Talks resume

As education hearings get underway, City-UFT eval talks resume

State Education Commissioner John King was the first official to testify on the 2013-2014 budget this morning.

Albany — A day after Mayor Bloomberg declared the chances of a teacher evaluation deal with the city’s teachers union “impossible,” both sides confirmed this morning that they are returning to the table.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew first announced that talks were set to resume at the union’s legislative breakfast this morning, the Daily News reported.

The announcement comes hours before Mulgrew is set to testify before the state Assembly and Senate education committees about the 2013-2014 budget. He is among dozens of education officials and advocates who will make their case to the legislature about what they like and what they don’t like about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal.

Speaking now is John King, who asked for an extra $100 million in state aid, more money for early childhood education and $2.5 million for testing security and technology programs.

The renewed talks comes as Bloomberg faces mounting pressure from Albany to return to the table. New York City was one of six districts — out of 691 — that did not meet the Jan. 17 deadline, losing out on $240 million in state aid. It faces additional funding penalties if it does not show an effort to implement evaluations in the next two weeks.

Ratcheting up the pressure yesterday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo disputed Bloomberg’s testimony, which panned many of the state’s other district plans because many of them expired after one or more years. Cuomo told the Albany Times Union’s editorial board that Bloomberg’s critique was “factually incorrect” because the districts would still need to have teacher evaluation systems in order to qualify for state aid.

A source said Mulgrew first reached out yesterday afternoon, but it wasn’t to officials at the Department of Education, who he had been negotiating with directly when a deal fell apart two weeks ago. Instead, the source said, Mulgrew called City Hall, which he said has been pulling the strings in the negotiations.

“It was when they called the mayor that it blew up,” Mulgrew said yesterday, referring to the deal’s eleventh-hour collapse. “City Hall had told us that the DOE was fully authorized to make this deal so we negotiated with them. But it was the mayor.”

Bloomberg’s office didn’t return his call, but Chancellor Dennis Walcott did, the source said.

A city spokeswoman said Walcott has been reaching to the union since last week.

Both sides are now working out dates in which to hammer out the final details of a deal, which include when the deal would expire. They will likely seek to meet before Feb. 15, a deadline that the State Education Department has set for the city to show it is prepared to implement a teacher evaluation system. If the city misses that deadline, it will lose control of federal aid meant for low-income students.

Principals Union President Ernie Logan, in Albany to testify, said that he has not resumed talks with the city. The city is closer to a deal with the principals union than it is with the teachers.

“They haven’t called me yet,” Logan said.

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.