cap and trade

Saying mayoral control is at stake, a charter leader asks de Blasio for support

If Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to retain control of the city’s schools, he would do well to offer charter schools some support, advocates said Friday.

At a press conference this morning outside City Hall, New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman said de Blasio should get behind the effort to raise the state’s cap on charter schools to “make his politics better” on issues he cares more about.

“What I hear constantly up there when I meet with legislators is, why give him this power if he can’t do a simple, obvious thing and support eliminating the charter cap?” said Merriman, who has been a prominent lobbying presence for nearly a decade.

Merriman’s request is unlikely to be fulfilled, of course. De Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña have been clear that they do not support raising the cap, which allows 24 more charter schools to be authorized by the Board of Regents and one by the State University of New York. (In New York City, 231 charter schools are already open or approved.)

“We believe the existing cap allows for growth and innovation in the charter sector,” de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell said in a statement.

But the press conference illustrated that the charter sector is mobilizing, with five weeks left in the legislative session during which they want to see that cap lifted.

Indications came this week that negotiations over mayoral control are in the works, an issue that has a clearer deadline, since that law is set to expire in June. After initially holding out for a seven-year renewal of the school governance system, Assembly Democrats agreed to back the three-year renewal proposal pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Senate Republicans have not yet signed onto the mayoral control deal.

Lawmakers and Gov. Cuomo have talked about the two issues as being paired in the past. On Friday, Merriman insisted that was still the case, with a final deal on mayoral control currently tied to negotiations over the charter school cap.

“There is little else that the mayor could do to improve the odds of getting what he wants on mayoral control than if he stood up today and stood with us,” said Merriman, who was flanked by charter-school parents and operators at City Hall.

The United Federation of Teachers disagreed.

“Not sure who the charter cheerleaders are talking to,” President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “When we meet with elected officials we constantly hear stories of charter advocates who give them misleading information and make veiled threats of backlash from charter billionaire backers if the legislators don’t fall into line with whatever the charters want.”

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not respond to Merriman, but said that the Assembly’s position on raising the cap was unchanged.

“There is no need to raise it because there is still plenty of room under the cap,” the spokesman, Michael Whyland, said.

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.