sound of silence (update)

Mayoral hopefuls mum, other politicians shun StudentsFirstNY

Most of the 2013 mayoral contenders are still keeping an arm’s length from a union-backed campaign to tie StudentsFirstNY’s agenda to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. But that hasn’t stopped a slew of other political hopefuls from throwing their support behind the effort.

New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, a coalition of public unions, community-based organizations and liberal advocacy groups, has released a list of 33 elected officials and candidates who have signed on to a pledge to refuse support from StudentsFirstNY, which is seeking to advance the education polices started by the Bloomberg administration. The list includes candidates for Manhattan and Brooklyn Borough President, Public Advocate and a slew of City Council members and state legislators.

Noticeably absent are frontrunners in the one race that New Yorkers for Great Public Schools and StudentsFirstNY hope to influence the most: the 2013 mayoral election. Only one prospective candidate, John Liu, has said he’d reject StudentsFirstNY’s support.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said last week she’d be fine accepting their support, as did long-shot Tom Allon. Former Comptroller Bill Thompson was non-committal in his response and one other candidates, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has stayed mum on the subject.

UPDATE: A spokesman for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio just emailed over to say that he would reject any support from StudentsFirstNY. The spokesman added that de Blasio would not, however, sign onto the pledge sent out by New Yorkers for Great Public Schools earlier today:

“Bill is committed to working with people on all sides of the education debate to improve our schools. But given the honest policy disagreements he has with StudentsFirst, he would respectfully decline contributions from the group’s PAC.”

But plenty of other elected officials and candidates for office were willing to speak out against StudentsFirstNY, according to New Yorkers for Great Public Schools. The statements that accompanied a release sent out this afternoon covered a broad range of education issues.

U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Vasquez called on class-size reduction and an end to rent-free charter school co-locations. State Senator Liz Krueger said that fairer student funding formulas and greater professional support for teachers were “common sense” reforms. And Councilman Mark Weprin criticized the StudentsFirstNY’s support of standardized testing, which he called a “scourge.”

There were also plenty of references to a report last week that showed some board members of StudentsFirstNY were actively working to defeat President Obama through fundraising and personal donations. New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, which published the report, has sought to use this link to argue that StudentsFirstNY’s policies would lead to a privatized education system that would threaten jobs and put bottom-line business interests above all else. 

City Councilman Robert Jackson, a candidate for Manhattan Borough President, said the connections were “alarming and disturbing.” State Senator Eric Adams, a candidate for Brooklyn Borough President, called StudentsFirstNY an “ALEC-like organization,” referring to a national group of politicians, businesses, and think tanks that write and push for conservative legislation.

Glen Weiner, deputy director of StudentsFirstNY, said in a statement that it wasn’t surprising to see some that some elected officials were coming out in support of New Yorkers for Great Public Schools.

“A press release stating the teachers union can buy off or bully a couple of dozen politicians who think the current education system is just fine is hardly news,” Weiner said. “In fact, it’s one of the reasons StudentsFirstNY was formed.”

Below is a list of the 33 elected officials and candidates who said they have agreed to refuse funding from StudentsFirstNY:

Senator Eric Adams, Candidate for Brooklyn Borough President

Assemblyman Jeff Aubry

City Council Member Charles Barron

Assemblywoman Inez Barron

Assemblyman Michael Benedetto

Assemblyman William Colton

City Council Member Leroy Comrie, Candidate for Queens Borough President

City Council Member Daniel Dromm

City Council Member Julissa Ferraras

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick

Jesus Gonzalez, City Council candidate

Noah Gotbaum, Candidate for Public Advocate

Senator Shirley Huntley

City Council Member Robert Jackson, Candidate for Manhattan Borough President

City Council Member Letitia James, Candidate for Public Advocate

Senator Liz Krueger

City Council Member Brad Lander

City Council Member Stephen Levin

Comptroller John Liu, Candidate for Mayor

Assemblyman Alan Maisel

City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito

Jason Otnaño, Candidate for State Senate

Senator Kevin Parker

Assemblyman Nick Perry

City Council Member Diana Reyna

Antonio Reynoso, Candidate for City Council

Donovan Richards, Candidate for City Council

Senator Gustavo Rivera

Community Board 7 Member Helen Rosenthal Candidate for NYC Council

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez

City Council Member Mark Weprin

City Council Member Jumaane Williams

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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.