pay raise

Hinting at education platform, GOP's Joe Lhota backs merit pay

A screenshot from the Daily News' livestream coverage.
A screenshot from the Daily News’ livestream coverage.

Joe Lhota wants to bring performance-based pay for teachers to New York City finally and he thinks he can convince a union that’s long been opposed to the idea.

Making his debut on education in a forum hosted by the New York Daily News last night, Lhota said he would seek to replicate Newark’s new merit pay system if he became mayor.

He hailed the Bloomberg administration’s record on education and aligned himself with the mayor on policies of closing low-performing schools and supporting charter schools. But he said the Bloomberg legacy was incomplete.

“The one piece that’s missing is working with the union for merit pay and changing their approach,” Lhota said in an interview after the forum.

Lhota also said teachers should receive pay bumps if they teach a high-demand subject or work in the toughest schools.

Pressed to explain how he’d achieve a compensation system that’s based on performance, since the United Federation of Teachers has always opposed individual merit pay initiatives, Lhota, a Republican, said he wouldn’t have to start from scratch. On stage and in the interview, he repeatedly referenced Newark’s landmark teacher contract passed by the city’s union last year and praised the role that former UFT president Randi Weingarten, now president of the American Federation of Teachers, played in getting the deal done.

“There’s a road map for it,” Lhota said. “[Randi Weingarten] was integrally involved in Newark with Governor Christie in determining how the merit pay would work.”

“Seeing Randi at the table … was a true sea change for teachers and their unions, that they’re willing to go the extra step to make merit pay happen,” he added.

Lhota didn’t specify how to fund the bonuses. Newark’s system will cost at least $50 million and is paid for now entirely by private funds, most of which will come from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic foundation.

Performance-based pay for teachers is a thorny issue in New York City, which piloted a version of merit pay in 200 schools in 2007. The pilot enabled schools to give out up to $3,000 bonuses to teachers if the school improved its progress report results. But a study of student achievement in those schools found that test scores did not improve and actually dropped in middle school grades.

That pilot was launched collaboratively by Mayor Bloomberg and Weingarten, but quietly shelved in 2010.  Last year, Bloomberg proposed giving $20,000 bonuses to individual teachers rated highly effective two years in a row, a proposal that the union quickly shut the door on. The city and union have not yet reached a deal on an evaluation system to rate teachers on a more detailed level.

Still, Lhota expressed optimism that he could get UFT President Michael Mulgrew to come around. He said that working with the union to lobby the Governor and state legislature for more equitable funding for New York City would be a top priority.

“You know, when I deal with unions I always try to find common ground,” Lhota said. “Common ground here would be getting a fair share for the New York City Department of Education. And I can’t see a better partner in doing that other than Michael Mulgrew.”

In a statement, Mulgrew said he remained opposed to merit pay and declined to take up Lhota’s invitation to collaborate.

“We don’t negotiate in public with officeholders, much less with candidates for office,” Mulgrew said. “But there’s no evidence that individual merit pay addresses the real need of our schools — helping children learn.”

Lhota was one of seven mayoral candidates at the forum, which included four likely Democratic candidates — Christine Quinn, John Liu, Bill De Blasio and Bill Thompson — and two other Republican candidates — Tom Allon and John Catsimatidis.

Allon has also called for individual merit pay. But while Quinn, the Democratic frontrunner, has said she would consider paying teachers more to staff high-need subjects and schools, she has rejected the notion of individual merit pay based on teacher performance, saying that data do not support the practice. On Tuesday, when moderator Errol Louis asked who opposed a merit pay system, all of the Democratic candidates raised their hands.

The 90-minute event focused squarely on education and covered a variety of contentious issues, including school closures, charter schools, teacher evaluations, and the teacher contract.

Lhota has an uphill climb against his established Democratic rivals. Although he is the Republican frontrunner, recent polling data shows that many New Yorkers still aren’t familiar with Lhota, a former investment banker, top aide to Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and most recently, Chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

defensor escolar

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.