memorandum of understanding

In memo on the mayoral race, DFER tells everyone to "chill"

Democrats for Education Reform, the national political organization with local roots, is urging calm for anxious supporters who fear that a new mayor could weaken their hold on favored education policies.

“Don’t believe all of the doomsday talk you’ve heard surrounding the NYC mayoral race,” a political briefing memo on the mayoral race begins. The memo, which GothamSchools obtained from DFER, was sent out internally last month to supporters and funders.

The briefing was written in response to concerns raised by people who’ve pestered DFER to explain what its plans are in the race, according to an email sent by Executive Director Joe Williams.

“Since we are getting a lot of questions on this, I wanted to update you on our latest thinking regarding the NYC Mayor’s race,” Williams writes.

The briefing paints a surprisingly rosy picture of the race from a perspective of education advocates who have supported Mayor Bloomberg’s policies and often clashed with the teachers union. It goes on to suggest that its allies take a long view of the mayoral race, excuse the Democratic field’s eagerness to please the United Federation of Teachers, and take a second look at some of the candidates who’ve previously been antagonistic.

“You probably wouldn’t want to be supporting a candidate who was too stupid to try to get enough endorsements to win,” the memo says, referring to some of the candidates’ embrace of the UFT.

The memo names Bill Thompson, Christine Quinn and Anthony Weiner as the three most palatable candidates to focus their support around. Bill de Blasio has “offered the least support for issues of concern to education reform advocates,” perhaps a reference to the public advocate’s public spate with influential charter school leader Eva Moskowitz.

Republicans have “zero chance” right now, the memo says.

Democrats for Education Reform has kept a low profile in New York since it unsuccessfully backed several downstate candidates for state office in the 2010 elections. In the years since, it has continued to expand nationally, establishing chapters in 13 states and cozied up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Last year, it took a backseat seat to StudentsFirstNY, a once-emergent rival advocacy group that has since faded after its founding director left.

Its strategy on the mayoral race appears to be much of the same. It will “continue to QUIETLY work with Quinn, Thompson and Weiner” while “De-­escalating  education  reform  as  a  key  issue  in  the  PRIMARY  election.”

For now, DFER tells its supporters that it’s going to wait until after the UFT makes its endorsement: “This will mark the official start of the 2013 Mayor’s Race.”

After that, sources say that one thing to look out for is negative advertising funded by groups like DFER and StudentsFirstNY against its lesser favored candidates.

“It will be a long summer, with ups and downs and editorial page endorsements, but most of the action will heat up in the final weeks of August and early September.”

DFER Memo by

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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