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After panel on school choice, critique of city’s system of schools

Chancellor Dennis Walcott is interviewed by WNYC's Brian Lehrer at a forum on public school options. Many of the parents and teachers attending a forum last night about school choice said it was their first time hearing Chancellor Dennis Walcott talk about the Bloomberg administration's school policies. Walcott defended the school choice model that has developed during Bloomberg's tenure at the event, which was organized by the New York Times and WNYC in conjunction with their SchoolBook reporting project. (Listen to WNYC's coverage of the event.) The event took place against the backdrop of a spate of school closures announced by the Department of Education earlier in the day. The city's closure strategy, meant to clear space for better school options, has in large part fueled the increasing number of choices that families face, especially when applying in middle and high school. Parents and teachers we spoke to said the apparent options could be dizzying, even for the most involved families. educators, some parents said they didn't think Walcott's answers got to the root of their concerns. "It's very confusing. The whole process reminds me of voting. People don't engage because there's too much information out there. They don't know how to process all of it," said Tania Cade, who has a child in third grade at P.S. 278 and another in seventh-grade at a gifted-and-talented program in Washington Heights. "I don't think that [Walcott] addressed that issue at all. It's all up to the parents, and God bless those parents who don't have the time or don't speak the language."
New York

In the Bronx, an embattled school tries to do more with less

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: