welcome party

Ideological foes express cautious optimism about NYC’s incoming schools chief, Alberto Carvalho

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Debbie Smoot

Update: Carvalho turned down the job in dramatic fashion on Thursday. More here

Groups on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum reacted with cautious optimism Wednesday to news that Alberto Carvalho will be New York City’s next schools chief.

Top teachers union officials and charter-school advocates — two camps that often clash — said they look forward to working with Carvalho, the longtime superintendent of the Miami-Dade County school system, who city officials said will succeed Chancellor Carmen Fariña. Their positive reactions may partly reflect Carvalho’s reputation as a middle-of-the-road schools chief.

A number of his policies seem to fit Mayor Bill de Blasio’s union-friendly agenda, including an attempt to turn around struggling schools by offering academic and discipline support and creating more Advanced Placement classes. But he is also known for expanding the number of magnet schools, an endorsement of school choice that charter advocates may find encouraging.

The full statements are below, in the order they arrived. We’ll update this post as more come in.

StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis

“On behalf of our more than 13,000 parent members, we welcome the new Chancellor and hope that Alberto Carvalho will be the independent leader that public school children desperately need. We extend our best wishes for his success and we look forward to working together to expand school choice and improve teacher effectiveness. After four years and half a billion dollars on a failed school turnaround program, NYC students need a leader who will work with urgency to give them the quality of schools they deserve.”

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew

“Chancellor Fariña’s leadership has led to important progress for our students.  We look forward to working with Mr. Carvalho – who has had a collaborative relationship with his district’s teaching staff  — to build on that progress, to further streamline and improve management, and to focus the system on initiatives that help our kids succeed.”

Charter School Center CEO James Merriman

“Alberto Carvalho knows first hand the transformative power of a great education. We look forward to working with him to give every New York City student the future they deserve by growing our successful charter-district partnerships and making it easier for families to find a high quality public school of their choice.

“Over the last four years, charter and district schools have been able to work together more productively to share ideas and improve teaching and learning across schools. We want to thank Chancellor Farina for being a strong partner in that effort and are excited to continue that work with Mr. Carvalho.”

Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz

“Alberto M. Carvalho is a nationally-recognized expert on education transformation whose leadership drove Miami-Dade County Public Schools to unprecedented increases in student achievement and graduation rates. He’s not only the kind of top-tier educator we had hoped New York City could attract, he’s specifically one of the candidates I suggested to the Mayor in December. Congratulations to Mayor de Blasio and all the families in New York City schools on this excellent hire.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten

“An education pipeline has been forged between Miami and New York City over many decades. Joe Fernandez went from Dade to New York. Rudy Crew went from New York to Miami. And now there’s Alberto Carvalho moving from Miami to New York. We’ve worked closely with all of them.

“The difference now is how hostile Tallahassee has become to educators and public education. State lawmakers and Republican governors have layered obstacle upon obstacle in front of public schools and taken punitive measures against educators and kids. H.B. 7069—last year’s bill to allow charters to take money from public schools regardless of school board decision-making—and this year’s bills to arm teachers with weapons, while stripping them of their unions, are but two examples. Again and again, lawmakers have put their thumb on the scale to privatize and defund public schools while disrespecting educators and overtesting students.

“Superintendent Carvalho has fought this assault on public education as a lead litigant against the charter theft bill. Even under this top-down, test-fixated system, he has kept an open door with educators. While we’ve agreed and disagreed on issues, at his core, Carvalho is a passionate educator who understands the importance of teaching and learning—and of educators—and knows how public education is foundational to democracy and opportunity.”

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.