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Weiner evades issue dealing with sexual misconduct in schools

This week’s Anthony Weiner sex scandal had an odd side effect for the education policy debate in the mayor’s race. It caused AFT President Randi Weingarten to raise an issue that has been a thorn in the union’s side.

“So how can Anthony run for Mayor, when a teacher for the same conduct would be fired,” Weingarten said in a tweet yesterday.

She was referring to a push to tighten punishments for teachers found guilty of inappropriate behavior that the union here has opposed. Since 2007, the city has been unable to fire nearly 100 people working in schools for a variety of sexual indiscretions that range from verbal abuse to physical contact, according to the Daily News.

It’s a tiny fraction of one percent of the city’s 80,000-plus school staff, but a group of anti-union advocates have tried to make the issue a question in the mayor’s race, asking candidates if they support giving the city more power to fire people for sexual indiscretions.

Weiner is one of the candidates who hasn’t responded to a questionairre by the advocacy group pushing candidates to take a position on tightening the rules and his spokeswoman did not respond to GothamSchools’ questions. Getting caught for sending lewd pictures of himself to women is the type of behavior that would put Weiner in the city’s crosshairs if he were a teacher.

Union favorite Bill Thompson and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, two opponents who have called for Weiner to resign from the race for his conduct, also did not respond to the questionnaire. They have not taken clear stands on the issues raised in the questionnaire.

Speaker Christine Quinn, who has not called for Weiner to resign, and Sal Albanese are the only Democratic candidates who have staked out clear positions. Both said they support legislation that would make it easier to fire teachers who have acted inappropriately with students.

“As a UFT member and former teacher, I’m a big believer in due process,” Albanese, who taught for 11 years, said in a statement. “But I also believe that we have to act as swiftly as possible to keep students safe. We need to change the law, because the current process simply isn’t accomplishing that goal.”

Of the three Republican candidates, Joe Lhota and George McDonald have also said they support the legislation. Republican John Catsimitidis and Comptroller John Liu, a Democrat, did not respond to the questionnaire and their campaigns didn’t respond to similar requests.

(See all of the candidates opinions on this issue: The Next Education Mayor)

At issue in the legislation is who should decide a teacher’s dismissal. Right now arbitrators have the final say in what constitutes “sexual misconduct” — which in the union contract is grounds for dismissal — and what the punishment should be if accusations are substantiated.

But the group of advocates, led by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, says that final judgments should fall to the chancellor.

De Blasio “doesn’t support giving the City power to unilaterally fire a teacher based on allegations alone,” a spokesman said. But Brown said that isn’t what the issue is about.

“No one supports firing based on allegations alone,” Brown said in an email. “That is crazy. The question is what should happen when a teacher found guilty, but then [the] arbitrator doesn’t fire them.”

Brown points to instances where an arbitrator has allowed teachers to keep their jobs even after they were found to have engaged in inappropriate behavior. These include cases in which a teacher asked a student for a strip tease and called students “sexy,” respectively. Both times, they were not found guilty, even though the union contract’s definition of sexual misconduct, which includes “soliciting a sexual relationship” and “serious or repeated verbal abuse of a sexual nature.”

Brown also wants changes to the union contract that put in place “zero tolerance for inappropriate touching and sexual banter,” which she said would give arbitrators “less flexibility to make these bad calls.”

In three different statements sent by Thompson’s campaign, a spokeswoman said Thompson condemned teachers who are found guilty of sexual misconduct and said they should be fired.

“Bill Thompson believes that there is no room for discussion – anybody found guilty of sexual misconduct should be fired, nothing less,” the spokeswoman said in the third statement.

Asked about Thompson’s statement, Brown said he didn’t address the gray area that exists in the arbitrator’s interpretation of what “sexual misconduct” means, according to language in the contract. She said he was “trying to avoid the issue.”

2013 NYC Mayoral Candidate Questionnaire on sexual misconduct in schools

 

Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

PHOTO: TN.gov
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Tennesseans will elect their next governor in November.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led leaders to widen school improvement strategies. They also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

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