state of the union

Teachers union elections: who votes and who cares

In the first part of several posts on the upcoming teachers union elections, here’s a look at how voting works and who does it.

Every three years, the UFT contracts its internal election out to the American Arbitration Association, and on March 12, the AAA sent out 167,000 ballots to UFT members. Those ballots went to members who have retired as well as to those who are still working, landing on doorsteps across the five boroughs and in sun-soaked places like Florida and Arizona where retirees often cluster.

The thick packets arrive via snail mail — union officials say this is because they can’t count that retired members will have an internet connection — and contain the names of the 1,485 candidates running for about 900 positions. (We’ll have more on who those people are tomorrow.)

Once a member opens and fills out her ballot, she places it in an envelope marked “secret ballot.” The ballot is sealed, sent to the AAA, and counted on April 7. To help the organization figure out what kinds of UFT members voted, the ballots are color-coded. Functional members (paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, nurses, etc.) have green ballots, high school teachers have pink ballots (or “coral,” as a UFT spokesman told me), elementary school ballots are blue, retirees have white ballots, and middle school ballots are ivory, which I’m told is more of a beige.

Of the more than hundred thousand ballots sent out, most don’t make it back to the AAA.

In 2007, the last time the UFT elected a president, 46,735 votes were cast — a participation rate of about 30 percent.

About 38 percent of the total vote came from retirees, who are much more likely to vote than active members. The percentage of active members who vote declined from 29 percent in 2004 to 22 percent in 2007. When asked why this is, a UFT spokesman said that retirees are more likely to have witnessed the union’s foundation and seen it come to power, making them more enthusiastic about unionism in general. They’ve also reaped the pension benefits that younger teachers can only anticipate. Plus, they have more time on their hands to fill out ballots.

In fact, retirees are so enthusiastic that the union has had to cap their votes at 18,000 so they don’t outnumber active UFT members and effectively govern the union. In 2007, 22,500 retirees voted, which means that for retirees, the “one person, one vote” rule effectively turned into “one person, 0.8 vote.”

That same year, only 24,235 active members voted. Along with carefully watching the margins they win by, UFT presidents are routinely concerned about how much of the active teacher vote they get. If the population currently teaching in the city’s classrooms starts to stray to opposition groups, or is too apathetic to vote, the union could be in trouble.

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.