already been in “preliminary discussions” with the city about implementing the model next year and is “open” to further negotiations, an official said today.

“These are all struggling schools and we are willing to help struggling schools,” the official said. “It’s not a debatable point.”

This version of turnaround, one of four models the Obama Administration has mandated for low-performing schools, has previously been off the table in any past negotiations. Two other models, plus another turnaround version that resembles the city’s school closure policy, are already in place in New York City, but none are as aggressive. Together the 10 schools could get up to $30 million in federal grants.

Specifics about how teacher would be removed are still under negotiations, the official said. But any teachers removed because of the turnaround would remain on the city’s payroll as members of the Absent Teachers Reserve.

The mere willingness to discuss a plan to identify and remove unfit teachers from struggling schools is the latest sign of an evolved working relationship between the union and city.

Last week, UFT President Michael Mulgrew praised Walcott for his decision to end the controversial Teacher Data Reports program. “I can say confidently for the first time I feel that the chancellor of New York City is trying to put children first,” Mulgrew said.

Responding in a statement to Walcott’s speech, Mulgrew did not specifically mention the turnaround model. He criticized other parts of the plan, which included more school phase-outs and new charter schools, because they “did  not go far enough.”

Last summer, New York State received $300 million to fix 57 of its “persistently low-achieving” schools, the majority of which were located in New York City. But it used just a fraction of its allocated funds on the least invasive model because of negotiation delays with the teachers union.

The city said it did not know which middle schools it would target for the Turnaround model. Eleven middle schools are currently on the state’s persistently lowest-achieving list and more could be added in coming months.


that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.