labor relations

In two separate rulings, state's labor board sides with the UFT

For the second time, the state’s labor relations board has ruled that the city must accept mediation in its teacher evaluation talks with the United Federation of Teachers.

The board, the Public Employees Relations Board, first decided in March to heed the UFT’s request and appoint a mediator to broker negotiations about teacher evaluations in the 33 schools that until December had been receiving federal School Improvement Grants. But the city appealed the decision, arguing that it was no longer planning to negotiate a separate evaluation system for just those schools.

Now the board has affirmed its stance and once again ordered the city into mediated talks with the union.

When the board first granted the request, its director of conciliation said that because the city had not yet formally applied to switch the schools to a reform model that does not require new teacher evaluations, it was still obligated to seek a deal for the 33 schools. Today, the board ruled that the city’s bid to switch the overhaul model — to “turnaround,” in a swap that the state has not approved — “does not nullify its obligations.”

City lawyers are regrouping after the setback. “We strongly disagree with the board’s ruling and are reviewing our legal options,” said Department of Education spokeswoman Jessica Scaperotti in a statement.

The ruling is separate from the lawsuit that the UFT filed last week to stop the city from carrying out turnaround at 24 schools. But UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement that PERB had supported a point that is fundamental to the union’s case.

“As we plan to tell the court at this week’s hearing, today’s PERB decision is an affirmation that the Department of Education needs to work with the teachers to find a way to improve these schools,” he said.

The Department of Education must respond in writing to the union’s lawsuit by the end of the work day on Tuesday, and the two sides are due in Manhattan Supreme Court for oral arguments on Wednesday.

In a second decision today, PERB certified the UFT as the bargaining agent for teachers at Sisulu-Walker Charter School in Harlem. The unionization bid there had been stymied by a recalcitrant board, even as the son of an anti-apartheid leader the school was named after pressed for recognition. The union represents teachers at 14 charter schools.

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.