oversight

When the DOE is investigated, who should hear about it?

110 Livingston Street, home of the old Board of Education, now houses condominiums. But the Board of Education lives, however quietly.
110 Livingston Street, home of the old Board of Education, now houses condominiums. But the Board of Education lives, however quietly.

Earlier this month, I wrote about all the investigations into the Department of Education that happen every year but are never publicly reported. (In 2007, the Special Commissioner of Investigations into the DOE filed almost 300 reports that never became public knowledge.) A key to the reports’ remaining outside the spotlight: The only person besides the investigator who gets copies of them is the chancellor.

But it turns out that there’s another city group that might have the right to look at the reports: The Panel for Educational Policy, the 13-member group charged with voting on policy changes proposed by the chancellor.

The logic behind that possibility is buried inside the law that created the investigator in the first place, an executive order issued by Mayor David Dinkins in 1990. Here’s an excerpt from the order (PDF):

(e) The Deputy Commissioner shall, at the conclusion of any investigation that results in a written report or statement of findings, provide a copy of the report or statement to the Commissioner of Investigation, Chancellor, and the Board of Education.

What’s the Board of Education in an age of mayoral control? When the mayor first sought control of the schools in 2002, many pushed for the state legislature to abolish the board altogether. But at least one author of the law, Steve Sanders, who was then the chair of the Assembly’s education committee, resisted, and the board was maintained. (“The board of education of the city school district of the city of New York is hereby continued,” is the first sentence of the law.) The reason the word “board” hasn’t been spoken much lately is that, while it still exists, the Bloomberg administration gave it a new name: The Panel for Educational Policy. (See the PEP’s bylaws (PDF) for more on that.)

Does that mean that the PEP should receive reports from the Special Commissioner of Investigations?

The city law department’s position is that it should not. “The Panel for Educational Policy is not entitled to receive written reports or statements of findings issued by the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation,” a spokeswoman for the department said in a statement. She said the decision was based on a section of city law that defines the board as having a purely advisory role on policy matters and no executive or administrative powers.

Others disagree. Sanders, who is now working as a lobbyist for the state school boards association, which is fighting to amend the mayoral control law, told me that he thinks the reports should be sent to the PEP. “To make the judgment that the SCI no longer has to make reports to the Board of Education is at best a real stretch of the intention of the law and at worst I think a conscious circumvention of the law,” said Sanders.

Sanders also denounced the administration’s decision to re-name the Board of Education the PEP:

“I almost fear that the mayor and the chancellor have been using certain terms so long, they actually believe that those terms exist, which they don’t. There is no Panel on Educational Policy; there is a Board of Education. That’s in law. The title Panel on Educational Policy is made up. It doesn’t exist in law.”

Update: I originally attributed the city’s decision on whether the PEP should receive SCI reports to the Department of Education, whose spokesman sent me the statement. But the statement actually originated from the city law department.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”