Power to the Parents

New advocacy group with city roots enters state's reform fray

The latest entrant into New York’s crowded field of education advocacy groups won’t immediately be lobbying for new policies in New York City.

Instead, the new nationally-backed group, New York Campaign for Achievement Now, or NYCAN, plans to push for a law that would enable parents to vote on ways to improve their struggling district schools. The policy was backed heavily by upstate New York reform groups last year, but a proposed bill did in the state legislature failed to garner enough support.

The policy, known as parent trigger is at the top of NYCAN’s 2012 legislative agenda, which the group released today as part of its official launch.

NYCAN is one of four state affiliates of 50CAN, an organization founded on a model that started in Connecticut. The New York group is headed by Christina Grant, a former New York City teacher and a one-time director for the charter school office in the Department of Education. But despite her close ties to New York City, Grant said she planned to spend a lot of her time in Albany and focus primarily on statewide issues, something she said separates her group from other education reform groups in the state.

“We have a huge state and NYCAN exists to be a coalition builder throughout the state,” Grant said on a conference call with reporters this morning. “Our goal is to really draw attention to statewide issues.”

What exactly those issues are remained in flux in recent weeks, even as NYCAN pushed forward with its plans to launch. Grant said she wouldn’t enter the battle over teacher evaluations, a debate that promises to be one of the biggest issues this spring in Albany.

Instead, NYCAN decided to join a coalition of regional upstate groups trying to pass the parent trigger after members who serve on the Grant’s advisory board lobbied her to join their cause.

“I think we really made the case that this was the issue for upstate and we’re ready for it,” said Carrie Remis, director of Parent Power Project, a Rochester-based education group. “I think once we had that conversation, we convinced them.”

NYCAN received $1.2 million in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, Grant said. (Another early funder, Ken Hirsh, has also contributed to GothamSchools.) The foundations also have poured millions of dollars into other advocacy groups aimed at affecting policy change in New York City and the state.

The investment indicates how philanthropists’ focus has shifted to changing education by changing state policies.

A parent trigger law first passed in California in 2010 and was supported by another national parent reform group, Parent Revolution. The law allows parents to petition and vote to make sweeping changes to their district’s lowest-performing schools, including the option to close a school and replace it with a charter school.

Legislation was introduced in New York last year during the closing days of Albany’s session, but it did not gain enough momentum to be voted on. This year, the upstate coalition, led by Buffalo ReformED, plans to lobby legislators earlier, more aggressively and with a broader reach.

“Parent trigger isn’t right for every city in the state, but it is in Buffalo and Rochester, and having their support behind us will certainly be helpful for us in pushing the interest of our children and parents,” said Hannya Boulos said, executive director of Buffalo ReformED.

But critics of the policy say that it isn’t actually parent driven.

“The Parent Trigger was devised as an underhanded trick by the charter lobby to manipulate parents into letting them privatize more public schools,” said Leonie Haimson, city parent activist who also helped found a national organization, Parents Across America, that was created to fight back against policies that lack parent voices.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”