standing right here

Council members unite to defend city teachers against criticism

City Councilman Fernando Cabrera speaks at a press conference defending teachers outside City Hall today.

The best antidote to teacher-bashing, according to City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, is being a teacher.

At a press conference today to criticize the release of teachers’ ratings and the tone Mayor Bloomberg has set recently when talking about city teachers, Cabrera suggested that Bloomberg take over a classroom for a week.

“I guarantee he’ll get his attitude well changed,” said Cabrera, who said his son is studying to become a special education teacher but fears that the city’s administration “doesn’t believe in teachers.”

Cabrera was unusual in suggesting that anything could be done to alter the mayor’s attitude. Steven Levin, the Brooklyn councilman who organized the event, said council members would support and honor teachers but suggested that the real change would come later — perhaps after Bloomberg leaves office in 2013.

“Hold on. Hold on, because we’ve got your back,” Levin said. “We’ll see this through — but you’ve just got to hold on.”

Levin was joined by nearly a dozen members of the council’s progressive caucus, Comptroller John Liu, several teachers, and UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who said, “The teachers of New York are feeling the love, and this is what they should be feeling.”

Dominic Recchia, a council member from Brooklyn who does not typically align himself with the progressive members, also spoke, saying his phone had been ringing nonstop with teachers who disputed their city ratings, which were based completely on student test scores.

“The best evaluation is to go into a classroom and see what the teacher is doing day in and day out,” he said.

The ratings’ release two weeks ago ignited fierce debate about whether personnel evaluations should be made public — and generated near-perfect consensus that they should not be. Bloomberg himself has been a lone defender of the release, a position he reiterated on Wednesday when signing into law a City Council bill that requires more city data to be made public.

Levin and several other council members who appeared at the press conference today had sponsored that bill. But Levin told me today that the goal of government transparency is not to bring the personal lives of city workers into public debate and that he thought teacher ratings of the type the city generated would not fall under the law’s requirements.

“What we’ve seen here is not a question of government data. It’s a question of erroneous data — bad data being used as a political weapon,” he said.

But Levin said he could imagine ratings based on a system that the city and teachers union mutually accept being fair game for release. “If you have a fair evaluation system that everyone has agreed on and can be appealed, then it’s a discussion you can have,” he said.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.