status report

Little mention of education in de Blasio’s ‘State of the City’ address

PHOTO: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio

Hours before Mayor Bill de Blasio took the podium to deliver the annual State of the City address, one of his harshest education critics took a preemptive swipe at his education agenda, assuming the mayor planned to discuss it.

“We expect to see and hear a lot about Renewal Schools in this evening’s State of the City address,” the pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools sent in an email blast to reporters. “Mayor de Blasio’s signature education program is mired in failure.”

But in his roughly hour-long remarks, de Blasio didn’t mention the Renewal program, an $850 million effort designed to flood low-performing schools with extra social services and academic support. In fact, he barely discussed the city’s schools, save for three lines of the 94-paragraph speech:

If you said to me, let’s talk about education, I would say, well, the state of our schools is stronger than many of us ever could have imagined. We announced on Friday the highest graduation rate in the history of New York City: 72.6 percent of our students graduated last year.

And for all of you, like me, who saw the bad old days, we also saw the lowest dropout rate in the history of the city, 8.5 percent. The disparities are finally starting to close. There’s more progress to be had. And now we have some of the tools we always dreamed of. We have pre-K for all our kids – 70,000 kids – including one of the most famous pre-K graduates now, Gershy.

We have advanced placement courses going in not just to our elite high schools or those that have been most privileged. Advanced placement courses will be in every single one of our high schools. You saw Javeria Amir from Morris Park in the Bronx. That’s an example of what you’re going to be seeing in high schools all over the city. Now, let’s take this opportunity to thank the educators, the teachers, the administrators, everyone who works in our schools to make them great.

In addition to leaving out the Renewal program, de Blasio didn’t touch on major pillars of his “Equity and Excellence” agenda, including computer science instruction for every student. Nor did he address school segregation, despite a larger plan education officials have said is in the works.

Instead, the “lofty” and “sometimes rambling” speech focused on the city’s housing and affordability crisis.

“I don’t want to read too much into it in terms of what it means for policy — we’re probably seeing the winding down of Carmen Fariña at the helm,” said Aaron Pallas, an education professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Still, he added: “It was curiously flat in terms of education.”

This isn’t the first time education — which represents roughly a third of the city’s budget — hasn’t received much airtime during the annual speech. De Blasio predecessor Michael Bloomberg didn’t make much education news during his ninth “State of the City” speech, despite standing in a Queens school when he delivered it. (His eleventh address included dramatically more education policy.) And last year, de Blasio also seemed to tack away from his schools agenda.

Asked whether the speech might signal that de Blasio doesn’t plan to pin his re-election bid to his schools agenda, Pallas said it could depend on the competition.

“I’m not seeing potential opponents who are likely to make education the heart of their campaigns. A lot will depend on how the race unfolds.”

New Arrivals

In a letter to Betsy DeVos, Michigan officials highlight the plight of refugee students — and ask for testing waiver

PHOTO: Warren Consolidated Schools
Students at Warren-Mott High School in the Detroit suburbs. Officials there say that many students are arriving at the school from refugee camps, including 11th graders who had no formal schooling for nine or ten years. Such students would currently be required to take a state English test during their first year in school.

To teachers who work with recently arrived refugee students, the problem is clear: Although their students will eventually learn English, their language skills at first aren’t comparable to those of native speakers.

They’re hoping federal education officials will come to the same conclusion after reading the state’s detail-rich request to delay testing new immigrant children in English.

Michigan is the second state to ask for a waiver from a federal law that requires children who arrived in the U.S. this year to take standardized English tests a year after arriving — even if they’re just being introduced to the language. The law also requires states to count such students’ scores in decisions about whether to close low-performing schools.

“We wanted to balance between presenting hard data and some anecdotes,” said Chris Janzer, assistant director of accountability at the Michigan Department of Education. “We’re hoping that the case we present, with some of the stories, will win us approval.”

The state’s request includes stories from the Detroit area, which is home to the nation’s largest concentration of Arabic speakers, including many newly arrived refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East. This population is unique in more ways than one: It includes more than 30,000 Chaldean Christians who arrived after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 — the largest such population in the world outside Iraq. And many of its children must deal with the aftereffects of violent displacement even as they attempt to attend school in what is in many cases an entirely new language.

The state’s waiver request offers Hamtramck, a hyper-diverse city enclave in Detroit, as an example:

Hamtramck has many recent arrivals from war-torn regions in Yemen and Syria and has students from remote villages with no formal education background, as well as many others with interrupted learning. New students can have toxic stress and can even be suicidal, and often require wraparound services. Older students are also often burdened with the responsibility of helping their families financially, emotionally, and with childrearing.

Even the luckiest new arrivals would benefit if Michigan receives a waiver from parts of the federal Every Students Succeed Act, says Suzanne Toohey, president of Michigan Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

“The intent of the waiver is for the most needy students, but it will help all students,” she said, adding that it typically takes 5-7 years for an English learner to catch up to her native-speaking peers.

With that in mind, Toohey says current federal requirements don’t make sense.

“It would be like an adult who is many years out of school, and who took French for two years of high school, going to France and trying to take a college course,” she said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Following the same logic, Michigan officials are asking U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to put the brakes on federal requirements for testing recently arrived English learners. If the waiver request is approved:

  • In their first year in Michigan schools, those students wouldn’t be required to take the state English language arts exam.
  • In their second, they would take the test, but schools wouldn’t be held accountable for their scores.
  • In year three, the growth in their scores on the English exam would be factored into school ratings.
  • And in year four their overall score — known as proficiency — would be counted as well as their growth.

That’s still too soon to begin testing English learners, Toohey said, noting “the waiver is a start, but we haven’t gotten all the way there.”

Even so, the proposed change still faces substantial obstacles. New York’s request for a similar waiver was denied by the U.S. Department of Education in January. In its response, the department said it was holding New York to its responsibility to “set high expectations that apply to all students.” Janzer says his staff studied New York’s waiver and concluded that Michigan’s should include more details to humanize the situations of the affected students.

Michigan officials are currently working to incorporate public comments (there were seven, all of them supportive, Janzer said) into its request, which is expected to be submitted in the coming weeks. A decision isn’t expected from federal officials for several more months.

Whoever reads the 10-page document in Washington, D.C. will be confronted with details like these:

  • Lamphere Schools, of Madison Heights, MI, has received a significant influx of students from Iraq and Syria, and at least one elementary school’s student body is roughly 70 percent recently arrived students from these two nations. Lamphere reports that some students initially undergo temporary “silent periods,” a researched stage of second language acquisition, where children are watching and listening, but not yet speaking.
  • Warren Consolidated Schools, of Warren, MI, reports that they have many students from refugee camps, including students who are testing in 11th grade after having no formal schooling for nine or ten years. Warren Consolidated has received 2,800 students from Syria or Iraq since 2007.

Read the full document here. Most local details are on pages 7-9.

live stream

WATCH: Candidates for Detroit school board introduce themselves live

PHOTO: Koby Levin
Detroiters at IBEW 58 wait for candidates for school board candidates to address them.

The nine candidates for Detroit school board are gathering Thursday evening at IBEW 58 in Detroit to make their cases in advance of the November general election in which two seats are up for grabs.

The candidates have already introduced themselves in video statements, but this is one of their first chances to address the public in real time.

We’re covering the event — including a live stream the candidates’ opening statements, which should start around 7 p.m.

Click below or check out our Facebook page to see what they have to say. The candidate speeches begin at around the 12:00 minute mark.