to do list

Promising "an education city," Thompson sets schools agenda

Bill Thompson presented his education policy platform at a speech Wednesday at NYU's Kimmel Center.
Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson presented his education policy platform in a speech Wednesday at NYU.

When former comptroller Bill Thompson took the stage at the United Federation of Teachers conference on Saturday, he joined fellow mayoral candidates in criticizing Mayor Bloomberg’s education record.

But Thompson, the former president of the city’s Board of Education who ran against Bloomberg is 2009, took a more measured approach when putting together his formal education platform. He outlined the platform today in a policy speech at New York University, becoming the first candidate to set out a complete education agenda.

Thompson’s platform — which skimmed over some important issues — reflects ample criticism of Bloomberg administration education policies. He reiterated a commitment to avoid school closures, promised to “lead with teachers” rather than threaten them, vowed to involve parents in policy making, and pledged to reduce schools’ emphasis on testing.

But it also signals that Thompson would expand, not end, many of Bloomberg’s school policies.

He said he would replicate some of the small schools that Bloomberg has opened, continue the city’s nascent efforts to link high schools with industry partners, and revise — not abandon — the Department of Education’s method of evaluating schools. He would also carry on some of Bloomberg’s recent initiatives, such as extending the school day and making classroom instruction more challenging.

A Bloomberg administration spokeswoman, Lauren Passalacqua, criticized Thompson’s change in tone.

“While we’re pleased to see Mr. Thompson embrace so many of the initiatives our administration has implemented, it’s unfortunate that he wasn’t willing to deliver the same message at the UFT’s annual conference on Saturday,” she said. “Leadership involves speaking hard truths to voters, not telling different audiences and special interests what they want to hear.”

Thompson and his fellow Democratic candidates are locked in a fierce race for the teachers union’s coveted endorsement, which will come in mid-June.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said today that he was satisfied overall with Thompson’s proposal and thought city teachers would find much to support in it. He pointed to Thompson’s pledges to expand early childhood education, enhance teacher mentoring programs, and direct resources to students in low-income communities as examples.

“Clearly he understands the need to get children in a right place for them to be ready to learn,” Mulgrew said about Thompson.

Mulgrew also praised Thompson’s proposal for restructuring the Panel for Educational Policy, the board that must approve the mayor’s proposals for school closures, co-locations, and education spending and contracts. Currently, Bloomberg appoints a majority of the 13-person committee and can withdraw his appointees at any time. Thompson said he would seek to appoint only six of the panel’s 13 members, a position that he first staked out at the UFT’s conference on Saturday.

“You have to present real educational policy that will move things forward,” Thompson said today. Referring to his stint as Board of Education president, he said, “I can convince a majority of the board. That’s not going to be a problem. I’ve done it before.”

Other candidates, including Comptroller John Liu, have said they would push for fixed terms for panel members, granting them some measure of independence. But no one else has said they would decline to appoint a majority of members, weakening a key measure of mayoral control.

The UFT has asked legislators to reduce the mayor’s appointees to just five. Mulgrew said Thompson was “getting closer” in the number of nominees he would appoint and he didn’t think Liu — who has also proposed limiting appointees to a pool of nominated candidates — has gone far enough.

Thompson also sided with the union — and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a fellow candidate — on the question of whether a new teacher evaluation system should include a “sunset clause.” Bloomberg rejected a deal in December, citing the union’s request for an expiration date.

But a number of items on Thompson’s platform would be extensions of Bloomberg’s policies. He said he would replicate schools such as Pathways in Technology High School and the Academy of Software Engineering that give New York City students direct paths to jobs.

Some of Thompson’s proposals could even run afoul of the union, depending on how they are implemented. He said he would “hold teachers accountable for what happens in their schools and classrooms” in part by using test scores, as is required under state law, and would launch a citywide initiative for longer school hours and school years. He said he would also work to pay “our most effective teachers” more to teach in high-need schools.

Thompson did not say how he would define effectiveness, taking a pass on a crucial issue that the next mayor will have to resolve. He also did not explain how he would pay for his costly proposals, other than by cutting “the excessive amounts of hundreds of millions of dollars” that the Department of Education has awarded in contracts to private vendors. (Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has so far been the only candidate to say he would raise taxes to support schools.)

And Thompson did not mention the divisive issue of charter schools at all, except to say that he would hold them to the same standards as district schools. (Because the schools are publicly funded but privately managed and authorized by state entities, the mayor has little sway over city charter schools’ operation.)

“In order to call New York the education city we need to build on the progress we’ve seen over the last decade in ensuring every student is taught by a great teacher and providing every family access to a quality school, regardless of their income or zip code,” said Glen Weiner, the interim executive director fo StudentsFirstNY. “Sadly, Mr. Thompson was silent on how he’d advance these issues.”

Mulgrew, too, said Thompson had more explaining to do. He said Thompson’s pledge to fix the Department of Education’s school progress reports — which Thompson called “a step in the right direction” — needed details.

Thompson’s full education platform is below:

BILL THOMPSON’S VISION FOR IMPROVING NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Deliver Services to Students Ages Five and Under. Launch a new initiative to deliver comprehensive services to students ages five and under. Paired with an expansion of pre-k services, the initiative will provide support for kindergarten success and work with families to understand the comprehensive support that young students need to be successful in school. The initiative will identify – very early on – who needs additional help and we will provide it.

Launch a Comprehensive, Connected Pre-K to College and Career System. Create a pre-K to career- and college-ready system, where students are not repeating the same work and where each lesson and each year builds on the last. This comprehensive, connected approach will help us make sure we start kids off on the right track and keep them there.

Launch a New Education Innovation Grant. Create a mini-grant system for the most innovative schools, especially when it comes to career and college readiness. When educators do something well, we will give them the opportunity and resources to do even more of it.

Create a New Class-to-Job Pipeline. Use the success at schools such as Pathways In Technology as a model.  Expand that model to more schools – at least one in every borough. We will identify and partner with business leaders in medicine, biotechnology and engineering to give New York City students a direct path to a good job.

Create Multiple Pathways to Graduation. Open more schools like the Academy for Software Engineering, where students don’t just learn how to write computer code or engineer programs, they learn how to be innovators in their own right.  Students can do what they love in the city that they love.

Stop School Closures. Close schools always as the last option, not the first. Students in every school deserve the same chance of success as students in every other school. Thompson will stop school closures and introduce a comprehensive system to support struggling schools.

Support Longer School Hours and School Years. It means more time for teacher collaboration. More time to challenge students with new subjects. And more time to identify and help kids – at a young age – who are struggling.

Connect After-School Programs to Classroom Curriculum. We’re already paying for after-school programs. Now we need to connect these after-school opportunities to the lessons being taught in the classroom. This means children will have more time on task. And teachers will have more time to supervise their students.

Expand Gifted and Talented Slots and Locations. Expand and re-craft our Gifted and Talented program, not just in terms of the number of seats but the way we admit students.  The capacity of our Gifted and Talent program – and every school initiative – should be equal to the potential of our students. There should be a Gifted and Talented program in every community.

Support the Common Core. We should use it to shift the testing paradigm. Critical concepts will drive lesson planning. And those concepts can be reiterated in the games younger students play, across different subjects and in after-school programs.  Teachers will have freedom to convey those concepts.

Create a Real Career Ladder for Educators. Identify our strongest, most-effective teachers, especially in math and science, and put them to work guiding first-time teachers. These teachers can take on additional leadership functions at the school level.

Expand Master Teachers. Place senior level teachers in schools across the City and help guide curriculum creation and professional development.  As many as possible – especially those in traditionally tough neighborhoods – should benefit from having senior-level teachers guiding younger educators.

Reinvest in College Readiness. Work with CUNY to expand the College Now program, so kids have access to college-level coursework before they even leave public schools.  Students are challenged by higher-level coursework early in their academic life.

Drive Real Accountability. School evaluations should tell parents about the whole school, not just a single classroom. How engaged are the teachers? What’s the culture like at the school? Is there a strong PTA structure? That way, parents can make informed decisions about which school is right for their children.

Hold Charter Schools to the Same Standards as Public Schools. Hold Charters to the same standards as public schools. Schools should be centers for learning and innovation. And if any school – public or charter – isn’t meeting that standard, Thompson will take action.

Clear, Fair Metrics for Teacher Accountability. Hold teachers accountable for what happens in their schools and classrooms. We need to incorporate scores, professional observation, parent and peer feedback and more. Instead of simply threatening teachers, Thompson will lead with them 

Put Effective Teachers in Tough Neighborhoods. Create an incentive program to reward teachers who take on these challenges. Putting our most effective teachers into the toughest neighborhoods and the toughest schools will give them that chance.

Give Parents a Voice in Education Policy. Appoint parent representatives to the Education Panel. People on the Education Panel will support Thompson’s policies because they are the right policies. Not because he appoints them.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede