peanut gallery

Contempt, confusion, and cheers in State of the City reactions

Minutes after Mayor Bloomberg finished delivering his State of the City address today, reactions started flying about his aggressive slate of education proposals.

The reactions ranged from withering (in the case of UFT President Michael Mulgrew) to bewildered (Ernest Logan, principals union president) to supportive (charter school operator Eva Moskowitz and others whose organizations would benefit from the proposals).

Below, I’ve compiled the complete set of education-related reactions that dropped into my inbox. I’ll add to the list as more reactions roll in.

From Mulgrew:

The Mayor seems to be lost in his own fantasy world of education, the one where reality doesn’t apply. It doesn’t do the kids and the schools any good for him to propose the kind of teacher merit pay system that has failed in school districts around the country.  As far as the ‘turnaround’ model goes, the Mayor knows perfectly well that under state law these kinds of initiatives have to be negotiated with the union.  If he’s really interested in improving the schools his administration has mishandled, he will send his negotiators back to the table to reach an agreement on a new teacher evaluation process.

And Logan:

At first glance, in the public eye, the Mayor’s remarks about schools may seem reasonable, but when you dig down, you realize how many of his proposals do little to help struggling schools.  These schools are likely to continue struggling, not because 50% of the educators are supposedly incompetent, but because of the DOE’s student enrollment policies that place students who are over-age, under-credited, in temporary housing or dealing with involved special education needs in schools that are said to be low-performing.  We must stop this kind of warehousing and give these children what they need to succeed.

Hopefully, when the city presents this plan to us and explains it fully, we will have fewer concerns.

Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform:

What the mayor put forward today is a series of bold yet common sense initiatives to improve our public schools, ideas so obvious that with each one he announced the crowd erupted in applause. Opening high performing schools, paying teachers more and creating an elite corps of educators from the tops of their college classes are all important steps towards giving every child the top notch education they deserve. We should remember those authentic reactions as the special interests do their best to appeal to those applauding today to turn on these ideas tomorrow.

Bob Hughes, president of New Visions for Public Schools, which manages many city schools:

Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to hold his 2012 State of the City address at the beautifully restored Morris Educational Campus—home to four small public high schools—reinforces the success of the small schools movement. Research shows that small schools—our best example of transformative change—are effective at closing the achievement gap. New Visions for Public Schools is committed to building on this success by developing innovative practices that align with Common Core state standards and improve college readiness for all students. While we still have challenging work ahead of us, we’ve seen the promise of pursuing bold ideas. By focusing on improving instructional systems and professional capacity in schools, we can raise achievement even further for our highest-need students.

Moskowitz, whose Success Charter Network will expand more quickly under Bloomberg’s plan:

We’re really encouraged that the mayor is embracing the bolder, faster change we’ve been calling for. Our plan has always been to meet the demand from families in diverse neighborhoods across the city for more and better options for their children. We will work closely with the Mayor’s team to do our part to drastically improve the number of high quality public school options over the next several years.”

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer:

I support the Mayor’s call for a higher minimum wage, and I am glad that he talked about education. But I wish he had spoken more about the squeeze facing New York’s middle class families. Too many New Yorkers are working harder than ever, but feel like they are falling further and further behind. That’s got to change. We need a clear vision going forward about how we’re going to make this City work for middle class and working families.

If the last nine years have shown us anything, it’s that Mayor Bloomberg can’t improve City schools by himself. The Lone Ranger approach to education has held us back. Mayor Bloomberg also needs input from parents, teachers and principals, advocates and business leaders. This speech did nothing to forge those partnerships.

I support efforts to maximize the value of our assets wherever possible in the City budget. But without consideration of community needs I cannot support the Mayor’s proposal to sell off three valuable city-owned buildings in Lower Manhattan for a one-time budget windfall. As I pointed out in a letter to the Mayor, these buildings could fill crucial needs in an area plagued by classroom overcrowding and a lack of affordable housing.

Michael Haberman, director of PENCIL, which brokers public-private partnerships for schools:

I was heartened to hear a large portion of Mayor Bloomberg’s speech devoted to the true future of this city—our students.  He understands first-hand the importance of getting a leg up and building up ones skill level to truly prepare for college and careers.  He shared a story about the difference an internship made in his life, which put him on a path to where he is today.

PENCIL understands the city’s challenges—to create a 21st century economy and 21st century schools.  PENCIL’s mission focuses on the private sector partners the mayor identified as crucial to meeting these challenges.  We bring NYC business leaders into schools and support meaningful partnerships between the two.

PENCIL coordinates one of the largest city-wide fellowship program that matches high school juniors and seniors with experiential learning opportunities—internships—which give them the tangible skills and resume builders they need to succeed in this highly competitive city.  Many of our Fellows credit these opportunities—like our mayor—with the doors that have been opened for them.

PENCIL Fellows receive career readiness training and guidance from PENCIL, and are placed in full-time, paid six-week summer internships at leading businesses throughout New York City. Through the program, nearly 500 NYC public high school students have been provided with Business Mentors who have shepherded them through meaningful workplace experiences over the past four years. Participants include business such as JPMorgan Chase, Estee Lauder, Ogilvy, State Farm Insurance and Deloitte.

We know internships and mentoring works.  PENCIL has a model that makes a difference for hundreds of students.  And we applaud the mayor for highlighting these actions as core strategies for meeting the city’s goals.”

Zakiyah Ansari, a parent leader with the Coalition for Educational Justice:

Nearly every student in City public schools today started school under Mayor Bloomberg.  These are our children and Bloomberg has run out of time, spin and excuses. All the kids in our schools are ‘Bloomberg’s Kids’; all the results are his to own. Until he makes serious changes and begins listening to parents, he will be ‘Mayor 13%’—the mayor who prepares just 13 percent of Black and Latino students for college.”

As I listened to the Mayor’s speech today, my hope was that he was going to take real leadership and acknowledge the truth of what is really happening in our schools. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, he did not. The mayor missed a major opportunity today to take a big step forward for our children and our school system by listening to the concerns of parents and the majority of New Yorkers who believe his policies have failed, and moving forward with a new set of reforms that will lift our City out of this educational crisis. Instead, the mayor doubled down on bad policies that – after ten years of mistakes – leave just one-in-four City students ready for college and only 13 percent of Black and Latino children prepared for higher education.

In fact, the mayor’s outrageous claim that ‘by almost any measure, students are doing better and our school system is heading in the right direction’ is not only flat out wrong, but a dangerous presumption for this administration to have and promote. The federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress Trial Urban District Assessment (NAEP TUDA) test results in December showed that City scores have plateaued since 2009 and the large racial achievement gap persists between Black and Latino students and their white peers has not budged. More than one-third of all City schools are now considered failing by the State. That is not the right direction. We wonder if the mayor is so out of touch with his own constituents that he does not even see the writing on the wall.

The school the mayor chose for his address is itself a symbol of his failed education policies.  Yes, graduation rates have improved at Morris High School—but only because the city cruelly forced out the highest-needs special education students. The old Morris HS had a 14 percent rate of self-contained special education students; the new Morris HS campus schools have an average of just two percent. What happened to all those special education students? They now attend other large high schools like Samuel Gompers and Grace Dodge, which the Mayor is now closing down as well. This ‘warehousing’ of students, according to the state’s chancellor, is happening all around the City to cover up the real problems with City schools.

Over the years, my eight children have passed through the classrooms of at least 50 teachers. I can count on one hand the number of teachers who I objected to. I’m offended by the mayor’s insinuations that the majority of teachers are ineffective and that it is teachers, rather than the last decade of the mayor’s leadership, that is responsible for the state of our schools.”

And Guadalupe Garcia, a youth leader with Make the Road New York who has pushed for the DREAM Act:

We thank Mayor Bloomberg for supporting our dreams and highlighting the importance of ensuring that young people have access to financial resources from the State to pursue their higher education,” said Guadalupe Garcia, a DREAMer from Mexico and youth leader of Make the Road New York. “We look forward to working with the Mayor and our legislators to ensure the passage of the NYS DREAM Act this year.

 

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.”