the loyal opposition

Opposition groups name their 2010 candidate for UFT president

James Eterno, a member of ICE, is running for president of the UFT. (<em>Photo via GothamSchools' Flickr</em>)

For months now, outgoing UFT president Randi Weingarten has made it clear whom she would like to see succeed her — chief operating officer Michael Mulgrew. But the seeming inevitability of Mulgrew’s election has not stopped two small opposition groups within the union from promoting their own candidate, James Eterno.

Eterno’s name didn’t make the list today, when the UFT’s executive board met to nominate candidates for interim president. Weingarten nominated Mulgrew and no one on the board offered any other names. Non-board members weren’t permitted to make nominations. Eterno’s party, the Independent Community of Educators, commonly known as ICE, as well as the Teachers for a Just Contract, do not have any members on the board, which is dominated by the UFT’s ruling party, the Unity caucus. At the end of the month the board will reconvene to vote in Mulgrew (according to the constitution, there have to be two separate meetings even if there’s only one candidate). But not being chosen won’t preclude Eterno from running for president in 2010, when all union members will vote.

Eterno is keenly aware of his role as the underdog. “It’s a long shot,” he said of his 2010 candidacy, which he and fellow ICE members are funding. “If you were making betting odds, you wouldn’t favor us.”

Eterno, 48, has been a social studies teacher at Jamaica High School for 23 years, and he served on the union’s executive board from 1997 to 2007. He left his party, the New Action caucus, when it made a deal with Unity to back Weingarten’s reelection, something Eterno vehemently opposed.

Still, he says he’s not running on an anti-Weingarten campaign, so much as an anti-Unity campaign. It’s how the union works rather than who’s at the helm that bothers him.

“My biggest gripe is that you have one political party that since the early ’60s has been running this union,” he said. The UFT “needs to run like a bottom up labor organization where the membership is really in control.”

If you want to put Eterno in a frenzy (but don’t, his wife, who is also a teacher, is due to give birth to their first child this weekend), ask him about the 2005 contract Weingarten negotiated with Chancellor Joel Klein, or the side deal she brokered a few weeks ago that creates a new pension tier in exchange for a later start date for teachers.

“The city has once again taken the UFT to the cleaners,” he wrote on ICE’s blog in reaction to the recent deal. “When you are enjoying those extra days off on September 3 and 4, just call them the billion dollar days. That’s roughly the amount that each day will end up costing us in the long run. For that kind of gift, couldn’t we get back just a little bit more of our professional dignity?”

He says the changes he wants to see in the way the union works would also change the way teachers do their jobs.

Eterno wants a contract that doesn’t oblige teachers to do hall patrol duty or run tutoring sessions if they don’t want to. He’d like some of the “nonfinancial sweeteners” back, he said, and less of an emphasis on test scores. “We’ve given them the grand enchilada,” he told me, referring not just to the pension plan that will require newer teachers to contribute more, but also to the many work rules that disappeared in the 2005 contract.

“I don’t expect much except cosmetic changes under Mulgrew,” he said.

The son of a Catholic school teacher — his mother taught the second grade in Flushing, Queens for 31 years — Eterno grew up on her small salary. “She made garbage,” he said, “It made me realize the absolute necessity for a union, a strong union.”

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.