race to the race to the top

Paterson proposes a bill to abolish New York's charter cap

With roughly a week to go before the deadline to apply for Race to the Top funds, David Paterson proposed a bill he hopes will put New York State in a better position to win the $700 million grant.

The bill calls for eliminating the state’s charter cap, which currently limits the number of charter schools to 200, and offers several other proposals, many of which are deeply unpopular with the state teachers union. Among these is a proposal to move up the sunset date for a state law that bars the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions from June to January 15, four days before the grant application is due.

Two other proposals in the bill call for giving the Board of Regents the power to temporarily takeover failing school districts by appointing a “receiver” to oversee them, and giving the state Dormitory Authority the power to give charter schools money to build facilities.

The governor said he wants the bill passed by January 14.

“After consulting with the Obama Administration, legislative leaders and the New York State Department of Education, I am confident that this piece of legislation will increase our competitiveness to be awarded funding in the first round of Race to the Top grants,” Paterson said in a statement.

“I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to swiftly pass this bill so that our application is as strong as possible.”

How swift that passage will be depends on a legislature that is, by nature, slow-moving. Thus far, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has given no indication that he would support eliminating the charter cap or any of the other measures in the governor’s bill.

The bill may get a friendlier reception in the State Senate, where the three leaders of the Democratic body have endorsed, or will soon endorse, increasing the number of charter schools in the state.

Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson announced his support for raising the charter cap on Monday, Senate President Malcolm Smith has long been a vocal supporter of lifting the charter cap, and Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada will announce his support for the governor’s bill at a charter school in the Bronx tomorrow.

President of the New York State United Teachers Richard Iannuzzi told the Albany Times Union today that lifting the charter cap was a “bogus issue.”

“The bottom line here is that nothing of value is going to get done in seven calendar days, which I’m going to guess is two or three legislative session days,” Iannuzzi said.

Though the governor’s bill calls for eliminating the charter cap, the state’s Education Department has taken a more moderate tactic: calling for the cap to be increased. Both State Education Commissioner David Steiner and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch have said they favor increasing the cap rather than doing away with it entirely.

Steiner and Tisch have, however, supported allowing the law that bans the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions to expire.

In response to calls for the charter chap to be lifted, New York City’s teachers union is attempting to push certain restrictions on charter schools, possibly in exchange for increasing the number of them. UFT President Michael Mulgrew wants laws that will force charter schools to admit more high needs students — those who are not proficient in English or are special education students. Overall, district schools enroll more of these students.

“The real issue should not be whether to lift the cap, but about how the state can make sure that these inequities are addressed as New York moves forward with its Race to the Top application,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

Paterson’s press release:

Governor David A. Paterson today submitted Program Bill No. 214 to maximize New York’s opportunity to receive as much as $700 million in Race to the Top competitive grant funding included in The America Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

“It is incumbent upon us as lawmakers to take any and all action necessary to ensure that we are successful in this process,” Governor Paterson said. “I have personally spoken with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and federal officials about New York’s eligibility for Race to the Top funds and the specific steps we need to take to be competitive in this process. After consulting with the Obama Administration, legislative leaders and the New York State Department of Education, I am confident that this piece of legislation will increase our competitiveness to be awarded funding in the first round of Race to the Top grants. I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to swiftly pass this bill so that our application is as strong as possible.”

The Governor has asked the Legislature to pass his proposed bill by January 14 in order to have the specific Race to the Top requirements signed into law by the January 19 application deadline. The legislation includes:

  • Eliminating the Charter School Cap that is presently set at 200 and of which fewer than 40 are still available;
  • Allowing the Dormitory Authority to finance charter school capital funding for approved charter schools;
  • Allowing the Regents to appoint a temporary receiver to address chronically under-performing schools;
  • Changing the sunset date from July 1, 2010 to January 15, 2010 of a law which limits student performance data for teacher tenure determinations.

Race to the Top awards will go to states that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reforms. The Regents and the State Education Department are creating a highly competitive application for the January 19 deadline. The inclusion of the Governor’s proposed legislation will ensure that New York State is a true competitor for the funding.

“Our children, our schools and the economy of the State of New York cannot afford to wait for the Legislature to implement these changes. For the sake of our children, we must not risk the opportunity to compete for, and win, Round 1 funds,” the Governor added. “The money received will benefit all of our children, not just those who attend charter schools.”

Race to the Top winners will help trail-blaze effective reforms and provide examples for states and local school districts throughout the country as they, too, are hard at work on reforms that can transform our schools for decades to come. The funding from Race to the Top will benefit public schools as well as charter schools across New York State.

Current State law includes a 200 charter school cap. By eliminating this cap, New York State will maximize its ability to receive application points tied to charter schools. With respect to the assessment of teacher and leader effectiveness, the application requires that there be no impediments to using student performance data. By advancing the sunset to expressly permit full use of this data as part of the tools to be available for reviewing performance, New York stands to gain significant application points.

In addition, while the State Education Department currently is empowered to take over poorly performing schools, this bill would provide a new streamlined approach to enable the Regents to act more swiftly and to appoint a temporary receiver to take-over chronically poor performing schools.

“Race to the Top provides an unprecedented opportunity to reform our schools and challenge an educational status quo that is failing too many children. President Obama and Congress have provided significant financial support for school reform,” Governor Paterson said. “This is a chance to change our schools and to accelerate student achievement, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that we are more than eligible to receive as much federal funding as possible.”

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”