Pomp and Circumstance

City's top high school grads more likely to be female

The city’s list of graduation speakers this year includes Obama advisor David Axelrod (Stuyvesant High School), singer Mary J. Blige (Women’s Academy of Excellence), and news anchor Katie Couric (Edward R. Murrow High School).

But the most interesting information comes at the very end of the list, where Department of Education officials have included some information on this year’s high school valedictorians:

Additionally, the Department of Education for the first time collected data about the valedictorians at the City’s public high schools. Of the 339 valedictorians, 63 percent are female, 49 percent speak languages other than English at home, and 66 percent are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals


Writers, entertainers, business leaders, politicians, and government officials this month are coming to New York City’s public schools to congratulate and offer words of wisdom to the graduates of 2010.

Graduation keynote speakers this year include:

White House Special Advisor David Axelrod, Stuyvesant High School, June 24

U.S. Representative Edolphus Towns, PROGRESS High School and Science Skills Center High School for Science, Technology and the Creative Arts, both on June 28

Mary J. Blige, recording artist, Women’s Academy of Excellence, June 28

Leonard Lauder, chairman of the Estee Lauder Companies, Inc. and Gene Weingarten, Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter for the Washington Post, Bronx High School of Science, June 21

Katie Couric, CBS News anchor, Edward R. Murrow High School, June 24

Darnell Martin, director and screenwriter, A. Philip Randolph High School, June 25

Lynn Nottage, Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright, La Guardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, June 25

Anthony Ponturo, Broadway producer of “Hair” and “Memphis,” Talented Unlimited High School, June 25

Chancellor Joel I. Klein, IS 228 in Brooklyn, June 22; Williamsburg Preparatory High School, June 23; Newcomers High School, June 24; and New Dorp High School, June 25.

Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott, Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, June 21; District 79’s GED Plus, June 23; and High School of Art and Design, June 25.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety, June 24

Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, FDNY High School for Fire and Life Safety, June 24

Jon Sands, poet, Bronx Academy of Letters, June 25

Dr. Irwin Shapiro, award-winning Harvard University professor of astrophysics, Brooklyn Technical High School, June 24

Curtis Sliwa, radio talk show host, Concord High School, June 28

Ingrid Hoffman, Food Network host, Food and Finance High School, June 24

Daisy Martinez, Food Network host, High School for Media and Communications, June 25

MTA Chairman Jay Walder, Abraham Lincoln High School, June 28

Deputy Chancellor Laura Rodriguez, Millennium Art Academy, June 26

Deputy Chancellor Santiago Taveras, School of Performing Arts at PS 315 in Brooklyn, June 21; JHS 13 Jackie Robinson, June 24; International School for Liberal Arts, June 24; The High School for Contemporary Arts, June 25; Gregorio Luperon High School, June 25; and Roberto Clemente Intermediate School, June 25

Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg, Bronx Lab School, June 28

New York University Professor Dr. Petro Noguera, Bayard Rustin Educational Complex, June 25

Steven Cohen, general manager of the Brooklyn Cyclones, High School of Sports Management, June 24

Rev. Calvin O. ButtsIII, Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, June 24

Art McFarland, Channel 7 education reporter, Francis Lewis High School, June 21

City Council Education Committee Chairman Robert Jackson , The Mott Hall School, June 25

Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, Secondary School for Law, June 24

NYC Comptroller John C. Liu, Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, June 28

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Queens Vocational and Technical High School, June 25

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, South Shore High School, June 25

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., In-Tech Academy, June 23; Fordham Leadership Academy for Business  and Technology, June 24; and Frederick Douglass Academy III Secondary School, June 29.

Additionally, the Department of Education for the first time collected data about the valedictorians at the City’s public high schools. Of the 339 valedictorians, 63 percent are female, 49 percent speak languages other than English at home, and 66 percent are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.