the next education mayor

De Blasio vs. Lhota: the edu-voter's guide to the final matchup

Screen-shot-2013-10-16-at-9.11.57-AMIf you’re like most New York City voters, you’ve already decided who you’re voting for in tomorrow’s mayoral election. (The latest poll puts support for frontrunner Bill de Blasio at 65 percent, and only 8 percent say they might change their minds before Election Day.) But if education is a top priority and you’re still on the fence, here’s the final rundown of what de Blasio and Republican candidate Joe Lhota say they would do as mayor and head of the nation’s largest school system.

Mayoral control

Both don’t want their power diluted significantly: De Blasio and Lhota have said that the mayor should appoint the majority of the members of the Panel for Educational Policy. But they also agree on that PEP members should serve fixed terms and not at the will of the mayor, which would give the body somewhat more autonomy from City Hall.

Charter schools

IMG_5679-e1381267550509The big divergence: Lhota has offered full-throated support of the city’s charter school sector, pledging to double the number of charter schools in the city and continue to support co-locating them in public space. De Blasio has said that well-funded charter school networks should pay rent and said “the city doesn’t need new charters.” He also would pause the system of co-locations—positions that have worried charter network operators and some parents.

The divide was on full display at the October rally charter school supporters held before marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, where Lhota greeted students and parents. De Blasio did not attend, though he has taken steps to appear moderate on the issue lately. “There are some very good charter schools, and I’m glad we have them,” he said in August.

Pre-kindergarten access

Similar goals, very different plans: De Blasio has made raising taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay for universal, full-day pre-kindergarten a centerpiece of his mayoral campaign. Lhota has painted himself as a “real” fiscal conservative, and is generally opposed to tax increases. “That’s not going to do one bloody thing to solve income inequity,” Lhota has said of de Blasio’s preschool plan, though he also supports expanding the availability of pre-K.

School closures
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It’s a fundamental disagreement: Lhota has said that keeping low-performing schools open is “immoral” and that he would continue the Bloomberg-era policy of closing schools. De Blasio has called for a moratorium on school closures.

Letter grades

Another total divide: De Blasio has said he would stop issuing letter grades for individual schools, a hallmark of Bloomberg-era accountability. Lhota has emphasized his support for continuing to measure schools in multiple ways and would keep the letter grade system in place.

School support

Tentative ideas for a complicated topic: De Blasio has indicated that he supports giving more power to districts and would consider rethinking the network structure that currently provides support to schools. “Districts matter. … We need to find a way to get parents to be able to talk to someone at the district level; teachers, parents relating to leadership at the district level again,” he saidLhota has offered few specifics about how, or whether, he would make changes to the structure of support organizations.

Merit pay 

photo-12-e1382737140283Another divergence: Lhota has made paying teachers based on performance a central plank in his education platform, arguing that “The one piece that’s missing is working with the union for merit pay and changing their approach.” De Blasio doesn’t support tying pay to performance, something that the city teachers union has consistently opposed.

Specialized high school admissions

A pet issue: De Blasio has often spoken about his desire to amend the admissions process for the city’s nine specialized high schools, proposing a process that would use criteria beyond the Specialized High School Admissions Test to improve diversity in those schools. (De Blasio’s son Dante attends Brooklyn Tech, a specialized high school.) Lhota hasn’t spoken out on the issue, which would affect a small percentage of the city’s high school students.

Cell phones in school

Here, some unity: both de Blasio and Lhota say they want to end the ban on cell phones in schools. That’s a policy that has upset parents and City Council members have called “inconsistent and posssibly discriminatory.” It made de Blasio’s wife Chirlaine upset enough to approach Mayor Bloomberg about.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.