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.
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.
Bill Thompson stumped at an education event earlier this year. Thompson, seen as a strong contender for the UFT's endorsement this week, has also cozied up to charter school advocates during the primary season.
Even as Bill Thompson has continued to criticize the Bloomberg administration's education policies, he has courted the mayor's education allies.
Thompson has privately dined with charter school backers and assuaged their fears about what his mayoralty would mean for them. He's taken thousands of dollars in campaign donations from a Success Academy board member and won the fundraising support of Merryl Tisch, a top state education official who helped expand the charter school sector.
Most recently, he has distanced himself from some Democratic rivals by refusing to oppose a key education policy that the Bloomberg administration has used to help non-union charter schools thrive.
Thompson has managed to stay in favor with these groups even while getting support from Randi Weingarten, an old friend, and emerging as a favorite to get the United Federation of Teachers endorsement, which is scheduled to come on Wednesday (The principals union, a close UFT ally, is endorsing him on Tuesday). His ability to cultivate support from advocates who are often at odds with one another on education is a testament to his political savvy and his experience as a schools policymaker in New York City, political observers say.
Democrats for Education Reform, the national political organization with local roots, is urging calm for anxious supporters who fear that a new mayor could weaken their hold on favored education policies.
"Don't believe all of the doomsday talk you've heard surrounding the NYC mayoral race," a political briefing memo on the mayoral race begins. The memo, which GothamSchools obtained from DFER, was sent out internally last month to supporters and funders.
The briefing was written in response to concerns raised by people who've pestered DFER to explain what its plans are in the race, according to an email sent by Executive Director Joe Williams.
"Since we are getting a lot of questions on this, I wanted to update you on our latest thinking regarding the NYC Mayor's race," Williams writes.
The briefing paints a surprisingly rosy picture of the race from a perspective of education advocates who have supported Mayor Bloomberg's policies and often clashed with the teachers union. It goes on to suggest that its allies take a long view of the mayoral race, excuse the Democratic field's eagerness to please the United Federation of Teachers, and take a second look at some of the candidates who've previously been antagonistic.
"You probably wouldn't want to be supporting a candidate who was too stupid to try to get enough endorsements to win," the memo says, referring to some of the candidates' embrace of the UFT.
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.
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo convenes the education reform commission he promised today, there are likely to be some new faces in the room.
Cuomo signaled that he was tired of business as usual during his State of the State address today, saying that special interest education groups, such as lobbyists for teachers, principals, and superintendents, have come to overshadow the true mission of public education.
"The purpose of public education is not to help grow the public education bureaucracy," Cuomo said in his speech. The status quo, he said, is "driven by the business of education more than achievement in education."
Cuomo said that the education commission would be the driving force behind his pledge to toughen teacher evaluations and make the state's education spending more efficient. He said the commission would be bi-partisan and include joint appointments from the legislature, but was not specific about what the makeup would look like.
Two people who work closely on state and city education policies said that they expected the commission to be made up at least in part of people from outside the state.
"It will be something that's quite national, people from outside New York," a source said. "It won't be people from the usual crowd."
After the collapse of teacher evaluation negotiations in New York City and across the state, education reform groups are asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to install a "shot clock" on future talks.
When the clock expires, a teacher evaluation system devised by the State Education Department would go into effect, according to the plan outlined in a letter signed by 13 reform organizations from across the state and country. The groups — which include Democrats for Education Reform and and StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee's new lobbying outfit — argue both that more stringent evaluations are needed and that the state cannot afford to leave funding on the table during tough budget times.
The state's teacher evaluation law, passed in 2010in order to secure Race to the Top funding, requires districts to adopt tougher evaluations when they renegotiate teachers contracts. But if they want to draw on several pools of federal funds, they have to finalize the new evaluations sooner. Dec. 31 was the deadline for one set of funds, School Improvement Grants. Another deadline, for Race to the Top funds, is coming on June 30.
Now the reform groups want the state to set another deadline — Aug. 31 — and they want it to apply to all districts, not just ones seeking federal funding. The groups are suggesting to Cuomo that districts that haven't negotiated a plan by then would have to adopt a "default" plan and put it in place by the following year.
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.
People with an interest in the city's school system are beginning to throw their support behind prospective candidates for the 2013 mayoral race, according to Friday's campaign finance filings.
Campaign finance filings released on Friday showed that two top officials with Democrats for Education Reform, a major education lobbying group, donated exclusively to Scott Stringer, who defeated charter school operator Eva Moskowitz in the 2009 Manhattan Borough President primary with support from the city teachers union.
Joe Williams, executive director of DFER, gave a total of $1,500 to the Stringer campaign in two different donations. Elizabeth Ling, DFER's New York State political director, gave $150, according to the filings. Stringer was the only candidate to whom Williams and Ling donated.
Ling, who serves on the board of one of Moskowitz's Success Charter schools, said it was too early for DFER to endorse anyone just yet and that the group is "continuing to build relationships at all levels."
A day after an election that saw most of the union-backed candidates win their races, New York City teachers union president Michael Mulgrew was still celebrating. "We had a very good night," he told me.
In total, 157 of the 170 candidates the United Federation of Teachers supported were victorious on Tuesday, union officials said.
Mulgrew said he was pleased to see former City Councilman Tony Avella take Republican Frank Padavan's seat in the State Senate. A month before the election, when polls showed Avella was down by over two dozen points, Mulgrew said he sent union members to campaign in northeast Queens. Avella, who also ran and lost in the city's mayoral race last year, ended up with 53 percent of the vote.
"It was fun because everyone told us we wouldn't win," Mulgrew said.
Union-backed candidates lost in 13 races. Among them was Democratic Congressman Michael McMahon, who was also endorsed by Mayor Bloomberg and was expected to hold onto his Staten Island seat, but lost to Republican Michael Grimm.
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 ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/saeba/4015439957/sizes/m/in/photostream/##Flickr## user ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/saeba/##saebaryo##)
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.
"Waiting for 'Superman'" director Davis Guggenheim has repeatedly denounced criticisms that his film stakes a ground that is pro-charter school and critical of the teachers union. But a lobbying group with exactly that agenda is using the documentary to spread its message to the general public.
The campaign, called "Done Waiting," represents one winner in the ongoing debate inside the education world about how to transform the attention the film into a coherent "call to action" for agitated movie-goers.
The answer put forward by Education Reform Now, the group leading the "Done Waiting" campaign, is to use the film as a springboard for making specific political changes.
The group's favored changes include expanding charter schools and changing the way teachers are evaluated and granted tenure. Paid canvassers waiting outside movie theaters across the country hand movie-goers literature, direct them to a campaign-style web site, DoneWaiting.org, and encourage them to add their e-mail addresses to the group's mailing list.
(Education Reform Now was also the group behind the massive public relations campaign that preceded New York's charter cap lift in May, and the advocacy component to the political action committee Democrats for Education Reform.)
The campaign has not been endorsed by the film's movie studio and production company, Paramount Pictures and Participant Media, which is running its own, less explicitly political outreach campaign around the film.
Protestors at P.S. 123 yesterday applauded lawmakers pushing for limits on charter schools in Harlem. Eva Moskowitz, the C.E.O. of the Success Charter Network, was a particular target. (Photo screenshot from video below.)
The next front for the Harlem school wars could be Albany.
City Council member Inez Dickens yesterday proposed changing the state law to cap the number of charter schools that a single operator can open in a given school district.
She was speaking at a protest against the Success charter school network's expansion into a traditional Harlem public school, P.S. 123.
Dickens said she had the support of state Sen. Bill Perkins, and Keith Wright, an Assemblyman representing Harlem, said he would introduce legislation to make that change on his side of the legislature.
A neighborhood- and operator-specific cap would add to what exists now, a cap on the number of charter schools across New York state at 200. There are 1,500 public schools in the city.
Such a cap would also squarely challenge the strategy the Success Charter Network has pursued of opening a large number of charter schools in a designated area; Eva Moskowitz, the network's CEO, has said her goal is to open 40 Harlem charter schools in the next 10 years.
A screenshot from ##http://www.dfer.org/##DFER'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.
There are 10 days to go before mayoral control expires and one day left of the legislative session. Given the standstill at the state Senate, that equation is leaving both supporters and opponents of the mayoral control in a state of high alarm.
Invariably, their panic is fueled by the complete unpredictability of the situation. No one has the answers to questions about what would happen if the Senate allowed the 2002 law to sunset, as State Senator John Sampson has threatened to allow.
"If everybody goes home for the summer we've got 32 school boards on July 1. Mayoral control is over. The clock is ticking and it doesn't seem like anybody's doing anything," said Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, which favors preserving mayoral control.
Should the Senate pull itself together and reconvene, either by choice or by force, before the law expires, it remains unclear what kind of bill it will support. A bill has already passed the Assembly, but Sampson and other Democrats have said they want to amend that to add stricter checks to the mayor's power.
Wendy Kopp, the hard-driving founder of Teach For America, and Arne Duncan, the superintendent of schools in Chicago, are being touted as top candidates for U.S. Education Secretary by an influential lobbying group that pushes for aggressive changes in American schools. Their names are included in a 34-page transition memo to President-elect Barack Obama prepared by the group, Democrats for Education Reform, and obtained by GothamSchools.
New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has received support from DFER, which is based in Manhattan, but the group's memo specifically rules him out as a possible Education Secretary. The memo says Klein's aggressive efforts to improve public schools are admirable, but that they make him and the like-minded D.C. school chancellor, Michelle Rhee, a poor choice for Barack Obama's White House. "The need for them to occasionally 'break some china' in order to affect much-needed change puts them and other hard-charging reforms like them in an unlikely spot to be selected for a role like Secretary of Education (a role for which either would be well suited)," the memo says.