College Readiness

Liu says city should pay CUNY tuition for top high school grads

john-liu-uft
Comptroller John Liu visited UFT headquarters after being elected in 2009. Today, Liu proposed new education and economic policies, including the "community schools" model the UFT favors.

The city should ease the path to college for top high school students by promising them free tuition at city colleges, Comptroller John Liu said today in a “State of the City” speech, his second in 2012.

In the speech, Liu put forth a slate of policy proposals, including several focused on education, that he said would enhance the city’s economic future. Liu is a likely mayoral candidate, but as comptroller his job is to safeguard the city’s financial prospects.

“The offer of free tuition would help motivate students and elevate CUNY, one of our city’s most valuable gems, to the level of a competitive prize,” Liu said, according to his prepared remarks. “It would also be a life-saver for many working families who are struggling to send their kids to college.”

Liu did not explain how the city could fund the initiative, but it would not cost much. With tuition set at $5,400 a year, even if every student in the top 10 percent of each graduating class enrolled and would not ordinarily receive financial aid — an unlikely scenario — paying their way would cost less than $12 million a year.

Other proposals Liu made today would cost the city a lot more.

He proposed spending $75 million a year to provide home visits by nurses to thousands of needy families with young children, $32 million a year to give computers to students at high-poverty middle schools, and $176 million a year to add more guidance counselors to city high schools. Liu first proposed expanding the city’s fleet of guidance counselors in October, arguing that the expenditure would pay for itself with economic contributions from people who would not have gone to college without the counselors’ help.

And he said he would add social services to every city school, something the teachers union and city are jointly attempting in six schools this year, at a price tag of $100,000 a school. Liu said the proposal was inspired by a trip he took with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to Cincinnati, which has embraced the “community schools” model that the union has been promoting.

“I’d like to see every New York City public school become a community center before and after school,” Liu said. “In addition to after-school programs, it could include a health clinic, and offer resources to parents and adults in the evenings, like tax advisory services and financial literacy courses.”

Most mayoral candidates were slow to respond to Liu’s proposals today. But Tom Allon, whose candidacy as a Republican suffered a blow this week with the possible entrance to the race of former MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, said he supported Liu’s call for a tuition break for top students and noted that it would require only a small expenditure. “Anything we can do to incentivize high school students to graduate and achieve high grades is a good public policy in my book,” Allon said.

The portion of Liu’s speech that focused on education is below:

We’ve discussed how we can make our workplaces and our tax code more equitable. Now we need to talk about how to get our young people into the workplace and how to develop our future workforce and taxpayers.

This requires a “cradle-to-career” approach in order to avoid a “school-to-prison” pipeline. There has been a lot of talk in this City about improving high school graduation rates. And that’s a good thing.

But as we all know, in today’s complex economy, it takes a college degree to make a decent living.

Yet four out of five New York City public high school students do not graduate from college. Let me repeat: four out of five of our high school students do not graduate from college.

In order to maintain New York City’s economic viability, we must work to increase the proportion of New Yorkers with either an associates or a bachelor’s degree from where it is now, at 42 percent, to 60 percent by the year 2025.

New York City should be the education capital of the country. Right now, we lag behind Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston. It’s time we reverse New York’s education gap and put our public schools back on track.

Earlier this year, along with Speaker Quinn, and many of our City’s teachers, I visited the school system in Cincinnati.

I was very impressed by what I saw there.

Cincinnati, a city that is home to some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, takes a holistic approach to education, an approach we can learn a lot from.

We know, from our own research, that we have to start early; even before formal education begins. In fact, in certain situations, even before children are born.

The Nurse Family Partnership provides critical in-home prenatal care for Medicaid- eligible firsttime mothers, and continues parental support for up to 2 years after a child is born.

For less than $75 million annually we can expand this program in NYC from the 2,400 families  it now serves to 14,500 families.

And what does the Nurse Family Partnership do? It results in higher scores on children’s reading and math achievement tests. It produces a 67 percent reduction in behavioral and intellectual problems per child at age 6. It improves a child’s cognitive ability and language development and reduces language delays.

In short, it makes kids from struggling families better able to handle school.

The initial Nurse Family Partnership program in Elmira, N.Y., is now on track to save as much as $4 in taxpayer money for every dollar the program costs.

Now that’s what I call a real return on investment.

Once children are in school, we need to continue to partner with their families. When our Secretary of State was first lady she said: “It takes a village to raise a child.” And she was right.

By the way, I think the world of Secretary Clinton and eagerly await her announcement to jump into the New York City mayoral race…

But seriously, families need to know that there is support for them in the community. That there are people who care. That’s why I’d like to see every New York City public school become a community center before and after school. In addition to after-school programs, it could include a health clinic, and offer resources to parents and adults in the evenings, like tax advisory services and financial literacy courses.

We know that middle school is a particularly vulnerable time for kids. So we need to do more to support our middle school students. In fact, my son Joey is in middle school.

We are privileged today by the presence of a group of very impressive fifth and sixth graders from PS 45 in South Ozone Park, Queens. These kids are on the student council and are here with their principal, Samantha Severin. Please stand up and say hello to everyone. Thank you for coming.

Middle school students often need extra help. That is why I believe we need to expand the Computers for Youth program to every public middle school in New York City where at least 75 percent of the students receive free lunch.

Computers for Youth provides refurbished computers, pre-loaded with educational software, to 6th graders. The program teaches these students and their families how to use the computers. And we can expand this program for only $32 million annually. In today’s day and age, no child, regardless of their family’s income, should live without a computer and internet access in their home.

We also know that guidance counselors are particularly important for college success. Best practices advise that guidance counselors have caseloads no larger than 100.

But in the New York City public schools the average is 259 students to one counselor, and many of our counselors are struggling to care for more than 400 students on their own.

I proposed in October that we change the current unmanageable ratio from 259 students to 100 students per counselor. This will cost $176 million, or about $2,000 per high school student. We already spend $227,000 on every New York City public school child’s education, kindergarten through twelfth grade. Why not give that child the best chance to succeed, for just another $2,000 per kid?

And there are other things we can do. We know from the great results at some of the newest specialized high schools: American Studies at Lehman College as well as Math, Science, and Engineering at City College, that putting a high school on a college campus can create wonderful synergies.

Why can’t we do this for every New York City public high school? We don’t have to move the schools. We can create “sister college” relationships for every high school with the many terrific colleges and universities we have right here in New York City.

We happen to have with us today a class of 12th-grade government students from one of New York City’s historic high schools, Abraham Lincoln in Coney Island. They are here with their teacher, Ellen Levitt. Can you all stand up?

We are also honored to have Mr. George Israel here with us today. He graduated from Abraham Lincoln 64 years ago. George, can you stand up?

There is a lot we can do to make sure our kids graduate from college. In addition to the Macaulay Honors Program that already exists at CUNY, we can and should offer free CUNY tuition to the top 10 percent of New York City public high school graduates. Top graduates from every New York City high school should be eligible for this program.

The offer of free tuition would help motivate students and elevate CUNY, one of our City’s most valuable gems, to the level of a competitive prize. It would also be a life-saver for many working families who are struggling to send their kids to college. We must do more to make college affordable.

Let’s bring diversity to New York City’s Specialized High Schools, so that every child has access to an elite education and the privileges that go with it.

Let’s help President Obama, who has worked so hard for all of us, pass the DREAM Act so that immigrants can pursue a higher education.

As many of you know, I came to this country as a five-year-old from Taiwan who didn’t speak a word of English. And if it wasn’t for the great public school teachers I had at PS 203 in Flushing and at Hunter High School and at Bronx Science, I would never be where I am today.

In addition to benefiting from a first-rate New York City public school education, I had a tightknit family and community behind me, supporting me every step of the way.

We need to reweave the fabric of our communities and neighborhoods so that we catch every kid before they fall.

That’s the way we will minimize gun violence on our streets.

That’s the way we will get every kid to earn a college degree.

That’s the way we can help every New Yorker achieve their full potential.

Counselor Comeback

Years after laying them off, Newark brings back attendance workers to track down absent students

PHOTO: Newark Public Schools
Superintendent Roger León (center) with more than 40 new attendance counselors the district has hired.

A new school-attendance squad is on the job in Newark, ready to phone families and track down truant students.

More than 40 new attendance counselors and truancy officers made their official debut this week — part of a campaign by Superintendent Roger León to curb rampant absenteeism in the district. The linchpin of León’s approach is the rehiring of the attendance workers, who were laid off nearly six years ago amid questions about their effectiveness.

The employees — some new and some returning — will help craft school attendance plans, contact families, and bring truant students back to class with the help of Newark police officers.

They have their work cut out for them: Nearly a quarter of students have already missed about two weeks or more of school since September, according to district officials.

In his drive to boost attendance, León also launched a back-to-school campaign last fall and eliminated some early-dismissal days when students tend to skip class. At a school board meeting Tuesday, León said those efforts have resulted in fewer “chronically absent” students who miss 10 percent or more of school days for any reason. So far this school year, 23 percent of students are chronically absent, down from 30.5 percent during the same period the previous school year, he said.

“Right now, we’re in a really, really good place,” León told the board. “Having hired these attendance officers will get us where we need to go.”

A long to-do list awaits the attendance workers, who will earn between $53,000 and $95,531, according to a district job posting. They will create daily attendance reports for schools, call or visit families of absent students, and make sure students who are frequently out of school start showing up on time.

They will also be tasked with enforcing the state’s truancy laws, which authorize attendance officers to arrest “habitually truant” students and allow their parents or guardians to be fined. Newark’s attendance counselors will gather evidence for potential legal actions, deliver legal notices to students’ homes, and appear in court “when required,” according to the job posting.

The district is also establishing a new “truancy task force” to track down truant students, as required by state law. The task force will include both district employees and police officers who will patrol the streets searching for truants to transport back to school.

The teams will be “going up and down every one of our corridors and getting kids in school,” León said Tuesday, adding that they will eventually be provided buses.

Criminal-justice reform advocates across the country have criticized state laws, like New Jersey’s, which criminalize truancy. As a result of such laws, parents can face fines or even jail time and students can be put on probation or removed from their homes. Meanwhile, a 2011 study found that truant students who faced legal action were more likely to earn lower grades and drop out of school than truant students who did not face those sanctions.

While truancy laws may be on the books, districts have discretion in how they enforce them.

Peter Chen, a policy counsel for Advocates for Children of New Jersey, has studied absenteeism in Newark and said he did not know how the district’s new attendance workers would carry out the law. But he cautioned against “punitive strategies,” such as issuing court summonses or suspending frequently absent students, which can temporarily boost attendance but eventually drive students further away from school.

“Once the school is viewed as the enemy, as somebody who is out to get the student, it’s incredibly difficult to rebuild a trusting relationship,” he said. “And what we see time and again is that a trusting relationship between a school and a family or student is a critical component to building a school-wide attendance strategy that works.”

Superintendent León declined to be interviewed after Tuesday’s board meeting, saying he would answer written questions. As of Wednesday evening, he had not responded to those questions.

At the meeting, he did not rule out the possibility of the district’s truancy officers making arrests. But he said the police officers’ job was not to arrest truant students, only to protect the attendance workers.

“I need to make sure that any staff members that we hire are safe,” he said.

In 2013, then-Superintendent Cami Anderson laid off all 46 of the district’s attendance counselors. She attributed the decision to budget constraints and limited evidence that the counselors had improved attendance.

The district shifted the counselors’ responsibilities to school-based teams that included administrators, social workers, and teachers. Critics said the district was expecting schools to do more with less, and the Newark Teachers Union — which had represented the attendance counselors — fought the layoffs in court. An administrative law judge sided with the union, but then-State Education Commissioner David Hespe later overturned the decision.

León, who became superintendent in July, promised to promptly restore the attendance counselors. However, his plans were delayed by a legal requirement that the district first offer the new jobs to the laid-off counselors, some of whom had moved out of state. By the beginning of February, all the positions had been filled and, on Friday, León held a roughly 90-minute meeting with the new attendance team.

To create lasting attendance gains, experts advise schools to consider every aspect of what they do — their discipline policies, the emotional support they provide students, the quality of teaching, and the relationship between staffers and families. Simply outsourcing attendance to designated employees will not work, they warn.

Superintendent León appears to agree. In an interview last year, he said he expects all school employees to join in the work of improving attendance.

“The last thing that needs to happen is for people to walk away saying, ‘Oh, attendance is going to be solved because now we have the attendance counselors,’” León said. “No, everyone has to worry about attendance.”

Charter strike

Chicago’s second charter strike ends with pay wins for teachers and paraprofessionals

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff
Teachers and supporters march in front of Chicago International Charter Schools' corporate offices on the fifth day of the strike.

Chicago’s second charter school strike ended early Monday with the teachers union winning concessions on pay raises for teachers and paraprofessionals that will put their salaries on par with educators at non-charter schools.

Under the deal, reached overnight after two weeks without classes, the union said Monday that teachers at four Chicago International charter schools, known as CICS, will see an immediate 8 percent pay bump. Over the next four years, their salaries will rise more substantially.

Paraprofessionals will be brought up to district pay scales immediately, the union said.

Students and teachers at the four schools, are managed by Civitas Education Partners, will return to class Tuesday. CICS oversees 14 schools in all a complex organization that includes multiple managers.

The deal ends the the latest display of the Chicago Teachers Union’s organizing muscle ahead of several high-stakes contract negotiations, including contract with Chicago Public Schools that expires in the spring, and several other charter contracts still in talks.

The contract will apply only to the four schools that have a union and were on strike: Northtown Academy, Ralph Ellison, Wrightwood, and Chicago Quest. But a spokesperson for CICS said Monday that the organization was “committed to equity” across its other 10 campuses and is in internal discussions about how the bargaining will impact teachers and classrooms at its non-unionized schools.

CICS had warned during the strike that it could face bankruptcy if it implemented all of the union’s demands. In a statement Monday, the network said that the issue of “limited funding” was an “unfortunate reality in public education.”

“In order to pay for such a significant salary increase, we will be forced to make certain cuts and compromises,” the statement said. “For example, we will likely need to limit the number of instructional coaches, assistant principals and other valuable support staff members.”

The tentative agreement brings to an end a contentious nine-day strike that started with picket lines and escalated late last week when dozens of teachers blocked the lobby of the Loop high-rise housing the offices of accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. The board president of CICS, Laura Thonn, is a partner in the Chicago offices of the firm.

Friday also was payday for teachers, who received substantially smaller checks than they would have had they been working.

The teachers union and CICS said that the tentative agreement also guarantees assistants in kindergarten, first-, and second-grade classrooms; paid parental leave for teachers; and a slightly shorter work day. The tentative agreement cuts the workday by 15 minutes but does not reduce instructional time, CICS said Monday.

One sticking point was also class size. The tentative agreement sets a “goal” of 28 students per class with a clause that limits class sizes to 30. Overcrowding at district schools has been a point of intensifying discussion this year, too, with a new report from the group Parents 4 Teachers showing that more than 1,000 classrooms in kindergarten through eighth-grade in Chicago have more than 30 students.

“We have finally won a contract that our schools, students, and our staff deserve,” said Jen Conant, a CICS Northtown teacher and member of the bargaining team.

The tentative contract will now go to the broader union membership for a vote.