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New York

What's behind the P-TECH hype? We answer as Obama stops by

P-TECH produced buttons after President Obama name-checked the school in his State of the Union address in January. In a system with more than 1,800 schools, one is getting an extra-large dose of attention today. President Barack Obama is visiting P-TECH, or Pathways in Technology Early College High School (and partially shutting down Prospect Park in the process). The small school in Crown Heights, which opened in 2011 in the building being vacated by Paul Robeson High School, doesn’t even have a graduating class to boast about. But it’s been getting high praise from high places since even before it opened because of its approach to preparing students for a 21st-century job market. P-Tech is new and still relatively untested — it’s only a few months into its third year — but there are some early signs of success under its dynamic principal, Rashid Davis. Still, whether it will live up to its lofty promises remains to be seen. Here’s our breakdown of what’s been happening in the Crown Heights school and why it’s received so much buzz. How much buzz has there been? The hype has come early and often. P-TECH was barely open a month back in 2011 when policy makers had already taken an interest and replicating it around the country. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel struck a deal to open up to five schools like it; in New York, Mayor Bloomberg laid out plans to replicate it twice in his 2012 State of the City speech; three more schools could open next year. Last year, a foundation solicited bids for P-TECH duplicates in Idaho. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who will join Obama for the visit today, has jumped on the bandwagon, too. In August, he announced 16 winners to split up $4 million to start their own P-TECH versions around the state. In between, P-TECH received visits from a host of high-profile leaders in education, including one day last year when Chancellor Dennis Walcott, State Education Commissioner John King and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan all stopped by. A couple of months later, Obama name-dropped the school in his 2013 State of the Union speech. Obama said it was a new way for American schools to prepare students for life beyond high school. Partnerships with higher education and high-tech industries, he said in his 2013 State of the Union speech, would be key to bridging that gap in the future. "At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn," Obama said, "a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.” Obama returns today, where he'll be joined by Bloomberg, Cuomo, Walcott, Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio, as well as union leaders Michael Mulgrew and Randi Weingarten. What’s so special about the P-TECH model?
New York

Candidates to skip first day of school for Democratic convention

Last year, Robert Jackson (l.) and Speaker Christine Quinn, candidates for higher office im 2013, joined UFT President Michael Mulgrew on the first day of school. Visiting schools to shake hands with students and pose with parents on the first day of school is a time-honored stop on elected officials' public schedules. But few of them will be pounding the pavement on Thursday. That’s because their presence is required at a different kind of political event: the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. All of the leading contenders in next year’s mayoral race have made first-day-of-school stops in the recent past. Last year, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn appeared in Inwood with United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew to celebrate their budget victory that prevented thousands of teacher layoffs. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer handed out "Back 2 Basics Guides" at several schools, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was in Fort Greene calling on parents to get more involved in their children’s education. As comptroller in 2009, Bill Thompson used the first day of school to criticize the city for increasing class sizes. This year, all four are part of the roughly 450-member New York State delegation that will help nominate President Barack Obama for a second term Thursday evening. On Tuesday, the delegates approved the party platform, presented by Newark mayor Cory Booker, which included a hefty slate of education policy positions.
New York

The education governor's race: A Paladino and Cuomo primer

You may have noticed that we have a governor's race going on in New York. But amid the love children, viral cell-phone videos, and upsetting e-mail forwards, policy issues are getting even more overshadowed than usual — including where the two candidates stand on education. To remedy this, I've compiled a brief primer outlining the education stances of the Democrat, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and the Republican, Tea Party-ite Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, the state's attorney general, sides with Obama and Bloomberg on education. (Photo via ## user ## Andrew Cuomo HIS CAMP: Cuomo is framing himself as the great hope that Democrats for Education Reform activists once dreamed David Paterson would be — a "Barack Obama Democrat" on education, as one source put it to me. (Or, you might say, an "ideolocrat.") Cuomo kept himself out of the Race to the Top legislative battle (at least publicly). But his published platform mirrors DFER's insistence on raising the cap on charter schools, and it quotes charter supporters' warning that a union-backed push for more public consultation before opening a charter school would have amounted to a "poison pill." WHAT HE MIGHT DO: Cuomo's decision to affiliate with DFER, Mayor Bloomberg, and the entrepreneurial camp on schools gives him a potentially long education wish list. That's because almost all of the changes favored by these reformers are legislative; teacher tenure, "last in, first out" firing patterns, teacher pensions, and charter school growth are all matters of state law. While other state Democrats (namely Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver) have allied themselves with the teachers union, Cuomo could act as a counter-force pushing for more changes to the state's education law. It's worth noting that nearly all of the education agenda Bloomberg laid out this week on NBC would require changes to state law.
New York

A city principal who favors change warily prepares for more

Graduating seniors celebrated today inside the Cobble Hill School of American Studies Today was a roller coaster for Kenneth Cuthbert, principal of the Cobble Hill School of American Studies in Brooklyn. At 1 p.m., he stood inside a new basement auditorium he excavated from a former garbage dump and watched more than 100 of his students graduate to shattering cheers. A few hours later, he learned that he might lose his job. Cobble Hill has been named one of the 34 city schools the state will attempt "turn around" as part of an Obama administration program. The news Cuthbert received this afternoon, in an e-mail message from Chancellor Joel Klein, is that Cobble Hill will undergo the so-called "transformation" model — the less severe model that preserves a school's teaching staff, but still endangers its principal. State rules say that all schools on the federal list should lose their principals, but city officials are considering appealing for some principals to stay, and the principals union is pressuring them to save these jobs. So far, Cuthbert doesn't know where he falls. "They need to do what’s in the best interest of the children," he told me this afternoon, after receiving the news. "I will be fine. God sends us here with gifts, talents, and abilities. What are you going to do? You play the hand you’re dealt. We’ve played it for the last several years." His mixed feelings reflect the fact that, for the five years that he's been principal, Cuthbert has seen himself as on a war path to improve the school — and he feels like he's made important steps. Last year's four-year graduation rate was 65 percent, up from 42 percent two years before. Since he came, the school has launched several new programs, including a law program that he said is behind increasing enrollment. (Achievement statistics on the school can be found here and here.)
New York

Merryl Tisch challenges Obama, Duncan to a public debate

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents (file photo) Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is challenging President Obama and his secretary of education to a verbal duel over New York's access to a special pot of federal stimulus dollars for schools. "I am willing to debate the president and Arne Duncan in public space at any time of their choosing on the impact of this law in New York State," Tisch said in a telephone interview this evening. Obama administration officials have said that states that ban the use of test scores to evaluate teachers will not be eligible for the dollars, called the Race to the Top fund. A New York law prohibits something very similar, using student test scores to decide whether teachers deserve tenure. A nonprofit group, The New Teacher Project, today said the law should exclude New York from receiving Race to the Top funds. (Founded by Michelle Rhee, the D.C. schools chancellor, The New Teacher Project brings non-traditionally trained teachers into school districts and advocates for teaching policies that often clash with teachers unions' positions.) Duncan himself has suggested that New York's law does not make the cut. "Believe it or not, several states including New York, Wisconsin, and California, have laws, they have laws that create a firewall between students and teacher data," Duncan said at a June conference where he previewed the guidelines around the fund. The administration's aim is to spur states to change laws and policies it disapproves of. Duncan has vowed to dole out the dollars in two batches, one this fall and the next in 2010, in order to give state legislatures time to change their laws. But New York officials, including Governor Paterson and Tisch, have refused to accept that the state might be disqualified. Teachers union officials, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who lobbied state lawmakers to pass the law last year, are also lobbying hard for New York not to be disqualified.
New York

Arne Duncan's push to change teacher laws posts Hoosier victory

Will Obama officials succeed in their mission to use the Race to the Top fund to re-write state education laws? The state of Indiana, where a recent down-to-the-wire budget session featured a teacher-evaluation mini drama, offers some clues. The drama began with pressure from the Obama administration to repeal a law banning the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Alarmed, state education officials lobbied the state legislature, and lawmakers acted, inserting a repeal of the law into the state's budget. But mere hours before the new budget passed, lawmakers at the state House removed the repeal at the request of the teachers' union. The final budget includes a roundabout compromise allowing districts to use student data to assess teachers — but only in cases where federal grant money requires it. "We had a clear message from the secretary [Arne Duncan] that we were putting our ability to compete for the Race to the Top Funds at risk," a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, Cam Savage, said. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has communicated frequently with the federal education department about Indiana's strengths in the competition for grant funds, Savage said. Bans on using student test scores to assess teachers seem to be the next group of laws on the Department of Education's watch list. States and districts already took note after Obama administration officials used the threat of denying Race to the Top funds to push against state laws limiting the spread of charter schools. Lawmakers in at least eight states have passed or introduced legislation since the end of May to lift their charter caps.
New York

Betsy Gotbaum warns Arne Duncan not to believe all about NYC

New York

Jon Schnur, "ideolocrat" poster boy, will not work for Obama

[This post has been updated to include a comment from Jon Schnur.] WASHINGTON, D.C. —  Jon Schnur, the education policy expert who has been working as an advisor to President Barack Obama and played a pivotal role in writing the federal stimulus plan for schools, will not serve in the Obama administration. He will instead return to running the nonprofit principal-training program New Leaders for New Schools group that he co-founded, according to an e-mail he sent recently to members of New Leaders. Schnur is one of the most high-profile members of the next-generation "reform" camp of Democrats, who push for dramatic changes in public schools, including strong accountability measures. He had been named as a likely chief of staff to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and was serving as a senior adviser to Duncan, helping him craft the education part of the stimulus bill. Schnur's close role in the administration had been seen as a signal of its direction on education, suggesting that the president was siding with the camp of education advocates that includes Schnur (and for which we singled Schnur out as a spokesman), rather than with the camp that is more skeptical of recent accountability efforts. As word of Schnur's plans spread around Washington, D.C., the major question I'm hearing people ask is why he is not entering the administration — and what that says about the administration's direction. (I am in D.C. for the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association, where I am becoming a board member.)
New York

Stimulus dollars don't force judging teachers based on tests

In his interview with Chancellor Joel Klein this morning, Brian Lehrer of WNYC repeatedly described the $115 billion federal stimulus package for education as being available to states only if they met a steep demand: evaluating teachers based on their students' test scores. Klein agreed, calling the evaluations "a general requirement for states to get the stimulus money." Pressed for specifics on how that would affect the city schools, the chancellor hedged, saying he's waiting for more details from the Obama administration. In fact, a spokesman from the U.S. Department of Education told me that states will receive the stimulus funds regardless of their willingness to evaluate teachers using student test scores. "We’re encouraging states to do merit pay," he said. "But to get all of the stimulus money you don’t have to do merit pay." The notion that there are strings in the main pot of the stimulus money is not entirely off base. The federal DOE is asking states to pledge to do a list of four things with the money before they get it (an occurrence that's scheduled to happen next month, a spokesman told me). Two points on that list also seem to add up to merit pay, or at least provide the ingredients to make it possible — one asking states to improve "teacher effectiveness" and another asking them to create data systems to track students' progress. And President Obama did, just this week, signal his interest in seeing federally funded merit-pay programs expand to 150 districts from a measly 34. Finally, there's another $5 billion pot of money in the stimulus, the "race to the top" fund, that states will have to apply for the use of — and which is dedicated to "innovative" programs that could include performance-based pay. Here are the four criteria states will have to promise their stimulus funds will meet, cribbed from these federal DOE stimulus guidelines:
New York

Mayor and chancellor tout their affinity with Obama on schools

New York

Obama calls for ideological truce, radical changes in education

In a speech that called for more charter schools, performance pay, and tougher state standards, President Obama this morning laid to rest some doubts that he had not yet made up his mind on several education policy questions currently dividing the Democratic Party. At the same time, Obama called for a truce in education politics, which has lately been divided by those, including Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who are pushing for aggressive changes in how schools are run and those who say that schools cannot be fully improved unless lawmakers address poverty and other roots of educational failure. He said his administration will invest heavily in initiatives that are proven to boost student achievement, such as early childhood education and home health care for young families, regardless of who supports them. And in proposing major changes to how teachers are hired, compensated, and fired, Obama never once mentioned teachers unions, regarded by some as obstacles to reform. Thanks to the stimulus bill passed last month, the federal government is authorized to spend an unprecedented amount of money on education in the coming years. Obama said his administration would offer special funds to states that want to boost their preschool quality, develop more rigorous standards and assessments, and cut their high school dropout rates. During a visit to a Brooklyn charter school last month, Obama's new education secretary, Arne Duncan, said he would support districts that want to build new data systems to track student achievement and pay teachers based on their students' test scores, as New York City has done. Without mentioning New York, the president today said he supported the same initiatives. On how some of the more controversial elements of his education plan would be put in place, Obama gave few specifics in the speech delivered in Washington, D.C., to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
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