The high-profile commission charged with overhauling New York's public schools released its first set of recommendations today, endorsing several popular education reform policies but shying away from declaring a position on others. The full report, titled "Putting Students First," is below the jump.
Governor Cuomo, who created the commission, stopped short of endorsing its recommendations, but did express early support for several ideas, including teacher performance pay and the community school model of using schools to offer supports beyond academic preparation.
Other recommendations include expanding pre-kindergarten for students in poor districts, strengthening teacher and principal preparation programs, and extending the school day and year.
The commission did not address some prickly issues, such as teacher evaluation. Chairman Richard Parsons said that was by design, citing a recommendation from State Education Commissioner John King that the commission wait to take up the topic until its next report, scheduled for next fall.
Lopez-Pierre, center, and his family, in a photo sent out in the new PAC's introductory emails.
A Harlem realtor known for founding a controversial social club and playing a role in a high-profile loan dispute is now entering the world of charter school politics.
Thomas Lopez-Pierre, a charter school parent, thinks Harlem's political leaders don't sufficiently support the charter schools that dot their districts. So he has formed a political action committee to help finance candidates who would.
The committee, called the Harlem Charter School Parents PAC, made its debut this week in a letter to charter school advocates outlining its political goals: to raise $250,000 over the next year to support candidates in Harlem's three 2012 City Council races and local Democratic Party district leader races. The group also said it would find volunteers to help those candidates get out the vote.
Lopez-Pierre, whose son is finishing first grade at Harlem's New York French American Charter School, said he and two other parents aim to create a new unified voice for parents in a community that has served as the front line of the political wars over charter school expansion. (Lopez-Pierre declined to name the other parents but said their children attend Harlem Children's Zone's Promise Academy and one of the Harlem Success Academy charter schools.)
"Elected officials only respond to two things: votes and money. Our goal is to elect officials that support charter schools," he said. "My son is in first grade, and he's going to be in a charter school for at least 10 years. This is not about an election cycle. It's about transforming Harlem and expanding school choice."
A screen shot of the web site registered 9 days ago that touts Eva Moskowitz for mayor in its title.
Two websites registered recently — one earlier this month — raise an intriguing possibility: Could a charter school leader jump into the next mayoral race?
The website addresses tout Eva Moskowitz, the founder of the Success Charter network, and Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children's Zone and Promise Academy charter schools, for mayor. Neither site includes any content.
The websites, EvaMoskowitzForMayor.com and GeoffreyCanadaForMayor.com, might reflect mounting concern among charter school supporters that Mayor Bloomberg's successor will not continue his level of support for charter schools.
The nervousness may have increased when Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress last week. Of all the likely mayoral candidates, Weiner had appeared to be one of the more supportive of charter schools.
"Personally, as a New Yorker, Bloomberg's successor has weighed heavily on my mind," Democracy Prep charter network founder Seth Andrew, who registered the URL touting Canada in December, said in an e-mail statement. "While I think Mr. Canada would be a great choice, we've never talked about it and he's made it publicly clear that he loves his day job."
Andrew used his personal email and mailing addresses to register the Canada site.
EvaMoskowitzForMayor.com was registered anonymously through a hosting service based in California on June 6, according to WhoIs.Net, which publishes records of web site registrations.
Responding to a request for comment by e-mail, a spokesperson for Moskowitz said that she had never heard of the domain. "Looked into it. Don't know anything about this domain. Let me know if you find out who bought it," Jenny Sedlis, the director of external affairs at Moskowitz's charter network, wrote via e-mail.
Students and families protested today in Harlem against the NAACP's involvement in a lawsuit against school closures and charter school co-locations with district schools. (Chris Arp)
About 2,500 people rallied in Harlem this morning, calling on the NAACP to withdraw from its lawsuit with the teachers union against the city Department of Education. That lawsuit seeks to stop the closure of 22 schools as well as the placement of several charter schools in district school space.
Speakers at Thursday’s rally included charter school parents and teachers, Harlem Children's Zone president and CEO Geoffrey Canada, and the actor Seth Gilliam from “The Wire,” whose child is a on a waiting list for a charter school. Speakers and attendees denounced the NAACP’s participation in a lawsuit they said would harm charter schools primarily serving students of color.
"Ms. Dukes, turn your back on this lawsuit,” said Kathy Kernizan, the parent of a student at the Uncommon Schools charter network, referring to Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference.
A letter to Dukes with signatures from charter school advocates was circulated through the crowd asking the organization to withdraw from the suit. A spokesperson for the New York City Charter Center, which helped organize the event, said that more than 2,000 signatures had been collected this week.
“We gotta demand quality education,” Canada told the crowd. “We have to be prepared to fight for that.” The city Department of Education's proposal calls for two of the charter schools associated with the Harlem Children's Zone, the Promise Academy charter schools, to be co-located inside district schools.
The charter center spokesperson said the protest, held outside the Harlem State Office building at 125th Street, was not the work of any one organization. But at least two groups appear to have taken leading roles: the charter center, an advocacy and support organization for charter schools in the city, and the Success Charter Network created by Eva Moskowitz. Many of the families at the rally had children at one of the Success network's nine schools. (Seven of the network's schools are named in the lawsuit.)
Click here for a slideshow of photographs from the rally.
Myrta Cuadra-Lash, the executive director of Sinergia, hopes to replicate the Harlem Children's Zone in East Harlem. (via ##http://www.sinergiany.org/en/node/102##Sinergia##)
If Myrta Cuadra-Lash gets her wish, she could become Latino New York's version of Geoffrey Canada, the now-famous founder of the Harlem Children's Zone.
The executive director of the non-profit Sinergia, Cuadra-Lash is applying for a federal grant to create a Children's Zone for Latino youth. She's focusing on East Harlem, which is predominantly Latino, whereas the population currently served by Canada's program is African-American. Though Cuadra-Lash's idea is in its early stages — she's applying for a one-year planning grant — she's already brought three public schools, Mount Sinai Medical Center, two colleges, and other community organizations on board.
Promise Neighborhood grants are part of the Obama administration's goal to replicate Canada's program, an anti-poverty experiment that follows children from birth to adulthood. Zeroing in on a few neighborhood blocks in Harlem, the Children's Zone offers parenting classes, after school activities, and has started its own network of charter schools. The program has received high praise — and some questions about the strength of its results so far and its scalability.
The last time he led a New York City project, Geoffrey Canada, the founder of Harlem Children's Zone, had the teachers union as his opponent. Now the two are partnering on a grant proposal that would take struggling elementary schools and surround them with the support services that barely exist outside their doors.
Naturally, the two have a buffer: Good Shepherd Services and the Children's Aid Society, which is the lead applicant for an Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) grant — money that was set aside as part of the federal stimulus package. The grant proposal calls for $30 million to be used over four years to reduce absenteeism in nine schools in low-income neighborhoods like Harlem, the South Bronx, and Central Brooklyn.
All of the schools that are eventually chosen for the grant will have low-performing students, but they must also have a large number of students who don't attend class. At least 30 percent of their students must be chronically absent, meaning they miss a month or more of school, hence the grant's name: "Attend, Achieve, Attain," or "a3."
Another Wall Street Journal report on how the financial crisis is hitting foundations highlights the Harlem Children's Zone. HCZ, run by the mayoral control proponent Geoffrey Canada, was promised $25 million grant by the Starr Foundation, which is run by Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, the former chief executive officer of AIG.
Now, the Journal reports:
Anyone with a foundation whose endowment is heavily invested in AIG stock "is taking a bath," says Mr. Greenberg, adding that he intends to fulfill current commitments but that gifts would inevitably be fewer and smaller in the months ahead. "You can't give what you haven't got." ...
Among the beneficiaries feeling the pinch are Harlem Children's Zone Inc., to which Mr. Greenberg recently pledged $25 million. "I'm spending a lot of time now thinking about how we could replace the kind of support we've received from Wall Street," says Geoffrey Canada, president of the organization, which provides parenting classes and charter schools for poor families. Mr. Canada says he is cutting 10% of his staff of 1,400.
Other New York City education projects could be affected.
The nonprofit pro-mayoral control advocacy group that was originally titled MASS, for Mayoral Accountability for Student Success, is now called Learn NY, and its official first day of existence is today. The group has close ties with the Bloomberg administration, but it is not being funded by the mayor, officials said in a background press conference with reporters this morning.
Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters has already done impressive digging into the group's media strategy. A spokesperson for the group confirmed to me today that the blog commenter Haimson noticed voicing his passion for mayoral control is indeed on the payroll of Learn NY. Brian Keeler, an online-media specialist who ran unsuccessfully for state senate in 2006 with the help of a following he built at Daily Kos, has been posting positive comments on this blog, Leonie's, and others. He is also an employee of the Web design firm that built Learn NY's Web site and will write a regular blog on the site, the spokesperson, Julie Wood, said.
Something that will surely be asked — especially by critics of mayoral control and the Bloomberg administration, including Haimson — is how much of a "MASS" organization Learn NY really is.