education mayor

Would a UFT endorsement for Thompson make a difference?

On the night of his primary election victory, city comptroller candidate John Liu stood in the city’s teacher union headquarters and thanked the United Federation of Teachers for delivering his win. In the mayoral race, by contrast, the UFT chose to sit on the sidelines and not endorse the Democratic candidate, as it has historically done.

How much of a difference has the UFT’s decision to sit out the race made for comptroller Bill Thompson’s campaign? The answer likely rests on the continuum between not much and not at all, election observers said today.

Those who argue that a UFT endorsement would have helped Thompson, if only modestly, point to the UFT’s powerful voter turnout machine. In an election predicted to see few voters, the ability to mobilize teachers and parents could be a deciding factor in who wins tomorrow.

A spokesman for the union, Dick Riley, estimated that union volunteers had made about 200,000 calls and distributed 50,000 pieces of campaign literature this year on behalf of endorsed candidates in citywide, borough and city council elections. The union also sends out robocalls urging its members to vote for candidates and its president, Michael Mulgrew, made appearances with candidates at press conferences.

To the Thompson campaign, which was been criticized for lacking discipline, an army of UFT volunteers with supplies on hand would have been a welcome sight. But Thompson may need more help than that, observers said.

“If they had endorsed Thompson it would have been a big plus, but it wouldn’t have been enough” said James Vlasto, a former communications director for public advocate Betsy Gotbaum.

Vlasto, who has worked on 30 campaigns in New York City, said the UFT’s support would not have raised Thompson’s poll numbers significantly, as the campaign’s flaws were too pronounced to be solved with one endorsement.

The Thompson campaign “had some unions, they had vehicles that could spread the word for him, [but] they missed out,” Vlasto said. “They spent all their time and money saying eight years is enough, and that’s a fine slogan, but there are other issues.”

Other observers said no amount of phone-banking or literature-distributing by the UFT would have made a difference for the Thompson campaign, as it was already mid-October when a chapter leader at a delegate assembly meeting offered a resolution to endorse Thompson. The motion was postponed and the union never returned to it.

“Without significant efforts by a union following a late endorsement in a race, the impact of the endorsement can be negligible,” said Benjamin Kallos, the director of policy and research for Mark Green’s campaign for public advocate.

This is not the first time the UFT has decided wait out a mayoral election, especially during contract negotiations. Following the end of contract negotiations in 2005, the UFT chose not to endorse Bloomberg or his Democratic challenger Fernando Ferrer. The UFT was also neutral in 1993 and 1997.

“It’s not uncommon that unions will not take a position when they’re sitting at the bargaining table,” said District Council 37 Local 372 president Veronica Montgomery-Costa. DC 37 endorsed Thompson over the summer and Montgomery-Costa spoke from the campaign’s headquarters where union volunteers were working.

“If they don’t pick the right candidate it could have a devastating impact on negotiations,” she said.

Vlasto said the UFT’s decision to keep the last two mayoral campaigns at arm’s length had caused it to cede political power to the the Working Families Party, an idea Riley disputed. “As to our clout, both De Blasio and Liu made it a point to address our delegate assembly after their endorsements,” Riley wrote in an email. ”

“One presumes that Liu had some reason for having his victory party after the runoff here at the UFT and Cy Vance (endorsed by the UFT but not the WFP) singled Mulgrew out at his primary night celebration to thank him for the UFT’s contribution to his victory.”

A spokesman for the Thompson campaign did not return requests for comment.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.