party like it's 2009

UFT making governance a priority in Albany as new mayor nears

Two members of the Campaign for Better Schools at today's press conference. Photo courtesy of the Campaign for Better Schools
Members of the Campaign for Better Schools, a coalition of community groups, protested against mayoral control when it was up for renewal in 2009.

With the city nine months from getting a new mayor, the United Federation of Teachers is gearing up to ask legislators to ensure that Mayor Bloomberg’s brand of school governance cannot be repeated.

The union wants legislation introduced that would significantly constrain the mayor’s education authority. The proposal closely resembles the union’s school governance platform from 2009, when the law giving control of the city’s schools to the mayor was last revised. But it comes at a time when all of the leading mayoral candidates have pledged to move away from Bloomberg’s imperious approach to school governance.

Some pieces of the proposal, such as to give elected parent councils authority over decisions about where to locate schools, would be accomplished by legislation already pending in Albany. The rest — including stripping the majority vote on the Panel for Educational Policy from the mayor, would require a new bill.

“Our lobbyists in Albany understand that this is now going to become a piece of legislation” in the current legislative session, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in an interview.

The proposal, which will become official when the union’s Delegate Assembly signs off on it, comes two years before the the law giving control of the city’s schools to the mayor is set to expire. But Mulgrew said now is the time to constrain the mayor’s power.

“We have a system of governance that no one ever thought would be as abused as it has been,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for us to not fight for something different so this cannot happen again.”

Since the legislature gave Bloomberg control of the city’s school in 2002, he has drawn criticism for ruling with a heavy hand and not including communities in decisions about them. Especially after a 2009 revision, the state’s school governance law requires that communities be given a chance to provide feedback about proposed policies, but the ultimate decision lies with the mayor and Panel for Educational Policy, whose members mostly serve at his will.

The leading mayoral candidates have all criticized the way Bloomberg has run the school system and pledged to change the tone at the Department of Education. But only Comptroller John Liu, who released a proposal for restructuring the Panel for Educational Policy last month, has committed to ceding any of the authority he is seeking.

A more common position is one former comptroller Bill Thompson has offered: “I still support mayoral control but it’s more about who the mayor is,” he said at a forum in November.

Responding to the UFT’s proposal today, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s mayoral campaign released a statement that said only, “”We are opposed.”

Critics of the teachers union said the proposal would mark a regression for the school system.

“With its latest missive calling for the end of mayoral control of the schools, the union has made it clear that its vision of progress is to return New York City to the days of patronage, graft and corruption with a system that has no accountability whatsoever,” said Chandra Hayslett, communications director of StudentsFirstNY, in a statement.

But Mulgrew said the union was committed to preserving mayoral control, as it was in 2009. “People forget that the school boards were not working very well either,” he said. “We don’t want to go back to that.”

Instead, he said, the union just wants checks and balances on the mayor’s power. In other cities with mayoral control, he said, “Everybody else figured out you needed checks and balances.”

The recommendations were drafted by the union’s committee on school governance, which was reconstituted last fall after becoming dormant when mayoral control was renewed in 2009.

What the UFT is recommending:

Instead of appointing eight of the 13 Panel for Educational Policy members, the mayor would appoint only five. (The union endorsed that configuration in 2009, but then-President Randi Weingarten did not promote it.) Borough presidents would still appoint five. The remaining three slots would be filled by appointees of the comptroller, public advocate, and City Council speaker. Members would serve for three-year terms, not at the will of those who appointed them.

The mayor would choose a chancellor from three candidates selected by the PEP. The chancellor would have already have the credentials to become a superintendent in New York State, and he or she would have to be re-approved every two years.

Community Education Councils would have to approve school co-locations or relocations, as a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Keith Wright would require.

District superintendents would regain some of the authority they lost over the course of the Bloomberg administration. The chancellor would pick superintendents from nominees put forth by Community Education Councils, and superintendents would serve three-year terms.

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.