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.

 

Busing Ban

As school districts push for integration, decades-old federal rule could thwart them

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Several districts across the country want to use federal money to pay for school buses as part of their desegregation plans. A federal spending restriction could get in the way.

In Florida, officials plan to use federal money to shuttle students across vast Miami-Dade County to new science-themed magnet programs in a bid to desegregate several schools.

In South Carolina, a tiny district west of Myrtle Beach intends to spend federal funds on free busing for families who enroll at two predominantly black schools, hoping that will draw in white and Hispanic students.

And in New York, state officials want to deploy federal school-improvement money to help integrate struggling schools, believing that may be the secret to their rebirth.

But each of these fledgling integration efforts — and similar ones across the country — could be imperiled by obscure budget provisions written during the anti-busing backlash of the 1970s, which prohibit using federal funding for student transportation aimed at racial desegregation. The rules have been embedded in every education spending bill since at least 1974, as Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia pointed out in September when he tried unsuccessfully to remove the provisions from the latest appropriations bill.

The rules are “a relic of an ugly history when states and school districts across the nation resisted meaningful integration,” said Scott, the top Democrat on the House education committee, during a floor speech where he called the persistence of the rules “morally reprehensible.”

After Scott’s amendment to eliminate the provisions was blocked, advocates are now working behind the scenes to convince members of the Senate from both parties to strike the rules from the latest spending bill during negotiations. More than 40 integration advocates and experts have signed onto a letter to lawmakers calling for the anti-busing language to be removed, and members of that coalition plan to meet with lawmakers in the coming days.

Advocates are especially worried about funding for magnet programs, like those in Miami and the South Carolina district, which rely on special science or art offerings or rigorous academic courses to draw students of different races into the same school — a choice-based approach that has become the primary way districts now pursue desegregation.

This is the first year districts that receive federal magnet-school grants are allowed to spend some of that money on transportation, after Congress changed the rules as part of its education-law overhaul in 2015. Among the 32 districts that received a total of nearly $92 million in magnet grants this year, at least six plan to use some of that money for transportation, according to their applications.

Now, just as those funds are about to flow to busing — which many families insist upon before they will enroll their children in magnet schools across town — the decades-old spending restriction could cut them off, advocates warn.

That could create a major problem for districts like Miami-Dade County.

It hopes to attract students from across the district to three heavily black and Hispanic schools by launching magnet programs that focus on zoology, cybersecurity, and mobile-app development, according to its application. To pull that off, it requested $245,000 for buses next year since, as the application notes, the “most limiting factor” for many families is “the cost associated with transporting their child to the magnet school.”

The district in Lake City, South Carolina wants to pull new families from different neighborhoods into an elementary school and a middle school that suffer from sagging enrollment and intense poverty. Previous recruitment efforts that didn’t provide transportation amounted to “failed attempts,” the district said in its application.

However, if the anti-busing provisions are not removed from the next federal spending bill, they would cancel out the new rule allowing those districts to spend some of their magnet money on transportation (though districts could still use local funds to fill in the gap). As such, magnet-school representatives are pushing hard for lawmakers to remove the provisions during budget negotiations.

“We’re hoping this doesn’t see the light of day,” said John Laughner, legislative and communications manager at Magnet Schools of America, an association of magnets from across the country. He plans to discuss the issue with lawmakers next week.

Beyond magnet schools, other desegregation efforts could be undercut by the anti-busing provision, which was included in a spending bill for fiscal year 2018 that the House approved and one the Senate has yet to vote on.

At least one state — New York — listed socioeconomic and racial integration among the ways it could intervene in low-performing schools under the new federal education law. In addition, New York officials announced a grant program this week where up to 30 districts will receive federal money to develop integration plans.

Advocates fear the anti-busing rule could disrupt any of those plans that require transportation and aim to reduce racial segregation. (New York education officials said they did not want to speculate on the impact of a spending bill that hasn’t been approved.)

A Democratic Congressional aide who has studied the issue said the provision could even block federal funding for planning or public outreach around desegregation programs that involve busing, not just busing itself.

Either way, advocates say the provision could dissuade districts from using the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, to pursue integration — even though research suggests that student achievement on tests and other measures improve when they attend less segregated schools.

“We shouldn’t have this,” said Philip Tegeler, a member of the National Coalition on School Diversity, which is leading the charge to remove the restriction. He added that the provision stemmed from mandatory desegregation busing of an earlier era: “It’s clearly an anachronism that doesn’t really fit any more with what states and districts are doing voluntarily.”

A U.S. education department spokeswoman said Secretary Betsy DeVos would be bound to enforce any funding prohibitions that Congress approves, though she noted that state and local funds are not subject to the same restrictions.

Negotiators from the House and Senate must still agree on a single spending bill, which would go before the full Congress for a vote. Until then, lawmakers have voted to temporarily extend 2017 spending levels through December. It’s possible Congress will pass another extension then, meaning a final deal — and a decision on the anti-busing language — may not arrive until early next year.

In the meantime, advocates are pressing lawmakers like Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee who helped craft ESSA, with the argument that the anti-busing provision limits the flexibility and local control the law was meant to provide districts.

Margaret Atkinson, a spokeswoman for the senator, would not say whether he is open to removing the provision, but said he would continue working to ensure ESSA “is implemented as Congress intended.”

The anti-busing language — found in two sections of the current appropriation bills — prohibits using federal funds for transportation “to overcome racial imbalance” or “to carry out a plan of racial desegregation,” or forcing students to attend any school other than the one closest to home. (A separate education law contains a similar restriction, but ESSA exempted magnet schools from it.) The provisions emerged in the early 1970s, just after the Supreme Court ruled that busing students to schools outside their own racially isolated neighborhoods was an appropriate tool for school desegregation.

At the time, many white parents raged against what they called “forced busing.” In response, the U.S. House of Representatives passed at least one law annually from 1966 to 1977 meant to curb school integration, according to historian Jason Sokol, and in 1974 the full Congress voted in favor of an anti-busing amendment to an education bill. The restrictions in the current spending bills appear to have originated around the same time.

The attacks on busing reflect how crucial free transportation is to school desegregation, said Erica Frankenberg, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies segregation. Busing was included in guidelines outlining how districts should comply with desegregation requirements in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and later upheld by the Supreme Court, she pointed out.

More recently, studies have shown that non-white parents are more likely to opt into magnet schools when they provide transportation, and that magnets that don’t offer busing are more likely to enroll students of a single race, Frankenberg said. Yet, many politicians remain reluctant to endorse busing for desegregation — which may reflect a deeper ambivalence, she added.

Resistance to busing, she said, “is a very politically acceptable way to be opposed to integration.”

Yes and No

In a first, New York officials reject 2 proposed charter schools, but sign off on 5 for New York City

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Charter-school advocates staged a rally outside the state capitol building 2015.

New York’s top education policymakers voted Monday to approve five new charter schools in New York City – but, for the first time, rejected two proposed charters.

The moves by the state Board of Regents sent a mixed message on charter schools. While the Regents have approved more this year than at any point since 2013, the rejections suggest they won’t rubber stamp applications – even those, like the two shot down Monday, that have earned the state education department’s blessing.

Four of the approved schools will be based in the Bronx, and one in Staten Island. (Technically, Monday’s vote is preliminary and the board must finalize its decision at Tuesday’s full-board meeting.)

A new charter high school on Staten Island plans to enroll a significant number of students with disabilities — an area of great need in a borough where a quarter of students have some disability. Students will have the opportunity to graduate with as many as 60 college credits through a partnership with St. John’s University.

The Bronx charters include a new elementary school that will serve high-functioning students on the autism spectrum, an all-boys middle school inspired by an Obama-era program aimed at uplifting young men of color, and a high school for students who have fallen behind academically.

The final Bronx school is KIPP Freedom, slated to open in 2018, which will mark the first time the national network has opened a new school in New York City in six years.

“The community has tremendous support for the charter,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa about KIPP, who suggested the school could even help reduce segregation if sited in the right location.

The two schools the board rejected would have been located in districts in Mount Vernon, in Westchester County, and Homer, in upstate New York.

Board members raised concerns about the applications, including that their curriculums were not very innovative. They also worried that the schools would drain resources from their surrounding districts, potentially forcing them to cut extracurricular programs from traditional schools.

Regent Judith Johnson, who represents the Mount Vernon district, expressed concern that the school only planned to serve students grades 6-8, while the district is moving towards a model that keeps children in the same school from kindergarten through eighth grade. She suggested waiting to see how the district’s efforts pan out.

“I would suggest this is premature,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to support this at this time.”

The vote comes as top state officials have been skeptical of charter schools and policies regulating them.

At past meetings, Regents have wondered aloud whether the schools are serving their fair share of high-needs students. And Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia have been on a warpath against a new policy that will allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers.

However, those concerns have not stopped the Regents from approving new charter schools. During a low point for approvals in 2015, when the state approved only four charters, few applications made it past the education department’s vetting process and to the board for final approval.

Since then, there has been a steady uptick in approvals. The board signed off on seven new schools last year, and is set to approve at least eight this year. (The board, which typically accepts applications in two or three rounds each year, approved three schools earlier this year.)

State education department officials on Monday also presented new ways to evaluate charter schools and decide whether they should remain open, based on proposals that the Board of Regents floated last month.

The additions to the state’s “Charter School Performance Framework” could include measures of student chronic absenteeism, the schools’ suspension rates, and the results of student and staff surveys. In previous meetings, Regents have also suggested surveying families who decide to leave charter schools.

Charter schools are already required to meet certain enrollment and retention targets, or to make “good faith efforts” to reach them. The state also considers the quality of a school’s curriculum and its outreach to families.

At Monday’s meeting, some Regents proposed adding yet another measure: whether charter schools are sharing innovative practices with the district schools.

“If the original intent [of charter schools] was to create opportunity for innovation,” said Regent Johnson, “we have to decide now, after those twenty plus years, did that happen?”