protest movement

When crowds go wild: 8 loud moments in education activism

A raucous Poughkeepsie parent crowd prompted Commissioner John King last week to cancel plans for future meetings with parents. But the disruption, in the video above, is just the latest instance of angry protesters derailing public events in recent years. In New York City, other meetings have long been the backdrop for battles over school closures, charter schools, overcrowding, teacher evaluations and testings have wages. Here are highlights caught on tape from event in recent years:

“Sex and the City” star gets jeered, then cheered

Nov. 12, 2008: Even the rich and famous don’t get a free pass to air grievances about the city’s public school system. “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon and noted education advocate spoke up at a Upper West Side meeting in opposition to an overcrowding plan that would move her son’s school to another building. Nixon was booed by the plan’s supporters as she stepped to the microphone. But her argument — that the plan exacerbated racial and socio-economic segregation — ended with applause.

Educators 4 Excellence panel dissolves

June 2, 2011: A 2011 panel about teacher evaluations broke down after a small number of teachers in the audience demanded that their questions be raised during a Q&A portion of the event. In the video above, Stuart Kaplan also objects to a teacher evaluation policy paper — which endorsed tying test scores to performance ratings — released earlier in the day by the event’s host, Educators 4 Excellence. But Kaplan’s complaints were soon drowned out by another teacher — and the audience’s applause — who told him to leave and let the panel resume.

An angry parent confronts Bill de Blasio over co-locations

July 20, 2011: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was just about finished with a 2011 press conference about a new report that examined the city’s contentious school space-sharing arrangements, known as co-locations. The report criticized the city’s handling of co-locations, but stopped short of calling for an all-out ban. Sonya Hampton, a parent from P.S. 149 in Harlem, which shares space with a Success Academy charter school, did not like what she was hearing and chimed in. She later said she was “extremely disappointed” that de Blasio’s report did not explicitly support putting charter schools in their own buildings.

David Coleman’s speech on Common Core gets occupied

Oct. 25, 2011: Invited to meet with parents to discuss about new learning standards that the city had adopted, David Coleman wasn’t too far into his opening remarks before conceding it was a lost cause. That’s because over 200 education protesters from an off-shoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement also attended the event and deployed their “people’s mic” tactic. Unable to compete with their decibel level, Coleman handed his own microphone to Chancellor Dennis Walcott and returned to his seat.

Eva Moskowitz’s charter pitch to parents falls on deaf ears

Oct. 29, 2011: Controversial Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz traveled to Cobble Hill in Brooklyn to make a pitch for a new outpost of her network, bringing along a couple of parents from her then-brand-new Upper West Side school. Protesters who were driven inside by foul weather interrupted the meeting repeatedly, shouting,“This district doesn’t have failing schools, it has successful elementary schools!” After a few false starts, Moskowitz told the protesters that she would not continue to shout over them before leaving the stage.

Union activists butt heads over protesting tactics

Feb. 9, 2012: Union leader Leo Casey took heat from activists from within his own union leader at a meeting where the city was voting to close low-performing schools. Casey was leading dozens of teachers in a walkout mid-way into the meeting, but opponents, buoyed by the prospect of preventing the closures from being approved, said they wanted to stay and protest using the “people’s mic” until it was called off.

Feeling the heat but staying in the kitchen

Sept. 30, 2013: Like King in Poughkeepsie, New York City Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky also took a beating from parents recently at a public meeting to talk about the Common Core. But Polakow-Suransky responded a little differently, sticking around after the event to talk to a smaller number of parents and teachers about their concerns with the new policies. Polakow-Suransky didn’t appear to sway anyone’s opinion, but his appearance did earn him credit from even his harshest critics.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.