Big money

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces computer science initiative fundraising is ‘ahead of schedule’

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Mayor Bill de Blasio learns about computer science from a student at the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the Bronx.

The city has raised $20 million to spread computer science education across New York City, reaching the halfway mark of its private fundraising goal, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.

The mayor’s “Computer Science for All” program is one his flashiest education initiatives. It’s a pledge to give all of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students access to computer science education in elementary, middle and high school by 2025.

When the initiative was announced last year, it faced several obstacles. Chief among them were fundraising and recruiting enough computer science teachers. On Thursday, de Blasio sought to assuage both of these concerns and argued the program is on track to reach every nook and cranny of the city.

“We would never accept the notion that some kids get to learn math and other don’t. Some kids get to learn the alphabet and others don’t,” said de Blasio at the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the Bronx. “But let’s face it. It was a norm that computer science education was, in many ways, considered an elite activity. We have to break through that.”

Last September, de Blasio had raised only about 30 percent of the $40 million in private funds necessary to bring computer science to every school in the city. Today, the mayor reported that number has risen by $9 million, including a $2.5 million donation by Math for America, a group that gives fellowships to STEM teachers so they can share their knowledge and skills with others.

The sizable spike puts the program’s private funding “well ahead of schedule,” de Blasio said after sitting in on a class at the school, which recently added AP computer science.

The city has trained 450 teachers so far, de Blasio said, but there is much work to do before the city reaches its 5,000 teacher goal.

Reaching that many educators is also a matter of funding, said Fred Wilson, the founder of New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education and a driving force behind the city’s “Computer Science for All” initiative.

“The issue is not getting the teachers excited to do it. I think the issue is having the funding to be able to pay for the professional development,” Wilson said. “The demand is there, we’ve just got to supply it.”

Other schools may face a lack of technology infrastructure, such as inadequate Wi-Fi. City officials said that in addition to private money, the program will leverage substantial public funds. Some of that public money will go toward making sure schools have the proper infrastructure and hardware, they said.

In all, 246 schools are involved in the program this year. That includes a broad range of efforts that fall under the city’s computer science umbrella. Some schools have new, large-scale computer science programs, like AP computer science or the city’s multi-year Software Engineering Program. Others have smaller-scale efforts, such as trained teachers who will integrate computer science lessons into typical school days.

Despite de Blasio’s assertion that progress is moving rapidly, earlier in the day City Comptroller Scott Stringer criticized the initiative for its decade-long timeframe for implementation.

De Blasio rejected Stringer’s logic on Thursday, arguing that producing a quality, effective program takes years.

“The reality is, it takes tremendous effort to prepare something that’s going to reach every single one of those children,” de Blasio said.

teachers on the ballot

Jahana Hayes, nation’s top teacher in 2016, may be headed to Congress after primary win

2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes answers questions from reporters after being honored at the White House. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Jahana Hayes, the 2016 national teacher of the year, is one step closer to Congress.

Hayes, who would be the first black Democrat elected to Congress in the state, won the Democratic primary in Connecticut’s fifth district on Tuesday. Her bid is the most high-profile example of efforts by teachers across the country to win elected office this year, with many dissatisfied over their pay and education policies like evaluations and voucher programs.

In an interview with Chalkbeat in May, Hayes said she decided to run because she believes she can represent the interests of students like hers: “I kind of just had an epiphany, like, who’s going to speak for them?”

Hayes taught history and civics in Waterbury Public Schools, a largely low-income district. Her campaign has embraced her upbringing, including her past homelessness and teen pregnancy and her role as a teacher in the district she grew up in.

“Despite being surrounded by abject poverty, drugs and violence, my teachers made me believe that I was college material and planted a seed of hope,” she said.

Hayes faced Mary Glassman, who ran for lieutenant governor twice and worked at Capitol Region Education Council, which operates magnet schools in Hartford.

Hayes ran on a solidly progressive platform, embracing universal healthcare, free college, and a $15 minimum wage.

When it comes to education, though, she has been light on policy details. Asked about what specifically she’d hope to accomplish in Congress, Hayes told Chalkbeat, “I know that I can bring a perspective and knowledge and expertise in that area that is critical. If we start to dismantle public education now, I don’t know how we’ll ever rebuild it.”

On the hot-button issue of school choice, Hayes stumbled on a question about vouchers, appearing to confuse the concept with charter schools. Ultimately, she said, “A charter system can still be public and continue to support the public education system. I think as we increase the number of vouchers that are provided, it takes away from the public school system.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Hayes said she would work with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has been the focus of opposition for many teachers.

“I need for the secretary of education to be successful because if she’s successful that means kids are thriving,” Hayes said. “I would welcome the opportunity to work very closely with her, to share ideas, to just be at the table to give a different perspective, to give some insight into what is happening on the ground.”

To reach Congress, Hayes still must win the general election. Connecticut’s fifth district is the most competitive one in the state, according to Cook Political Report. Hillary Clinton won the district by 4 percentage points in 2016.

She will face Republican Manny Santos, a former mayor of Meriden, Connecticut.

Hayes was not the only teacher to win a primary bid on Tuesday. In Wisconsin, Tony Evers, the state’s school superintendent and a former teacher and principal, will face Scott Walker in the race for governor. And in Minnesota, Congressman Tim Walz, who was a high school geography teacher and football coach, won the Democratic governor’s primary.

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Hayes would be the first black person elected to Congress in Connecticut; in fact, she would be the first black Democrat.

Mended Fences

Despite earlier attack ads, Colorado teachers union endorses Jared Polis for governor

Congressman Jared Polis meets with teachers, parents and students at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver after announcing his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Colorado’s largest teachers union has endorsed Jared Polis, the Democratic candidate for governor.

The endorsement is not a surprise given that teachers unions have traditionally been associated with the Democratic Party. However, the 35,000-member Colorado Education Association had previously endorsed one of Polis’ rivals during the primary, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, and contributed money toward negative ads that portrayed Polis as a supporter of vouchers based on a 2003 op-ed, in spite of votes in Congress against voucher programs.

With the primary in the past, CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert focused on Polis’ support for more school funding, a priority shared by the union.

“Our members share Jared’s concern that too many communities don’t have the resources they need for every child to succeed,” Baca-Oehlert said in the press release announcing the endorsement. “We have created ‘haves and have-nots’ among our children, and nowhere is that more apparent than with our youngest students who don’t receive the same level of quality early childhood education. Jared impressed us with his strong commitment to give all kids a great start and better prepare them for a successful lifetime of learning.”

Polis has made expanding access to preschool and funding full-day kindergarten a key part of his education platform, along with raising pay for teachers.

Polis is running against Republican Walker Stapleton. As state treasurer, Stapleton advocated for changes to the public employee retirement system, including freezes on benefits and cost-of-living raises, that were opposed by the teachers union, something Baca-Oehlert made note of in the endorsement of Polis.

Read more about the two candidates’ education positions here.