peanut gallery

Contempt, confusion, and cheers in State of the City reactions

Minutes after Mayor Bloomberg finished delivering his State of the City address today, reactions started flying about his aggressive slate of education proposals.

The reactions ranged from withering (in the case of UFT President Michael Mulgrew) to bewildered (Ernest Logan, principals union president) to supportive (charter school operator Eva Moskowitz and others whose organizations would benefit from the proposals).

Below, I’ve compiled the complete set of education-related reactions that dropped into my inbox. I’ll add to the list as more reactions roll in.

From Mulgrew:

The Mayor seems to be lost in his own fantasy world of education, the one where reality doesn’t apply. It doesn’t do the kids and the schools any good for him to propose the kind of teacher merit pay system that has failed in school districts around the country.  As far as the ‘turnaround’ model goes, the Mayor knows perfectly well that under state law these kinds of initiatives have to be negotiated with the union.  If he’s really interested in improving the schools his administration has mishandled, he will send his negotiators back to the table to reach an agreement on a new teacher evaluation process.

And Logan:

At first glance, in the public eye, the Mayor’s remarks about schools may seem reasonable, but when you dig down, you realize how many of his proposals do little to help struggling schools.  These schools are likely to continue struggling, not because 50% of the educators are supposedly incompetent, but because of the DOE’s student enrollment policies that place students who are over-age, under-credited, in temporary housing or dealing with involved special education needs in schools that are said to be low-performing.  We must stop this kind of warehousing and give these children what they need to succeed.

Hopefully, when the city presents this plan to us and explains it fully, we will have fewer concerns.

Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform:

What the mayor put forward today is a series of bold yet common sense initiatives to improve our public schools, ideas so obvious that with each one he announced the crowd erupted in applause. Opening high performing schools, paying teachers more and creating an elite corps of educators from the tops of their college classes are all important steps towards giving every child the top notch education they deserve. We should remember those authentic reactions as the special interests do their best to appeal to those applauding today to turn on these ideas tomorrow.

Bob Hughes, president of New Visions for Public Schools, which manages many city schools:

Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to hold his 2012 State of the City address at the beautifully restored Morris Educational Campus—home to four small public high schools—reinforces the success of the small schools movement. Research shows that small schools—our best example of transformative change—are effective at closing the achievement gap. New Visions for Public Schools is committed to building on this success by developing innovative practices that align with Common Core state standards and improve college readiness for all students. While we still have challenging work ahead of us, we’ve seen the promise of pursuing bold ideas. By focusing on improving instructional systems and professional capacity in schools, we can raise achievement even further for our highest-need students.

Moskowitz, whose Success Charter Network will expand more quickly under Bloomberg’s plan:

We’re really encouraged that the mayor is embracing the bolder, faster change we’ve been calling for. Our plan has always been to meet the demand from families in diverse neighborhoods across the city for more and better options for their children. We will work closely with the Mayor’s team to do our part to drastically improve the number of high quality public school options over the next several years.”

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer:

I support the Mayor’s call for a higher minimum wage, and I am glad that he talked about education. But I wish he had spoken more about the squeeze facing New York’s middle class families. Too many New Yorkers are working harder than ever, but feel like they are falling further and further behind. That’s got to change. We need a clear vision going forward about how we’re going to make this City work for middle class and working families.

If the last nine years have shown us anything, it’s that Mayor Bloomberg can’t improve City schools by himself. The Lone Ranger approach to education has held us back. Mayor Bloomberg also needs input from parents, teachers and principals, advocates and business leaders. This speech did nothing to forge those partnerships.

I support efforts to maximize the value of our assets wherever possible in the City budget. But without consideration of community needs I cannot support the Mayor’s proposal to sell off three valuable city-owned buildings in Lower Manhattan for a one-time budget windfall. As I pointed out in a letter to the Mayor, these buildings could fill crucial needs in an area plagued by classroom overcrowding and a lack of affordable housing.

Michael Haberman, director of PENCIL, which brokers public-private partnerships for schools:

I was heartened to hear a large portion of Mayor Bloomberg’s speech devoted to the true future of this city—our students.  He understands first-hand the importance of getting a leg up and building up ones skill level to truly prepare for college and careers.  He shared a story about the difference an internship made in his life, which put him on a path to where he is today.

PENCIL understands the city’s challenges—to create a 21st century economy and 21st century schools.  PENCIL’s mission focuses on the private sector partners the mayor identified as crucial to meeting these challenges.  We bring NYC business leaders into schools and support meaningful partnerships between the two.

PENCIL coordinates one of the largest city-wide fellowship program that matches high school juniors and seniors with experiential learning opportunities—internships—which give them the tangible skills and resume builders they need to succeed in this highly competitive city.  Many of our Fellows credit these opportunities—like our mayor—with the doors that have been opened for them.

PENCIL Fellows receive career readiness training and guidance from PENCIL, and are placed in full-time, paid six-week summer internships at leading businesses throughout New York City. Through the program, nearly 500 NYC public high school students have been provided with Business Mentors who have shepherded them through meaningful workplace experiences over the past four years. Participants include business such as JPMorgan Chase, Estee Lauder, Ogilvy, State Farm Insurance and Deloitte.

We know internships and mentoring works.  PENCIL has a model that makes a difference for hundreds of students.  And we applaud the mayor for highlighting these actions as core strategies for meeting the city’s goals.”

Zakiyah Ansari, a parent leader with the Coalition for Educational Justice:

Nearly every student in City public schools today started school under Mayor Bloomberg.  These are our children and Bloomberg has run out of time, spin and excuses. All the kids in our schools are ‘Bloomberg’s Kids’; all the results are his to own. Until he makes serious changes and begins listening to parents, he will be ‘Mayor 13%’—the mayor who prepares just 13 percent of Black and Latino students for college.”

As I listened to the Mayor’s speech today, my hope was that he was going to take real leadership and acknowledge the truth of what is really happening in our schools. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, he did not. The mayor missed a major opportunity today to take a big step forward for our children and our school system by listening to the concerns of parents and the majority of New Yorkers who believe his policies have failed, and moving forward with a new set of reforms that will lift our City out of this educational crisis. Instead, the mayor doubled down on bad policies that – after ten years of mistakes – leave just one-in-four City students ready for college and only 13 percent of Black and Latino children prepared for higher education.

In fact, the mayor’s outrageous claim that ‘by almost any measure, students are doing better and our school system is heading in the right direction’ is not only flat out wrong, but a dangerous presumption for this administration to have and promote. The federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress Trial Urban District Assessment (NAEP TUDA) test results in December showed that City scores have plateaued since 2009 and the large racial achievement gap persists between Black and Latino students and their white peers has not budged. More than one-third of all City schools are now considered failing by the State. That is not the right direction. We wonder if the mayor is so out of touch with his own constituents that he does not even see the writing on the wall.

The school the mayor chose for his address is itself a symbol of his failed education policies.  Yes, graduation rates have improved at Morris High School—but only because the city cruelly forced out the highest-needs special education students. The old Morris HS had a 14 percent rate of self-contained special education students; the new Morris HS campus schools have an average of just two percent. What happened to all those special education students? They now attend other large high schools like Samuel Gompers and Grace Dodge, which the Mayor is now closing down as well. This ‘warehousing’ of students, according to the state’s chancellor, is happening all around the City to cover up the real problems with City schools.

Over the years, my eight children have passed through the classrooms of at least 50 teachers. I can count on one hand the number of teachers who I objected to. I’m offended by the mayor’s insinuations that the majority of teachers are ineffective and that it is teachers, rather than the last decade of the mayor’s leadership, that is responsible for the state of our schools.”

And Guadalupe Garcia, a youth leader with Make the Road New York who has pushed for the DREAM Act:

We thank Mayor Bloomberg for supporting our dreams and highlighting the importance of ensuring that young people have access to financial resources from the State to pursue their higher education,” said Guadalupe Garcia, a DREAMer from Mexico and youth leader of Make the Road New York. “We look forward to working with the Mayor and our legislators to ensure the passage of the NYS DREAM Act this year.

 

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.”