off the podium

New York City won't get federal funds to "personalize learning"

If New York City wants to expand its use of technology to tailor instruction to students’ individual needs, it will have to do so without special federal funding.

The city was not on the list today when the U.S. Department of Education named the winners of its Race to the Top-District competition, aimed at rewarding districts that “personalize learning.”

One reason: The city Department of Education did not supply requested information about its budget.

The city had been one of 61 finalists in the competition, which netted nearly 500 applications from school districts and consortia of districts from across the country. It had asked for $40 million to expand and augment existing initiatives, including the Innovation Zone, and build innovative schools from the ground up.

Applications were scored by independent reviewers according to stringent rules set out by the U.S. Department of Education, and New York City’s application got high marks in most categories. The reviewers lauded the city’s vision, its prior record of success making major changes, and its analysis of where and why a move toward personalized learning would be useful.

But it lost points because the city did not outline a clear timeline for carrying out the plans, show how the funds would benefit all students, or demonstrate that it had gotten buy-in from community partners with which it promised to collaborate.

The reviewers also gave the city zero out of five points in a category about transparency. Applicants were asked to provide the details about school-level spending on teacher salaries, other personnel, and other expenses.

But the city declined to provide the budget information. “For a variety of policy, labor relations, and privacy reasons, the NYCDOE does not currently make [that information] public or available on our website at the individual level of detail,” the district’s application says, according to the reviewers’ report.

The reviewers concluded, “The NYCDOE does not provide a high level of transparency in … processes, practices, and investments, including by making public, by school, actual school-level expenditures for regular K-12 instruction, instructional support, pupil support, and school administration.”

The transparency loss accounted for half of the gap between the city’s final score, 186 points, and the score of the lowest-scoring winner. Ultimately, the city’s application came in 43rd: high, but not high enough to bring home any funding.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who supported the city’s funding application, said the reviewers’ comments backed up the union’s criticism that the Bloomberg administration has allowed some education department data to be released, such as teacher ratings, while keeping other data out of public view.

“Now the DOE’s refusal to share public information with the public has cost the city $40 million,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement that the department would “consider the feedback” if the U.S. Department of Education offers another round of Race to the Top-District fundings.

The 16 winning applicants cover 55 districts in 11 states and Washington, D.C. A handful of large districts did win, including Miami-Dade County and a consortium that includes Seattle. Other winners include smaller districts in North Carolina, a consortium of 23 districts in Kentucky, and D.C.’s branch of the KIPP network of charter schools.

One New York State district is sharing in the winnings. The Middletown Enlarged School District, which enrolls fewer than 7,000 students in seven schools, will get $20 million to lengthen the school day, introduce “blended learning” classes that mix online and in-person instruction, and create an early intervention system for high-need students, according to the comments on its application.

Several applications were not even considered because they did not meet eligibility requirements. Los Angeles’s application, for example, was canned because the city submitted its application without sign-off from its teachers union.

New York City has benefited from Race to the Top funding before. New York State won $700 million in the first contest to overhaul teacher evaluations, add more charter schools, bulk up teacher preparation, and develop a statewide data system.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.