adbusters

Latest skeptic of teachers unions is clothing label's city billboard

This spring, the West Side Highway’s typical advertising fare also includes a political message that seems aimed at teachers unions.

A billboard advertising Kenneth Cole — the clothing company owned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s brother-in-law — puns to southbound commuters, “Shouldn’t Everyone Be Well Red?” In smaller lettering, the billboard says, “Teachers’ Rights Vs. Students’ Rights …”

The second line evokes a tension drawn out repeatedly by some critics of teachers unions, including Cuomo, who say that unions’ support for teachers’ job protections can stand in the way of students’ education.

The billboard also invites viewers to visit WhereDoYouStand.com, a website maintained by the city-based company, to weigh in on “Issue in the News.” This spring, one of the issues is “Should underperforming teachers be protected?”

That question attracted the company’s attention this winter, as media attention turned to efforts underway across the country to toughen teacher evaluations. Locally, a breakdown in negotiations over evaluations late last year and the controversial public release of reports on teacher performance in February were both accompanied by criticism of teachers unions, including from Cuomo.

“We heard people talking about it in the news,” said an official in Kenneth Cole’s public affairs department who declined to give her name but said she worked on the ad campaign.

“It’s something in the news and being debated, and we wanted to provide a forum where people could discuss it as well,” said the spokeswoman, who added that the billboard is meant to tap into ongoing public discussions, not to attack unions. The ad went up March 14 and is the only one advertising Kenneth Cole in the city, she said.

Education policy positions are hardly common fodder for clothing ads. But Kenneth Cole Productions is known for its advocacy campaigns about pollution, homelessness, and other social concerns, and sometimes the messages address timely political issues. Last year the same Manhattan billboard featured a pro-same-sex marriage message, coinciding with its legalization in New York State.

Kenneth Cole’s three daughters attended private schools; his youngest is currently a senior at a Westchester County private school. The designer is married to Maria Cuomo, whose brother is Gov. Cuomo.

A screenshot from a Kenneth Cole web site, featuring the billboard and posing a question related to union politics.

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.

 

Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.