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June 1, 2013
“The reform community will remain vigilant”
That’s what Glen Weiner, the acting executive director of StudentsFirstNY, vowed in a press release about New York City’s new teacher and principal evaluation plans:…
May 29, 2013
StudentsFirstNY launches social media campaign to preserve the status quo
From a press release from the advocacy group: In several mayoral debates and forums, the Democratic candidates have expressed views that are concerning; many proposals…
April 18, 2013
Bed-Stuy rally shows StudentsFirstNY's organizing challenges
A confrontation between Bedford-Stuyvesant educators and StudentsFirstNY organizers on Wednesday highlighted the group's struggle to organize parents in low-performing schools.
March 27, 2013
Cuomo, GOP were StudentsFirstNY's top recipients in 2012
In the year that former Bloomberg aide Micah Lasher led StudentsFirstNY, the education advocacy group publicly lobbed fiery Twitter messages, published agenda-driven reports, and organized parents. Lobbying and political spending records offer a different, behind-the-scenes view into the group's activities under Lasher, a seasoned legislative director who abruptly announced this week that he is leaving to become state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's chief of staff. The records show that the group spent more than $100,000 in Albany, largely to bolster Republican legislators who frequently oppose policies that teachers unions support and who are seen as a bulwark against the erosion of mayoral control in New York City.
March 25, 2013
As Micah Lasher exits, next steps for StudentsFirstNY up in air
In a surprise move, Micah Lasher announced today that he's leaving StudentsFirstNY, an education advocacy organization he helped launch less than a year ago to sway mayoral candidates on education policies. The news broke first early this morning in the Daily News, and it apparently was such a surprise that even Lasher's staff at StudentsFirstNY didn't know about it, sources told GothamSchools. Staff put out a press release shortly after that, naming a temporary replacement and praising Lasher for his.achievements. But questions remain about the group's future. Lasher, a "wunderkind lobbyist" with expertise in education policy, spent four years advancing the Bloomberg administration's agenda before leaving city government last year. He's returning to public service as chief of staff for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman after a year in charge of New York's state branch of Michelle Rhee's national StudentsFirst organization.
January 10, 2013
Report: Low-rated teachers more often work with poor students
A new report by the advocacy group StudentsFirstNY found that low-rated teachers work more often in high-poverty schools. The group presented its findings outside City Hall. The poorer a school's students are, the more likely they are to be taught by low-rated teachers. That's the conclusion of a new report by the education advocacy group StudentsFirstNY. The group, which is critical of the city's current teacher evaluation system, looked at ratings given to 65,527 teachers during the 2011-2012 school year and found that the low-rated teachers disproportionately worked in schools with high concentrations of poor students. At schools with relatively few poor students, 1.14 percent of teachers received low ratings last year, according to the report. But at schools where more than 85 percent of students are considered poor, 3.9 percent did. The inequities were even more pronounced when comparing schools with different demographics. At schools where fewer than a quarter of students are black or Hispanic, just 1.06 percent of teachers got low ratings. At schools where almost all students are black or Hispanic, that figure was 4.13 percent. The report says the findings support StudentsFirstNY's position that new teacher evaluations are needed in New York State.
November 19, 2012
Parents rally at City Hall, but their protest is directed elsewhere
Keoni Wright, an East New York parent, speaks on Saturday at a StudentsFirstNY backing new teacher evaluations. The scene was familiar, but the rallying cries and signs were a departure. More than 100 parents and organizers from StudentsFirstNY filled the steps of City Hall on Saturday to demand that the teachers union cooperate with the city on an evaluation deal before a deadline that could cost the city $300 million in state aid. "What do we want?" shouted Darlene Boston, who has been working to organize parents in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn to support StudentsFirstNY's policy agenda. "Great teachers!" they replied. "When do we want them?" Boston shouted back. "Now!" they said. When education advocates protest outside City Hall, it is usually with an ensemble of union leaders, City Council members, and other elected officials. And more often than not, they are criticizing policies favored by Mayor Bloomberg, the man who governs the city from the building behind them. But no elected officials showed up at Saturday's rally — and organizers said none was invited. Parents came mostly from neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn and Harlem, areas where StudentsFirstNY is trying to build a base. And while the mayor's name was not uttered, it was clear that he was not the target of their protest. The target was the continuing lack of new teacher evaluations in New York City, which StudentsFirstNY and Bloomberg have blamed on the United Federation of Teachers.
November 14, 2012
Touting evals, StudentsFirstNY delivers its pitch to parents
Parents met last month with officials from StudentsFirstNY to listen to issues surrounding teacher evaluations. In a packed room at the Marcy Library in Bedford-Stuyvesant on a Saturday morning last month, the message to a group of public school parents was abundantly clear: The way to improve their students' education begins with a better teacher evaluation system. Standing in the way, organizers said, was drawn out negotiations between the the city and its teachers union, which has been battling over terms of the evaluations for nearly two years. "We need to be telling teachers we're watching. UFT, we're watching," said Darlene Boston, a parent organizer for Families Taking Action, which hosted the event. Families Taking Action is the parent-organizing arm of StudentsFirstNY, a well-funded education advocacy organization that launched in April to act as a counterweight to the influential teachers union during the upcoming mayoral campaign. One area where the union's influence has been particularly strong is in rallying communities to oppose budget cuts, school closures and charter school co-locations. It has funded citywide and local organizations to educate parents about the issues and turn them into activists. But the union has not rallied parents around teacher evaluations, a thorny issue that some teachers view skeptically because of its prescribed model and reliance on test scores. No one else has either, and that's where StudentsFirstNY is stepping in.
August 24, 2012
Union endorses a candidate backed by StudentsFirstNY
It didn't take long for the complexities of New York State politics to make strange bedfellows out of two rival education advocacy groups. This week, New York State United Teachers endorsed Jeff Klein, a Democratic state Senator from the Bronx with a reputation for rebuffing teachers union interests. Earlier this summer, Klein also took in money from StudentsFirstNY, a group that a union-backed coalition is attacking for its board members' Republican ties. Over the past week, accepting money from StudentsFirstNY has received a lot of scrutiny from the coalition, called New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, which is made up of labor unions and community-based organizations. At protests, it has tacitly warned elected officials to reject StudentsFirstNY because some of its funding comes from people working in the private sector with ideologically different positions on education policy. And while most of their energy will be focused on the 2013 mayoral candidates, the coalition punctuated its point this week when it gleefully released a list of state and city politicians who agreed to reject contributions from StudentsFirstNY. "Taking StudentsFirst money is bad for New York," Billy Easton, executive director of Alliance for Quality Education, one of the groups that gets funding from the state teachers union, said last week.
August 21, 2012
Mayoral hopefuls mum, other politicians shun StudentsFirstNY
Most of the 2013 mayoral contenders are still keeping an arm's length from a union-backed campaign to tie StudentsFirstNY's agenda to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. But that hasn't stopped a slew of other political hopefuls from throwing their support behind the effort. New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, a coalition of public unions, community-based organizations and liberal advocacy groups, has released a list of 33 elected officials and candidates who have signed on to a pledge to refuse support from StudentsFirstNY, which is seeking to advance the education polices started by the Bloomberg administration. The list includes candidates for Manhattan and Brooklyn Borough President, Public Advocate and a slew of City Council members and state legislators. Noticeably absent are frontrunners in the one race that New Yorkers for Great Public Schools and StudentsFirstNY hope to influence the most: the 2013 mayoral election. Only one prospective candidate, John Liu, has said he'd reject StudentsFirstNY's support. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said last week she'd be fine accepting their support, as did long-shot Tom Allon. Former Comptroller Bill Thompson was non-committal in his response and one other candidates, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has stayed mum on the subject.
August 16, 2012
Mayoral hopefuls split on taking donations from StudentsFirstNY
New Yorkers for Great Public Schools took aim at StudentsFirstNY's ties to Mitt Romney during a rally at Department of Education headquarters today. Hours after the union-backed New Yorkers for Great Public Schools launched a campaign to tie the education advocacy group StudentsFirstNY to the political ideologies of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, 2013 mayoral candidates began chiming in on whether they would accept StudentsFirstNY's support. Of the three campaigns that responded to requests for comment from GothamSchools, one said no StudentsFirstNY money would come into its coffers. The other two said they would have no problem accepting support from the group, which seeks to advance many of the Bloomberg administration's education policies. A fourth candidate says he hasn't made up his mind yet. Comptroller John Liu said he would reject any support, although a spokesman acknowledged that funds from StudentsFirstNY were unlikely to be directed toward Liu's campaign. "I doubt the group would send us any contributions," said the spokesman, Chung Seto. Liu, who hasn't declared for mayor and whose campaign finances are the subject of a federal investigation, is considered a candidate likely to align with the teachers union. Speaker Christine Quinn, an early favorite in the Democratic primary bid, would happily accept support from education groups, no matter their school reform ideologies, a campaign consultant said today.
July 26, 2012
StudentsFirstNY adds an educator in time for Cuomo task force
Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky taught a class at Bronx Academy of Letters in May. The school's principal has joined an education advocacy group, StudentsFirstNY. When New York City faced a budget shortfall three years ago, Bronx Academy of Letters principal Anna Hall faced a crisis at her school. Because state law requires that layoffs start with the newest teachers, threatened cuts meant more than 50 percent of Hall's strongest teachers would be cut loose: They had logged relatively few years in the school system. "That was the most harrowing, horrible experience," Hall said. The layoffs never materialized. But the scare cemented Hall's belief that teachers shouldn't be protected from layoffs based solely on their experience. The experience was one of many that Hall said drew her to her new job: as director of education for StudentsFirstNY, the state's spinoff of Michelle Rhee's national education advocacy group. StudentsFirstNY has kept a low profile in the three months since its splashy entrance onto the education advocacy scene. It spent about $10,000 on a mailer to support Hakeem Jeffries in his successful Congressional primary campaign against Charles Barron last month, according to federal election filings. But the group has steered clear of some more heated education debates, including the city's now-failed effort to close two dozen schools through a federal turnaround model, and it has not yet fully articulated its policy agenda for the next year. That seems poised to change today. Hall is set to share her personal hopes for policy change at a public meeting in the Bronx of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's education reform commission.
June 5, 2012
NY branch of Rhee's group will focus on parents, school choice
This story has been corrected from its earlier version to clarify the positions expressed by Lasher yesterday. Two months ago StudentsFirstNY, the New York branch of Michelle Rhee's political action committee, announced itself with a splash. But it hasn't been clear where the group will direct its financial and political might. Micah Lasher, StudentsFirstNY's executive director, fleshed out the group's platform for the first time at a discussion hosted Monday by the DL21C, a group of young Democrats. GothamSchools' Elizabeth Green moderated the discussion. StudentsFirstNY will also focus on organizing parents to demand policy changes around improving teacher quality and school choice, Lasher said. He also said the group might well weigh in on next year's mayoral race, whose victor will determine the next phase of the city's education reforms. "If there comes a time where it becomes clear that there is a candidate that we think would be effective on these issues, and it makes sense according to our political judgements and the way we think we can best improve schools in the city, I would allow us to get involved in getting support of a candidate," Lasher said.
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