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Politics & Policy
April 9, 2009
Two efforts to improve a school, with two different sets of tools
I have a story in this week's Village Voice about the fight over how to improve struggling public schools. Should the schools be rescued from the inside or replaced? I focus on P.S. 194 in Harlem, which school officials favor replacing with the fledgling Harlem Success Academy 2. Both the principal at HSA 2, Jim Manly, and the principal at P.S. 194, Charyn Koppelson Cleary, are trying to give Harlem's children a radically different experience of school. Yet they have very different tools to work with. Cleary's world: Before the school year began, staffers recall, she gathered her whole faculty, from the teachers to the security officer to the secretary, in what she called a "circle of change." Each person talked about what needed changing at the school. "The good news," Cleary told them, according to people who were there, "is that 94 or 95 percent of the stuff you guys are talking about, we can change." In some ways, Cleary was constrained in her efforts. She could not hire a staff of her own, since the bulk of the teachers were inherited from the school's previous years. She could not ask the custodian to repaint the entire building, since his contract only permitted a certain percentage. But she did the best she could, asking for the neediest rooms to get fresh paint and finagling a handful of other educators she trusted onto the payroll. She also only had last three months to prepare for her turnaround: She began the job last July. Now, here's Manly's world:
April 7, 2009
A unionized charter school says it was betrayed by the unions
Renaissance students organized a protest against the freeze in their budget. Staff at a Queens charter school that is represented by several city labor unions are growing frustrated with the unions, which they worry sat quietly by while state lawmakers slashed charter school budgets two weeks ago. The school, Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights, is expecting a cut of between $500,000 and $600,000 from what was projected for next year after state lawmakers froze planned funding increases to charter schools two weeks ago. Charter school activists have said that they're hopeful that Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, who founded another unionized charter school in Queens, will yet restore the extra funds to charter schools, but no deal has been struck yet. That leaves teachers at Renaissance planning for possible teacher layoffs and big program cuts. (The $500,000 cut from the increase the school was expecting is especially hard to shoulder given that pension costs are skyrocketing by $300,000 next year and teacher salaries are slated to go up.) A main frustration, a Renaissance administrator said, is that the unions to which Renaissance's staff belong did not give them a heads up about the cuts — even though staff repeatedly asked union leaders if they should expect a cut. "Our members here feel shafted," Nicholas Tishuk, Renaissance's director of programs and accountability, said. "We were told that this charter school cut was mentioned two months ago, and it hasn’t been on anyone’s lips. And then we find out the Sunday night before the vote on Tuesday that not only was it on everyone’s lips; it’s actually happening." Most charter schools in New York City are not represented by teachers unions, since the schools operate outside of the Department of Education and therefore do not see their staffs unionize automatically. But the union has fought to bring charter schools teachers into its fold. Their slow but steady inclusion has put the union in the tricky position of on the one hand lobbying for limits on charter schools, while, on the other hand, representing some charter school staff.
January 28, 2009
Halfway through the year, state approves DOE's spending plan
Testifying in front of the State Senate today, Chancellor Joel Klein mentioned that the Department of Education and the state had reached an agreement, finally, on how the city will spend $387.5 million in restricted funds. The money is part of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement, which promised annual funding increases to needy school districts. To get the funds, districts must develop a plan, called a Contract for Excellence, that shows that they will spend the money on certain kinds of programs and to help the neediest students. The state and the city have wrangled in the past over how much flexibility the city should have over allocating the funds. The agreement, quietly released yesterday, signals that the state has approved the city's Contract for Excellence for this year and will disburse the funds. The breakdown of spending in the DOE's final plan (shown by program type above) is similar to what the department originally proposed back in July.
December 2, 2008
All the state funds that the New York City schools don't get
We're late to consider Tom Suozzi's property tax commission report, released yesterday. Why would this blog care about a property tax commission report? Because it's actually all about the education, stupid. Property taxes are raised essentially for one reason: to close the gap between what schools need and what the state gives them. If you want to lower property taxes, you also have to lower the cost of school. Suozzi's report offers a list of recommendations for how to do that. In the process, the report also discloses a lot of interesting facts. For instance, check out the chart above.
November 13, 2008
$3.6 billion to fully fund English Language Learners, study finds
Students who are still learning English need twice as much funding as other students, says a policy brief released yesterday by the New York Immigration Coalition. The brief was based on a new, as-yet-unreleased study the Coalition commissioned from research and advocacy organization Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy, Inc. (META). At present, funding for English Language Learners (ELLs) is approximately 1.5 times that of regular education students. While the brief does not say how much additional funding the state should provide per pupil, EdWeek blogger Mary Ann Zehr estimated it at about $6,500 more for each ELL student than what is spent today. Adding that much per student would be expensive. The study calculates that New York State would have to spend a total of $3.64 billion on ELLs, about 17% of total state aid to schools. This sounds like a lot given looming state budget cuts, but the brief's authors say it's reasonable.
October 10, 2008
Newark’s “new paternalism” reduces teacher to tears
NorthStar Academy students with author R.L. Stine Remember those “paternalistic” schools — since rechristened “no excuses schools” — that David Whitman wrote…
October 9, 2008
High-paying charter model makes sense to one NYC teacher
Zeke Vanderhoek, The Equity Project founder. Photo courtesy of the NY Times. New York City teacher-blogger Christine Gralow explains why she…
September 29, 2008
DOE fundraisers "hope for the best" in an uncertain economy
Last year, the nonprofit Fund for Public Schools, housed at the DOE and key to the department’s recent embrace of public-private partnerships, generated…
September 19, 2008
Weakening economy kills plans for middle school at 75 Morton St.
Last month, after an extended campaign to relieve overcrowding in Greenwich Village schools elicited a commitment from the DOE to try to use a state-owned building on Morton Street as a new middle school, families and elected officials held a festive rally. But as the economy falters, it appears now that the celebration was premature. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at the August rally The Empire State Development Corporation, the state agency that owns the building, has withdrawn plans to sell the building, at least for now, citing the too-low bids it received from private developers while the building was on the market, the Villager reports today. The state agency currently occupying the building will stay there for the time being, making it impossible to renovate the building for use as a middle school in the fall of 2010, when neighborhood activists had hoped a new school could open. In early August, the city said it would formally ask the state to use the Morton Street building as a public school rather than auctioning it off to private developers. But the Villager reports that ESDC officials say the city did not submit any request in writing by the time the bidding process closed on Aug. 13. Asked by District 2 activists at the Panel for Educational Policy meeting on Monday about the city's apparent failure to lobby for the building's use as a public school, Chancellor Klein said the situation was fraught with behind-the-scenes complications. “If there is a way for us to successfully navigate those waters, we will be interested in doing that,” he said. And according to DOE press officer Marge Feinberg, the DOE hasn't given up on building new schools in overcrowded areas.
September 15, 2008
Former NYC teachers aim to "revolutionize educational philanthropy"
Two former New York City schoolteachers have taken to heart Teach for America's intention to create innovators who maintain a commitment to educational equity even after they leave the classroom — they've started a nonprofit organization designed to facilitate individual giving to public schools. Jessica Rauch and Eli Savit, who now live in Michigan, recently won $10,000 in start-up funds in the August competition on IdeaBlob.com, which pits new business ideas against each other in public voting. Their initiative, The Generation Project, aims to "revolutionize educational philanthropy" by facilitating connections between schools and individuals who want to donate to them. From 2005 to 2007, Rauch taught English language learners at PS 86 in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx; Savit taught 8th-grade social studies at IS 339 in the South Bronx. "As a new teacher, my time was very limited; between lesson planning, after-school tutoring, and graduate school, I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to find individualized opportunities for all of my students," wrote Rauch in an email to GothamSchools. "Although my administration was great and tried hard to expose students to various enrichment activities, I wished there was an easy way to further expand my students' horizons." For example, Rauch wrote, one of Savit's students who had developed an interest in domestic affairs could have attended a program in Washington, D.C., if Savit could easily have found a way to pay for it. Motivated by their own experiences, Rauch and Savit are working to create a database of prepaid gifts, "shaped by [funders'] own passions and priorities," that schools and teachers can apply to receive. This approach represents an inversion of the one taken by the popular website DonorsChoose.org, where potential donors browse funding requests from teachers who have identified particular needs for their classroom. "DonorsChoose is awesome, but it serves a different role for under-resourced schools than we propose," Rauch wrote.
September 12, 2008
American-style "no excuses" schools cropping up in England
Since the beginning of this decade, the British government has allowed private “sponsors” to manage state-funded “academies” in an initiative to create innovative, bureaucracy-free…
August 12, 2008
What can we learn from other states on property tax caps?
Mayor David Cohen of Newton, Mass. The town faces school budget cuts after failing to override a tax cap. <em>##http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/politics/view.bg?articleid=1083371&srvc=home&position=0##Boston Herald##</em> Last Friday,…
August 4, 2008
New charter schools on the way…
A $16.6 million federal grant will fund the development and support of new charter schools in New York State, the US Department of Education announced in July. The grant, from the Department's Charter School Program, will be used primarily to create and support secondary-level charter schools. Today is the postmark deadline for the current round of applications for the planning and implementation of new charter schools. Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have long pushed for the creation of more charter schools, successfully convincing the state legislature to increase the number of charters granted from 100 to 200 in April, 2007. Half of the new charters are reserved for New York City. Even that limit may be short-lived; Governor Paterson reportedly told members of the Alliance for School Choice advocacy group that he supports lifting the cap on charters altogether. Approximately 18,000 students attend New York City's 60 charter schools, with thousands more students on waiting lists, according to the DOE. In response to this demand, eighteen new charter schools will open across the city this fall, with seven in the Bronx, five in Brooklyn, five in Manhattan, and one in Queens. The schools have a wide variety of institutional partners, including Victory Schools, adding two new charters to their six existing schools throughout the city, and the Success Charter Network, expanding from one to four schools in Harlem. The new charters, once they reach full capacity, will include six elementary schools, seven combined elementary-middle schools, one combined middle-high school, two high schools, and two K-12 schools. Most existing New York City charter schools serve elementary and middle school students.
July 31, 2008
Concerns, criticisms dominate at Contracts for Excellence public hearing
Photo by p_a_h Elected officials, teachers, and parents offered up a litany of concerns about the DOE's proposed Contracts for Excellence — regarding both their content and the process by which they were developed — last night at the final public hearing in Manhattan. The hearing, chaired by Terence Tolbert, executive director of the DOE's Department of Intergovernmental Affairs (and soon to direct Obama's Nevada campaign), was well-attended by representatives from numerous organizations, including ACORN, Class Size Matters, the Coalition for Educational Justice, the Alliance for Quality Education, the City Council, school level PTAs, the UFT, and others. Legally, Contracts for Excellence funding must "supplement, not supplant" existing spending; several speakers expressed concerns that the money will be spent to close holes in the budget rather than create or expand programs. Others worried that the new funding would be used to make up losses due to budget cuts in low-performing schools, rather than expanding services for high-needs children in those schools. Complicating these issues, several speakers noted, the plan includes little oversight of whether principals spend the Contracts for Excellence money as intended.
July 31, 2008
Here's the DOE's proposed Contracts for Excellence plan…
Coming soon… notes from Wednesday’s public hearing in Manhattan. New York City’s Proposed Citywide Contracts for Excellence plan provides: 63% or $242 million in discretionary…
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