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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:


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.

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 [email protected]

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”