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New York

Charter backers reluctantly embrace idea of "Mayor de Blasio"

As public advocate, Bill de Blasio presented reports about how to improve the process through which schools are awarded space inside city-owned buildings. In 2011, de Blasio presented reforms to the co-location process, which has benefitted charter schools under Bloomberg. Next week, thousands of parents will flood the Brooklyn Bridge to rally in support of the charter schools that their children attend. It's an aggressive — and divisive — approach meant to send a message to Democrat and mayoral frontronner Bill de Blasio, who says he wants to slow the growth of charter schools and charge rent to the ones operating in city-owned buildings. But a smaller group of school leaders and well-heeled charter backers are also taking a quieter approach in a hopeful attempt to seek influence with the Democratic mayoral nominee. Faced with increasing odds that de Blasio will be the next mayor — and the understanding that charter school parents are unlikely to support Republican Joe Lhota — they're lining his pockets with campaign donations. Some also attended a fundraiser Thursday to try to influence the likely mayor on education policy, which is being organized in part by Craig Johnson, a former Democratic state senator who now chairs the Democrats for Education Reform political action committee. "I think it's an opportunity for us to begin a dialogue around all the issues affecting kids, including universal pre-kindergarten, co-location, and all those issues," said Ian Rowe, CEO of Public Prep, a network that operates four charter schools in the city.
New York

Ex-state senator picked to lead DFER's New York fundraising

Democrats for Education Reform is reuniting with an old Albany friend as it prepares to resume a larger presence in the state. The political action committee's New York chapter named former state Senator Craig Johnson as board chair, Executive Director Joe Williams said. Johnson's role on the board, which is unpaid, will primarily be to fundraise, an area that has lagged in recent years as the state's education advocacy field has grown more crowded, Williams said. "We've got a lot of work to do to get the donor base engaged again," said Williams. Johnson, who won his seat in 2007 in a Long Island district long dominated by Republicans, aligned with DFER on successful legislative efforts required to qualify for federal Race to the Top funding. The most notable was a revision to the Charter Schools Act that more than doubled the number of charter schools allowed to operate in the state. Snubbing pressure from his Democratic colleagues, Johnson "single-handedly" blocked an early version of the bill that would have banned school building co-locations and slowed down the authorizing process. Johnson was ousted from his seat just months later, but has stayed active in state politics. He raised nearly $500,000 in 2012 for Jeff Klein's Independent Democratic Committee, which formed a tenuous power-sharing coalition with Republicans after last fall's elections. Earlier this month, Johnson was hired by the law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP to oversee national governmental affairs with a focus on education policy.
New York

In a polarized education climate, Bill Thompson appeals to all

New York

In memo on the mayoral race, DFER tells everyone to "chill"

New York

Reform groups are mostly mum on coming teacher rating dump

Contrasted against each other, this week's two pieces of teacher evaluation news put some education reform groups in a tough spot. As a deadline on a teacher evaluation deal neared, the groups anxiously supported Gov. Andrew Cuomo's work to add weight to test scores for assessing teachers. But in the middle of those negotiations, a court decision on the release of the city's teacher data reports reminded the public of the pitfalls of relying too heavily on data-driven metrics. Research into the reports had revealed a wide margin of error and instability from year to year. So, for the most part, groups were mum about the legal ruling, which paves the way for a data dump of two-year-old "value-added" ratings for 12,000 city teachers. The exception was Educators 4 Excellence, an upstart advocacy group that says it has support from thousands of city teachers. Although they are usually a thorn in the side of the United Federation of Teachers because of disagreement over senior-based layoffs and teacher evaluations, the two groups struck common ground on this issue. E4E co-founder and co-CEO Evan Stone sent over an email Wednesday saying he was "disappointed" with the court's decision to let the release go forward and said he thought making the ratings public would do little to boost the issue of improving teacher quality. "While we strongly support teachers receiving quality feedback about their performance, including how much they're helping their students progress on state tests, publicizing these results on the front page of newspapers will not help improve teacher effectiveness," Stone said in a statement. Stone's comments, while not as sharply worded, echo the sentiments of UFT President Michael Mulgrew. Principals union head Ernest Logan piled on criticism of the decision as well yesterday.
New York

Fans of tougher evals urge Cuomo to press forward anyway

New York

Walcott: City won’t strike evaluation deal just to get federal funds

The city won't strike a deal on new teacher evaluations just to get millions of dollars in federal funding, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said last week. The city and teachers union are supposed to settle on new teacher evaluations by the end of the school year. An agreement would bring the city into compliance with state law and also enable it to receive millions of federal dollars that have policy strings attached to them. Earlier this month, a New York Daily News editorial said Walcott “has committed to surrender $60 million in federal school improvement grants unless he and the teachers union have agreed by the end of the year on a pilot system for evaluating teacher performance.” The newspaper, which praised Walcott's tough-on-unions sentiment, did not report the chancellor's exact words in its news or editorial pages. Last week, Walcott told me that the editorial accurately paraphrased a comment he made. Coming to an agreement that satisfies both parties is so important, he said, that he does not want the federal funds to force his hand prematurely. "I'm not going to be hampered by money being the sole force of what a decision will be," Walcott said. "So at the end of the day if we have to return money, I will be willing to do that. I'm not going to be beholden to money as determining a decision." Last summer, as a federal deadline loomed, the city and UFT struck a last-minute, limited agreement on teacher evaluations at 33 low-performing schools, enabling the schools to receive millions of dollars to fund "restart" or "transformation" improvement processes.
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

Canvassers urge "'Superman'" audience to join political fight

New York

The lobbying group challenging teachers unions takes on America

A screenshot from ##'s web site## advertises four new branches. (The Florida branch is yet to be official, according to executive director Joe Williams.) The lobbying group whose H.R. recommendations virtually staffed President Obama's Education Department is spreading its "reform" tentacles. Democrats for Education Reform now has branches in Missouri, Colorado, and Wisconsin, in addition to its hometown, New York, and the organization plans to be in 10 states by 2011, executive director Joe Williams told me earlier this week. "We have very good conditions at the federal level right now for at least talking about reform, but we're really talking about what at the end of the day is a local issue," Williams said. "So the strength of any national organization like ours is really going to come down to how strong its local units are." The new branches are mostly self-sustaining, relying on leadership from volunteer boards and local residents already active in education. "It's a lot of people who were doing a lot of work on reform, but there was no political arm to engage at the political level," Williams said. What Williams calls DFER's "outpost" in Colorado is a case study for its plans elsewhere. Rather than generate policy ideas, the organization focuses on raising money for candidates who support its favored brand of changes to education — policies like charter schools, merit pay, and higher teaching standards. Among the Colorado officials DFER supports is Mike Johnston, who advised candidate Obama's presidential campaign and replaced the president of Colorado's state senate, Peter Groff, after he joined President Obama's education department.
New York

Charter schools will get $30M in one-shot plan to counter freeze

PHOTO: Alan PetersimeA Queens charter school encouraged parents and students to call Governor David Paterson and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith after it learned charter schools could see their funding frozen. Paterson and Smith are now sending the schools $30 million. (## Governor David Paterson and Malcolm Smith, the state Senate majority leader, are back in good favor with their long-lost charter school friends. Smith has just announced a plan to counteract a budget freeze that took the schools by surprise earlier this year, by sending the schools a one-time $30 million grant. The grant is less than the $51 million that charter schools were slated to lose after legislators axed planned funding increases in their recent budget deal. And it will expire at the end of next year, leaving supporters to wage a new fight  over funds then. But a source familiar with the plan who is a supporter of charter schools said that $30 million will be enough to help schools that had been imagining slashing after-school programs and turning down extra staff they'd already hired for next year. Smith announced the planned injection just now at a charter school lottery in Harlem, which Philissa is covering. The lottery is the annual event for the former City Council member Eva Moskowitz, who runs the Success Charter Network in Harlem. Harlem Success is expecting more than 5,000 parents at the lottery, which will determine which children are selected to attend the schools.