big plans

Thompson: Let mayor keep school control, but limit his options

Comptroller Bill Thompson. (Via Azi's Flickr)
Comptroller Bill Thompson. (Via ##http://flickr.com/photos/azipaybarah/2376506857/##Azi’s Flickr##.)

As the debate over mayoral control mounted this winter, Comptroller William Thompson, himself a mayoral hopeful, conspicuously did not address the essential question of whether the mayor should control a majority of members on the city school board. Today, Thompson revealed his position: The mayor should appoint every board member — but he shouldn’t have unlimited choice.

Instead, according to a plan that Thompson outlined before Assembly members at a hearing on school governance in Brooklyn this morning, the mayor should select board members for two-year-long terms from a slate of candidates put forth by a 19-member “nominating committee” representing a diverse set of interests. Under the plan, the committee would be composed of

  • Five members appointed by the Mayor;
  • One member apiece appointed by Borough Presidents;
  • Four parent members chosen by the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council;
  • A teacher selected by the United Federation of Teachers;
  • A principal chosen by the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators;
  • A college or university president selected by the New York State Education Commissioner;
  • A member of the business community appointed by an organized business entity selected by the Mayor; and
  • An education school faculty member selected by the college or university president member

In a statement, Thompson said the arrangement would allow the mayor to set education policy but would ensure that the perspectives of parents, teachers, and education experts are included in the decision-making process. A chief complaint of Mayor Bloomberg’s control over the schools since 2002 is that those constituencies have been ignored.

The man most considered most likely to join Thompson in the mayor’s race (other than Bloomberg himself), Rep. Anthony Weiner, has said he supports “unfettered” mayoral control, with the mayor continuing to control most seats on the city school board.

Thompson’s full statement, which includes his proposals for strengthening parent involvement and monitoring education department data, is below the jump.

THOMPSON UNVEILS PLAN TO IMPROVE MAYORAL CONTROL OF NEW YORK CITY SCHOOL SYSTEM 

Thompson plan establishes stronger educational board, improves parent input, and calls for independent audit of test scores and graduation rates

New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. today unveiled a proposal to improve accountability and transparency in the New York City Department of Education by establishing a committee to appoint a stronger educational board and increase involvement of parents in the education of their children.

“As we look ahead to the sunset of mayoral control, we should reauthorize the law, but we must strengthen it and do a better job of enforcing its existing provisions,” Thompson said in testimony before the New York State Assembly Education Committee in Brooklyn. “With an enormous stake in their children’s educational success, parents must have a true voice in the decisions that impact their children’s schools…It is time to put the ‘public’ back in public education.”

You can view the Comptroller’s testimony at www.comptroller.nyc.gov. This was the second time Thompson testified before the Committee on mayoral control. The Comptroller testified at a February 6 hearing, expressing his support for mayoral control but sharply criticizing the Mayor and Schools Chancellor for shutting out parents and allowing no-bid contracts to balloon.

At today’s testimony, the Comptroller proposed that the Department of Education’s (DOE’s) current Panel for Education Policy (PEP) be replaced with a 9-member school board appointed by the Mayor from a pool of nominees recommended by a nominating committee comprised of a cross-section of New Yorkers committed to student success. The board would serve fixed, two-year terms, be responsible for all matters of policy and serve as an appeal board for certain actions of the Chancellor.

Additionally, Thompson proposed that the nominating committee have 19 members, consisting of:

  •        Five members appointed by the Mayor;
  •        One member apiece appointed by Borough Presidents;
  •        Four parent members chosen by the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council;
  •        A teacher selected by the United Federation of Teachers;
  •        A principal chosen by the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators;
  •        A college or university president selected by the New York State Education Commissioner;
  •        A member of the business community appointed by an organized business entity selected by the Mayor; and,
  •        An education school faculty member selected by the college or university president member.

Accordingly, the committee would nominate three candidates for each of the nine positions on the board – to be chosen by the Mayor. At least four of the nine must have a professional background in education, finance or business management.

“Under this system, based on models from Boston and Cleveland, the Mayor would continue to appoint the Chancellor,” Thompson said. “The mayor and the Chancellor would also continue to exercise broad authority to direct policy, with the difference that – unlike the current system – voices representing students, parents and individuals with a wide range of education expertise will have a means to be heard.”

Thompson concluded his testimony in noting that he and others are calling not for an end to mayoral control, “but a commitment to making it more transparent, more accountable, and more inclusive.” Thompson added: “We must commit ourselves to the goal that every child entering the New York City school system is given the best opportunity to walk out of high school prepared for college and ready to take his or her place in the new economy of the 21st century.”

Additionally, the Comptroller unveiled other proposals to improve mayoral control:

School Leadership Teams

Thompson recommended amending State Education Law to specifically state that District Superintendents’ annual evaluations of principals consider a principal’s record in developing an effective, collaborative School Leadership Team. “There must be a meaningful effort by principals to engage parents, not just lip service,” Thompson said.

Community Education Councils

The DOE routinely ignores existing statutes governing Community Education Councils (CEC), rarely consulting them before schools open or close and not involving them in developing district report cards. The DOE has narrowly interpreted the Councils’ statutory role in school zoning, denying them a voice in program offerings in their districts and schools. Thompson said the law should clarify the Councils’ role in school zoning to ensure that they have a voice in deciding what programs are offered.

Additionally, Thompson noted that 9 of the 11 voting members of the CEC must be a parent of a child attending a school in the district and is selected by the President and Officers of a Parent Association (PA) of Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Thompson instead proposed that all PA and PTA leaders in a district meet and select from their members the nine to sit on the CEC.

District Family Advocates

Thompson noted that many District Superintendents spend a substantial amount of time outside of their home districts, which takes them away from reviewing school budgets, evaluating principals and assisting parents. As Superintendents have been pulled away from their role in assisting parents, the Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy has tried inadequately to fill the gap. There currently are at most only two Family Advocates per district, and many districts only have one.

Said Thompson: “Because they report to Tweed rather than the District Superintendent, their ability to resolve parent concerns is limited.  Families currently have no place to go for effective help other than the principal – or Tweed. For that reason, I believe that the District Family Advocates should be reassigned to report to the Superintendent.”

Testing

Thompson called for an independent body to audit test scores and graduation rates. He said that concerns over data manipulation have arisen over the Department’s trumpeted gains in test scores and improvements in graduation rates. “If the public is to trust the City’s claims of gains, we must remove both the incentive and the opportunity to manipulate results,” the Comptroller said.

“This goes to the heart of the educational mission to give our young people the skills they need – and the city needs – to compete in the new century,” said Thompson.

Thompson noted that the DOE’s budget nearly doubled – from $12.5 billion to $21 billion – since the mayoral control law was passed. “A lack of improved achievement to align with increased resources,” he said, “threatens not only our students’ future, but the very future of our city.” 

Procurement

In earlier testimony, Thompson faulted the DOE for avoiding fair and open competition in the awarding of City contracts, noting the soaring rate of non-competitively bid contracts. Thompson said the DOE has executed millions of dollars in contracts forged outside of the competitive bidding process.

“With its top-down approach, the current administration has sought to avoid debate and public scrutiny, while fundamental decisions regarding education reform have been made by executives with no education background,” Thompson said.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.